American frontier comprises the geography, history, folklore, and cultural expression of life in the forward wave of
American expansion that began with
English colonial settlements in the early 17th century and ended with the admission of the last remaining western territories as states in 1959. A "
frontier" is a zone of contact at the edge of a line of settlement. Leading theorist
Frederick Jackson Turner went deeper, arguing that the frontier was the defining process of American civilization: "The frontier," he asserted, "promoted the formation of a composite nationality for the American people." He theorized it was a process of development: "This perennial rebirth, this fluidity of American life, this expansion westward...furnish[es] the forces dominating American character." Turner's ideas since 1893 have inspired generations of historians (and critics) to explore multiple individual American frontiers, but the popular folk frontier concentrates on the conquest and settlement of
Native American lands west of the
Mississippi River, in what is now the
Great Plains, the
Rocky Mountains, the
West Coast, and
In 19th- and early 20th-century media, enormous popular attention was focused on the
Western United States in the second half of the 19th century, from the 1860s to the 1890s, a period sometimes called the "Old West" or the "Wild West". Such media typically exaggerated the romance, anarchy, and chaotic violence of the period for greater dramatic effect. This eventually inspired the
Western genre of film, which spilled over into
comic books, as well as children's toys, games and costumes. This era of massive migration and settlement was particularly encouraged by President
Thomas Jefferson following the
Louisiana Purchase, giving rise to the
expansionist philosophy known as "
As defined by Hine and Faragher, "frontier history tells the story of the creation and defense of communities, the use of the land, the development of markets, and the formation of states." They explain, "It is a tale of conquest, but also one of survival, persistence, and the merging of peoples and cultures that gave birth and continuing life to America." Through treaties with foreign nations and
native tribes, political compromise, military conquest, establishment of law and order, the building of farms, ranches, and towns, the marking of trails and digging of mines, and the pulling in of great migrations of foreigners, the United States expanded from coast to coast, fulfilling the dreams of Manifest Destiny. Turner, in his "
Frontier Thesis" (1893), theorized that the frontier was a process that transformed Europeans into a new people, the Americans, whose values focused on equality, democracy, and optimism, as well as
individualism, self-reliance, and even violence.
As the American frontier passed into history, the myths of the West in fiction and film took a firm hold in the imagination of Americans and foreigners alike. In David Murdoch's view,
America is exceptional in choosing its iconic self-image: "No other nation has taken a time and place from its past and produced a construct of the imagination equal to America's creation of the West."
Battle of the Little Bighorn
, known to the
as the Battle of the Greasy Grass
and also commonly referred to as Custer's Last Stand
, was an armed engagement between combined forces of the Lakota,
tribes and the
7th Cavalry Regiment
United States Army
. The battle, which resulted in the defeat of U.S. forces, was the most significant action of the
Great Sioux War of 1876
. It took place on June 25–26, 1876, along the
Little Bighorn River
Crow Indian Reservation
The fight was an overwhelming victory for the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho, who were led by several major war leaders, including
Crazy Horse and
Chief Gall, and had been inspired by the visions of
Sitting Bull (Tȟatȟáŋka Íyotake). The U.S. 7th Cavalry, a force of 700 men, suffered a major defeat while under the command of
George Armstrong Custer (formerly a
major general during the
American Civil War). Five of the 7th Cavalry's twelve companies were annihilated and Custer was killed, as were two of his brothers, a nephew and a brother-in-law. The total U.S. casualty count included 268 dead and 55 severely wounded (six died later from their wounds), including four
Crow Indian scouts and at least two
Arikara Indian scouts.
The Oregon Trail Campfire (1863)