Social Studies 9/22/2011
Hardships of the Settlers Moving West of the Mississippi River in the 1840’s
In 1840, a new law was passed that was called “The Homestead Act”. “ The Homestead Act” which allowed people who were daring enough to go West of the Mississippi River to get 160 acres of land for free. Many people jumped on this idea because it was an offer for an excessive plot of land for no cost. But no such thing was an easy feat. First, there was the challenge of Transportation. The means of way were not trains, planes, automobiles, or anything that provided what we know as “horse-power”. The means of transportation at that juncture were wagons pulled by literally “one or two horses’ power”. When they got to the West, there were three basic community types, which include: the Miners, the Homesteaders, and the Ranchers.
One group to have many challenges in the West was the Homesteaders. The Homesteaders migrated West because of the Homestead Act, with the promise of 160 acres of land. There are many reasons that their fantasies of living large on a farm turned into nightmares. These reasons include the following: 1) The 160 acre plots were on the Great Plains, which means there is no water to be found anywhere, and since they were newcomers there were no stores or communities in which to buy food. 2) Geographically, there were no trees therefore lumber to build houses was scarce. 3) Weather: Since they were in the middle of the country, there was little rainfall, therefore no water.
This means that the settlers had two horses, a family to support, yet there was no house, no water, and no food. Does that really sound like a fantasy to you?
The Ranchers had it a bit less challenging. For one, they always had milk, cheese, and meat.
They also could use their cattle to travel to the nearest town or market to get them situated. In a short time, Texas became a center of cattle herding and ranching. Also at the same time, the Trans-Continental Railroad has been built, offering a quick and more efficient means of transportation and commerce.
The Miner group had the hardest transition. There were no railroads. The reason that Miners traveled West was for the promise of gold and silver and vivid dreams of wealth. They were soon to find out that with “pick in one hand and TNT in the other hand, was no easy or safe way to live”. Also, their low to no paying job kept them from getting the bare necessities like food, water, and clothing. The lack of supplies kept them from ever making it big.
To summarize, the migration of the Homesteaders, the Miners, and the Ranchers to the West was not an easy task (Not to mention to the Indian Wars that were going on at that time!!!). Challenges included inefficient means of transportation, and access to basic necessities like food and water. After the Indian Wars, that is when people really started to migrate west in large numbers. This is how the migration West of the Mississippi River was a true struggle.