Frontiers of Discovery: 1800-1850

These decades are a time of discovery, change, and reflection. Those distanced from the western frontier consider man's harmonious relationship to nature. On the frontline of westward expansion, some authors and artists portray a land of mythical qualities.

"There is a pleasure in the pathless woods, There is a rapture on the lonely shore. There is society where none intrudes . . . I love not man the less, but Nature more . . . "

—Lord Byron
Apostrophe to the Ocean, 1816

Follow the links below to read insights from some notable authors.

Excerpts from The Journals of Lewis and Clark

Read from the essay, "Nature," by Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1836

"This was the last they ever saw of the Leather-Stocking, whose rapid movements preceded the pursuit which Judge Temple both ordered and conducted. He had gone far toward the setting sun—the foremost in that band of pioneers who are opening the way for the march of the nation across the continent."

—James Fenimore Cooper The Pioneers, 1823

" . . . But I behold a fearful sign,
To which the white men's eyes are blind;
Their race may vanish hence, like mine,
And leave no trace behind,
Save ruins o'er the region spread,
And the white stones above the dead.

Before these fields were shorn and tilled,
Full to the brim our rivers flowed;
The melody of waters filled
The fresh and boundless wood;
And torrents dashed and rivulets played,
And fountains spouted in the shade.

Those grateful sounds are heard no more,
The springs are silent in the sun;
The rivers, by the blackened shore,
With lessening current run;
The realm our tribes are crushed to get
May be a barren desert yet."

—William Cullen Bryant
At the Burial Place of His Indian Fathers, 1832

"Our tent was within a rod of the river, if the broad sand-beds, with a scanty stream of water coursing here and there along their surface, deserve to be dignified with the name of river. The vast flat plains on either side were almost on a level with the sand-beds, and they were bounded in the distance by low, monotonous hills, parallel to the course of the Arkansas. All was one expanse of grass; there was no wood in view, except some trees and stunted bushes upon two islands which rose from amid the wet sands of the river. Yet far from being dull and tame this boundless scene was often a wild and animated one; for twice a day, at sunrise and at noon, the buffalo came issuing from the hills, slowly advancing in their grave processions to drink at the river."

—Francis Parkman
The Oregon Trail, 1849

Go to Wilderness: 1850-1900