Early settlers like Daniel Boone traveled west by foot across the Appalachian Mountains and through the Cumberland Gap. As they entered what is now Kentucky, they found a lush paradise with grapevines, rich soil, forests, and plenty of animals to hunt. Word got out and soon hundreds of pioneers were heading west in search of a better life.
- Native Americans had lived in the Kentucky woods for hundreds of years. Their trails ran throughout the region. They were not always happy about the settlers’ arrival and fights between the two groups were common.
- The earliest travelers made marks or “blazes” on the trees so future travelers wouldn’t get lost. Later, settlers came on horses and then by wagon. Men chopped down trees to make the paths wider. The wagons were made of wood with large fabric coverings. The wheels were wooden with an outer layer of metal. The pioneers carried extra wheels in case one broke. The seams of the wagons were painted with hot tar to make them watertight since they often had to go through rivers and streams.
- The pioneers discovered that traveling by boat was much safer and faster than traveling on foot. They made flatboats to transport animals, goods, food, and wagons.
- Pioneers often left friends and family behind, never to be seen again. They gave away most of their things, taking only the bare necessities like clothing, food, shoes, tools, guns, and seeds.
- Pioneers ate a simple diet including a simple gruel made from flour or cornmeal and water heated to thicken it. They ate berries, nuts, and plants found along the trail, as well as fish, birds, deer, rabbits, and squirrels.
- Accidents were common. Children sometimes got lost or fell out of wagons and were crushed by the wagon wheels. Many people died from diseases like cholera or smallpox.
Questions and Answers
Question: If being a pioneer was so hard, why did people keep going west?
Answer: New England was getting crowded and early settlers were anxious for a better life. Rumors of rich farm land and prosperity tempted them. Those early Americans were determined, optimistic, and hardworking. It was also probably hard for them to imagine just how difficult their lives might be in the west.
Watch a video about the Cumberland Gap.
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