The Life on the Wagons to the West: The Journey and Manifest Destiny

July 19th, 1831

Ever since the war of 1812 wrapped up, I know we have all seen the amazing outpouring of people expanding westward, further into our country. A flood of pioneers have been flooding into places such as Michigan, Arkansas, Wisconsin, and Iowa and even along the Pacific Coast (1) But sitting here, I ask myself: Is this the future of America? And by the revolutions I see taking place here, back East, and all of the forward movement and discovery in the West, I know that we are destined to expand. Just as Jefferson said, “In order to provide enough land to sustain this ideal population of virtuous farmers, the United States will have to continue to expand” (2). Expansion is healthy and what we need in order to grow economically and socially. There is so much more than what is here in the East and I cannot wait to share my journey with you.

I tagged along with one of the families making their way to the West to see if this “amazing life” that they speak of in the West is really worth it:  to discover the truth about this newly found American Dream. As I walked across town a while back, I ran across the Barker family, who was planning on going on this trek the next week. When I asked to go along, they were kind enough to have me join them. As we got ready for the trip and packed our wagon, I helped the Barkers prepare for what could happen on the journey. We reviewed what we had multiple times in hopes of not forgetting anything, which looking back on it, ultimately saved us from the battles that take place on the journey Westward (3).

We started the trek, unknowing of what to come, and only a week into the journey, we started seeing lots of pain and suffering within other families. There were a lot of deaths among the small children making the journey, some even being crushed by the wagons while playing. But disease on the trip was the most prevalent cause of death, specifically diarrhea and cholera that traveled through families quickly. We were lucky enough to have had the thought of bringing medicines on the journey and enough money to buy what we needed, for lots of families the trip was not that easy, even we experienced a few scares along the way. Their idea of their perfect American Dream was crushed in only a matter of weeks. The small graves set along the pathways provided a dark shadow and weight over everyone as they trekked through the barren the yellows and greens of the crops to either side. With the seclusion of the journey it was also hard to form bonds with others. I think the Barkers found it nice to have company on the trip. Most families left everything behind once they left the West and were very secluded. I think it helped us that we had a friendly bond as well (3).

Once the Barkers and I reached our final destination in the western Michigan territory, we found ourselves in a lot of challenges. The weather varied a lot from day to day and wasn’t the same as what we were used to. This also affected the food availability that we had. The harsh rains were much harder on ourselves and brought me and a few others to a headache many mornings in a row. (4). Since the West was so spread out, we did not have a lot of neighbors and were very isolated in where we lived. We had to build our home from scratch and our house was fragile and unsanitary at first, having only one room for all of us to share. We thought about making a soddie (a dugout in the side of the earth), but there were too many critters for us to live in comfortably. I tried to do my best to help the Barkers with how they were living and working, but only once we settled in could we make great improvements to our living situation. This setback made it hard for the first few weeks, especially with laborious work we had. But eventually we started to grow using the profits we made (3).

Currently, I’m back in Baltimore and the Barkers have found their routine in Western Michigan. I got a ride back with another family who explored but decided to head back home after a few years of no success. But in a few of the letters I have gotten, the Barkers have starting making profits of their own and are starting to improve on the lifestyle of which I left. They have their own farm, a bigger house and are building up on the “American Dream.” Personally, I am glad I am back in the city, free of isolation. Although I have not fulfilled the widely known dream of making a life for my own and starting my own farming and businesses, I did not have to risk everything I had for the “trip of chance” to the West. So reporting to you, I want you to think of all you have,  need, and want to do, and how the West will play a role in your life. Not how you play a role in the West. We have to keep in mind the many risks of travel to the West and the very different isolated lifestyle, especially early in the expansion process, also how it has a very different culture (5). But also don’t forget that many people can make good money and restart their lives if they are in a bad place in the East. Moving can be an opportunity of getting started and can be the American Dream if you are lucky and strive for it. Just as expansion is bound to happen, there is bound to be success as well as failure and moving West is a risk that can be worth it.

Bill Jackson

Sources:

1. “Westward Movement (United States History).” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2013. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/641224/westward-movement>.

2. “Westward Expansion.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2013. <http://www.history.com/topics/westward-expansion>.

3. “History Exemplar.” PBWorks. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2013. <http://amstud2011.pbworks.com/w/file/fetch/53117231/History%20Exemplar.doc>.

4. Rudd, Lydia. “Primary Source #13: Diary of Western Travel.” Primary Source #13: Diary of Western Travel, 1 Nov. 2007. Web. 22 Nov. 2013. <http://engineofsouls.activeboard.com/t14074569/primary-source-13-diary-of-western-travel/>.

5. “Manifest Destiny.” US History. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2013. <http://www.ushistory.org/us/29.asp>.

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