African Americans Move West

African Americans in the United States moved West before and after the Civil War. They sought a better life away from the restrictions and brutality of the South and parts of the northern states. African Americans traveled like most other people to the West on foot. They used oxen-pulled wagons, their own feet, and pushed handcarts. Once in several western states and territories, African Americans relied on their fellow African Americans. They often created their own African American settlements after the Homestead Act of 1862 was passed by the U. S. Congress. African Americans performed a variety of jobs once in the West. They became cowboys, farmers, merchants, miners, and there were Buffalo Soldiers that wreaked havoc on Native American Indian Tribes.

United States Congress

Moving West

Migration was limited in the West for African Americans. Slavery was prevalent in Texas and newly formed territories in the 1850s like Nebraska, and there was much violence towards African Americans in Kansas. There were some African Americans that ventured West in the 1840s to the Oregon Territory. When gold was found in California in 1848, African Americans moved westward to California. It is estimated that 4,000 African Americans migrated to California from 1850 to 1860. Half of these individuals settled in the San Francisco and Sacramento area. The two communities became the first English-speaking black urban centers in the West.

African Americans also migrated to Colorado after gold was found in 1859 near Pikes Peak. They mostly settled in the Denver area. By 1870 more than half the state’s African American population lived in Denver.

After the Civil War

African Americans migrated in numbers to the western states and territories after the Civil War. They sought jobs in Texas were pay for working the fields was better than in the South. With the passing of the Homestead Act of 1862, African Americans migrated to Kansas, Nebraska, and the territories of the Dakotas and Oklahoma.

Kansas became a favorite place for African Americans to migrate. They were encouraged by the powerful abolition movement before, during, and after the Civil War. From 1870 to 1890, over 30,000 African Americans migrated and settled in Kansas. Many found the conditions to be harsh with chilly winters and scorching summers and were dismayed after time. One place that survived was Nicodemus, Kansas. A white developer found the town in 1877 and grew to 258 African Americans and 58 white people by 1880.

African Americans migrated to Indian Country, where they could not legally own land until 1889, when half of the area was used to create the Oklahoma Territory. The African Americans living in the original Indian territory rose to 36,000 by the turn of the century. They outnumbered the Native American Indians in their own territory.

African Americans working in the West

Not all African Americans that migrated westward went to farm or opened some business. African American cowboys rode the dusty cattle trails to Dodge City, Kansas, from various markets like Colorado, Texas, and Wyoming. Twenty-five percent of all cowboys in the West were African Americans. Most of them learned their trade during the Civil War when they were left to tend the cattle while their owners went to war.

Another job for African Americans who did not want to farm or go to a bigger city was known as a Buffalo Soldiers. African Americans joined the army in numbers during and after the Civil War. Buffalo Soldiers were in the West after the Civil War. In 1866 the Army Organization Act setup six all-black cavalry and infantry units. They helped to protect settlers, the railroads, and wagon trains. Buffalo Soldiers also were used to controlling the Native American Indians during the crisis. No one really knows why they were called Buffalo Soldiers. Some believe it is because their dark curly hair looked like the fur of a buffalo. Others believe the Native American Indians named them for their fighting abilities, which were as a mighty as a buffalo.

Facts about African Americans Move West

  • Most African Americans migrated to western states after the Civil War.
  • There were 4,000 African Americans that migrated to California during the California gold rush from 1850 to 1860. They settled in San Francisco and Sacramento.
  • African Americans migrated in large numbers to western states after the Civil War.
  • They migrated to Kansas in large numbers because of the state’s abolition movement before, during, and after the Civil War.
  • The Homestead Act of 1862 aided African Americans secures land in western states.
  • Nicodemus, Kansas, was a utopian community formed by a white developer for African Americans moving westward.
  • Not all African Americans were farmers or merchants. There were African American cowboys and a large number of Buffalo Soldiers used by the U.S. Army.
  • African Americans outnumbered Native American Indians in the area known as the Indian territory that was set aside for Native American Indian Tribes.


  1. What were the African American soldiers called by the Native American Indians?
    Buffalo Soldiers
  1. Where did African Americans settle in California while migrating to the area during the California gold rush?
    San Francisco and Sacramento
  1. Besides being farmers, merchants, and soldiers, what other occupations were open to African Americans in the western states?
  1. African Americans migrating to what state because of its role in the abolition movement?
  1. What act by the U.S. Congress aided African Americans in securing land in western states?
    Homestead Act of 1862