Influences of the westward movement. A the of expansion. Development of the Mississippi Valley. Influences upon upper Louisiana. Types of the middle period. The soldier’s work in the West. Labors of missionaries. Whitman’s journey and its real purpose.

In the era of exploration, which may be roughly defined as the first half of the last century, the interior commerce of upper Louisiana was represented for the most part by the wares of trappers and by the traders of the Santa Fé trail.

But the history of the West was unfolding rapidly. In the lower country there were the increasing settlement and business interests of the state of Louisiana,1 admitted in 1812, of the Southern territories to the east of the Mississippi, and of Arkansas, which became a territory in 1819. East of the great river the pressure of settlement was increased by the European immigration which followed the close of the Napoleonic wars. There were foreign as well as domestic reasons for the fact that the population of Ohio increased from 230,760 to 581,295 between 1810 and 1820, and that of Indiana from 24,520 to 197,198.

By 1820 eight states had been formed in the Mississippi valley and the center of population had moved from a point east of Baltimore in 1789 over a hundred and twenty miles westward. The commerce of the Ohio and the lower Mississippi was quickened not only by the productiveness of new settlers but also and immeasurably by the introduction and rapid expansion of steamboat transportation.

The influence of the steamboat is emphasized in the history of St. Louis. In 1800, nearly forty years after its foundation, the population was only 925. Hardly more than a thousand residents were to be credited to St. Louis in the year of the Louisiana Purchase. In 1810 it was a village of only 1400 souls. But in 1817 the first steamboat reached St. Louis and marked the opening of a traffic imperial in its range. From the upper navigable waters of the Mississippi and Missouri, from the Ohio and the Illinois, and from New Orleans, the steamboat brought the trade of the vast region bounded by the Alleghenies and Rocky Mountains, and in addition the commerce of the eastern seaboard and traffic with foreign countries found their way up the Mississippi and centered in St. Louis. With such a history it is inevitable that the possibility of sending the modern traffic of the West by water to the sea, and reopening the once vigorous life of this great water way, should be a subject of perennial interest. A century after the Louisiana Purchase finds the West concerned with the possibilities of various canal routes, the improvement of river navigation, and the possibilit.ies of deep-sea traffic direct to St. Louis, while the East, so far as New York may be held representative, has been debating the value of an improved Erie Canal in holding the commerce of the West. History repeats itself, but there is no repetition of the argument of Eastern Federalists that the purchase of Louisiana was a waste of money upon a profitless wilderness.

On the North and East in the early years of the last century there were multiplying factors of growth. The War of 1812 settled finally the ownership of the whole "Old Northwest," comprising Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and a portion of Minnesota. The swift growth of this great section swelled the commerce of the river, although the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 gave the Northwest an outlet directly east.

In the South the introduction of the cotton gin stimulated a movement of Southern planters toward virgin fields farther west. In the Southwest there developed the stormy early history of Texas, with its American invasion and possession, and its admission as a state in 1845. From the British possessions to the Gulf the American pressure westward was everywhere in evidence.

The movement of pioneer settlers across the plains to Oregon, whose definition and possession afforded so acute an issue between the United States and Great Britain,2 began in the thirties. In 1846 came our war with Mexico and another expansion westward which included the distant Southwest and California, the goal of treasure seekers during the years following 1848.

Many of the conditions and changes sketched so summarily affected the old Louisiana territory only indirectly so far as settlement was concerned, save for the growth of the states of Louisiana and Missouri and of Arkansas. The interior of the Louisiana Purchase was occupied more slowly, but from the date of acquisition the cities of New Orleans and St. Louis showed a swiftly increasing commercial consequence. The tide of settlement overleapt the Missouri-Mississippi and showed itself in eastern Kansas in the thirties. Of this settlement and its later political relations something remains to be said in another chapter. The purpose of this rapid summary is merely to indicate the general conditions surrounding the formative period of the old Louisiana Purchase.

Throughout all the changing scenes of our early Western history one figure remains constant — the American regular soldier, whose close relation to Louisiana began with the expedition of Lewis and Clark. From that time to the last of our Indian campaigns, the unfortunate trouble with the Sioux at Wounded Knee in 1890, the soldier has done heroic work in the building and safeguarding of the West. He has watched over wagon trains and railroad builders, protected settlers, and faced every form of danger, under the burning sun of Texas deserts and the icy skies of mountain winters, for the preservation of order, law, and life.

The military history opened by Lewis and Clark was continuous. St. Louis was an early headquarters. There was an attempt to send troops up the Missouri in 1819. Fort Leavenworth was made a military post in 1832, and as the overland travel grew, a line of forts was established which began with Fort Kearny at Grand Island on the Platte, three hundred miles northwest of Fort Leavenworth, and was continued with Fort Laramie in Wyoming, Fort Bridger and Fort Hall in Idaho, — the latter at the entrance to the Oregon country, — and other forts. Out of this line of posts grew the system of old forts, each with a moving history, that formerly dotted the entire West.

The English soldier has received a meed of recognition for his deeds which to the American regular is practically unknown. From the time of the American Revolution a republic’s jealousy of a professional soldiery has inured to the disadvantage of the gallant men who have had so large a part in the westward advance of the American frontier. What their purely military part has been in this work beyond the Missouri can be inferred from a few illustrations. A journey of a thousand miles from his base of supplies into a hostile country was the record of Colonel Kearny of the First Dragoons, who on the breaking out of the war with Mexico in 1846 marched from Fort Leavenworth to Santa Fé with seventeen hundred men and seized the town. "A little later he pushed on to California with three hundred wilderness-worn dragoons in shabby and patched clothing who had long been on a short allowance of food." After him Colonel St. George Cooke led the half-starved volunteers of the Mormon Battalion, who after infinite hardships opened a wagon road to California.

The Utah expedition of 1857 from Fort Leavenworth against the Mormons proved fruitless, but the splendid endurance of starvation and the rigors of a Rocky Mountain winter showed the mettle of the American soldier.

The Indian wars which accompanied and followed the building of the Union Pacific and the slaughter of the buffalo furnished years of active army life. In 1866 Colonel Carrington defied the Sioux and built, in the north near the Big Horn Mountains, a new fort — Phil. Kearny — an outpost of civilization. His march and the building of the fort were accompanied by ceaseless attacks from the Sioux. The fort was finished, but it was assailed again and again. The massacre of Colonel Fetterman, Captain Brown, and sixty-five men was one of the bloody episodes. But the next year Captain James Powell with some thirty men repulsed probably three thousand Indians, who then learned for the first time the murderous effect of breech-loading rifles.

In 1868 General G. A. Forsyth held a sandbar on the Republican River in Kansas against perhaps one thousand Indians — his command numbering originally fifty men. It was not until the eighth day that relief came to the remnant of this gallant band. Custer’s campaign against Black Kettle in the bitter winter of 1868, Crook’s conquest of the Apaches in 1871 and 1872, the Sioux campaigns of 1876 and the Custer massacre, the pursuit of Chief Joseph and the Nez Percés, covering some fourteen hundred miles through Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana to Dakota, and the Apache campaigns of 1881—1883, are only a few examples of the active service of the soldier in the West.3

Like the soldier, the missionary was an early figure in the history of the West. Fray Juan de Padilla, who yielded his life on the plains of Kansas after Coronado’s return, was the first of a long line of heroic priests and Protestant missionaries who accompanied, or followed close behind, the Western pioneers. Their first field within the Louisiana Purchase lay in the lower country and along the eastern, borders. A full history of their work, which will never be written, would afford many inspiring and touching pages.

Among the Roman Catholic missionaries the most conspicuous figure is Father Pierre Jean de Smet. Between 1820 and 1830 he was engaged in mission work in lower Louisiana. In 1838 he went northward to minister to the Pottawattomie Indians near Council Bluffs, but in 1840 he was sent to the Flathead Indians of the Northwest. His life among them and his frequent journeys up and down the western country have fortunately been preserved in his letters, which form a most valuable record of his period.

The early thirties witnessed the beginning of the Oregon missions, which were the first Protestant efforts in the interior. A Methodist delegation under Jason and Daniel Lee accompanied Wyeth as far as Snake River in 1834, and continued on alone to found missions in Oregon. In 1835 Dr. Marcus Whitman of Wheeler, New York, and the Rev. Samuel Parker were first sent out by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Missions were ultimately established at Waiilatpu4 and elsewhere. In the winter of 1843 Dr. Whitman made a remarkable journey from Waiilatpu down the mountains to Taos, New Mexico, and thence to St. Louis and eastward. This journey has been the subject of an unfortunately bitter discussion. It has been claimed that Whitman made this journey to present the case of Oregon as against the claims of Great Britain in the dispute over the northern boundary, and that by efforts at Washington and by gathering emigrants he saved Oregon to the United States. The whole matter has been subjected to close analysis in recent years, and it may be accepted that Whitman’s journey east was primarily for the purpose of preserving his mission, which the Board had intended to close, and that he exercised no political influence. It is obvious, of course, that he desired to increase American immigration, but his practical results in this direction were limited. Of his bravery his journey gave sufficient proof, and his devotion to his work was sealed by his death at the hands of Indians in 1847.5

Whitman's journey
Whitman's Journey to Save His Mission

In view of the adventurous character of "Whitman’s ride," it is not strange that it became invested with a romantic interest which Whitman himself would probably have disclaimed in large measure could he have lived to see some of the later literature upon his journey.

1 The picturesque history of Louisiana may be gathered from a study of B. F. French’s "Historical Collections of Louisiana" and Gayarre’s "History of Louisiana." More popular and more accessible are the writings of G. W. Cable, Miss Grace King, and the references in McMaster.
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2The rival claims of England and America to Oregon in 1845—1846 gave rise to the historic watchword "Fiftyfour forty or fight," but this line was sensibly abandoned in favor of a compromise on the line of 49°— a continuation of the dividing line east of the mountains.
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3 "The Story of the Soldier," by General G. A. Forsyth, furnishes a needed picture of the work done in the West.
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4 Now Walla Walla, Washington.
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5 The legend of Whitman as "the savior of Oregon" assumed tangible form some years after his death, and was first made public by a former colleague in 1864. The popularity of the legend may be said to date from l882—1883, and particularly from the publication of Oregon: "The Struggle for Possession," by the Rev. William Barrows. In spite of H. H. Bancroft’s carefully verified narrative of the facts, published about the same time, the legend obtained acceptance not only in popular literature but also in school histories and encyclopedias. The output of books and periodical literature upon the subject has developed to surprising proportions and involves a controversy often acrimonious. Of recent years O. W. Nixon, author of "How Marcus Whitman saved Oregon," and Dr. W. A. Mowry, author of "Marcus Whitman," have been among the leading popular exponents of the legend. Fortunately the subject attracted the attention of a trained historical student, Professor Edward G. Bourne of Yale, who examined the sources and subjected the evidence to a critical examination. In an address before the American Historical Association in December, 1900, he demonstrated the baselessness of the claim that "Whitman saved Oregon." Another student of the subject, Mr. W. I. Marshall, added some instructive testimony. For a final analysis of the subject the reader may consult Professor Bourne’s address, which appears, revised, enlarged, and annotated, in his "Essays in Historical Criticism." An article by Mr. Marshall in the School Weekly of Chicago, February 22, 1901, cites the following authors of school histories as expressing themselves convinced of the falsity of the Whitman legend: H. E. Scudder, J. B. McMaster, W. F. Gordy, A. F. Blaisdell, and Mrs. A. H. Burton. He also quotes Edward Eggleston and John Fiske as at that time disavowing belief in the legend, which Fiske had accepted earlier from Barrows.
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Chapter 24

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© 2001, Lynn Waterman