Westward Movement Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Europeans who settled North America's Atlantic Coast were not content to remain there long, given the vastness of the continent before them. Although the new land was already inhabited, albeit sparsely, by Native peoples, the westward movement of white settlers proceeded throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Pioneers entered the broad Mississippi Valley and quickly extended their reach along its rivers. When they came to the Great Plains in the 1840s, they did not at first settle there, for a want of resources, but instead continued westward on covered wagons to California and Oregon. The Great Plains were settled last, after decades of settlement elsewhere.

The Europeans who settled North America's Atlantic Coast were not content to remain there long, given the vastness of the continent before them. Although the new land was already inhabited, albeit sparsely, by Native peoples, the westward movement of white settlers proceeded throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Pioneers entered the broad Mississippi Valley and quickly extended their reach along its rivers. When they came to the Great Plains in the 1840s, they did not at first settle there, for a want of resources, but instead continued westward on covered wagons to California and Oregon. The Great Plains were settled last, after decades of settlement elsewhere.

The “frontier,” of course, is something of a moving target, shifting westward (and back) with each successive wave of human settlement. At the far edges of the frontier arrive, first, the explorers, hunters, and fur trappers, who seek pathways and access to readily exploitable resources. Then come the miners and, in the wooded areas, the lumbermen. These seekers are then succeeded, on the rangeland, by the cattlemen who want space and fodder for their herds. Along with the cattlemen come the pioneer farmers, looking to clear forestland and break soil in order to plant crops. In time, the early farmers come to welcome more neighbors as villages and small towns arise.

Along the way, many stories are written about the trials and travails of the trail or life on the frontier. A few of those stories are presented here.

Categories: History Content