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Descripción de editorial
It is hard to fix a beginning date for the Westward Movement, unless we start with 1492 and Columbus’ first voyage of discovery. In reality the entire history of the New World is a movement of Europeans to the Western Hemisphere. In earlier booklets in this series we have dealt with the migrations of pioneers from the Atlantic Coast to the land beyond the Appalachian Mountains. We also have covered the expedition of Lewis and Clark to the Pacific Coast in 1805 and the annexation of Texas in 1845. This booklet is primarily concerned with the region beyond the Midwest, the high plains, the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevadas, the deserts, and the fertile Pacific Coast.
Restlessness and mobility have always been distinguishing characteristics of the American people. Revolutionary War veterans settled in Ohio or Kentucky and lived to see their children move on to Missouri or Texas. Their children’s children pushed farther west to the Pacific Coast over the Oregon Trail or sailed around Cape Horn to join the gold rush in California. The westward movement still goes on, as a glance at the latest census report will quickly show. The difference is that nowadays the immigrant can arrive in California in a few hours by jet from New York, pan his gold on the assembly line of a company making guided missiles, and sleep in a cabin with a barbecue grill and a swimming pool in the back yard.
This booklet begins with descriptions of the land and the people in the Great West before the Civil War. This was a period of exploration and conquest. Until they saw for themselves, people could not believe the plains were as broad, the deserts as hot and dry, and the mountains as rugged and high as they really were. Every day was an adventure, some of which ended disastrously. But the West was conquered and the continent spanned by trail, by stagecoach route, and finally by railroad.
When one speaks of the frontier, he must keep in mind that there was more than one frontier as the West filled up. There was, first of all, the frontier of the explorer and trapper. These men had no more effect on the land than the Indians who had roamed the mountains and plains for thousands of years. Next, there was the mining frontier, which brought mushroom growth to specific areas like central California or Denver, Colorado, but left untouched the vast areas in between. Then there was the ranching frontier which created cow towns and cattle trails. Finally, there was the farming frontier, which changed the face of the land unalterably and filled the gaps left by the miners and ranchers.
The frontier of the trappers and explorers ended with the discoveries of gold and silver and the expansion of the borders of the United States all the way to the Pacific Coast. The frontier of the miner and the rancher ended with the building of the transcontinental railroad, which opened up the West to farmers. The frontier of the farmer ended when the entire West was more or less fenced in and dotted with settlements. The closing of the frontier was dramatically announced in 1890 by the director of the census, who reported that no longer could a line be drawn on the map showing the farthest point reached by settlements.
This booklet illustrates the various frontiers from the plains to the Pacific. The West has stimulated the American imagination as almost no other aspect of our history (the television fare on any average night proves this); hence the total literature on the subject is vast. We have selected a handful of interesting reports from the many available.