As the country grew and expanded, the American people where always one to push their bounds. In 1763, we proudly, defied England’s proclamation of the year, and settled west of the Appalachian mountains. A little later, the westward people pushed Indians, animals, and society to a place where no American person had gone before. But all the while, one important factor determined where they transported themselves, where they settled, and what they did when they got there. This factor, the environment, profoundly affected the settlers way of life, and other factors, such as the Indians and the railroad, only aggravated a pre-existing condition.
The settlers of the late 1800’s had only one way to get to the west- along the pre-existing routes established by the courier-de-bois, Spanish settlers, and the Indians of the past. These routes, which flowed through the only passable areas of the Rockies, naturally led to Oregon and California, which caused an increase in the population of these regions at the time. These trails, such as the Oregon Trail to the north, the Mormon and Spanish Trail to the south, and the California and Overland trails in between were very rough and bumpy, making the trek no easy task.
On the home front, the environment played an important role on the family life as well.. Women had a more prominent role in society as we shifted from the urbanized east to the more agrarian west. They were expected to do more than they did in the past, such as make the clothing everyone in the family wore, while the man was off toiling in the desert in search for food. With an increased sense of independence, women had gained rights to vote and proprietorship. But with this increased sense of independence came the added responsibility of being the family doctor, chef, and provider of family comfort and support. Women even faced the grim possibility of giving birth on the trail.
The environment also affected the health of the people who lived in the west. In the middle of the desert, with scarce sources of food and water, the people and environment became one. With the water remote and out of hand, the emigrants faced higher incidents of dysentery and diarrhea, which stemmed from their inappropriate water supplies.
The environment also molded another aspect of our westward ancestors- their style of architecture and development. In the east, where the land was expensive and hard to find, people generally built towards the heavens. But in the lands west of the Mississippi, where the land was found easily and very cheaply, the people generally built outward with buildings no taller than two stories. Perhaps we should of learned from the Indians of the past, who built in natural recesses in the mountains to provide natural protection and shade.
But other factors also played a role in westward movement, although it’s influence wasn’t as imposing as the environment. The people that already lived in those areas, the Indians, naturally fought against these white faced foes to keep the land that was once theirs. But other factors also played an important role. The railroad, for instance, would ultimately decide which areas would become populated or not as this form of transportation became a more comfortable mode of movement.
In conclusion, one can now see the extreme influence the environment played on the westward settlers of the past. Not only did it influence where and how they settled, it affected their way of life, livelihood, and general mood. While it may be said that external factors such as the Indians and the railroad changed the direction of westward movement, it was ultimately the environment that would decide where and how the people settled.