OCR GCSE History American West Plains Western Settlers

Part 2/4 American West Notes

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Key Question 2: Why did people settle and stay in the West?
What was the importance of the belief in Manifest Destiny?
By 1853 the USA had rights to owning the whole of North America yet feared that
unless the land was filled by White Americans, it would be seized by the British,
French or Mexicans. They also believed that they had a right to settle and govern the
entirety of Northern America and fulfil their "manifest destiny." This belief was so
strong that as the first wagons travelled west it was believed that they were fulfilling
destiny. Thus white supremacy was believed and White Americans saw their displacing
of the Indians and conquering of the west to be both natural and acceptable.
Why were the Mountain Men important to the West?
The Mountain Men were the first white men to cross the Rocky Mountains and the
Sierra Nevada. They had the first glimpses of the fertile lands of California and
Oregon and found routes through which became vital to settlers. Mountain Men had
mixed relationships with the Indians, some saw them as allies and worked with them
whereas others hated Indians and engaged in fights willingly. However Mountain Men
mainly brought firearms, alcohol and STD's into Indian life thus beginning the
destruction of their way of life. Mountain Men often worked together with
government explorers as they both had different interests and could help each other.
Mainly Mountain Men hunted and collected fur for trading companies and got to know
the areas very well. It was when they handed over their furs at the annual
"Rendezvous" that stories of the rich and fertile lands beyond the Sierra Nevada were
spread to the East. However as the fur industry plummeted Mountain Men turned to
becoming guides for White Americans who had been influenced by their own stories
of the rich lands of Oregon.
Why did the first pioneers go west?
The journey west was long and dangerous but in the 19th Century people were still
prepared to risk this so there must have been good reasons for this. One major factor
was the 1837 financial crisis which left many people bankrupt and unemployed. A new
life west could be no worse than staying in the east with nothing. The population also
rose from 14,000 to 353,000 in a decade in Missouri and there wasn't enough land for
farmers to make a living. As the Mountain Men told stories of an abundance of rich
fertile land in the West it is no surprise that many farmers were willing to make this
journey. The government who were all for manifest destiny and filling up Northern
America encouraged the journey west, supplying pioneers with loans and support to
make the journey west even more appealing. Imagination of potential success, a new
life, greed and the excitement of an adventure would have easily clouded over the
dangers and risks of moving west.
What difficulties did early pioneers face?

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Once travellers reached Independence, the frontier between the Plains and the east,
they had to buy provisions, wagons and mules. Quite often they got ripped off as they
were willing to pay anything and consequently not having enough supplies.
Alternatively they could get too much and would suffer under the extra unnecessary
weight. This was a problem which the Donner Party (1846) faced, as their wagons had
built in beds. Another problem was date of departure.…read more

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Why did the Mormons move west?
Brigham Young took over as leader of the Mormons decided that the Mormons
needed an area of land which was uninhabited and the Mormons could live alone free
from persecution surrounding their beliefs. He decided to move to the Great Salt
Lake on the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The last Mormon wagon left in
September 1846 and the Mormons weren't nearly as well prepared as most pioneers
were.…read more

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Building houses was a major problem in an environment where there was no wood.
They used earth, which earned the homesteaders their nickname `sodbusters', to build
these houses which had to withstand gales, drought, insects and prairie fires. Farming
was a huge problem. The ground was too hard for the cast iron ploughs of the time
and the average rainfall of 28cm was not enough for agriculture.…read more


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