U.S. Expansion: 1865-1900
Part I--Westerward Expansion

    Most of the worlds nations have grown slowly if at all, with boundaries changing only gradually over time.  The United States has not been like that.  From her very beginnings, America has grown at an incredibly rapid pace.  Such growth is not quite unprecedented, but it is very, very rare in history.  

    In general, growth is the sign of a healthy, prosperous society—the sign of a confident society.  But the tendency of the United States to expand its boundaries has from time to time had its negative aspects as well.  Both the positives and negatives of U.S expansion are clear in the 1865-1200 period.

    In general, the pattern of American expansion was westward (where else could it go?).  The 13 original colonies were on the east coast.  Interestingly, the Peace of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War *also* gave the newly formed U.S territory to the immediate west.  And then the Louisiana purchase a few years later doubled the size of the U.S. and its territories.  And we were not yet done! Many, if not most, Americans came to accept an idea called Manifest Destiny, the idea that is the manifest, obvious, destiny of America to stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  By 1850, after some negotiations over disputed territory with Britain and the Mexican War, America’s “manifest destiny” had been fulfilled—sort of.  America theoretically controlled a vast territory between the Atlantic and the Pacific, but only a part of that territory had been settled.  Or—rather—only part of that territory had been settled by whites.  There were settlement up to the Mississippi and in Oregon and California.  In between, particularly in the Plains, were the Comanche, Sioux, Pawnees, Blackfeet, Crow, Osage, Kiowa, Iowa and Omaha, Navahos and Apaches, Hopi and Zuni.

The 1865-1900 period is the last great period of white expansion into what had been Indian territory—and, I think, a good example of some of the negatives of U.S. expansion.

From the beginning of our nations history, the relationship of the United States to the native peoples was a troubled one.  The main attraction of America to many European settlers was the availability of free or cheap land, and, as the original east coast areas of settlement filled up, there was a strong desire to somehow continue that wonderful opportunity and to expand westward.  The British government had tended to restrain colonists from pushing into new territory.  Conflicts with Indians were expensive, and the British govt. did what it could to prevent such conflicts.  Also, Native Americans had chosen badly in conflicts among the Europeans.  Many had sided with the French in the French and Indian War, and then sided with the British during the Revolution.  This latter was a really bad mistake, since the British did nothing at all for their allies when negotiating peace with the colonists.  The Treaty of Paris that ended the revolutionary war ceded to the Colonists, not only the colonies themselves, but considerable additional territory to the west… Indian territory!  Negotiating away territory belonging to your allies is hardly fair dealing.

Within the original 13 colonies and in the additional territories, there were many different tribes, all of which had legitimate claims to territory whites coveted.  The United State government did feel, in general, a responsibility to protect Indian rights.  The Northwest  Ordinance of 1787, for instance, says this:

Art. 3. Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged. The utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians; their lands and property shall never be taken from them without their consent; and, in their property, rights, and liberty, they shall never be invaded or disturbed, unless in just and lawful wars authorized by Congress; but laws founded in justice and humanity, shall from time to time be made for preventing wrongs being done to them, and for preserving peace and friendship with them.

Nice principles, but not enforced well.  The basic pattern was frontiersman would move into Indian land.  The government would do nothing.  Indians would take matters into their own hands.  Whites would retaliate.  The government would then step in, and there would be a “just and lawful war authorized by Congress.”  Or maybe a not so just and lawful war, but, regardless, the war would end with a treaty ceding the disputed land and promising Indians other land instead.  But then this new land would be coveted by frontiersmen, and the whole process would start over.

Complicating matters were disputes among the Indians themselves.  Leaders, often mixed bloods, and often artificially designated as leaders by whites, couldn’t agree among themselves on what could and could not be negotiated, and these disagreements often led to violence and murder.

One of the most tragic stories is that of the Cherokee. The original home of the Cherokee was northern Georgia.  They were one of the five so-called civilized tribes, Native Americans who worked to adopt much of white culture for their own.  The Cherokee produced figures like Sequoia, a mixed blood who put the Cherokee language into written form. The Cherokee adopted European-style technology. They had their own newspapers.  They often adopted white fashions.  And they intermarried at a very high rate.  Many, if not most, of their leaders were mixed bloods with white as well as traditional names.  Surely if any Native American group could be successfully assimilated, it would be the Cherokee.

But whites coveted their land and other native land, and, under Andrew Jackson, Congress passed (in 1830) the Indian Removal Act.  The state of Georgia began confiscating Cherokee land, but, ultimately, the Supreme Court said no (Worcester vs. The State of Georgia, 1832).  But President Jackson refused to intervene on behalf of the Cherokee.  “John Marshall has made his decision.  Now let him enforce it.”

There was no agreement among the Cherokee on exactly what to do.  Some voluntarily went west.  Others debated on how and what to negotiate.  In the end, 21 Cherokee signed on to the Treaty of New Echota which gave away all Cherokee land east of the Mississippi.  They had no authority to do so, and other Cherokee petitioned Congress not to ratify the treaty.  By a single vote, the Senate ratified it anyway, and Cherokee removal began.  Bad enough, but the way the removal was carried out was worse.  In the Fall of 1839, 15,000 Cherokee were rounded up, not given time to sell their property or make proper preparations, and then they were marched, mostly on foot, 1200 miles, west toward Oklahoma.  Winter set in.  Temperatures dipped below freezing.  Food was short.  Four thousand died on the march, with more deaths before and after, perhaps as many as 8,000—almost half the Cherokee population.

Jackson’s successor, Martin Van Buren, said the U.S. government had been, “just and friendly throughout; our efforts for their civilization constant, and directed by the best feeling of humanity; its watchfulness in protecting them from individual frauds unremitting.”  And if that doesn’t bring you to tears, well….

How about the aftermath?  Whites soon wanted Oklahoma too, and, in 1889, most of that land too was opened up to homesteaders and the Cherokees and other Native Americans lost that too.

For the Sioux, initial contacts with whites were relatively little problem—almost the reverse.  The Spanish had brought horses to the new world, and, in the 16th century, Plains Indians (like the Sioux) took advantage of this innovation with incredible rapidity.  With horses, the Sioux could move more rapidly than ever before, and their hunting areas increased.  By 1750, the Sioux were traversing the range from Texas to Canada and from the Mississippi to the Rockies.  Trade also brought luxuries like coffee and sugar.

But there was a bit of a problem too.  The traditional Sioux enemy, the Ojibway (Chippewa) traded more extensively with the Europeans and had a lead on the Sioux in firearms.  They were ultimately able to push the Sioux out of their traditional hunting areas in the east.

However, this wasn’t a huge problem, since there was plenty of land to the west.  The Mandans and Omaha who had lived in that region were devastated by exposure to European diseases.  For some reason, the Sioux weren’t hit as hard, and they now moved into territory left relatively empty by the deaths of so many Mandans and Omaha.

And for 100 years, it looked like whites would be no problem for the Sioux.  The 1750-1850 periods is, in some ways, the height of Lakota civilization, and it certainly looked like the Lakota and other Plains Indians would continue successful.

Whites realized that taking on the warlike Indians of the plains was going to mean trouble.

“I am ready, without hesitation, to pronounce the Comanches the most extraordinary horsemen that I have seen yet n all my travels, and I doubt whether any people in the world can surpass them.”

Not only were the Plains Indians excellent horsemen, they excelled at the bow.  One observer reported that, at 30 yards, galloping at full speed, they could keep six to eight arrows in the air and on target, all with enough force for the entire shaft to penetrate the body of a buffalo.

By the 1850’s, Plains Indians had plenty of guns as well.

Pretty formidable—and better left alone.  And for some time, the plains Indians were left alone.

Whites weren’t interested in Plains Indian land, and certainly not Sioux land.  Maps of the 19th century labeled most of the land west of the Mississippi “The Great American Desert.”  An 1856 survey said:

“We may as well admit that Kansas and Nebraska, with the exception of the small strip of land upon their eastern borders, are perfect deserts, with a soil forever to unfit them for the purposes of agriculture.  We may as well admit that Washington, Oregon, and Utah, and New Mexico are, with the exception of limited areas, composed of mountain chains and unfruitful plains, and that, whatever route is selected for a railroad to the Pacific, it must wind the greater part of its length through a country destined to remain forever an uninhabited waste.”

As long as most whites believed this was the case, the whole of the plains was left to the Native Americans. It’s no wonder that, in 1825, the U.S. government was willing to sign a treaty declaring the land west of the Mississippi Indian country “for as long as the grass shall grow and water run.”

 But as it became apparent that the land wasn’t so worthless after all, all of a sudden the grass quit growing and the water stopped running.   There was increasing pressure on the government to permit encroachment on this land as well.

But the first problem for the Lakota was not white annexation of land.  No, the first problems came from whites headed to California and Oregon.  The trail west headed across Sioux hunting grounds, and pioneer parties made an awfully tempting target for Sioux raids.  Problems increased with the Mormon migration to Utah and even more with the California gold rush.

Still, it seemed an amicable settlement could be reached.  In 1851, several tribes including the Sioux signed on to the Laramie Treaty. [Both the 1851 and 1868 treaties are called "The Fort Laramie Treaty." Differentiate them by adding the year.] This treaty gave the Sioux and other tribes $50,000 a year for 50 years and a wagon train of gifts in return for allowing safe passage through their land.  Both sides agreed to compensate the other if there were treaty violations.  Well and good.

But the U.S. Senate changed the treaty unilaterally, cutting the compensation period to 10 years and compensating the Sioux in ways to their own liking (e.g., farm implements instead of cash).

The Sioux also ignored portions of the treaty.  The Powder Rive area had been given to the Crow, but the Sioux thought they had won it fair and square and should keep it.

Not surprisingly, the treaty didn’t last long.  A dispute over an animal belonging to a wagon train (and taken for dinner by an enterprising brave), led to what was essentially the murder of Conquering Bear, a Sioux Chief who had been trying to negotiate in good faith.  This led to a general uprising of the Sioux against whites. Colonel William Harney set out to pacify things, and, at Ash Hollow, wiped out a band led by Little Thunder who was trying to negotiate.

But then the real trouble began.  In 1862, four young Santee Sioux living in Minnesota attached some white settlers, killing and scalping a 16 year old girl, murdering a man while his wife watched, and then murdering her as well.  As the news spread, fear of white retaliation made some of the Santee decide that they had better get the whites before the whites got them.  This was what caused the Minnesota uprising.  750 whites were killed, and many of the deaths were especially brutal.  Whites were killed, and scalped, their bodies left mutilated.  Women were routinely raped and dismembered while children had their brains dashed out.  

Many Santee had become Christians, and many of the Santee did their very best to try to prevent these atrocities and to save the whites of the region: and that seems to me to be another of the real tragedies of this whole situation—that so many on both sides wanted to act in good faith and couldn’t overcome those who wouldn’t.

And, also, it’s tragic how polarizing the actions of a few can be.  The Minnesota uprising led to growing sentiment that the only settlement of the Indian problem was out and out genocide.  In Colorado, John Chivington (a leader of confederate forces in the west wanted a time-out from the civil war to deal with a more pressing problem.   "The Cheyennes will have to be roundly whipped -- or completely wiped out -- before they will be quiet.”  Well, Chivington was a man of action.  In 1864, he led a massacre of peaceful Cheyenne at Sand Creek, Colorado.  He and his men murdered innocent women and children, mutilating their bodies, and slicing open pregnant women.

But it wasn’t just such atrocities that made white/native relations difficult.  There were real issues at stake.  The Sioux wanted whites off the Bozeman trail, for instance, since it really interfered with their hunting.  And, in 1866, this led to war.  Red Cloud’s War (1866-68).  The outstanding even of this war, Fetterman’s Massacre (or, the Battle of 100 Slain).  Crazy Horse, using the fake-retreat strategy, lured about 80 U.S. cavalry into a trap where they were killed by Red Cloud’s warriors.  Well the bodies were mutilated, but really this is a battle, not a massacre.

The Sioux win Red Cloud’s War, but now there was a new Fort Laramie Treaty, the Treaty of 1868.  The U.S. agreed to abandon Bozeman trail.  All of west river wa declared Sioux land.  Food and supplies were also promised the Sioux.  Particularly important, the Treaty of 1868 said that any further treaty would have to be approved by 75% of Sioux men or it was of no effect.

As good as it gets?  Maybe.  But changed economic conditions were going to play havoc with Lakota way of life no matter what the treaty was.  The elimination of the Buffalo herds was a major factor.  But there was a new source of trouble.

George Armstrong Custer took an expedition into the Black Hills (Sioux Territory) and brought with him surveyors.  And, lo and behold, they discovered gold.  This was played up big, and soon prospectors were heading into the Black Hills where they certainly didn’t belong.

No matter.  The U.S. government wasn’t going to keep them out.  The government tried to buy the land at bargain basement prices ($6 million…Homestake alone produced 40 million ounces of gold worth at least $500 million).  But this wasn’t attractive.  The Black Hills was sacred to the Sioux, and they weren’t going to sell. The Black Hills is my land and I love it, said little big man, and whoever interferes will here this gone.  

Ok.  The Sioux won’t sell.  So…provoke a war.

“Hostile” Indians were given the order to report to reservations (Dec. 1875).  Just try and move through SD in winter!  By January 1876, troops under Sheridan and Custer were moving in to compel compliance.  Mid March, soldiers attached Low Dog’s Village, plundering and killing.   Those who escaped took refuge with Crazy Horse.  And, next time, the Sioux were ready.

At the Battle of Rosebud, Crazy Horse withdrew, found favorable ground, then attacked, winning an impressive victory.  But even more impressive, the Battle of Little Big Horn (Greasy Grass).  

Custer had been winning victories against women and children in undefended villages.  Crazy Horse tricked him into dividing his forces, and drew him into a trap.  Custer and 200 bluecoats killed.  Custer Massacre.  But not the real massacre of course.

Anyway, this was all the excuse needed for govt. to pour resources into subduing Sioux and negotiating a new treaty (1876) which ceded Black Hills.
And much hunting ground.  This:

1.    Destroyed way of life
2.    Disrupted leadership
3.    Destroyed economy
4.    Destroyed religon
5.    Created conflicts among Indians themselves.

In 1877, Crazy Horse reluctantly agreed to what he thought were going to be negotiations.  As he saw prison bars, he struggled to get away, and was killed.

Sitting Bull too gave up, attempting to lead people into Canada, and then returning.

But: a faint glimmer of hope, not just for Sioux, but for all NA.

Started with a Paiute Indian named Jack Wilson, Wovoka.  He fell sick, had a vision.  The dead buffalo would all come back, and the whites would depart.  He combined elements of Christianity, Mormonism, and Native tradition into a celebration called by whites the Ghost Dance.  This spread rapidly among NA’s, and reached the Sioux.  There, the Ghost Dance seemed particularly ominous to whites, like a war dnce, and they tried to surpress it.

But Lakota danced anyway.  In 1890, groups of Lakota were gathering together for the Dance.  Sitting Bull invited to join the dancers, but he was killed before he could do so.

At Wounded Knee Creek, and band under Big Foot, coming together to do Ghost dance, was surrounded by 7th Cavalry—Custer’s old unit.  The were cooperating, surrendering their weapons.  Apparently, a brave fired a single shot: and that was enough for the 7th.  Struggle led to fighting, but Sioux were badly outnumbered.  Most were women and children.  The 7th turned their guns (Hotchkiss guns?) on all.  Over 150 killed including young boys and girls and at least 7 babies under two.  Many wounded were left to die on the snow-covered ground.

And that is the end of the Sioux Wars and of the Indian Wars in general.

Well, was there anything positive to come out of this?  Well, certainly westward expansion brought opportunities for some.

1.    Mining
2.    Cattle
3.    Sheep
4.    Farmers

The government did its best to allow farmers to get themselves established in the west.  The Homestead Act gave farmers 160 acres for $10.  Not a bad bargain seemingly…160 acres enough for a good farm in the east.  But not so good in the plains where conditions were different.  The government was, as some said, betting 160 acres against your $10 that you would go belly up.

In 1873, the government added to the Homestead provisions a measure giving farmers and extra quarter section if they would put 40 acres of it into trees.  In 1877, the government added a measure giving you more land at a good price if you would irrigate it.  And then, in 1878, another measure, the Timber and Stone Act let you buy land “unfit for cultivation” at a bargain rate.

But, as so often, the big winners from this legislation were wealthy people of one type or another.  Ranch owners expanded their ranches by pouring a pitcher of water over land and saying they had irrigated it.  Lumber companies bought up large portions of forested land as “unfit for cultivation.”  Well, it was—but the lumber on that land was worth a fortune!

It’s hard to argue that the ultimate result wasn’t good.  The American West over the last hundred years has been a wonderful place to live, and millions have found opportunities here for a good life.  But the negative are there too and shouldn’t be forgotten.