In Michigan the land hunger and speculation amounted to a craze, and fraud was rampant. One eastern migrant, Caroline Kirkland, has left us an insightful memoir of this time and climate. Her husband had been seized with the fever in upper New York and hauled his family west to Michigan in 1835, to settle in what is now Livingston County.
Like many others, he was duped by a speculator, but the family stayed on for seven years in the midst of its swampy clearing, during which period Mrs. Kirkland raised her family, tended the stock, and took notes on the blasted, messy landscape, the raw little outposts of the new order, the stump-speech politics, and the manners of the nameless drifters who settled the backwoods for a few months, ran up debts, and then cleared outs West with their neighbor’s pigs and chickens in tow.
Above all else, she noted the speculation craze, a developer behind every stump, ribbons and strings everywhere demarcating the site of the next city. This entire region, Roy Robbins says, “was regarded as a lottery office, to which individuals from all over the world might resort to accumulate wealth, under the favors of the capricious and blind goddess Chance.”
Before the spectacle of what was happening to America, both foreign observers and Americans alike were in awe. The movement of so many people, selling out - had there ever been anything like this in the whole history of the Western world? And what did it mean? Most Americans in their haste seemed not to care, while foreigners traversing middle America wondered as they took astonished notes on the rapid despolitation of the wilderness.
They marveled at the vicious shoddiness of the settlements with their taverns, their gouging and biting contests, their fugitives and hermits and robber gangs; the frenzied ways of the settlers, bolting their gluttonous piles of food, draining jugs of whiskey and high wine, horseracing, knife-throwing, and endlessly speculating. Occasionally these foreign travelers might stumble across ancient Indian earthworks, or other jumbled artifacts of the natives now kicked out of the way, and produce standard sentiments on the fate of empires.
Frederick Turner, Beyond Geography: The Western Spirit Against the Wilderness