Kingdoms in the past often expanded their territories to get more land to till, graze their animals, and develop their cities. Westward expansion occurred in the United States where the kingdom acquired territories across the whole of the North American Continent from the Atlantic Ocean in the eastern part all the way to the Pacific Ocean in the west. The success of Westward Expansion was through wars, buying land, treaties and the displacement of the original inhabitants who were Native American Indians. The idea of Westward Expansion began in 1845 when James Polk, who was the president came up with the notion of the Manifest Destiny of the United States. Manifest Destiny is the imperialistic expansion of American land westward which was ideally believed to be the American dream (Zinn, pg 16). However, this paper describes the Westward Expansion between from the year 1860 to 1890.
After the Civil War, Native Americans were allowed to have small lands. Americans lived in the Eastern area occupying the land where they used for farming and keeping livestock specifically Buffalo. The US government discarded its policy of treating much of the West as a large Indian reserve during the early 1860s. The government introduced a system of small, separate tribal reservations, where Indians were to be located. Some of the Indian tribes accepted their fate, however, some tribes, having approximately a population of over 100,000 resisted. These tribes waged war against the US Army to protect their lands in the west.
The railroad was concentrated only on the major cities in the Eastern part with no connection to the west. The building of the transcontinental railroad to connect east to west across the United States began in the year 1862 (Brinkley, pg 64). The Pacific Railroad Act chartered the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroad companies to construct the railway line to connect the East to the West. The two companies raced to cover a large mile since each mile of rail a company construct earns them money.
By 1869, Union Pacific and Central Pacific completed the construction of a railway line that connected Chicago in the East with San Francisco in the west. The railroad enabled people to move from the East to the West within a short period. The rail shortened the journey of traveling from east coast to west coast. It took approximately 5 to 8 months to travel by wagon. But the introduction of rail reduced the journey to a one week trip.
During the period 1860 to 1870, the Native Americans resisted the move by Americans to confine them in reservations. These Indian tribes engaged in constant wars with the non-Indians. They raided the American settlements and attacked troop installments throughout the late 1860s to 1870s. In the year 1874, there was a fierce battle referred to as the Red River War where the Cheyennes in Kansas engaged American troops.
In June 1876, Colonel George Armstrong Custer and his army were killed by Sioux forces in the Battle of Little Bighorn while trying to control the Great Plains and concentrate all Indians to reservations (Bicknell, pg 96). Custer unwisely divided his troops who were subdued by Indians who were superior in numbers killing him and all his troops. After this terrible defeat, the army employed a new strategy of harassing Sioux bands in a battle of abrasion. These military tactics become successful in subduing the Sioux and other tribes throughout the West making Indians to gradually lose their will to resist.
In the year 8887, the United States government passed the Dawes Severalty Act which called for the discarding of the reservations. The Act also called for the treatment of Indians as individuals instead of dealing with them as tribes. The Dawes Act provided for the distribution of 320 acres of grazing land or 160 acres of farmland to any Indian who accepted to comply with the act. Such Indians would finally become the citizens of the United States after 25 years. The goal was to hold Indians to merge into white society. However, the act aided in the creation of federally dependent Indians.
In late 1880, the Sioux were very desperate and resorted to desperate means of reclaiming their original land. They decided to visit Prophet Wovoka who recommended that they should perform a ghost dance (Zinn, pg 46). Therefore, Indians gathered in bands and performed their ritual to reaffirm their culture. The military officials and other Indian official were suspicious of the move and attempted to arrest Sioux war hero Chief Sitting Bull. During the skirmishes, the Sitting Bull was accidentally shot outside the cabin.
The Massacre at Wounded Knee in 1887 marked the end of Indian resistance where American troops slaughtered 300 Indians and six children. The massacre was a symbolic final step of the quest for conquering the West. The Plains Indians were finally subdued and moved to reservation areas throughout the next coming years. By early 1890s the Americans have constructed different railroads to connect various parts within the plains and developed new cities such as Omaha, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Denver.
Zinn, Howard. A people’s history of the United States. Boxtree, 2016.
Bicknell, John. America 1844: Religious fervor, westward expansion, and the presidential election that transformed the nation. Chicago Review Press, 2014.
Brinkley, Alan. The Unfinished Nation: A Concise History of the American People, Volume I. Vol. 11. McGraw-Hill, 2015.