The West 12
Table of Contents
Native American Suffering 4
Boomtowns Exploitations 7
Cowboy Misrepresentation 8
Lewis and Clark Expedition 9
Thereis no definite definition of what the West means. To some, the Westis a term used while referring to different nations depending on thecontext being talked about. Often the West is used to refer tocountries that form part of Europe and America. The western world ascommonly referred to is also known as Occident, which is a Latin wordmeaning ‘sunset, west.’ The challenge faced in describing themeaning of the West can be attributed to its ever-shifting oddity andborders. For example in 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected to office asa western candidate however the early 1820 anyone who lived west ofAppalachian was referred to as a westerner. Most of them were ofquestionable character and judgment. As years went by, despite theunderstanding that the Mississippi river separated the west from theeast the identity of Westerners became more associated with ruggedindividual and non-conformist. Westerner was thought to be people whowere comfortable living life away from the crowded and dirtyprecincts of the ever increasing urbanization and industrializationof the East. However, views changed and the West started beingassociated with freedom and liberty. People started referring to theWest as a land of opportunity yet to be exploited fully. This essaylooks into the view of the West being associated with the land ofopportunity, by discussing the false hope this outlook has had onpeople, who later realize that they were misled and that the West isnot as successful as they thought it might be.
Insupporting the hypothesis that the West is not the land ofopportunity as is being portrayed one simple needs to look back atthe history of the west. In the beginning, the western part ofAmerica was occupied by Native Indian. However, the Alexander thegreat during his escapades purported to have discovered the west.During his discovery, the West was already occupied by Red Indianswho were advanced both in their social, political and economicwell-being. Upon his arrive Alexander, the great along with hiscomrades, attacked and massively killed the Native American theyfound inhibiting the west. As history would have it, America hasnever been the same again. Native Americans and the new settlersengaged in an ever ending war that saw the Indians murdered inmillions.
Thesettlers made it their priority to hunt and kill any Native Americanoffering rewards to any person who would bring the head of an Indian.1Thisis perhaps the darkest age in American history that has never beentold in details. The history of the West is told according to theinterest of the white settlers who want people to believe that theWest has always been a land of opportunity. In reality, the discoveryof the west led to one of the worst genocide the world has everexperienced. It is estimated that millions of Red Indians weremurdered in the pretence of discovering the west. The way they weremurdered was also so inhuman that history selectively put it onrecord. In defining what the west means one cannot talk about thewest without mentioning the history of the Red Indian. But interestfrom the white settlers would persuade people to believe that theydiscovered America.
Diagram1:The Trans-Mississippi Map showing the battleground between theIndians and the white settlers. Imageavailable at:http://www.legendsofamerica.com/photos-nativeamerican/Indian%20War%20Map.jpg
Theterm Trans-Mississippi was used to relate to the lands found acrossthe Mississippi or the entire western part of America. 2Duringthe nineteenth century, Trans-Mississippi were the lands found westof the Mississippi River which included Arkansas, Louisiana, andIndian Territory currently known as Oklahoma, Texas, and Missouriamong other territories. The Mississippi was named after an Indianword meaning the father of waters however there has been little or nodiscussion to the meaning or to which tribe in the Indian dialect theword belongs to. In 1862 Pea Ridge found west of the Mississippiexperienced the largest war with over twenty-six thousand soldiersparticipating. End the end of the same year Union forces repelledadvances from eleven thousand Confederates who were opposed to theFederal occupation of Fort Smith. They proceeded to overwhelm theConfederates in the battle to control Arkansas River at Arkansas portearly 1863. 3TheUnion forces took control of the Mississippi during the Battle ofHelena in mid-1863. The Union conquest to occupy the state moved intooccupying Little Rock and despite the numerous skirmishes experiencethe government was moved to Washington. However, the union failed inits final attempt of trying to occupy southwest of the Little Rockresulting in what is currently known as Red River Campaign.
Anotheranalogy that can be used to dispute the idea of the West as being aland of opportunity is through the use of the thinking that thepeople who were mining gold in boomtowns were successful. The realityhere, however, is that those who were providing the miningequipment’s were the most successful compared to the miners. Thelogic behind this is that in it was not a regular occurrence that onewould strike gold at the boom towns. 4Theboomtowns were areas where miners migrated to from different parts ofAmerica with the hope that they would strike gold. Most notableboomtown in history is during the California gold rush where theforty-niners exploited and made camp. The towns provided areas forpeople to rest after a long day mining gold and were also used asplaces to buy the equipment for mining.
Thosewho stayed at the towns were heavily exploited by those selling themining equipment. This was major because the act of finding gold waspurely out of luck. There was no guarantee that anyone would go toboomtowns and strike gold immediately. However, out of the popularbelieve that the boomtown offered an opportunity for anyone willingto trade gold, miner kept on buying the equipment with the hope theywould be lucky. Despite their knowledge about the boomtown thesellers at these towns never minded selling substandard mining toolsto the miners with the hopes that they would eventually come back formore. Based on their beliefs, the miners regularly went back to buythe equipment in as much as they were nowhere near finding the gold.For this reason, those who were selling the equipment became richerthan the miners who went to look for better opportunities in thesetowns.
Apartfrom the exploitation that characterized the boomtowns one of thefalse statements regarding the West was the misrepresentation of thecowboy culture. A cowboy country song entitled “Git Along LittleDogies5” byRoy Rogers from the film West of the Badlands elaborates this furtherby heaping praise on the cowboy lifestyle. The first verse of thesong portrays the nature of a cowboy and how they used to ride withtheir hats thrown back and their spurs jingling. This was meant toportray the Cowboys as people who are sophisticated and wealthyliving a lifestyle beyond the reach of others. However, the realityon the ground was that the Cowboys were not as rich as they werethought to be. Findings indicate that apart from their lavishlifestyles the cowboys formed part of the poor American. Few amongthe Cowboys amassed massive wealth living the rest of the populationtoiling and working for them. To look like their masters the Cowboystried their best to ensure that they physically matched theappearance of a rich person.
Theydressed in a manner likely to suggest that they were part of theelite group of cowboys. However, the reality of the situation on theground was that most of the cowboys were worthless wanderers thattook advantage of their skin color to discriminate on others. Most ofthe cowboys were poor and heavily relied on their masters forsurvival. They lived in poor conditions, and their most prizedpossession was their horses. The life of the cowboys in the earlynineteenth century was better summarized in the book "TheWanderer." The book follows a cowboy who had been on the roadfor over six days waking up to the disturbing news that one of hishorses was dead. Bam White the cowboy in the story had no money atthat time and embarked on moving from the deserts of Colorado to thelittle fields of Texas with the aim of starting a new life. This wasa clear indicator of the lifestyle of the cowboys who history haveover the time confirmed were worthless wanderers roaming the desertsof West America.
Lewisand Clark Expedition
Insupporting the theory that the west is not the land of opportunity asbeing purported one can also look at the events that took placeduring the Lewis and Clark expedition. Lewis and Clark who wereconsidered to be more than representatives of the Europeanrationalism were sent into the west on a discovery mission. Theirmission was to collect, document, classify and report on finding onlife at the west. 6Thetwo sent by Thomas Jefferson first embarked on discovery diplomacywith Jefferson restating to Lewis the need to inform the originalinhibitors of the country they intend to follow that henceforth theywould be their fathers and friends. During their expedition, theeuro-American and the Indians used old diplomatic protocols as meansof communication. These protocols included the use of formallanguages and military display of power and ceremonial gifts.However, difference in culture ensured that there was a frequentbreakdown in communication often leading to misunderstanding andconfusion among the two communities. Lewis and Clark embarked on theuse of force and would fire their Blunderbuss as a sign of arrivalevery time they entered Indian camps.
Aftertheir expedition, the two returned with the news that the West wascould be occupied and encourage the population to move west wherethey would be guaranteed success. According to Lewis and Clark, theWest was a vast land of opportunity that was yet to be exploited yet,in reality, the West was already occupied and was not as productiveas it was being reported. Their findings led to massive migrationinto the west leading to increased conflicts with the natives whowere opposed to more intrusion of their land and resources. 7Theensuing civil war that resulted out of this sudden movement into thewest led to the killing of most of the native population. This wasmajor because the Euro- American had advanced weapons that theyeffectively used to eliminate the Indians who largely relied on bows,arrows, and spears as their military arsenal.
TheWest has over the centuries been portrayed as a land of opportunitywith history citing settlers who are purported to be the discovererof the west. However, the same history shows us the struggling partof the west and the discrepancies in the previous history thatglorified the west. The west has been found to be full of filthyhistory that has been hidden to protect the interests of the whitesettlers. Rarely would one find history showing how the NativeAmerican’s were discriminated upon during the purported discoveryof the west. However, there are multiple indications that show thatthe early Euro-American settlers performed uncouth human acts on thenative Indians leading to the massive reduction in their population.The land of opportunity as they would want us to believe the Westdoes not have that much opportunity as boomtowns would illustrate.The land of opportunity happens to be the land of exploitation by thefew privileged. The belief that the West is a land of opportunity isa fallacy that must be challenged and the true history written tosupport the challenge.
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1 Karl Jacoby and Patricia Nelson Limerick, Shadows at Dawn: An Apache Massacre and the Violence of History (the Penguin History of American Life) (New York: Penguin (Non-Classics), 2009).
2 Andrés Reséndez, A Land so Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca (New York: Basic Books, 2008).
3 John G Ikenberry, Liberal Leviathan: The Origins, Crisis, and Transformation of the American World Order (Princeton Studies in International History and Politics) (United States: Princeton University Press, 2012).
4 Matt Doeden, Ron Frenz, and Charles Barnett, John Sutter and the California Gold Rush (Champaign, IL, United States: Capstone Press(MN), 2005).
5 Corneliussen, George. Rory Rogers: Git Along Little Dogies (1940). YouTube. [Video File]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2cFji4CmHE
6 Robert J Miller and Elizabeth Furse, Native America, Discovered and Conquered: Thomas Jefferson, Lewis & Clark, and Manifest Destiny (Native America: Yesterday and Today Series) (United States: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006)
7 Mary L Dudziak, Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy (new in Paper) (Politics and Society in Twentieth-Century America) (United States: Princeton University Press, 2011).