The Online Library of Knowledge

LET'S EXPLORE American history

What was life like in the American West?

Native Americans trading with white settlersNative Americans trading with white settlersIn 1783, following victory in the American Revolutionary War, the new nation, the United States, extended inland from the Atlantic coast as far as the Mississippi River. The French still owned the land to the west. Their leader, Napoleon Bonaparte, agreed to sell it to the United States in 1803. This was called the Louisiana Purchase. It gave Americans a vast new territory. Settlers were encouraged to move westwards and take over the land for farming. But many Native American peoples lived on this land, the American West.

Lewis and Clark meet a grizzly bearLewis and Clark meet a grizzly bear

Lewis and Clark

In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson ordered Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the new Louisiana Purchase lands west of the Mississippi River. Their task was to map the region and find a route to the western coast (then still in British hands).

In 1804, Lewis and Clark canoed up the Missouri River and crossed the Rocky Mountains on horseback. Then they journeyed down the Columbia River to the Pacific coast. They returned to St Louis in 1806, a round trip of more than 12,000 kilometres (7500 miles).  

As settlers moved to the West, the new frontier districts first became “territories”, then states once they had a large enough population. It was not until 1912 that Arizona, the last of the territories, gained statehood.

© 2020 Q-files Ltd. All rights reserved. Switch to Mobile