Date: 10 Jan 2011

Finding Frontiers in the U.S. Great Plains from the End of the Civil War to the Eve of the Great Depression

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Abstract

This chapter uses a new approach to studying patterns of spatial settlement to understand the forces that shaped the movement of the European-origin population into the semi-arid and arid natural region referred to as the Great Plains of the United States, between 1880 and 1940. Defining settlement as the process by which each of the roughly 500 counties in the region reached a population density threshold of four persons per square mile, the results evaluate hypotheses that suggest that the most important forces at work were a combination of structural attributes of the national process (population moving from east to west), climate (precipitation, temperature), other resources inside the region (irrigation, transportation, energy, employment in industry) and developments outside the region, such as the need to supply food to gold and silver miners working in the mountainous region to the west. The approach taken in the chapter includes a new strategy for working with changing county boundaries and a statistical method employing Cox proportional hazards models for repeated events. The results reveal a process of settlement diffusion in the Great Plains and demonstrate that variations in that diffusion process favoured areas well-suited to cropping, mining and manufacturing.