The Indian Frontier of the American West, 1846-1890 (Histories of the American Frontier)

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They killed thirty-one men, women, and children. They then ambushed a U. The governor of Minnesota called up militia and several thousand Americans waged war against the Sioux insurgents. Buffalo Soldiers, the nickname given to African-American cavalrymen by the native Americans they fought, were the first peacetime all-black regiments in the regular United States army. These soldiers regularly confronted racial prejudice from other Army members and civilians, but were an essential part of American victories during the Indian Wars of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The Sand Creek Massacre was a national scandal, alternately condemned and applauded. News of the massacre reached other Native groups and the American frontier erupted into conflict. After the inauguration of Ulysses S. Grant the following spring, Congress allied with prominent philanthropists to create the Board of Indian Commissioners, a permanent advisory body to oversee Indian affairs and prevent the further outbreak of violence.

The board effectively Christianized American Indian policy. Much of the reservation system was handed over to Protestant churches, which were tasked with finding agents and missionaries to manage reservation life. Congress hoped that religiously minded men might fare better at creating just assimilation policies and persuading Indians to accept them. Many female Christian missionaries played a central role in cultural reeducation programs that attempted to not only instill Protestant religion but also impose traditional American gender roles and family structures. Fieldwork, the traditional domain of white males, was primarily performed by Native women, who also usually controlled the products of their labor, if not the land that was worked, giving them status in society as laborers and food providers.

Christian missionaries performed much as secular federal agents had. Few American agents could meet Native Americans on their own terms. Most viewed reservation Indians as lazy and thought of Native cultures as inferior to their own. The views of J.

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They seem to take no thought about provision for the future, and many of them would not work at all if they were not compelled to do so. They would rather live upon the roots and acorns gathered by their women than to work for flour and beef. If the Indians could not be forced through kindness to change their ways, most agreed that it was acceptable to use force, which Native groups resisted.

In Texas and the Southern Plains, the Comanche, the Kiowa, and their allies had wielded enormous influence. The Comanche in particular controlled huge swaths of territory and raided vast areas, inspiring terror from the Rocky Mountains to the interior of northern Mexico to the Texas Gulf Coast. But after the Civil War, the U. The American military first sent messengers to the Plains to find the elusive Comanche bands and ask them to come to peace negotiations at Medicine Lodge Creek in the fall of But terms were muddled: American officials believed that Comanche bands had accepted reservation life, while Comanche leaders believed they were guaranteed vast lands for buffalo hunting.


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Comanche bands used designated reservation lands as a base from which to collect supplies and federal annuity goods while continuing to hunt, trade, and raid American settlements in Texas. Confronted with renewed Comanche raiding, particularly by the famed war leader Quanah Parker, the U. Cold and hungry, with their way of life already decimated by soldiers, settlers, cattlemen, and railroads, the last free Comanche bands were moved to the reservation at Fort Sill, in what is now southwestern Oklahoma. On the northern Plains, the Sioux people had yet to fully surrender.

White prospectors flooded the territory. Caring very little about Indian rights and very much about getting rich, they brought the Sioux situation again to its breaking point. Aware that U. Initial clashes between U. In late June , a division of the 7th Cavalry Regiment led by Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer was sent up a trail into the Black Hills as an advance guard for a larger force. Cries for a swift American response filled the public sphere, and military expeditions were sent out to crush Native resistance.

The Sioux splintered off into the wilderness and began a campaign of intermittent resistance but, outnumbered and suffering after a long, hungry winter, Crazy Horse led a band of Oglala Sioux to surrender in May Other bands gradually followed until finally, in July , Sitting Bull and his followers at last laid down their weapons and came to the reservation. Indigenous powers had been defeated. The Plains, it seemed, had been pacified.

Plains peoples were not the only ones who suffered as a result of American expansion. Faced with a shrinking territorial base, members of these two groups often joined the U. Conflicts between the U. By , General James Carleton began searching for a reservation where he could remove the Navajo and end their threat to U. Carleton selected a dry, almost treeless site in the Bosque Redondo Valley, three hundred miles from the Navajo homeland. Those who resisted would be shot.

Thus began a period of Navajo history called the Long Walk, which remains deeply important to Navajo people today. The Long Walk was not a single event but a series of forced marches to the reservation at Bosque Redondo between August and December Conditions at Bosque Redondo were horrible.

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The Indian Frontier of the American West, 1846-1890

Provisions provided by the U. Army were not only inadequate but often spoiled; disease was rampant, and thousands of Navajos died. By , it had become clear that life at the reservation was unsustainable. General William Tecumseh Sherman visited the reservation and wrote of the inhumane situation in which the Navajo were essentially kept as prisoners, but lack of cost-effectiveness was the main reason Sherman recommended that the Navajo be returned to their homeland in the West.

The destruction of Indian nations in California and the Pacific Northwest received significantly less attention than the dramatic conquest of the Plains, but Native peoples in these regions also experienced violence, population decline, and territorial loss. They fought a guerrilla war for eleven months in which at least two hundred U. Army officer, became a landmark of American rhetoric. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever. The history of Indian-American relations in California typified the decline of the western Indians.

The treaties that had been signed with numerous Native nations in California in the s were never ratified by the Senate. Over one hundred distinct Native groups had lived in California before the Spanish and American conquests, but by , the Native population of California had collapsed from about , on the eve of the gold rush to a little less than 20, A few reservation areas were eventually set up by the U. As Native peoples were pushed out, American settlers poured in.

Aside from agriculture and the extraction of natural resources—such as timber and precious metals—two major industries fueled the new western economy: ranching and railroads.


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Railroads made the settlement and growth of the West possible. By the late nineteenth century, maps of the Midwest were filled with advertisements touting how quickly a traveler could traverse the country. No railroad enterprise so captured the American imagination—or federal support—as the transcontinental railroad.

The transcontinental railroad crossed western plains and mountains and linked the West Coast with the rail networks of the eastern United States. Constructed from the west by the Central Pacific and from the east by the Union Pacific, the two roads were linked in Utah in to great national fanfare. But such a herculean task was not easy, and national legislators threw enormous subsidies at railroad companies, a part of the Republican Party platform since Between and alone, railroad companies received more than ,, acres of public land, an area larger than the state of Texas.

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Investors reaped enormous profits. If railroads attracted unparalleled subsidies and investments, they also created enormous labor demands.

The Indian Frontier 1846-1890 / Edition 1

By , approximately four hundred thousand men—or nearly 2. Much of the work was dangerous and low-paying, and companies relied heavily on immigrant labor to build tracks. Companies employed Irish workers in the early nineteenth century and Chinese workers in the late nineteenth century. By , over two hundred thousand Chinese migrants lived in the United States. Once the rails were laid, companies still needed a large workforce to keep the trains running.

Frankly Speaking: The Indian Frontier, , by Robert M. Utley

Much railroad work was dangerous, but perhaps the most hazardous work was done by brakemen. Speed was necessary, and any slip could be fatal. Brakemen were also responsible for coupling the cars, attaching them together with a large pin. It was easy to lose a hand or finger and even a slight mistake could cause cars to collide.

The railroads boomed. In , there were 9, miles of railroads in the United States. In there were ,, including several transcontinental lines.

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Of all the Midwestern and western cities that blossomed from the bridging of western resources and eastern capital in the late nineteenth century, Chicago was the most spectacular. It grew from two hundred inhabitants in to over a million by By it and the region from which it drew were completely transformed. Chicago became the most important western hub and served as the gateway between the farm and ranch country of the Great Plains and eastern markets.

Railroads brought cattle from Texas to Chicago for slaughter, where they were then processed into packaged meats and shipped by refrigerated rail to New York City and other eastern cities.

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