Gateway to the Classics: Growth of the British Empire by M. B. Synge
Growth of the British Empire by  M. B. Synge

The Winning of the West

"To the West. To the West,

To the land of the free!

Where the mighty Missouri

Rolls down to the sea;

Where man is a man, if he's willing to toil,

And the humblest may gather the fruits of the soil."

— Mackay

M EANWHILE the United States were also extending their territory to the westward. Like other healthy settlers in a new country, they set to work to enlarge their boundaries, to found new homes amid the pathless forests, to add states to their Union and stars to their national flag. The original thirteen States lay between the Atlantic sea-coast and the tall Alleghany mountains. The vast tract of uncultivated country beyond, watered by the Ohio, was sparely occupied by Indians only. They resented the advance of the white men, who had to fight for their new inheritance.

One day a colonist from North Carolina, more adventurous than the rest, "put a new edge on his hunting-knife, shouldered his rifle, bade his little family good-bye, and with five companions started off to explore the great lone land beyond the mountains." The adventures of Daniel Boone, the pioneer of Kentucky, would fill a chapter. Encouraged by his example, more and more colonists poured over the Alleghanies: they came from Carolina, they also came from Virginia. Among a party of young Virginians, who dared the unknown, was Abraham Lincoln, grandfather of the famous President of that name. One day, he was busy planting his first crops, with his little six-year-old son beside him, when an Indian, darting out of the forest, shot him dead, and seizing his little Tom, ran off. The two elder sons were working close by, and it was but the work of a moment, to seize the ever-ready rifle and shoot the Indian dead, thus rescuing the small brother.

In a rude log-cabin, the fatherless Lincoln boys now lived with their mother. Their days were spent in felling trees, breaking up the virgin soil, and planting crops. Time passed on. Thomas grew up and married. Then one day, he built himself a raft and floated down the river Ohio, to the country known as Indiana, where he made a new home. Here his little son Abraham spent his boyhood. In cow-hide shoes, deer-skin breeches, and a home-spun shirt, the future President of the Republic toiled in the deep solitude of boundless forest lands of Indiana. So the vast spaces, between the Alleghany Mountains and the Mississippi, were colonised, and new states were added to the Union. The great river was invaluable, as a highway for trade, and very soon the colonists cast longing eyes to the rich country, that lay beyond its farther banks. This too they wanted to possess. It was known as Louisiana, named after King Louis XIV. of France; but it had been ceded to the United States by Napoleon for a large sum of money. This vast country stretched right away westward to the Rocky Mountains: it was well watered by the Missouri, the great tributary of the Mississippi, and pioneers were soon flocking into its rich and fertile wilderness.

So state after state was added to the Union, star after star to the national flag.

The colonists had now reached the very borders of Mexico. Mexico, that rich country discovered and conquered by the Spanish Cortes, had just thrown off the hated yoke of Spain and declared her independence. A question now arose about the boundary between Texas, one of the United States and the Mexican Republic, and in 1846 war blazed out on the Texan border.

In the great American army, that now crossed over the Gulf of Mexico to Vera Cruz, was a young cadet named Jackson, who was hereafter to play a large part in the history of his country. Born in the backwoods of Virginia, he had grown up, like young Abraham Lincoln, to till the soil and combat the Indians. Now, at the age of twenty-three, he was called to fight for his country, and right well he performed his task. The Mexicans at Vera Cruz soon surrendered to the superior American force, and the army was free to move forwards. Young Jackson had already been promoted for "gallant and meritorious conduct at the siege of Vera Cruz." It was immensely interesting to him, that the army in which he served, should be marching in the steps of Cortes towards the wonderful city of Mexico. A large body of Mexican cavalry stood ready to oppose their advance, but gallantly they scaled the high mountains beyond Puebla, and beheld the beautiful valley of Mexico lying below. There, beneath the mighty shadow of her snow-capped mountains, stood the Imperial city, just as it had burst on the awestruck vision of the Spanish conqueror, three hundred years before. Victory after victory, won by the Americans over the Mexicans, soon placed the city of Mexico within their grasp. Long the Americans lingered in the beautiful city, all living in peace under the shadow of the Stars and Stripes, till, in 1848 peace was signed. The United States gained Texas, as far as the Rio Grande, New Mexico; territory to the north of Mexico was to be theirs, together with the narrow strip of land, between the Pacific and the Sierra Nevada, called California. And so the American troops marched home.

The United States now stretched from coast to coast, from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, a distance of some 3500 miles.

An important event now attracted the eyes of Europe to this land in the Far West. One day a workman, building a saw-mill near the present town of Sacramento, discovered particles of gold in the mud, and a further search revealed the fact that El Dorado was found at last! As the news leaked out, the excitement in the United States rose to a mania. Multitudes of colonists started forth on the great journey across the continent, and forced their way over the Rocky Mountains. Soon 4000 horsemen and 9000 waggons had gone through the high pass. So great were the perils and dangers, that the "track was marked with skeletons."

Some preferred to encounter the dangers of the sea. They sailed by Cape Horn and landed in the Bay of San Francisco. On the barren hills and shifting sands arose a collection of tents and huts, where lived people from every nation. The city of San Francisco sprang up as if by magic, and grew, until it became one of the most famous cities in the world. The entrance to the harbour is known as the Golden Gate, wherein to-day ride the ships of all nations in the world, for San Francisco is the terminus of the Grand Trunk Railway, which runs to New York.

So the Americans won their land, step by step, state by state, star by star, until to-day the national flag numbers forty stars instead of the original thirteen. It was a long and hard struggle between the Indians and the invaders. The winning of the West is a story of progress and bloodshed, of strife between civilisation and barbarism: it is also a story of daring enterprise and astonishing perseverance, of courage and ceaseless toil, worthy the men, whose forefathers had braved the unknown, in the years that were past.

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