Adsactly Education - The Mississippi River-The Race West

in education •  4 months ago

Adsactly Education: Mississippi River-The Race West

The next part of the story of the Mississippi is about the race west. The United States really started settling the west after the Civil War. In fact, it hadn’t even finished and the race was on.

In the first part of this series (available here) we discussed the geologic history of the river and it’s flow. The second part of the series (available here) was about the early human history in the valley. The third part (available here) went from European contact to full American influence. The fourth part of the series (available here) is all about the Civil War on the River.

The Race West

The Civil War wasn’t even finished when the Next Big Thing happened on the Mississippi River. People started crossing it in an unending tide. The Transcontinental Railroad was begun in 1863, the same year that Vicksburg fell to the North securing the Mississippi.

The original surveys were taken between 1853 and 1855. Three routes were surveyed. A Northern Route, a Central Route and a Southern Route. The central route was chosen and several attempts were made to fund the building of the Railroad. The ‘solid South’ would not vote for any route but the Southern path and the US Congress could not get the deal done. When the South seceded from the Union the Congress promptly passed and funded the building of the road.

The site of the driving of the Golden Spike Ceremony. Photo Courtesy of the Author.

Funding was secured by 30 year Federal Bonds and by the two railroad companies that actually built the line. The historic ‘Golden Spike’ was driven by Leland Stanford at Promontory, Utah, a little town that no longer exists. The spot itself is a National Monument that is rarely visited. It is a long ways from anywhere today.

Construction was begun in 1863 and completed in 1869. The original road ran from Council Bluffs, Iowa to Sacramento California. Riverboats and steamships completed the connection between Sacramento and San Francisco.

When it was completed in 1869 the Transcontinental Line lowered the time for people and goods to go from east coast to west coast from 6 months to 6 days. The powder had been lit and the westward explosion was on.

Building Bridges

The first Railroad bridge across the Mississippi River was built in 1858 between Rock Island, Illinois and Davenport, Iowa. It provided an important east/west connection and really signaled the start of the huge westward expansion. It was wood construction and 15 days after it was officially opened it was struck by a Steamboat and burned.

Andrew Carnegie financed and built the first all steel bridge across the Mississippi. Construction started in 1867 and it was opened in 1874. Named for the designer, James Eads, the bridge still carries traffic and trains from St. Louis, Missouri to East St. Louis, Illinois today. The bridge was built high enough and with large enough spans to allow river traffic to pass safely beneath it.


The final piece to the linking of East and West happened on the Missouri, not the Mississippi with the construction of the bridge between Council Bluffs, Iowa and Omaha, Nebraska in 1874. A mostly direct route through Kansas City officially opened in 1870, reducing the record for New York to San Francisco to less than 4 days.

The Rest of the Story

The bridging of the Rivers and the Transcontinental Railroad had a dark side. The flood of immigrants to the Great Plains and points west had a huge disruption to the Native population west of the Mississippi.

Some of the remains of the great Mississippian Society had splintered off and moved west, a move that was predicated by the use of horses. The Arapaho, Assiniboine, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Comanche, Crow, Gros Ventre, Kiowa, Plains Apache, Plains Cree, Plains Ojibwe, Sarsi, Shoshone, Sioux, and Tonkawa were all tribes that followed the buffalo and built no permanent structures.


In early days of white settlement on the plains, the natives mostly just ignored it. They could and did go around the bits of white civilization that appeared. Many of the early settlers had good relations with the local tribes due to trading and mutual respect. That would change.

What we commonly call ‘Plains Indians’ today had split from the Mississippian Culture early in the breakup, before white contact. They took horses and moved out on the plains to hunt buffalo. They built no permanent structures and lived a nomadic lifestyle. The horses provided the transport, and the people kept moving, often on set paths with a more or less set schedule. The horses also provided the perfect tool for hunting the buffalo. They were faster and more maneuverable and could get close to the target. The buffalo provided food and shelter for the people. The natives never took more than they could use and kept moving often enough that there was no permanent record of their camps. The did no damage in the environment.


The combination of horses and horsemanship would have seemed to make for a perfect cavalry to fight for their lands and sovereignty. Throw in personal bravery and good leadership and you would think they would have been a match for the US Cavalry. They were not.

The Whites put it down to lack of discipline and stupidity. It was not, it was simply the culture that had evolved over the hundreds of years they were on the plains. It said that no man could force or coerce another to do anything. Leadership was at the whim of the majority of the tribal members, so really strong leaders might be replaced as easily as not strong.


The US Army pursued the tribes one at a time and relentlessly. Many treaties were signed and discarded at the whim of the whites. It was a relentless tide of pressure and the end saw the natives reduced to small territories known as reservations. Without being able to follow the buffalo (and white society slaughtering them almost to extinction) the tribes were reduced to taking subsistence from the US Government. Every item of pride and every bit of freedom that they cherished was removed. They were beaten as thoroughly as any people in the history of earth.

With the elimination of the ‘Indian Threat’ the settlement of the entire US west of the Mississippi was assured. The race west was truly on. Of course the Mississippi played an important part in that. We will deal with the exploitation of the river in the next installment.

Unsourced Photos are used courtesy of the author.

While the words and ideas in this post are strictly those of the author these sources were referred to by me to insure numerical and historical accuracy.
Wikepedia: Transcontinental Railroad
Wikipedia: Plains Indians
Wikipedia: Mississippi River

Authored by: @bigtom13

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It seems to me that during most of the conquest of the west the boundary between pioneer settlements and Indian tribes is not precisely delineated. If the Mississippi marks a time this limit, thereafter it is moving. California, for example, is populated very early, even more so with the Gold Rush, while the Great Plains are still almost empty and populated by Indians, who let most convoys pass. Difficult under these conditions to define a precise limit. On the other hand one can probably mark its final progress by the official creation of the states, the arrival of the railway, or the treaties with Indian tribes. It would be interesting, in relation to your chronological limit, to have a map of the American states on the eve of the Civil War. (I imagine you have the right to insert a card.) In any case there is a question: "how is the border progressing?" Progression first diffuse, then more massive, then finally official.


Interesting that you mention California. They were granted statehood in 1849 because of the huge pile of gold that was found there. In the next 50 years they exterminated almost all the native tribes (certainly all on the coast) and made being Chinese illegal, so the ones that stayed were under penalty of death.

The tribes, almost all the tribes, made good faith agreements with the US Government. The government broke every one. The tribes were pursued relentlessly by the US Cavalry.

I do have access to some maps like you suggest. Most 1860 maps show vague 'tribal areas' and areas that are clearly settled or about to be settled. The treaty of Laramie in 1857 granted the Sioux and affilliated tribes the rights to the Black Hills and the area north of the Powder River to the Canadian border. The discovery of gold in the Black Hills changed all that. The broken treaty of Laramie was re written 3 times, the last time it was essentially a surrender document.

hiya @adsactly, I was just pondering over the first steel bridge and for that era you would think it would have been a lot different, there was some real work and engineering that has taken place to make something like that. and with it been the first steel bridge over it, that must have taken time and planning to put together.
nice educational post :D


It was a REALLY big deal. Andrew Carnegie bet a huge fraction of his political and business capital on that bridge. The fact that it is still moving traffic across the River is just astounding o me.


I bet if it was made today like that there would be a massive health and safety assessment risk. the fact it is still standing is a cool thing, like my mum always said, things back in the old days where made to last, not like the stuff today where it is built to break so we buy more.
cheers @bigtom13

@bigtom13 and @adsactly, For sure, the History holds many folds and some great aspects happened and some are really painful for sure which is unfortunate too.

And great thing about the History is, after situating at any place, in my opinion in most historical aspects people used their Critical Thinking and created very unique and Unimaginable creations in relation of that time.

And for sure, in my opinion the river would be the reason and idea booster for the Creation of the Bridge. And these kind of stories are common in many historical aspects.

But for sure, if we have to pursue from the History now, that it would be the learning and excluding those aspects which were not good and creating new world.

Wishing you an great day and stay blessed. 🙂


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wirklich interresant


The compilation of historical events that opens the dawn is really excellent. So we'll put together such that I see myself in the story. Beautiful!

congratulation your beautiful post is in trending...