2.3b The Push West
In 1598 Juan de Onate led five hundred settlers north from Mexico City to the upper Rio Grande in an attempt to expand Spanish settlement in the region. The Native Americans of the Acoma Pueblo area resisted this expansion, and were brutally suppressed the following year. The new Spanish province they established was a thin strip along the river. Pedro de Peralta made Santa Fe the capital of the new territory in 1610.
In 1685 the French explorer La Salle established a fort at Matagorda Bay on the Gulf Coast of Texas. To the Spanish government this was a potential threat. A French wedge between Spanish Florida and New Spain could fragment and divide the Spanish overseas empire, so two Spanish missions were established in Texas. However, this was certainly not enough to ensure the security of the New World colonies. From 1699 on, the Spanish government sent colonists to the lower Mississippi and Gulf coast regions in an attempt to make the area incontestably Spain's. Spanish settlers competed with the French and British for the same territory. In west Florida, the Spanish fort of Pensacola was able to block French expansion eastward. With this minor victory, Spain relaxed its efforts, at least until the French established a fort at Natchitoches in 1714. Active Spanish colonisation of Texas began again. The main body of Spanish colonists followed after the early explorers and military forces. The Spanish were ultimately unsuccessful at maintaining control of their New World territories, but by the end of Spanish rule in 1821 approximately 4,000 Spaniards lived in Texas.
French settlements in the New World began in the Saint Lawrence River valley. Quebec was established in 1608, Montreal in 1642, and New Orleans in 1718. The population of the French territories was relatively small. In 1700 it was still only around 15,000. The fur trade was of primary importance to the French in North America. It was through the success of this trade that the French, as well as the English, explored and expanded into the interior of modern Canada. The Government of France attempted to control the trade by issuing a limited number of licenses to would-be traders. However, they had little success in this, as settlers and explorers simply traded without the license. These unlicensed traders became known as “coureurs de bois”, and were instrumental in the westward expansion of French influence. They traded throughout the Great Lakes region, and into the areas which are now Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The trade also extended down the Mississippi to the Spanish in Santa Fe and to Charleston in South Carolina. Many Native Americans who had contact with the traders learned some French to facilitate exchanges, and several coureurs de bois learned some First Nations languages. By the 1730s over 800 unlicensed coureurs de bois were active in the New World. The forts, which were built as trading outposts to the west and in what became Upper Canada, aided European expansion into the centre of North America. These forts fell to the British in the war of 1754. Forts that were established to protect and expand the trade gradually became major centres of population as explorers gave way to permanent settlers. Throughout the seventeenth century, French explorers moved south into the American continent. They arrived at Green Bay Wisconsin in 1634, and moved from there down the Mississippi. By 1682 the French had arrived at the Gulf of Mexico, and in 1702 a colony was established in Louisiana with the fort at Mobile Bay.
The latter half of the eighteenth century saw the dramatic growth of British power and influence in the New World. British forces captured Montreal, completing their conquest of New France. In 1763 Britain succeeded in gaining all territories east of the Mississippi from France and Spain with the Treaty of Paris. The British were poised to expand their influence westwards, past the Appalachians and into the centre of the North American continent. As British settlers moved west during the 1840s, the French population of Quebec began moving into the Eastern Townships.
The increasing North American population constantly required new land. The vast western expanse of the continent seemed to offer ample supply, and soon European settlers were advancing beyond the Appalachians in a series of major waves. Westward migrants were affected by both push and pull factors. Overcrowding and diminishing opportunity on the Atlantic coast influenced people to depart for the interior of the continent. The cheap land, freedom, and open opportunity of the west augmented this. Migrants moving into the interior faced several obstacles. Transportation was very limited, often restricted to travel by water, such as the Ohio River, or by simple wagon track. A second obstacle to the Europeans was the presence of indigenous societies in the areas they wished to inhabit. These indigenous groups, many of whom were traditionally coastal peoples who had already sought refuge in the interior, often vehemently and aggressively resisted European and American expansions in the west.
The first wave of migrants to push west past the Appalachians settled mainly in Kentucky. In 1775 four hundred settlers travelled the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap and into central Kentucky and along the Ohio River. Others followed these early explorers and pioneers in ever increasing numbers; 73,000 settlers migrated into Kentucky in 1790. The second wave increased the European presence in Ohio, with early migrations beginning in 1790 and peaking in 1810. That year 230,000 Europeans settled on lands that were already occupied.
The resistance of the Native Americans was defeated in 1794 at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. The following year the Greenville Treaty ensured that two-thirds of Ohio would remain in the hands of the American government. Twelve distinct indigenous groups were relegated to one-third of the territory of Ohio.
From the 1790s on, land speculators as well as state and federal governments encouraged migration to the interior of the continent. The westward roads became increasingly popular, especially the Wilderness Road mentioned above. This influx of population resulted in the creation of the states of Kentucky (1792), Tennessee (1796), and Ohio (1803). In 1803 the Louisiana Purchase allowed the continuation of western expansion.
The first half of the nineteenth century saw the continuing expansion of European Americans west of the Appalachians. The government acquired ever-increasing amounts of land in the west to fulfil the continuous demands of settlement. Most settlers moved west by water, using the Ohio River, the Eire Canal, and the Great Lakes to push into the interior. Many man-made canals were constructed to facilitate this expansion, and paddle steamers were used to transport people and their supplies. Between 1825 and 1842 approximately 1,600 kilometres of canal were built in Ohio, mostly by Irish immigrant labourers. Canals were used by settlers to move from New York to Detroit. 84,000 settlers moved into South Michigan between 1831 and 1834. 1826 saw a peak in sales of government land to European settlers. The government paid First Nations groups two cents an acre, and resold the land to settlers for $1.25 an acre.
The route from the lower Missouri River into the Willamette Valley, known as the Oregon Trail, was used with increasing regularity after 1842. In 1846 it served the Mormons who were fleeing Nauvoo, Illinois, after the murder of their founder Joseph Smith. Their new leader, Brigham Young, had decided to move the Mormon centre to the area around what would later be Salt Lake City. The religious pioneers wintered at Omaha between 1846 and 1848. In 1849 Young led one hundred fifty followers to settle near the Great Salt Lake, and the others followed from Omaha at the rate of approximately 3,000 per year. Converts to Mormonism began arriving from England at about the same rate, and the population of the Mormon settlements grew rapidly. In 1850 there were 11,000 non-Native Americans living in Utah. Ten years later there were 40,000. Political organisation grew alongside the population. In 1849 the Mormons organised their own government, establishing the independent nation of Deseret. They wanted the American government to include them as a state, but instead the federal government included Deseret in the creation of Utah in the early 1850s. Mormon expansion in the west was restricted by the creation of Utah. This particular expansion is characteristic of much expansion into the west of North America. The Mormons, in their search for religious freedom, pushed past regions that were evenly populated by Europeans and created their settlement in isolation. These solitary pockets of settlement were a common feature of expansion into the continent, belying the concept of an even and united frontier. Throughout the New World, European settlements existed in isolation, dependant upon precarious links to other centres and populated regions, separated by vast stretches of uncolonised territory.
Some of the most numerically impressive migrations to the west of the United States were related to the Gold Rush in California. The gold field along the west side of the Sierra Nevada mountains was extensive and productive, and many Americans, Mexicans, Australians, Chileans, Chinese and Europeans migrated to the west coast in an attempt to make their fortune. In 1848 the non-Native American population of California was 14,000. Only one year later it had risen to 100,000, and by 1860 it was up to 380,000. This was paralleled by an equally rapid decline in the Native American population. A voluntary militia was organised out of bands of ranchers and miners in order to eliminate the Native American population. They were supported by community fundraising and a bounty paid for scalps. The Native American population declined 80 per cent in California between 1845 and 1860, although this was largely due to disease rather than organised military action. Most of the people who moved into California during the Gold Rush were men, approximately half of whom were actively participating in the gold trade. The other half were employed in various supporting roles. In 1859 a second gold rush occurred west of Denver, and in 1860 gold and silver were discovered east of Lake Tahoe with the famous Comstock Lode.
In the Canadian West, the first numerically significant influx of European settlers did not occur until the mid to late nineteenth century. These later migrations were also the result of several gold rushes. The Fraser River gold rush from 1857 to 1859 brought 30,000 prospectors to the west in a single year. In 1858 British Columbia became a British colony in order to regulate the influx of gold-rush immigrants. More discoveries at Williams Creek, Barkerville, Kootenay, and Cariboo from 1860 to 1866 further increased the population of the region. The last major gold rush occurred in Alaska, causing the population of Dawson City to expand to 25,000. After the Cariboo rush ended, the population of British Columbia dropped from 16,000 to 5,000, and then stabilised around 10,000. The growth of industry and communications carried a more lasting impact than the gold rushes. Fish canneries were established on the coast in 1878, and the arrival of the CPR in Vancouver in 1885 expanded shipping across the Pacific to China and Japan.
These specialised industrial developments had a unique impact upon migratory patterns in North America. Across the continent, certain regions were often settled because they were found to be well suited to a particular type of industry or agriculture. For example, towns sprang up around mining centres, and settlements flourished in the rich fruit-growing region of interior British Columbia. However, expansion that followed this pattern was not always smooth. Economies dependent on single commodities were especially subject to cycles of boom and bust. In addition, the often isolated nature of these settlements meant that their economies were similarly isolated, and they were frequently without a market large enough to take in their surplus.
In the years following the American Civil War, settlement west of the Mississippi increased rapidly. The Homestead Act of 1862 gave American settlers claim to any quarter section if they were able to live on it for a period of five years. The use of irrigation and new varieties of grains made it possible for agricultural settlements to flourish in the dry interior of the continent. Loggers, miners, and fur traders preceded the growth of more established settlements. Railways advanced simultaneously from both coasts, with Italians and Irish forming labour crews in the east and Chinese in the west. The railroads were completed in 1885, after which the railroad companies sold the adjoining lands to settlers. The earliest settlers passed over land that was only partially fertile, choosing the best agricultural areas for their farms and leaving inferior land for those who followed. These early settlers were highly diverse. There were Germans and Scandinavians across the northwestern United States and the southern Canadian prairies. African Americans moved through Texas from the southeastern states, and Americans of Mexican descent lived along the southern border of the United States. In the west there were smaller cultural groups such as the Chinese, and religious and ethnic minorities from Russia and Austria-Hungary. Cultural patterns of Europe were often preserved in the Canadian and American west. Settlement of the Canadian west began later and continued longer than in the United States. Significant numbers didn't begin moving into the Prairies until the 1880s and 1890s.
During the later nineteenth century most newcomers to the western regions of Canada and the United States were from Northern Italy, Germany, and Ireland. There was also a significant number of Chinese, especially between 1854 and 1883. Their population during these years was approximately 288,000. They worked as shopkeepers, craftsmen, and labourers on the mines and railways, establishing settlements along the rail routes into the interior of the continent. Japanese settlers and workers were also present, although their migration peaked slightly later than that of the Chinese; their numbers were highest between 1890 and 1908. Over 150,000 moved into the central valley of California, where many became truck gardeners. People also migrated to the west of North America from the Philippines and from Mexico. The migration of Mexicans into the United States was numerically significant, and had long-lasting social, political, and economic repercussions upon both nations. By 1920 more than ten per cent of the population of Arizona and California were Mexican.
Asian & African Labour | Changing Nature of Migration | Migrations After WWII | Conclusion|
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