Railroads and Conflict in the West

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What caused the Indian Wars between 1860 and 1890, and what were their effects?

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The main cause of the Indian Wars of this period was the notion of Manifest Destiny. For decades, Americans from the east were pushing west in an effort to gain control of more land and resources. Many felt that it was their God-given right to control the continent from sea to sea. This was accelerated by the expansion of the railroad during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Sometimes valuable resources such as gold and other precious metals were discovered on native land. This encouraged more settlers and led to inevitable conflict. Land was also desired for the purposes of ranching and farming.

Some white settlers and military officers took very anti-native stances. One extreme example is Colonel John Milton Chivington, who instructed his men to kill any native on sight. His actions, and that of many others, led to atrocities that instigated numerous acts of retaliation by Native Americans. This led to the American Army being sent to subdue native populations and force them onto reservations.

One significant and lasting effect of these conflicts is the vast reduction in the Native American population. Today, less than one percent of the population of the United States identifies as Native American. Many still live on reservations where they practice limited self-autonomy. Many of these reservations are characterized by high rates of poverty and few social services. Many more have assimilated into the general population of the country, resulting in the loss of cultural traditions and heritage.

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One of the main causes of the Indian Wars was the rapid growth of America's railroad network. The completion of the first Transcontinental Railroad Network allowed more Americans to live the dream and head out West, where land was in plentiful supply and where new jobs were being created. With the cities of East becoming increasingly overcrowded and polluted, the myth of Manifest Destinywhich had captured the imagination of so many Americansencouraged a new generation to seek their fortunes out West.

Unfortunately, this meant greater encroachments on Indian land. As more and more settlers came out West, it was inevitable that conflict would arise between the newcomers and the indigenous tribes, and so it proved. When gold was discovered in Western territories such as California, the ensuing rush guaranteed the appropriation of Indian lands by white settlers.

When native tribes responded to such growing encroachments with violence against white settlers, the Army was sent in. Army massacres against Indian tribes became an all too frequent occurrence during this period of American history; some scholars have gone so far as to call it genocide, the deliberate extermination of an entire people.

However one wishes to describe these tragic events, the root cause was the same: the Indians had land that the white man wanted to take for himself and the white man was prepared to do whatever it took to take it.

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The Indian Wars between 1860 and 1890 were caused by the colonization of the North American continent by white settlers. Specifically, the Indian Wars focused on the colonization of indigenous people and their lands by white settlers as they expanded their settlements towards the west coast of what is now called the U.S. The wars resulted from indigenous people defending their homelands, cultures, and lives, as white settlers moved westward and caused mass displacement and death. As indigenous people fought back against colonization from white settlers, many battles were fought along the frontlines of westward expansion. The U.S. sent small armies to assist settlers as they moved westward, which greatly increased the displacement experienced by indigenous tribes. The wars resulted in the death, displacement, and cultural genocide of indigenous people by white settlers and the U.S. government. Eventually, the U.S. government implemented horrifically racist "kill the Indian, save the man" policies that forced indigenous people into immensely abusive boarding schools, outlawed speaking indigenous languages, and forced indigenous people onto reservations.

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The basic cause of the Indian Wars between 1860 and 1890 was the fact that the Americans wanted the land that the Indians had and the resources that might be in and on that land. The earliest wars were brought on to some degree by the Civil War, but the basic cause was still the American desire for more land and resources.

As American pioneers moved west, they encountered Indian tribes. The Americans wanted the land that belonged to the Indians and so the Indians needed to be moved. This movement was generally accomplished by signing treaties with the Indians whereby the Indians agreed (some historians argue that they did this without understanding what they were signing and/or under duress) to move to specific areas and leave the rest of the land for the whites. However, as time went by, pioneers wanted more and more land. This was particularly true when there were gold rushes like the one in Colorado in 1859 or the one that followed the discovery of gold in the Black Hills in 1874. When this happened, the Indians had to be moved onto smaller and smaller reservations. When the Indians were forced to move, conflict often erupted, usually between the Americans and Indian factions that did not want to live on the reservations. The main cause of these wars, then, was the Americans’ desire for more land and resources.

The main effects of these wars was to push the Indians off their land and on to reservations and, thereby, to open up the land to American settlers. As the Indians were pushed onto reservations, they lost their ability to live their traditional way of life. The loss of their traditional ways was hurried by things like the destruction of the bison, the Dawes Severalty Act, and the boarding school system. Once the Indians were removed, the American settlers were free to enjoy the use of the land.

Thus, the Indian Wars of 1860 to 1890 were caused by the American desire for more land, and the wars resulted in the destruction of the Indians’ way of life and the opening of the West for American use.

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