Peoples and Nations

The Old West: Manifest Destiny, Oregon Trail, Native Americans, Gold Rush

The Old West: Manifest Destiny, Oregon Trail, Native Americans, Gold Rush

The Old West, also called the Wild West or American West, region, which is mostly west of the Great Plains, is linked in popular imagination with the last frontier of American settlement.

How a Rivalry Between Two Cherokee Chiefs Led to the Trail of Tears and the Collapse of Their Nation

A century-long blood feud between two Cherokee chiefs shaped the history of the Cherokee tribe far more than anyone, even the reviled President Andrew Jackson. They were John Ross and the Ridge. Today I'm talking with John Sedgwick about the fall of the Cherokee Nation due to the clash of these two figures.

The Ridge (1771-1839)-or He Who Walks on Mountains-was a Cherokee chief and warrior who spoke no English but whose exploits on the battlefield were legendary. John Ross (1790-1866) was the Cherokees' primary chief for nearly forty years yet spoke not a word of Cherokee and proudly displayed the Scottish side of his mixed-blood heritage. To protect their sacred landholdings from American encroachment, these two men negotiated with almost every American president from George Washington through Abraham Lincoln. At first friends and allies, they worked together to establish the modern Cherokee Nation in 1827. However, the two founders eventually broke on the subject of removal; the Ridge believed resisting President Jackson and his army would be hopeless, while Ross wanted to stay and fight for the lands the Cherokee had occupied since long before the white settlers' arrival in the Old West.

The failure of these two respected leaders to compromise bred a hatred that led to a bloody civil war within the Cherokee Nation, the tragedy of the Trail of Tears, and finally, the two factions battling each other on opposite sides of the Civil War. Sedgwick writes, “It is the work of politics to resolve such conflicts peacefully, but Cherokee politics were not up to the job. For a society that had always operated by consensus, there was little tradition of compromise.” Although the Cherokee were one of the most culturally and socially advanced Native American tribes in history, with their own government, language, newspapers, and religion, Sedgwick notes, “The warrior culture offered few gradations between war and peace, all or nothing.”

Quackery: A Brief History of Quack Medicines & Peddlers in the Old West

Quackery refers to unproven or fraudulent medical practices, often through the sale or application of “quack medicines”. The word “quack” derives from the archaic Dutch word “quacksalver,” meaning “boaster who applies a salve.” A closely associated German word, “Quacksalber,” means “questionable salesperson .” In the Middle Ages the word quack meant “shouting”. The quacksalvers sold their wares on the market shouting in a loud voice.

Quack medicines were especially prevalent in the British Empire for centuries, including in the American colonies. Following the American Revolution and the War of 1812, American products began to dominate the domestic market. The American term for quack medicine was “snake oil”, a reference to sales pitches in which the sometimes outrageous claims of medicinal successes were attributed to the exotic ingredients of their product. Those who sold them were called “snake oil peddlers” or “snake oil salesmen”. These opportunists often used enthusiastic and deceptive sales techniques, including “fire and brimstone” sermons, theatrical productions, and confidence tricks. These salesmen often skipped town before the scam was fully discovered. In American literature, Huck Finn encounters two such grifters during his rafting expedition into the South in Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In the end, they are tarred and feathered and run out of town. Others manufacturers found success through of the noble savage stereotype of the American Indian in product names and advertising.


Bottle of “Microbe Killer” c. 1880s (2 views)

The Quack medicine trade eventually became a victim of the Progressive movement's efforts to regulate business. Muckraking Journalist Samuel Hopkins Adam excoriated the industry in a series of articles titled “The Great American Fraud”, published in Colliers Weekly starting in late 1905. On February 21, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Pure Food and Drug Act. Some quacks were enormously successful. German immigrant William Radam started selling “Microbe Killer” throughout the United States in the 1880s. His project claimed to “Cure All Diseases,” and even embossed the promise on the glass bottles in which the medicine was packaged. In fact, Radam's medicine was a therapeutically useless (and in large quantities actively poisonous) dilute solution of sulfuric acid, colored with red wine. Quack medicines often had no effective ingredients, while others contained morphine or laudanum, which numbed rather than cured. Some did have medicinal effects; for example mercury, silver and arsenic compounds may have helped some infections, willow bark contained salicylic acid (substance very similar to aspirin), and quinine from bark was an effective treatment for malaria. Knowledge of appropriate use and dosage was poor. New regulations required the removal of the more outrageously dangerous contents from patent and proprietary medicines, and forced quack medicine proprietors to stop making some of their more blatantly dishonest claims.

In 1911, the reformers suffered a setback when the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Johnson that the prohibition of falsifications referred only to the ingredients of the medicine. Companies were again free to make false claims about their products. Adams returned to the attack with another series of articles in Collier's Weekly, and a collection of his essays were published by the American Medical Association in 1912. That same year, congress responded by so U.S. v. Johnson with the Sherley Amendment to the Pure Food and Drug Act, which prohibited labeling medicines with false therapeutic claims intended to defraud the purchaser (a standard difficult to prove). Two years later, congress passed the Harrison Narcotic Act, imposing limits on the amount of opium, opium-derived products, and cocaine allowed in products available to the public. The law also required prescriptions for products exceeding the allowable limit of narcotics, and mandated increased record-keeping for physicians and pharmacists that dispense narcotics. Congress would again take up the issue during the New Deal legislative sessions of the 1930s.

With the advent of electricity in the United States in the first decades of the 20th Century, Quack electrical devices also were widely manufactured. Most devices used mild electrical current or ultraviolet light and, like their liquid and pill counterparts, promised a multitude of cures.


Collier's Weekly featuring “The Great American Fraud” article by Samuel Hopkins Adams

Advertisements & Products


Absorbine, Jr., Scribner's Magazine, May 1917

Allen's Lung Balsam ad, 1884

Bailey's Teething Ring (and other hygiene items listed), Century Illustrated Monthly, December 1889

Balsam of Boneset (cures all cough and lung diseases)

Barry's Tricopherous, Century Illustrated Monthly, May 1893

Beecham's Pills, Harper's Monthly, January 1890

Beecham's Pills, Scribner's Magazine, May 1891

Bell-Cap-Sic Plasters, Scribner's Magazine, January 1894
Blair's Pills, Harper's Monthly, September 1900
Bloxam's Electric Hair Restorer, c.1890

Brown's Bronchial Troches, Century Illustrated Monthly, April 1885

Burnham's Tonic, Country Gentleman Magazine, February 1894
Case's Syrup, c.1890
Crosby Brain Food, Scribner's Magazine, June 1882

Cuticura, Century Illustrated Monthly, January 1890

Dr. Ayer's Pectoral Plaster, Harper's Monthly, January 1898

Dr. Bridgeman's Ring, Scribner's Magazine, December 1892

Dr. Marshall's Catarrh Cure, Scribner's Monthly, March 1887
Dr. Scott's Electric Belt, Century Illustrated Monthly, April 1884
Dr. Scott's Electric Corset & Belts, Century Illustrated Monthly, September 1886

Dr. Scott's Electric Foot Salve, Century Illustrated Monthly, May 1889

Dr. Scott's Electric Hair Brush, Scribner's Magazine, July 1898

Dr. Scott's Electric Plaster, Century Illustrated Monthly, December 1888

German Asthma Cure, March 1887

Groff Malaria Cure, Century Illustrated Monthly, May 1885

Harter's Iron Tonic Victorian Trade Card (2 views)

Metcalf's Coca Wine, Century Illustrated Monthly, June 1888

Microbe Killer Jug Advertisement (2 views)

Mrs. Winslow's Syrup, Cosmopolitan Magazine, July 1900

Nicholl's Compound Syrup of Blackberry Victorian Trade Card

Dr. H Sache's Oxydonor “Victory”, Scribner's Magazine, July 1898

Roll of Dr. Hinkle's “Pill Cascara Cathartic”

Paine's Celery Compound, Scribner's Magazine, April 1884

Pectoria, c.1890

Piso's Consumption Cure, Harper's Monthly, July 1891

Pond's Extract, Century Illustrated Monthly, January 1886

Ridge's Food, Century Illustrated Monthly, July 1886

Scott's Emulsion, Century Illustrated Monthly, February 1896

Sexual System & its Derangements (2 views)

Syrup of Figs, Harper's Monthly, July 1891

Dr. Watson's Worm Syrup, c.1890

Collier's Weekly with Dangerous Drugs Cover, May 13, 1912


The Meaning of Dreams Advertising Pamphet
“The Meaning of Dreams”
This 32 page booklet, published around 1900, is actually a thinly disguised advertisement for Dr. Williams' “Pink Pills for Pale People” (see the image of a roll of these pills below). Some of the booklet is an alphabetical listing of things people dream about, and what those dreams mean. The introduction states, “we suggest that this little book be retained for the amusement and pleasure it may afford, even though the reader may not treat the subject with the seriousness which it receives from many.” The rest of the book is filled with testimonials of product users whose stories, published as newpaper stories, confirm the miraculous healing powers of Pink Pills For Pale People.Diseases allegedly cured by this product include: Poor and Water Blook, Anemia, Chlorosis or Green Sickness, Dizziness, Palpitation of the Heart, Nervous Headahce, Loss of Appetite, Indigestion and Dyspepsia, After-Effects of the Grip, Eruptions and Pimples, Sick Headache, Pale or Sallow Complexion, Swelling of Hands or Feet, General Debility, Depression of Spirits, Insomnia or Loss of Sleep, General

Muscular Weakness, Shortness of Breath on Slight Exertion, Spinal Troubles, Partial Paralysis, Locomotor Ataxia, Chronic or Acute Rheumatism, Sciatica, Neuralgia, Chronic Erypsipelas, Catarrh of the Stomach, Nervous Fits, St. Vitus' Dance, Swelled Glands, Scrofula, Fever Sores, Rickets, After-Effects of Acute Diseases such as Fevers, All Female Weakness, Tardy or Irregular Periods, Leucorrhea, Suppression of the Menses, Loss of Vital Forces, Loss of Memory, Ringing in the Ears, Hysteria, etc. The product was made from iron oxide and magnesium sulfate. View the complete pamphlet, “The Meaning of Dreams”


Roll of Dr. Williams' Pink Pills for Pale People

What is Manifest Destiny?

Manifest Destiny refers to the attitude in America during the 1800's when pioneers settled the country and believed that the U.S. was destined to stretch across the whole continent, from the one coast to the other. The phrase was used by politicians at the time and first published in an 1845 article about the annexation of Texas in the U.S. Magazine and Democratic Review. The manifest destiny belief is said to have helped to fuel the war with Mexico and the removal of Native Americansin the Old West.

An Attitude of Nationalism and Superiority

At the time, Americans had just won Independence through the Revolution, which made them very nationalistic. For many pioneers, it had become a mission to populate America and they moved west in droves to settle there.

Many settlers were very religious and believed that God has blessed the growth of America. Native Americans were seen as heathens and American missionaries saw it as their mission to bring Christianity to them. Other Americans saw the Native Americans as inferior, causing many racial clashes.

Five Thanksgiving Facts that your History Teacher Left Out

Most Americans are familiar with the magic of Thanksgiving. A holiday associated with family reunions, football, Black Friday sales, turkeys, pumpkin pies, pilgrims, and Indians. However, not many are aware of its somewhat grimmer origins. Typically, what we are taught in school is an idealized historical account of what actually took place in the first pilgrim harvest festivity.

The first Thanksgiving, along with many that followed, did not go down the way your teacher told you. Here are some little known facts that you can throw around the dinner table this year as you nibble on a plate of marshmallow yams.

The First Thanksgiving did not Take Place in Plymouth, MA

Despite popular belief, the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving celebration documented in America took place in Newfoundland in 1587. Similar celebrations were documented in Texas in 1598, Virginia in 1610, and Maine in 1607. However, to give credit to the Plymouth colonists, they were the first group of Europeans who actually held the celebration more than once. It appears the other colonies only did a one-time feast.

Even so, it was not the Pilgrims who celebrated the first Thanksgiving. In 1564, a group of French Huguenots celebrated their own Thanksgiving in Florida for safe landing. When the Spanish heard about this, they sent their own group of explorers and held yet another Thanksgiving, this time with the native Tamicuans tribe.

FDR Vs. Turkey Day

Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November because of a standard set by President Abraham Lincoln. However, in 1939, Roosevelt tried to change the date to the third week of November in an attempt to increase Christmas shopping during the Great Depression.

Americans were not too happy with the idea. Thousands of angry letters overflowed the Whitehouse mailbox. Professional Football players, calendar makers and schools were all thrown off schedule. The whole situation prompted Congress to pass a law declaring that Thanksgiving would always be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November.

People Ate Turkey on the First Thanksgiving

Most experts agree that guests in the first Thanksgiving ate some type of bird, however, they do not have any clue as to what species it actually was. Most of our Thanksgiving knowledge comes from Edward Wilson's letters about the first Thanksgiving held in Plymouth. He talked about eating venison and some kind of bird meat.

The idea of turkey comes from the Victorians, who celebrated the holiday by eating these birds. Given the location, the initial Plymouth Thanksgiving likely included an abundance of oysters and lobsters, since there was a lot of seafood in the area. There were also no potatoes or sweet potatoes at the feast, as these vegetables were not common in North American during the time.

Pilgrims Wore Buckles on their Shoes and Hats

While most modern pilgrim costumes include a hat with a shiny buckle, the early pilgrims did not actually follow this fashion. Buckles were not in style during the first Plymouth Thanksgiving. In fact, pilgrims used leather laces to tie their shoes and hats. Buckled fashion did not become cool until the end of the 17th century.

Similarly, most of the Pilgrim paintings that we see today include a lot of black and white clothing. However, Pilgrims wore colorful clothes in their day-to-day lives, with shades of red, blue, yellow, and gray. The reason we always see them depicted in black clothes is because formal fashion was normally black. In other words, when people wanted to look their best for a painting, they wore black suits and dresses.

The Native Americans Loved Thanksgiving Feasts

Although historians believe that over 90 Wampanoag tribe members attended the first Plymouth Thanksgiving, their presence was more of a political move rather than a fun dinner with friends. The Indians held their own Thanksgiving celebrations, which they had been practicing way before the Europeans invaded their land. In fact, the Wampanoag never attended another pilgrim thanksgiving after that.

Today, in light of the genocide, devastation, and suffering caused by early white settlers, many Native Americans view Thanksgiving as a day of mourning.

What was the Oregon Trail?

The Oregon Trail (also known as the Oregon-California trial) was a 2,200 mile route stretching from Missouri to Oregon that was travelled by the early Wild West pioneers in the 1800s. The trail was the only way for settlers to reach the West Coast via land and over 500,000 have made the trip with ox and mule wagons before the first transcontinental railroad was completed. Wagons that could travel at a speed of 15 miles a day took between four and six months to complete the trip via the Oregon Trial, while taking the sea route took a full year.

Origins of the Trial

Originally, what became the Oregon Trail used to be a series of unconnected Native American trails. The route was then expanded by Fur Traders who used it to transport their pelts to meeting points and trading posts. Missionaries also used the fairly faint trail in the 1830s to establish churches in the Northwest. It was only by the 1840s when the trail however started to be used on a larger scale by the first settlers after Joel Walker made the trip with a family. In 1843, wagon trains of 120 wagons, 800 people and 5,000 cattle used the trail and in 1848 gold diggers also flocked to California via the trail. Towns, trading posts, military posts and smaller roads sprang off the Oregon Trial for the next 30 years.

Decline of the Trial

With the completion of the Central Pacific and the Portland, Oregon, Union Pacific railroads between 1869 and 1884 the use of the Oregon Trail started to decline rapidly. Travelling by train simply became a shorter, safer and more comfortable option.

Reasons for Westward Expansion

What were the reasons for Westward expansion? Ever since the first pioneers settled in the United States at the East , the country has been expanding westward. When President Thomas Jefferson bought the Louisiana territory from the French government in 1803, it doubled the size of the existing United States. Jefferson believed that, for the republic to survive, westward expansion was necessary to create independent, virtuous citizens as owners of small farms. He wrote that those who “labor the earth” are God's chosen people and greatly encouraged westward expansion. The pioneers who flocked to the Old West, all had their own set of reasons for taking on the long, treacherous journey to settle there.

Reasons for Moving West

  • There was a vast amount of land that could be obtained cheaply
  • Great reports were continually sent back East about how fruitful and wonderful the West is, sparking a lot of interest.
  • The constraints of European civilization had a lot of people stuck in factory and other low-paid jobs. For the working class it was almost impossible to work themselves up in life, something that was very doable in the New World.
  • Mining opportunities, silver, and the gold rush was a big draw for many
  • The expanding railroad provided easier access to supplies, making life in the West easier.
  • Certain wheat strains were discovered and was capable of adapting to the climate of the plains
  • Being a “cowboy” and working on farms with cattle was romanticized
  • The lure of adventure

Lost Treasures of the American Old West

The American Old West was a wild place. It was an era full of cowboys, gunslingers, outlaws, and wars. The European settlers driving the expansion into the west faced many hardships. They had to force their way to the Pacific Ocean by driving the Native Americans away from their lands. Ultimately, this chaotic environment created a culture susceptible to violence and the breakdown of law and order.

After the expansion, in 1848, the fresh settlers discovered something that would add even more flames to the chaos - gold, lots of it. Around 175,000 people crossed from east to west in search of treasure. Some people found their riches, and others lost everything in the effort. And there were those who found fortune, in one way or another, only to lose it. The tales of these lost treasures has haunted the Old West for centuries.

Holden Dick's Stolen Gold

In 1881, on a beautiful fall afternoon, a freight wagon carrying a large load of gold was moving through the sparkling California hills. Three gun-slinging cowboys guarded the wagon, which was carrying the ore from Nevada to Sacramento. But as the bouncing vehicle approached the area of Modoc County, a lone and daring bandit suddenly intersected it, and stopped it right in its tracks.

He snuck up to the wagon and shot the three guards down, one by one, and then forced the driver and remaining passengers to walk as far south as their feet could take them. While they walked on, Mr. Dick got on the wagon, tied his own horse to the back of it and drove north. It is believed that he buried his loot somewhere around the western slopes of the Warner Mountains.

The crime went unsolved for years, until an Indian by the name of Holden Dick began to trade small amounts of gold. He would spend all his money in taverns and saloons, and then run off into the wild when he ran out. After a few weeks he would come back to the villages with a fresh supply of gold. Around that time, Holden was arrested for killing a man in a bar fight. The authorities investigated the case, and were able to figure out that this was also the man who had robbed the freight wagon a few years ago. It is said he kept the gold in a cave in the Warner Mountains, but Holden died in prison without telling a soul about its precise location.

The Lost Dutch Oven Mine

Tom Scofield, a wondering railroad worker, was taking a long ride through the Clipper Mountains of northwest California. On his way up the mountain, he ran into what appeared to be an Old Spanish camp. There were dusty pots and pans lying around, as well as several rusty mining tools and a large Dutch oven. Scofield also discovered a mineshaft with seven human skeletons inside of it.

Since he had spent most of the day exploring the camp, he decided to stay for the night. When he woke up the next morning he tumbled into the Old Dutch oven, and a mound of sparkling gold nuggets came flushing out. Tom gathered as much gold as he could fit into his pockets, and took a train to Los Angeles. He spent all of his money partying it up in the big city. When Scofield finally found himself sober, and completely broke, he tried going back to the Clipper Mountains, but was never able to relocate the Spanish camp. Since then, no one else has been able to locate the infamous Dutch Oven Mine.

The Gold Coins of Bloody Spring

In the American Old West, tensions between European settlers and the Indians ran dangerously high. The Native Americans were fed up with the white man invading their precious lands. This friction made it quite dangerous for travelers exiting and entering California.

On one occasion, the Indians slaughtered a train full of settlers in an area called Bloody Springs. Only one passenger survived to tell the tale. He told authorities that the train was carrying $60,000 in gold coins, but before he escaped, he witnessed the Native Americans throwing the gold into the bottom of the Pit River Gorge. Still to this day, a gold coin or two is occasionally found around the area of Bloody Springs.

American Old West Timeline

This American Old West Timeline lists the critical years of the Western American territory's discovery, colonization, and settlement.

DateSummaryEvent
6th April
1830
Mormons foundedJoseph Smith founded the Mormon religion. Smith claimed that, after seeing a vision of an angel called Moroni, he discovered some hidden gold plates bearing inscriptions. The translation of the inscriptions was published in 1830 in the 'Book of Mormon'. The official name of the religion is The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints but they are more commonly known as Mormons.
26th May 1830Indian Removal ActThe US Government decreed that the Indian tribes could freely inhabit the Great Plains. A Permanent Indian Frontier was established on the eastern edge of the Great Plains.
Spring 1837Economic DepressionAn economic depression caused the collapse of many banks in the East. People lost their savings, wages