American West

  • Created by: holly6901
  • Created on: 06-06-19 12:27

The Early Settlement of the West

Factors encouraging migration

Economic conditions and the Oregon Trail

White Migration

  • There was greater independence and a freer way of life, with more space to farm. There was gold in the west too.
  • There were push factors too.
    • Overpopulation in the east, and some groups faced persecution.
    • High unemployment (25% after the 1837 crash) and falling wheat prices made farming difficult.
    • Further collapses in corn prices in the mid-east, forcing farmers to travel west.

Timeline of the Oregon Trail

  • 1836: Migrants travel on the Oregon Trail for the first time.
  • 1837: A financial crisis causes unemployment to rise. Fall in wheat prices severely affects farmers.
  • 1841: The government maps and creates guidebooks for the Oregon Trail.
  • 1846: Governor of Illinois expels Mormons.

Timeline of exploration

  • 1825: Jedediah Smith (an explorer) discovers a pass (the South Pass) through the Rocky Mountains.
  • 1848: Explorers discover gold in California.
  • 1858-9: Explorers discover gold in the Rocky Mountains.
  • 1874: Explorers discover gold in the Black Hills.

Manifest Destiny and the Gold Rush

Manifest Destiny

In order to defend its territory from foreign powers, the US government settled the west with Americans.

  • This was seen as ‘manifest destiny’. God’s desire for whites to settle the entire continent of North America.

The Gold Rush

  • When gold was discovered in California, many rushed to the west in what was called the ‘gold rush’.
  • This had significant consequences across the country.
    • Tens of thousands took the trail to the west.
    • In 1852, 20,000 came to California by ship after a famine in China. Most found no gold.
    • Increasingly, professional miners took control in the area.

Professional gold miners

  • By 1855, 300,000 people had moved to California, resulting in it becoming a state.
  • Migrants deliberately killed Indians in California in what is considered a genocide.
  • Gold from California helped to fund railways, and boost the economy.

Process and problems of migration

Migration and the Donner Party


  • The Oregon Trail was 3,200km long. It was 3,800km to California.
  • Pamphlets or Indian guides helped the migrants across the trail.
  • Independence, Missouri, was the start of the trail westwards.
    • The journey, consisting of 20 wagons or more, took 8-9 months.
    • They began in April so they could finish before winter came.

Problems with migration

  • Some groups faced huge problems as they migrated.
  • When crossing the plains, travellers were faced with storms, heat, buffalo, and the threat of attack from Indians.
  • The Rockies, Blue Mountains and Sierra Nevada stood between the migrants and their destination.
    • This led to injuries and many broken wagons!

The Donner Party

  • A group led by Jacob and George Donner left Missouri in May 1846. 300 people in 60 wagons were bound for California.
  • Using a leaflet for assistance, a small group of 80 attempted to take a shortcut at Fort Bridger.
  • Four wagons malfunctioned. One migrant murdered another.
  • The group could not finish before winter. The group was trapped by snow in the Sierra Nevada. One group was sent to look…


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