Seizing the elephant: Kansas City and the great Western migration, 1840-1865
The famed editor of the New York Tribune, Horace Greeley, reportedly once said, “Go west, young man, and grow up with the country.”1 Probably apocryphal, the sentiment was quintessential Greeley by the 1850s. His newspaper had brought him to national prominence and made him one of the most powerful and influential Americans of the antebellum era. A fervent believer in the promises of manifest destiny, Greeley took his own advice on the eve of the American Civil War and left New York for California. He had spent the previous two decades pushing the government to open western land and encouraging the downtrodden to venture west for jobs, success, and opportunity. He stated, “If any young man is about to commence the world, we say to him, publicly and privately, Go to the West; there your capacities are sure to be appreciated, and your energy and industry rewarded.”2 He believed in the transcontinental railroad that ran to the Pacific coast and brought the American reader along for the ride as he published a series of essays on his journey. Traveling by rail, steamboat, and wagon, his dispatches were laced with excitement and knowledge of a man who had only read about the American West in the hundreds of books, travel guides, and letters that had been published for the previous three decades. Like many of the hundreds of thousands of pioneers that had come before him, his imagination danced with the possibility of what would certainly come if Americans embraced its manifest destiny.