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Pioneers of the American West

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The Pioneer

 The Pioneer, wood engraving by A.R. Waud, Harpers Weekly, January, 1868.

This image available for photographic prints  & downloads HERE!



Many of these pioneers were the first people to enter or settle a region on the American Frontier. From the moment that Christopher Columbus landed in 1492, all the way up to the 20th Century, ordinary people kept pushing the boundaries westward all the way to the Pacific Ocean and northward to Alaska.


These adventurous folks left civilization behind, following rivers, crossing great plains, and scaling mountains, in order to find new and better lives for themselves. Often, they faced hardships and dangers as they made their way through unknown territory, suffering from severe weather, Indian attacks, starvation, rugged terrain, and numerous other perils. 


Though there were literally thousands of these brave people, this list identifies some of the more notable figures in American History.



Frontier: A region just beyond or at the

 edge of a settled area.




  • Sam Aaron (1866-1940) - An Arizona pioneer, Aaron would later write his memoirs of pioneer life and the characters he met along the way.

  • Thomas Adams - A civil engineer with the Isaac I. Stevens' railroad survey expedition in 1853 and miner with Granville Stuart.

  • Albert Gallatin "A.G." Boone - Trapper, Trader, Pro-slavery advocate and Indian Agent.

  • Samuel Brannan (1819-1889) - One of the major capitalists of the California Gold Rush, Brannon was a Mormon newspaper publisher, store owner, and politician who became California's first millionaire.

  • George Donner (1786?-1847) - One of the leaders of the infamous Donner Party, his group would become trapped in the early winter snows of the Sierra Nevada. Many died and some of the emigrants resorted to cannibalism. George died at his camp in the Alder Creek Valley in Nevada County, California in March 1847.

  • James Wilson Marshall (1810-1885) - Discovered gold in California in 1848 at John Sutter's Mill in Coloma, the area around which quickly became Coloma, California. His discovery started the California Gold Rush.

  • Lucien B. Maxwell - (1818-1875) - The owner of the largest land grant in U.S.History, a friend of Kit Carson, and a frontier scout and guide, Maxwell, who has been called the "Emporer of the Old West," died in poverty in New Mexico.

  • Granville Stuart (1834-1918) Frontiersman, miner, Montana Land Baron, leader of the vigilante group called Stuart's Stranglers, author and more, Granville Stuart is recognized as a Montana pioneer and hero.

  • John Sutter (1803-1880) - The owner of the property where gold was first discovered in California, his land was taken over by prospectors. He ended up experiencing economic setback and went bankrupt.

    Dr. Marcus WhitmanDr. Marcus Whitman (1802-1847) - Among the first American settlers in the West, Dr. Whitman and his wife, Narcissa, played an important role in opening the Oregon Trail, establishing the Whitman Mission in 1836. They were killed in what is known as the Whitman Massacre.

  • Narcissa Prentiss Whitman (1808-1847) - A missionary in the Oregon Country of what would become the state of Washington, she, along with Eliza Hart Spalding, was the first European-American woman to cross the Rocky Mountains in 1836.  Along with her husband, Dr. Marcus Whitman, they established the Whitman Mission near modern day Walla Walla, Washington.


  • Brigham Young  (1801-1877) - Leader of the Mormon movement to Utah, president of the church from 1847 to 1877, and the first governor of Utah. Young's legacy is varied, with praise for his many accomplishments and historical influence, as well as controversy, for a number of 19th century events, including the Mountain Meadows Massacre.


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