A great change overtook the Americans in the years after 1789...Previously the society had looked seawards...More and more (they) looked westwards. They felt the pull of the land.
300 million years ago, a meteorite hit the Appalachian Mountains with a force of 100,000 atomic bombs. Its 5 mile crater creates the Cumberland gap.
With the end of restrictive British rule and their Proclamation Line, this gap becomes the gateway to the west for Americans.
“One day thousands will desire this land, and we will be rich”
The first famous American to go through actually does so in the dying days of British control. In March 1775, Daniel Boone and thirty others slash through the dense forest. They’ve no supplies and survive using bear grease as insect repellent and wasp larvae as food.
“We are exposed daily to peril and death among savages and wild beasts but nature satisfies all we need. Few experience the happiness we feel here in the howling wilderness.”
The ‘savages’ are the Shawnee. They’ve already tortured Boone’s son to death. As he enters their homeland again, they scalp two of his party. Boone carries on and hundreds of thousands follow.
In 1803, America explodes westwards when US President Thomas Jefferson does the biggest property deal in history. He buys the half billion acres of Louisiana off Napoleon at 3 cents an acre. It doubles the size of the US.
LEWIS & CLARK
May 1804, presidential aide, Meriwether Lewis, and junior army officer, William Clark, plan to be the first to cross and map the continent. Their biggest challenge will be the Rocky Mountains. What they never expect is that the Rockies are actually 90 separate mountain ranges, 4800 km long. After two weeks, starvation sets in. They eat any plants they can find, then their horses, A 16 year old Native American, girl, Sacajawea (or Sacagawea), from the Shoshone nation, saves them (and their journals from overturned canoes.) In December 1805, they are the first Americans to reach the Pacific Ocean.
The European beaver has been hunted to near extinction as their pelts are a high fashion luxury for the rich. In the newly explored Rocky Mountains, they number in the millions. The Native Americans trade their pelts. By 1823, there are over 300 eager trappers roaming the Rockies in the hope of making it rich. But one in five won’t make it out alive. Just to stay alive, they consume three times the recommended calorie intake. The most successful hunter of them all is Jedadiah Smith. Aged 24, he walks 1600kms a year and traps 600 pelts a season, earning the equivalent of three times the average pay back east. A devout Christian, he doesn’t drink or smoke and his success derives from his working with, and not against the Native Americans. The Crow show him shortcuts, sell him horses, and offer native remedies.
But it’s one of his own trappers that stitches his ear back on for him after a mauling by a bear.
Not only he does discover the South Pass which opens up Oregon Country, but the trails he forges become settlers’ paths and wagon routes.
Did you know?
At the time of Jedadiah, 100,000 bears used to roam the Rockies, 50 times more than today. At 3m tall and weighing 450 kilos, they were the last thing many pioneers saw., The new iron beaver traps used the old Native American trick of being scented with their own scent glands., Lewis and Clark discovered over 300 species of wildlife.