I'm wanting to write a novel taking place in the early to mid 1800s in the U.S...I need some info on things relating to settlers migrating to the west

Nov 2018
32
St. Louis, MO
#1
What kind of routes were taken out west that are less well known? Think Oregon Trail.
Would houses have been made of would the further west you got? Would they have been brick, log cabins, or more traditional framed houses? Did they even have framed houses back then? Would they have gone up pretty quickly in a fire if they were wood?
What would the years have been that would have a good amount of people migrating west, but nowhere near as much as the very near Gold Rush period?
Were there a lot of what you.might call highwaymen back then? I believe, I may be wrong, but Native American attacks were fairly common, but was there a good amount of Caucasian people who were attacking travelers?
When was the first West coast to Midwest/east coast mail system started? How efficient would it have been compared to the Pony Express?
Thanks guys! I appreciate any insight you have into the matter.
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,069
Dispargum
#4
Answers will vary greatly according to time and place. The American west changed very rapidly in the 19th century. I suggest you pick a date pretty early in your process. Or, what story elements do you want to include? Those could easily determine your time frame. Indian attacks - pre 1875 unless you're in Arizona. Repeating rifles - post Civil War. Outlaw gangs, probably post Civil War. First coast-to-coast mail service was Pony Express 1860. By 1870 there were transcontinental railroads. Oregon trail started in the 1830s using covered wagons that had been figured out on the Santa Fe Trail in the 1820s. Other trails were developed as other places became popular places to settle. Until fairly recently, architects strictly followed the rule of building using local materials. There were no log cabins in places where there were no trees. On the Great Plains houses were sometimes made out of sod, but the Plains were the last part of the west to be settled - in some places not until after 1900. Adobe was common in the southwest. Roads started out as trails and became more sophisticated over time so again it depends on what you want in your story.
 

stevev

Ad Honorem
Apr 2017
2,405
Las Vegas, NV USA
#5
What kind of routes were taken out west that are less well known? Think Oregon Trail.
Would houses have been made of would the further west you got? Would they have been brick, log cabins, or more traditional framed houses? Did they even have framed houses back then? Would they have gone up pretty quickly in a fire if they were wood?
What would the years have been that would have a good amount of people migrating west, but nowhere near as much as the very near Gold Rush period?
Were there a lot of what you.might call highwaymen back then? I believe, I may be wrong, but Native American attacks were fairly common, but was there a good amount of Caucasian people who were attacking travelers?
When was the first West coast to Midwest/east coast mail system started? How efficient would it have been compared to the Pony Express?
Thanks guys! I appreciate any insight you have into the matter.
Lot of questions. Is this an assignment? To answer the last question first, the Pony Express had a target of 6 days from St Louis to San Francisco using stations where fresh horses were available. It was only in operation for nine months I believe before the first rail connection was finished in 1869. BTW a house made of "would" sounds like a slick real estate deal. (expressing the conditional mood indicating the consequence of an imagined event or situation). "Pay me now and maybe I would build it." Going west was risky and most people in the first migrations went straight though to California or Oregon. Getting to Oregon from California was difficult overland so one needed to choose the right trails well before reaching the Sierra Nevada. Not much homebuilding took place before these destinations were reached. The idea was to get across as fast as possible. Settlement of the high plains came later and sod was about the only building material in many places.
 
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Likes: HeadinOutWest
Nov 2018
32
St. Louis, MO
#6
Answers will vary greatly according to time and place. The American west changed very rapidly in the 19th century. I suggest you pick a date pretty early in your process. Or, what story elements do you want to include? Those could easily determine your time frame. Indian attacks - pre 1875 unless you're in Arizona. Repeating rifles - post Civil War. Outlaw gangs, probably post Civil War. First coast-to-coast mail service was Pony Express 1860. By 1870 there were transcontinental railroads. Oregon trail started in the 1830s using covered wagons that had been figured out on the Santa Fe Trail in the 1820s. Other trails were developed as other places became popular places to settle. Until fairly recently, architects strictly followed the rule of building using local materials. There were no log cabins in places where there were no trees. On the Great Plains houses were sometimes made out of sod, but the Plains were the last part of the west to be settled - in some places not until after 1900. Adobe was common in the southwest. Roads started out as trails and became more sophisticated over time so again it depends on what you want in your story.
Lot of questions. Is this an assignment? To answer the last question first, the Pony Express had a target of 6 days from St Louis to San Francisco using stations where fresh horses were available. It was only in operation for nine months I believe before the first rail connection was finished in 1869. BTW a house made of "would" sounds like a slick real estate deal. (expressing the conditional mood indicating the consequence of an imagined event or situation). Pay me now and I "would" build if I can. Going west was risky and most people in the first migrations went straight through to California or Oregon. Getting to Oregon from California was difficult overland so one needed to choose the right trails well before reaching the Sierra Nevada. Not much homebuilding took place before these destinations were reached. The idea was to get across as fast as possible. Settlement of the high plains came later and sod was about the only building material in many places.
@Chlodio Let's pick the year...1815. I am asking about the "would" house because I want him to be in a house fire as a child in the prologue. The house would be in Missouri...would Missouri have been settled enough for there to be people living there? Specific location is about 60 miles west of St. Louis (Montgomery County, Missouri.). His journey west would start 14 years after the fire, in 1829. I know the Louisiana Purchase was in 1812, so that might make my time period too early.

The mail service is a less important aspect that is totally not needed, though it would be nice. Basically, the premise of my story is his father told him before he died in the fire that he should go out west, because that's where he would find success. During his adult years leading up to his 18th birthday (1829), he's done some pretty bad things...murder...etc...things he's not proud of, so he runs away from his sins and heads west. I guess the goal might be sort of a picaresque novel (a la Huckleberry Finn or Don Quioxte). I wanted an encounter with outlaw bands. Running into people along the way etc. I'm not an experienced writer, though I've been told I'm very good, and this is a subject that is easier to write, as I feel I can get away with less dialogue (as the journey west is likely to be a more lonesome one).

@stevev I just noticed the "would" misspelling...I typed this on mobile in a rush, please forgive me! ;) I reckon this could be a fairly good source for information I may need. Was there no settlements in the Great Plains back then? I highly doubt it, but were there any trails through Montana (I lived there...another reason I may want to add it in)? I highly doubt it, because of the climate. Would the migrants have run into buffalo at this time in history, or would they have had less of a population than there is now?

Sorry if I'm all over the place, ADHD. It's possible that my idea of how late the wild west was the stereotypical wild west is way earlier than it actually was. If so, I'd love to have it further into the future...say...post civil war. Would there be a lot of veterans heading west to escape the post war situation?
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,069
Dispargum
#8
A wooden house in Missouri could very easily be a total loss if it caught fire. It would probably burn slow enough that everyone could get out. The problem is putting the fire out. Absent a pump and fire hose, once the fire gets to a certain size all you can do is let it burn itself out. If someone has to die in the fire, it should be easy enough to come up with a plausible explanation. Maybe they were drunk, or sleeping, or sick/disabled, etc. In that time and place I would go with a log cabin.

1815 is quite plausible for an American to live in Missouri even though it did not become a state until 1820. Louisianna Purchase was 1803 and a few Americans, like Daniel Boone, had wandered in even earlier. In your time frame the best way to communicate with civilization from the frontier was to find a trader who was traveling back and forth and convince him to deliver a message for you. Independence, Missouri was a popular jumping off place for frontiersmen traveling between the wild west and civilization. In the 1820s Independence was the eastern terminus of the Santa Fe Trail which carried trade goods between the US and Mexico. That early you're more likely to have problems with Indians than outlaws for the simple reason that very few white people, including outlaws, lived in the west that early.

There were fur trappers in the Oregon Country before the War of 1812. There were trade wars between the various trading companies. British and French Canadians did not get along well with the Americans. If you have to have conflict with whites, this might be your best option in the 1820s and '30s. Read up on fur trappers. Pay attention to the term 'Rendezvous.'
 
Likes: HeadinOutWest
Nov 2018
32
St. Louis, MO
#9
ns
A wooden house in Missouri could very easily be a total loss if it caught fire. It would probably burn slow enough that everyone could get out. The problem is putting the fire out. Absent a pump and fire hose, once the fire gets to a certain size all you can do is let it burn itself out. If someone has to die in the fire, it should be easy enough to come up with a plausible explanation. Maybe they were drunk, or sleeping, or sick/disabled, etc. In that time and place I would go with a log cabin.

1815 is quite plausible for an American to live in Missouri even though it did not become a state until 1820. Louisianna Purchase was 1803 and a few Americans, like Daniel Boone, had wandered in even earlier. In your time frame the best way to communicate with civilization from the frontier was to find a trader who was traveling back and forth and convince him to deliver a message for you. Independence, Missouri was a popular jumping off place for frontiersmen traveling between the wild west and civilization. In the 1820s Independence was the eastern terminus of the Santa Fe Trail which carried trade goods between the US and Mexico. That early you're more likely to have problems with Indians than outlaws for the simple reason that very few white people, including outlaws, lived in the west that early.

There were fur trappers in the Oregon Country before the War of 1812. There were trade wars between the various trading companies. British and French Canadians did not get along well with the Americans. If you have to have conflict with whites, this might be your best option in the 1820s and '30s. Read up on fur trappers. Pay attention to the term 'Rendezvous.'
God, I look like an idiot. It was 1803...I'm sorry. I was thinking of the war of 1812 for some reason. I was thinking they were heavy sleepers/the parents were drunk that night, and the child woke up and got out...maybe add in a dramatic "try to wake up the parents scene". What would be the chances that someone in Independence, MO would have a close enough neighbor to notice a fire in a house nearby? What year would I have to go to in order to find outlaws? The "trader heading back east idea" was something I was thinking about before I asked this question...I know what rendezvous means, but is there a special meaning you're referring to?

The idea for my story comes from the Marty Robbins' song, Running Gun. If you could possibly give it a listen, it may give an idea of the setting I would like...

Thank you so much for your answers. I am making a fool of myself in front of the historians...:oops::crying:
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,069
Dispargum
#10
In 1815 there were very few Americans living in Missouri. Your family 60 miles west of St. Louis might live an isolated existence. One neighbor who could notice smoke from a fire a mile or two away would be plausible. If you need the neighbor to live closer, like to come help fight the fire, that could also be plausible, but I wouldn't have a whole town show up. Independence was a small or middle-sized town, at least by the late 1820s. I'm not sure as early as 1815.

The frontier always attracted a certain type of person who just could not function in society. I suppose there were outlaws in the 1810s, but I wouldn't make them resemble the James-Younger Gang or the Hole in the Wall Gang of Butch Casidy/Sundance Kid fame. Those guys came later. Outlaws in the 1810s are probably more interested in stealing food, ammo, and other supplies than money. There was no place to spend money out on the Plains in the 1810s or '20s.
 
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