285. The Great Rush Westward. Shortly
after the close of the Revolution, long processions
of emigrant wagons, with their white canvas covers
and their companies of hardy men and women, began to
move westward on all the main roads through New England,
over the highways of New York toward the lakes, over
the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, and through
the valley of the Ohio.
Thousands of thrifty settlers followed
just behind the pioneers and cleared the forests,
bridged the streams, built villages, and tilled the
rich valleys. Thousands left their homes in the
Carolinas and went over the mountains to settle on
the rich lands of Kentucky and Tennessee.
The hardships which these early settlers
endured are beyond description. It was one long
hard struggle for food, shelter, and life itself.
This was only the beginning of that mighty stream
of migration which flowed for the next half century
or more beyond the Mississippi, beyond the Rocky Mountains,
into the region of the extreme Northwest and to the
shores of the Pacific.
The story of the marvelous growth
of our country beyond the Alleghanies during the last
hundred years reads more like a fairy tale than the
286. Discovery of the Columbia
River. In 1792 Captain Robert Gray of
Boston, in the ship Columbia, was coasting along the
Pacific shores, trading with the Indians for furs,
when he discovered a broad and deep stream, which
he entered and sailed up for many miles, and named
after his vessel. The discovery of this great
river produced momentous and far-reaching results.
287. The Purchase of Louisiana
by President Jefferson. Now comes another
important event. Our pioneers, who wanted to push
on still farther, could not consistently cross the
Mississippi River to stay there; for all that country
belonged to France. This entire region of over
a million square miles was then called Louisiana.
Our people were very anxious to obtain
part of this land, because it included New Orleans.
The possession of it seemed necessary for our growing
commerce and for our future protection. Thomas
Jefferson, then President (1803), was on the point
of attempting to buy of France enough of this southern
region to include the mouth of the river, when he
learned to his surprise that the French would be glad
to sell us the whole of that vast territory!
Napoleon was just then planning military
operations on a great scale against England, and he
was in sore need of “the sinews of war”;
so he was glad to sell to this country this immense
area for fifteen million dollars.
The addition of the Louisiana territory
more than doubled the area of the United States.
288. The Wonders revealed by
the Lewis and Clarke Exploring Expedition. The
next year President Jefferson thought it best to learn
all about this wonderful addition to our territory,
and so sent an expedition, under Captains Lewis and
Clarke, to explore it. They started from St.
Louis in May, 1804. What a remarkable journey
it was! more than two thousand miles up
the Missouri River to its source, then across the
Rocky Mountains, next down the Columbia River to the
Pacific. They were the first white men who ever
explored this vast domain, having traveled about six
On their return in September, 1806,
they were welcomed with unbounded joy. The stories
of their perilous adventures sounded like a fairy
romance, and the book of their travels was read everywhere.
The explorers brought back word that the Indians had
immense quantities of valuable furs. Soon throngs
of American hunters and trappers began to roam over
the vast plains and through the forests.
All the way from the Missouri River
to the Pacific a chain of trading posts, and stores
for exchanging goods for furs were established.
The wagons of the fur-traders and the winding caravans
of emigrants that went under their protection soon
made a pretty fair road. This was known as the
Oregon trail, and in time it became the principal northern
highway for Pacific travel.
289. How Dr. Whitman saved Oregon
to the Union. In 1836 a group of young
missionaries, two of them with their brides, went from
New England to Oregon, taking with them a wagon all
the way from the Missouri to their new homes on the
Columbia River. One of these was a doctor by the
name of Marcus Whitman, whose labors and counsel became
of great value to the company.
After they had been settled in Oregon
some years Dr. Whitman discovered, one day in October,
1842, that the British were sending large bands of
settlers down into Oregon, apparently to crowd American
emigrants out of that rich country and to take complete
“The country is ours! The
United States is too late. England will have
Oregon and you cannot help it,” exclaimed an
English subject to him.
“I will see,” was the doctor’s quiet
The moment Dr. Whitman heard this
he became alarmed at the danger. If the President
at Washington could only be informed of the facts,
the threatened loss might be averted. The National
Capital was three thousand or more miles away; and
yet to delay a year or two might mean the seizure
of all this rich country by the British.
How to inform the government at Washington
was the question. Could he himself do anything
to save to his country this immense and valuable region? one
man, in midwinter, and across a continent? The
problem haunted him “Must I go?”
He could not sleep. Difficult, almost impossible,
as would be the journey, yet he heard the clear call
A firm and bold, resolve, quick as
a flash, had taken hold of him. He rode home
“I am going to Washington to
lay bare this scheme,” said he to his wife.
“I will bring settlers to Oregon.”
“You cannot ever get there,”
exclaimed the young wife; “you will perish on
“I must go; Oregon must be saved,” said
290. Whitman begins his Perilous
Journey. Twenty-four hours later Dr. Whitman,
with one companion, and pack mules for the guide and
their supplies, started on horseback on the perilous
Over mountain ranges, through deep
gorges and rugged forests, now drenched in storms,
now buried in snow, and half famishing for food their
sufferings cannot be described.
They fed their horses on cotton-wood
bark, while the men themselves lived on mule and dog
meat. Two or three times they were really lost
in the blinding snowstorms, and wandered about bewildered
for days. Once only, Whitman gave up in despair,
and then, worn out and bewildered, he knelt in the
deep snow, and in a final prayer surrendered to God
all earthly hopes. Then the party sank down and
awaited a snowy burial. They were not, however,
to die in the wilderness, but were rescued from death
almost as if by a miracle, and after untold hardships
for three months they reached St. Louis.
291. Dr. Whitman succeeds in
his Grand Mission. Dr. Whitman at last
arrived in Washington and convinced President Tyler
and Daniel Webster, his Secretary of State, of the
great value of Oregon and its importance to the Union.
It is claimed that he thus saved to our nation, by
his famous “Ride for Oregon,” that entire
region of country now known as Oregon, Washington,
and Idaho, an area thirty-two times as large as the
state of Massachusetts.
This heroic patriot afterwards went
through the Eastern States and told the people of
the wonders of the Pacific coast. He stirred up
such an interest that when, in the following June,
he started back for Oregon he had the satisfaction
of leading a caravan of two hundred wagons, with nearly
a thousand people. After that, emigrants thronged
every year in larger and larger numbers, till the
territory was soon beyond the danger of British invasion.
The dispute as to which nation had
a right to Oregon was at last settled in 1846 by a
treaty between the United States and England.
By this treaty the boundary line was fixed, and our
rightful claim to the vast Oregon country was confirmed
for all time.
292. California becomes One
of the United States. During all these
years, while so many eyes were turned towards Oregon,
few thought much of California, for it then belonged
to Mexico. The coast trade in hides and furs
and the inland immigration from the United States had
slowly changed the kind of population. Although
it was still Mexican by name, yet by 1846, besides
the Spanish, Mexicans, and Indians, there were about
ten thousand other inhabitants, mostly American citizens.
In that year war was declared between the United States
and Mexico. Then the large body of Americans
in California thought they had a right to declare
their independence of Mexico.
At just this time John C. Fremont,
an army officer and a famous western mountain explorer,
was fortunately on the great plains, and was sent
with an army expedition to explore a new route to Oregon.
Being informed by special messenger of the war with
Mexico, he changed his course and went to California.
When he arrived there his small but courageous band,
increased in number by patriotic residents and acting
in harmony with our fleet, soon secured the independence
of this great state.
293. The Discovery of Gold in
California. It appears fortunate and even
providential that California came into our hands just
when it did, for shortly afterwards a most remarkable
event occurred. Captain Sutter, an early emigrant,
had settled on the Sacramento River and built a sawmill.
In January, 1848, one of Sutter’s
laborers, by the name of Marshall, while digging a
ditch for the mill, found shiny pieces of yellow metal
which they suspected might be gold.
“I wonder what that yellow stuff
is,” said he. “I wonder if it is gold.”
“I reckon it is brass,” said one of his
“Let me try vinegar on it,”
said Marshall. It was tried and the vinegar did
not affect the “yellow stuff.”
The men about the sawmill threw down
their tools and went to work searching for gold.
Mr. Sutter laughed at the idea. But gold indeed
it was, and there was plenty of it!
294. The Effect of this Great
Discovery. The news spread. Soon
everybody about knew that pure gold was found and in
wonderful quantities. What a rush there was to
the “diggings”! How all sorts of
people from all over the western coast crowded in!
Doctors left their sick, ministers their pulpits,
traders their shops, mechanics their tools, and farmers
their fields, all half frantic with the desire to dig
their fortunes out of the golden sands of California.
When the news of the discovery of
gold reached the East, many people seemed to catch
the contagion. Multitudes started at once for
California. Thousands came by long wagon trains
over the dreary plains. Hundreds died of starvation
or were killed by Indians. Thousands went by
the Isthmus, other thousands by Cape Horn. Vast
numbers came from foreign countries. Even the
crews and often the officers abandoned the ships that
brought crowds to the Pacific coast and started for
the gold “diggings.”
295. The Mad Rush to the Gold
Regions. The rush to the gold fields began
in 1848, but became enormous in 1849. Those who
went that year are since called “Forty-niners.”
There were over eighty thousand of them! The
crowds that thronged the gold regions dug up the country
for miles around Sutter’s mill. They tore
up his beautiful valley and ruined his farm.
But they soon learned that gold was also to be found
in larger quantities along the streams, among the
mountains, and in valleys.
Month by month new-comers swarmed
in, and the excitement grew more intense. Some
found prizes, nuggets of solid gold as large as an
acorn or a walnut, and at times masses two or three
pounds in weight. However much gold a man found,
he was wildly eager to get more.
A great deal of suffering ensued from
the scarcity of food and the enormous prices of everything
needful. Potatoes sold for a dollar apiece, eggs
at the same price, wood at fifty dollars a cord, and
flour at a hundred dollars a barrel. Large butcher
knives were found very useful for digging, and brought
thirty dollars each. A dose of the cheapest medicine
in an apothecary’s shop cost five dollars, and
a physician’s visit a hundred dollars.
Unskilled laborers were paid twenty-five dollars a
Money was not used at the mines, but
in its place the ore itself, or “dust,”
at about sixteen dollars an ounce. Miners carried
small scales, weighed their gold dust, and paid their
bills with it.
At the rough log tavern: “What
do you charge for dinner here?” “Half an
At the wayside store: “What’s
the price of these boots?” “Three ounces.”
296. The Pony Express and its
Remarkable History. San Francisco, being
the principal base of operations and the center of
much of the immense travel to and from the mines,
grew in a few years from a cluster of shanties to
a large and wealthy city. The people of California
now demanded more frequent and more expeditious transmission
of mail matter than that by steamers and across the
It was finally decided to establish
a horseback letter express between St. Joseph, on
the Missouri River, and San Francisco, about two thousand
miles. It was a daring and hazardous project.
But the express began business in April, 1860, and
made the through trip in ten days. Only letters
were carried. The charge was five dollars each,
afterwards reduced one-half. The company had
sixty hardy riders and four hundred and twenty strong,
fast horses, though it was nicknamed the “pony
A rider started from each end of the
journey at the same hour. There were stations
every twenty-five miles for keeping and changing horses.
On a postman’s arrival at a station the bags
were instantly slung on a fresh horse (for never more
than two minutes must be spent at a station), and
away went the new courier for the next station.
The speed was by and by increased, until the long
run was made in only eight days!
Ah! that was furious riding!
What speed they made! In 1861 the pony riders
took President Lincoln’s message through in one
hundred and eighty-five hours! It was dangerous
riding too. Day and night, over sandy plains
and lofty mountains, on, on dashed these bold riders.
The “pony express” was
worth to the nation a hundred times its cost.
Why? Because just at that time our Civil War was
beginning to darken the land, and the South was making
desperate efforts to entice the vast Pacific region
to unite with the seceding states. This “pony
express” line proved to be the first strand
of a strong cable to unite the East and the West.
297. More Rapid Means of Communication
between the East and the Pacific Coast urgently needed. For
many years before 1860 there was talk of the urgent
need, and finally of the absolute necessity, of closer
connection between the old East and the new West.
There were plenty of reasons for a railroad; but in
1861 there came another overpowering reason that eclipsed
all others. The war for the Union had begun, and
it was a matter of supreme importance that the Pacific
states should be saved in the Union. No step
could lead more surely toward this result than to
have a railroad for constant and swift travel.
298. The Railroad over the Rocky
Mountains to the Pacific Coast rapidly built. In
1863 the great work was begun. The government
was wonderfully generous and contributed money and
land freely, for it was felt that the railroad must
be built as quickly as possible. The completion
of the gigantic undertaking in 1869 at Ogden, Utah,
was gayly celebrated. Two trains, loaded with
passengers from New York and San Francisco, approached
each other at this place. The last rail was laid,
the last rivet clinched, the last spike, a spike of
gold sent from California, was driven, when the locomotives
moved up and saluted, amid the cheers of the enthusiastic
In seven years’ time, from 1849
to 1856, the gold found in California was worth nearly
five hundred millions of dollars! Imagine the
effect of such an output of the precious metal upon
the industries and commerce of our country!
California is still rich in its gold,
but it is still richer in its wonderful climate and
its marvelous scenery; in the wealth of its grain
fields; its sheep and cattle; its orange groves and
its vineyards. These make California the real
El Dorado, the real land of gold, and ensure
the prosperity and happiness of its people.