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Pushing the Indians Westward

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Though some Native American tribes lived for centuries in the American West, as the white man pushed westward, always wanting more land and resources, they pushed the American Indians out of their way, further populating the West with various tribes.


When European settlers arrived on the North American continent at the end of the 15th century, they encountered diverse Native American cultures – as many as 900,000 inhabitants with over 300 different languages. These people, whose ancestors crossed the land bridge from Asia, in what may be considered the first North American immigration, were virtually destroyed by the subsequent immigration that created the United States. This tragedy is the direct result of treaties, written and broken by foreign governments, of warfare, and of forced assimilation.


In 1786, the United States established its first Indian reservation and approached each tribe as an independent nation. This policy remained intact for more than 100 years.


Cańon de Chelle, N.M.,1873

Historic Ancient Puebloans dwellings have dotted the Southwest for

 centuries, such as  this one at Canyon de Chelle, New Mexico, 1873.

This image available for photographic prints and downloads HERE!





But, as President James Monroe noted in his second inaugural address in 1821, treating Native Americans this way “flattered their pride, retarded their improvement, and in many instances paved the way to their destruction.” In addition, Monroe observed that America’s westward growth “has constantly driven them back, with almost the total sacrifice of the lands which they have been compelled to abandon.” Despite Monroe’s concern for the plight of Native Americans, his administration successfully removed them from states north of the Ohio River.

In 1823, a landmark decision was made by the Supreme Court (Johnson v. M'Intosh) that private citizens could not purchase lands from Native Americans, because Indians could not hold title to their own lands, even if they had occupied them for years. This was because their "right of occupancy" was subordinate to the United States' "right of discovery." This decision would become a staple in federal and state cases related to Indian land title for the next two centuries.


President Andrew Jackson, a long term proponent of Indian removal, stated in his first inaugural address in 1829, that he wished “to observe toward the Indian tribes within our limits a just and liberal policy, and to give that humane and considerate attention to their rights and their wants which is consistent with the habits of our Government and the feelings of our people.”  Fourteen months later, Jackson prompted Congress to pass the Indian Removal Act in May, 1830, a bill that forced Native Americans to leave the United States and settle in the Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River.


Trail of Tears PaintingAs a result, many Cherokee tribes banded together as an independent nation, and challenged this legislation in U.S. courts. In 1832, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Cherokee, but, some tribes still signed treaties giving the federal government the legal authority to "assist" them in their move to the Indian Territory. In 1838, as the deadline for removal approached, thousands of federal soldiers and Georgia volunteers entered the territory and forcibly relocated the Cherokee, hunting, imprisoning, raping, and murdering many of them. The Cherokee who survived the onslaught were forced on a 1,000-mile march to the established Indian Territory with few provisions. Approximately 4,000 Cherokee members die on this “Trail of Tears.”


The expansion of the United States that encroached upon Native American lands occurred faster than many policymakers had predicted with events such as the Mexican-American War in 1848, which placed new territories and tribes under federal jurisdiction. A government report in 1852 explained that many Californians believed “destiny had awarded California to the Americans to develop” and that if the Indians “interfered with progress they should be pushed aside.”  


This anti-Native American sentiment was echoed in books of the era such as Andrew Peabody’s The Hawaiian Islands, published in 1865, which claimed that a “law of the divine Providence” caused some races to submit to those of “superior physical and intellectual vigor.”


He went on to say, “Under this law . . . the aborigines of North America will ultimately disappear, and the humane policy which ought to have been pursued to them from the first would not have ensured their preservation in the land, though it would have averted the condemnation of blood-guiltiness from the European settlers.”

Despite the prevalence of beliefs such as Andrew Peabody's, the Union Army welcomed many Native American volunteers to fight in the Civil War. James Blunt’s December 2, 1862 letter to Kansas Citizens requests aid to nearby refugee Indians driven from their homes “by the Rebel for no other reason than adhering in their allegiance to their great Father.”



Continued Next Page

Western Expansion Map

Western Expansion Map.


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