Railroads and Conflict in the West

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Explain the development of federal policy towards Native Americans in the late nineteenth century.

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American policy towards the Native Americans has varied throughout different periods of American History. Between 1830-1860, the government followed a policy of removing the Native Americans to lands west of the Mississippi River. This is often referenced as The Trail of Tears. Some Native Americans resisted this policy while some accepted it.

Between 1860-1886, our policy changed. As more Americans moved westward during this time period, people were again fearful that the Native Americans would hold back the growth of the country. People were also concerned about attacks by the Native Americans. The government developed a new policy known as the Indian Peace Commission. With this policy, Native Americans were no longer free to roam the Great Plains and follow the buffalo. They would instead be placed on reservations as the government took away the land upon which they had been living. It was during this time period that many battles occurred between the Native Americans and the army.

In 1887, the policy changed again. The Dawes Act was passed. The Native Americans would now be taken off of the reservations. Instead, each family would be given 160 acres of land and would be encouraged to assimilate into American society.

The ever-changing policies of the government toward the Native Americans were bound to fail. The policies didn’t consider the needs of the Native Americans. These were policies that Native Americans neither wanted nor needed. These policies destroyed the Native American way of life.

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The development of federal policy towards Native Americans during this time was driven largely by a growing feeling that Americans had a responsibility of sorts to the Indians who remained.  This was the era of the "White Man's Burden" and that idea colored federal policy with respect to Native Americans.

This sense of responsibility was seen in the policy of trying to assimilate the Native Americans.  This was the era in which boarding schools for the Native Americans sprang up.  These schools, along with policies such as those in the Dawes Severalty Act, showed that the government wanted to "kill the Indian to save the man."

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