Traveling Tuesday: Westward Expansion
|American Progress, 1872|
by John Gast
By 1840, almost forty percent of the U.S. population (about seven million people), lived in the trans-Appalachian West. Using the trail blazed by Lewis and Clark, these people sold most of their worldly goods to purchase a wagon, a pair of oxen, and enough food (hopefully) to get them across the country. Most were searching for economic opportunity, but many were looking for adventure.
Americans weren’t the only people to trek the trails. Europeans came in droves, and the reasons are as
|Courtesy National Geographic|
In 1845, journalist John O’Sullivan espoused that westward migration was “Americans’ manifest destiny to carry the great experiment of liberty to the edge of the continent: to overspread and to possess the whole of the [land] which Providence has given us.” He may have coined the phrase, but it was a belief long held within the U.S.
The Preemption Act of 1841, The Donation Land Act of 1850, and the Homestead Act of 1862 enticed spurts of mass immigration. There were two wagon-based transportation networks, one starting in Missouri, the other in the Mexican province of Santa Fe de Nuevo Mexico. Known as the Emigrant Trails, the Oregon, Mormon, and California trails began in Missouri, and historians have estimated that at least a half-million people traversed these three trails between 1843 and 1869 (the height of expansion). The Gila Trail, Sante Fe Trail, and Old Spanish Trail were the “southern routes.”
No matter what trail was used, the journey was arduous and slow and fraught with dangers. Infectious diseases, dehydration, malnutrition, injury, and inclement weather caused the deaths of as many as one in ten travelers. Most settlers paid to be led by a wagon master who was in charge of a large party or “train” of up to several hundred wagons. Some of these masters wrote trail guides or memoirs, and it wasn’t until 1859, the government published The Prairie Traveler, written by Capt. Randolph Marcy who'd spent most of his career in the American West.
Competition among the territories was fierce, and some offered “incentives” to lure settlers, such as Wyoming which was the first state to give women the right to vote. Once the journey was complete, the danger wasn’t necessarily over, but immigrants built “soddies,” homes made of dirt and grass, then set about carving a living out of the plentiful and fertile land of the West.
Dinah Simpkins has no chance of making a good marriage. Her outlaw brothers and her father’s gambling addiction have ruined the family’s reputation. Then the Westward Home and Hearts Matrimonial Agency provides an opportunity for a fresh start. After Dinah arrives in Nebraska, she discovers her brothers played a part in the death of her prospective groom’s first wife.
As a former Pinkerton detective Nathan Childs knows when someone is lying. The bride sent by the matrimonial agency may be beautiful, but she’s definitely hiding something, and he has no intention of marrying her until he uncovers the truth. But an easier solution may be to send her packing. Then his young daughter goes missing. He and Dinah must put aside their mutual hurt and mistrust to find her.
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