I. Conquest and Empire in the West
A. Indian Removal and the Reservation System
From the early days of the Republic, Americans advocated a policy of Indian Removal
that relocated eastern tribes to the west of the Mississippi, promising that they could
remain there permanently.
By the mid-nineteenth century Manifest Destiny dictated U.S. policy and the government
sought control of Indian lands, promising in return to pay annuities and to place Indians
on lands reserved for their use.
In 1851 ten thousand Plains Indians met at Fort Laramie, Wyoming, to negotiate a treaty
that ceded a wide swath of their land to allow passage of wagon trains; the U.S.
government promised that the rest of Indian lands would remain inviolate, but did not
follow through with that promise.
Indian wars against white settlers in the West marked the last resistance of a Native
American population devastated by disease and demoralized by the Indian removal
In 1862, the starving Dakota Sioux in Minnesota went to war; under Chief Little Crow
the Sioux killed more than 1,000 white settlers before American troops quelled the
In November 1864, at Sand Creek, Colonel John Chivington and his local Colorado
militia savagely killed 270 Cheyenne, including children, after the Indians had raised a
white flag to surrender.
The Grant administration advocated reservations as a way to segregate and control
Indians, but also because it opened up land to white settlers.
The U.S. army herded Indians onto reservations, but the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs
was badly managed and corrupt and the Indians relocated to the reservations suffered
from povery and starvation.
The reservations became cultural battlegrounds on which outside bureaucrats attacked
Indian ways of life in the name of progress and civilization, but despite the actions of the
U.S. government to assimilate the tribes, the Indians found ways to resist and hold onto
B. The Decimation of the Great Bison Herds and the Fight for the Black Hills
The Sioux staked their survival on buffalo but, by the nineteenth century, due to various
factors including Eastern demand for buffalo hides, the coming of the transcontinental
railroad, and the impact of systematic buffalo hunting, the great herds fell into decline.
The decimation of the buffalo meant the end to the traditional way of life for many Plains
Indians tribes, forcing them onto reservations.
Gold fever only further fueled the conflict between Indians and European Americans on
the Northern plains.
The Cheyenne and Sioux united in 1866 to protect their hunting grounds in the Powder
River Valley; their efforts led the United States to negotiate the second Treaty of Fort
Laramie in 1868, which guaranteed Indians control of their sacred land in the Black Hills.