The last barriers to western expansion fell away soon after the American Civil War. The gold rush of 1849 saw a rush of thousands of adventures over the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, but mostly they kept going all the way to the Pacific and left the Great Plains as empty as they had found them. Between 1849 and 1869, the land between the Missouri River and Sierra Mountains was only accessible by the most daring of travelers. On May 10, 1869, a golden spike connected the east and west coast for the first time when the first American transcontinental railroad was completed. This railroad and the growing number of railroads spreading across the country would mean both great wealth for a few ranchers and the loss of a way life for others.
The arrival of the Iron Horse, railroad steam engines, on the plains meant that cattle could be herded to places like Abilene, Kansas and sold for a great profit. The great cattle drives led to increase of need for cowboys to organize the roundup and care of cattle. The adventures of these cowboys and frontier towns like Tombstone and Deadwood captured the imaginations of Americans of all ages for generations. Unfortunately for these American icons, the same Iron Horses which allowed their way of life kept spreading and soon lead to end of the open prairie and a way of life.
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