The pioneer experiences
The western migration of the mid-nineteenth century was a time of uncertainty for America. It was also a time of excitement because of the new adventures that awaited Americans. Although western migration was difficult, many chose to undertake it because they wanted a new life, riches, and a chance to own their own land. There was also a religious aspect, as some people moved to be missionaries to the Native Americans and to form new churches and religions.
The pioneer experiences of men and women differed in several ways. This is evidenced by the writings of Lydia Allen Rudd and Elizabeth Dixon Smith Geer. Elizabeth talked about constant rain and carrying two children through the mud and water. She also talked about looking for shelter for her sick husband and watching him deteriorate. She also writes about how the children had great responsibilities such as driving cattle and oxen.
Elizabeth talks incessantly of the impossibility of cooking or staying warm and dry. Much of this has to do with when she and her family chose to travel. She also writes that with her husband ill, “the whole care of everything falls upon [her] shoulders (Geer 1847).”
This contrasts sharply with Lydia Allen Rudd. Though in her account there is rain, she remains upbeat, sharing the soaring vistas and her experiences with the Native Americans. All is not grand, however. She speaks of seeing the graves of men and women having died of measles and cholera. Her diary tells of reaching Salem, Oregon, and also Burlington. There, they are successful in finding both employment and housing for the winter (1852).
Men, on the other hand, saw much more violence in their lives. In looking at Edward Gould Buffum’s account of life in the gold mines, he tells of the “trial” of five men who were consequently lashed, and three of those men who were tried for attempted murder and robbery. A jury found the men guilty.
Buffum notes that “the charges against them were well substantiated, but amounted to nothing more than an attempt at robbery and murder; no overt act being even alleged (1850).” The sentence was death by hanging, and they were hanged that very day. Such was frontier justice. Buffum even protested against the mens’ death sentence, but stopped when the mob threatened to hang him.
Government played a huge role in encouraging and supporting westward migration. This was accomplished by the Homestead Act of 1862. It took affect on the first of January of 1863. It gave anyone twenty one or older who is a citizen or intended to become a citizen, and “who had never borne arms against the United States Government or given aid and comfort to its enemies” entitlement to land at $1.25 per acre, so long as the claim did not exceed a hundred sixty acres.
The only thing the person had to do was swear out an affidavit that they were the head of household, or is twenty one, or given service in the US armed forces, never borne arms against the US and never given aid or comfort to its enemies. The person also had to hold the land for five years.
The idea of Manifest Destiny fit in well with the actual experiences of the pioneers. Though the road was tough, the rewards were great, as many people made their fortunes in the west. Manifest Destiny, or the idea that America had a God-given right to all of North America did fit in well with the actual experiences of the pioneers. It did not, however, respect the culture of the Native Americans. Native Americans were forced to move from ancestral lands, and some began to assimilate. This was largely due to the amount of missionaries that moved from the east to Oregon.
Their goal was to “civilize” the “savage” Native Americans.There was, however, a place where the Americans and the Native Americans came together without argument. That place was called Middle Ground. It was a place where Native Americans and Americans came together for trade. Manifest Destiny also affected communications. Mail traveled over a route known as the Butterfield Trail.
This trail between Saint Louis and SanFrancisco took two weeks for mail to travel it. This helped to foster the development of the Pony Express. It ran for eighteen months and used relays of young riders to move mail slightly faster than traditional mail. Many went to Oregon and California to seek their fortunes and establish new lives.
Sometimes, this involved religious differences. The Mormons for example, moved because they were not accepted in either New York or Illinois. In the two female accounts that were discussed, the women moved with their families to seek a new life in Oregon. In the account of Edward Gould Buffum, he had spent six months in the California gold mines.
Even Horace Greely got into the idea of Manifest Destiny, advocating for a transcontinental railroad as a way to facilitate communication and transportation to the new territories. He also talks about the need for education and “virtuous women (Greely, 1860).”
Additionally, he discusses the need for the families of the men in California to have their families. He feels settlement would again be facilitated by a transcontinental railroad. Families would move with their men, and more families would be willing to move out west on the comfort of the trains, rather than take the wagon trains through the uncertain weather. The growth of towns showed that people were taking the idea of Manifest Destiny seriously. The mass migration of immigrants to California numbered 80,000, and the city of San Francisco grew from 848 to an astonishing 60,000.
The pioneer experiences and Manifest Destiny walked hand in hand through history. Manifest Destiny’s goal of taking over the continent combined with the curiosity of the American Pioneer. Their experiences helped forever shape the new America. The United States Government helped by passing the Homestead Act, which encouraged people to settle in the new territories. Though their experiences were different, collectively, men and women helped shape a new America full of new challenges and new rewards.
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