The Way to the Westby Emerson Hough
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The customary method in writing history is to rely on chronological sequence as the only connecting thread in the narrative. For this reason many books of history are but little more than loosely bound masses of dates and events that bear no philosophical connection with one another, and therefore are not easily retained in the grasp of the average mind. History, to be of service, must be remembered.
A merely circumstantial mind may grasp and retain for a time a series of disconnected dates and events, but such facts do not appeal to that more common yet not less able type of intellect that asks not only when, but why, such and such a thing happened; that instinctively relates a given event to some other event, and thus goes on to a certain solidity and permanency in conclusions. Perhaps to this latter type of mind there may be appeal in a series of loosely connected yet really interlocking monographs upon certain phases of the splendid 2 and stirring history of the settlement of the American West.
Not concerned so much with a sequence of dates, or with a story of martial or political triumphs, so called, the writer has sought to show somewhat of the genesis of the Western man; that is to say, the American man; for the history of America is but a history of the West.
Whence came this Western man, why came he, in what fashion, under what limitations? What are the reasons for the American or Western type? Is that type permanent? Have we actual cause for self-congratulation at the present stage of our national development? These are some of the questions that present themselves in this series of studies of the manner in which the settlement of the West was brought about.
The history of the occupation of the West is the story of a great pilgrimage. It is the record of a people always outstripping its leaders in wisdom, in energy and in foresight. A slave of politics, the American citizen has none the less always proved himself greater than politics or politicians. The American, the Westerner, if you please, has been a splendid individual. We shall have no hope as a nation when the day of the individual shall be no more. Then ultimately we shall demand Magna 3 Charta over again; shall repeat in parallel the history of France in ’93; shall perhaps see the streets run red in our America. There are those who believe that the day of the individual in America is passing all too swiftly, that we are making history over-fast. There is scant space for speculation when the facts come crowding down so rapidly on us as is the case to-day. Yet there may perhaps be some interest attached to conclusions herein, which appear logical as based upon a study of the manner in which the American country was settled.
As to dates, we shall need but few. Indeed, it will suffice if the reader shall remember but one date out of all given in this book—that when it became no longer profitable to trap the beaver in the West. This date, remembered and understood logically, may prove of considerable service in the study of the movements of the American people.
As to the apparently disconnected nature of the studies here presented, it is matter, as one may again indicate, not of accident. On the contrary, the arrangement of the material is thought to constitute the chief claim of the work for a tolerant consideration.
I shall ask my reader to consider the movements of the American population as grouped under four great epochs. There was a time when the 4 west-bound men were crossing the Alleghanies; a time when they crossed the Mississippi; a time when they crossed the Rocky Mountains. Now they cross the Pacific Ocean. Roughly coincident with these great epochs we may consider, first, the period of down-stream transportation; second, of up-stream transportation; and lastly, of transportation not parallel to the great watercourses, but directly across them on the way to the West. These latter groupings were employed in a series of articles printed in the Century Magazine in the year 1901-1902, the use of this material herein being by courtesy of the Century Company.
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