Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Pioneers: Westward Bound, and Closer to Home

Horace Greeley (1811-1872), New York Tribune editor, is often credited with coining the phrase, "Go West, young man," since he included it in an 1865 editorial. The phrase actually originated with John B. L. Soule, who used it in his 1851 editorial in the Terre Haute (Indiana) Express. The correct phrase is, "Go West, young man, and grow up with the country."

Throughout the 19th century, hundreds of thousands of pioneers travelled westward across the American plains and mountains. Many followed the Oregon Trail and the Sante Fe Trail, among others, and these journeys were long, brutal, and rugged. Our book trailer below features a popular children's book that recounts some of the adventures along the Oregon Trail.

Closer to home and a few decades earlier than the "Oregon Trailers," there were pioneers who left the eastern American states across the Appalachian mountains to settle in Morgan County, Indiana. Many came from North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. They sought the inexpensive lands promised by the federal government--lands surveyed according to the Northwest Ordinance of 1787--and the further prospects of independence, wealth, and personal freedoms.

Those early Morgan County and Mooresville, Indiana pioneer days are recounted in several books, including:

  • The Pioneers of Morgan County: Memoirs of Noah J. Major. (S. Cline, ed. & comp.) Indianapolis: Edward J. Hecker, 1915; republished by the Morgan County History & Genealogy Association (2006).
  • Fogleman, Margaret W. Early Mooresville: Centennial Souvenir, 1824-1924 (1924).
  • Matthews, John. Ye Early Pioneers (1875), reprinted in Fogleman, op. cit.
  • Hadley, Almira Harvey. A Brief History of Mooresville and Vicinity (1918).
Each of these titles is available at Mooresville Public Library through the Evergreen Indiana library consortium.

Modern Hoosiers can hardly imagine what it must have been like for these hardy folks to settle this territory, with its unbroken forests that stretched literally from Ohio to Illinois. Using hand tools and the strength of humans, livestock, and horses, they cleared the trees and cultivated the soil. My own family's settlers told of cut-down trees large enough for a team of oxen or horses AND wagon to stand upon a single stump. Can you imagine majestic oaks or sycamores, some nearly a thousand years old, with circumferences so large that a classroom full of children could hold hands and barely encircle the trunks? Those were true pioneers, and, thanks to them, we live today in places they settled and towns they founded. It would truly be a privilege to shake their hands and express our gratitude. This is why I sometimes visit the old town and county cemeteries and sit in quiet contemplation, silently expressing my thanks to the spirit of these people from whom some of us are descended.