This phase of the "westward" movement caught the eye of one of the epoch's best historians: 37* * *
There are no means of procuring similar figures for the number of immigrants who went over the Wilderness Road; but probably there were not half as many as went down the Ohio. Perhaps from ten to twenty thousand people a year came into Kentucky during the period immediately succeeding the close of the Revolution; but the net gain to the population was much less, because there was always a smaller, but almost equally steady counter-flow of men, who, having failed as pioneers, were struggling wearily back toward their deserted Eastern homes.
Anyone who has lived a well ordered life, taking advantage of educational and other opportunities, is inclined to be irritated by the fact that many of the trappers, fur traders, and frontiersmen did not take full advantage of their chances to save a modest fortune and set themselves up in respectable circumstances. Roosevelt, in a passage quoted above, poured out his wrath upon the indolence, laziness, and cowardliness of the "excessively undesirable" elements on the frontier. Theoretically, their knowledge of the terrain should have given the trappers especially, an advantage in the selection of settlement sites. This, logically enough, would lead one to believe that sheer priority, plus a knowledge of the soils, plus physical stamina, should have enabled these men to make their success "stick," especially since they had in many instances earned thousands of dollars in the fur trade.* * *
But here enter some of the intangibles of social class. Could these men lay the foundations of respectability? That they could not rise to the opportunities of abundant cheap land is shown in the following: 38
The trappers and traders were dying out quite as rapidly as the beaver. Exposure, drink, and the hostility of the Indians were destroying them one by one. Their wages were spent in the carouses that disgraced the rendezvous and the trading posts. Few had accumulated enough property to return to the civilized world . . . . ". . . so that of all the adventurers engaged, for half a century past, in the fur trade of that licentious quarter, few, very few indeed, ever left it with even a bare competency."
Gunnison, in 1857, wrote that "these trappers have made a thousand fortunes for eastern man, and by their improvidence have nothing for themselves." 39
Evidence of a preponderance of lower class elements early in the Ozarks is shown in the following statement by Schoolcraft, first written in 1819: 40Next Page
When a season of hunting arrives, the ordinary labors of a man about the house and cornfield devolve upon the women, whose condition in such a state of society may readily be imagined. They, in fact, pursue a similar course of life with the savages; having embraced their love of ease, and their contempt for agricultural pursuits . . . .
Concerning this same region at this same time one writer states: 41
Arkansas was the veritable frontier. Some fifteen hundred hunters and trappers, unaccustomed to restraint, degenerate in habits and morals, supported a miserable existence in the back country, while the town population was largely composed of renegades and fugitives from justice who sought escape from civil authority.
The foregoing is another way of saying that the pioneers were not all taking advantage of their "open opportunities." Arkansas was, as is, chiefly afflicted by the social backgrounds of its settlers. the lay of the land and other factors caused that state to be one of those not chosen by the middle class elements for settlement, as were Oregon and Iowa, for instance.
The economic interpretation that the West was so rich that it made new and higher class men out of lower class elements should be modified to include the following important qualifications (1) all of the West was not rich in resources, and (2) a pleasant climate and rich resources do not, of themselves, give the population the insight and ambition to use their opportunities.
37. Roosevelt, op. cit., p. 35.
38. Coman, op. cit., vol. I, p. 370.
39. John W. Gunnison, The Mormons (Philadelphia, 1857) p. 151.
40. Quoted in Coman, op. cit. (3), p. 32.
41. Ibid., pp. 34 - 35.