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Transcontinental Railroad as a Push for American Settlement

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The idea that the United States was bound to move west (Editors), it wasn’t a matter of if it was a matter of when. There were many factors that played into the westward expansion, from settlers seeking gold to those who just wanted to own their own land. Regardless of why you were moving west, you played a factor in the expansion of the railroad system and settlements throughout the United States. The expansion of the railroad system enabled settlers to move freely throughout the United States of American from 1860 to 1890.

There were many reasons why settlers wanted to move west. Initially it was for gold, with the gold rush happening in 1849. Settlers were still keen on the idea of being able to dig up gold and have all of their problems solved instantaneously. Others had a more simplistic reasoning for moving west, a better life. With that better life they would be able to be land owners and able to have their own cattle and be that cowboy up on top of his horse overseeing his domain (Reasons). Dreaming of a life out west was most certainly the easy part however, getting there had presented itself as the real challenge.

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The challenge of getting west to pursue your dream came in many different forms. For those farmers who wished to start their own life and live on the plains, the challenge was getting their livestock out west without them dying from dehydration or being taken in the middle of the night. By no means did traveling without livestock make your journey out west any easier. The threat of dysentery was present for any settler making their way out west (Billington). If those two challenges weren’t enough to keep you awake at night, there was also the threat of getting lost. Not every trail out west was clearly marked, making it easy for an unfamiliar party to get lost. All of this fear turned to hope on the 10th of May 1869, when the golden spike was driven through the transcontinental railroad in Promontory Utah (Brown).

Upon completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, the United States experienced a boom in settlements throughout the country. Prior to the railroad being finished, the United States only had nine cities with a population of 100,000 people or greater (Biggest). After the completion of the transcontinental railroad it seemed as though there was a spike in railroad systems that ran all throughout the country. The expansion was in all directions, north, south, east, and west. During this time, 1860-1890, you saw major cities with a population of 100,000 people or more jump from nine to 25 (Biggest). With their majors fears put to ease, settlers were hopping on trains headed west.

During this brief think piece I have gone over why settlers wanted to move west, what was holding them back, and what inevitably allowed them to pursue their dreams and move west with a lessened sense of fear. Westward expansion truly began once the transcontinental railroad system was completed. The expansion of the railroad system enabled settlement throughout the United States of American from 1860 to 1890.

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