The Turner thesis of open opportunity, then, must be restricted to the states other than those in the South! Being a pioneer, as such, was no guarantee against the forces of social and economic inequality and against the lack of opportunity. In the great migrations westward all the classes were represented.Next Page
There is abundant evidence, also, as shown in Appendix III, that such states as Iowa, for instance, were heavily populated by middle class elements who purchased the rich land and built up the towns. Iowa was populated largely in the decade between 1850 and 1860, receiving most of her immigrants from the states immediately to the east, 23 largely farmers equipped and furnished by the surplus of farmsteads in the neighboring older states. Professionals and businessmen came from New England and the Middle Atlantic States. However, there was obviously more uniformity in the size of farms and the social standing of the settlers in a new territory such as Iowa than in the older ones of Kentucky and Tennessee. In Iowa the first settlers were usually persons with middle class means and equipment. No stories are told of persons trudging to Iowa on foot to squat on small clearings in the hills. The country was surveyed, marked off, and sold in regular fashion in sections and quarter sections. The towns grew more rapidly than in Kentucky, for instance, and the homes were rapidly erected with capital imported from the east. A History of the People of Iowa relates stories of communities built up by well-to-do people, most of them well educated and . . . of approved moral character. Among them were farmers, merchants, craftsmen of all kinds, teachers . . . . " 24
Much light has been shed upon the types of migrants who settled most of the "better" sections of the West by Danhof. He emphasizes the fact that the largest parts of the agricultural West were settled by prosperous farm families. "The agricultural population moving westward did so in large part because of the possibility of selling its eastern property and transferring the necessary capital to the West." 25
Danhof lists 31 estimates made by contemporary writers (1850 - 1860) in farm journals as to the cost of farm making in California, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Texas, and Wisconsin. The average estimate for the cost of setting up a farm in those regions was over two thousand dollars, apart from the costs of migration. 26 His study is a complete denial of the Turner thesis that the West offered open opportunity to the poverty-stricken of the eastern states.
Ohio was settled by elements similar to those of both Kentucky, in some respects, and to Iowa in others. In the biographies of prominent persons given in Appendix III, there are more signs of early class differences in Ohio than in Iowa, but fewer than the records of Kentucky reveal. In other words, the more likely one is to find that the early settlers were neither aristocrats nor poverty-stricken, but middle class in status. Few pioneers who could not afford relatively expensive equipment, for instance, were able to trek across the plains and mountains to settle the state of Oregon. Fremont described a caravan, with herds of cattle grazing about, as having "an air of civilized comfort, that made a rare sight for the traveler in such a remote wilderness." 27
The Mormon movement might or might not have been typical of the westward expansion beyond the Mississippi and above the Platte, but certainly more exact information about them is available than about the settlers of Montana, for instance. Of the Mormons there were five early migrations, and the record reveals that the earliest was made up of the rich settlers and the last was composed of the poor. The first migration of Mormons consisted of 1553 persons.
23. See the Federal Census of 1860.
24. Cyrenus Cole, A History of the People of Iowa (Cedar Rapids, 1921) pp. 228 - 229.
25. Clarence H. Danhof, "Farm-making Costs and the 'Safety-Valve': 1850 - 1860," in the Journal of Political Economy, vol. XLIX, June, 1941, p. 359.
26. Ibid., p. 327.
27. Coman, op. cit., pp. 157 158.