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The Spirit of Manifest Destiny
The promise of a better life in newly acquired territories motivated many families, such as the Swenas, to migrate west. A mere forty years after Lewis and Clark’s 1804 exploration of the Louisiana Territory, hordes of gold seekers, pioneers, and entrepreneurs had streamed over busy trails into the new frontier. The phenomenon was greeted almost as a religious imperative by the descendents of Europeans who had settled lands from the eastern seaboard west to the Mississippi. The overarching energy of western settlement became known as Manifest Destiny—the coming economic and spiritual enlightenment that would transform a rugged, unsettled land into a paradise for God-fearing, “civilized” families. As the indigenous tribes were shamelessly displaced, wave after wave of settlers transformed the culture of the old idyllic west, and a new culture was born.
In the mid 1800s, opportunity awaited those with the courage to face uncertainty and the strength to endure the hardships of frontier life. The pioneers brought a new technology and an expertise with which to fashion a new way of life. Trails became roads; the Pony Express provided communication, then was replaced by the telegraph; trading communities began to dot the trail west; and the Overland Express and the stagecoach made travel across the western plains much easier. The railroads were close behind; and, with them, the mechanization of the Industrial Revolution came streaking into the western territories. It all happened so quickly that a single generation could witness the complete transformation.
After the Swenas completed their long and arduous journey across the
Great Plains of North America, they acquired land and built a ranch home. They settled in a region about twelve miles northwest of Chico, California and raised their children there. In 1869, Lemuel Swena filed for additional land that became available via the Homestead Act. The Homestead Act allowed anyone to file for a quarter-section of land (160 acres) so long as he/she built a house on it, dug a well, broken (plowed) 10 acres, fenced a specified amount, and actually lived there—all within five years. The Swena family filed other homestead claims in subsequent years for their fast-growing family. In 1872, the Central Pacific Railroad passed near their ranch; and the little town of Nord was founded. When Lemuel & Eliza’s lives came to an end in their ranch home, so did an era.
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