CHAPTER VIII. THE FAR WEST (1820-1830)
The interest of the United States government in the far west in this period was shown in exploration and diplomacy. Calhoun projected an extension of the forts of the United States well up the Missouri into the Indian country, partly as protection to the traders and partly as a defense against English aggressions. Two Yellowstone expeditions [Footnote: Chittenden, Am. Fur Trade, II., 562; Long's Expedition (Early Western Travels, XIV.-XVII.).] were designed to promote these ends. The first of these, 1819-1820, was a joint military and scientific undertaking; but the military expedition, attempting to ascend the Missouri in steamboats, got no farther than Council Bluffs. Mismanagement, extravagance, and scandal attended the undertaking, and the enterprise was made an occasion for a political onslaught on Calhoun's management of the war department.
The scientific expedition, under Major Long, of the United States Engineering Corps, ascended the Missouri in the Western Engineer, the first steamboat which navigated those waters above St. Louis - a stern-wheeler, with serpent-mouthed figure-head, through which the steam escaped, bringing terror to the savages along the banks. The expedition advanced far up the South Platte, discovered Long's Peak, and camped near the site of Denver. Thence the party passed to La Junta, Colorado, whence it broke into two divisions, one of which descended the Arkansas; the other reached the Canadian River (which it mistook for the Red) and descended to its junction with the Arkansas. The effort to push the military power of the government to the mouth of the Yellowstone failed, and the net result, on the military side, was a temporary post near the present site of Omaha.
The most important effect of the expedition was to give currency to Long's description of the country through which he passed as the "Great American Desert," unfit for cultivation and uninhabitable by agricultural settlers. The whole of the region between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains seemed to him adapted as a range for buffalo, "calculated to serve as a barrier to prevent too great an extension of our population westward," and to secure us against the incursions of enemies in that quarter. [Footnote: Long's Expedition (Early Western Travels, XVII.), 147, 148.] A second expedition, in 1825, under General Atkinson and Major O'Fallon, reached the mouth of the Yellowstone, having made treaties with various Indian tribes on the way.
In the mean time, Congress and the president were busy with the question of Oregon. By the convention of 1818, with Great Britain, the northern boundary of the United States was carried from the Lake of the Woods to the Rocky Mountains, along the forty-ninth parallel. Beyond the mountains, the Oregon country was left open, for a period of ten years, to joint occupation of both powers, without prejudice to the claims of either. Having thus postponed the Oregon question, the secretary of state, John Quincy Adams, turned to his Spanish relations. Obliged by Monroe to relinquish our claim to Texas in the treaty of 1819, by which we obtained Florida, he insisted on so drawing our boundary-line in the southwest as to acquire Spain's title to the Pacific north of the forty-second parallel, and to the lands that lay north and east of the irregular line from the intersection of this parallel with the Rocky Mountains to the Sabine. Adams was proud of securing this line to the Pacific Ocean, for it was the first recognition by an outside power of our rights in the Oregon country.[Footnote: Treaties and Conventions (ed. of 1889), 416, 1017; Babcock, Am. Nationality (Am. Nation, XIII.), chap, xvi.; J. Q. Adams, Memoirs, IV., 275.]
Although Russia put forward large and exclusive claims north of the fifty-first parallel, which we challenged, the contest for Oregon lay between England and the United States. At the close of 1820, Floyd, of Virginia, moved in the House of Representatives to inquire into the feasibility of the occupation of the Columbia River; and early the next year [Footnote: Annals of Cong., 16 Cong., 2 Sess., 945; J. Q. Adams, Memoirs, V., 238, 243-260.] a committee report was brought in, discussing the American rights. Floyd's bill provided for the military occupation of the Columbia River, donation of lands to actual settlers, and control of the Indians. No vote was reached, however, and it was not until the close of 1822 that the matter secured the attention of Congress.
Whatever may have been his motives, Floyd stated with vividness the significance of western advance in relation to the Pacific coast. He showed that, while in 1755, nearly a hundred and fifty years after the foundation of Jamestown, the population of Virginia had spread but three hundred miles into the interior of the country, during the last forty-three years population had spread westward more than a thousand miles. He recalled the days when more than a month was required to furnish Kentucky with eastern goods, by way of Pittsburgh, and when it required a voyage of over a month to pass from Louisville to New Orleans and nearly three months for the upward voyage. This had now been shortened by steamboat to seven days down and sixteen days up. From these considerations and the time from St. Louis to the mouth of the Columbia by steamboat and wagon, he argued that Oregon was no more distant from St. Louis in 1822 than St. Louis was twenty years before from Philadelphia. The fur-trade, the whale and seal fisheries, the trade with China, and the opportunity for agricultural occupation afforded by Oregon were all set forth.[Footnote: Annals of Cong., 17 Cong., 2 Sess., 397.]