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Manifest Destiny: US History

Manifest Destiny in American History

During the 19th century, the term Manifest Destiny was coined – a belief that America was readily destined to expand its territory across the continent. Important events and people paved way for the Manifest Destiny period, including the Mountain Men of Manifest Destiny, Lewis and Clark’s expedition of the Northwest Passage, the influence of the Mormons, and Gold Rush.

Westward we go! Manifest Destiny; Source: Common Wikimedia

The Mountain Men of Manifest Destiny

Nothing beat an adventure-packed expedition through the woods or hunting with a trusty old musket to hunt beaver and other undomesticated creatures out in the western wilderness! Being a mountain man was nothing but thrilling. From the early 1800s to the 1880s, hundreds of American males of all age, young and old, sought to explore the depths of the fresh outdoors and Western wilderness. They were called the Mountain Men, exploring primarily the Rocky Mountains and enjoying the breathtaking views of the West’s astounding countryside.

Mountain Men and the Fur Trade

The intrepid mountain men, who were also referred to as trappers, marched through the dense forests and over fast-flowing rapids. They often gathered together for an annual rendezvous and embarked on quests to accomplish their high-fetched but plausible missions in obtaining furs. Along their journey, these men encountered young deaths, lingering diseases, and prowling danger. Nevertheless, despite all of these hardships, these jubilant trappers were having the fun of their lives with the endless freedom and adventure.

“Here were the free trappers in all their glory.” ~ Washington Irving

“Here were the free trappers in all their glory,” wrote writer Washington Irving as he recalled one rendezvous. Irving described how living the life of a mountain man was truly worthwhile. Mountain men were rewarded with their prized trapped furs after a long hunt, their memorable stories to brag about, and other life-long, famous achievements. One famous Mountain Man Jim Beckwourth, for example, was claimed as a long-lost son of an old woman of the Crow Indian tribe, and later, he discovered the lowest pass across the Sierra Nevada. Valiant of all means, the bold-hearted mountain men left powerful legacies in the West, and their inspiring lives even today are admired with awe all around.

How did the Mountain Men contribute to Manifest Destiny?

While they trapped beavers and animals, the Mountain Men also contributed to Manifest Destiny by exploring the unique lands as they moved out West. The popularity of fur hats declined near the 1840s, just as trapping beavers for their furs became a scarcity. Mountain Men turned towards other jobs, such as becoming guides and explorers. On their expeditions, the Mountain Men were one of the first people who created new maps of roads and trails. They also evaluated the land and guided American families across the Oregon Trail and other Western terrain.

Lewis and Clark Expedition 1804

Lewis and Clark Expedition: Impact on Manifest Destiny

In May of 1804, a party of 45 people led by President Jefferson’s private secretary Meriwether Lewis and his friend William Clark departed St. Louis, Missouri in search of the “Northwest Passage,” a supposed water route across North America, and to establish contact with Indian groups. This expedition had yet another purpose: exploring the land the United States had bought.

Going up the Missouri river were three boats travelling with soldiers and frontiersmen. It was rough work, but the team managed to reach Indian country by summer and made a winter camp near a Mandan village. Joining them were a French fur trapper and his wife, Sacagawea, a Shoshone Indian.

In the spring of 1805, the party was back on the road again, hauling their boats on land to avoid rapids and waterfalls. They faced instead different challenges: prickly-pear cactus in their feet, grizzly bears, and scarce game.

The Rocky Mountains could be seen up ahead by late summer, and to cross the monstrous rocks, they needed horses, and fast. Sacagawea was delighted one day to discover that some approaching Indians were Shoshones, and that her brother was the chief. He was persuaded into providing the explorers all the horses they needed.

With the guidance of their two strong captains, the team made it over the mountains, but more dead than alive. A neighboring tribe saved them from starvation and near death, allowing the expedition to finally reach the Pacific Ocean, their final destination.

Lewis and Clark returned to St. Louis as proud men, for they had traveled almost 8,000 miles, mapped a route to the Pacific, established good relationships with the Indians, and, most of all, had brought back precious information about the West and the people that inhabited it. The Lewis and Clark expedition thus paved way for the beginnings of Manifest Destiny.

Mormons in Manifest Destiny

Mormons visiting a carpenter; Source: Commons Wikimedia

In 1846 the Mormons moved west in the search of a new home. Manifest Destiny had its calling. Their leader Joseph Smith received The Book of Mormon from a so-called angel and assumed it was his job to make a society of people who would serve God devotedly.  The Mormons were known for their unique practices such as polygamy, a system that allows you to have multiple spouses. In 1844 these unprecedented practices and teachings resulted in resentment that eventually led to the death of their first leader, Joseph Smith. After the anticipated loss of their leader, Brigham Young stepped up to take his place. He decided it would be best to find the community a place where they could be left alone to follow their beliefs. After a long difficult journey they landed in the west and decided to settle on a barren plain. Fortunately, the Mormons ended up finding many people that believed in their religion and established their main foundation in their new home, known today as Salt Lake City.

Manifest Destiny on Gold Rush

Miners of Gold Rush; Source: NARA

The 1850’s was known as the Gold Rush. A sudden discovery of gold in California beckoned thousands of people from around the world. The first person to discover this valuable gold in California was a carpenter named James Marshall, in 1848. According to James Marshall, he said that when he discovered something shining in the water, his heart thumped, but he was certain that it was gold. But, as James’s discovery leaked out, James wasn’t the only one with a thumping heart. The news spread. The Gold Rush heightened the meaning of Manifest Destiny, and tens of thousands from around the world flocked to California to join the gold fields. These people were South Americans, Europeans, Australians, and Chinese. Although they came from very different places, they all shared the same goals – striking rich with gold!

Works Cited

  1. “Mountain Men in the American West” History on the Net
    © 2000-2020, Salem Media.
    February 16, 2020 <https://www.historyonthenet.com/american-west-mountain-men&gt;
  2. California Gold Rush http://projects.leadr.msu.edu/usforeignrelations/exhibits/show/manifest-destiny/california-gold-rush
  3. National Park Service. Travel the Lewis and Clark Expedition. https://www.nps.gov/subjects/travellewisandclark/index.htm

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6 replies »

  1. I remember learning about this back when I was in history class. Lewis and Clark, Gold Rush, what a time. Great article! 👍

    Liked by 3 people

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