TRANSFORMING THE WEST 1865—1890
SUBJUGATING NATIVE AMERICANS
A. Tribes and Cultures
During summer fishing runs, the Tillamooks, Chinooks, and other tribes caught salmon
that, after being dried in smokehouses, sustained them throughout the year.
At the opposite environmental extreme, in the day and barren Great Basin of Utah and
Nevada, Shoshones and Paiutes ate grasshoppers and other insects to supplement their
diet of rabbits, mice, and other small animals.
In the Southwest, the Pueblos dwelled in permanent towns of adobe buildings and
practiced intensive agriculture.
Because tribal welfare depended on maintaining complex irrigation systems, the Zunis,
Hopis, and other Pueblos emphasized community solidarity rather than individual
Navajos, Apaches, and other nomadic tribes in the region relied on sheepherding and
The most numerous Indian groups lived on the Great Plains. The largest of these tribes
were the Lakotas, or Sioux, who ranged from western Minnesota through the Dakotas;
the Cheyennes and Arapahos, who controlled much of the central plains between the
Platte and Arkansas rivers; and the Comanches, preeminent on the southern plains.
Two animals dominated the lives of these people: the horse and the buffalo.
White and Indian cultural values were incompatible. Disdaining Native Americans and
their religion, white people condemned them as “savages” to be converted or
Ignoring the need for natural harmony, they followed their own culture’s goal of
extracting wealth from the land for a market economy.
B. Federal Indian Policy
The government had in the 1830s adopted the policy of separating whites and Indians.
Eastern tribes were moved west of Missouri and resettled on land then scorned as “the
Great American Desert,” unsuitable for white habitation and development.
White migration devastated the Indians, already competing among themselves for the
limited resources of the Plains.
To promote white settlement, the federal government decided to relocate the tribes to
separate and specific reserves. In exchange for accepting such restrictions, the
government would provide the tribes with annual payments of livestock, clothing, and
other materials. To implement this policy, the government negotiated treaties
extinguishing Indian rights to millions of acres and ordered the army to keep Indians on
their assigned reservations.
C. Warfare and Dispossession
Most smaller tribes accepted the government’s conditions but larger tribes resisted.