This series chronicles the saga of the American West, tracing the lives of a diverse cast of characters, from explorers, soldiers and Indian warriors to settlers, railroad builders and gaudy showmen, who share their stories in their own words, through diaries, letters and autobiographical accounts.
In 1848, a sawmill worker named James Marshall reached down into the stream bed of the American River in California -- and came up with the future of the West in the palm of his hand. He had discovered gold.
The West had always symbolized hope and new beginnings, but in the 1850s, as more American pioneers poured west to start over, they brought with them the nation's oldest, most divisive issue -- slavery.
The conquest of the West was nearly complete by the 1870s. In one remarkable decade, with Indians effectively confined to reservations, over four million new settlers arrived to stake their claim to the future.