Can you throw a lasso? Have you ever worn a 10-gallon hat? Do you dream of driving a covered wagon over dirt tracks? If so, you would have fit right into the Old West!
The push for Americans to settle the West started in the early 1800s. Most of the first pioneers were traders who cut new trails and drew maps of the land. Soon, other people began moving westward looking for a new start.
The Old West is a common topic of books, movies, and art. Today’s audiences can’t seem to get enough. We’ve read stories about cowboys, travelers, and outlaws. We’ve learned settling the West was difficult and exciting. But what was it really like to live in the Old West?
Families moving west went by covered wagon. They packed their most important items and set off. The trip west took about five months. Just imagine! Today, we fly from the east coast to the west in a few hours!
Life in the Old West was rough. Pioneers worked hard to farm on land that was too dry for most crops. They had new tools like the mechanical reaper and steel plow, but small families had a lot of land to work. They also dealt with bad weather. Harsh heat, wind, and dust made farming difficult. Still, families came daily to put down roots in the new land.
Have you ever seen a movie about a sheriff chasing outlaws through the Old West? Sheriffs kept order in larger cities and towns, but many in the Old West fended for themselves. People punished criminals however they saw fit. It was decades before official law enforcement spread throughout the West.
The Old West was tough on pioneers, but it was worse for American Indians. As pioneers moved west, they fought with tribes that had already lived on the land for thousands of years. The American government treated native groups poorly. First, it promised tribes they could keep most of their land. Later, the government broke its promise. It took control of acre after acre of American Indian lands until tribes were left with only reservations.
American bison also had it hard in the Old West. They had grazed freely on the land for ages. When pioneers moved into the area, they forced the animals out. They hunted the bison and herded them onto their ranches. Before 1800, around 60 million American bison lived in the West. Today, fewer than one million remain.
Historians say the Old West ended around 1900. At that point, Western cities like Los Angeles and Seattle were already crowded. People had settled most rural lands. The population continued growing, and today, 58% of Americans live west of the Mississippi River.
In some ways, you could say the Old West never ended. It lives on today in imaginations everywhere. Paintings of grazing bison and Western sunsets hang in homes across the USA. “The Western” as a genre is still as popular as ever in books, movies, and games.
Would you have been a settler in the 1800s? Are you always looking for the next adventure or new experience? What other parts of the world would you explore? There are always new adventures for those brave enough to look!
Read more at Wonderpolis.org