There were many dangers associated with living in the 1800’s, more so when you were a settler attempting to live the dream of migrating west. You had to avoid disease, animal attacks, Native Americans attacking you while you cross their territories, or you could be injured in your day to day activities moving west, with no proper medical care.
On top of that, if your wagon was damaged or if you had a broken axle, you were effectively stranded, and you already had to walk everywhere sixteen hours a day to make the trek across the country. Although there were numerous hazards associated with making the six month or longer journey, millions of Americans between 1800 and 1890 made the attempt, due in part to the multitude of opportunities the west could provide. One of the primary and first opportunities that began the great migrations to the west was mining.
Mining was a multiple opportunity bonanza that allowed people who wanted to “strike it rich” to do so with gold and silver mining. But the mining itself wasn’t the only way to hit paydirt at that time. Almost half the emigrants were support to the miners. Vendors, such as clothing, tools, food, and building materials, as well as prostitutes made a very good living providing goods and services to the miners looking for precious metals.
Railroad companies made tracks and trips throughout the gold rush areas and reaped generous profit from the transport of goods and people. One of the other opportunities that brought about emigration to the west was cattle ranching. Herding cattle on the plains was the birthplace of the “cowboy” as the term was coined. SETTLEMENT WEST 3 Though cattle ranching was performed earlier than 1867, it wasn’t until post-Civil War America needed beef did it become massively profitable.
Once the railroads started transporting cattle from Abilene, Kansas to the eastern seaboard, ranchers were able to sell cattle at approximately $26-$36 profit per head of cattle, allowing for massive profit for all individuals involved in the operation. Another reason emigrants risked the dangers of the frontier was land and farming opportunities. The Homestead Act of 1862 granted anyone 160 acres of land to anyone who would pay $10 registration, then live on the land for 5 years.
As families sought to gain independence from the crowded city life and dangerous industrial jobs, the 160 acres provided ample enticement to face the rigors of the frontier life. Coupled with the farming for profit advancements that occurred from 1870-1900, as well as the Timber Culture Act of 1873, which awarded an additional 160 acres of land to those who would plant trees on the property, there were few who could resist the lure of 420 acres of property and potential for massive profit from farming. These reasons are why the farming boom occurred on the Midwestern plains states.
In addition to some of the major booms of the era, which included the farming boom of the Midwest, the mining craze of the mid and late 1800’s, and the great cattle bonanza from 1867-1880, there were other reasons that many flocked to the west. There were many that moved all the way to California for the purported health benefits and the Mormons who moved to modern-day Utah to escape religious persecution that was present even in America at that time. All in all, the majority of those who moved to the “wild west” frontier moved for one reason and one reason alone: To better their position in life at the time.