ADVANCED PLACEMENT AMERICAN HISTORY
How the West was Won
the end of the Civil War, about 250,000
American Indians lived in the
*At first the American government tried to limit who could trade with the Indians and settle in the west, but this was futile as the discovery of gold and a desire for land made people rush west. Instead, Indians were forced onto reservations, usually on poor land without sufficient access to buffalo and other game (much of which was hunted nearly to extinction by settlers and railroad builders, thanks in part to the development of new rifles and heavy bullets with a large charge of gunpowder specifically designed for buffalo hunting).
the days of Manifest Destiny in the
1840s, Americans had moved across the Great Plains and
*This disrupted the traditional way of life for many American Indians, and eventually they fought back. However, like all earlier Indian attempts at resisting white settlement, they failed because the Indians did not unite against white encroachment. Furthermore, they now faced veterans of the Civil War, including such generals as Oliver Otis Howard, Phil Sheridan, and William Tecumseh Sherman (who became Commanding General of the US Army after Grant became president—
*The Indians made many savage attacks on white settlers, killing, scalping, and kidnapping men, women, and children. They also attacked wagon trains, and stole supplies and horses.
*One of the most famous fights between Texans and the Comanche was in 1840, when Comanche leaders came to negotiate and end to fighting and the creation of an independent Comancheria. However, as an act of good faith, they released one captive white girl, who had been raped, tortured, and mutilated (her entire nose was burnt off), which infuriated the Texans, as did the knowledge that the Comanche had other hostages whom they had not released. This led to a fight at the peace negotiations known as the Council House Fight.
*To fight the Comanche, the Texas Rangers were formed. They specialised in mounted wilderness warfare, and as they acquired revolvers and repeating rifles, overwhelmed the Comanche and other Indians in
*The Colorado War (1864-1865) was fought between the Colorado Territory and the Cheyenne Indians (particularly the faction of Cheyenne known as the Dog Soldiers, who traditionally pinned themselves to the ground where they planned to fight by sticking a long arrow through the back apron of their breechcloth)—as well as a few other Indian tribes allied with the Cheyenne such as the Arapaho and the Sioux.
*The war began with a Coloradan incursion into Indian lands (partly in response to Indian horse thievery). Some
united many Indians against the
Americans (and turned many Americans against warfare
against the Indians when
the details—including the collection of Indian scalps by
was part of a campaign to crush the
a small group of Custer’s men rode off
in pursuit of one group of Indians and did not return,
Custer made no effort to
find them, angering some of his men (including an officer
Benteen, who later did not hurry to support Custer at the
next summer, the
*The Sioux of Minnesota and the Dakota Territory were another enemy of the
1866, Red Cloud and his Sioux led Captain
William Fetterman into an ambush and killed him and his
*The largest of these conflicts was the Great Sioux War of 1876-1877. It is sometimes also known as the Black Hills War, as it centred around white intrusions into the Black Hills of South Dakota, where gold had recently been discovered, partly by an Army expedition led by George Custer. When Sioux leaders complained, President Grant offered them $25,000 to move to
*The Sioux fought back under the leadership of Sitting Bull, a respected medicine man, and Crazy Horse, a war chief. When George Custer attempted to attack an Indian settlement led by Sitting Bull, he fulfilled Sitting Bull’s prophecy that the US Cavalry would come into their settlement and be killed. Custer had been misinformed by the local US Indian Agent about how many hostile Indians were in the area (because many Indians had left their reservations and so were hard to count), and other troops meant to reinforce him had been delayed by Crazy Horse. With poor information, no support from other forces, and an inflated sense of his own abilities, Custer rode into a trap on the Little Bighorn River in
*On 25 July, 1876, Custer and half his men in the 7th Cavalry were killed (including two of his brothers) in Custer’s Last Stand. Although it was not as bad a defeat as St Clair’s defeat in 1791, it was romanticised for the rest of the 19th century, as Custer’s widow and popular Wild West shows told the story of his heroism rather than his foolishness. Despite this, the US Army soon overwhelmed the Sioux, ending the Great Sioux War in 1877. Crazy Horse died under arrest by the US Army not long afterwards, but Sitting Bull went on to become a celebrity among his own people and white society.
*In the Pacific Northwest, the Nez Perce Indians had been granted the right to live in Northeastern Oregon in 1873, but in 1877 the
and General Nelson Miles chased them
through the mountains in retribution for the death of a
few white men, and the
Nez Perce’s supposed Allies turned against them, helping
the US Army in
exchange for money. Finally
was forced to surrender, sending (at least according to
legend) a famous
message to General Howard:
Tell General Howard I know his heart. What he told me before, I have it in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed; Looking Glass is dead, Too-hul-hul-sote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led on the young men is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets; the little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are—perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.
*In the American Southwest, particularly
*After his death, many Apaches were forced onto reservations, but in 1881, 700 of them fled for
to many Americans, Custer was a
martyr and Howard and Miles were heroes, some had always
Indian policies. One
of the most
successful critics was Helen Hunt Jackson, who had met a
western Indian chief,
Standing Bear, when he came to
*Finally the government decided that the only way the Indians could get along with settlers was if they settled down on farms and lived as whites did. This was known as assimilation and was eventually promoted by the Dawes Act of 1887 (although the idea was not new then). The Dawes Act let Indians have reservation land: 160 acres to farm—plenty of land back east, but not enough in the arid West. Reservation land that was not needed for this could be opened to settlement by whites. Indians were also encouraged to attend schools like the
*As the frontier closed, some Indians on the reservations turned to the teachings of a Paiute Weather Man named Wovoka, who (after receiving visions from God) taught that Indians who led a pure life and rejected white ways of living could bring about a return of a West full of wild game and peaceful living, and be guaranteed a reunion with dead family members in the afterlife. God would allow the President of the
*Some Ghost Dancers wore shirts that they thought would protect them from bullets, and some Ghost Dancers refused to follow order to leave their lands as Sioux lands, partly because they believed that their dancing would renew the Earth in the coming spring. Among the Indians who refused to leave the land they thought was reserved for them was Sitting Bull, and many people believed he was behind the movement and that it was a secret plot against the
*Sitting Bull was arrested and shot in the process on
*Many people (including Nelson Miles, one of the highest ranking officers in the Army) believed this was a deliberate massacre of the Indians, but this was never proven. The Battle of Wounded Knee is generally considered the last battle of the Indian Wars.