DEVELOPMENT OF THE WEST BEYOND THE MISSISSIPPI

The years 1840 to 1890 were a period of great growthfor the United States. It was during this time period thatthe United states came to the conclusion that it had a manifest destiny, that is, it was commanded by god to somedayoccupy the entire North American continent. One of the mostardent followers of this belief was President James K. Polk.He felt that the United States had the right to whateveramount of territory it chose to, and in doing this the United States was actually doing a favor for the land itseized, by introducing it to the highly advanced culture andway of life of Americans.

Shortly after his election heannexed Texas. This added a great amount of land to the United States, but more was to follow. The Oregon Territorybecame a part of the United States is 1846, followed by theMexican Cession in 1848 and the Gadsden Purchase in 1853. Atthis point the United States had accomplished its manifestdestiny, it reached from east to west, from sea to shiningsea. Now that the lands it so desired were finally there,the United States faced a new problem- how to get its peopleto settle these lands so they would actually be worth having.

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Realistically, it is great to have a lot of land, but if theland is unpopulated and undeveloped, it really isn’t worthmuch. And the government of the United States knew this. Oneof the reasons that many did not choose to settle thereimmediately was that the lands were quite simply in themiddle of nowhere.

They were surrounded by mountains, inhabited by hostile Indians, and poor for farming. Becauseof these geographical conditions, the government was forcedto intervene to coax its citizens into settling the new lands. Basically the lands were not settled because theywere available, they were settled because of various schemesthe government concocted to make them seem desirable.The government participated in a great “push” to getits citizens to move to west.

At first few people moved to the west, but this changed when gold was discovered inCalifornia in 1848. This caused a “gold rush” to the west coast which consisted of many prospectors seeking to find their fortunes in the gold mines of California. Many traveled to the west coast, however few actually found theirfortunes.

The problem remained that the midwest was stillrelatively unpopulated. There were people on the west coastof the United States, there were people on the east coast ofthe United States, but relatively few in the center of thecountry. In order to convince people to move to the centralmidwest, the United States started a massive propagandadrive that Hitler would have been proud of. Everywhere one would look they would find brochures telling of how wonderful the central midwest was, and how it would be an ideal setting for someone to settle down and raise a family,and how it was great for farmland. In the tradition of propaganda, however, this was often far from the truth. Inreality the land that looked so beautiful in the brochuresand posters was actually the Great American Desert. To workin conjunction with the propaganda posters and brochures,the United States passed the Homestead Act, which offeredextremely cheap land to anyone who was willing to live on itand farm it. The Homestead Act actually went as far as offering tracks of land as large as 160 acres for as littleas ten dollars.

The Wyoming Territory actually went as faras passing laws allowing women’s suffrage and property rights to encourage settlers. This would seem like a step forward in human rights. In actuality, this was a terribleperiods for civil rights for a certain ethnic group: theIndians.President Hayes was one of the most ardent supporters of the Homestead Act. However there was anotheract passed under Hayes called the Dawes Act that was a travesty as far as the Indians were concerned.

Under thisact, the Indians were able to become citizens of the UnitedStates and participate in the Homestead Act, but at a terrible price. In order to become a citizen, an Indianwould have to move away from his reservation, renounce his tribal ways, and “accept” American ways. Needless to say,this made the Indians furious. Originally designed to removethe Indian problem so more settlers could move to theirlands, it only served to make the Indians madder. Now settlers were claiming they could not settle in the west because of fear of being carved up by blood-thirsty Indians.

To try to remedy the problem, the government sent men like General Custer to dispel the Indian problem. Although Custerwas slightly successful at first, he was eventually killedby a group of Indians at the Battle of Little Big Horn.Needless to say, white man-Indian relationships were at a low point in this period.In conclusion, the west was settled slowly because,geographically it was in the middle of nowhere. It was isolated from the rest of the country, although thetranscontinental railroad would soon solve this problem. Another problem of the west was the hostility of the Indians,which was not the unjustified considering what they had gonethrough.

Although today the central midwest is populated, itis not to the degree that the coastal areas are, and it willlikely remain that way until the population of the UnitedStates becomes so large it actually forces people to movethere.History