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“Go West, Young Man”: The Mystery Behind the Famous Phrase

Horace Greeley

Newspaper history is full of myths, “viral” stories, and tall tales. Folklore and journalism are often close cousins, especially the colorful “yellow journalism” that sold outright lies to rake in subscriptions.  In the annals of Hoosier and American journalism, one persistent, tantalizing tale continues to baffle the sleuths at the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.

Who wrote the famous slogan “Go west, young man, and grow up with the country”?  It’s one of the great catch phrases of Manifest Destiny, an exhortation that echoes deep in the soul of Americans long after the closing of the frontier.  But when you try to pin down where it came from, it’s suddenly like holding a fistful of water (slight variation on Clint Eastwood theme) or uncovering the genesis of an ancient religious text — especially since nobody has ever found the exact phrase in the writings of either of the men who might have authored it.

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The Russian-American Company in California

Fort Ross commemorative stamp
Fort Ross, California
Fort Ross, located just north of San Francisco and the “Russian River,” was the site of the Russian-American Trading Company. The wooden fort, with its onion dome chapel, still stands.

Fort Ross, once shown on maps as “Fort Russe”, is a remnant of the Russian effort to build a thriving fur industry. This southernmost settlement of the Russian empire was supposed to grow wheat that could be shipped north to Sitka. A secondary goal was to provide an additional source of pelts after the population had been decimated by overharvesting of squirrels, sea lions, otters, and foxes.

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The Literature of Exploration: John Wesley Powell’s 1869 Expedition

Colorado River
At Horseshoe Bend, the Colorado River takes a dramatic turn. (Photo by Omer Salom on Unsplash)

 

Imagine being the first person to go down the Colorado River and explore the Grand Canyon. That feat was accomplished by John Wesley Powell, a one-armed, former Civil War general. This article by New Mexico author Rich Holzin first appeared in The Daily Kos

For those who are interested in late 19th Century Western history, today begins an abridged account of one of America’s most outstanding explorers of the Colorado Plateau’s canyon country, and with the proviso a man who certainly was ensnarled with allegations of duplicity given his role in his surveys of the canyon country defined by the Green and Colorado rivers. I am not a typical Powell biographer in the sense I defend the man’s character by turning a blind eye to the charges that were later levied against him by some of his 1869 crew members and the public who, some of them, felt betrayed by his writings. Still, I rise to his defense in some ways, while acknowledging, as he did in his later years, some rather glaring mistakes that he made.

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