The American West Presentation Topics
“From Mountain Men to Railroads: The Opening of the American West”
This is the intriguing story of how the fur trade, government surveys, the overland trade, and the great wagon trails forged pathways across the West often later followed by the railroads. Once the golden spike celebrating the completion of the transcontinental railroad was driven, the barriers to the settlement of the American West were breached and the Native American way of life was undermined. This is a vast story with many colorful personalities who changed the character and destiny of the United States to our own time.
“Wagon Trails West: Myth and Reality”
From the 1840s to the late 1870s, hundreds of thousands of Americans and newly arrived immigrants participated in one of the largest mass migrations in our history. Hollywood movies and television created dramatic sagas about the struggles and privations that these pioneers endured in the wagon trains traveling through the “Great America Desert”. Based on the diaries and letters of pioneer man and women, this program explores the myths and realities of their travel on the Oregon, California, and Santa Fe Trails. For about 30 years, scores of these wagon trains set out from Missouri facing rugged topography, harsh weather and many types of danger on the journey west. Only the building of the transcontinental railroad brought this odyssey to an end. Yet, their migration helped rapidly settle the American West and close our nation’s last frontier.
“The Story of the California Missions”
Across the American Southwest many early mission churches still exist. These historic sites preserve the remnants of what once was an extensive effort to solidify Spain’s colonial empire. Spain’s mission system began in the 1500s, and its last mission was built in Sonoma in 1823. Today, the 21 California mission churches remain the most extensive survivors of that era. As first conceived, the California missions were to bring the benefits of Christianity to local Native Americans. However, the mission system became a vital part of Spain’s broader colonizing plan to claim and populate its extensive New World territories. Ed Gordon has visited all the California missions and many others in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. With his additional extensive research, he explains the typical economic, educational, and social activities of daily life at the missions and then explores the historical circumstances behind their closing and revival.