American History: Movement West

covered wagons
Figure 1.--This photograph gives us an idea of the hard journey of the pioneer families moving west by covered wagon. The photo was taken near Baker City, Orego. The covered or conestoga waggon appeared about 1835 and became an icon of the Western settlement. Unfortunately the portrait is not dated. It was probably taken after the Civil war, perhaps in the 1870s, but we are not at all sure. The pioneers are pictured in front of their wagons. All the children wear very plain clothing and go barefoot, an item that Hollywood movies almost never depict. There were many dangers faced by these settlers, but most made it throgh if they were properly provisioned, stuck to the established trails, and had a good daily rotin made it.

American history was powerffully influenced throughout the 19th century by the steady push west and the development of the Western frontier. This began of course with the establishment of the first English colonies beginning with Jamestown (1607). At the time the Western Frontier was just a few miles up the James River. Gradually the Western Frontier was seen as the Appalachin Mountains. The British effort to close off the land beyond the Appalachins was one of the major causes of the Revolution (1776). The West for the early American Republic was the Ohio River Valley which the Erie Canal played an important role in opening. To the south there were other lands beyond the Apalachins which proved to be ideal for growing cotton based on slave labor and large plantations. The United States Western frontier was redefined by the Louisiana Purchase (1803). The economy of the West depended on the Mississippi River and the outlet to the sea at New Orleans. It is no accident that the British in the War of 1812 attempted to seize New Orleans (1815). After the War of 1812 the American movement West focused primarily on the territory east of the Mississippi. Here the Erie Canal played an important role. There were wars with the Native Americans which helped make Andrew Jackson the preminent political figure overseeing this period. The only American president with an era named after him. The frontier which at first seemed endless played a powerful role in the development od the American character. The existence of huge quantities of virtually free land was very different from the situation in Europe. Some historians describe this as the vital force in the building of America. America settled these lands on two basic lines. North of the Ohio it was free labor and small family farms. South of the Ohio it was slave labor and slave labor. Ironically the rise of the Amnerican economy was to a large degree based on slave labor that produced the cotton which provided the principal expot economy before the advent of industrial exports. The Mexian War again expanded the frontier (1856-58). After the Civil War the settlement of the frontier beyond the Mississippi began in earnest, including the Great Plains. The major figures of the Western movement are now lengends clouded with myth: mountain men, riverboat men, pioneers, Native Americans, Pony Express riders, cowboys, homesteaders, cavalry, outlaws, bullwhackers, and others. The final phase of the Western expansion was aided by both the expanding railroad network and increased European immigration. The frontier was essentially closed in the 1890s, a fact that marked the transition from an agricultural to the world's pre-eminent industrial nation.

English Colonies

This history of the United States began with the establishment of the first English colonies beginning with Jamestown (1607). At the time the Western Frontier was just a few miles up the James River. Gradually the Western Frontier was seen as the Appalachin Mountains.

Native Americans

The natives of both North and South America exibit a great variety of lingusistic, anatomical, and cultural characteristics. The discussion of these diverse peoples must thus proceeded by groups and subgroupings. The most advanced civilizations were those developing in Mexico, Central America, and South America. The civilizations in North America were primarily hunter-gather civilizations, but some were engaged in settled agriculture. Native Americans have in the United States been traditionally referred to as Indians or in Europe as Red Indians. It refers to the pre-Colombian peoples of the Americas. Many tribes no longer exist and about them little is known. Considearble anthropoligal work, however, exists on many tribes of North America. Native Americans are credited with the development of some key agricultural crops, corn and potatos as well as tobacco, cacao (chocolate), peanuts, beans, squashes, pumkins, sunflowers, gourds, cotton, and others were among 25 major crops cultivated by native Americans. Interestingly, it was the potato introduced into Europe after the discovery of the America that made posible the explosive growth of European populations after the 16th century. Native Americans, in part because of the horendous treatment by white Americans as well as the exposure to European diseases, now comprise only a small part of the Americam mosaic. It is a rich, colorful traition, no matter how small. Native American dress is showcased atvpowwows and other gatherings held annually throughout America.

American Revolution (1775-83)

The British effort to close off the land beyond the Appalachins was one of the major causes of the Revolution (1776). Perhaps the greatest achievemet of American diplomacy was gaining the territory west of the Apalachins to the Missippi River from the British.

Initial West

The West for the early American Republic was the Ohio River Valley which the Erie Canal played an important role in opening. To the south thir were other lands beyond the Apalachins which proved to be ideal for growing cotton based on slave labor and large plantations. The economy of the West depended on the Mississippi River and the outlet to the sea at New Orleans. It is no accident that the British in the War of 1812 attempted to seize New Orleans (1815). After the War of 1812 the American movement West focused primarily on the territory east of the Mississippi.

Louisiana Purchase

The United States Western frontier was redefined by the Louisiana Purchase (1803).

Erie Canal

The the Erie Canal played an important role in the Western movement. The pioneers moving West ino the Ohio Valley were mostly farmers. The Erie Canal was an enormous undertaking. And interestngly itvcan be seen as launching the American industrial revolution.

Native American Wars

There were wars with the Native Americans which helped make Andrew Jackson the preminent political figure overseeing this period. The only American president with an era named after him. These ars east of the Missippi ended with the Trail of Tears, the expusion of Native American peoples west beyond the Mississippi.

Internal Improvements


Impact on America

The frontier which at first seemed endless played a powerful role in the development od the American character. The existence of huge quantities of virtually free land was very different from the situation in Europe. Some historians describe this as the vital force in the building of America.

Split Development

America settled the lands east of the Mississippi on two basic lines. North of the Ohio it was free labor and small family farms. South of the Ohio it was slave labor and slave labor. Ironically the rise of the Amnerican economy was to a large degree based on slave labor that produced the cotton which provided the principal expot economy before the advent of industrial exports. The Mexian War again expanded the frontier (1856-58).

Texas and Oregon


Beyond the Mississippi: The Wild West

After the Civil War the settlement of the frontier beyond the Mississippi began in earnest, including the Great Plains. This is the period of the Wild West, one of the most colorful and evocatove periods in American history, the subject of counless legends, books, and dramatizations. The Western became aand popular even beyond America's boundaries. The major figures of the Western movement are now lengends clouded with myth: mountain men, riverboat men, pioneers, Native Americans, Pony Express riders, cowboys, homesteaders, cavalry, outlaws, bullwhackers, and others. One of the most important aspect of the Wild West story was the Plains Indian Wars. This proved to be a brutal undertaking. One historian writes, "'We destroyed everything of value to the Indians,' Custer wrote in his official report. Unofficially he told his commnding officer, 'We have cleaned Black Kettle and his band out so thoroughly that they can neither fight, dress, sleep, eat or ride without sponging upon their friends.' He was not exaggerating. It was an unparalleled victory." [Schultz] The final phase of the Western expansion was aided by both the expanding railroad network and increased European immigration.

Closing the Frontier

The frontier was essentially closed in the 1890s, a fact that marked the transition from an agricultural to the world's pre-eminent industrial nation.

Sources

Schultz, Duane. Coming Through Fire: George Armstrong Custer and Chief Black Kettle (2013), 304p.






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Created: 4:32 AM 3/11/2008
Last updated: 10:18 PM 11/13/2013