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Westward Expansion
Westward Expansion

Contextualization: The frontier of America has diminished since the first permanent European colony was founded. Since the 1600's Americans have spread westward over the Appalachians, over the Mississippi River, over the Great Plains, over the Rocky Mountains and eventually to the Pacific Coast. In 1803, the Louisiana Purchase nearly doubled the size of the U.S. President Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark to explore this acquired land. From 1804 to 1806 the expedition ventured as far as the Pacific Coast of the Oregon territory. Over the course of the next century, America continued to expand westward. The concept of 'Manifest Destiny&' arose in the 1840's to promote the expansion of newly gained American territories such as New Mexico and California. Texas was annexed after the fledgling country had won independence from Mexico. Other territories were succeeded to the U.S. after the Mexican-American War in 1846. Manifest Destiny was the belief that America would expand its borders to the entire continent and inhabit it fully. A trail was needed to connect the East to the West, and the Lewis and Clark Expedition had laid its first foundations. The Oregon Trail ran from Elm Grove Missouri to California and Oregon. The first expedition to trek the Oregon Trail was the Elm Grove Wagon Train in 1842. In 1850, the Donation Land Act opened free land to settlers in the Oregon until 1854. This caused a great surge of emigrants to travel west along the Oregon Trail to claim new land. In 1848, gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill in California. Word got out of the gold, and many people went west seeking gold during '48 and '49. Traffic on the Oregon Trail gradually diminished, and, by the time of the Civil War and the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, it had virtually disappeared. The Union Pacific and Central Pacific lines connected Sacramento and the Eastern lines starting at the Missouri River. The previously 4 to 6 month over-land trek became a 6 day train ride. It became easier for settlers to travel west, and many new cities sprung up along the tracks. As more and more people moved west, more towns and farms were built. The frontier was finally officially closed in 1890. People could then go back and forth between Missouri and California. The West was connected to the East.

Salient Points: The technology of the time improved to make life on the frontier easier. Old Conestoga wagons were replaced by lighter wagons called Prairie Schooners that were easier on oxen. With the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, the wagon-trains became obsolete. Weaponry also improved. Faster loading rifles replaced the old muskets, and single-shot pistols became the infamous revolver. Mining technology improved as new equipment, such as the mining pan, were invented. Mining became easier and swarms of miners came to California in hopes of getting rich. In the time between the Civil War and the end of the 19th century known as the Old West or Wild West, many famous figures arose in history. Outlaws and mountain men were popular in stories after the time period. People like Jesse James the notorious outlaw and John Johnston the mountain man were highly romanticized in 20th century pop-culture. Of Western literature other than journals, cowboy poetry is very common to this day. It is a form of poetry that focuses on the culture, features and lifestyle of the West, both the Old West and its modern equivalents. It is not defined by any particular scheme or structure, but by subject matter. Western novels, or cowboy novels, portrayed the west as both a barren landscape and a romanticized idealistic way of living.

Influence on the Short Story: Much of the American literature of the time was influenced by the Western Frontier. Many pioneers kept journals and logs of their journeys. These accounts gave insight to the harsh everyday life on the frontier. Many professional writers were influenced by these accounts and their own experiences. Mark Twain worked on a riverboat in his youth, and his experiences on the Mississippi River influenced many of his stories especially The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Twain also travelled to Nevada from 1861-67, which influenced him to write the semi-autobiographical Roughing It. James Fenimore Cooper wrote several stories that were influenced by life on the early frontier of America. Leatherstocking Tales is a series of novels set in the early frontier period of American history. The Deerslayer, The Last of the Mohicans, and The Pathfinder are set in 1757 during the French and Indian War, and The Pioneers is set in 1793 in the New York Frontier. The Prairie is a narrative of life on the Western Frontier.

Connection to class: Mark Twain's The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County best gives a connection between our class and Westward Expansion. The story takes place in California in the 1860's towards the end of the westward expansion era. In the story, a gambler gets cheated in a bet over which frog could jump higher. The cheating man flees Calaveras County before the main character, Jim, realized he had been duped. Irony is implemented in the story when Jim's frog was filled with shot. Jim's frog was clearly a better jumper, and the stranger knew this, so he poured shot into the frog's mouth when Jim was not looking. Thus, Jim's frog, though the better frog, lost the match. Also, the Stranger is an example of the untrustworthy stranger stock character, while Jim is the stereotypical too-big-for-his-britches, gullible character. The theme of this story is that strangers cannot always be trusted. In the Old West, this was especially true. At the time, the West was still rugged and somewhat uncivilized. Many people took advantage of others when they could. The theme of the Western Frontier was to look after yourself.

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