DBQ: Settlement of the Western Frontier
During the years between 1840 and 1890, the land west of the Mississippi River experienced a wild and sporadic growth. The natural environment contributed greatly to this growth spurt and helped shape the development of the trans-Mississippi west. The natural environment dictated and facilitated the development of the west by way of determining who settled where, how the people survived, why people wanted to settle, and whether they were successful or not.
Many Americans packed few belongings and headed west during the middle to the late nineteenth century. It was during this time period that the idea of manifest destiny became rooted in American customs and ideals. Manifest Destiny is the idea that supported and justified expansionist policies, it declared that expansion was both necessary and right. America’s expansionist attitudes were prominent during the debate over the territorial rights of the Oregon territory. America wanted to claim the Oregon territory as its own, but Great Britain would not allow that. Eventually the two nations came to an agreement and a compromise was reached, as seen in document B. The first major party of settlers that traveled to the west settled in Oregon.
To many families the prospect of owning land was the central driving force that brought them to the land known today as the wild Wild West. Much propaganda was in existence during this period of rapid growth, many promoting the wonderful resources that the west contained. The landscape of the West was one without trees and other natural markings, water was scarce, and unpredictable weather changes often made life on the frontier difficult. Emigrants were often ignorant of the climate and made the voyage anyway, as seen in document C. The journey west was made by wagon. Food shortages and disease often plagued the emigrants. Also the unpredictable climate cause more hardships. The emigrants chose areas that they thought had the best land. The settlements were concentrated mostly along the coast because the middle was dessertious, as seen in document a. As a result of this picking and choosing of lands, families were often isolated, where the nearest family was often miles away. The natural environment determined what type of people settled in which places. Families looking to settle permanently and plant roots settled on the land best fit for farming. Young and adventurous emigrants looking to make a quick profit from speculating the land or mining it settled and developed quick cities.
The west was rich in natural minerals such as gold, silver, and coal. These natural resources and the prospect of making a quick profit brought many young men to the west. These emigrants were not looking to settle, but to make a quick profit and return home. Cities like Portland, San Antonio, and Denver practically grew overnight as people flocked to get their share of the gold, as seen in Document D and G. News of riches in California facilitated the California gold rush and literally transformed the state overnight. Cattle herding became popular during this time. The lush and abundant grass of the prairie was ideal for grazing cattle, and that became a profit making profession, as seen in Document I.
The pioneers of the west were faced with many obstacles. Climate changes caused the devastation of crops and many families’ livelihood, as seen in Document C. The families also had to face the angry Native Americans, who did not want them imposing on their land. Death from battles with the Native Americans and from diseases were common as seen in Document E
The hardships faced by many of the families caused a change in gender roles. Women were able to won land as seen in Document F. Women also moved out of the domestic sphere and helped with the hard labor, necessary to make a farm run correctly.
The success of the emigrants largely depended on the cooperation of the climate and the how well the land was cultivated during those first crucial years. Success for the emigrants on the mining frontier largely depended on the abundance of the land’s natural resource, like gold. The land basically determined if the settlers were at all successful in their quest to settle the land.
The land west of the Mississippi provided benefits for few people and imposed hardships to many. The land provided the people with rich natural resources and was the reason a majority of the people went west. Climatic changes and unexpected hardships made the voyage west and settlement in the west hard for many. The success of the settlements largely depended on the abundance of the natural resources and the changes in climate. The natural environment overall fueled the development of the West.