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"Wild West" redirects here. For other uses, see Wild West (disambiguation).
For cultural influences and their development, see Western (genre).
American Frontier

200px-Grabill - The Cow Boy-edit

The cowboy, the quintessential symbol of the American frontier, circa 1888

Location North America
Date c.1600 - 1900
425px-United States 1789-03-1789-08
425px-United States 1845-12-1846-06
425px-United States 1884-1889-11-02

The American frontier comprises the geography, history, folklore, and cultural expression of life in the forward wave of American westward expansion since the colonial era. Enormous popular attention in the media focuses on the second half of the 19th century, a period sometimes called the Old West, or the Wild West. As defined by Hine and Faragher, "frontier history tells the story of the creation and defense of communities, the use of the land, the development of markets, and the formation of states." They explain, "It is a tale of conquest, but also one of survival, persistence, and the merging of peoples and cultures that gave birth and continuing life to America." Through treaties with foreign nations and native peoples, political compromise, technological innovation, military conquest, establishment of law and order, and the great migrations of foreigners, the United States expanded from coast to coast (Atlantic Ocean to Pacific Ocean), fulfilling advocates' belief in Manifest Destiny. In securing and managing the West, the U.S. federal government greatly expanded its powers, as the nation evolved from an agrarian society to an industrialized nation. First promoting settlement and exploitation of the land, by the end of the 19th century the federal government assumed stewardship of the remaining open spaces. As the American frontier passed into history, the myths of the west took firm hold in the imagination of Americans and foreigners alike.

The term "Old West"Edit

The American frontier moved steadily westward from the 1630s to the 1880s (with occasional movements north into Maine and Vermont, and east from California into Nevada). The "West" was always the area beyond that boundary. Most often, however, the term "American West" is used for the area west of the Mississippi River during the 19th century. After the 18th century and the push beyond the Appalachian Mountains, the term "Old West" is generally applied to anywhere west of the Mississippi River in earlier periods and westward from the frontier strip toward the later part of the 19th century. Thus, the Midwest and parts of the American South, though no longer considered "western," have a frontier heritage along with the modern western states.

Colonial frontierEdit

Main article: Thirteen Colonies

In the colonial era, before 1776, the west was of high priority for settlers and politicians. In the earliest days of European settlement of the Atlantic coast, from about 1600 to 1680, the frontier was essentially any part of the forested interior of the continent beyond the fringe of existing settlements along the coast. English, French, Spanish and Dutch patterns of expansion and settlement were quite different. Only a few thousand French migrated to Canada; these habitants settled in villages along the St. Lawrence river, building communities that remained stable for long stretches; they did not leapfrog west the way the British did. Although French fur traders ranged widely through the Great Lakes region they seldom settled down. Likewise, the Dutch set up fur trading posts in the Hudson River valley, followed by large grants of land to rich landowning patroons who brought in tenant farmers who created compact, permanent villages. They did not push westward. By contrast the British settlements gave priority to land ownership to individual farmers..

In contrast, the English colonies generally pursued a more systematic policy of widespread settlement of the New World for cultivation and exploitation of the land, a practice that required the application of legal property rights to the new conditions. The typical New England settlements were quite compact and small—under a square mile. Conflict with the Native Americans arose out of political issues, viz. who would rule. Early frontier areas east of the Appalachian Mountains included the Connecticut River valley, and northern New England (which was a move to the north, not the west).

The French and Indian Wars of the 1760s resulted in a complete victory for the British, who took over the lands west to the Mississippi River. By the early 1770s Americans were moving across the Appalachians into western Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio. Their most famous leader was Daniel Boone.

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