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WESTWARD EXPANSION: The “Manifest Destiny of Americans?”. Manifest Destiny – a phrase used by leaders and politicians in the 1840s to explain continental expansion by the United States – revitalized a sense of "mission" or national destiny for Americans. .
Manifest Destiny – a phrase used by leaders and politicians in the 1840s to explain continental expansion by the United States – revitalized a sense of "mission" or national destiny for Americans.
The people of the United States felt it was their mission to extend the "boundaries of freedom" to others by imparting their idealism and belief in democratic institutions to those who were capable of self-government.
But there were other forces and political agendas at work as well. As the population of the original thirteen Colonies grew and the economy developed, the desire and attempts to expand into new land increased.
After the acquisition of the Louisiana Territory, ample land seemed available for the taking…For many colonists, land represented potential income, wealth, self-sufficiency and freedom.
Even before Lewis and Clark finished their epic journey to the Pacific, mountain men were traveling up and down the Missouri River in search of fur.
These solitary fur-trappers lived thousands of miles from civilization. Most had no home, no money and no possessions—except what they could carry on their backs. They lived completely off the land
Unfortunately, in his reports Pike referred to the plains as "the Great American Desert," a name that stuck. Even though much of the region is nothing like a desert, people back east conjured up images of sand dunes and cactus. No emigrant in their right mind would try to cross a severe wasteland--and so the big move west was delayed.
Long and his men passed through what is now Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas and Oklahoma. He concluded that the entire region was unfit for human habitation.
The second major westward expedition was was backed by the world's richest man--John Jacob Astor. Astor had read about Lewis and Clark's journey and by 1810 he saw an opportunity to make money.
His plan was to set up a fur-trading enterprise at the mouth of the Columbia River. Just one problem--how to get his men across the uncharted American West.
Robert Stuart led the Astor expedition.Along the way, Stuart made an incredible discovery--he found a 20-mile wide gap in the Rocky Mountains--the one passage where wagons could get through. Named South Pass, this find would become the key to western migration.
Explorer John Fremont became one of America's biggest heroes because of his journeys west. (He got the job largely because his wife's father was the powerful Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton.)
Benton believed America had an innate right to all the lands of the west, an idea that came to be called "Manifest Destiny." And so Fremont was under strict orders to make the west seem attractive--worth settling…
Even though the reports bear his name, Fremont didn't write them. He gave up and left the work to his wife--the intelligent and articulate Jesse Benton Fremont. It was she—as much as anyone—who lit the spark of America's big move west.
In addition, Horace Greeley, founding editor of the New York Tribune, one of the first "penny daily" newspapers, influenced his nearly one million readers throughout the United States with his ideas about the lure and value of westward expansion…
In the 1840s, he urged an entire generation to "Go West, young man!" “Do not lounge in the cities! There is room and health in the country, away from the crowds of idlers and imbeciles. Go west, before you are fitted for no life but that of the factory.” (New York Tribune, 1841)
In 1845, California appeared on the map as a northern province of Mexico. Already there was a small but prosperous community of Spanish-speaking cattle ranches.
The Oregon country was a huge tract of wilderness that extended north from California to the Alaska border. No one knew for certain to whom the land really belonged…
It was claimed by both the United States and Great Britain who had signed an unusual treaty of “joint occupation.” The American pioneers were really emigrants leaving their own country to a foreign land…
The dispute originated in the fact that the boundaries of Oregon had ever been clearly fixed. The southern boundary of Russia extended to the 54 degree, 40 minute parallel of latitude.
The Democratic Party even made the phrase, “Fifty Four, Forty, or Fight” their 1844 campaign slogan…The dispute was quietly settled with the boundary set at 49 degrees; the original proposal by the United States.
When Oregon itself became an official section of the United States in 1846, the 2,000 miles of the Oregon Trail made it the longest thoroughfare in the republic.
The first emigrants to Oregon came by ship before atrail was established. Ships continued to to travel to Oregon even after the overland migrations began, but they were not popular among the pioneers.
First, the fare for a sea journey to Oregon was quite expensive—few pioneer families could afford it. Second, most Oregon-bound pioneers came from the central states—far from any sea port. Lastly, the sea journey often took up to full year—versus 4-6 months by wagon.
The journey west on the Oregon Trail and California Trail was exceptionally difficult by today's standards. One in 10 died along the way; many walked the entire two-thousand miles.
The overland move began in 1841 when a party of 69 hardy souls left Missouri, led by a farmer, John Bartleson, and a schoolteacher, John Bidwell.
The financial collapse and depression of 1837 had prompted people to look for opportunities in the west, but the discovery of gold in California in 1848 sent the emigration numbers up to 55,00 per year over the Oregon Trail !
Over the next 25 years more than a half million people went west on the western trails. Some went all the way to Oregon's Willamette Valley in search of farmland—many more split off for California in search of gold.
Still other emigrants headed west because of religious persecution in the United States. The Mormons (members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) were driven from their homes in Nauvoo, Illinois in 1846.
The Missouri River heads due west from St. Louis;so most emigrants loaded their wagons onto steamships for the upstream journey. It was easy traveling, but it didn't last long. Two-hundred miles from St. Louis, the Missouri takes a cruel turn to the north.
Further upstream was Westport, St. Joseph, Omaha and Council Bluffs.The economies of these frontier towns depended on emigrants passing through…
Each spring these small hamlets became raucous boomtowns—as thousands of emigrants camped for days, or weeks while getting ready to begin the journey. (Independence was by far the most popular point of departure in the trail's early years.)
“Our party after leaving Independence, proceeded up the Missouri river for four days, when it was thought advisable to halt, and remain there a week, there being good grass at the encampment, and recruiting our animals, get everything in proper readiness for the progress of our long journey; our company at this encampment all collected together numbering about forty wagons. Soon after our arrival at this point, we discovered fresh signs of Indians, which caused us to keep a pretty close guard over our animals, and indeed ourselves.”Samuel Hancock, 1845
Instead, the emigrants used small farm wagons. Although they appear simplistic, farm wagons of the 1840s were technologically-advanced vehicles
The wagon box measured only four feet by ten feet. Most emigrants loaded them to the brim with food, farm implements and furniture--often over a ton of cargo.
“Sold out my land in Ioway on Monday, the 19th of March 1852 and now for Orrigon. The first thing for good teams. Two good waggons and 6 yoak of oxen. All well and in good sperrets.”Philemonn Morris, 1852
Horses were quickly rejected because they could not live off prairie grasses along the way. As a result, most of the emigrants decided on oxen. They were strong; could live off grass or sage; and were less-expensive.
After a few days on the trail, the emigrants would settle into a well-defined daily routine. Awake before sunup; yoke the oxen,cook the breakfast; and hit the trail.
“There were days we toiled over the arid plains till far into the night to reach the life-giving water that was a necessity to us and to our trains. The children of the company walked many many miles....sometimes I think I walked half of the way to Oregon! Some days it was very hard to find fuel enough for our camp fires. Many a time our simple meals were cooked over a fire of buffalo chips and sage brush.”MARY ELIZABETH MUNKERS, 1851
The emigrants did circle their wagons, but it wasn't for protection against the Native American tribes. Instead, the circle provided a convenient corral for loose livestock.
At this time encampment on the Little Blue there were more wolves than I ever saw, or might say ever heard of before, for they made the night hideous with their yelling, and to persons unaccustomed to such sounds, at least it seemed to me as if all the wolves for a thousand miles around had congregated at this particular place, for our especial benefit. In the morning they could be seen dispersing in droves, in different directions, and we were by no means loathe to part with these “traveling musicians.”Samuel Hancock, 1845
The emigrants worried about both. But the expected attacks did not come; in fact, there were many instances of Native American kindness--helping pull out stuck wagons; rescuing drowning emigrants; even rounding up lost cattle.
Most of the encounters with Native Americans were simple business transactions. The emigrants offered clothes, tobacco or rifles, in exchange for Native American horses or food.
Within a few years, the emigrants had overgrazed the prairie grasses, burned all the available firewood, and depleted the buffalo. Soon many tribes along the Platte were impoverished.The emigrants worried a great deal about possible Native American attacks, but very few were ever actually killed by the native tribes.
Perhaps the most important confrontation with the native tribes occurred near Ft. Laramie. It began innocently enough—a single cow wandered away from an emigrant wagon train. When the cow showed up at a nearby Sioux village, the tribe promptly ate it.
An aggressive Lt. Grattan and 28 men then left Fort Laramie with a single objective—punish the Sioux. The Sioux recognized their error and offered a horse in return for the cow, but Grattan ordered his men to fire on the tribe.The Sioux chief told his warriors to withhold retaliation. Grattan fired again and killed the chief. Strikes and counterstrikes escalated into all-out war--the battles continued for decades.
“Traveled 16 miles, and camped on a middling, large stream of water. this day Denton drove Charley's wagon against a stump, and broke the tongue, and in crossing the river, the wagon upset, and detained us some time with little other detriment. The boys caught some good fish at this place. Grass good. Aunt Betty died of the consumption. Buried her.”William Porter, 1848
River crossings were a constant source of distress for the pioneers.Hundreds drowned trying to cross the Kansas, North Platte and Columbia Rivers--among others.
“We crossed the Green River at a very steep place where the banks sloped sharply to the river's edge. The boys unloaded two of our wagons and fastened the two wooden beds together, and swam across the river and anchored the rope to a tree on the other side. The beds were loaded with food and the dismantled wagons were pulled across the river, where the wagons were put together again. The cattle swam to the other side.”Sarah Sprenger, 1852
Often, an emigrant would go from healthy to dead in just a few hours. Sometimes they received a proper burial, but often, the sick would be abandoned, in their beds, on the side of the trail. They would die alone…
The most horrifying of all stories occurred in 1846…an incredibly unbelievable story of the Donner Party, 47 out of 81 who survived being caught in the mountains, mid-winter without food, forced to consume their dead comrades…
They came from all walks of life, some new immigrants from Europe, some from well-respected families of the founding fathers…Here are a few of their faces and stories…
William T. Lieuallen and his bride, Margaret Fuson, were married the day before they set off from the Fuson home to get ready for the trip to Oregon
Gabriel Trullinger, a German emigrant, and Elizabeth Johnson Trullinger, the niece of future president Andrew Johnson. Like many pioneer families, the Trullingers had been moving steadily west for years before making the trek to the Oregon Country. On April 6, 1848, the Trullinger clan set out for Oregon with three ox-drawn wagons.
Jon Baker, first cousin to General Robert E. Lee. His family owned a large tobacco plantation but Jon was not the eldest son and stood to inherit no land. So he felt that his best chance of making his fortune in the world was to head west. Jon was elected captain of the wagon train, and as a result he was known as Captain Baker for the rest of his life.
The Jorys were a working class family with limited prospects in England. In search of opportunity, the family left England for Oregon aboard the HMS Restitution.
Richard A. Bogle and America Bogle, born in the West Indies in 1835, moved to New York City and to the Oregon Territory. They were among many free African-Americans who made the journey westward.
Mary Jane Holmes came to Oregon as a slave of Nathaniel Ford and his family. The wagon train they came with also included black pioneer George Washington Bush and was led by renowned guide Moses "Black" Harris.
David Lenox was born in New York to English parents descended from the noble House of Lenox. Orphaned at an early age, he left for Oregon, shortly after marrying Louisa Swan, the plantation owner for whom he worked.
The branch of the Boone family that emigrated to Oregon was led by Daniel's grandson, Alphonso Boone. Moving west seems to have run in the family. In 1841, he set up shop in Independence, Missouri, outfitting fur traders and caravans on the Santa Fe Trail. In 1846, Alphonso headed west with seven of his children,
Actual wagon ruts from the Oregon Trail still exist today in many parts of the American West; and many groups are working hard to preserve this national historic treasure.