Events and Movements

An event is a notable occurrence that has lasting significance. A movement is either people or groups working towards a common objective. Both can explain how and why the West is the way it is. Events and movements brought people, religion, and civilization to the American West. Furthermore, the impact of these events and movements constructed the function of the American West. 

Manifest Destiny is important to the understanding of the many events and movements in the West. Manifest Destiny played a major role in the value system held by Western settlers. For many, the West represented unbridled freedom, as well as an obligation to fulfill Manifest Destiny. The early pioneers were often those who faced persecution or miserable living conditions in the eastern United States. So, whether they sought wealth or religious freedom, the settlers faced challenges unique to the expansive American West. The development of rail networks expedited migration west, resulting in the clash of Eastern Protestant morality and practices such as gambling and drinking. These disagreements forced all groups to adapt and form a unique Western identity.

Many groups moved west in the pursuit of religious freedom. For Mormons of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, religious freedom meant an escape from persecution on the basis of their religious practices. This not only allowed Mormons to continue their religious traditions, but gave way to events that would build upon their religious practices. The movement west became a learning tool through the reenactment of Mormon treks. For frontier Christians, the movement was initiated by events like the Gold Rush. The Gold Rush was an opportunity for people to claim a stake in the riches that the American West had to offer. This pioneering effort across the United States had frontier Christians adapting their practices to construct a new life in the West. For example, in the mining camps leisure activities such as gambling and drinking were prioritized over the construction of churches, because as pioneers, they needed the help of missionaries to help institute churches. This allowed miners to practice their religion in a manner that they saw fit. Furthermore, events and movements in tandem undeniably played their part in shaping the West.

Each group that ventured West was inspired by the boundless freedom the land had to offer. They faced the harsh realities that came alongside such grand ideals and in one way or another adapted to the unique challenges offered by the American West. The entries in this section document several of the most significant movements and events that contributed to the creation of the American West. They gave rise to what are surely some of the United States’ most iconic moments, as well as some of its most shameful.

-Andrew Schultheiss, Aidan Leahey and Tucker Ward, 2018

Suggestions for Further Reading:

Billington, Ray Allen. Westward Expansion: A History of the American Frontier. 3d ed. New York: Macmillan, 1967.

Ridge, Martin, and Ray Allen Billington. America‚Äôs Frontier Story: A Documentary History of Westward Expansion. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969.

Utley, Robert M. Frontiersmen in Blue: The United States Army and the Indian, 1848-1865. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2014.

Featured Image: Emigrant party on the road to California (1850). Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ppmsca-0288. Public domain.