• Looking up at the Gateway Arch


    National Expansion Memorial Missouri

Interactive Museum Tour Content


From a life-size tipi and covered wagon to animated figures that display Indian peace medals, the Museum of Westward Expansion is full of fascinating exhibits that chronicle the hardships encountered during the overland migration of the nineteenth century. There's nothing like seeing these exhibits in person, but get a taste of the excitement using this interactive tour. Explore the world of the American Indians and pioneers who helped shape the history of the American West!

Indian Peace Medal

Come to the Museum of Westward Expansion to see the latest exciting addition to the American Indian Peace Medal Exhibit. Animated figures help tell the story of Peace Medal Diplomacy in the U.S. during the nineteenth century through the eyes of historical figures of William Clark, Indian Agent; Red Cloud, Chief of the Oglala Sioux; Sergeant Banks of the 10th U.S. Cavalry; and Charles Barber, Chief Engraver for the U.S. Mint during the latter years of the 1800s.

"My father taught me this trade as his father taught him. I use many of their tools as I carve the dies that stamp out silver medals. Our craft has not changed much, but our medals have. Compare the symbols on this medal to those of the past... What do they tell you? A century ago, we awarded these medals to Indians when we signed treaties with them. Now that the frontier has been settled, treaties are a thing of the past, and we give these medals as 'rewards' to the Indian farmer."
-- Charles Barber

"Fruitful diplomacy with the Indians required the exchange of gifts. We brought peace medals to the Western Territory with that in mind. Now, when we sign treaties, many chiefs request them of me. A silver medal symbolizes a covenant between two nations. We agree to live in peace. We agree that some places will be set aside for Indians, and other places given to settlers."
-- William Clark

"In 1868, men came out and brought papers. We could not read them, and they did not tell us what was truly in them... When I reached Washington, the Great Father explained to me what the treaty was, and showed me that the Interpreters had deceived me. All I want is right and just. I have tried to get from the Great Father what is right and just. I have not altogether succeeded."
-- Chief Red Cloud

"I remember in the winter of 1870, we had six thousand Indians to feed at Camp Supply. We were herding cattle for their beef and I often had to ride the line alone at night. I felt wind and cold the likes of which I never had before. At least there was enough food that winter. It wasn't like that in Arizona. The Indian agent wasn't supplying the Apache and they were starving. Now we are here to keep them from leaving the reservation. Can't say I blame them for wanting to go."
-- Sgt. Robert Banks

Thomas Jefferson (Lewis & Clark)

"Is my Country the better for my having lived at all?"
-- Thomas Jefferson, in a letter near the end of his life.

Thomas Jefferson's life's works answer his self-query with a resounding yes! He led a passionate life of leadership, maintained an enduring commitment to democracy and was obsessed with the exploration of the frontier. Upon his inauguration as President of the United States in 1801, Jefferson was concerned that the land ceded to France by Spain known as the Louisiana Territory would bring European restrictions to United States commerce along the Mississippi river. The territory spread from the west bank of the Mississippi River to the crest of the Rocky Mountains. When Spain removed the "right of deposit", a move that closed the shipping of products on the Mississippi River through the Port of New Orleans to Americans, Thomas Jefferson decided that he would begin negotiations with France to buy the city of New Orleans.

Thomas Jefferson dispatched James Monroe with an authorization to purchase the Port of New Orleans for the sum of $10 million. Instead, Napoleon Bonaparte, First Consul of France, offered to sell the entire Louisiana Territory for the sum of fifteen million dollars! This peaceful resolution was endorsed by President Jefferson and approved by the U.S. Senate in 1803. The Louisiana Purchase nearly doubled the size of the country and offered new possibilities of a larger, more stable democracy. A new frontier was opened to the United States.

Thomas Jefferson secretly petitioned Congress to fund $2,500 so army officers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark could lead an expedition from the Mississippi River at St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean. Congress granted the money, although the expedition ultimately cost more than $35,000. Thomas Jefferson believed that a practical water transportation route across the continent might exist between the Missouri River and the Pacific Ocean. He anticipated discoveries of plants and animals and wanted to establish American trade and settlements beyond the boundaries of the Rocky Mountains. Lewis and Clark made many exciting discoveries for the young United States and opened the way to the Northwest.

Thomas Jefferson was a man of many accomplishments. He was the author of the Declaration of Independence, the third President of the United States, and an architect, scientist and political philosopher. Because of his vision of possibilities for the Louisiana Territory, men and women were sent on a quest to the West. This quest required courage, determination, and individual responsibility, qualities that Thomas Jefferson possessed himself.


"All my years on the trail are the happiest I have lived...Most of the time we were solitary adventurers in a great land as fresh and new as a spring morning, and we were free and full of zest of darers..."
-- Charles Goodnight, Cowboy

The Cowboy stirs an image that Hollywood created, while the authentic cowboy was dedicated to doing his best and taking pride in a labor-intensive job. He worked from sunup to sundown and two hours of night guard duty. The cattle drive may have earned him $50.00-$90.00 or around a dollar a day. His employer supplied the horses and he had to be an expert rider and roper. The dangers of the job included heading off a thousand stampeding cattle without getting trampled, the risk of being kicked by a horse, or charged by a steer, drowning at a river crossing, getting struck by lightning or dying of pneumonia. He rarely carried a gun.

His clothing served practical purposes. The first cowboys, discharged from the Civil War, sometimes wore their military uniforms. Later these were adapted to face the elements. Chaps were worn over pants to protect the cowboy's legs while riding, boots to the knee to keep out gravel, spurs to urge the horse to move quickly, bandanas to keep dust from their faces, and hats to protect their heads from the heat and rain.

The cook was a very important member of the drive. He cooked three meals a day, operated the chuck wagon, and served as a doctor, dentist, barber, counselor, and mediator. He was paid second best to the trail boss. The cook also had to be good! Good cooking kept cowboys happy, although they were not treated to gourmet delights by any means. The staples included beans, biscuits, coffee, beef stew, and sometimes a sweet dessert like apple pie.

Cowboys portrayed in Hollywood were generally white actors, but actually one of every three real cowboys were either African American, American Indian, or Hispanic. The Spanish were the first "vaqueros" or cowboys, who brought longhorn steer to America before our country was established. Many terms like wrangler, chaps, and lariat were derivatives of Spanish words. The Round up, branding, the western saddle, roping, and clothing were established by the Spanish also.

Following the Civil War, cowboys went on long drives from Texas to the North to take cattle to trains to be delivered to the East where there was a demand for beef. The cattle industry was profitable because these longhorns had bred in the wild and become quite numerous. Ranchers claimed cattle by branding them, and then let them graze on an open range. When it was time to go to market, they were rounded up and driven over many miles to the railheads.

The era of the cowboy ended as the railroad made its way further south and the need to drive them north diminished. Settlers began fencing their land, making it difficult for cowboys to follow established drive trails. When ranchers realized that random grazing could cause depletion of food for their herds, they began fencing the cattle in to regulate where they ate.

Cowboys appeared in the public eye long after the "long trails" became non-existent. They joined rodeos to show roping and riding skills. Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show took cowboys to cities and towns where people were not acquainted with that lifestyle. Europeans were very interested in the cowboy shows and perceived America as a wild western country. Later, these Wild West shows evolved into rodeos. One legendary cowboy figure who distinguished himself in the rodeo shows was Bill Pickett. He was later the first African American to be inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame. Naturally, when moviemakers saw the marketability of the cowboy, they glamorized his image and twisted the facts. Whether represented in truth or fiction, Americans still are fascinated with the cowboy and the Wild West.


The Plains Indians were nomadic hunters of buffalo. This required an ability to change their locations quickly and have a shelter that was portable, durable and water resistant. The tipi offered these characteristics.

Constructed of brain tanned buffalo skin, the tipi was water resistant and easily disassembled. The tipi's structure consisted of lodge pole pines placed and secured in a conical manner. Then 14-20 buffalo hides sewn together with sinew, were stretched across the poles with a smoke hole at the top. A flap was designed to enter and exit the dwelling.

The fire pit inside the center of the tipi served to provide warmth. Beds were placed against the tipi walls and buffalo furs served as rugs. The tipi was lined in the winter for warmth and privacy. The structure lasted an average of 10 years. When the tipi was replaced, the old one was made into clothing or patching material for other tipis.

The outstanding characteristic of the tipi was its portability. It took women only minutes to disassemble the tipi and transport it by horse. Tipi hides, poles, and household articles were placed on a device known as a travois and dragged behind a horse.

The Plains Indians lifestyle changed with the white man's slaughter of buffalo for economic gain and the government-imposed reservation system. The government issued canvas tipi covers to replace the buffalo skin, an animal Indians could no longer hunt. The Plains Indians eventually adapted Euro-American lodgings on the reservations. The tipi became a symbol of a culture destined for change. The tipi will be ever respected in today's culture as a remembrance of a past nomadic lifestyle and a perfect architectural solution to semi-nomadic life on the Great Plains.

The Sod House

The pioneers of the plains created the sod house using ingenuity and the treeless land to build a home that became their permanent residence. Utilizing the John Deere grasshopper plow, pioneers cut sod bricks from the earth. They found a rise in the ground suitable to build their "soddie" and patted down the dirt until it was rock hard. The sod bricks, about three feet in length and four inches thick, were interlocked to form walls two to three bricks deep. These bricks, with intricate root systems still intact, were placed grass side down. The roots attached themselves to other bricks, locking them together. The roof construction was of sod or in some instances, shingles.

The sod houses varied. Some were built with more than one room, used dividers of tarp paper or blankets to create rooms and even wallpaper to brighten the walls. In 1872 Montgomery Ward marketed windows and frames for $1.25, and the railroads carried these and other supplies to the Great Plains frontier. According to the Homestead Act, homeowners had to fulfill improvement requirements to take title to the land, thus creating a market for ready-made accessories.

Living in sod houses presented many obstacles. The soddie leaked continuously. Women reportedly held umbrellas over their stoves while cooking. Tarps were hung on the ceiling to catch particles of dirt that fell. Living creatures shared the sod dwellers' space as well. Snakes, mice, and bugs were everyday inhabitants of the sod house.

The sod house had positive aspects as well. Since they were constructed from earth, they were cool in the summer and easy to keep warm in the winter. When prairie fires threatened, the sod house became a safe haven. Farmers brought their livestock and anything worth saving into the soddie until the fire had passed.

The sod house demonstrated the creativity of pioneers. Sod houses were inexpensive to build and virtually indestructible. The utilitarian sod house displayed pioneer craftsmanship and the determination of the pioneers to live the American dream.

The Appaloosa

The horse is the symbol of transportation for Westward Expansion. The Appaloosa in this exhibit represents the oldest identifiable breed of horse in the United States today. The Appaloosa was brought to America by the Spanish during the sixteenth century. William Clark and Meriwether Lewis found the Appaloosa in large herds among the Shoshone Indians of the Rocky Mountains.

The American Indians marveled at the Appaloosa and soon began to acquire them from the Spanish. They used them for transportation, hunting, and as a weapon while fighting in battles. The gentleness and approachability of the Appaloosa made it an ideal hunting and battle horse since it responded well to its owner and was not easily spooked. The breed can live up to thirty years. The Nez Perce Indians selectively bred the Appaloosa for generations.

The name Appaloosa is derived from Palouse Country, an area in present day Eastern Washington, Northeastern Oregon, and the Idaho Panhandle where the Palouse River runs. According to undocumented legend, Army men traveling this river observed this horse and began calling it "A Palousy or Appaloosie". The breed Appaloosa was established in 1950.

The exhibit horse has the distinctive markings of an Appaloosa. It has striped, laminated hooves, mottled skin, and sparse distribution of hair on the mane and tail. It weighed about 1200 pounds.

The Longhorn Steer

The Longhorn Steer is a symbol of the post-Civil War cattle drives that made cowboys a legendary part of America. The Longhorn was of a mixed breed of originally pure-bred Spanish cattle brought to America, then interbred with other breeds brought by early settlers. These cattle populated in the wild and eventually were eyed by entrepreneurial men who saw a chance to make money in the beef industry.

The steers were rounded up and driven north by cowboys to railroads. There they were shipped to the East and West coasts to consumers. The beef industry boomed with the new technology of the railroad.

The Longhorn in the exhibit is a steer and weighed around 1600 pounds. Steers did well on long trails because they had long legs, tough hooves and needed minimal water. They could walk for sixty miles between water holes. The longhorn steer had an indispensable role, along with the cowboys, in establishing the myth of the Wild West.

The Bison

Bison are commonly called buffalo, a term given to them by early explorers. This North American species represents a tragic symbol of Westward Expansion, hunted for numerous reasons. The result was a devastating reduction in their numbers. From an estimated population of 40 million, the buffalo was heading for extinction, with the number surviving estimated around 1000.

The Plains Indians used the buffalo for food, clothing, and shelter. Eventually these Indians were forced to change their culture, as buffalos were hunted by Euro-Americans for fur, leather, food, and sport. Dwindling numbers of buffalo were one of the factors that led American Indians to the reservation way of life.

The exhibit buffalo is a 1700-pound bull, killed at age eight in a herd reduction at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. Conservation efforts during the latter part of the nineteenth century saved the bison from extinction. Today, buffalo survive in large numbers on public and private land. Their thick coats protect them in harsh temperatures. They swim well and can run up to 32 miles per hour. Their herds consist of four to twenty buffalo. They occasionally band together and create herds of thousands, as depicted in many artists' renditions of these magnificent animals.

The Beaver

The beaver played an enormous role in the economy of the United States in the early part of the nineteenth century. The fashion industry used the soft under fur of the animal and pressed it into felt for ladies and men's hats. The beaver was also used as a source of castoreum, a musky-scented oil secreted by the animal's castor gland, which was used as a base for perfume. Castoreum was also used as bait to lure the beaver to their traps.

Mountainmen trapped the Rocky Mountain beaver practically to extinction to receive $6-$9 per pelt. Traps were set in the water and the beaver's foot was snapped in the trap. The beaver would swim to deeper water for safety and, weighted by the heavy trap, drowned.

The beaver exhibit shows the beaver carefully grooming itself with a double-edged claw. An oil at the base of its tail is combed through its hair to keep the fur waterproof. The bark on the willow and cottonwood tree is stripped for food by the rodents' teeth. The beaver, the largest rodent in the United States, can be found in several National Park areas where its natural environment is preserved.

The Bear

"The grizzly is the one wild animal of our wilderness who knows no natural overlord. With the exception of man, he deigns to recognize no enemy."
-- William W. Wright, Naturalist

The grizzly bear is perhaps the most significant of western animals. This animal represents what was wild, fierce, and unknown about the West. The grizzly's size, claws, teeth, and roar were admired by the American Indians. Members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, many mountainmen, and other western explorers learned to fear and respect this powerful creature. Despite the stories about grizzly attacks on humans, there have actually been very few attacks since the turn of the century. A grizzly is mainly a vegetarian and attacks to protect food, cubs, or when startled.

A grizzly bear hibernates during the winter and adds some 400 pounds in preparation. It is generally a solitary animal and mates twice every other year. The animal on exhibit weighed around 600 pounds; its pelt was sold to the museum at auction after the Bureau of Fish and Wildlife confiscated it from poachers. Today, the Grizzly is protected in our National Parks. These include Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, Glacier National Park in Montana and several National Parks in Alaska.

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