The people who traveled to the west of North America with the aspiration to settle and develop the unexplored territories are known as the Pioneers.
The eastern coast of North America was colonized by many settlers who came from Europe.
However, the western part of America was left largely unexplored during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Many farmers hoped to find fertile land away from the already established colonies in the east and therefore ventured westward to expand the settlements.
Some colonists moved westward after they heard rumors about gold deposits in Oregon and Texas.
Some others moved due to political reasons because they felt that the new leaders of the colonists were enforcing their ideologies on the rest of the settlers.
The journey westward was not easy and riddled with all kinds of dangers. The pioneers had to face natural obstacles such as tough terrains and rivers as well as human obstacles posed by the Native Americans.
The Homestead Act 1862 allowed the settlers to seek ownership of the undeveloped lands that became part of the United States Territory.
The cost of the land was very low and some settlers were even able to secure rich and fertile lands for no money at all.
The pioneers came from various backgrounds such as lawyers, doctors, blacksmiths, businessmen, ministers, etc., and traveled westward with their families and belongings.
Many people lost their lives on the 2000 mile journey and most of them had to part with their belongings on the way.
The ones who successfully made the journey formed villages by the rivers and lived in a close-knit community.
The adventure of the pioneers paid off because they were able to secure many large pieces of fertile land in the west of America.
However, their invasion of the Native American territory caused the death and destruction of many Native American tribes.
The westward expansion of the settlers had remained a point of contention since the Proclamation of 1763.
Many settlers wanted to expand their lands and also search for gold in the largely virgin territories of the Native Americans.
Though many settlers ignored the orders of the English Crown and encroached in the west anyway, several attempts were made to pass legislation to support the ambitions of the settlers.
After the American Revolutionary War came to an end in 1783 many Republicans tried to push land grant laws to legally facilitate the westward expansion.
However, the disagreements between the Democrats of the South and the Republicans of the North on issues of slavery blocked these attempts.
The Northern farmers were concerned that if the west was opened for expansion then the southern planters would buy most of it and engage their slaves to develop the land.
This would lead to the marginalization of the small and independent farmers who did not want to encourage the institution of slavery in the United States of America.
Nonetheless, expansion continued first in the Mississippi valley and then in the Great Plains and the West Coast.
Over 250,000 pioneers walked the California Trail with the hope of starting fresh and seeking their fortunes.
The other popular trail that the pioneers chose to walk was known as the Oregon Trail.
About 80,000 pioneers set out on this journey that spanned over 6 states starting from Independence in Missouri and covered the states of Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon.
The American pioneers traveled on foot through the journey and carried their belongings in wagons pulled by mules or horses.
On their journey, they often faced attacks by wild animals like bears and also clashed with the local Native American population.
Most of the pioneers decided to make the journey either for acquiring more lands or to look for precious items such as gold.
Legislation for Acquiring Land
Many pioneers did not wait for the United States government to expand their territory westward. The American settlers had begun illegal expansion as early as 1763.
The United States government felt compelled to execute laws in order for the expansion to happen in an orderly way to avoid future conflicts based on land claims.
The first attempt by the United States government to regulate westward expansion was made in 1803 when the United States purchased 828,000 square miles in Louisiana from the French.
Thomas Jefferson was very excited about purchasing this land from Napoleon Bonaparte because of the Mississippi River and the Port of Orleans.
Despite opposition from the Federalist Party, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were able to urge Congress to fund the purchase of Louisiana.
The Louisiana purchase cost the government $15 million dollars at the time and spurred the westward movement of settlers.
The land that was purchased included all of present-day Iowa, Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma.
It also included large parcels of land in North Dakota and South Dakota along with the areas of Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana that fell on the east of the Continental Divide.
Some parts of present-day New Mexico, Minnesota, Texas were also included in the purchase apart from the present-day state of Louisiana located on the west of the Mississippi River.
Some parts of Canada like small portions of land in Alberta and Saskatchewan were made available to the United States settlers through the purchase.
The Native Americans had ancestral claims on the land and still lived on the territory that fell under the Louisiana Purchase.
They had not ceded their land to the French and nor to the United States. There were about 60,000 people who lived on these lands and had ancestral claims on them.
Many lawsuits were filed by the Native Americans to stop the encroachment of the settlers on their lands.
However, their pleas were ignored and they were forced to move from their lands at gunpoint by the US army in an event called the Trail of Tears.
Legislation for Settlements
In order to regulate land titles and streamline the process of expansion, the United States government passed the Land Ordinance of 1785.
It gave a structure to the process of purchasing land in the west for the settlers by creating a standardized system of farmland titles.
At this time, Congress had no authority to raise revenue through taxation. The sale of land through the government was the only way to raise revenue for the government.
Under the Land Ordinance of 1765, Congress was authorized to organize a survey system to map the new territories of the United States.
However, it did not provide a mechanism that would define how the territories would become states.
It also did not provide any system of governance of the newly formed settlements.
To overcome this limitation, the Ordinance of 1785 was passed which dictated the exact procedure to purchase and settle in the west.
Two years later the Northwest Ordinance was passed to ensure political stability and address other political needs.
The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 also declared that the states were not allowed to claim new lands.
This authority strictly rested with the national government of the United States of America according to the resolution.
Later in 1804, the Land Act was passed to allow the US government to legislate the process in which pioneers could claim lands.
It also oversaw the process by which lands were meant to be distributed among the population of the United States.
Many wealthy planters secured good parcels of land by striking deals with the officials of the government.
The discovery of gold in California propelled more wealthy businessmen to secure lucrative land parcels in the west.
The Homestead Act of 1862 allowed several individuals to apply for ownership of government land for the purpose of setting up smaller farmlands called Homesteads.
According to this act, the free white farmers were allowed to own and run small farmlands and avoid being marginalized by the wealthy planters.
The Homestead Act made 10% of the total area of the United States open for purchase to 1.6 million homesteaders.
The 160 million acres of rich and fertile lands were sold for as low as $2 or sometimes even free of charge.
Most of this land was located on the west of the Mississippi River and was good for running independent small farms.
All adult males were eligible to apply as long as they could prove that they were loyal to the Federal government of the United States.
The act also made women and immigrants eligible for ownership as long as they applied for citizenship of the United States.
The second Homestead Act passed in 1866 allowed African Americans to apply for ownership of farms, however, due to discrimination and corruption in the bureaucracy, their participation was stalled.
Life of the Pioneers
The availability of fertile lands for cheap prices motivated many people to begin a treacherous 2000 mile journey westward.
Randolph B Marcy who was the Captain of the US Army, published a book called The Prairie Traveler in 1859 to provide insight and guidance to the American pioneers.
It included advice on good places to stop, what items they must carry, how to deal with the Native Americans, and what to do if they met with bears.
The most popular trails that the American pioneers traveled were called the Oregon Trail, California Trail, and the Mormon Trail.
Many pioneers decided to make the journey to either look for gold or to hunt for fur pelts.
The most common reason for American pioneers to walk the trails was the hope for better economic and political opportunities.
Quite a few of the American Pioneers left their families and friends behind and traveled with other pioneers.
They stuck together to ensure that they could defend themselves and also join their efforts to successfully cross the dense forests and raging rivers.
They loaded their belongings on wagons that were pulled by horses, oxen, or mules and raced on the Oregon Trail to avail of the free lands which were distributed on a first come first serve basis.
The pioneers needed to secure money either by saving their income or by selling their belongings in order to conduct the 6-month long journey.
They arranged the groups in a systematic way to maximize their efforts and minimize threats.
For example, some people were assigned to be wagonmasters and their job was to ensure that the wagon train was in order.
Cowboys were appointed to assist the wagons through rocky terrains and rivers while the scouts were appointed to map the area before the wagons and anticipate any challenges.
Challenges and Victories
The pioneers faced many challenges throughout the journey and several of them died as a result.
The most common problem faced by the pioneers was disease outbreaks caused due to harsh weather conditions.
Many pioneers died while fighting the Native Americans who were very displeased by the invasion of their ancestral lands.
The trails have several locations that are marked by the graves of the pioneers who were not able to make their journey successfully.
Many pioneers tried to overcome these issues by planning their journey in the warmer months of the year and carrying supplies to last them the whole way.
They took barrels of water, corn, rice, bacon, potatoes, dried fruits, etc. if they were poor.
The wealthier pioneers carried two wagons with far more food supplies and sometimes even cows to provide with milk and meat on the journey.
When they reached their destinations they rushed to purchase their parcels of land which were sold at $2 an acre.
Their first task after acquiring the land was to clear the forests and prepare it for farming.
They built their own homes and dug their own wells if they were not able to get land close to the river.
The pioneers banded together to ensure that their settlements were fortified against the attacks by the Native Americans.
Many pioneers chose to farm their lands and do other trades such as hunting animals for food or fur.
The history of the pioneers is popularized in American culture through books such as The Deerslayer, Leatherstocking Tales, Little House on the Prairie, etc.
David Crockett and Daniel Boone became known as American Pioneer heroes in American folklore.