Westward expansion during the nineteenth century played a vital role in American history. The west provided more economic chances for America. Unfortunately this expansion came with consequences, especially to the lives of Native Americans. Although moving westward provided more opportunities to Americans, Natives were devasted by the loss of their homes and food, unfair treaties, and warfare.
When deciding to expand in the west, nobody took account of the Natives that lived there. Prior to 1851, there was a specific region which was known to be permanent Indian territory. However, when farmers and gold seekers were headed to the west, they carved trails through the plains were the Indians lived. This eventually led to Congress agreeing to expand this area and make it a railroad route. Because of this, the area for the Natives were reduced in size. Not only were the Natives’ living situations in upheaval, settlers also took away their means of food. The Indians relied on buffalo as staple not only for food, but also for trade. Their way of living was in jeopardy as soon as the settlers appeared. White hunters were allowed to to kill the buffalo for sport as well as just for fun. The number of buffalo was severely damaged, and so was the way of life for the Natives.
Many treaties were made between the Natives and settlers in order to avoid violence. The treaties were used as a means to relocate the Indians in order to expand through the plains. The settlers wanted the Native Americans to move their lives onto separate reservations. The settlers wanted the land that the Natives were used to living on for hunting, farming, and mining. The plains, were Indians were living, provided great land for these activities as well as many other forms of economic growth. While treaties were made, many members of the tribes did not necessarily agree with them. Because there is no strong authority figure for the Natives, the ones that consented did not speak for the ones that didn’t. These treaties ended up causing more damage than good.
As expansion continued, the tension between Americans and Natives grew as well. Not all members agreed with the terms in the treaties. They refused to go on their assigned reservations and continued living in their normal territories. The resistance efforts occasionally became violent. The Natives would attack stagecoach stations, travelers, and military units. To combat the attacks, General William Tecumseh Sherman, head of the army, declared that all Natives not on reservations were to be killed off. Sherman used guerilla warfare to force the Natives to do what he wanted. The ensuing violence, brutality, and murder convinced the Natives to avoid further resistance. Another war general, Philip Sheridan, also used a war tactic known as war of attrition. This is a form of warfare in which basic needs such as food, shelter, and water are refused. This caused the Natives to surrender out of starvation.
In conclusion, westward expansion produced a negative effect on the lives of Native Americans. The treatment of the Natives was unjust, unfair, and revolting. Their whole lives were turned upside by the settlement. Native Americans were subject to home and food loss, unfair treaties, and warfare. Although the settlement helped America, it ruined countless lives of the Native Americans.
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