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The rise of the West as a powerful, self-conscious region

Explain how improvements in transportation and communication made possible the rise of the West as a powerful, self-conscious region of the new nation. Discuss the internal borderlands within the West.

This paper will analyze the idea that the improvements in transportation and communication made possible the rise of Western U.S. as a powerful, self-conscious region of the new nation. It will also explore how these developments played out within what is often thought of as Western U.S., with discussions on both external borders and internal borderlands, which I will identify and explain in more detail below.

Connected by improved transportation and communication, the Western United States experienced a growth in population and resources that allowed for an acceleration of Western expansion, improved homesteading potential, and led to better overall integration with the rest of the country relative to earlier in its history. In addition to increasing Western regional strength, these developments also played out within what is often thought of as Western U.S. through expansions and redefinitions of both external and internal borders (Rodrigue, 2020).

This paper will first briefly discuss the importance of transportation to the growth of the West, particularly in terms of its importance for increased migration. It will then examine how communication improved in tandem with transportation, which led to a growth in information sharing and contributed as well to Western expansionism. Next, it will discuss populations and resources, focusing on population expansion that arose from these developments. This discussion will include not only physical population shifts but also changes in patterns of settlement within Western locations themselves (Rodrigue, 2020).

External Borders

The Western United States’ external borders have shifted over time. In the early days of the West, there was a great deal of hostility coming from Native Americans. For example, the early Spanish experience in California was defined by an unwillingness by Native Americans to trade and sell land, which led to hostilities and clashes such as the Battle of Cahuenga Pass. By contrast, at various points in American history, many Native American tribes have actually been willing to sell land in exchange for cash payments or goods (Kostyaev, 2019).

In general, the further west settlers moved, the greater hostility they faced from Native Americans. This is because as settlers left their original locations for different parts of the West, Native Americans had less and less authority or ability to control the movement of their own peoples. Western expansion has also affected international borders in a similar way (Kostyaev, 2019). In particular, Spanish and later Mexican policy with regards to land ownership in California meant that the boundary between Mexico and California was constantly shifting over time.

In the early days of the West, Native American tribes were often hostile to settlers and thus used what force they could to prevent them from moving west. For example, Native Americans fought back against Spanish missionaries as well as against Mormon settlers during the Mexican period in California.

Once Western expansion began, however, most tribes west of the Mississippi became less hostile to settlers. In fact, some natives were willing to sell land in exchange for goods or cash payments. For example, the Dineh and Navajo were long time sellers of land to Mormon settlers in Utah. As Native American tribes typically had no problem selling or giving up land in California, many white settlers felt free to buy this land from Native Americans in the hopes of creating a larger ranch and ultimately a bigger ranching industry (Kostyaev, 2019).

Western expansion contributed to another aspect of the West’s external borders: expansionism. Non-Indian settlers fighting to gain access to California land and the lands of the Dineh and Navajo both saw Western expansion as a way to improve their own personal situations. This is because if they moved further west, they could have more land than they would have had if they stayed in earlier Western locations.

Internal Borders

“Most Americans generally agree that there are at least four western regions: The West Coast, the Mountain West, the Intermountain West, and the Great Plains. Given the long history of regionalism in the United States, however, and the recent emergence of what is now called Western regionalism, it seems reasonable to ask whether these divisions are accurate. Can we consider them anything more than arbitrary political boundaries created by historians?” (Clandinin, 2019). Westerners tend to think of themselves as having a shared set of both cultural and historical characteristics, which form their definition of Western culture. According to this definition, they see the West as being very different from both Eastern or Southern regions.

Historians have been debating the existence of a true Western regionalism for decades and while they have come to some agreement they have also found that at least two definitions exist. One grouping gives the West a very localized definition and the other defines it as being more inclusive of people and places on both coasts, with the Rocky Mountains as a dividing line between east and west. In particular, historians disagree on whether or not to include Easterners in their definition of Westerners. While some argue that Eastern and Western culture are so different that they should be separated, others argue that the lines between the two groups are more blurred than they seem.

The idea that there is a true Western regionalism is one which has been in place for much of American history. Early Americans such as Frederick Jackson Turner and Walter Prescott Webb saw the West as an entity separate from both the East and South. In fact, Turner argued that the West was not only different from the South and East but in some ways even more distinct since it lacked such things as slavery and urbanization (Clandinin, 2019).

Since the 19th century, scholars have attempted to place Westerners together with other regional groups such as Southerners or Northerners. In particular, historians have placed those people who live along the Pacific coast with those who live in the Great Plains or mountain states. It is from this that the idea of a Mountain or Intermountain regionalism has arisen.

The Pacific coast states have long been thought of as the West. In particular, many people have argued that since much of the population of California was originally from the East then Californians should be classified as Easterners. This argument is based on a belief that people in California typically moved there for economic reasons such as gold mining and land speculation (Clandinin, 2019). In addition, many people in California were born in the East but stayed in California after having moved. These individuals, according to this view, did not become Westerners.

This argument has long been debated and scholars do not agree on which side is correct. Some argue that these newcomers became Westerners much earlier than most would have believed and that their stay there was longer than most people thought it was. This makes it seem as though California was a very popular destination in the early 20th century, especially for American Midwesterners. In addition, other scholars argue that Californians were not “like” their Eastern counterparts. Rather, they were so different that they should be considered to have come from a different branch of the American population (Clandinin, 2019).

Despite these arguments and disagreements, many scholars believe that there is a true Western regionalism which extends beyond California’s boundaries. In particular, scholars agree that there is a distinct difference between the western mountain states and the Great Plains and also a distinction between residents of the two coasts (Clandinin, 2019).

The Westerner has been a popular literary and cinematic figure since the early 19th century. In reality, while there are many Americans who live in rural areas, few could be considered true Westerners. Thus, it is not surprising that these people are often brought in to portray idealized versions of Americans living in rural areas. But despite the popularity of American Westerners, it is not clear that this type of American really exists.


The American West was a physical entity, extending from California to the Rocky Mountains, which was a true frontier. The West was also an entity that existed in American minds and imagination. The Westerner is a person who lived in the West, whether it be a real or an imaginary one, who shares common traits with other Westerners which define their character. The Westerner is a term which includes the citizens of the Pacific west and the Rocky Mountain west, who share some common traits and are distinctly different from those of other areas.



Rodrigue, J. P. (2020). The geography of transport systems. Routledge.


Clandinin, D. J., & Rosiek, J. (2019). Mapping a landscape of narrative inquiry: Borderland spaces and tensions. In Journeys in Narrative Inquiry (pp. 228-264). Routledge.

Last Updated on November 17, 2022

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