During the Texas Rebellion, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna's Mexican force
of 4,000 troops laid siege to the town of San Antonio, where 200 Texans
resisted, retreating to an abandoned mission, the Alamo. After inflicting over
1,500 casualties on Santa Anna's men, the defenders of the Alamo were wiped out
on March 6, 1836. The Alamo became a symbol of the Texans' determination to win
Compromise of 1850
The Compromise of 1850 was a major effort at quieting sectional conflict in
American politics. In terms of
expansion, its most important clauses were those admitting California to
statehood as a free state and dividing the remainder of the Mexican cession
after the Mexican
into two sections, New
Mexico and Utah, neither of which would be subject to restrictions on slavery.
Dawes Severalty Act
Passed in 1887, the Dawes Act called for the breakup of the reservations and the
treatment of Indians as individuals rather than tribes. It provided for the
distribution of 160 acres of farmland or 320 acres of grazing land to any Indian
who accepted the act's terms, who would then become a US citizen in 25 years.
The act was intended to help the Indians to integrate into white society, but in
reality helped to create a class of federally dependent Indians.
The exploits of the Donner Party exemplified the difficulties of the overland
journey to the Far West. Led astray by the erred advice of a guidebook, the
Donner Party found itself snowbound in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and arrived
at its destination in California only after turning to cannibalism.
In efforts to attract American settlers and trade to Texas during the 1820s, the
Mexican government gave large land grants to agents called empresarios in return
for their efforts to encourage colonization.
The first canal project of the 1820s, the 363-mile Erie Canal was completed in
1825, connecting Buffalo, New York, on the Great Lakes, with Albany, on the
Hudson River. The Erie Canal made cost effective shipping possible via
waterways from New York City to the West by way of the Great Lakes. The North
and Northwest were soon crisscrossed by an extensive canal system which greatly
improved domestic transportation and trade.
The Ghost Dance was seen as the final attempt of the Plains Indians to maintain
their culture and land. The prophet Wovoka convinced the Sioux that they could
only save their land and return to dominance if they performed the Ghost Dance.
The dance soon became a reaffirmation of culture and a source of inspiration to
renew the struggle against US forces of expansion. This renewed inspiration,
however, was crushed before it could get off of the ground.
Indian Removal Act
The Indian Removal Act, passed in 1830, granted President Andrew Jackson
funds and authority to remove the Indians by force if necessary. He pursued a
determined effort to coerce the Indians into expulsion.
Journalist John L. O'Sullivan coined the phrase "Manifest Destiny" in 1845. He
wrote of "our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of our
continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great
experiment of liberty." Manifest Destiny referred to the belief of many
Americans that it was the nation's destiny and duty to expand and conquer the
West in the name of God, nature, civilization, and progress.
The mission was the main tool in Spanish and Mexican colonization of the Far
West. Missions were established all along the California coast and into the
interior of Texas and New Mexico. The Franciscan missionaries tried to convert
the region's Indians, and built towns around their missions. By 1823, over
20,000 Indians had converted and were living in the missions of California.
Perhaps the most well known of the overland trails to the Far West, the Oregon
trail led many settlers to Oregon's Willamette Valley between 1840 and 1848 and
was representative of the hardships of overland travel.
Santa Fe Trail
Southwestern travelers more often than not used the Santa Fe Trail to move
westward. The trail linked St. Louis and Santa Fe, leading to the establishment
of strong economic connections between the regions surrounding the endpoints of
Trail of Tears
In 1835, federal agents persuaded a pro-removal Cherokee chief to sign the
Treaty of New Echota, which ceded all Cherokee land for $5.6 million and free
transportation west. Most Cherokees rejected the treaty, but resistance was
futile. Between 1835 and 1838 bands of Cherokee Indians moved west of the
Mississippi along the so-called Trail of Tears. Between 2,000 and 4,000 of
the 16,000 migrating Cherokees died. The Trail of Tears became a symbol for the
harsh treatment of the Indians at the hands of the federal government.
On May 10, 1869, the first transcontinental railroad was completed when the
Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads joined their tracks at Promontory
Point, Utah. The railroad rapidly affected the ease of western settlement,
shortening the journey from coast to coast, which took six to eight months by
wagon, to a mere one week's trip.
The Wilmot proviso was an amendment proposed to an appropriations bill regarding
the West, which proposed that slavery be prohibited in all of the Mexican
cession other than Texas. The proviso passed the House but stalled in the
Senate, where it was the cause of further arguments between northern and
Worcester v. Georgia
In the case of Worcester v. Georgia, Chief Justice John
Marshall ruled that the Cherokees comprised a
"domestic dependent nation" within Georgia and thus deserved protection from
harassment. However, the vehemently anti-Indian Andrew Jackson refused to abide
by the decision, sneering "John Marshall has made his decision; now let him
Stephen F. Austin
The most successful of all Texan empresarios, Stephen Austin became an
influential political leader in Texas. He did not support independence at
first, and his misgivings restrained any major move towards independence among
the Texan people. However, once he threw his support behind the Texas Rebellion
in 1835, it benefited greatly from his leadership and support.
George Armstrong Custer
Custer, a Civil War hero, was dispatched to the hills of South Dakota in 1874.
When gold was discovered in the region, the federal government announced that
Custer's forces would hunt down all Sioux not in reservations after January 31,
1876. Many Sioux refused to comply, and Custer began to mobilize his troops.
At the battle of Little Bighorn, in June 1876, Custer unwisely divided his
troops, and a numerically superior force of Indians wiped out him and all of his
men. This battle, known as "Custer's Last Stand," convinced the army that the
Sioux were a powerful force, after which a war of attrition, rather than direct
confrontation, was begun.
Fulton is credited with the invention of the first effective steamboat, which he
unveiled with his business partner, Robert Livingston, in New York in 1807. The
Steamboat revolutionized river travel because it could move rapidly upstream, a
feat no other type of watercraft could match.
Andrew Jackson was President of the United States from 1829 to 1837, and thus
oversaw much of the nation's expansion. Jackson's most prominent role in
westward expansion was his continuing struggle to eject the Indians East of the
Mississippi from their lands to free up land for American settlers. The Indian
Removal Act of 1830 granted Jackson the funding and authority to accomplish this
goal, which he pursued determinedly throughout his presidency.
James K. Polk
Polk was President of the United States from 1845 to 1849. He oversaw the
annexation of Oregon and of Texas, and is credited with beginning the Mexican
Polk was a firm believer in
expansion and pursued his goals with vigor. However, many northerners saw him
as an agent of southern will, expanding the nation as part of a plan to extend
slavery into the West.
Tyler became President of the United States in 1841, when William Henry
Harrison died after a month in office. Tyler and
his secretary of state, John Calhoun, a fierce
advocate for slavery, tried by dishonest and manipulative means to gain support
for the annexation of Texas. The treaty they presented to the Senate for
annexation was voted down, but the issue of annexation had risen to the fore of
Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna
Santa Anna, the president of Mexico, organized a mass purge of Mexican liberals
from his government in 1834. This accomplished, he began to place restrictions
on the governments of the Mexican territories to the North. Fearing tyrannical
rule, Stephen F. Austin and other American settlers in Texas sparked the Texas
Rebellion to win independence. Santa Anna was captured during the rebellion and
forced to sign a treaty giving Texas its independence, and was shortly ousted
from the Mexican government.
Panic of 1819
The state banks that had risen up to financially support speculation and
expansion had issued notes far in excess of what they could realistically
redeem. In reaction to this situation, the Bank of the United States insisted
that the state banks redeem all notes that had passed into the hands of the Bank
of the US. In order to pay the Bank of the US, the state banks had to demand
payment of debts by the farmers of the Midwest. The result was a vast
restriction in the amount of circulating money, and a substantial cutback in the
amount of credit offered farmers and speculators, dramatically slowing the
economy. The Panic of 1819 punctured the land rush and the agricultural boom
that had been underway since 1815, and alerted farmers to the need for more
effective transportation to distant markets.
As the population of American settlers in Texas had grown, relations with the
Mexican government had steadily soured. When, in 1834, Antonio Lopez de Santa
Anna purged the liberals from the government and began restricting the
independence of the Mexican territories, many Texans decided it was time for a
clean break. Texan leaders met and declared independence, soon beginning a
series of battles that culminated with the April 1836 capture of Santa Anna
himself. Though the Texans forced him to sign a treaty declaring Texas
independent, the Mexican government never officially recognized the treaty, and
the status of Texas remained in question, to be decided by the Mexican
After an excited Native American fired a rifle shot in a non-combat situation,
US Army troops massacred 300 Indians, including seven children. The massacre
was the symbolic final step in the war for the West, and after Wounded Knee the
Indians succumbed to the wishes of the federal government, resigning themselves
to reservation life.