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John Hogan

24 March 2005


Impact of Westward Migration on Native Americans DBQ


Westward ho!  During the 19th Century many Americans moved west looking for new lands and opportunity. Some were looking for religious freedom.  Others were looking to escape restrictive Eastern society.  But still, more were just looking for cheap farmland.  Unfortunately, this expansion between 1780 and 1890 caused the taking of tribal lands from Native Americans, distrust between settlers and Indians, and many physical conflicts between the two.

One of the first major instances of the taking of tribal lands was the Indian Removal Act and the Trail of Tears in 1838.  In this event the Cherokee, who had bought land and adopted an American lifestyle, were forced off their land and walked hundreds of miles to their new reservation.  Of the 15,000 Cherokee who began the walk one quarter of them died before reaching the destination.  In The Long Walk a Navajo elder named Howard Gorman tells of a similar trek, “On the journey the Navajos went through all kinds of hardships, like tiredness and injuries.  And, when those things happened, the people would hear gunshots behind them.  But they couldn’t do anything about it.  They just felt sorry for the ones being shot.” The Reservation Treaties of 1867 resulted in a relocation of a greater scale.  Instead of just one tribe being moved, nearly all east of the Mississippi were.  However, the land the Indians were moved to were very tough environments with no big game and poor farming soil.  Finally, the Dawes Act of 1887 divided tribal lands and gave them to individual families. After this, Native Americans retained only half the lands they had before.  By this time, the Indian culture was effectively killed and never returned in full force.

Trust was also heavily broken down in this time.  In 1787 the Congress under the Articles of Confederation issued the Northwest Ordnance promising Native Americans living in territories could keep their lands.  This was broken eight years later in 1795 with the Treaty of Greenville. This treaty recognized that tribal lands were owned by different Indian nations.  As a result of this the U.S. government began buying the land at ridiculously low prices therefore breaking the promise of letting the Native Americans keep their lands.  Later, in 1832, in the Supreme Court Case of Worschester v. Georgia the Cherokee (who were represented by Worschester) sued the state of Georgia for trying to make laws for the Cherokee nation. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Cherokee.  However, President Jackson ignored the ruling and did not enforce it. He could do this because he had not only Congress, but the American public, behind him.  This would later lead to the Indian Removal Act and the Trail of Tears discussed in the previous paragraph.  The situation in California was adding to this distrust.  There, settlers were kidnapping Indian children and selling them as slaves. A California newspaper in A Devastated Population reported that, “Abducting children has become quite a common practice.  Nearly all the children belonging to some of the Indian tribes in the northern part of the state have been stolen.”  This great distrust sadly led repeatedly to armed conflict between Americans and Indian nations.

One of the first of such a conflict was the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811.  In this battle Indiana Governor William Henry Harrison led 1000 soldiers in an attack against a peaceful confederation of tribes.  No clear winner resulted though Americans claimed the field was theirs and Harrison became famous for the battle.  In 1864 Americans launched another attack on Native Americans but this time it was not a battle but a massacre, and rightly named the Chivington Massacre.  Colonel John Chivington led the attack against a peaceful Cheyenne village that the United States government had earlier promised to protect.  Ignoring the flag of surrender placed over the village, Chivington raided the settlement killing 100 men, women, and children.  Nine years later the Sioux War started. However it has its roots in the year 1874.  In that year gold was found on the Lakota (Sioux) reservation.  Miners flooded the area and the Lakota, afraid of a takeover, attacked the miners.  In response Colonel Custer led an attack against the Lakotas in the Little Bighorn Valley with only 225 men against the Lakota’s thousands.  All of Custer’s men were killed including himself.  The final major conflict was the Battle of Wounded Knee in 1889 which started when the U.S. army tried to arrest Sitting Bull for teaching a religious dance called the Ghost Dance to tribes.  The government had thought it was a war dance.  Sitting Bull was accidentally killed while being arrested and the Lakota surrendered to the government.  During the surrender, however, and shot was fired and the Battle of Wounded Knee ensued.

It is apparent that all of these events are closely related.  The Indian’s loss of land led to armed conflict between Native Americans and the United States.  This armed conflict led to distrust between the two parties which will lead to more armed conflict.  Ultimately, this vicious circle led to the near extinction of the Native American culture. It should be treated as a lesson to all people of what can happen when ignorance and racism meet and conspire to do harm.