The eighteenth century saw competition for control of North America among Spain, France, England, and the fledgling United States. Following a forty-year period of wars, treaties, territorial purchases, and establishment of trading posts, the future of the United States became clear: the new nation would settle for nothing less than a continental domain. Expansion to the Pacific was justified by leaders and politicians of the 1840s as America's "Manifest Destiny."
"Much of this vast waste of territory belongs to the Republic of the Unites States... She should assert her claim by taking possession of the whole territory as soon as possible - for we have good reason to suppose that the territory west of the mountain will some day be equally as important to a nation as that of the east." (Excerpt from Narrative of the Adventures of Zenas Leonard, 1939)
Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery was tasked with exploring from St. Louis to the headwaters of the Missouri River and beyond, opening wide doors of knowledge at the dawn of the nineteenth century. In the wake of overland expeditions by trappers and explorers, the first wagon companies organized for California and Oregon set out along the Platte River in 1841 and 1843. Mormon Pioneers bound for the Great Salt Lake followed in 1847.
The Pony Express carried mail overland in 1860, just prior to completion of the transcontinental telegraph system. By 1890, the great Westward Migration had drawn nearly 500,000 people into the vast American wilderness. In five decades California, Oregon, Kansas, Nevada, Nebraska, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington, Idaho and Wyoming had been granted statehood. The fifty-year drama that populated those states with great-grandchildren of the colonists bestowed an abiding sense of romance to lands known simply as the West."