In actuality, this is not different from saying that merchants set their sons up in business or that a cobbler's son has a chance to learn and practice a trade. The sons described by Ross were like their fathers in opportunity for those whose proximity and means gave them an advantage. Others, who came in scattered bands from the east were often sorely disappointed by their experiences in struggling westward "to occupy free land." 6Next Page
One final statement of the open opportunities in the West deserves to be made because it has so often been quoted and footnoted in the general histories of the period. Peck states: 7
The common mechanic is on a social equality with the merchant, the lawyer, the physician, and the minister . . . Any sober, industrious mechanic can place himself in affluent circumstances, and place his children on an equality with the children of the commercial and professional community, by migrating to any of our new and rising western towns. They will find no occasion here for combinations to sustain their interests, nor meet with annoyance from gangs of unprincipled foreigners, under the imposing names of "Trade Unions."
This has been one of the chief authorities for those who wish to substantiate their belief in the truth of the American Dream. Here it may serve as a backdrop for the following descriptions of what actually took place in the movement of population westward.
The westward movement of the different social strata. There are two ways of describing the westward movement of the social classes. One places those without capital at the vanguard of migration. They were the trappers and backwoodsmen. There followed, according to this scheme, those with more capital and more cultured manners. After them came men of greater means to develop industries and banking.
The actual story of settlement, in the wooded and mountainous sections, may be stated in these terms. But the story of ownership, control, and advantage is more complicated. The land speculator was ahead of, not behind, the growth of land values. Among the trappers and scouts were the agents of men with means and political connections. Furthermore, many of the squatters who forged ahead of registered titles and cleared the land lived to see others profit by their hard labors.
From the point of view of the student of social classes, the most important fact is that the real backwoodsman settled in the new places many times in the course of two generations and were never in a position to reap the riches which lay about them. They did not know how to stick, to dig in, to stay put. They were rolling stones.
The descriptions of the classes moving westward, as given by Peck, there is to be found a denial of his pamphleteer statements concerning social equality. He says: 8
Generally, in all the western settlements, three classes, like the waves of the ocean, have rolled one after the other. First, comes the pioneer, who depends for the subsistence of his family chiefly upon the high timber," "cleans out for the New Purchase," or migrates to Arkansas . . . . The next class of emigrants purchase the lands, add field to field, clear out the roads . . .
Another wave rolls on. The men of capital and enterprise come . . . .
Nothing is shown here of growing up with the country, of rising from the bottom to the top. Instead, the poorer and earlier classes give way to the wealthier groups arriving later.
But it is also true that in some sections of the country, particularly in the settlement of Kentucky, the classes all arrived simultaneously. Of the settlement of Texas, Bancroft writes: 9
When it is borne in mind from how many states of the Union the early settlers of Texas proceeded, that descendants of the pilgrim fathers, the Hollanders from the north, of old Virginia cavaliers, and the ancient Huguenots who settled South Carolina, that hunters from Kentucky and Tennessee, the illiterate frontier farmers, all flocked to his land of promise . . . .
6. Justin Winsor, The Westward Movement (Boston, 1897) pp. 402 - 403.
7. J. M. Peck, New Guide for Emigrants to the West (Boston, 1837) pp. 116 - 117.
8. Ibid., pp. 119 - 121.
9. Hubert Howe Bancroft, The Works of, vol. XVI (San Francisco, 1869) pp. 390 - 391.