Unit 4- Indian- American Relationships

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Key Question 4: Why did white Americans and the Plains Indians find it so hard to
reach a peaceful settlement?
Did all white Americans have the same attitudes towards the Plains Indians?
Generally, white Americans regarded the Plains Indians as being inferior to them. Even
President Jefferson wrote that they were "backward in civilisation like beasts." The way in
which they lived their nomadic lifestyle, following the buffalo around with little luxuries was
looked down on the white Americans who could afford to indulge themselves in comforts and
appreciate the arts. They believed that their way of life ­ settling land and cultivating it ­ was
God's wish and in comparison, the Indians were squalid and lazy. Therefore the white
Americans had no problem with removing the Indians. They wanted the land which the
Indians possessed and also believed in manifest destiny which told them to make use of all the
land available to them and this was only possible by removing the Indians who they did not
think used the land to its full potential. Americans also remembered the violence and brutality
of the Indians. Although stories of scalping were often exaggerated, Americans were appalled
at this barbarism which only augmented their views of the Indians and animals. Of course,
there would've been those who sympathised with the Indians, but the majority of white
Americans wanted to see their country's prosperity and wealth grow and so their selfish
desires led to the same hatred for the Indians.
How successful were the US Government's treaties imposed on the Indians and why
did they change so often?
When a special US Government department who dealt specifically in Indian affairs was set up
in 1832, it decided that a `Permanent Indian Frontier' would be set up for all the Indian Tribes.
By 1840 all eastern tribes had been forced into the Great American Desert. As white people
began to cross the Plains and settle they began to demand protection from Indians and so the
government moved the Mountain Indians. Although the northern tribes didn't put up much
resistance and were moved by 1868, the south-western tribes such as the Apache did, but
eventually gave into the full force of the US Army by 1874. The Plains Indians however were
a problem as they needed to roam and follow the buffalo. Although usually friendly to white
travellers, due to increasing number of people taking the trails west in the 40's and 50's, they
felt threatened and began to attack wagons. The problem was solved in 1849, when the
government began to make treaties with the Comanches and Kiowas. These guaranteed the
Indians land and protection in return for safety for travellers. A similar treaty was agreed in
1851 at Fort Laramie. The Government promised Indian tribes land and $50,000 a year for 10
years so long as they stopped attacking travellers on the Oregon Trial and allowed the
government to build roads and military posts. However when gold was discovered at Pikes
Peak in 1859 and white men surged through Indian Territory, breaking the promises of the
treaties, began serious attacks on railroad surveyors (who wanted to build railroads through
their territory) and travellers in search of gold. In 1861, Colorado became a territory and
now officially belonged to America, giving the government the power to call a conference at
Fort Lyon. The government forced chiefs to abandon claims to land (given under the Fort
Laramie Treaty) and move to small reservations however the Indian people refused and
warriors went crazy raiding mining camps and attacking mail coaches. This constantly
changing policy with the Indians shows how the government simply saw the Indians as a

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What caused the Battle of Little Big Horn?
There had been rumours of gold in the Black Hills for many years and when General Custer
was put in charge of the soldiers sent to protect railroad surveyors from Indians he had desires
to find this gold. In 1874 he led an expedition into the Black Hills and found gold. After six
months, thousands of white men, desiring to be rich after the economic depression of 1873,
poured into Indian Territory in search for gold.…read more

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Indians, they destroyed the buffalo and their
resources so that the Indians were forced to go into reservations quietly. Secondly, they
launched winter campaigns which attacked the Indians when they were at their most vulnerable
(the Americans were sheltered from the cold by their forts). Overall the Battle of the Little
Big Horn was crucial in the defeat of the Indians. It led to even stronger feelings of hatred
towards the Indians and made it acceptable to exterminate the Indians.…read more


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