Auguste Chouteau (1723-1776) was one of the founders of St. Louis, Missouri, at the age of fourteen. He and Pierre Laclede, a New Orleans fur trader, established a trading post on the west bank of the Mississippi River near the mouth of the Missouri River. This small French settlement developed into the city of St. Louis. Following the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, St. Louis became an important city on the western frontier of the United States.
It is believed that Native Americans respectfully called the African American soldiers stationed in the West "Buffalo Soldiers," because the men's hair reminded them of a buffalo's hair. In 1866, Congress established a peacetime army and created four new cavalry regiments that included two "colored" regiments. Four new "colored" infantry units were also created. These six black military units were the 9th and 10th Cavalry, and the 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st Infantry. Later these infantry units were consolidated into the 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments. It is estimated that more than 12,000 black soldiers served in the military during the Nineteenth Century. Eighteen African American "Buffalo Soldiers" were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for deeds of military valor between 1866 and 1898.
California/ California Trail
Gold was discovered in California in 1848, resulting in rush of gold-seekers heading to this potential land of opportunity. They came by sea and across the overland trails.
The California Trail veered south from the Oregon Trail near present-day Sheep Rock, Idaho, along the Hudspeth Cutoff and also near Raft River Crossing in Idaho. Thousands of Forty-niners were in search of gold and traveled this route to the California goldfields. Most people never realized any fortunes in gold. However, California was quickly settled and became a state in 1850 because of the Gold Rush.
California National Historic Trail
California Gold Fields
California National Historic Trail
The mountain men or fur trappers used castoreum to bait their beaver traps. This musky-scented oil is secreted from the castor gland of a beaver.
Corps of Discovery
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were directed by President Thomas Jefferson to lead an expedition up the Missouri River in order to locate a suitable trade route to the Pacific Northwest. The Lewis and Clark Expedition lasted from May 1804 until September 1806. This "Corps of Discovery" included 26 soldiers and several civilians. At Fort Mandan, in present-day North Dakota, Sacagawea and her husband Toussaint Charbonneau joined the expedition to the Pacific Ocean. Members of the "Corps of Discovery" maintained journals and collected scientific data and artifacts to present to President Jefferson. They noted the abundance of beaver in the Rocky Mountain region. This fur-bearing animal was significant to the American fur trade and lured many trappers and traders into the West.
In the Spring of 1879 a mass migration of African Americans left the segregated South to travel to the "promised land" of Kansas in the West. Kansas was chosen by many African Americans because of its historic struggle over the slavery issue before the Civil War. This "promised land" became a symbol of freedom for former slaves. These African American pioneers from the South were known as Exodusters. Some were inspired by leaders such as Henry Adams and Benjamin "Pap" Singleton, who encouraged African Americans to leave the South and settle in the West.
Fort Laramie served as an early American Indian trading post and quickly developed into a major resupply point for emigrants on the Oregon Trail. Beginning in 1849, this outpost on the Laramie River also served as a major military post in the West. This site is preserved and maintained by the National Park Service. Visit the Fort Laramie National Historic Site Web Page.
Fort Laramie National Historic Site, WY
Fort Vancouver served as the Columbia (River) Department Headquarters for the Hudson's Bay Company's fur trading enterprise in the old Oregon Territory (present-day Washington State). This historic trading post was located across the Columbia River near the end of the Oregon Trail. Structures of the old fort have been reconstructed at the original site. This area is preserved and maintained by the National Park Service. Visit the Web Page for Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.
Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, WA
Great American Desert
During the early Nineteenth Century, the Great Plains region of the United States was identified on maps as "the Great American Desert." The explorers Zebulon Pike and Stephen Long originated this idea with their descriptions of the region following their expeditions through the area. Because this region had very few trees, it was thought to be a desert with little productive value. By 1890 however, American farmers had settled this region and the "Great American Desert" myth was dispelled.
Homestead Act of 1862
The Homestead Act of 1862 signed by President Lincoln encouraged the settlement of the Great Plains region of the United States. Provisions of this legislation entitled citizens of the United States to receive 160 acres of land from the U.S. Government, contingent on application and paying a filing fee. Applicants were required to be at least 21 years of age and would gain title to the land if they made improvements upon it. Daniel Freeman was one of the first applicants to file a claim for Nebraska land under the Homestead Act. The National Park Service maintains a Memorial on the location of his farm. Visit the Homestead National Monument of America Home Web Page.
Homestead National Monument of America, NE
The historic town of Independence, Missouri, was one of the jumping-off points for thousands of pioneers who went west on the Oregon Trail during the nineteenth century. In more recent history, Independence was the hometown of the 33rd President. The home of Harry S Truman is preserved and maintained by the National Park Service at Harry S Truman National Historic Site.
Oregon National Historic Trail
Harry S Truman National Historic Site, MO
James Beckwourth (1798-1867) was born a slave, but raised free by his mulatto mother and white father. In 1823, Beckwourth joined the fur-trading expeditions of William Ashley and Andrew Henry into the Rocky Mountain region of the West. This legendary mountainman distinguished himself among the Crow Indians, becoming a tribal chief and great warrior. Later, Beckwourth served as a guide, army scout, and hunter. He discovered a route through the Sierra Nevada Mountains to California that was named for him. In 1856 he published Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth, a chronicle of his frontier life.
James Marshall (1810-1885) became famous for discovering gold in 1848 along the American River in California while he was working for John Sutter. When word spread quickly about this find, it was the start of the great Gold Rush to California. Neither Marshall nor Sutter gained any fortune from the gold find. James Marshall resorted to selling his autograph on cards that publicized him as the original discoverer of gold in California.
Jedediah Strong Smith (1798-1831) was an explorer and fur trader. This deeply religious mountain man was known for carrying his Bible in the frontier West and for his courage. He and two partners took over William Ashley's fur company in 1826. Smith also led expeditions from the Great Salt Lake region to the Mohave Desert in California, and north through the Sierra Mountains to Oregon. In 1831, Smith was attacked and killed by Comanche Indians.
John Brown (1800-1859) was a tanner, land surveyor, farmer, and an ardent abolitionist. In 1855, Brown moved to Kansas to participate in the struggle to keep Kansas a free state. When it was thought that proslavery forces might attack the town of Lawrence, Kansas, Brown led a group which killed five innocent men. Brown, now an obsessed abolitionist, moved to the East and initiated a raid on the armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Here he and his men were captured, tried for treason, and hanged on December 2, 1859. John Brown became a martyr to anti-slavery Northern supporters. The historic location of Brown's raid at Harpers Ferry is now preserved by the National Park Service at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, WV
John C. Frémont
John Charles Frémont (1813-1890), widely known as "the Pathfinder," was a soldier and explorer. He explored the Pacific Northwest, Nevada, and California from 1843-1844. During the Mexican War he commanded a small force that captured Sacramento and Los Angeles. He served as a Senator in California during 1850-1851 and was chosen as the Republican Party's first Presidential candidate in 1856, but lost this election. Later, Frémont served in the Civil War and became the Territorial Governor of Arizona.
Christopher "Kit" Carson (1809-1868) distinguished himself as a trapper, guide, soldier, and Indian Agent. At the age of sixteen, Carson began his fur-trapping career in New Mexico and in 1830 went to work for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. This experienced mountainman served as a guide to John C. Frémont during three of his western expeditions from 1842 to 1847. Carson was later appointed as an Indian Agent for the Ute Indians and also served in the Civil War.
Levi Strauss (1830-1902) immigrated to New York City in 1847 from Germany. He opened a dry goods store and sold cloth. He later traveled to San Francisco during the Gold Rush. When the gold miners in California needed a sturdy pair of pants, Strauss designed a pair cut out of tent canvas. These pants became known as "Levi's" and quickly became popular throughout the nation and world.
When the United States purchased the vast Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, this area was virtually unknown and unexplored. It comprised over 800,000 square miles, stretching from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. President Jefferson was publicly criticized for buying what some called "worthless" land. The Louisiana Territory cost the United States about $15,000,000, representing approximately four cents per acre of land. Adding this vast area to America doubled its size and expanded the nation westward.
A popular idea known as "Manifest Destiny" swept America during the Nineteenth Century. This idea promoted the belief that the nation had a divine mission to spread from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast, opening the continent to American Settlement. James K. Polk was elected the eleventh U.S. President in 1844 because of his support for Manifest Destiny. Polk acquired the Oregon Territory from Great Britain by treaty, and most of the American Southwest, including California, New Mexico, and Arizona, by provoking a war with Mexico. By the end of Polk's administration, Manifest Destiny had been achieved.
Manuel Lisa (1772-1820) was an entrepreneur in the early fur trade. He settled in St. Louis about 1790, and operated the Missouri Fur Company. In 1807, Lisa led a group of frontiersmen up the Missouri River to trap beaver and establish trade with the American Indians. He established Fort Manuel and Fort Lisa in the West. Known for his aggressive nature, a contemporary referred to Lisa as "a man of bold and daring character, with energy and spirit of enterprise like that of Cortez or Pizarro." For the most part, Lisa was not well-liked by entrepreneurs on the frontier, but got along well with the American Indians.
Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) was a personal friend and private secretary to President Thomas Jefferson. Lewis, a military Captain, was asked by President Jefferson to lead an expedition into the uncharted west in 1804. Lewis chose William Clark to serve as a co-Captain to lead the "Corps of Discovery" to the Pacific Northwest. This important military and scientific expedition lasted approximately two and a half years, resulting in many important discoveries for the nation. Following the expedition, President Jefferson appointed Meriwether Lewis the Governor of the Upper Louisiana Territory. In 1809, Lewis died under mysterious circumstances while en route to Washington, D.C. along the Natchez Trace. The Natchez Trace Parkway is maintained by the National Park Service.
Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail
Natchez Trace Parkway, MS
Brigham Young led a large group of Mormon followers from Nauvoo, Illinois to the Great Salt Lake in Utah where they settled in 1847. Salt Lake City was established by the Mormons as a refuge from religious persecution they had faced in the East. The overland route used by the Mormons on their westward journey is now preserved and cooperatively maintained as the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City.
Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail
The community of Nicodemus was formed during 1877-1878 when hundreds of African Americans arrived in the northwestern area of Kansas. Following Reconstruction in the South after the Civil War, these former slaves moved to Kansas, thought by many to be a "garden spot" or "promised land." By 1878, the community of Nicodemus, Kansas, reached a population peak of about 700 residents. Later, when the railroad by-passed the town, its population greatly declined. Today, this town's history and legacy is preserved and maintained as a National Historic Site. Visit the Nicodemus National Historic Site Home Page
Nicodemus National Historic Site, KS
The fertile farmland of the Oregon country attracted thousands of settlers during the Nineteenth Century. The overland pioneers who went to Oregon during the 1840s, 1850s, and 1860s traveled across the Oregon Trail. Today, this historic route is preserved from Independence, Missouri, to Oregon City, Oregon, by several cooperating agencies, including the National Park Service.
Oregon National Historic Trail
Between 1840 and 1870, an estimated 350,000 emigrants followed this overland route known as the Oregon Trail to the West. Farmers, gold-seekers, missionaries, and entrepreneurs traveled for months along this pathway primarily during the 1840s, 1850s, and 1860s before the railroads were established. This route led to the fertile farmlands of Oregon and to cutoffs leading to the goldfields of California. Today, the Oregon National Historic Trail is preserved from Independence, Missouri, to Oregon City, Oregon, by several cooperating agencies, including the National Park Service.
Oregon National Historic Trail
The practice of honoring American Indian leaders with special medals began with the British, French, and Spanish governments in the 1600s. These "peace medals" were presented to the tribal leaders for the purpose of negotiation and to promote allegiance to a government. The United States continued the practice of issuing silver peace medals to the American Indians. President Jefferson's administration issued medals similar in design to the British medals. The obverse showed a bust of President Jefferson and the reverse side had two clasped hands with the motto "Peace and Friendship." This reverse design was continued by several Presidential administrations, with a new Presidential bust on the obverse. The final peace medal was issued in 1896 under President Grover Cleveland's administration. Currently, the United States Mint produces a series of Presidential medals using the peace medal designs of the early Presidents.
Pierre Laclede (1729-1778) was one of the founders of St. Louis, Missouri, along with his stepson Auguste Chouteau. In August 1763, Laclede, a fur trader, left New Orleans and traveled north up the Mississippi River in search of a site where he could establish a trading post. Laclede selected a location on the western banks of the Mississippi River, near the mouth of the Missouri River. On February 14, 1764 Laclede's fourteen-year-old lieutenant, Auguste Chouteau, arrived at this location and began construction of the trading post. This small French settlement grew into the city of St. Louis.
The covered wagons typically used by the overland pioneers were often called "prairie schooners," since covered wagons crossing the prairies resembled ships crossing an ocean. These wagons differed from the larger Conestoga wagons better suited for heavy freight. A typical overlander's wagon looked much like a farm wagon with an attached hoop frame on top for resting the cover. When these wagons were loaded with cargo for a long overland journey, they did not usually have space for passengers. Therefore, most of the westward-bound pioneers walked alongside their loaded wagons on the overland trails.
President James K. Polk
James Knox Polk (1795-1849) was the eleventh President of the United States. He was elected because of his expansionist views. During his presidency, the U.S. achieved the possession of Texas, and the fixture states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah following the Mexican War. The Oregon boundary dispute with England was settled under Polk's Administration. When President Pole mentioned in an address to Congress that gold had been found in California, the 1849 Gold Rush ensued.
The history and legacy of the sixteenth U.S. President is interpreted and preserved by the National Park Service at several National Park sites. To learn more about the life of Abraham Lincoln, visit these National Park Web Sites.
Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site, KY
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial, IN
Lincoln Home National Historic Site, IL
Ford's Theatre National Historic Site, D.C.
Lincoln Memorial, D.C.
During the mountain men era, the fur trader William Ashley organized an annual rendezvous or meeting with his fur trappers at a designated location in the West. At the rendezvous the trappers exchanged their beaver pelts for new supplies. These meetings took place during the summer when the trapping season was slow. Trappers, American Indians, and Ashley looked forward to these raucous gatherings in the wilderness. The first rendezvous was held in 1825 and continued each year until 1840.
As European settlement encroached upon the American Indian's land, the Native Americans were generally pushed westward to designated areas. Under President Andrew Jackson's administration, thousands of Indian people who lived east of the Mississippi were forced to the West. The most famous forced migration was that of the so-called "Five Civilized Tribes" from the Southeast: The Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Cherokee, and Seminole People. Their path to the West has been called the "Trail of Tears." Oklahoma was designated as American Indian Territory where many American Indian people were forced to relocate on reservations established in this area. In time, the designated reservations became smaller due to wide Euro-American settlement across the Great Plains. Today, throughout the United States, several American Indian reservations exist where Native American cultures are officially recognized by the U.S. Government.
Santa Fe Trail
The Santa Fe Trail was developed from American Indian and trade routes through the American Southwest. This important commercial trade route served the United States and Mexico following Mexican independence in 1821. Much of this route can be traced from Missouri to New Mexico. The Santa Fe National Historic Trail is cooperatively preserved and interpreted by agencies such as the National Park Service.
Solomon D. Butcher
Solomon Butcher (1856-1927) was a photographer who chronicled life on the sod house frontier during the late Nineteenth Century and early Twentieth Century. In 1899, Butcher"s house burned and he lost much of his photographic work. However, he started making new photographs and published them in 1901. This collection remains an important photographic record of pioneer life on the Great Plains.
Stephen Long (1784-1864) was an engineer, soldier, and explorer. In 1820, he led an expedition into the Rocky Mountains and discovered the peak outside Denver, Colorado named for him. Long also explored an area in the Northwest and helped survey the border between Canada and the United States. Later, he served as an engineer for the railroads and became Chief of Topographical Engineers for the United States.
The Great American Desert
During the early Nineteenth Century, the Great Plains region of the United States was identified on maps as "the Great American Desert." The explorers Zebulon Pike and Stephen Long originated this idea with their descriptions of the region following their expeditions through it. Because this region had very few trees, it was thought to be a desert with little productive value. By 1890 however, American farmers had settled this region and the "Great American Desert" myth was dispelled.
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was the third President of the United States. Under his leadership, the nation expanded westward beyond the Mississippi River. Jefferson's administration negotiated the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, opening the western frontier to American settlement. Within a century the American continent was settled from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.
Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, MO
Thomas Jefferson Memorial, D.C.
The Central Pacific (CP) and Union Pacific (UP) railroad crews met on May 10, 1869 at Promontory Summit in Utah, completing for the first time the American transcontinental railroad. The western United States was finally linked to the East by the rails. A golden spike was symbolically driven at this historic location where the CP and UP met. Today, this area is preserved and maintained by the National Park Service at Golden Spike National Historic Site.
Golden Spike National Historic Site, UT
William Ashley (1778-1838) was an American entrepreneur in the western fur trade. Ashley formed a partnership with Andrew Henry and established a fur company in St. Louis. In 1822, Ashley and Henry placed an advertisement in local newspapers calling for "Enterprising Young Men...to ascend the river Missouri to its source..." The trappers who responded to this ad became legendary. They became known as the mountain men of the West. Ashley and Henry organized an annual rendezvous in the West where the mountain men could exchange their beaver pelts for new supplies. Henry retired in 1824 and Ashley in 1826 after selling his profitable business to three of the mountain men.
William Clark (1770-1838) was the co-leader with Meriwether Lewis of the "Corps of Discovery", a U.S. military and scientific expedition to the Pacific Northwest from 1804 to 1806. The Lewis and Clark Expedition provided valuable information concerning the American West and encouraged its further exploration. William Clark was later appointed the Governor of the Missouri Territory and Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Native Americans respectfully referred to Clark as the "Red Headed Chief".
Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail
William F. Cody
William Frederick Cody (1845-l917) was a colorful Western figure known to the world as "Buffalo Bill." He joined the Pony Express at the age of 14. During the Civil War, he served as a Scout for the Union Army. Following the war, he attempted several business ventures, including running a hotel and freighting business. Cody gained fame as a buffalo hunter, supplying meat for the Kansas Pacific Railroad, and received his famous nickname because of his skill as a hunter. He claimed to have killed 4,280 buffaloes. In 1883, Cody organized his "Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show" and traveled throughout America and Europe for about thirty years. By 1913, financial trouble closed his show, but he entertained locally until his death in 1917.
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone was established as the world's first National Park in 1872. The wonders of this majestic geothermal region were described and recorded by early mountain men and explorers. John Colter, a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, was one of the first Euro-Americans to see this area. Colter remained in the West following the expedition and came upon the Yellowstone region. He witnessed the steaming geysers and bubbling caldrons of mud coming from the Earth and later described what he had seen. Colter was first dismissed as a mad man and his discovery was mocked as "Colter's Hell." Today, these natural wonders of the Earth are preserved for posterity at Yellowstone National Park.
Yellowstone National Park, WY
Zebulon Pike (1779-1813) was a soldier and explorer for the United States Government. He led two expeditions into the West, one to find the source of the Mississippi River, and the other to the headwaters of the Arkansas and Red Rivers in 1806-1807. During this expedition, Pike came within the vicinity of the Rocky Mountain peak that now bears his name. He and his men were captured by Spanish authorities north of Santa Fe, and later released. Pike was killed during the War of 1812.