Saturday, 23 January 2016

Across the Plains to Oregon, 1832

John Ball (1794-1884) records his part in an expedition across the continent to the Rockies and the Pacific Northwest.

Ball speaks of his parties meeting with some other settlers. "Our last encampment, before crossing the west line of the state, was at a Morman settlement. They had come and settled here the previous fall, on this extreme border of the settled world". This account is most interesting because it makes the moving frontier so tangible. It describes, first hand, the intense Americanization that was taking place as the frontier pushed out west. Ball and his party of men could have found the Morman's and settled with them into a comfortable enough existence. However they strived on, they wanted to explore further, discover new lands and cultivate their own settlement. This restless desire to progress embodies Turner's idea of the frontier being the birth place of truly American values.

The western Frontier represented many desirable goals for the American. One of the most important being that it personified a displacement from the East and therefore European intervention. Both physically - in the movement away from the East coast and Atlantic ocean - but also in a social/cultural sense. Westerly expansion gave Ball's men things that Europe never could. He speaks of Buffalo, and 'Indians' consistently and how his men and himself reacted to interactions with both. Sometimes his diary shows how dependent they were on such alien things. "The men would almost quarrel for any part of the animal that had any tallow, even the caul." The caul being the amniotic membrane enclosing a fetus!

The mobility of the western expansion is an aspect of American culture that appears to contrast that of European culture starkly. Notably in Little House on the Prairie: The Ingalls family simply leave everything they have, bar a wagon full, in the East and begin a totally life altering journey out West. Seemingly an unrealistic feature of this fiction. But according to accounts like Ball's, it wasn't at all unrealistic. He states "I felt less discomfort from the change of life than I expected, and much enjoyed every day's march. For at every mile I met with much that to me was interesting". His record marks how he in fact enjoyed and moreover, relished the opportunity to move on to an entirely different life which the geography of America offered. You must also investigate though, the part of the American's psyche that saw so many undertake this uncertain and dangerous journey - from which there was no feasible return.

The deep-rooted ideology of the need to better oneself, push the boundaries and avoid, at all costs, stagnation can be attributed to early pilgrims and colonists for sure. However, for the distillation of this ideology, an intensifying of its empirical values, we must credit the bubbling, boiling Western Frontier.

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