The present territorial domains of the United States (US) were a result of expansionism that came in the years that followed its independence in 1776. Prior to expansion, much of the US included only the 13 original states and territories that spanned the Midwest. A series of colonial trysts with Spain over its territories has led to the gradual westward expansion of the US towards the Pacific Ocean. White American settlers have since mingled with Hispanic and Asian populations, both of which have settled through colonization and waves of immigration. The rise in mining activities, particularly triggered by the Gold Rush in California and the dominance of cattle drivers on arid plains both have instrumental contributions to the westward expansion of the US and its rapid growth and development. This study seeks to investigate such a historical phenomenon through further elaborations on the roles of white American settlers, miners and cattle drivers. Native Americans, all of which have gained considerable impacts from the westward expansion of the US, have a specific coverage in this study determining the impact of such a phenomenon on them.
Influence of White Settlers, Miners and Cattle Drivers on Federal Westward Expansion
White Americans began settling parts of the American West after the US emerged victorious in the Revolutionary War in 1783. Explorer and frontiersman Daniel Boone explored parts of what is now the state of Kentucky and lands inhabited by Native Americans that time. In the process, Boone and other travelers faced attacks from Native Americans, who sensed that their lands were under threat from occupation. With the eventual failure of Native Americans to defend their land from the US during the War of 1812 even with the help of the British Empire, white American settlements began spreading further westward. Industries that helped sustain white American settlements in the American West include fur trading, mining and cattle driving, while the construction of public works (railways and highways) and the establishment of postal services all aided the cause of the US federal government on westward expansion (Milner et al. 79-114).
The discovery of gold in northern California during the 1840s prompted the Gold Rush, which attracted several prospectors and miners in the area and prompted the expansion of white American settlement alongside existing Hispanic residents. The Gold Rush was primarily responsible for the massive growth and development of California, which instantly gained statehood in 1850 without undergoing “territorial” status. Real estate boomed in the present-day areas of San Francisco and Los Angeles, in turn populated by several professionals such as lawyers, doctors, merchants and specialists in mining products, among many others (Johnson 185-236).
Apart from mining, cattle driving stood out as a prominent industry in the American West. Cattle driving emerged from the practices of Spanish cattlemen, who established ranches in areas such as Kansas and Texas. Northern parts of the American West soon picked up the industry, such as Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado. Such an industry received massive investments from British entrepreneurs and businesspersons from Eastern US, most notably President Theodore Roosevelt. Cattle driving, up until its decline in the 1880s due to widespread winter storms, proved to be a lucrative symbol of the American West, best represented by the romanticized American cowboy. The cowboy hat and the blue jeans first manufactured by Levi Strauss during the Gold Rush became the enduring embodiments of the American cowboy, which in turn became an undeniable symbol of the American West (Milner et al. 675-706).
Impact of Westward Expansion on Native Americans
The westward expansion of the US has caused the massive displacement of Native Americans from their ancestral domains. The so-called “Indian Question”, which placed Native Americans under the control of the US federal government but not under their respective state governments, prompted massive conflicts. The US federal government wanted to displace Native Americans out of their ancestral domains to reservations. Native Americans, for their part, heavily resisted such moves. Such a conflict resulted to various Native American attacks against white American settlers moving westward of the US. With cases of fraud against Native Americans, many of them claiming to have received false promises of land in exchange of departure from their tribes, relinquishment of their land titles and state citizenship, the US federal government dealt with violent backlashes. What first emerged as the policy of establishing a single Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) became an effort to integrate Native Americans to the rest of American society through detribalization (Milner et al. 13-44; 393-426).
The emergence of the American West proved to be a historically turbulent one, given the geographic, cultural and economic challenges it presented to the US federal government. Nevertheless, the westward expansion of the US did not end up in vain: California now has one of the largest economies in the world and the entire area of the American West is now among the most socially progressive in the nation. Yet, such positive results did not emerge simply out of mere compliance. Social conflicts, economic challenges and cultural differences all helped shape the progress the American West is currently enjoying.
Johnson, Susan Lee. Roaring Camp: The Social World of the California Gold Rush. New York City, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000. Print.
Milner, Clyde, O’Connor, Carol, and Martha Sandweiss (eds.). The Oxford History of the American West. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 1994. Print.