The Native American Experience in the US was rocky to say the least, so much so that some attempted to flee to Canada to seek refuge.
Starting from the beginning…
1) The frontier was the unsettled or sparsely settled area of the country occupied largely by Native Americans. The frontier was located west of the Great Plains.
2) West of the Rocky Mountains, on the Pacific Coast, settlers followed miners pouring into California after the 1849 gold rush. Settlers packed up their belongings and headed west in hope of striking it rich.
3) In 1859, multiple gold and silver strikes drew fortune seekers to Colorado and Nevada. Over 100,000 miners raced to Colorado after gold was discovered near Pikes Peak. Many miners struck it rich at the Comstock Lode in western Nevada. The Comstock Lode was a deposit of gold and silver buried in layers of rock. From 1859-1880, the Comstock mine produced over $300 million in gold and silver.
4) A boomtown was a town that experienced a sudden burst of economic or population growth. Population increased from 3,000 in the 1860s to over 20,000 in the 1870s. One example of a boomtown was Virginia City, Nevada, which was located nearby the Comstock Lode.
5) There were many problems associated with the mining industry. The work was hard and dangerous. Dust caused lung problems, and deadly cave-ins could trap miners a hundred feet below the surface. The mines and equipment were costly as well. Most mines closed because the prices were too high, and the quality of ore was dropping.
6) The rise of the cattle industry was mainly caused by the growth of railroads from Chicago and St. Louis into Kansas. Joseph McCoy realized that could bring cattle from Texas ranches to meat-hungry eastern cities. Cowhands now only had to drive cattle herds out of Texas to stockyards in Abilene, Kansas. From there, the cattle could be shipped east to Chicago and other cities.
7) A long drive was the process of taking cattle by foot to a railway. Ranchers hired cowhands to round up their cattle and take them to the stockyards in Abilene, Kansas. These cattle were sold for as much as ten times their original price. The success of the Abilene stockyards led to the growth of many Kansas cow towns, including Wichita and Dodge City.
8) At first, the Wild West didn’t have a government or law officers to stop the daily crime of the cow towns, such as fights after gambling or drinking. A threat to law and order came from con men, which used new towns to get rich quick by cheating others. Union and Confederate veterans were led to crimes by hard feelings left over from the Civil War. Outlaws like Jesse and Frank James, Wesley Hardy, “Bill the Kid”, and Belle Starr made crime their way of life. For protection, citizens formed vigilantes, who were people who took the law into their own hands. They caught suspected criminals and punished them without a trial by hanging them or shooting them on the spot. As time went on, towns elected a local sheriff for the betterness of the towns.
9) As the railroads extended farther west and south into Texas, the long drives grew shorter. The future looked bright, but then in the 1880s, beef prices dropped dramatically. It went from as much as $30 a head to $7.Then barbed wire was invented, which farmers used to fence off their land for the raising of their sheep. The open range no longer existed and the cattle could not pass freely through the land. Lastly, the most devastating event occurred to farmers. The harsh winter of 1886-1887 hit the Plains, freezing thousands of cattle. Many ranchers were put out of business.
10) 1500s– Before the arrival of the Europeans in the 1500s, most Plains tribes lived in villages along rivers and streams at peace. The women tended to the crops which were mainly the “three sisters”, corn, beans, and squash. The men hunted deer, elk, and other sources of food for the tribe.
Arrival of the horse– The arrival of the horses changed the way of life for Native Americans. These horses were obtained from the Spanish. Native Americans quickly became expert riders. By the late 1700s, many Plains tribes had herds of their own. On horseback, Native Americans traveled far from their villages in search of buffalo.
As Buffalo Hunters– Buffalo was the center of life for Plains tribes. The meat of the buffalo became their main source of food, and its skin was used in portable shelters and tepees. Buffalo hides were turned into clothes, shoes, blankets, and buffalo chips which were used as cooking fuel by the women. Bones became tools, weapons, and bowls. AS time went on, Plains tribes formed a nomadic lifestyle linked to the buffalo.
11) The federal government first forced Native American tribes to move west to the Indian Territory. The government then made treaties with them, stating that that would stay there land “as long as grass grows and water runs”. These treaties were eventually broken. As more settlers pushed west, a demand for more land was at hand. The government then called the Native Americans to Wyoming to sign the First Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1851. This treaty gave the settlers protection from the Native Americans and the right to their land. Many settlers also shot the Native Americans buffalo to feed railroad workers or for sport. Others killed so Eastern factories were provided with leather for robes, shoes, and belts. Settlers killed over 1 million buffalo each year.
12) Sand Creek Massacre– In retaliation of a Native American attack on miners and soldiers, 1,200 members of the Colorado militia led by Colonel John Chivington open fired on a peaceful Cheyenne village along Sand Creek in 1864. Over 150 men, women and children were killed.
Battle of Little Bighorn– In 1847, white prospectors discovered gold in the Black Hills. While breaking the Second Fort Laramie Treaty, thousands of miners rushed onto Sioux land. Tribal leaders angrily rejected the government’s order to by back the land. Instead, Sioux warriors united under Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull during the winter of 1875-1876. The Seventh Cavalry, led by Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer, was sent to return the Native Americans to their reservations. On June 25, these forces clashed! In less than 2 hours, Custer along with his 211 other men were wiped out. This battle was known as Custer’s Last Stand.
Displacement of the Nez Perce– Until the 1860s, the Nez Perce lived peacefully under the government treaties. They were forced to sell most of their land and live on a narrow strip of land in Idaho. In 1877, Chief Joseph and his followers fled north to seek refuge in Canada. They traveled 1,000 miles of harsh terrain with the army in pursuit. About 40 miles after the Canadian border, the army caught up and Chief Joseph surrendered. He stated “I will fight no more, forever.”
Wounded Knee Massacre– Many of the Sioux tribe fled their reservations and gathered in South Dakota. White settlers and government officials feared that these Native Americans were preparing for war. The army was sent to round up the possible suspects and gather their weapons. On December 29, 1890, while the Sioux were handed over their weapons, someone fired a shot! In response, the army shot over 300 men, women, and children.
13) The Dawes Act, passed in 1887, was intended to encourage Native Americans to give up their traditional ways and become farmers. This act divided individual plots of the reservation for each family. The government sold leftover land to settlers. In the end, not all Native Americans wanted to be farmers. Those who did lacked the resources and tools needed for such a job. This led to them eventually selling their land to white settlers for a fraction of the actual price.
14) Western life provided traditional job opportunities for women. They were teachers, servants, and they gave their families financial support by taking care of the sewing and laundry. Western lawmakers recognized the women’s continued contributions and rewarded them with more legal rights then the east. Women could now own property, control their own money, and in 1869 (Wyoming) they were granted suffrage. By 1900, women also won suffrage in Colorado, Utah, and Idaho.
15) Cities seemed to grow instantaneously in the West. Gold and silver strikes made prosperous cities such as Denver and San Francisco. San Francisco grew from a small town to a city of 25,000 after the 1849 Gold Rush. In 1859, Miners headed to “Pike Peak” in need of supplies first stopped at Denver. Not even a town in 1857, Denver turned into the capital of Colorado a decade later. Then, Denver citizens decided to build a railroad linking their city to the transcontinental railroad, skyrocketing the population! The population increased dramatically because of the huge job opportunity Denver’s population went from 4,800 residents in 1870 to about 107,000 in 1890! Cities like Omaha, Nebraska also prospered through the meat-making for cattle ranchers in the area.
16) The Homestead Act was passed in 1862. This law offered 160 acres of land free to anyone who agreed to live on and improve the land for five years. The Homestead Act interested both American and immigrant families to settle out west including exodusters.
17) An African American who left the South for the west and compared himself of herself to Biblical Hebrews who left slavery in Egypt was called an exoduster. In all, 50,000 of these African Americans settled in Kansas, Missouri, Indiana, and Illinois.
18) Out west, farmers were called sodbusters. To reach water, they had to dig wells up to 280 feet deep. Blizzards, prairie fires, hailstorms, tornadoes, grasshoppers, and drought added to the misery of farmers in the west. Many inventions were created to help the work of sodbusters.
Steel plow– (invented by John Deere in 1838) sliced through tough sod
-it was later improved by James Oliver in 1868
Windmill– pumped water from deep wells to the surface
Barbed Wire– allowed farmers to fence in land and livestock
Reapers– made harvesting crops much easier
Threshers– helped farmers to separate grain or seed from straw
These inventions made a farmers work easier and more efficient. With the help of these new inventions, from 1860-1890, farmers doubled their production of wheat.
19) As farming became more efficient, overproduction was a huge problem and the prices were dropping lower and lower in the 1870s. Many farmers faced high priced farm machinery along with railroad costs. Railroads charged the farmers costly fees to ship their crops to the markets in eastern cities. With the little money they had, high prices fro shipment and equipment, and all the time it took to run a farm, many farmers fell behind in payments.
20) In 1867, farmers formed a group called the Grange, which was officially known as the Patrons of Husbandry. This committee’s main goal was to meet the social need of farm families. As economic conditions got worse, Grange members took action. They formed cooperatives, which are organizations owned and run by its members. They bought grain elevators and sold crops directly to merchants which allowed farmers to get around the pricy railroad shipment. Farmers also demanded to have the government regulate railroad freight charges and storage charges. In 1877, the Supreme Court backed the cause of the farmers in the court hearing of Munn v. Illinois. The court ruled that the farmers would get their request since businesses were supposed to serve the public interest.
21) In 1890, farmers formed a Populist Party, also known as the People’s Party, to gain political power. They wanted the government to adopt a free silver policy, that meant, unlimited coining of silver. Since silver was abundant, it would increase the amount of money put into circulation. They believed that increased money supply would result in inflation, which would allow for higher crop prices. This extra money would help farmers pay back all the money they owed that they borrowed to improve their farms. In 1892, the Populist Party also asked for government ownership of railroads, shorter working hours, and other political reforms.
22) The frontier closed in 1890 due to the Oklahoma land rush of 1889. On April 22, thousands of white settlers rushed to claim 2 million acres of land that had once belonged to the Native Americans. In 1890, Census Bureau declared that the frontier no longer existed.