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North America

American West

Native Americans trading with EuropeansNative Americans trading with Europeans In 1783, following their Declaration of Independence seven years earlier, the United States won independence from Britain. The new nation extended inland from the Atlantic coast as far as the Mississippi River. The French still owned the land to the west of the river, known as Louisiana (having re-acquired it from Spain in 1800) but their leader, Napoleon Bonaparte, agreed to sell it to the United States in 1803. The Louisiana Purchase, as it was known, gave Americans a vast new territory in which to establish farms. Many Native American peoples still lived in this land, the American West. This did not stop the government from passing the Homestead Act of 1862, which encouraged people to move westwards. Soon railways were being built to link the West with the cities in the East.


Lewis and Clark face a bear.Lewis and Clark face a bear.

Lewis and Clark

In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson ordered Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the territory west of the Mississippi River that the government had just purchased from the French. Their objective was to map the region and find a route to the western half of the continent. In 1804, Lewis, Clark and their team canoed up the Missouri River and crossed the Rocky Mountains on horseback. Then they journeyed down the Columbia River to the Pacific coast, returning 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 to support a state government. It was not until 1912 that Arizona, the last of the contiguous US states (the adjoining states in North America), gained statehood.

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