Westward Expansion

The early settlers of the United States rarely went past the Appalachian Mountains. Almost all of the colonies were on North America’s East Coast and they eventually became the original thirteen colonies.

The expansion into the West was due to the need for more land and as the United States grew, so did the desire to take advantage of more regions. It was only a matter of time before the expansion included the frontier areas of the West.

Moving Westward

The growth of the American colonies exploded from the 250,000 colonists in 1700 to 2.5 million only 75 years later.

People were arriving in the new world to achieve prosperity, have land of their own, and to pursue religious freedom and it didn’t take long to being eyeing new areas.

The famed pioneer, explorer, woodsman, and frontiersman, Daniel Boone, took the lead for a group of settlers to take them across the Cumberland Gap and entered into Kentucky.

This was the first exploration into the settlement of the area known as the Northwest Territory. These make up today’s states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

Lewis and Clark and The Louisiana Territory

The demand for land continued and this brought about the purchase of the Louisiana Territory for $15 million by President Thomas Jefferson.

The area that was west of the Mississippi River was pretty much unexplored and the purchase almost doubled the size of the U.S.

To get a clear picture of everything that was there, President Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark, the famed explorers across the vast frontier to record the details.

The West Calls

A majority of what we now call the Western United States was land that was owned by Mexico. What began with the rights of Texas ownership ended with the war with Mexico and they handed over Texas, and much of California.

Around the same time, Great Britain created a treaty that gave the U.S. the Oregon Territory. This opened up a huge land area for settlers to head to as much of the land was being offered for free for farming and ranching through the passage of the Homestead Act.

There were some, such as the religious group, the Mormons, that relocated west as a way to avoid religious persecution. However, it was the gold rush of California that was the final call to so many that headed out to strike it rich.

The gold rush pushed the populations of many of the Western areas forward, creating new towns almost overnight.

Reputation of the Wild West

A majority of the West had very little in the way of government or laws. The local sheriffs of the small towns and communities were as close to the law as anyone could get.

This meant that outlaws and bandits had more of a free run and private citizens had to rely on protecting themselves. This led to the reputation of the West as wild territories and the name was well-earned due to the many gunslingers of the time.

By 1890, the country had 44 states, and the government had a complete exploration report. The only states that we have today that were not admitted yet included Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Utah.

Native Americans

The dark side of the Westward expansion had to do with what is known as “manifest destiny.” This was the belief that the United States was meant to include all of the territories.

The push for this philosophy created the situation where Native Americans that lived on the land were taken over and relocated to reservations. Much of their land had previously been promised to them in written treaties.

Facts about the Westward Expansion:

  • In the 100 years between 1800 and 1900, the population of the United States grew from 5.2 million people. Individuals were arriving from so many countries to be part of a new life.
  • The Louisiana Purchase was originally a bit smaller land tract. President James K. Polk negotiated an expansion of the land to include the larger size.
  • Travel in the early days of going west was grueling and hard. Many of the original settlers went by wagon. Thanks to the development of the Transcontinental Railroad as well as the Transcontinental Telegraph, both travel and communication were improved.
  • The first known Classified Ad was for people to apply for the Pony Express. The requirements for the job included applicants to be young, male, and orphans.