Throughout March and April, Ms. Kuehnle’s 6-8 Team social studies students are studying the westward expansion in the U.S. during the first half of the 19th century. They are considering this important period in history from the perspective of the settlers who traveled the various trails west and also from the perspective of the American Indians.
In the early 1800s, American Indians experienced growing waves of pioneers traveling westward across the land. Many of these pioneers were recent immigrants from Britain and other parts of Europe but increasingly saw themselves as Americans. Further, they increasingly believed Americans were destined to own all of the land from the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans.
In 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, breaking many earlier treaties between Native Americans and the U.S. government. The Act required Indians to trade their land east of the Mississippi River for land west of the river. Between 1830 and 1860 about 60,000 American Indians were forced to travel hundreds of miles west across to what is now Oklahoma; thousands died from starvation and exhaustion before reaching their destination.
At the same time, white pioneers continued to move west in wagon trains from Missouri to the Pacific coast. The trails used by the pioneers had been American Indian footpaths used for trading. At first, tribes traded with the pioneers. But the settlers didn’t always understand the Indians and their ways, and Indians feared the pioneers would make it harder for them to hunt for food. Sometimes Indians attacked wagon trains, and other times settlers attacked Indians.
The Gold Rush that began in 1848 attracted more than 300,000 people to California. While most of the new arrivals were from America, the gold rush also attracted thousands from Latin America, Europe, Australia, and China.
By 1850, the geography of the United States and the size and diversity of its population, had significantly changed