American West

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Native Americans

Life On The Great Plains

  • The harsh weather meant the Indians had to be nomadic so as to follow the buffalo herds.
  • This was why travois were used.
  • In the summer the tipi bottom could be rolled up to let air in.
  • In winter it could be banked with earth to keep the tipi warm.
  • The conical shape of the tipi made it strong enough to resist the strong winds on the Great Plains
  • The buffalo were essential to their why of life;
    • Meat
    • Skins for clothing and tipis
    • Sinews for thread and string for bows
    • Bones for implements
    • Dung for fuel.
  • Before horses were introduced by Spanish Invaders buffalo were run off cliffs.
  • Horses became significant to the Native American's; being used as currency and status symbol as well as for hunting and fighting.
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Native Americans 2

Native American Beliefs

  • Believed in Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit. He created the world and everything that lives.
  • Land could not be owned or bought.
  • The Black Hills was particularly scared to them.
  • Sioux Indians believed in the circle of nature.
  • Dances were used when the whole tried needed to contact the spirits.Visions influenced decision making, such as war.
    •  Buffalo Dance was used to call the spirit world to call the buffalo to them
    •  Sun Dance
  • Men – responsible for hunting, looking after the horses and protecting the band. They were judged by their skills as hunters, warriors and horsemen.
  • Women – responsible for the tipi, for preparing food and fetching water, and for making clothing and other items. They were judged by their skill at crafts and as home-makers. Women were highly valued as the bearers of children.
  • Tribal warfare was part of the culture of many Native Americans. Low intensity warfare and raiding for animals and captives was a part of life and the usual way for men to gain prestige
    • Counting coup
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Early Pioneers

Mountain Men

  • First white people to cross the Great Plains and The Rocky Mountains.
  • Drew maps and founded routes that would later become the Oregon and California trails.
  • Mountain men came from a variety of backgrounds, but all adopted Native American survival skills.

Why People Travelled West

Pull Factors;

  • Fertile land
  • Government acts
  • Gold rush 1849

Push Factors;

  • Collapse of wheat prices and economic crash due to the banks crashing in 1837
  • Persecution e.g mormons.
  • Unemployment
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Early Pioneers 2

Journey West

  • The Oregon and California Trails stretched about 2000 miles and took about 5 months by loaded wagon.
  • Rivers, mountains and deserts had to be crossed.
  • It was vital to beat the winter deadline.
  • The Donner Party, heading for California, tried a short cut and were trapped in deep snow in the Sierra Nevada in 1846. Of 87 emigrants, less than 50 survived till next spring - thorugh cannibalism

Manifest Destiny

  • Many white Americans believed that they were destined to occupy and govern all of North America.
  • God-given right.
  • Saw their religion and culture as superior to those of the Native Americans
  • They saw themselves as civilising the continent.
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The Gold Rush and The Mormons

The Californian Gold Rush 1849

  • Tens of thousands of fortune-seekers coming to California.
  •  They were known as the “49ers”.
  • During 1848-1852 the non-Native American population rose from 14 000 to 225 000.
  • Many lived in makeshift camps, some of which grew into mining towns like Angels Camp and Placerville.
  • Criminals were attracted to the Gold Rush.
  • No US government law officers to protect the miners, people made their own arrangements. 


  • The faith was started by Joseph Smith, who claimed to have seen a vision of an angel.
  • He claimed the angel told him to find some engraved gold plates hidden on a hillside.
  • They practised polygamy.
  • Thought they were Gods chosen people and were therefore superior to the non-Mormons.
  • People were afraid of the large and growing numbers of the Mormons.
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The Mormons 2

The Mormons and Persecution

  •  Kirtland;
    • They founded a bank in Kirtland (1836). Many non-Mormons invested in the bank for religious reasons.
    • In a financial crisis the bank collapsed (1837)so everyone lost the money they had invested. The Mormons were blamed and driven out of Kirtland.
  • Missouri;
    • The Mormons were mixing with blacks and encouraging them to join the church on an equal basis.
    • The gentiles were jealous of their hard work and thought they were superior.
    • Numbers grew.
    • The government issued an extermination order.
  • Illinois; 
    • The Mormons built a town called Nauvoo.
    • Joseph Smith said he had a revelation from God and he introduced polygamy in 1844.
    • Non-Mormons thought polygamy was wrong and feared Mormon overpopulation.
    • Smith also announced his intention to stand for president of the United States
    • Joseph Smith was thrown into jail and killed when an angry mob attacked him. 
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The Mormons and Brigham Young

Moving West

  • Brigham Young knew about the Oregon Trail and that the most isolated area in the west was by the Great Salt Lake.
  •  This part of the Rockies also still belonged to Mexico, so if the Mormons moved there they would be outside the control of the US government.
  • In 1845 Brigham Young decided that the Mormons would leave Nauvoo and go west across the Plains

Problems and Solutions the Mormons Faced

  • The Mormons had to develop irrigation schemes, using snow water from the mountains.
  • There was a lack of building materials, so the Mormons had to make houses from mud bricks.
  • There were not enough people for community to be self-sufficient – so Young called Mormons from all over the world to come to the Salt Lake. 
  • There was no private ownership of land. The Church assigned farm land according to people’s needs.
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The Homesteaders

Government Acts

  • Homestead Act 1862 – families were given 160 acres of land for free, providing that they lived on it and farmed it for five years.
  • Timber Culture Act 1873 – settlers were given a further 160 acres of free land if they agreed to plant 40 acres of their land with trees.
  • Desert Land Act 1877 – settlers who wanted more land could buy 640 acres of land cheaply in areas where lack of rainfall was a problem.


  • End of the US Civil War – thousands of demobilised soldiers and their families wanted to rebuild their lives.
    • Freed black slaves were also looking for a new life.
    • Many ex-slaves and ex-soldiers became homesteaders, cowboys and railroad builders.

The building of the railroads meant that it was easy for homesteaders to get onto the Plains and land could be bought cheaply from railroad companies which were selling land either side of the railroad.

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The Homesteaders 2


  • Water was scarce so it was difficult to grow crops.
  • There was draught in the summer and cold in the winter. Fierce winds blew which could destroy crops.
  • There was no wood to burn as fuel.
  • It was easy for disease to develop.
  • There was a lack of building materials.
  • Nothing for fences.
  • There were plagues of grasshoppers that could destroy crops.  
  • Isolation.


  • Windmills were used to pump water from underground and Turkey Red Wheat.
  • Buffalo dung and cow dung were used as fuels.
  • Women used natural medical remedies to treat disease.
  • Sod houses.
  • In 1847, Joseph Gidden invented barbed wire.
  • Railroads brought supplies and allowed socialisation.
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The Importance of Railroads

  • Pacific Railway Act 1862
  • Central Pacific built from the west and the Union Pacific built from the east.
  • Completed in 1869
  • Employed 7,000 chinese people


  • Colonise larger amounts of the West and encourage settlement.
  • Helped maintain law and order.
  • Trade links with the East, e.g Japan.
  • Railheads were created, Dodge City, Abeline
  • Transport of goods and trade which helped the economy.
  • Railroad companies could sell land after track was built.
  • Provides jobs on the Plains.
  • Links the East and West coast.
  • Brought materials.
  • Spread of cattle.
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The Negatives of the Railroads


  • The two railroads lacked communication so passed eachother by ten miles.
  • Rough terrain e.g mountains.
  • Dangerous working conditions.
  • Labour shortages.
  • They were built on Indian territory which created further conflict.
  • People started hunting buffalo for sport from trains.
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The Cattle Industry

How it Developed

  • By 1850s Southern Texas was the major centre of cattle ranching.
  • Texas Longhorn was the traditional breed of cattle that were very hardy.
  • Cattle were driven by cowboys to the markets where they were sold.
  • The effect of the American Civil War – Texan cattle ranchers returned from fighting in the Civil War to find that their herds had grown dramatically. e.g Charles Goodnight.
  • Railroads – their development meant that beef could quickly get to these new markets.
    • New ‘cow towns’ like Abilene and Dodge City in Kansas were built along the railway line where cattle could be hoarded onto trains.
    • Also the builders of the railroads bought beef for food. 
  • Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving – they were the first to drive cattle out of Texas to the North. There route became known as the Goodnight-Loving trail
  • Joseph McCoycreated the cow town of Abilene in Kansas in 1867. He bought land, built stock pens and advertised the town as a shipping point. 
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The Cattle Industry 2


  • They had to drive their cattle to markets in the east – this was long and tough for the cowboys.
  • Cattle drives brought cattlemen into conflict with homesteaders who were beginning to settle.
    • As Homesteaders settled they blocked the routes of cattle drives.
  • Texas Longhorns carried Texas fever which killed other cattle – homesteaders were afraid of this.

The Open Range

  • Unfenced land that was used to graze cattle.
  • Cattle roamed freely over this land.
  • Cattle was branded to show which ranch it belonged to.
  • Land was not owned as it was too expensive.
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The Cattle Industry 3

Why the Open Range was Successful

  • The Plains Indians were defeated and confined to the reservations.
  • The buffalo that had previously grazed on the Plains were gone, slaughtered by the hunters.
  • It was discovered that if Texas longhorns were held on the northern plains during the winter then the cold would kill the disease-carrying ticks.
  • The railroads that were crossing the Plains were able to take cattle to market.

Why the Open Range Ended

  • The harsh winters of 1886 and 1887 caused the deaths of thousands of cattle.
  • As more ranched on the Plains, overcrowding of cattle resulted.
    • This caused grass stocks for the cattle on the Plains to decrease.
  • As people ranched cattle on the open range the cost of cattle increased which led to decreased profit.
    • As the price of beef fell due to overstocking, cattle ranchers on the Plains struggled to make profits. 
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The Life of the Cowboy

  • Drove cattle from Texas to cow towns.
  • Treated sick cattle.
  • Repaired fences when ranching took over from the long drive.
  • Protected the cattle from rustlers.
  • On trails they would ride for between 12 and 24 hours day.
  • Mostly young men who were either black, Indian, Spanish and Mexican as well as white.
  • Many were former soldiers.


  • Boots - Designed with a high heel so that if the cowboy reined in suddenly, or was roping a steer, he would not be pulled out of the saddle.
  • Chaps - Protected their legs from thorns.
  • Stetson
  • Gloves
  • Bandana - To keep dust from their faces.
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John Iliff

John Iliff

  • Grazed cattle instead of driving them to Texas.
  • First large ranch on The Plains.
  • Experimented with cattle breeding to produce a higher quality of meat.
  • New refrigerated railroad cars meant he could slaughter cattle before transporting them.

Changing Role of the Cowboys

  • Now worked year-round but fewer were needed.
  • Work including rounding up and driving to market over smaller distances.
  • Fewer dangers.
  • Drinking, gambling, guns and knives were banned.
  • Had to obey strict cattle ranch owners.
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The Johnson County War of 1892


  • Settled by Cattle Barons in 1870s who ran large cattle ranches.
  • They became very powerful in the state and joined together in the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. 

Three Causes

  • Beef prices were falling. The harsh winter of 1886-7 had damaged income from ranching cattle.
  • Homesteaders and small ranchers were settling in Wyoming and this led to disputes over land ownership.
  • Cattle rustling was becoming a problem.
  • The cattle barons lost cattle to rustlers and blamed the homesteaders and small ranchers.
  • It was hard to get juries of local men to convict men accused of rustling.
  • So they took law into their own hands
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The Johnson County War of 1892 2

How it Started

  • Jim Averill and his partner, a prostitute called Ella Watson, were living on land claimed by a cattle baron, they were lynched outside their cabin.
  • Ella was said to accept cattle as payment for her services and she was accused of rustling.
  • No one was prosecuted for this crime, although the cattle barons were known to be responsible.
  • In 1892 the cattle barons planned a full-scale invasion of Johnson County.
  • The acting governor of Wyoming knew all about it and even supplied guns.
  • A death list of names was drawn up and gunfighters were recruited.
  • The gunfighters and cattlemen made up an invasion force of roughly 50 men.

How it Went Wrong

  • There they were stopped by the heroic resistance of Nate Champion. After the death of his friend, he held off the invaders all day until they finally burnt him out of his cabin.
  • By the time Nate Champion was dead the alarm had been raised in Buffalo.
  • The next day, as the invaders approached Buffalo, they heard that local people were armed and ready. They then retreated. 
  • The invaders were taken into protective custody.
  • The Cattle Barons never had the same power in Wyoming again. 
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Law and Order

Factors Encouraging Lawlessness

  • Georgraphical factors;
    • The West was vast and initially sparsely populated.
    • Transport was very slow.
  • Political factors;
    • Shortage of reliable law officers in new mining and cow towns.
    • Politicians would not pay to employ new or better officers.
  •  Social factors;
    • Conflicts between different ethnic groups.
    • Civil War soldiers found it difficult to readjust to normal life.
    • Conflict between southern and northern ex-Civil War soldiers.
  • Economic Factors;
    • Lots of people trying to make money.
    • Conflict between competing groups: e.g. cattle Barons and small ranchers (Johnson County War).
  • Attitudes;
    • Your responsibility to sort your own problems out.
    • Lots of people carried guns so arguments could turn into shootings and shooting in self-defence was not a crime.  
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Law and Order 2

Common Crimes

  • Bank robbery.
  • Cattle rustling.
  • Claim jumping.
  • Fence cutting (barbed wire 1874).
  • Horse stealing.
  • Racial attacks.
  • Murder.

Organised by the State

  • US marshals were appointed by president responsible for state or territory.
  • Wyatt Earp was a corrupt US marshal who often lost his job.

Organised by town or county

  • Deputy Marshals.
  • Sherrifs.
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Law and Order 3


  • Lynched the suspect or ran them out of town without fair trial.
  • Ordinary people working outside of the law.
  • 200 vigilante groups operating west of the Mississippi.

Private Agencies

  • Texas Rangers and Pinkerton Detective Agency.
  • Banks, railroad and stagecoach companies employed them to track down robbers and theives and to provide advice and protection.

Famous Lawbreakers

  • Belle Starr - Planned and carried out robberies. Went to prison for horse theft and was shot dead in 1889.
  • Wild Bill Longley - A racist who refused to accept end of slavery and was a deadly gunfighter who attacked black people. Executes in 1878.
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Attitudes to Plains Indians


  • Mainly those who lived in the East.
  • Believed that aggressive tactics would make things worse.
  • Believed through education, missionary work and settlement onto reservations they could make the Native Americans "civilized".


  • Mainly those living on The Plains.
    • Settlers, ranchers, minors and cowboys.
  • Had the most to gain if the Indians were removed.
  • Most likely to have received hostile behaviour from the Indians.
  • Believed extermination was the only solution.
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The Four Stages - Separation and Concentration


  • 1803-1851.
  • The Indian Removal Act 1830.
  • All land west of the Mississippi was promised to the Indians.
  • Those who lived East of the line such as the Cherokee were forcibly removed, this was called The Trail of Tears.
  • The migrants faced hunger, disease and exhaustion of the forced march
    • Over 4,000 of the 15,000 Cherokees died.


  • 1851 - 1867.
  • Fort Laramie Treaty 1851.
    • Ended the Permanent Indian Frontier,
    • The government gave land in the Rocky Mountain foothills to the Cheyenne and Arapaho promising protection and payment of $50,000 a year for 10 years.
    • The Cheyenne and Arapaho agreed to stop attacking Oregon Trail travellers and to allow roads and military forts to be built.
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The Four Stages - Reservation and Annihilation


  • 1867 - 1875.
  • The treaty of Medicine Lodge 1867.
    • three treaties 
    • southern plains tribes agreed to move to Oklahoma.
    • In the Second Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868) Red Cloud realised he could never defeat the US permanently, and the Sioux agreed to move onto a small reservation.
    • The US government promised to supply food and medicine.


  • 1855 The US government made Native American territory available to white settlers.
  • The Native Americans' own law courts were abolished.
  • The Dawes Act 1887;
    • sold Indian land to white settlers. 
    • Divided Indian reservations into farms
    • Oklahoma land race 1889 - free land to white settlers first-come-first-serve.
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Little Crow's War 1861-1862


  • In 1861 the reservation system was introduced by the US government.
  • As a result of a bad harvest in their reservation and non payment of annual government cash payment, 12,000 Santee Sioux were unable to buy food and violence grew.
  • Indian Agency attacked by Sioux Indians.
  • Killing of 700 white settlers and burned down buildings and stole food.


  • In October 1862, 2000 Santee Sioux were captured and surrendered.
  • 303 Sioux sentenced to death, but due to weak evidence President Abraham Lincoln reduced all sentences but 38. These were hanged in December.
  • The remainder of Santee Sioux were transferred to a new reservation.
  • The new reservation had barren landscapes which caused many deaths.
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Little Crow's War 1861-1862


  • In 1861 the reservation system was introduced by the US government.
  • As a result of a bad harvest in their reservation and non payment of annual government cash payment, 12,000 Santee Sioux were unable to buy food and violence grew.
  • Indian Agency attacked by Sioux Indians.
  • Killing of 700 white settlers and burned down buildings and stole food.


  • In October 1862, 2000 Santee Sioux were captured and surrendered.
  • 303 Sioux sentenced to death, but due to weak evidence President Abraham Lincoln reduced all sentences but 38. These were hanged in December.
  • The remainder of Santee Sioux were transferred to a new reservation.
  • The new reservation had barren landscapes which caused many deaths.
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The Sand Creek Massacre 1864

Events Leading Up to Attack

  • Fort Wise Treaty 1861 created due to gold being discovered in Rocky Mountains and railroad companies wanted to remove buffalo and Indians from routes.
  • Cheyenne and Arapaho took revenge so were moved to smaller reservation.


  • 700 US soldiers led by Colonal Chivington attacked peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho villages.
  • After a night of heavy drinking by the soldiers, Chivington ordered the massacre.
  • Over two-thirds of the slaughtered and maimed were women and children.


  • The Sand Creek Massacre was a turning point. No more negotiations or trust.
  • March 1867, US government set up a peace commision,
  • It was agreed that peace treaties did not work.
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Red Cloud's War 1865-68


  • In 1862 gold was discovered in the Rocky Mountains.
  • The Bozeman Trail passed through Sioux lands.
  • The government failed to stop miners from breaking the peace treaty and they crossed Sioux lands.
    • Sioux Indians attacked travellers along the trail . 
  • In 1866 the government initially opened peace talks with Sioux leader, Red Cloud, to resolve issue however when he found out two more forts were planned he walked out.
  • Captain Fetterman and 80 soldiers marched into a trap laid out by the Sioux and were massacred. Bozeman's trail was now blocked.


  • An alternative route to the gold-mining areas was opened.
  • The government agreed to withdraw from the forts.
  • Under the terms of the new Fort Laramie Treaty (1868) the Great Sioux Reservation was created.
  • No non-Indian settlers were allowed to enter this land and so Red Cloud agreed to the treaty.
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The Great Sioux War 1876-77


  • In 1874 an expedition led by General Custer to the Black Hills to protect railway surveyors and find out if gold was present in the area broke Fort Laramie Treaty.
  • Custer reported that the area was rich in gold and caused a vast influx of miners which the US army couldn't control.
  • The Sioux refused the government offer to buy the Black Hills as they were sacred to them as they were the place where their nation began.
  • In December 1875 all Sioux were ordered to return to their reservation within 60 days.
  • In February 1876 the army were instructed to treat all Indians outside the reservation as hostile
  • By spring, 7,000 Indians were ready for war.
  • General Sheridan thought up a three pronged attack on the Sioux Indians who were camping in the valley of the Little Bighorn.
  • They had not found out how many Indians there were and had no way of communicating with eachother.
  • Custer was ordered to wait but ignored orders.
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The Great Sioux War 1876-77 2

The Consequences

  • News of the defeat at the Little Bighorn reached the rest of American on 4th July 1876, the hundredth anniversary of the declaration of independence.
  • The public reaction to the defeat was of great shock and no effort was spared in support the army campaign that followed.
  • The little bands of Indians that split up after Little Bighorn were followed and attacked during the autumn and winter of 1876-77.
  • Outnumbered and short of ammunition, food and supplies, one by one the small bands of Indians gave in and returned to their reservations.
  • On 5th May 1877, Crazy Horse (one of the Sioux leaders) rode into the reservation and surrendered. The day before Sitting Bull (another Sioux chief) and his followers escaped over the border to Canada,
  • The armed resistance of the Sioux was over.

The Sioux were only successful in the short-term.

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How Far Can General Custer be Blamed for the US Ar

General Custer

  • Custer refused the offer of a Gatlin gun and refused to accept reinforcements.
  • Custer gave an ambiguous answer when asked to wait for Terry.
  • He pushed his men too hard, became too tired.
  • Divided his command.
  • Deliberately disobeyed orders when he rode across he Wolf Mountains and arrived a day earlier than planned.
  • Lacked enough supplies due to more Indians than anticipated.

US Army

  • Attacked during winter - bad climate.
  • His intelligence from Indian guides was flawed so they didn't know the numbers.
  • Not used to fighting Indians so were unfamiliar with tactics.
  • Wages and standard of training was low.
  • Didn't really know the territory.
  • Arrogant.
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The Strengths the Native Americans

The Great Sioux War

  • Knew the territory very well.
  • Crazy Horse was a military genius.
  • Knew how to make the most of what they had.
    • Took guns off dead soldiers.
  • Fought with passion;
    • many felt it was their last stand.
    • believed they would win because Sitting Bull had a vision of US soldiers falling back.
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The Destruction of the Native Americans


  • Between 1840 and 1885 the buffalo were hunted to almost extinction; their numbers fell from an estimated 13 million in 1840 to around 200 in 1885.
  • Settlement on the edge of the Great Plains, the construction of the railroads across the Great Plains, the destruction of the buffalo’s natural habitat and the introduction of new diseases all contributed.
  • Buffalo were hunted for food and sport, this increased with the introduction of the railroads.
  • By 1875 the southern herd had been destroyed. By 1883 the northern herd was destroyed.

The Reservations 

  • From 1825 onwards a system of Indian reservations was developed on the Great Plains.
  • The Indians were supervised by government-appointed Indian agents.
  • Reservations were intended to keep Indians apart from the homesteaders and ranchers.
  • On the reservations the Indians were expected to live as farmers.
    • At first, they were allowed to leave the reservations to hunt for buffalo.
    • However, after conflicts in the 1860s and 1870s they lost this right 
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The Destruction of the Native Americans 2

Reservation Conditions

  • By the 1870s the Indians were virtually prisoners on their reservations and conditions were bad.
  • The reservations were usually on land settlers didn’t want, such as poor farm land.
    • This made it difficult for the Indians to feed themselves, and they became depended on government hand-outs of food.
  • The Indians were sometimes badly treated by dishonest Indian agents.
    • housing money was stolen, food rations were inadequate and medical treatment was not available. 
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Destruction of Native American Culture

  • Territorial;
    • Through a series of laws the government reduced the size of the Sioux reservation and split up the Sioux Indians into smaller groups.
  • Political;
    • 1885 the government took control of all legal matters; Indians lost any power to punish members of their bands.
    • Communal reservation lands were broken into individual plots by the 1887 Dawes General Allotment Act.
    •  This meant Indians did not need to go to their chiefs and became self-sufficient.
  • Economic;
    •  Ban of Sioux leaving the reservations to hunt buffalo destroyed their economy
  • Religious;
    • Feasts, dances and ceremonies were banned.
    • The power of medicine men was undermined and no need for young men to seek visions to give them power in war and in the buffalo hunt.
  • Educational;
    • Children were taken from their parents and sent to boarding school where they lived under military conditions and were taught to have no respect for their traditional way of life.
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