In 1890, the US Census Bureau announced the frontier closed: the wilderness, so potent in the American psyche, was officially broken, settled, tamed. In the same year, Yosemite became the first national park designated specifically to protect wilderness, and in 1889 Montana and Washington were incorporated as US states, followed in 1890 by Idaho and Wyoming. The era of the ‘Wild West’ had been brief, but melodramatic, opening with a plethora of gold and silver rushes, marked by the annihilation of US cavalry by the Sioux at Little Bighorn (1876) and the exploits of gunslingers like ‘Wild Bill’ Hickok. In retrospect, events such as the killing of Billy the Kid (1880), Jesse James (1882) and the Gunfight at the OK Corral (1882), were valedictory, as law and order steadily supervened. More prosaic forces of pacification were the spread of the trans-continental railroads (1869–93) and the vicious winter of 1886–87, which ended the era of cattle drives.
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