You are on page 1of 6

Westward Migration 1830-1860 1

Running Head: Westward Migration 1830-1860

Westward Migration 1830-1860

[Author’s Name]

[Institution’s Name]
Westward Migration 1830-1860 2

Westward Migration 1830-1860

Rapid settlement from the westward migration is perhaps the

most compelling and important theme in American history. In no

other place or time has such an immense region been settled so

quickly by individuals and small groups of settlers who operated

independent of, and at times in direct violation of,

governmental policy. Of seminal importance in outlining westward

migration in American history is the relationship of the

frontier to the process of westward movement. Usually considered

the area where the settled portions of civilization meet the

untamed wilderness, the frontier moved west over time with the

migrations of American settlers (Cayton, Andrew R. L., and Peter

S. Onuf 1990). The relocation and redefinition of the frontier

thus in many ways came to define the process of westward

migration, both as a delineating marker between settlement and

wilderness and as a gateway to the "West."

The westward migration of slaves during the antebellum

period took two basic forms: planter migrations and the

interstate slave trade. Although all forms of forced migration

threatened the stability of enslaved families, the interstate

trade was a greater threat than planter migrations. Presumably,

planters took all of their slaves with them on their westward

migrations, mitigating the disruptive effects on slave families.

Traders, however, preferred to purchase slaves with

Westward Migration 1830-1860 3

characteristics valued by buyers in distant markets. Such

selective purchases were typically done one slave at a time,

often times severing marital and family ties. Because of its

disruptive effects on families, the slave trade made an easy

target for abolitionists and other critics of slavery and the

South. Early attempts to distance themselves from the slave

trade were eventually abandoned in the years prior to the War,

as white southerners became increasingly belligerent in their

defense of the institution of slavery. (Billington, Ray Allen


By the antebellum decades, westward migration had become a

symbol of manly courage and adventure. It also produced

continual conflicts between white men and women over the

frequency of such moves and the toll they took on personal and

familial relationships. Colonization supporters exploited these

notions of manly migration and entrepreneurial industry when

defending their cause, thereby connecting manliness with their

particular brand of activism.

In the 1860s, however, an increasing number of migrants

turned their attention to the trans-Mississippi interior, where

they came into conflict with the Indian tribes of the Great

Plains and the Southwest. Most of these tribes, including the

Sioux, Cheyenne, Comanche, and Apache, allowed migrants to cross

their territory but would not tolerate permanent settlements.

Westward Migration 1830-1860 4

When migrants began to push into the Dakotas, Colorado, and New

Mexico in violation of native sovereignty, the Indians waged a

determined resistance (Cayton, Andrew R. L 1990). Gradually,

however, the United States Army subdued the Plains Indians and

the Great Plains lay open to settlement.

Westward migration in the trans-Mississippi West took three

forms, often classified as "frontiers." The first, the mining

frontier, opened with the great rush of migrants to the

mountainous regions following the discovery of gold in

California. From 1848 to 1853, more than 250,000 prospectors

flooded California, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. The rush

diminished significantly after the most workable deposits were

exhausted and many mining communities disappeared. Yet the

mining frontier helped lay the foundation for such major

communities as Denver and San Francisco, communities that would

become important political and social centers for continued

migrations into the west. (Limerick, Patricia Nelson 1987)

The ranching, or cattle frontier, supplanted the miners

after the Civil War. At first, cattle-ranchers settled in Texas

to pursue range ranching, an activity requiring ranchers to

drive huge herds of cattle hundreds of miles over open

grasslands to designated slaughter depots. As railroads and

refrigeration opened more eastern markets to beef, more

sedentary forms of ranching took hold throughout the trans-

Westward Migration 1830-1860 5

Mississippi West, until cattle herds dominated the landscapes of

Texas, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakota Territory

(Cayton, Andrew R. L 1998). Some western migrants, no longer

able to make a living as ranchers, returned to the Midwest and

found employment in support industries in cities like Chicago,

which became the leading center for meat processing and

packaging in the United States.

Westward Migration 1830-1860 6


Billington, Ray Allen. Westward Expansion: A History of the

American Frontier. 5th Ed. New York: Macmillan, 1982.

Cayton, Andrew R. L., and Peter S. Onuf. The Midwest and the

Nation: Rethinking the History of an American Region.

Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.

Cayton, Andrew R. L., and Fredrika J. Teute, eds. Contact

Points: American Frontiers from the Mohawk Valley to the

Mississippi, 1750–1830. Chapel Hill: University of North

Carolina Press, 1998.

Limerick, Patricia Nelson. The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken

Past of the American West. New York: Norton, 1987.