How did economic development and the reservation system affect Native-American and American relations in the West?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Tensions between Native Americans and the U.S. government intensified rapidly after settlers started moving West in order to get to Oregon and California. At first the Native Americans tolerated the settlers along the Oregon Trail. The government negotiated treaties in order to keep the trails open. After the Civil War, however, more settlers came West. Some were miners going to the new ore deposits in the Dakotas and Colorado while others sought to build railroads across the West. The hostilities between the two groups increased as the settlers began to attack the buffalo and they often viewed the Native Americans as hostile. While the Native Americans initially met with success after Red Cloud's War and the whites abandoned the Bozeman Trail, it was later reopened to gold seekers. While the Native Americans won several battles, they could not stop the growing numbers of whites coming West, especially once they started to come by the trainload. The U.S. government also encouraged buffalo hunting as a war measure by providing professional buffalo hunters free ammunition. Native chiefs were also brought East to Washington in what would become an intimidation measure.

After nearly three decades of sporadic warfare, most of the Native American groups of the Plains were pushed onto reservations by 1890. The last "battle" was the Wounded Knee Massacre and it would not have been possible if not for the hardships of life on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Life on the reservations was hard and the reservation continues to be a place of poverty in the United States today. The Indian agents put in charge of these during the 1800s were often either inefficient or corrupt, thus leading to needless hardship. Native children were shipped to places like Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania in order to learn how to be "white." White agents on the reservations sought to curtail native culture and speech and today these are gradually being rediscovered and celebrated. The reservations were later broken down for private ownership of land but this meant that the Native Americans lost even more land as the remainder was sold to settlers and developers. While both Native Americans and the U.S. government killed many innocent bystanders in their wars, it was the broken treaties and cultural blindness of the U.S. government that is to blame for much of the conflict. This is not to say that the United States was any worse than any other colonial power at the time, given the way that France and Britain treated Africans in their colonies; rather, the United States cannot claim the moral high ground in its expansion efforts.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial