The Gilded Age was an era of time in American History after the Civil War and was a term that the writer Mark Twain first used to describe what America looked like at the time. This age was called such because behind the glitz and glamor of America growth in wealth, industry, and power in the late 19th century, there was horrible and wide spread corruption in politics, rampant inequality, and greed. Those who were not rich or well off suffered while those who were flourished. However, the one event that represents Twain’s view of the Gilded Age was the assimilation of the Native Americans and the steps the United States took to assimilate them and take their land.
During the mid to late 19th century, American’s began to expand westward away from the crowded eastern states to the open and wild prairies and deserts of the Central Plains and to the mines of Rocky Mountains and of California. However, there were people living there; the Native American Tribes of the Plains and West. This expansion of homesteaders and farms, railroads, and mining boom towns disrupted the Native Americans way of life. The native people had lived there for centuries and felt threatened by expansion of the United States and to preserve their way of life they signed treaties and agreements, such as the Treaty of Fort Laramie, with the United States government so that they could be spared and live in peace. However, the treaties and agreements proved to be moot. The American people at the time believed in a concept and belief called Manifest Destiny which was that “the United States had a God-given right to aggressively spread the values of white civilization and expand the nation from ocean to ocean.”( Roark, J., & Johnson, M. (2014) p.454) This also meant either the assimilation or eradication of the Native American tribes was necessary for the western expansion and growth of the United States. The native tribes resisted this expansion in many ways, such as fighting back against the white settlers and the US Army or signing treaties that would allow them to keep their land and preserve their way of life. Many Native Americans were killed by soldiers in savage massacres, such as the Sand Creek massacre of 1864, or by disease.
Industrialism and greed contributed to the assimilation of the Native Americans and in the destruction of their livelihoods. With people expanding west and with those people building towns and cities, mining and prospecting, and ranching and farming, there was in need for more railroads to bring supplies to and from these places. However, these railroads passed through not only Native lands but were in the paths of the large bison herds that traveled the plains. The railroad saw these animals as nuisances and slaughtered them in mass and left their carcasses out to rot. This was a problem because the Native Americans relied on the bison for food, fuel, shelter, and for religious reasons. Because of the settlers and the railroad’s uncontrolled killing of the bison, the Native Americans who lived on the reservations signed another treaty called the Treaty of Medicine Lodge to protect the animal and to save themselves.( Roark, J., & Johnson, M. (2014) p.455) The treaty allowed them to hunt the bison but in limited amounts. However this did not help. Hide hunters and those who hunted for sport still came and killed those protected bison to the point of near extinction. Those who hunted bison for sport and not for sustenance were praised for killing the Native American’s main source of life. By the white hunters doing this, they took away the Native tribe’s self-sufficiency and made them rely on the food from the government, which was very little. The wanton killing of the bison just for sport and just because they were in the way of progress was just one of the many of the ways the settlers and the government used to force the Native Americans to bend to their will and part of their plan to assimilate them. The discovery of gold, silver, and other minerals on Native American land, was other reasons why United States ignored and broke treaties with the Native Americans and did everything they could to force them off of the mineral rich land so that it could be mined for profit. This is what happed with the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1874. This place was a sacred religious place for the Sioux and with the discovery of gold in the Black Hills, the United States broke their treaty with the Sioux and allowed for miners and settlers to come there and allow for a railroad to run right through it. The Sioux fought back but were defeated. By forcing them off of their land and by taking their food source away, the government, in most cases, got what they wanted and forced the Native Americans to live on reservations.
On the reservations, because of the Dawes Allotment Act, many of the Native Americans were able to own private land on the reservations.( Roark, J., & Johnson, M. (2014) p.459) This was an attempt to create individualism within the tribes and it was a part of their assimilation into White American culture instead of staying with their unified tribal culture. Of course, the left over land that was not taken by members of those tribes was sold to white settlers and the natives themselves could not sell their own land for twenty-five years. The Dawes Act, essentially, was another way for the United States government to take away land from the native tribes as a part of the belief in Manifest Destiny.
In conclusion, Twain was correct that the Gilded Age was an “era of incredible rottenness.”( Roark, J., & Johnson, M. (2014) p.477) The combination of Industrialism, greed, and the belief in Manifest Destiny contributed to the United States taking the West from the Native Americans and nearly destroying their various cultures and their way of life. People were massacred and lost their way of life all over an expansionist belief and because of industrialism.
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