|The Growth of the British Empire|
|by M. B. Synge|
|Book V of the Story of the World Series. Treats the revolutions in South America and Mexico, the Boer War in South Africa, and the exploration of Central Africa, the Greek and Italian wars for independence, the Crimean War, the American Civil War, the opening of trade with Japan and China, and the rebellion in India. Ages 13-18 |
THE WINNING OF THE WEST
"To the West. To the West,
To the land of the free!
Where the mighty Missouri
Rolls down to the sea;
Where man is a man, if he's willing to toil,
And the humblest may gather the fruits of the soil."
MEANWHILE the United States were also extending their territory to the westward. Like other healthy settlers in a new
country, they set to work to enlarge their boundaries, to found new homes amid
 the pathless forests, to add states to their Union and stars to their national flag. The original thirteen
lay between the Atlantic sea-coast and the tall Alleghany mountains.
The vast tract
of uncultivated country
beyond, watered by the Ohio, was sparely occupied by Indians only. They resented the advance of the white men,
who had to fight for their new inheritance.
One day a colonist from North
Carolina, more adventurous than the rest, "put a new edge on his hunting-knife,
shouldered his rifle, bade his little family good-bye, and with five companions started off to explore the
great lone land beyond the mountains." The adventures of Daniel Boone, the pioneer of Kentucky, would fill a
chapter. Encouraged by his example, more and more colonists poured over the Alleghanies: they came from
Carolina, they also came from Virginia. Among a party of young Virginians, who dared the unknown, was Abraham
Lincoln, grandfather of the famous President of that name. One day, he was busy planting his first crops, with
his little six-year-old son beside him, when an Indian, darting out of the forest, shot him dead, and seizing
his little Tom, ran off. The two elder sons were working close by, and it was but the work of a moment, to
seize the ever-ready rifle and shoot the Indian dead, thus rescuing the small brother.
In a rude log-cabin, the fatherless Lincoln boys
 now lived with their mother. Their days were spent in felling trees, breaking up the virgin soil, and planting
crops. Time passed on. Thomas grew up and married. Then one day, he built himself a raft and floated down the
river Ohio, to the country known as Indiana, where he made a new home. Here his little son Abraham spent his
boyhood. In cow-hide shoes, deer-skin breeches, and a home-spun shirt, the future President of the Republic
toiled in the deep solitude of boundless forest lands of Indiana. So the vast spaces, between the Alleghany
Mountains and the Mississippi, were colonised, and new states were added to the Union. The great river was
invaluable, as a highway for trade, and very soon the colonists cast longing eyes to the rich country, that lay
beyond its farther banks. This too they wanted to possess. It was known as Louisiana, named after King Louis
XIV. of France; but it had been ceded to the United States by Napoleon for a large sum of money. This vast
country stretched right away westward to the Rocky Mountains: it was well watered by the Missouri, the great
tributary of the Mississippi, and pioneers were soon flocking into its rich and fertile wilderness.
So state after state was added to the Union, star after star to the national flag.
The colonists had now reached the very borders of Mexico. Mexico,
that rich country discovered
 and conquered by the Spanish Cortes, had just thrown off the hated yoke of Spain and declared her independence.
A question now arose about the boundary between Texas, one of the United States and the Mexican Republic, and
in 1846 war blazed out on the Texan border.
In the great American army, that now crossed over the Gulf of Mexico to Vera Cruz, was a young cadet named
Jackson, who was hereafter to play a large part in the history of his country. Born in the backwoods of
Virginia, he had grown up, like young Abraham Lincoln, to till the soil and combat the Indians. Now, at the age
of twenty-three, he was called to fight for his country, and right well he performed his task. The Mexicans at
Vera Cruz soon surrendered to the superior American force, and the army was free to move forwards. Young
Jackson had already been promoted for "gallant and meritorious conduct at the siege of Vera Cruz." It was
immensely interesting to him, that the army in which he served, should be marching in the steps of Cortes
towards the wonderful city of Mexico. A large body of Mexican cavalry stood ready to oppose their advance, but
gallantly they scaled the high mountains beyond Puebla, and beheld the beautiful valley of Mexico lying below.
There, beneath the mighty shadow of her snow-capped mountains, stood the Imperial city, just as it had burst on
the awestruck vision of the Spanish conqueror, three hundred years before. Victory after victory, won
 by the Americans over the Mexicans, soon placed the city of Mexico within their grasp. Long the Americans
lingered in the beautiful city, all living in peace under the shadow of the Stars and Stripes, till, in 1848
peace was signed. The United States gained Texas, as far as the Rio Grande, New Mexico; territory to the north
of Mexico was to be theirs, together with the narrow strip of land, between the Pacific and the Sierra Nevada,
called California. And so the American troops marched home.
The United States now stretched from coast to coast, from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, a distance of some
An important event now attracted the eyes of Europe to this land in the Far West. One day a workman, building a
saw-mill near the present town of Sacramento, discovered particles of gold in the mud, and a further search
revealed the fact that El Dorado was found at last! As the news leaked out, the excitement in the United States
rose to a mania. Multitudes of colonists started forth on the great journey across the continent, and forced
their way over the Rocky Mountains. Soon 4000 horsemen and 9000 waggons had gone through the high pass. So
great were the perils and dangers, that the "track was marked with skeletons."
Some preferred to encounter the dangers of the sea. They sailed by Cape Horn and landed in the Bay of San
Francisco. On the barren hills and
 shifting sands arose a collection of tents and huts, where lived people from every nation. The city of San
Francisco sprang up as if by magic, and grew, until it became one of the most famous cities in the world. The
entrance to the harbour is known as the Golden Gate, wherein to-day ride the ships of all nations in the world,
for San Francisco is the terminus of the Grand Trunk Railway, which runs to New York.
So the Americans won their land, step by step, state by state, star by star, until to-day the national flag
numbers forty stars instead of the original thirteen. It was a long and hard struggle between the Indians and
the invaders. The winning of the West is a story of progress and bloodshed, of strife between civilisation and
barbarism: it is also a story of daring enterprise and astonishing perseverance, of courage and ceaseless toil,
worthy the men, whose forefathers had braved the unknown, in the years that were past.
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