Antebellum southern Democrats opposed measures promoting individual land-holding in the West, since such settlers would tend to oppose slavery. Once war began, the unshackled Republicans introduced the Homestead Act (1862), offering lots of 160 acres of undeveloped land for minimal fees. This inspired a rush of westward settlement, which would be both facilitated and channelled along the routes opened by the trans-Continental railroads (the railroads would sell the lands they owned along the routes to settlers to boost markets for their services). The semi-arid prairies were originally the preserve of cattle-ranchers after the near eradication of the native bison. However, the invention of the steel moldboard plough by John Deere and the introduction of barbed wire and improved irrigation techniques encouraged the westward expansion of arable farming, often beyond its advisable limits. In 1889 the Indian Territory in Oklahoma was opened to settlement, inspiring the Oklahoma Land Rush.
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