Nation Building and Western Expansion - Crushing the Indians

  1. Turner Thesis
    1. In 1890, Census Bureau mistakenly announces frontier has "closed"
    2. Frederick Jackson Turner "The Significance of the Frontier in American History," 1893
      1. The frontier had fundamentally shaped America
      2. Inspired individualism, adaptation, self-confidence
      3. Crucial to American democracy
    3. Turner was influential, but has since been criticized by many historians as too simplistic
    4. How important then was the frontier, and the settlement of the West?
  2. Removing the Indians
    1. Before settler could move into the West, the Indians had to be brought under control
    2. Some 250,000 American Indians occupied the western half of the country
    3. Most difficult for the U.S. government would be the Plains Indians
      1. Several different groups - Sioux, Crow, Cheyenne, Comanche, etc.
      2. Largely nomadic -- followed buffalo herds on horseback in bands of a few hundred
    4. After 1850, U.S. government began a policy of settling Indians in concentrated regions - reservations
      1. This led to sporadic warfare
      2. Increased settlement in Colorado due to a gold rush led to conflict with the Cheyenne and Arapaho
      3. Sand Creek Massacre - November 29, 1864
        1. Followers of Chief Black Kettle surrendered in 1864
        2. Colorado militiamen massacred several hundred of them after they had surrendered
        3. Congress condemned the massacre, granted Cheyenne and Arapaho land, but soon they were kicked out again
    5. Sioux War of 1865-67
      1. In face of repeated broken treaties and invasions by gold miners, Sioux went on attack in 1865
      2. Forced Congress to grant new treaties giving Plains Indians Oklahoma and the Dakotas
    6. Defeat of the Plains Indians
      1. Rejecting the poverty and isolation of the new reservations, many Indians, particular young men, began new attacks on settlers
      2. Many small wars in the plains and in the southwest in 1860s and 1870s
      3. Battle of Little Big Horn - Defeat and massacre by Sioux of troops led by George Custer in June, 1876 led to national call for final war against the Indians
      4. Sioux were defeated by October, 1876.
    7. The Final Rebellion - The Ghost Dancers and Wounded Knee
      1.  In 1890, a religious movement known as the Ghost Dances began among the Teton Sioux
      2. Ghost Dances: a form of millenarianism in which Indians danced in belief that whites would disappear and the Earth would be reborn
      3. U.S. Army, frightened by the Ghost Dancers, attacked and massacred a number of Sioux
      4. Sioux organized to fight back, but were defeated at Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota
      5. This was the last real battle fought between the U.S. Army and the Indians
  3. Forcing the Indians to Assimilate
    1. For Congress and  white settlers, it was not enough for Indians to be defeated -- they had to give up their culture as well
    2. Congress increasingly put Indians under authority of U.S. law
    3. Schools were set up to teach white culture to Indians and strip them of Indian culture
      1. One of the first of these was the Carlisle Indian School (Carlisle, Pennsylvania, 1879)
      2. Young Indians were sent to boarding school away from their people
      3. Use of Indian languages, clothes, dances, etc, were forbidden
    4. Dawes Severalty Act (also called the Dawes Act) - 1887
      1. Designed to break up tribal life, make Indians into individual small farmers
      2. Indian families were to get 160 acres of land, schools were to be built, and white settlers kept out
      3. Generally a failure -- Plains Indians were ill-prepared for farming, whites managed to evade law
      4. By 1934, when Congress abandoned the Dawes Act, Indians had lost most of their land (from 138 to only 48 million acres)