Americans Move West

I. Timeline: 1783-1869

II. Poems of the Westward Migration

III. My Favorite Classic Westerns

A Vintage Conestoga wagon with a water barrel on the side. Photo by Larry Costales from Unsplash.

Map of US Territorial Growth. Photo from flickr.

Timeline: 1783-1869

1783

The Thirteen Colonies won their independence from England. The United States of America at this time consisted of thirteen states which extended to the Mississippi River on the west. Territories to the south and west were controlled by Spain, France, and Russia. Canadian borders were being established to the north. Of course, Native Americans already lived in the Americas when Europeans arrived, a fact Europeans often chose to ignore.

Mountain men were fur traders and trappers who explored the American West. They lived among the Native Americans, learned tribal languages, and often married Native American wives.

1803

The Louisiana Purchase. The US bought the Louisiana Territory from France. President Thomas Jefferson sent the Lewis & Clark Expedition to explore the West. Their journals recorded the topography, Native American tribes they visited, and plants and animals they found.

Sacagawea, a sixteen-year-old Native American guide and translator, joined the expedition with her French Canadian explorer husband and infant son. She was invaluable to the expedition, and in 1794, a one dollar coin was first minted in her honor. On the coin is an image of Sacagawea carrying her baby on her back.

1803-1841

The Western Expansion. Settlers moved to land West of the Mississippi River, traveling on foot, on horseback, and by canoes, river rafts, and Conestoga wagons.

The US continued to purchase territories. A doctrine called “Manifest Destiny” stated that it was ordained by God that the US should occupy all the land from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.

Native Americans resisted the takeover of their land. There were many conflicts and wars between the Settlers, US soldiers, and the Native Americans. US soldiers manned numerous forts along the trail to protect the wagon trains and the settlers who now lived on the Great Plains.

1841-1869

The Great Migration. During this time, 350,000 settlers traveled to California and the Oregon Territories. Steam-powered riverboats and eventually stage coaches became available. Telegraph lines soon linked East and West. The US now stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.

Many new states had been admitted to the Union as settlers moved west, some where slavery was legal, and some where slavery was illegal. This was a tumultuous time in American history which culminated in a bloody civil war.

1849

Gold was discovered in California, and the California Gold Rush began. “Forty-niners” went to California in search of gold. A few of them did “strike it rich.” Many more did not.

Towns sprang up where gold and silver were discovered. When the mines played out, the towns were abandoned. Ghost Towns still exist in the American West.

1861-1865

The American Civil War was fought between the Union (Northern States) and the Confederacy (Southern States.) It was a devastating and bloody conflict that centered around issues of slavery.

1869

The First Transcontinental Railroad was completed, joining East and West. This marked the end of the Era known as the Great Migration.


Copyright© 2021 by Cheryl Batavia


Poems of the Westward Migration

A creek in Yosemite National Park. Photo by Michael Hirsch on Unsplash.

Mountain Men

Mountain men roamed the wilderness

and lived among the tribes,

learning tribal languages

and taking native wives.

They knew the animals and seasons

and walked the forest ways,

trapping beaver along the rivers

in long, solitary days.

Gentlemen in London and Paris

wanted to make the right impression.

American beavers died for the sake

of fashion’s beaver hat obsession.

Mountain men gathered

when the season was through

to trade their furs and celebrate

their yearly Rendezvous.

Black Foot, Standing Bear, and Big Eagle, three members of the Sioux tribe. A Sioux village with tipis, 1898 photo from the Boston Public Library on Unsplash.

Native Americans

Native Americans, on many occasions,

helped European settlers survive,

but goodwill soon evaporated

when the multitudes arrived.

An endless stream of intruders

settled on ancestral lands.

Smallpox and measles took a toll.

Others died by White men’s hands.

Native Americans were pushed

further westward for years and years.

Their lands were seized, and they were

forced to walk the “Trail of Tears.”

Treaties dishonored, promises broken.

Natives were confined to reservations.

Their children were sent to far-off schools

for White man’s education.

Modern-day campers and a replica Conestoga wagon. Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash.

Wagon Trains Go West

Carrying the settlers’ worldly goods,

Conestoga wagons crossed the plains.

For protection against Native American

attacks, they traveled in wagon trains.

A wagon master led the wagon train

and guided settlers on their way.

He knew where to ford the rivers and

where to camp at the end of the day.

Many settlers walked along the trail

to spare the oxen and lighten the load.

At night they circled the wagons and

cooked their suppers beside the road.

Babies were born along the trail.

Settlers played music and danced.

Couples were married on the journey

after a wagon train romance.

Dreams were big, and hopes were high,

but there were hardships every day.

The trail was littered with broken wagons,

and graves were left along the way.

Vintage steam engine. Narrow gauge railroad. Photo by Adrienne Merritt on Unsplash.

The Great Migration

The US army manned a series of forts

to defend the wagon trains and

protect the settlements springing up

across the western plains.

Gold was discovered in California.

Settlers traveled the Oregon Trail.

Stage coaches soon headed west,

carrying passengers and mail.

New states were joining the Union,

some slave, and some free.

It was a dark and turbulent era

in American History.

Five years of civil war

brought widespread devastation.

The Transcontinental Railroad

ended the era of Great Migration.

There has always been a special bond between a cowboy and his horse. Photo by Rodnae Productions on Pexels.



Cowboy Life

Cowboys riding the open range

under a wide blue sky,

we keep an eye out for rustlers,

loaded guns by our sides.

Many more miles to ride,

many new calves to brand.

We sit around the campfire,

eating beans from a can.

Singing sad songs, swapping

tall tales, just hanging around.

We unpack our bedrolls

and fall asleep on the ground.

Morning comes early. Drink your

coffee and saddle your horse.

Looks like good weather today…

I’ve seen a whole lot worse!

New horses to be broken

out in the corral.

Getting ready for round-up

and a big cattle drive in the fall.

Cookie’s got provisions.

The chuck wagon’s ready to go.

Our last night in the bunkhouse…

Telling jokes and playing dominoes.

This cattle drive is endless,

riding hard and swallowing dust,

eating biscuits and gravy

until we’re ready to bust!

Tomorrow, we’ll drive the herd

to town, and head for the saloon.

We’ll play some cards, drink some

beer, and listen to some tunes.

A modern-day riverboat on the Mississippi River near New Orleans. Photo by Bernard Sprague from flickr.

Scoundrels of the Old West

Scoundrels were irresistibly drawn

to the riches of the West.

Card sharks prowled the riverboats,

putting amatures to the test.

Traveling medicine shows

sold worthless potions and elixers

to an unsuspecting populace.

What a shameless bunch of tricksters!

Claim jumpers lurked in the gold fields

to seize somebody else’s claim.

Crooks in preacher’s collars robbed

congregations in God’s name.

A few crooked agents on reservations

sold cattle the government sent,

growing rich on the profits, while native

families ate the bread of discontent.

Unscrupulous prostitutes robbed

customers who fell into their hands.

Rustlers stole cattle on the range,

altering the original brands.

And then there were armed outlaws

committing robberies with guns,

holding up stages, trains, and banks,

living their lives on the run.

Vintage western schoolhouse/church. Photo by Dan Myers from Unsplash.

Old West Towns

Any self-respecting town

had a saloon with a piano player,

hotel, general store,

jail, and undertaker.

A livery stable and a blacksmith

were absolute musts!

Every town needed a doctor

and a banker they could trust.

Most towns had a one-room school

with a schoolmarm to teach

reading, writing, and arithmetic…

and a circuit rider to preach.

Kids learned the ten commandments

and the Golden Rule.

Frontier towns didn’t want to raise

a generation of lawless fools!

Some towns had a seamstress,

Chinese laundry, barber, and baker,

railroad station, telegraph office,

and town newspaper.

Add to these a brothel

to spread a little joy

among all the lonely sinners,

miners, and cowboys.

Ghost town. Photo by Kevin Wheeler on Unsplash.

Ghost Towns

Western towns sprang up like mushrooms

near gold and silver mines, and

when the mines played out,

mining towns fell on hard times.

Out in the desert you can visit ghost towns

and think of days gone by.

Hear eerie music, see shadowy ghosts…

At least, it’s fun to try!


Copyright© 2021 by Cheryl Batavia


My Favorite Classic Westerns

Into the West, a six-part series from executive producer, Steven Spielberg. Available on YouTube.

Two families, one Native American and the other White, live through the events of the American westward movement.

Little House on the Prairie, TV series based on the Little House series of books by Laura Ingals Wilder. Story of a family growing up on a farm near a small prairie town.

Michael Landon, Mellissa Gilbert, Karen Grassle, Melissa Sue Anderson.

Bonanza, TV Series. A rancher and his sons are involved in many issues of the day.

Lorne Greene, Michael Landon, Pernell Roberts, Dan Blocker.

Oklahoma, a movie musical about a girl coming of age on an Oklahoma farm.

Shirley Jones, Gordon McRae.

Paint Your Wagon, a movie musical comedy set in a Gold Rush mining town. A Mormon woman marries two men.

Clint Eastwood, Lee Marvin, Jean Seberg.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, a hilarious movie musical with critically-acclaimed dance sequences.

Howard Keel, Jane Powell.

Jeremiah Johnson, a movie that tells the story of a mountain man and his encounters with grizzly bears.

Robert Redford, Will Geer.

Dances with Wolves, a movie about a Civil War hero who is eager to see the old West and is assigned to a fort. Arriving at an abandoned fort, he gets to know a local tribe of Native Americans. He spends time in their camp, going on a buffalo hunt and falling in love with a white woman who lives with them.

Directed by and starring Kevin Costner.

River of No Return, a movie about danger, romance, and redemption on a river raft headed west.

Robert Mitchum, Marilyn Monroe.

Sarah Plain and Tall, movie. A mail order bride from New England becomes part of a farm family in the West.

Glenn Close, Christopher Walken.

McClintock, a hilarious western comedy movie reminiscent of Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew.”

John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara.


Westerns on this List

The majority of the westerns on this list were chosen for authenticity. They allow the viewer to experience the American westward movement and life on the American frontier. Many of the westerns listed feature iconic actors and gorgeous western scenery.

Excellent documentaries about the old West have been made. Though they are not listed here, I like watching them.

The classic westerns listed are widely available on television, cable movie channels, Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime, and similar venues.

I hope you find something you enjoy!


For further information, try Wikipedia, a helpful source of information used for this post.


Copyright© 2021 by Cheryl Batavia

40 Comments

  1. WOW ! Cherryl . You teach us about the US history since the independence in 1783. ( helped by France ! 🙂
    I read some books about the hardness of life of settlers from 1803 to 1841 .after the Louisiana( much larger than the actual Louisian) was sold to the US by Napoleon .
    You highlight the problem of the Natives whom the territories have been invaded
    All of this made a powerful and large country, a true empire, in only 250 years !
    Thanks for this recall and the poetries
    Love ❤
    Michel

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply

    1. Thank you, Michel, for reading and sharing your thoughts. ❤ It means a lot to me that you liked the post.

      I did quite a bit of research while writing. Though I left out many details, it is still very long, and I am afraid not many people will take time to read it. Rest assured that I have not forgotten Lafayette or Napoleon, or the support given to the US by France. We could never have won our independence without the help of France!

      I hope you and Janine are doing well.

      Love ❤
      Cheryl

      Like

      Reply

  2. Thank you for this wonderful post, Cheryl! I knew some of the history, but seeing it laid out in a timeline with the map makes it easier to understand. What strikes me is, these turbulent times were not so long ago! And now we see new kinds of turbulence 😳 I loved your poems and the historical context. I love movies set in the Old West, and a couple of modern ones which are really good are ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ and ‘The News of The World’ (both on Netflix) ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply

    1. Thank you, Ingrid, for your thoughtful response. ❤ I appreciate your taking the time to read this lengthy post. It means a lot to me that you enjoyed it.

      I have seen " The Ballad of Buster Scruggs," but not " The News of the World." I will have to check it out! Robert and I are nearly finished watching the series, " Into the West." which I had seen quite a few years ago.

      All the best! 🙂 🙂 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

    1. Don’t worry, David! Wild horses couldn’t drive me to do such a post again! I have about a week’s work in it. 🙂

      We are still overwhelmed with long drives to Robert’s appointments, but he is getting closer to clearance for cataract surgery. I was seeking some diversion, so I watched some old Western movies. The topic of Western migration captured my imagination. I started out writing one poem about why I liked Western movies and realized that the topic was too big for one poem…The road to Hell is still paved with good intentions!

      Thank you for your kind comment. ❤ All the best!

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

  3. such an impressive history Cheryl … this would be good in ebook form? Love your poems that bring it to life and you’ve found excellent photographic documentation!

    Sadly oz is still under uk and now usa thumbs … we never gained independence but are still tied to the umbilical cord 😦

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply

    1. Kate, Thank you for your lovely response to the poem. It is very much appreciated. ❤

      I don't know much about Australian politics, but I hope your situation improves. It seems that the whole world is overwhelmed with problems from pandemic to climate change to politics. I wish for many positive changes here in the US and worldwide.

      All the best! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

  4. Wow! I liked this post with historical facts. Anecdotes like California gold rush are new to me. I appreciate your time and efforts for this beautiful post, Cheryl. Your poems are lovely.👌💐🤗

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply

  5. and just when I was worrying about if you were ok or not, since I haven’t seen you for awhile, you WOW’d us with this amazing piece of history so well documented and so appreciated. And then your incredible poetry was a delight! Thanks so much for this incredible timeline!💖🙏

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    1. Thank you so much, Cindy. It means a lot that you liked the post. I have been watching some old westerns as a diversion, and the topic captured my imagination.

      Things have been pretty hectic here, but I think the appointments are slowing down. Robert is still not ready for his cataract surgery and couldn’t take the eyedrops the eye doctor gave him. We are a little stressed and tired, but doing OK.

      I hope you are doing well. ❤ ❤ ❤

      Like

      Reply

  6. To come back here Cheryl and see this goldmine of a post. This was informative, and moving. The poems are a treasure and give us a glimpse of truth, emotions and memory.

    Its great to see you writing and something like this, extraordinary.
    Hope you, your wooded home up there, are all good and well.

    Narayan x

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply

    1. Thank you, Narayan, for your beautiful response. ❤ It means a lot to me that you enjoyed the post. Thank you for your kind words and good wishes.

      We are OK. Many appointments at a distance trying to resolve issues so that Robert's cataract surgery can be rescheduled.

      Wishing you health and happiness!. 🙂

      Like

      Reply

  7. A fascinating time in American history and also very tragic in a lot of ways. Great work putting all of this together and for writing the lovely poems.

    Little House on the Prairie has always been one my favorite shows. Michael Landon did such a great job with it! I don’t think I’ve seen the Steven Spielberg series but I have enjoyed watching a lot of the Ken Burns documentaries on the Old West. They really opened my eyes to the not so romantic aspects of how the west was won.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  8. This is a wonderful history of our country. I always loved the idea of being a pioneer. We played cowboys and indians and never knew what it all meant or implied. The Lone Ranger and Rin Tin Tin were favorites. “Manifest Destiny” seems to have been used many times through the centuries!
    Well done Cheryl
    Loved the steam train!! :>)

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply

    1. Thank you Dwight for your thoughtful response. Manifest destiny has been used to justify many injustices and conflicts. We also used to play Cowboys and Indians sharing one cap pistol among us! 🙂

      I love your new gravatar image! I enjoyed your painting of a steam train!

      Have a wonderful day! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

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