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Cultural Diversity: Breaking Barriers, Widening Perspectives
In addition to their differences in race and religion, American Indians and whites were separated by deep cultural differences. The settlers were mostly farmers who believed strongly in the value of owning land and other property. Most American Indians were hunters who might range over a territory of thousands of square miles but hold property loosely or in common. The whites, with their more rigid concept of property, felt they had a more legitimate claim to the vast North American wilderness.
This view of property blended well with other views held by whites—particularly the semi-scientiflc theory that nonwhite races were inferior and the belief that white Americans were a “chosen people” sent to “tame” the wilderness. The result was the conviction that it was their destiny to settle the new lands “from sea to shining sea.” American Indians lost hunting grounds to the waves of settlers by sale, treaty, or outright seizure. The game animals they depended on, such as the great herds of buffalo in the Plains, were killed or driven off by settlers passing through.
American Indians fought back, and from 1790 to 1890, the United States Army met Indian warriors in one bloody conflict after another. Troops led by General “Mad Anthony” Wayne defeated the Miamis in Ohio in 1794. In 1811, at the hard-fought battle of Tippecanoe in Indiana Territory, General William Henry Harrison defeated Tecumseh, chief of the Shawnees, and earned a reputation that carried him to the presidency. Andrew Jackson conquered the Creek Indians in Louisiana in 1814 and then subdued the Seminoles in Florida in 1818, in what is called the First Seminole War. He, too, went on to become president.
Since it was felt that Indian and white societies could not blend, the government’s policy until 1825 was that American Indians should be restricted to reservations in their original homelands, where they would become farmers. As white settlements grew, Congress decided that all Indians should be removed to new reservations west of the Mississippi River, where the land was thought to be less hospitable.
In many cases the removal policy led to renewed fighting. Indians were at a disadvantage in these fights. They were often outnumbered and poorly armed, and the various tribes seldom formed alliances to oppose the whites. One by one the tribes of the Midwest—such as the Black Hawk, Sac, and Fox —were defeated. Meanwhile, in the South, the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, and Seminoles—called the Five Civilized Tribes, because some lived like whites—were forced from their lands and ordered to march to Indian territory in what is now Oklahoma.
The journey became known as the Trail of Tears because of the hardships and indignity they suffered. Not all the Seminoles had been rounded up, and a second Seminole war, led by Chief Osceola, broke out in 1835. It dragged on for seven years before the Seminoles were finally defeated.
New Mexico. Fighting along the frontier did not even stop during the Civil War, although both North and South bid for Indian support with offers of land and other rewards.
Both American Indians and American settlers committed tragic acts in the fight for the frontier. The Santee Sioux killed more than eight hundred whites in Minnesota in an 1862 uprising that began over food shortages. In Colorado in 1864, soldiers killed two hundred Cheyennes, including women and children, who were trying to surrender. This unprovoked attack became known as the Sand Creek Massacre.
In the Far West, it was the soldiers who often found themselves outnumbered by the Indians. Their battles were reported to the populated East, and Indian-fighters quickly attained legendary status. There was “Portugee” Phillips, who rode through a blinding blizzard to bring help to Fort Phil Kearny in Wyoming, besieged by the Sioux in 1867. There was General George Crook, who crushed two Apache uprisings in the Southwest (the second, which lasted from 1862 to 1886, led by Geronimo).
And, of course, there was General George Armstrong Custer, who fell to Sitting Bull’s Sioux warriors at the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876. Largely because of Custer’s poor judgment, not a single white soldier survived the battle. it was perhaps the greatest American Indian victory in the struggle for the West. But reports portrayed the general as a hero—a valiant man who lost his life to the savage Indian fighters in what became known in the east as “Custer’s Last Stand."
Elaine. Racial Prejudice: Why Can’t We Overcome? Franklin Watts, New York,
Reflection Exercise #2
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