CHAPTER VI. SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT OF THE WEST (1820-1830)
The peculiar skill required of the axeman who entered the hardwood forests, together with readiness to undergo the privations of the life, made the backwoodsman in a sense an expert engaged in a special calling. [Footnote: J. Hall, Statistics of the West, 101; cf. Chastellux, Travels in North America (London, 1787), I., 44.] Frequently he was the descendant of generations of pioneers, who, on successive frontiers, from the neighborhood of the Atlantic coast towards the interior, had cut and burned the forest, fought the Indians, and pushed forward the line of civilization. He bore the marks of the struggle in his face, made sallow by living in the shade of the forest, "shut from the common air," [Footnote: Birkbeck, Notes on Journey, 105-114.] and in a constitution often racked by malarial fever. Dirt and squalor were too frequently found in the squatter's cabin, and education and the refinements of life were denied to him. Often shiftless and indolent, in the intervals between his tasks of forest-felling he was fonder of hunting than of a settled agricultural life. With his rifle he eked out his sustenance, and the peltries furnished him a little ready cash. His few cattle grazed in the surrounding forest, and his hogs fed on its mast.
The backwoodsman of this type represented the outer edge of the advance of civilization. Where settlement was closer, co-operative activity possible, and little villages, with the mill and retail stores, existed, conditions of life were ameliorated, and a better type of pioneer was found. Into such regions circuit-riders and wandering preachers carried the beginnings of church organization, and schools were started. But the frontiersmen proper constituted a moving class, ever ready to sell out their clearings in [Footnote: Babcock, Forty Years of Pioneer Life ("Journals and Correspondence of J.M. Peck"), 101.] order to press on to a new frontier, where game more abounded, soil was reported to be better, and where the forest furnished a welcome retreat from the uncongenial encroachments of civilization. If, however, he was thrifty and forehanded, the backwoodsman remained on his clearing, improving his farm and sharing in the change from wilderness life.
Behind the type of the backwoodsman came the type of the pioneer farmer. Equipped with a little capital, he often, as we have seen, purchased the clearing, and thus avoided some of the initial hardships of pioneer life. In the course of a few years, as saw- mills were erected, frame-houses took the place of the log-cabins; the rough clearing, with its stumps, gave way to well-tilled fields; orchards were planted; live-stock roamed over the enlarged clearing; and an agricultural surplus was ready for export. Soon the adventurous speculator offered corner lots in a new town-site, and the rude beginnings of a city were seen.
Thus western occupation advanced in a series of waves: [Footnote: J.M. Peck, New Guide to the West (Cincinnati, 1848), chap. iv.; T. Flint, Geography and Hist. of the Western States, 350 et seq.; J. Flint, Letters from America, 206; cf. Turner, Significance of the Frontier in American History, in Am. Hist. Assoc., Report 1893, p. 214; McMaster, United States, V., 152-160.] the Indian was sought by the fur-trader; the fur-trader was followed by the frontiersman, whose live-stock exploited the natural grasses and the acorns of the forest; next came the wave of primitive agriculture, followed by more intensive farming and city life. All the stages of social development went on under the eye of the traveler as he passed from the frontier towards the east. Such were the forces which were steadily pushing their way into the American wilderness, as they had pushed for generations.
While thus the frontier folk spread north of the Ohio and up the Missouri, a different movement was in progress in the Gulf region of the west. In the beginning precisely the same type of occupation was to be seen: the poorer classes of southern emigrants cut out their clearings along rivers that flowed to the Gulf and to the lower Mississippi, and, with the opening of this decade, went in increasing numbers into Texas, where enterprising Americans secured concessions from the Mexican government. [Footnote: Garrison, Texas, chaps, xiii., xiv.; Wooten (editor), Comprehensive Hist. of Texas, I., chaps. viii., ix.; Texas State Hist. Assoc., Quarterly, VII., 29, 289; Bugbee, "Texas Frontier," in Southern Hist. Assoc., Publications, IV., 106.]
Almost all of the most recently occupied area was but thinly settled. It represented the movement of the backwoodsman, with axe and rifle, advancing to the conquest of the forest. But closer to the old settlements a more highly developed agriculture was to be seen. Hodgson, in 1821, describes plantations in northern Alabama in lands ceded by the Indians in 1818. Though settled less than two years, there were within a few miles five schools and four places of worship. One plantation had one hundred acres in cotton and one hundred and ten in corn, although a year and a half before it was wilderness. [Footnote: Hodgson, Letters from North Am., I., 269; see Riley (editor), "Autobiography of Lincecum," in Miss. Hist. Soc., Publications, VIII., 443, for the wanderings of a southern pioneer in the recently opened Indian lands of Georgia and the southwest in these years.]