“Go West, Young Man!”

GabeAmerican History(ML), Mini Lessons

From Common Sense American History:

The Trans-Mississippi West plays a prominent role in American myths about the past. Cultural icons like the cowboy and Indian reflect those myths, with Hollywood movies and television shows depicting the individual farmer, rancher and cowboy contesting the forces of nature and the danger of Indian attacks on the frontier. In most cases, the cultural depiction of the West reflects the taming of nature with less focus on how the West advanced democracy and civilization in the arid and hostile western reaches of the American continent.

The real story of western expansion is less prosaic, the result of conflict between capital and labor, conflict between ethnic groups, between man and the elements, and between individualism and community. It is a story of grit and folly, and much like the advance of American civilization, a complex story of winners and losers, of conquerors and conquered, and of favored and disfavored. In seeing the West as a place of conflict, historians have focused on how the nature of expansion from the colonial period to the 19th century pushed the boundaries of settlement and propagated the values of capitalism and economic development in untamed landscapes.

The West was also a place of rebirth, of new possibilities and of promised expectations. It was a frontier of American exceptionalism, a place to be conquered and a place to be tamed. It reflected the possibilities of the American dream, of land ownership and of entrepreneurialism which were defining features of the American character.

  1. In the clip from the movie Far and Away, with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, the opening up of “Indian Territory” to European settlement is depicted. Why do you think they call Oklahomans “Sooners”?
  2. In the clip, you see a brief glimpse of a group of native Americans. They are clearly and rightfully unhappy with what is happening. What do you think they fear?
  3. Until that moment, Oklahoma was considered “Indian Territory” and was largely occupied by the Five Tribes. How long do you think they had been living on that land? Where did they come from?

This reading is an excerpt from Certell’s Common Sense American History Common Sense eBook.  Certell offers curriculum materials and eBooks free of charge for students and teachers.  Click Here to download the Common Sense American History materials.


True West Magazine.  Daily Life on Doomed Wagon Train [Photograph].  Retrieved from http://blog.truewestmagazine.com/2017/04/daily-life-on-doomed-wagon-train.html