- Coming Soon
BIG IDEA: Native Americans had been fighting White expansion for many years. Their primary goal was preserving their land which was the principal factor in their decisions about who to side with in the Seven Years War, American Revolution, War of 1812, and in their own conflicts with White Americans.
Thomas Jefferson purchased Louisiana from France in 1803. The land he bought was much larger than the current State of Louisiana. In effect, Jefferson doubled the size of the country. To explore the land he had just purchased, he sent Lewis and Clark on a multi-year journey to the Pacific Ocean and back. Their Corps of Discovery was meant to map the land, study the animals and plants, and make friendly connections to the Native Americans. They were helped by Sacagawea, a young mother who helped translate along the way.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition may have been peaceful, but most encounters between White Americans and Native Americans were not. Natives had been fighting for 60 years to try to preserve their lands, and they mostly were losing. They had fought in the Seven Years War, the Revolution and during the War of 1812.
Between the Revolution and the War of 1812, Tecumseh and his brother “The Prophet” Tenskwatawa had tried to unite the tribes along the Mississippi River to form a wall against White expansion. They ended up fighting American troops at the Battle of Tippecanoe led by William Henry Harrison and lost. Tecumseh left for Canada, Harrison became popular and won the presidency, and White expansion continued.
Much of this fighting took place in the region we now call the Midwest, encompassing the states of Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin. Once Native Americans had been defeated and the Erie Canal opened, White settlers from New England, New York and Pennsylvania swarmed in. They all became states before the Civil War.
Creeks in the South also fought White advancement into their territory at the same time as the War of 1812. Like William Henry Harrison, Andrew Jackson fought them, won and later won the presidency as well.
TEXAS & MEXICO
BIG IDEA: Americans who moved to Texas initiated a war for independence from Mexico, and later President Polk launched a war against Mexico that resulted in Mexico giving half of its land to the United States.
Texas was originally part of New Spain, and then Mexico after Mexico won independence. Mexico invited American settlers to move into Texas to increase the non-Native population. These were Tejanos, and they brought their slaves with them. When Mexico outlawed slavery, the Tejanos decided to fight for independence from Mexico. They did not want to give up slavery, they did not speak Spanish, and they were not Catholic.
The Texas Revolution was a success for the Tejanos. After the loss of the Alamo, they defeated Mexican dictator Santa Anna and forced him to recognize Texan independence. Sam Houston became the president of the new Republic of Texas. Almost immediately they asked Congress to annex the territory, but because of concerns about balancing slave and free states in the Senate, Texas remained independent for ten years.
Americans started to believe in the idea of manifest destiny. They thought that god wanted their nation to stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans. They elected James K. Polk president in 1844. He was a strong believer in this idea and promised to annex Texas. He also promised to go to war with Great Britain over control of the Oregon Territory.
Polk did go to war with Mexico, but chose to settle with Great Britain peacefully. The Oregon Territory was divided. The modern states of Oregon and Washington became American territory. British Columbia is now part of Canada.
Polk annexed Texas and then instigated a war with Mexico by sending American troops across the Nueces River into land both the United States and Mexico claimed. Some Americans believed a war with Mexico was wrong, but many others wanted land in the West and supported the effort. The war went well. American troops invaded Mexico, defeated Santa Anna and forced him to give up the Mexican Cession, which makes up most or all of what is now the states of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah.
The Mexican-American War had some important impacts. Zachary Taylor who was the hero of the Mexican-American War was elected president. The young officers in the war later led the armies of the Civil War. Debate about expanding slavery into the new lands won from Mexico helped cause the Civil War.
The final piece of land that makes up the map of the United States we know today was the Gadsden Purchase. It was bought from Mexico in order to build a railroad along flat land between Texas and California.
THE PEOPLE OF THE WEST
BIG IDEA: There were many groups of people who defined the character of the West. Some of these people have become mythologized.
Mountain men were fur trappers and explorers who mapped the West. They met every year to share news and sell their furs. Some later became guides to show the way for pioneers.
Miners went to the West in search of gold, silver and copper. The 49ers went to California beginning in 1849 after gold was discovered. Some struck it rich, but many did not. Levi Strauss invented jeans to sell to miners who wore out their pants panning for gold. California grew tremendously because of this gold rush. Silver rushes in Nevada, copper rushes in Montana, and a gold rush in Alaska also drove increases in the populations of these future states.
In some places in the West, thousands of people flocked to a particular spot to dig in a mine. These sudden towns were places without the traditional structures like police, churches, and women who helped maintain civic order in the East. Stories from these towns gave rise to the legend of the Wild West. In some cases, when the gold or silver ran out, people simply left, leaving behind empty ghost towns.
Ranchers started rounding up the longhorn cattle of the Texas prairie, the descendants of cattle released by the Spanish. Cowboys drove herds of these cows north to the ends of the railroads where they were loaded up and shipped to Chicago. There the cattle were slaughtered and shipped to customers in the East. Within a few decades the railroads spread, farmers put up barbed wire, and the days of the cattle drives were over. The legend of the cowboy and the cattle drive come from this short era in history.
Gunslingers became a popularized character of the West. The mythologized cowboy with six shooters in both hips who stood up for justice and hunted down evildoers is based on some real characters from the real West, but is mostly a creation of Hollywood. This frontier myth is still an important idea in modern America. We like our pickup trucks and the lone hero who sets out on a quest to fight the good fight. There were some real outlaws in the West, most notably the James-Younger Gang, Billy the Kid and Butch Cassidy.
Railroads eventually stretched across the West. The first transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869. The western side was built mostly by Chinese immigrants. Other railroads soon followed.
The army built forts in the West. These served as trading hubs and stopping points for pioneers crossing the plains. The Homestead Act gave inexpensive land to anyone who could stay and survive as farmers in the West. This last group of people to move West were the ones who stayed and truly settled the West, because they came as families. Some were Exodusters, former slaves who struck out to make a new life on the prairie. Life on the plains was hard, and some didn’t make it. Over time, farmers sold their land to bonanza farms and farming started to consolidate the same way industry was consolidating in the East. With the expansion of railroads, homesteaders could buy things from the East. Mail order catalogue companies such as Sears, grew up to provide for them.
Hispanics who found themselves in the United States after the Mexican-American War often lost their land to Whites. Some fought back, but they generally lost out as Whites pushed west.
Chinese immigrants who arrived in California for the gold rush, also lost out. Whites did not want to share claims to land and Chinese immigrants ended up working in industries that supported the miners, or on the railroads. The Chinese Exclusion Act ended all immigration from China in 1882.
THE INDIAN WARS
BIG IDEA: The last violent conflicts between Whites and independent Native Americans were in the late 1800s on the Great Plains. Ultimately the army defeated the last of the tribes and forced them to move to reservations where official government policy attempted to destroy Native culture.
As White homesteaders moved into the Great Planes they encountered the last of the free Native American tribes. Some groups moved peacefully. The government promised money and land in the First Treaty of Fort Laramie. In the late 1800s, the army fought a series of wars with the tribes that did not agree to move.
The Sioux were a large confederation of tribes living in what is now the Dakotas and Montana. Violent conflicts between Sioux and White settlers led to the Sand Creek Massacre by the army. Treaties the Natives did sign were often broken. Eventually, the Sioux formed up into a massive fighting force under Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. In 1876, the 7th Cavalry under the command of General Custer lost the Battle of Little Bighorn to this combined Sioux force.
Central to the life of the plains tribes was the buffalo. They used it for its meat, fur, bone, and it was central to their religion as well. Whites understood this and began to slaughter the buffalo on a massive scale. They correctly believed that if there were no buffalo, the Native Americans would not be able to survive and would be forced to move to reservations.
Congress passed the Dawes Act, which sought to make Native Americans live more like White Americans. It divided tribal lands into small portions so that individuals owned property instead of collective ownership by tribes. In most cases, the land set aside for reservations was not good for farming, and these nomads-turned-farmers struggled to survive. They became dependent on the government for supplies of food. Depression and alcoholism developed. The government succeeded in destroying Native cultural practices.
Chief Joseph led his Nez Perce tribe on a desperate trek to cross the border into Canada and escape reservation life. However, he and his people were starving in the cold while pursued by the army and were caught a few miles from the border. His surrender message is famous for its sadness.
The final violent conflict of the Indian Wars happened at Wounded Knee. A new religious movement had swept through Native American societies in the West promising that if they engaged in a Ghost Dance the Whites would disappear and the buffalo would return. A group of mostly women, children and old men engaged in this dance were slaughtered by the army in 1890.
In the following decades, boarding schools were opened where Native Children were taught English and White culture. The Carlisle Indian School was the most famous of these. It was not until the 1940s that this process of forced Americanization ended.