How Well Do You Know the History of the Western US?


By: John Miller

6 Min Quiz

Image: Albert Bierstadt

About This Quiz

With the Louisiana Purchase of the early 1800s, the young United States doubled in size. But no one – even the buyers – really knew what sorts of mysteries and wonders these new lands held. President Thomas Jefferson sent the Lewis and Clark Expedition to explore these plains and mountains, and the men returned with exciting stories of wild lands, Native Americans both fierce and friendly, and flora and fauna of all kinds. 

Then, a few people slowly began making their way through these new territories. What do you know about the history of the American West?

The West isn’t just majestic mountains. It’s a place of the American imagination - a place where you go to break the rules and retreat from the rigidity and confinement of the East. And it all started with the lore of the Wild West, the frontier lands where law was scarce and guns made the rules. Do you know how civilization first took hold in the West?

As white settlers began to tame the land, everything changed. Native cultures were swept aside, wild animals ran for their lives, and even the landscape was altered. New technologies and free land created new towns literally overnight. It was an incredible era in an extraordinary place.

Ride into the sunset of this American West quiz now! We’ll find out of you’re a real buckaroo or just the kind of cowboy who gets thrown from his horse.

The term "manifest destiny" essentially referred to what aspect of the American West?

In the 1840s the term "manifest destiny" came to encompass Americans' beliefs that they were truly meant to explore, settle, and reap the benefits and resources of the West.


In 1860, which organization completed its first deliveries in the Old West?

In 1860, the Pony Express started its east-west mail delivery routes. Its light riders and fast horses could quickly take letters all the way across the frontier and back again


Who were the first people to live in the West?

Various Native American tribes have (by far) the longest history in the West. They've lived there since at least 11,000 years ago.


About how long was the Oregon Trail?

The Oregon Trail was a wagon trail from the Missouri River valley to Oregon. Its 2,100 treacherous miles took the lives of many settlers and inspired the iconic computer game. You have died of dysentery.


What post-Civil War project opened up the West to all sorts of new economic opportunities and made settling much easier?

Completed in 1869, the first transcontinental railroad completely transformed the West. No longer did it take months of riding or walking to get there -- the railroad meant you could get to your destination in weeks or even days.


In 1846, which state joined the U.S. as a slave state?

Thanks to political manipulation by President Polk, in 1846, Texas became a U.S. state. And it was a slave state, adding fuel to the fire that eventually erupted as the Civil War.


In the late 1800s, hunters nearly drove which large mammal of the West into extinction?

Perhaps 30 million bison roamed North America before serious hunting began. By the end of the century, there were fewer than 100 of these majestic animals left on the continent.


In the mid-1800s what was one nickname for Omaha, Nebraska?

Like St. Louis, Omaha was regarded as a "Gateway to the West." Businesspeople in this city sold settlers everything they needed (and then some) for their westward adventures.


Where did the famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral take place?

On October 26, 1881, the most famous gunfight in world history took place in Tombstone, Arizona. The fight lasted all of 30 seconds, and when the bullets stopped flying, three outlaws were dead.


In 1869, John Wesley Powell led an expedition through which area?

In '69, Powell led a dangerous expedition through the Grand Canyon. His crew became the first white men to travel the entire 900-plus miles of the canyon's rivers.


Which area was the first to give U.S. women the right to vote?

The West cast off traditional American values. In 1869, the Wyoming Territory became the first region of the country to give women the full right to vote.


In the late 1840s, Brigham Young and his Mormon followers settled in which area of the West?

In 1847, Mormon leader Brigham Young led his people to the Utah area, where they settled en masse. Mormon culture predominates the area even today.


What was life like for cowboys in the Old West?

In the Old West, a cowboy's life was work, work and more work. It was a grueling lifestyle far different from the dusty adventures portrayed by Hollywood films.


True or false, was the Pony Express part of the U.S. Postal Service?

The USPS didn’t see profit in a frontier mail delivery service. So private entrepreneurs started the Pony Express, a short-lived concept that was made obsolete by railroads.


Which country maintained control of the area around modern-day Oregon before Americans arrived?

The British claimed what's now called Oregon. In an 1818 treaty, though, Britain agreed to share the land with America. It was made into a U.S. territory in 1848.


In 1847, what substance did James Marshall discover at Sutter's Mill, near modern-day Coloma, California?

Marshall found gold, it all its glittery glory, near a mill in what what would become California. His discovery sparked the California Gold Rush … and the West would never be the same again.


How did the Mexican-American War impact America's territory?

As part of manifest destiny, U.S. officials had designs on the Southwest in the 1840s. It sparked a war with Mexico over disputed borders … and after winning the war, took about one-third of northern Mexico for its own people.


What was the "Golden Spike"?

When two construction companies brought together their end of the transcontinental railroad, they used a golden spike to commemorate the moment. That spike is now on display on the campus of Stanford University.


How did travelers first move along the Oregon Trail?

The first Oregon Trail was too rough and narrow for wagons. You traveled by foot or by horseback … or not at all.


Which cultural shift had a major impact on the lives of Native Americans in the late 1800s?

In the late 1800s, the bison population crashed due largely to overhunting. The loss of this traditional resource meant Native Americans often went without food.


In 1850, which golden area was admitted as America's 31st state?

Just after the Gold Rush of '49, California achieved statehood in 1850. It was the country's 31st state.


What was America's first national park?

Even when the frontier was still wild, legislators recognized the incredible value of the Yellowstone area. It was named the country's first national park in 1872.


True or false, were American land gains from the Mexican-American War bigger than those from the Louisiana Purchase?

The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the United States. But the spoils of the Mexican War were even bigger, adding an even larger swath of land to the United States.


The Bozeman Trail connected which part of the West with the Oregon Trail?

The Bozeman Trail connected gold mining areas of Montana to the Oregon Trail. This famous trail passed through traditional Native American lands, and thus, provoked many of the Native Americans living there into attacking travelers.


Where did the Lawrence Massacre take place?

In 1863, a Confederate guerrilla group ravaged the Union-leaning town of Lawrence, Kansas. They slaughtered roughly 200 civilians during the rampage, which was taken up partly as revenge for malicious raids conducted by Union groups.


What happened to the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment, led by George Custer, in 1875?

At the 1875 Battle of the Little Bighorn, Custer underestimated the size of the Native American groups gathered for a fight. He and his men were massacred, and Native American warriors celebrated their greatest triumph.


In the 1850s, a man named Levi Strauss began selling supplies to men in which area?

Strauss arrived in San Francisco and started a business selling supplies to gold miners. He also started offering jeans … and his product became one of the world's most popular clothing items.


In 1881, Sheriff Pat Garrett killed which Western icon?

After years of living on the lam, karma finally caught up to Billy the Kid. In 1881, Pat Garrett snuck into a darkened house and killed The Kid in the middle of the night.


What was special about Clearview, Boley and Langston Oklahoma, when they were all founded in the late 1800s?

After the Civil War, some entrepreneurs touted all-black towns in the West, where African-Americans could live among other blacks in peace. Clearview, Boley and Langston, OK, were three of about 60 towns that touted their all-black credentials.


In 1890, what happened at a place called Wounded Knee?

On December 29, 1890, U.S. troops tried to disarm Native Americans near Wounded Knee Creek at Pine Ridge Reservation. The event escalated into a massacre in which perhaps 300 Native Americans and 25 U.S. troops were killed.


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