American Frontier and Western Issues: A Historiographical Review

By Roger L. Nichols | Go to book overview
Save to active project

Frontier and Western


As the American West developed, settlers commonly sought land, capital, and transportation. If they could realize these desires, they believed that prosperity would surely follow. Because distances were great and natural barriers considerable, frontiersmen readily embraced state-of-the-art travel. In the Trans-Allegheny West, early residents pushed hard for improved water transport, especially canals. But when vast numbers of pioneers ventured into the Trans-Mississippi West, they often enjoyed access to the vastly superior railroad. Thus this region, with few exceptions, skipped the intermediate fad of canal-building that had spawned numerous projects in a belt extending from New York to Illinois between the 1820s and 1840s. Later, demands were made regularly for better roadways, and eventually for commercial aviation. Like railroad promoters, these enthusiasts hailed from all geographic areas, not just from the "West."

Historians have examined various aspects of water transportation in the West. The pre-steam era has received ample coverage. The classic work, Leland D. Baldwin's The Keelboat Age on Western Waters,1 tells how keelboats revolutionized commerce. These vessels bested the flatboats that commonly drifted down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Loaded with pioneers, assorted animals, household goods, farm implements, whiskey, and other miscellaneous merchandise, flatboats could make only a downstream voyage. Keelboats, on the other hand, could travel upstream with the aid of a steerman and from six to ten men involved in hard and fatiguing poling. And there was a major difference in appearance: keelboats sported rounded bows and sterns; flatboats had that crude look and, according to one contemporary, resembled a "mixture of log cabin, fort, and floating barnyard and country grocery."

After Robert Fulton famed Clermont made its maiden voyage on the Hudson River in 1807, the steamboat quickly conquered the waterways. From the early nineteenth century to the formative years of the twentieth century, these sturdy vessels often provided the cheapest and most efficient form of freight transport.


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
American Frontier and Western Issues: A Historiographical Review


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 303

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?