If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Journeys West: vocabulary; Migrations to the West 4

CCSSELA: L.4.4.b, L.4.4, L.4.5.b, L.4.5, RI.4.1, RI.4.4


Read the passage, then answer the practice question.

Different Roads

  1. In the first half of the 1800s, many people moved from the eastern states of the USA to lands west of the Mississippi River. These immigrants to the West set out with their lives packed up in covered wagons. They went in search of gold, space, and the opportunity to own a farm. Cities were dirty, unpleasant places to live, and poor city dwellers didn’t have many opportunities to improve their lives. The West was an appealing destination because it promised freedom and opportunity.
  2. Around this time, newspaper editors popularized an idea known as Manifest Destiny. The idea behind Manifest Destiny was that white Christian immigrants were “destined” to bring American culture across the continent, taming the "Wild West" and turning it into farms and ranches: an agricultural heaven on earth. These settlers believed that God had promised them the western lands; it was their duty to mine, plant, and take them for their own. From their efforts, the United States would stretch from sea to sea.
  3. But these lands were not empty or free to be taken. Lands west of the Mississippi River had been home to Native peoples for thousands of years. Many white immigrants, along with the United States government, refused to acknowledge Native peoples’ rights. The settlers and the US government forced Native peoples to move to other parts of North America, and killed many of them. The white settlers then moved into the lands they had taken from Native peoples.
  4. The negative effects of white immigrants were not all intentional. As they moved across the continent, immigrants from the East brought deadly diseases and disrupted ecosystems. The constant flow of settlers created wood shortages. Native peoples depended on trees for shelter during the winter and to provide bark as food for their horses. White immigrants also overhunted bison, which were an important food source for Native peoples who lived on the Great Plains. As a consequence, many Sioux people faced starvation. This was just one of many challenges Native peoples faced as a result of westward migrations.
  1. Many of the millions of people who traveled west during this period made their homes in groups of wagons called wagon trains. Women were responsible for recreating the comforts of home while on the trail. This was a difficult task because wagon travel wasn’t comfortable at all. Wives and daughters suddenly became full-time cooks, surgeons, and counselors. Immigrant women had to be tough: they were responsible for keeping their families happy and alive under dangerous, difficult circumstances. Despite this, they had very little power within their own families. In general, the men made all major decisions, including whether or not to relocate in the first place.
  2. Slavery was widespread in the United States in the first half of the 19th century. There were bitter arguments between people who thought slavery should be ended, and enslavers who refused to allow enslaved people to be free. Many enslavers on the western frontier wanted to expand the reach of slavery. As a consequence, thousands of Black enslaved people were forced to travel westward against their will. Once there, they were made to clear the land and plant crops like cotton, which enslavers sold for money. Many enslaved people faced family separation. All faced an uncertain future in an unknown land. They had to deal with these enormous emotional challenges on top of performing difficult labor.
  3. However, the experience of Black people on the western frontier could also be one of opportunity. Free Black men and women traveled west as well. Some wealthy Black immigrants even paid for expeditions themselves. But the road to the West wasn’t without danger for free Black immigrants. Many white settlers didn’t want to share these new territories with Black settlers. In fact, Oregon made it illegal for Black settlers to become residents of the state. In reality, Black settlers were just trying to claim their share of American freedom and opportunity.
  4. During this period of migrations, over seven million people moved to what are today the western states of the USA. But this was not without a cost. During the 1830s and 1840s alone, the US government removed around 70,000 Native people from their homes, and at least 8,000 died. While the expansion of the USA in the 19th century offered a new life to many people, many others experienced great loss and suffering as a result.

Practice Question

Read this sentence from paragraph 2.
“The idea behind Manifest Destiny was that white Christian immigrants were “destined” to bring American culture across the continent, taming the "Wild West" and turning it into farms and ranches: an agricultural heaven on earth.”
What does the phrase heaven on earth mean?
Choose 1 answer: