The Great West and the Agricultural Revolution
The Clash of Cultures on the Plains
The West, after the Civil War, was still largely untamed. It was inhabited by Indians, buffalo, coyotes, Mexicans, and Mormons. The American Indians found themselves caught in between their own traditions and the westward-pushing white man. Indians fought one another as with the Comanche over the Apache, the Chippewa over the Cheyenne, and the Sioux over the Crow, Kiowa, and Pawnee. By this time, the Sioux had become expert horsemen and effectively hunted buffalo on the Spanish beasts. Whites' diseases were still striking at Native Americans. And, whites struck at the massive buffalo herds. Relations between Indians and the federal government were strained at best. Treaties were made at Fort Laramie (1851) and Fort Laramie (1853). The agreements started the system of reservations where Indians were to live on certain lands unmolested by whites. Whites didn't understand Indian society and that a "chief" didn't always exactly sign an agreement for an entire group or area. There were many chiefs representing many areas or even no area. Indians expected help from the federal government in return for their lands. The help (food, blankets, supplies) often never got there or were swindled by corrupt officials. After the Civil War, the U.S. Army’s new mission was to clear out the West of Indians for white settlers to move in. The so-called "Indian Wars" took place roughly from 1864-1890 (from the Sand Creek Massacre to the Battle of Wounded Knee). It was really less of a war than a long series of skirmishes, battles, and massacres. At first, the Indians actually had the advantage because their arrows could be fired more rapidly than a muzzle-loading rifle. The invention of the Colt .45 revolver (the six-shooter by Samuel Colt) and Winchester repeating rifle changed this. Notably, one-fifth of the U.S. Army out West was black, the "Buffalo Soldiers" as the Indians called them. Receding Native Population
Violence out West began just before the Civil War ended. Col. J.M. Chivington's troops circled then killed 400 Indians who thought they'd been given immunity. This was the infamous Sand Creek Massacre (1864). Two years later, the Indians struck revenge in the Fetterman Massacre. The Sioux sought to stop the Bozeman Trail to Montana's gold and killed Capt. William J. Fetterman and his 81 soldiers. These two tic-for-tac massacres set the stage for terrible Indian-white relations and started the Indian wars. Just after Fetterman, the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868) was made between the federal government and the Sioux. The government gave up on the Bozeman Trail and the huge Sioux reservation was established. The treaty looked promising but was short-lived. Six years later, in 1874, gold was discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota (on the Sioux reservation) when Col. William Armstrong Custer led a "geological" expedition into the Black Hills. The Battle of Little Bighorn (1876) (AKA "Custer's Last Stand") followed. Led by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, some Sioux stubbornly refused to go to the reservation. Custer led about 400 cavalry against Crazy Horse who was labeled as a "hostile" Indian. Custer faced some 10,000 Indians, about 2,500 warriors. All 200+ or so of Custer's detachment were killed, including Custer himself, "Chief Yellow Hair." The Little Bighorn battle brought the U.S. military out for revenge and sealed the Indian-white relationship as little better than warfare. The Nez Perce tribe, led by Chief Joseph, revolted when the government tried to force them onto a reservation. They bugged out over some 1,700 miles, across the Rocky Mountains, and fled for Canada. They were...
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