The Myth of the Frontier

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The mythic frontiersman was created by the writers of the nineteenth century, people saw the west as a place to be escaped to in order to get away from the social structures and pressures of the east. With these myths of the west came the American frontier which was seen as the edge of civilization. Many people wrote on these myths, such as Richard Slotkin wrote three different books on the subject, one of which was titled Fatal Environment. While the myths of the frontier may not have been perfect reality, I do believe that it was pretty close.

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There were different versions of this myth, the version where farmers, ranchers and miners saw the freedom and the rooted imagination that came from the novels and literature such as Coopers Leatherstocking Tales.

People were used to what they had only seen and experienced, and the further west they went the more new experiences they gained and the more they learned of the lands potential. Of course, people such as the miners, ranchers and farmers are going to see the west as a symbol of freedom because after they’ve worked and survived in the east so long, they are going to see the west as untouched land which gives them many opportunities of earning more. According to Richard Slotkin, America was a wide-open land of unlimited opportunity which was proven with the discovery of brand-new mining regions as well as the growth of cattle industry with the cowboys driving herds of longhorns north toward cattle markets. With the myth of the frontier came such things as the cowboys. Just as the frontier was idealized, so were cowboys. Once looked down upon, they became seen as self-reliant and strong. These men were used to move cattle and were very successful in getting the cattle sold.

However as quickly as the cattle market peaked, it just as quickly fell, and ranchers went into debt. Just as there are well known cowboy names, there are many legends that came from the frontier myth such as Wild Bill and Buffalo Bill whom are still represented in current pop culture as well. Americans had such a fondness for the frontier myth because it represented the unknown, meaning they could see it as better or more positive than what they experienced in the east. It represented freedom and possibility. Pioneers or even whole families would venture out into the unknown with their supplies and trek hundreds of miles until they would stop to build their new homes, start crops and go about building and gathering what they needed to live and create their new life on the frontier. Because the myth brought on such expansion as people wanted to move west to experience the freedom, they believed that the west held, the land became more used. Soon the west was just as busy and used up as the east and the people would begin looking for that same escape from the social structures. The conservation movement helped from expansion taking out many of nature’s beauties to preserve them.

Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois were vastly different as described in The Enduring Vision. Booker T. Washington was born into slavery, while W. E. B. du Bois was raised in the North. It is well known in history that Booker T. Washington had more of a sit and wait approach to dealing with the racism that African Americans faced. He believed that if they learned skills and trades that made them useful that it would be noticed, and the racism would go away as other people saw their value. However, W. E. B. Du Bois strongly disagreed with this approach and had a more hands-on approach to trying to change and fight the racism. Du Bois believed in and fought for African Americans to have full equality not just because they were deemed of value to others. He believed that not only should they receive equal education opportunities as other races but that they should stand against any form of racism. Because of Du Bois’ headstrong personality many meetings of the “”Niagara Movement”” would meet, while others began seeing that Booker T. Washington’s laid back and cautious approach was becoming very unrealistic.

In 1909 Du Bois and a few other well-known activists form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which was a group meant for activist that were for the legal changes needed for full equality of all African Americans. By 1914, the NAACP had six thousand members across many different branches. As many differences as Washington and Du Bois had, they did also have a couple of similarities. The biggest similarity between the two being that they were both strongly against racially motivated violence such as lynching. Another similarity is that they are two of the most well-known figures in the road to African-American equality. The NAACP and the National Urban League may not have caused any immediate change it did however help in making the African-American communities stronger. Because of these organizations, many communities gained housing, education and healthcare they may not have had before. When it came to the deep ‘secrets’ of racism that many people tried to ignore such as lynching, these eventually made their way to mainstream news making its way across the nation.

As the 20’s came to an end, the stock market crashed, and this launched what is known as the Great Depression. The crash of the stock market triggered financial crisis and a lot of people lost everything. People began losing jobs as they disappeared because spending was declining. Because of this the unemployment rates rose drastically to the millions. On what is known as Black Tuesday, $14 billion was lost bring the total loss to $30 billion. As the stock market crash continued anyone who purchased on credit fell into further debt. As time went on, the daily struggle got worse, the housing market was failing as was other industries such as the automobile and textile industry. Herbert Hoover was President of the United States when the Great Depression began, because of this people were blaming him for the Great Depression, going so far as to name the little areas that the homeless lived in as “”Hoovervilles””.

As the Great Depression went on, people were looking for hope and ways to get out of the ‘hole’ they were in financially. As elections came around, Franklin D. Roosevelt was promising the people that he would be the answer, that he could get them out of the Great Depression. In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president. Shortly following this around 1933, hundreds of banks started closing. People began to get antsy and stopped trusting the banks so they started withdrawing all of their money from their accounts which caused the crashing of the banks. To add on to the losses, farmers were losing their farms and land because they were falling delinquent on what they owed. By March 4th, 1933, any bank that was still open was forced to close. On March 9th, 1933, Roosevelt’s Emergency Banking Act passed, which reorganized the banks and closed the ones that wouldn’t or couldn’t make it. After the New Deal didn’t end the Great Depression, the Second New Deal was created.

In April, the Works Progress Administration was created to help the large number of unemployed people receive jobs. It created post offices and schools while also providing work opportunities to the arts such as artist and writers. Three months later a board was created to make sure that workers were being treated fairly under the National Labor Relations Act. Roosevelt signed the Social Security act in August which set up unemployment and promised pensions to the people. While Roosevelt tried to do what he could to help end the Great Depression, the New Deal and Second New Deal were not enough to bring the United States back to normal. The Great Depression did not end until the beginning of World War 2. The war helped boost the economy because of the jobs it created in order to provide everything needed to assist in the war. In the end, this put people back to work, filling factory jobs around the country, because of this people had money to spend again and the economy slowly went back to normal.


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The Myth of the Frontier. (2019, Oct 02). Retrieved from