American West Early Settlement 1835-1862

  • Created by: B.Dave
  • Created on: 19-11-17 18:23

Plains Indians Way of Life

  • The Plains Indians were different tribes with different cultures. Many of these tribes were nomadic, relying almost completely on the buffalo.
  • Every part of the buffalo was used for food, clothing, tipis and tools.
  • Other tribes were more settled and farmed.
  • Despite their differences they did all believe that land is sacred so couldn’t be owned and most believed in the great spirit which created everything. Also they believed everything in nature had a spirit which they had to appease by performing ceremonies and dance rituals.
  • The tribes were usually split into bands, each band had a chief and a council of elders who had a large influence.
  • Men were the head of the family and hunted and fought.
  • The women did most of the work in the camp and they owned their tipi and it’s contents giving them status as well.
  • In spite of their shared beliefs tribal warfare was common, but the aim wasn’t to kill, it was so the warriors could perform acts of bravery like stealing horses or counting coup (touching the enemy with a coup stick.
1 of 7

The Permanant Indian Frontier

Before 1830 the government had pursued a policy of assimilating Native Americans in the East into white society

In 1830, the Indian Removal act was passed, this authorised the president to grant tribes land on the Great Plains, in exchange for their land in the East. Some tribes resisted but were forced to move by US soldiers

The Permant Indian Frontier was set up in 1834, a border between the Great Plains which would be essentially a massive Indian reservation and the settlers farmed the East.

By 1840, most of the Eastern tribes had been moved onto the Plains- around 70,000-100,000 people in total.

However, settlers soon began to encroach on the plains and move across to the West Coast causing conflict with the Indians.

2 of 7

Reasons for Heading West

Push Reasons

  • Economic Problems in the East - Recession, Unemployment, Low wages/profits
  • Overpopulation- High euro immigration=overcrowded cities, few jobs and a lack of farm land
  • Disease- Overcrowdin and poor sanitary systems led to epidemics of yellow fever and cholera
  • To escape persecution (Mormons --> Salt Lake Valley)

Pull Reasons

  • Promises that land was fertile and cheap
  • Goverment passed acts which allowed people to claim land cheaply (1841 Distributive Preemption Act 160 acres cheap)
  • Manifest Destiny- The belief it was the Americans god-given right ot settle in the West, seeing the Native Americans as inferior and uncivilised
  • Gold Rushes attracted tens of thousands looking to make their fortunes e.g 1849 California
3 of 7

Problems in moving West

  • Took 5 months to travel the 2000 miles to West Coast
  • It was dangerous because of mountains, rivers, weather, food/water shortages, disease and accidents. With no access to help or healthcare.

The Mormons

  • Their leader Brigham Young anted to go further west to create an independent state where the mormons could live freely, he chose Salt Lake Valley in Mexico
  • They planted crop and built way stations on the way to make the journey easier for later travellers.
  • They had a rushed departure in Februaury due to violence so they were disorganized and were punished by the winter.
  • They arrived in July, 400 had died

Donner Party- Trapped in deep snow- Survivors resorted to cannibalism

4 of 7

Farming Difficulties


•Thick layer of sod too hard for light ploughs •Little/no wood for building & fuel •Lack of water •Extreme climate Solutions •Steel plough made in 1830s, then improved with cheaper steel sodbuster in 1868 •Sod Houses, Barbed wire fencing and the Timber Culture Act (more trees) •Windpumps increased water access •Hardier Crops (Turkey Red Wheat) Sod Houses

The advantages of sod houses were they made from readily available materials which are mostly free and they did provide shelter in the harsh climate.

However, there were many disadvantages including insect infestations, leaking and dirty disease ridden conditions. But eventually people found solutions like whitewashing the walls to stop insects and using a layer of clay to stop leaks.

5 of 7

Law and Order Problems

Problems in California during the 1849 Goldrush

  • Population grew from 14,000 to 225,000 between 1848 and 1852
  • Unstructured society because of rapid migration of mainly males 
  • Tensions grew over competition for gold- (Claimjumpers)
  • Criminals and Pro Gamblers were also attracted by promise of wealth, disagreements led to shooitings and murder.
  • Living and working conditions were poor.
  • Frequent racial conflict

Law and Order

  • Congress didn't establish a government in California until it became a state in 1850
  • The US didn't have a national law regulating mining claims until 1866
  • Most areas had to rely on vigilante justice- rarely fair
  • Mining areas were often remote, meanig it was difficult to enforce the law.
6 of 7

Early Reservations

Causes of Conflict Between Settlers and Indians

  • Signifcant numbers of settlers moved beyond the Frontier and across the Plains.
  • The settlers disrupted buffalo herds and polluted water sources bringing diseases such as chlorea
  • As a result the Plains Indians became more hostile and sometimes attacked wagon trains which in turn made the settlers even more hostile to them.

1851 Indian Appropriations Act -Allowed the allocation of funds to concentrate the plains Indians onto reservations. To encourage them to farm and build houses. This helped destroy the Plains Indian way of life because it meant that they could no longer be nomadic, meaning they couldn't hunt buffalo. Also they couldn’t travel to places sacred to them, damaging their culture

Fort Laramie Treaty - The government agreed that certain areas of land should belong to individual Native American tribes permanently and that the Native American can’t attack settlers crossing to the west, and should allow roads and forts to be built and get $50k of goods a year for 50 years. Neither side kept to the treaty, not all tribes agreed or knew about it, and the government reduced payments and didnt let the Indians have land rights permanently.

7 of 7


No comments have yet been made

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all The American West 1840-1895 resources »