Cumberland Gap near the intersection of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia was the gateway for pioneers migrating across the Appalachian Mountains into Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Ohio Valley. The "Wilderness Road" through the Gap was opened up by Daniel Boone in 1775 and widened in 1790 to accommodate wagons. In his 1893 essay, The Significance of the Frontier in American History, historian Frederick Jackson Turner famously wrote:
"Stand at Cumberland Gap and watch the procession of civilization, marching single file -- the buffalo following the trail to the salt springs, the Indian, the fur-trader and hunter, the cattle-raiser, the pioneer farmer--and the frontier has passed by. Stand at South Pass in the Rockies a century later and see the same procession at wider intervals between. The unequal rate of advance compels us to distinguish the frontier into the trader's frontier, the rancher's frontier, or the miner's frontier, and the farmer's frontier. . . ."
As you view the panorama reflect on the narrative plot of the westward movement embedded in the frontier hero narrative. Who are the heroes? Who are the victims? What might be the perspectives of the Indian, buffalo, slaves, and women? How do historical narratives change over time? Use the linked quotations and additional photographs to assist you in your interpretation.
Credits: Photographs by Carolyn Merchant; panorama assembly and web page by Rob Weinberg.