The Wild West Trail: Follow the Routes and Destinations of the Pioneers, Explorers and Settlers of the Wild West
What was the Wild West?
The Wild West, also known as the Old West or the American frontier, refers to the area of the United States west of the Mississippi river, where Americans expanded and fought for land from the 17th to the early 20th century. The Wild West began as early as the settlement at Jamestown, Virginia in 1607, and ended with the admission of the last western territories as states in 1912. The Wild West is associated with the geography, history, folklore, and culture of the American frontier.
The geography and history of the American frontier
The American frontier consisted of vast regions of wilderness, mountains, plains, deserts, forests, and rivers. It was inhabited by various Native American tribes who had their own cultures, languages, and traditions. The frontier also attracted explorers, traders, missionaries, settlers, miners, ranchers, farmers, soldiers, outlaws, and adventurers from different backgrounds and nationalities.
How the Louisiana Purchase and Manifest Destiny sparked the westward movement
In 1804, President Thomas Jefferson and the U.S. government purchased the Louisiana Territory from France. This was a huge piece of land that doubled the size of America. It stretched from the Mississippi river to the Rocky Mountains and from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada. Jefferson then sent the Lewis and Clark expedition to explore this land and find a route to the Pacific Ocean. When they returned in 1806, they brought back reports of rich natural resources, diverse wildlife, and friendly natives.
This sparked a wave of curiosity and ambition among Americans who wanted to claim this land for themselves. They believed that it was their destiny to expand across the continent and spread democracy, civilization, and Christianity. This idea was called Manifest Destiny. It was used to justify wars with Mexico and Native Americans, as well as treaties and laws that favored white settlers over other groups.
How the Civil War and the Transcontinental Railroad shaped the Old West
The Civil War (1861-1865) divided the nation into two sides: the Union (the northern states) and the Confederacy (the southern states). The main causes of the war were slavery and states' rights. The war had a significant impact on the development of the West. It increased migration to the western territories as people sought new opportunities or escaped violence. It also increased demand for resources such as gold, silver, cattle, timber, and crops.
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The Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869. It connected the East Coast with the West Coast by rail. It made travel faster, cheaper, safer, and more comfortable. It also opened up new markets for trade and commerce. It brought more people, goods, services, ideas, and cultures to the West. However, it also had negative effects on the environment and on Native Americans who were displaced or killed by railroad workers or settlers.
The culture and folklore of the Wild West
The culture and folklore of the Wild West are rich and diverse. They reflect the experiences, values, beliefs, and imagination of those who lived in or were influenced by this era. They include stories, legends, myths, songs, art, literature, and film.
The myths and facts about cowboys, outlaws, Native Americans, and gunfights
Many myths about the Wild West originated on the silver screen. Hollywood movies and TV shows created a romanticized version of what people believe Old West life was like. Some of the common myths are: - Cowboys were heroic, rugged, and law-abiding. In reality, cowboys were mostly young, poor, and uneducated men who worked long hours for low wages. They often faced harsh conditions, diseases, and dangers. They also had diverse backgrounds and ethnicities, including African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and immigrants. - Outlaws were glamorous, charismatic, and rebellious. In reality, outlaws were violent, ruthless, and greedy criminals who robbed banks, trains, stagecoaches, and people. They often killed or wounded innocent bystanders or lawmen. They also faced constant pursuit, capture, or death by bounty hunters or vigilantes. - Native Americans were savage, hostile, and primitive. In reality, Native Americans were diverse, complex, and sophisticated societies that had their own cultures, languages, religions, arts, and sciences. They also had different relationships with white settlers, ranging from peaceful trade and alliances to fierce resistance and warfare. - Gunfights were frequent, dramatic, and fair. In reality, gunfights were rare, chaotic, and dirty. They usually involved ambushes, sniping, or shooting from behind cover. They also lasted only a few seconds or minutes and resulted in few casualties or injuries.
The influence of Western movies and books on popular culture
Western movies and books are among the most popular and influential genres in American culture. They have shaped the way people view the Wild West and its legacy. They have also inspired countless adaptations, parodies, homages, and references in other media forms.
Some of the most famous Western movies and books are: - The Virginian (1902) by Owen Wister: The first novel to portray the cowboy as a hero and a gentleman. - Stagecoach (1939) directed by John Ford: The film that established John Wayne as a star and set the standard for Western storytelling. - High Noon (1952) directed by Fred Zinnemann: The film that challenged the traditional Western morality and portrayed the hero as a vulnerable and conflicted man. - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) directed by Sergio Leone: The film that popularized the spaghetti Western genre and featured Clint Eastwood as the iconic Man with No Name. - Lonesome Dove (1985) by Larry McMurtry: The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that depicted the harsh realities and epic adventures of former Texas Rangers. - Unforgiven (1992) directed by Clint Eastwood: The film that deconstructed the myths of the Wild West and showed the violence and corrup