This well-known quote has been spoken many times, but do you know who first said it? 

It was a man named Horace Greeley, a journalist, editor, and political leader, who wrote those words to his readers on July 13th, in 1865.  He had a passion for words, and this was his advice to all the unemployed of New York that he thought should seek their fortunes in the west where opportunities abounded. Many people had already heeded those words and made (or lost) their fortunes in the gold fields of California and British Columbia.

Greeley was born in 1811 to impoverished farmers in Amherst, New Hampshire, and had left school at age 14 to become an apprentice printer. By 1834, he had co-founded the New Yorker, a weekly literary paper. Seven years later, he founded and edited the New York Tribune.  He also once observed that “journalism will kill you, but it will keep you alive while you’re at it.” 

In addition to being one of the most powerful publishers of the day, Greeley crusaded against slavery, alcohol, tobacco and capital punishment. He served in the United States House from 1848-1849 and helped campaign for Abraham Lincoln for his successful election to the presidency. He was also known for his “vigorous articulation of the North’s anti-slavery sentiments during the 1850’s.” In 1872, he lost his own bid for the White House to Ulysses Grant. He died soon after, having also lost his wife a few months earlier.

But it was indeed good advice to head west and many had taken him up on it.  From the famous Overlanders of 1862 such as John Andrew Mara and Thomas McMicking to all the brave souls who sailed around the Horn or travelled by wagon across an unchartered continent, many adventurers headed to California, or came further north and settled in British Columbia, especially on Vancouver Island.

Mara came for gold in British Columbia like so many others. He spent time as a miner, a steamboat owner and later became involved in federal and provincial politics.  McMicking’s son, Robert, was involved in telegraphy and early telephone systems. The “go west, young man” theme enabled many of them to make their fortunes or become famous in various other fields.

In my four-book series, The McBride Chronicles, two of my fictional characters (Jane and Gideon McBride) initially separately made the long journey to western Canada in the first book – Providence. Book Two (Destiny) is due to be released in August. It continues the saga of one strong fictional family who had braved the unknown to make a better life for themselves and for their descendants.

Without the strength of those pioneering souls of long ago, we living in the west today would not be enjoying the riches we have. We should honor their spirit and continue to respect the land they discovered and enriched by hard work and determination.

Horace Greely was indeed a wise man when he spoke those famous words on this date one hundred and fifty years ago.