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Impacts on Native Americans of Westward Expansion (redirected from Westward Expansion and Native Americans)

Page history last edited by Robert W. Maloy 6 months ago

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Westward Expansion



  • Search for Economic Advantage
  • Quest for Greater Religious Freedom


Government Encouragement

  • Manifest Destiny


 The Transcontinental Railroad 




Cowboys and Cowboy Culture



Impacts on Native Peoples


Native Americans and Settlers


  • Sequoyah, the U.S. State that Almost Existed


Revival Movements

Western Indian Wars


  • Chief Joseph
    • Sarah Winnemucca




  • National Parks and Displacement of Native Peoples



Multicultural Teaching Resources



Focus Question 1: What were the causes of westward expansion following the Civil War?


USA Territorial Growth
USA Territorial Growth

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Maps of Indians by State

  • Interactive Map of Westward Expansion from PBS Teacher's Domain explore various ways in which the United States experienced substantial growth between the years 1860–1890 including railroad and agricultural expansion/development and the presence of Native tribes in decade increments.


Causes of Westward Expansion


During the Civil War, with Federal resources focused on waging war farther east, both native tribes and the Confederacy attempted to claim lands west of the Mississippi. 

  • The Federal government's response included The Homestead Act and the construction of the transcontinental railroad. The goal was to encourage settlement, solidify Union control of the trans-Mississippi West, and further marginalize the physical and cultural presence of tribes native to the West.
Department of the Interior advertisement, 1910
Department of the Interior advertisement, 1910


The search for economic advantage

Population density in the East made for an increasingly competitive economy.
Resources in the West acted as incentive for many pioneers.

  • Trappers and traders were among the earliest immigrants, seeking untapped sources of deer and buffalo hides as well as beaver pelts.
    • Gold, silver, and lead were discovered in large quantities pushing
  • migration at a rapid pace. Most prospectors and miners did not “strike it rich” but many stayed to make lasting contributions in the West. Mining camps often later became towns and cities.
    • On the Great Plains between 1865 and 1887, an area larger than half of Europe, started being utilized by cattlemen as pastureland. The “cowboy” was popularized as a folk hero of the West.
  • Farmers came in two waves: the pioneer farmers cut forests, turned sod, raised crops for a few years and moved on to begin the process anew elsewhere. The second wave, permanent settlers, continued clearing land, fenced their fields, built homes, and financed the construction of roads to provide access for their produce to markets back east.
    • A final stage of early westward movement was among merchants, millers, lawyers and distillers who transformed the territories into a reflection of the states from which they had come. The resource upon which their success would depend was a somewhat settled, potentially economically-active population and this did not exist in the West until after the Civil War.


For a perspective on women's experience, see a website from Oregon Public Broadcasting entitled Triumph and Tragedy: Women's Voices on the Oregon Trail.

    • Another site on women's history in the West is Annie Oakley from PBS.



The Quest for Greater Religious Freedom


  • While James Madison had intended the First Amendment to the Constitution to protect religious freedom, in practice many found the Protestant and Roman Catholic churches in the East to be intolerant.


  • After Joseph Smith, Jr., prophet to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons), was killed by an Illinois mob, a large group led by Brigham Young moved to the Great Basin in Idaho and Utah, where many still live today.
Brigham Young
Brigham Young


  • Some smaller groups, such as the Menonites and Hutterites who were expelled from Russia, developed communities based on their ideals in the culturally-unrestrictive West.


  • Established religions were eager for “new fields to conquer”.


  • Both the Protestant and Catholic churches “felt compelled to carry their mission to whiles and Indians west of the Mississippi”. Catholic missions already had long history of successes and failures in the West before the Civil War.


  • About 250,000 German Jews migrated to the U.S. and scattered across the country. A notable success story is the legendary clothier Levi Strauss. Click here to read more about Jewish life during the period of Westward Expansion.


  • A “simpler” frontier lifestyle was sought by many pioneers for whom the transplanted European culture in the East was too constraining.




Governmental encouragement of westward migration and Manifest Destiny


Seen to the right, John Gast's American Progress painting captured the American perspective of bringing religion and modernity to the western area of the country. The link describes Gast's motives and inspiration for such a momentous piece of art.




  • “Manifest Destiny”- A jingoistic tenet holding that territorial expansion of the United States is not only inevitable but divinely ordained” first coined by John O’Sullivan, American diplomat and journalist, in an 1845 editorial supporting the annexation of Texas. It was repeatedly used as justification for American expansionists’ aims worldwide.


  • The U.S. government went to war with Mexico in 1846 to challenge Mexican territorial claims and succeeded not only in securing uncontested American sovereignty over Texas, but also California, Nevada and Utah and parts of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Wyoming through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

Homestead Act of 1862-the government awarded 65 hectares (160 acres) almost free to anyone willing to develop the land with the aim of increasing agricultural production in the West. Those who moved westward were often termed "homesteaders." The measure failed to achieve this aim but was very successful at motivating western migration. In 1867 this changed with the invention of barbed wire. Until this time, "homesteaders" felt disgruntled, for cattle drives often stampeded through wooden fences. Barbed wire largely restricted cattle interference and was successful in keeping other intruders off of the settled lands.

Morrill Act (1862)


In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln approved the Pacific Railway Act, assuring private railroad companies that the government would subsidize the cost to build a transcontinental railroad. The Civil War delayed construction, but the ambitious project picked back up shortly after the war ended. Railroad construction in the West and South continued for decades after workers completed the transcontinental railroad.

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Transcontinental Railroad Route


  • The Transcontinental Railroad linked the country. Not only did the railroad transport people, but it also transported a variety of goods, allowing for new markets and resources as well for manifest destiny.


  • The railroad was built by the Union Pacific and Central Pacific companies. For each mile of track these companies completed, they were rewarded with 640 acres of public land. Overall, the railroad companies were given about 200 million square acres of land.


  • The railroad directors, such as Cornelius Vanderbilt, made their fortunes building the transcontinental railroad.


  • They furthered their fortunes by accepting money from public officials and by charging various shipping rates.


Last Major Bridge on the Transcontinental Railroad, near Promontory, Utah 


Last Major Bridge on the Transcontinental Railroad, near Promontory, Utah
Click on Binding the Nation by Rail for more information on the Transcontinental Railroad.

For more background information, see Building the Transcontinental Railroad from Digital History.

Click her for a History Channel video on the Transcontinental Railway.

Chinese Laborers

Between 1865 and 1869, thousands of Chinese migrants toiled at a grueling pace and in perilous working conditions to help construct America’s first Transcontinental Railroad. Chinese workers laid much of the tracks for the Central Pacific Railroad through the foothills and over the high Sierra Nevada, much of which involved hazardous work with explosives to tunnel through the hills.

Link to the The Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project at Stanford University.

Link to a video on Chinese laborers in the building of the Central Pacific Railroad and the movement to build a monument to honor these workers.

For more on the transcontinental railroad as a feature of manifest destiny, see United States History II.1 and the dramatic event page for the Transcontinental Railroad.

Pacific Railway Act (1862).

Review the Westward expansion unit with this jeopardy-style game.



Focus Question 2: What was the impact of continued westward expansion on the native peoples of the American West?


Here is an interactive map of Native American tribes for a great sense of context to the Indian Removal and Relocation events that took place in 19th and 20th century America.


From Study.com, another multimedia video lesson about the Indian Wars between the Natives and American settlers that includes quizzes, follow-up assignments, and lesson transcripts


The Last Chief of the Comanches and the Fall of an Empire


    • Story of Quanah Parker, a Native American warrior and leader, and the last chief of the Comanche tribe. 


Native Americans and White Settlers


Proposed Native American State of Sequoyah


Sequoyah, the U.S. State That Almost Existed, National Geographic (August 25, 2020)


Sequoyah Statehood Convention, 1905


Remembering the State That Never Was, Oklahoma Center for the Humanities (August 31, 2018)


The Lost State of Sequoyah: The Five Tribes Fight Against Oklahoma Statehood


Constitution of State of Sequoyah and Bill of Rights



Clashes Between Natives and Settlers


Watch this crash course that describes clashes with Native American and the first Pioneers

Westward Expansion: Image vs. Reality


  • Decide whether four depictions of Native peoples were created in the eastern or western United States

Click here for an NPR audio-clip on the legacy of the long march of the Navajo Indians.

The first pioneers in the West took up a way of life similar to the Native American groups in whose homelands they traveled and among whom they found many friends.

Eventually, westward expansion overtaxed resources which were staples for Native Americans and caused environmental damage.


  • In the Great Plains hunter-gatherer groups such as the Sioux depended on buffalo herds which were decimated by American pioneers, sometimes simply for sport.


  • In the Southwest, groups with hunting and farming subsistence patterns like the Navaho and Hopi lost access to water resources to settlers.


  • In the Pacific Northwest, native fishermen groups like the Nez Perce were forced to concede their prime fishing spots to settlers and canneries.




Disease was a major factor in the devastation of Native Americans both before and after the Civil War.


  • A large percentage of the overall indigenous population succumbed to diseases such as Small Pox and Yellow Fever.
external image Red_apple.jpgFor a general lesson plan on the impact of disease on geography, world history, economics, and life science, try this Guns, Germs, and Steel Lesson Plan: Episode Three: The Power of Germs based on Jared Diamond's book of the same name

Revival Movements

  • Prophets- Religions developed among several indigenous groups around the teachings of a visionary leader who usually claimed to have had a dream about how to defeat the settlers, or that they would all soon be leaving Native American lands.


  • Ghost Dance- Paiute prophet Wovoka had a dream that the Great Spirit told him doing the Ghost Dance, in which participants reportedly can see deceased ancestors, would revive the buffalo and renew the Earth. The Pine Ridge Reservation Lakota Sioux were participating in a Ghost Dance just before the massacre at Wounded Knee.


  • Peyotists- The use of hallucinogenic plants by some indigenous groups (originally the Apache) to produce spiritual visions was vehemently opposed by Christian churches, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Congress. However, elements of this group eventually established the governmentally-recognized Native American Church in 1918.

Native American-Christian syncretisms developed such as Pueblo Roman Catholic, Sioux Episcopal, and Pima Presbyterian.

A huge amount of information about the lives and history of Native peoples in the United States is available in the National Archive. This is an amazing resource. Click here to access information about Native peoples that is available through the National Archive.

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Western Indian Wars

There were numerous battles, very few of which can be said to have been won by indigenous people.

Chivington (Sand Creek) Massacre (November 1864)- Col. J.M. Chivington’s troops killed 500 Cheyenne and Arapaho men, women, and children while committing scalping and other atrocities.

  • The Battle of Little Bighorn (“Custer’s Last Stand” or "The Greasy Grass Fight")
  • On June 25, 1876, Lakota and Northern Cheyenne encampments were attacked by Lt. Col. George Custer’s 7th Cavalry. Custer’s force was destroyed.

The native encampment at Little Bighorn may have been the largest gathering ever, consisting of some 8,000 to 10,000 people, including Lakota, Natoka and Dakota peoples, living in some 1000 lodges. According to Lakota historian, Joseph M. Marshall III, the gathering, called by Sitting Bull, "occurred because the people always came together to talk about critical issues. At this particular time in Lakota history. the issue of white incursion was as serious as it could be, and it was the primary reason the people gathered. Ironically, it was the last time they would be together as a free, nomadic people" (The Day the World Ended at Little Bighorn: A Lakota History, Penguin Books, 2007, p. 46). Marshall's book, The Day the World Ended at Little Bighorn, won a "Pen/Beyond the Margins Award."

The Battle of Little Bighorn: An Eyewitness Account by the Lakota Chief Red Horse (1881).

Many Cheyenne Warriors were women. 


  • Wounded Knee (December 1890)- Lakota Sioux Ghost Dancers were being disarmed by U.S. Army troops when shooting broke out leaving 25 soldiers and more than 150 Lakota dead (many of the soldiers died from friendly fire). Reportedly, soldiers were shouting “Remember Little Bighorn” as they discharged their Hotchkiss rapid fire guns into the largely unarmed Lakota.


Chief Joseph Portrait, 1896
Chief Joseph Portrait, 1896


Chief Joseph

Chief Joseph the Younger--Indian Leader, Oregon Blue Book

Surrender Speech of Chief Joseph (October 5, 1877)

Chief Joseph Watches a University of Washington Football Game and Gives a Speech in Seattle on November 20, 1903

Lyrics to Fight No More by State Radio

Chief Seattle and Chief Joseph: From Indians to Icons, University of Washington

external image Sarah-winnemucca.jpgSarah Winnemucca

Saran Winnemucca Devoted Her Life to Protecting Native Americans in the Face of an Expanding United States

Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims (1882)

Buffalo and the Native Americans

In the last half of this past century, the United States government promoted a policy of forcing American Indians onto reservations.

At the same time the Indians were being forced onto reservations, buffalo were being slaughtered by the thousands.

The U.S. military believed that if the buffalo could be eliminated, then the "Indian Problem" in America could be solved.

The strategy proved to be successful and as the American Indian drew near extinction, the buffalo was also in danger of becoming extinct.

The United States military's position concerning buffalo was brutally stated by the celebrated Indian hater Gen. Phillip S. Sheridan. "If I could learn that every buffalo in the northern herd were killed I would be glad...The destruction of the herd would do more to keep Indians quiet than anything else that could happen."



The Indian Removal Act of 1830, was legislation enacted by President Andrew Jackson which authorized the president to transfer Eastern Indian tribes to the western territories promised under the pretense of "exchange." This expropriation of native lands lead to the 1838 "Trail of Tears" forced relocation, which of was one of the most deplorable events in the history of federal domestic policy.


  • The American Experience video segment "Trail of Tears" tells the story of the Cherokee peoples experience being forced off of their land under the Indian Removal Act of 1830.


Dawes Act of 1887- (also known as the Allotment Act) attempted to divide large reservations by portioning tribal lands among the individuals of the tribe, while breaking off additional pieces for government or other uses. Between 1887 and 1934 the 150 million acres of Native American reservation lands were reduced to 48 million acres. As multicultural educator Christine Sleeter has noted, this legislation "negated Indian control of land and shifted definitions of whose is Indian from citizenship in a sovereign Indian nation to how much indigenous blood an individual has" ("Standardizing Imperialism," Rethinking Schools, Fall 2004, p.26).

Wheeler-Howard Act of 1934-preserved what remained of reservations and reconstituted others with mixed results concerning the improvement of the lives of the inhabitants of those lands.

National Parks and Displacement of Native Peoples

Americans take great pride in their National Parks, but not everyone understands that the land that comprise many parks were once Native American homelands. For an account of the founding of Yosemite National Park, see "No Natives Allowed" online at http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2009/05/03/no_natives_allowed/





Multicultural Teaching Resources

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Campfire Stories with George Catlin: An Encounter of Two Cultures uses the art of George Catlin to tell about the Plains Indians encounters with the influx of white settlers.

Meeting of Frontiers a website from the Russian State Library, National Library of Russia, University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Library of Congress, offers 70,000 images along with transcriptions and commentaries in English and Russian to build a comparative history of American and Russian expansion through frontier territories in each nation's continent.

Western Trails: An Online Journey from the Colorado Digitization Project, the University of Wyoming and the Omaha Public Library features exhibits on Native American, explorer, military, settlement, freight, cattle, railroad, tourism, health, and population trails.

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