Relationship between the Indians and the White man on the Frontier during the 1850s to the 1880s Essay

Relationship between the Indians and the White man on the Frontier during the 1850s to the 1880s


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            The relationship between the Indians and the white man in the 1850s to the 1880s was not smooth. There had been a struggle between the Indians and the whites concerning land, which was at first owned by the Indians. Some early American invaders bought land, thus recognizing the Indians as the rightful possessors, while others merely squatted where they landed and continued to expand their holdings, ignoring prior Indian possession. Long before the western Indian country was invaded by the American trappers and settlers, this area had been a battleground of the warring Indian tribes. In these intertribal wars the larger and stronger tribes expelled the smaller, weaker ones from choice hunting territories. Mobile nomadic tribes preyed the farming Indians, who lived in more sedentary villages and grew crops in the river valleys nearby. All this changed with the invasion of the Indian lands by the whites. In this essay, I will discuss the relationship that resulted from the Indians and the whites as a result of the land invasion.

Whites invade the Indian’s land

Throughout the 19th century hostile Indians, the descendants of the aboriginal occupants of the region provided a major obstacle to the winning of the American West beyond the Mississippi river. It was there that many desperate Indian tribes made their heroic stand to preserve and fight for their traditional hunting grounds from intrusion by the American trappers, miners, farmers, cattle men, and overland emigrants. On the other hand, the white, both soldiers and civilians laid down their lives, struggling to develop the Indian country into a safe place where they could live with their families. The war was tough, extending form Minnesota westward to the Pacific coast, from the Canadian boundary southward to Mexico. Throughout this land, the overrunning of the Indian land by the white men was irritating and alarm to the Indians. Although the war was not always open, a minor incident could at times trigger a bitter, prolonged and constantly Indian war.

Indian intertribal wars

When the whites started invading the Indian lands, they took advantage of the bitter animosities that resulted from generations of inter tribal hostility towards each other. Due to the feuds, the Indians were unable to unite and defend their land from intrusion by the whites. These long standing conflicts between the neighboring tribes aided the whites during the period of Indian wars. For example, in the Sioux wars members of the Pawnee, Crow and the Shoshone tribes, which had long suffered from the aggression of the mighty Sioux, joined the whites in their efforts to pacify a common enemy. Later, in the Southwest, friendly Apache scouts helped the army to seek out elusive hostile Apache lands. It is clear from these examples, that the illiteracy of the Indians cost them their land. Had they known better, they would have united and formed a string army to defend their land.

The wars between the Americans and the Indians

            Since the early 1940s, the American beaver trappers fanned the Blackfoot animosity by trespassing upon their lands and taking beaver from their streams. Throughout the period of the Rocky mountain fur trade, the Blackfeet and the Gros Ventre allies fought many small battles with the hardy trappers. The most common of these wars was the Battle of Pierre’s Hole. It was not until the decline of the fur trade in the early 1950s that the American settlers became a major source of irritation to the western Indians. On the expanding frontier of the Texas, the wild Comanche met the six-shooter-toting Texas Rangers. Farther north emigrant wagon trains bound westward for Oregon, California and Utah killed and frightened game in the plains country through which they passed and roused the hostility of the powerful Sioux. The Americans scared the buffalos, which were the major sources of food for the Indians. This way they were set to fight the Indians, who did not have other major sources of food.

During the 1940s and the 1950s, the frontier of the white settlement expanded rapidly in

Minnesota and in the region beyond the Rockies. The invasion of the Indian lands by white farmers and miners precipitated numerous local Indian wars as widely scattered areas of the West-in California, Washington Territory, Utah, Nevada, the Southwest and Minnesota. In some of these areas of conflict, the settlers organized volunteer forces to fight the Indians, although the army continued to bear the major responsibility for pacifying hostile tribes of the fur flung frontier. The decade of the 1860s witnessed the negotiation of the numerous treaties with western Indian tribes under the terms of which the Indians normally agreed to cede portions of their lands and to limit their own activities to the reservations left to them.

However, many tribes, both large and small, had difficulty making a living through traditional pursuits upon their reservations left to them. Many of the hardest-fought battles of the West were waged by desperate, restless “reservation Indians” during the decade of the 70s. The army fought the Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Kiowa and the Comanche on the Great Plains, the Apaches in the Southwest, and the Modoc, Nez Perces, and Bannacks in the Northwest. No until the mid 1880s did the last Apache “hostile”-as friendly Indians were called –finally surrender and lay down their arms. It is said that no opposing forces ever differed more radically than the American Army and the hostile Indians of the west from 1850 to 1880. The leaders of the American Army were professional military men, who had studied the great battles of the history at West Point. On the other hand, the Indian soldiers had no formal training; they relied on the traditional skills passed on to them by their ancestors.


Indian warfare had been a major deterrent to the expansion of white settlements in America since colonial times. It has been said that it took a hundred years of forest-felling and Indian fighting for the white settlement to move the first hundred miles inland from the Atlantic coast. In the Middle West, the leadership of great chiefs like Black Hawk, Pontiac and Tecumseh, the Indians delayed but could not stop the relentless westward movement of settlers. In the Woodward of the South, the Creeks and the Seminoles had resisted with equal courage and stubbornness, but they could not stem the rising tide of white home seekers. From the essay, it is clear that the relationship between the Indians and the whites was characterized by wars and enmity as the whites fought the Indians in an effort to expand their frontiers further in to the Indian lands.

Works cited

Westerners. Potomac Corral, Potomac Corral of the Westerners, D. Haper Simms, Berten Wendell Allred.14th edition. Great Western Indian Fights. Translated by Berten Wendell Allred, J. C. Dykes. University of Nebraska Press: 1966. Pg 15-25