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The Occupation and Domination of the American

West
The Transcontinental Railroad
Along with the development of the atomic bomb, the digging of the Panama Canal, and landing the first men on the
moon, the construction of a transcontinental railroad was one of the United States' greatest technological
achievements. Railroad track had to be laid over 2,000 miles of rugged terrain, including mountains of solid granite.
Before the transcontinental railroad was completed, travel overland by stagecoach cost $1,000, took five or six
months, and involved crossing rugged mountains and arid desert. The alternatives were to travel by sea around the
tip of South America, a distance of 18,000 miles; or to cross the Isthmus of Panama, then travel north by ship to
California. Each route took months and was dangerous and expensive. The transcontinental railroad would make it
possible to complete the trip in five days at a cost of $150 for a first-class sleeper.
The first spikes were driven in 1863, in the midst of the Civil War. Two companies competed to lay as much track as
possible. The Central Pacific built east from Sacramento, Calif., while the Union Pacific built west from Omaha,
Neb. The government gave the companies rights of way of 200 feet on each side of the track and financial aid of
$16,000 to $48,000 for each mile of track laid.
At first, the Union Pacific, which had flat terrain, raced ahead. The Central Pacific had to run train track through the
Sierra Nevada Mountains. Working three shifts around the clock, Chinese immigrants hand drilled holes into which
they packed black powder and later nitroglycerine. The progress in the tunnels through the mountains was
agonizingly slow, an average of a foot a day.
Stung by the Union Pacific's record of eight miles of track laid in a single day, the Central Pacific concocted a plan
to lay 10 miles in a day. Eight Irish tracklayers put down 3,520 rails, while other workers laid 25,800 ties and drove
28,160 spikes in a single day. On May 10, 1869, at Promontory Summit, Utah, a golden spike was hammered into
the final tie.
The transcontinental railroad was built in six years almost entirely by hand. Workers drove spikes into mountains,
filled the holes with black powder, and blasted through the rock inch by inch. Handcarts moved the drift from cuts to
fills. Bridges, including one 700 feet long and 126 feet in the air, had to be constructed to ford streams. Thousands of
workers, including Irish and German immigrants, former Union and Confederate soldiers, freed slaves, and
especially Chinese immigrants played a part in the construction. Chinese laborers first went to work for the Central
Pacific as it began crossing California's Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1865. At one point, 8,000 of the 10,000 men
toiling for the Central Pacific were Chinese. At one point, Chinese workers were lowered in hand-woven reed
baskets to drill blasting holes in the rock. They placed explosives in each hole, lit the fuses, and were, hopefully,
pulled up before the powder was detonated. Explosions, freezing temperatures, and avalanches in the High Sierras
killed hundreds. When Chinese workers struck for higher pay, a Central Pacific executive withheld their food
supplies until they agreed to go back to work.
An English-Chinese phrase book from 1867 translated the following phrases into Chinese:
Can you get me a good boy? He wants $8 a month? He ought to be satisfied with $6.... Come at 7 every morning.
Go home at 8 every night. Light the fire. Sweep the rooms. Wash the clothes. Wash the windows. Sweep the stairs.
Trim the lamps. I want to cut his wages.
Many of the railroad's builders viewed the Plains Indians as obstacles to be removed. General William Tecumseh
Sherman wrote in 1867: "The more we can kill this year, the less will have to be killed the next year, for the more I
see of these Indians the more convinced I am that they all have to be killed or be maintained as a species of
paupers."

The Occupation and Domination of the American West

Construction of the railroad provided many opportunities for financial chicanery, corruption, graft, and bribery. The
greatest financial scandal of the 19th century grew out of the railroad's construction. The president of the Union
Pacific helped found a construction company, called Credit Mobilier, which allowed investors, including several
members of Congress, to grant lucrative construction contracts to themselves, while nearly bankrupting the railroad.
The railroad had profound effects on American life. New phrases entered the American vocabulary such as "time's
up," "time's a wasting," and "the train is leaving the station." It also led to the division of the nation into four
standard time zones. In addition, the railroads founded many of the towns on the Great Plains on land grants they
were awarded by the federal government, and then sold the land to settlers.
The completion of the transcontinental railroad changed the nation. Western agricultural products, coal, and minerals
could move freely to the east coast. Just as the Civil War united North and South, the transcontinental railroad united
East and West. Passengers and freight could reach the west coast in a matter of days instead of months at one-tenth
the cost. Settlers rushed into what was previously considered a desert wasteland. The 1890 Census would declare
that the American frontier had disappeared. The railroad was a major cause.
Equally important, the success of the transcontinental railroad encouraged an American faith that with money,
determination, and organization anything can be accomplished. The construction of railroad demonstrated the
effectiveness of complex military-like organization and assembly-line processes.
The Great American Desert
When he explored the area that was to become Nebraska and Oklahoma in 1820, Major Stephen H. Long called the
region "the Great American Desert." He considered the area "almost wholly unfit for cultivation, and of course
uninhabitable by a people depending upon agriculture for their subsistence." It was flat, treeless, and arid.
Half a century later, the "Great American Desert" received a new name, the Great Plains. This region consists of the
area east of the Rockies and just west of the 100th meridian: the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, a
significant part of Texas, and New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. Instead of being viewed as an
obstacle to America's westward expansion, the plains were quickly transformed into America's breadbasket and the
site of many of the country's richest mines.
Americans surged westward after 1860 for many reasons. The discovery of mineral deposits brought thousands of
people into the region, causing towns to spring up overnight. By opening up eastern markets to farmers and
ranchers, railroad construction also stimulated population growth on the plains.
The Mining Frontier
The richest silver deposit in American history was discovered in 1857 in Nevada. Two brothers, Evan and Hosea
Grosh, found the deposit, but died before they were able to record their claims. Henry Comstock, a sheepherder and
prospector, who cared for the brothers' cabin, unsuccessfully tried to find gold on the land, sold his claims within
months, and died a poor man. But the silver lode came to bear his name.
While the Comstock claim did contain some gold, miners were unable to get to it because it of an abundance of
bluish clay. It turned out that the clay was silver of exceptional purity. This discovery triggered a rush of thousands
of miners to the area. A railroad was quickly built and the area became one of the most heavily industrialized areas
in the West.
Virginia City, a town built on top of the mother lode, was the most important city between Chicago and the Pacific
in the 1870s. The population soared from 4,000 in 1862 to 25,000 in 1874. The town's six-story hotel had the only
elevator west of Chicago, and downtown had 110 saloons, several opium dens, and 20 theaters and music halls.
Largely because of Virginia City's population boom, Nevada Territory was created in 1861 and statehood came just
three years later. By the 1870s, over $230 million had been produced by the mines, helping to finance the Civil War
and bolstering the value of the Union's paper greenbacks. But beginning in 1877, Virginia City's population began to
decline, and by 1930, only 500 still lived in the town.

The Occupation and Domination of the American West

Working the Comstock Lode was extraordinarily dangerous. Apart from the risk of cave-ins and underground fires,
miners had to worry about underground flooding. The temperature of water below 700 feet rose to 108 degrees.
When miners penetrated through rock, steam and scalding water would pour into the tunnel, and miners had to jump
into cages, risking death if the hoisting mechanisms failed to lift them quickly enough.
It was in Virginia City that Samuel Clemens acquired the pseudonym Mark Twain. At the age of 26 in the summer of
1862, with just $45 to his name, Clemens accepted a job as a $25 a week reporter for Virginia City's most influential
daily newspaper. A year later he began signing the name "Mark Twain" to his columns. In a letter to his mother he
described life in the rowdy mining town:
I have just heard five pistol shots down the street.... The pistol did its work well...two of my friends [were shot].
Both died within three minutes.
In his book Roughing It, Twain described the arduous process of refining the ore. Workers, wielding sledgehammers,
broke up the ore, which was then pulverized by machines. The dust was mixed with water, mercury, and salt in
heated tubs. The mercury attracted particles of silver and gold. When heated, the mercury evaporated, leaving pure
gold and silver. About 15 million pounds of poisonous mercury were used to extract gold and silver from the ore.
Today, the Comstock mines are contaminated with levels of mercury 26 times higher than the federal standard.
One of the earliest discovers of the Comstock Lode's silver riches was George Hearst, who later found more mineral
wealth in the mountains of Utah and South Dakota and finally the Anaconda copper deposits in Montana. His son,
William Randolph Hearst would become the nation's most powerful publishing baron. Beginning with The San
Francisco Examiner, which his father gave him in 1887, when William was 24, he would develop the nation's first
media empire, including newspapers in most major cities and a string of magazines.
In the late 1850s and 1860s, gold and silver strikes brought thousands of miners to Nevada and Colorado. The
discovery of gold in Colorado in 1858 brought more than 100,000 to the area. On land that was promised to
Arapahoe and Cheyenne Indians in an 1851 treaty, Denver was founded in November 1858. The discovery of
precious metals in Nevada and Colorado in the late 1850s was followed by rushes to Idaho and Montana in the
1860s, and the Black Hills of South Dakota in the 1870s.
Cattle Ranching
The development of the railroad made it profitable to raise cattle on the Great Plains. In 1860, some five-million
longhorn cattle grazed in the Lone Star state. Cattle that could be bought for $3 to $5 a head in Texas could be sold
for $30 to $50 at railroad shipping points in Abilene or Dodge City in Kansas. Cowboys had to drive their cattle a
thousand miles northward to reach the Kansas railheads.
Although the popular image of the cowboy is of John Wayne or Roy Rodgers, many of the cowboys were African
Americans or Mexican Americans. About one in five cowboys was a Mexican American and one in seven was black.
By the 1880s, the cattle boom was over. An increase in the number of cattle led to overgrazing and destruction of the
fragile Plains grasses. Sheep ranchers competed for scarce water, and the sheep ate the grass so close to the ground
that cattle could no longer feed on it. Bitter range wars erupted when cattle ranchers, sheep ranchers, and farmers
fenced in their land using barbed wire. The romantic era of the long drive and the cowboy came to an end when two
harsh winters in 1885-1886 and 1886-1887, followed by two dry summers, killed 80 to 90 percent of the cattle on
the Plains. As a result, corporate-owned ranches replaced individually owned ranches.
After the terrible winters, many ranchers decided to fence in their cattle rather than letting them roam freely. The
invention of barbed wire made it possible to build fences without lumber and protect railroad tracks from
stampeding animals. The first barbed wire was produced in 1868 and early barbed wire had to be manufactured by
hand. Two strands of wire were wound together and barbs were then threaded through the wires.
A salesman, John "Bet a Million" Gates, helped convince ranchers to adopt barbed wire. (He received his nickname
because he reportedly lost $1 million when he bet about which raindrop would slide down a train window the
fastest). In San Antonio, Texas, Gates bet local ranchers that they could not drive steers out of a corral made up of
eight strands of barbed wire.

The Occupation and Domination of the American West

Farming
Farming on the Great Plains depended on a series of technological innovations. Lacking much rainfall, farmers had
to drill wells several hundred feet into the ground to tap into underground aquifers. Windmill-powered pumps were
necessary to bring the water to the surface and irrigate fields. Steel tipped plows were necessary to cut through the
plains' grasses dense roots. To make up for a scarcity of farm labor, farmers relied heavily on mechanical threshing
machinery.
The Homestead Act
To encourage farmers to settle on the Great Plains, Congress passed the Homestead Act in 1862. This act allowed
any citizen or any immigrant intending to become a citizen to get title to 160 acres of land by paying a small fee,
living on the tract for five years, and making a few improvements. It also allowed settlers to pay $1.25 an acre and
own the land immediately.
Homestead Patent No. 1 was granted to a Daniel Freeman in 1862 for a tract in Nebraska. Between 1862 and 1900,
the Homestead Act provided farms to more than 400,000 families.
Homesteading proved to be very difficult. About a third of those who tried to develop homesteads eventually failed.
On the Great Plains, rain was scarce and a farm or ranch of 160 acres was too small to be economical.
Access to Water
Water was more important than gold or silver or copper in the development of the American West. West of the 100th
meridian, a year usually produces less than twenty inches of rainfall. Water was the lifeblood of the arid Plains. The
availability of cheap water is an environmental factor that has made possible for such western cities as Los Angeles,
Phoenix, and Salt Lake City to thrive.
At first, many farmers believed that "water follows the plow." They deluded themselves that if they planted trees and
built farms, rainfall would surely follow. It did not.
Windmills allowed late 19th century farmers to tap into underground aquifers. In the 20th century, canals, aqueducts,
and the damming of rivers transformed a vast, arid region into a region of sprawling cities and the nation's richest
farmland. Today, there are 1,200 major dams in California alone.
During the Great Depression, the construction of dams provided employment to the jobless and a cheap source of
electric power. In the 1930s, five major water projects were constructed simultaneously, including the California
Central Valley project that drained Tulare Lake, the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. When the
Hoover Dam was built during the Depression on the Colorado River, it was the largest dam on earth, standing 726
feet high. It was surpassed by the Grand Coulee Dam, which stretched 4,290 feet across the Columbia River and
created a 150-mile-long lake as its reservoir. It opened in 1942 and for some time was the world's single most
powerful source of electricity. It was not until the 1970s, that environmentalists begun to convince policy makers of
the negative ecological consequences of extensive dam building.
The End of the American Frontier
In 1890 the superintendent of the U.S. Census announced that rapid western settlement meant that "there can hardly
be said to be a frontier line." In just a quarter century, the far western frontier had been settled. Three million
families started farms on the Great Plains during these years.
Contrary to the popular image of the West as a rural region, by 1890 most of the West's population lived in cities.
Not only was the Trans-Mississippi West the country's most culturally diverse region, it was also by 1890, the most
urbanized.
The Turner Thesis
In 1893, three years after the superintendent of the Census announced that the western frontier was closed, Frederick
Jackson Turner, a historian from the University of Wisconsin, advanced a thesis that the conquest of the western
frontier had given American society its special character. At the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, marking the

The Occupation and Domination of the American West

400th anniversary of Columbus's discovery of the New World, Turner argued that the conquest of the western
frontier as the nation's formative experience, which had shaped the nation's character and values. Western expansion
accounted for Americans' optimism, their rugged independence, and their stress on adaptability, ingenuity, and self
reliance.
In actuality, however, the settlement of the West had depended, to a surprising degree, on intervention by the federal
government. The federal government had dispatched explorers to survey the region and cavalry units to confine
Native Americans on reservations. It also provided land grants that funded railroad building, and, in the 20th
century, support for dams and other waterworks.
In his address on the significance of the frontier in American history, Turner referred to the Census Bureau's
announcement that the frontier was now closed. He speculated that now that the frontier was settled, a crucial epoch
in American history was over.
When John F. Kennedy accepted the Democratic presidential election in 1960, he called on the country to enter a
new frontier. Since that time, Americans have repeatedly searched for new frontiers--in outer space and cyberspace
and even below the ocean's surface. The frontier remains a potent symbol more than a century after it physically
disappeared.
Indian Wars
Beginning in the 1860s, a 30 year conflict arose as the government sought to concentrate the Plains tribes on
reservations. Philip Sheridan, a Civil War general who led many campaigns against the Plains Indians, is famous for
saying "the only good Indian is a dead Indian." But even he recognized the injustice that lay behind the late 19th
century warfare:
We took away their country and their means of support, broke up their mode of living, their habits of life, introduced
disease and decay among them, and it was for this and against this that they made war. Could anyone expect less?
Violence erupted first in Minnesota, where, by 1862, the Santee Sioux were confined to a territory 150 miles long
and just 10 miles wide. Denied a yearly payment and agricultural aid promised by treaty, these people rose up in
August 1862 and killed 500 white settlers at New Ulm. Lincoln appointed John Pope, who had commanded Union
forces at the second Battle of Bull Run, to crush the uprising. The general announced that he would deal with the
Sioux "as maniacs or wild beasts, and by no means as people with whom treaties or compromises can be made."
When the Sioux surrendered in September 1862, about 1,800 were taken prisoner and 303 were condemned to death.
Lincoln commuted the sentences of most, but he authorized the hanging of 38, the largest mass execution in
American history.
In 1864, warfare spread to Colorado, after the discovery of gold led to an influx of whites. Because the regular army
was fighting the Confederacy, the Colorado territorial militia was responsible for maintaining order. On November
29, 1864, a group of Colorado volunteers, under the command of Colonel John M. Chivington, fell on Chief Black
Kettle's unsuspecting band of Cheyennes at Sand Creek in eastern Colorado, where they had gathered under the
protection of the governor. "We must kill them big and little," he told his men. "Nits make lice" (nits are the eggs of
lice). The militia slaughtered about 150 Cheyenne, mostly women and children.
Violence broke out on other parts of the Plains. Between 1865 and 1868, conflict raged in Utah. In 1866, the Teton
Sioux, tried to stop construction of the Bozeman Trail, leading from Fort Laramie, Wyoming to the Virginia City,
Wyoming, gold fields, by attacking and killing Captain William J. Fetterman and 79 soldiers.
The Sand Creek and Fetterman massacres produced a national debate over Indian policy. In 1867, Congress created
a Peace Commission to recommend ways to reduce conflict on the Plains. The commission recommended that
Indians be moved to small reservations, where they would be Christianized, educated, and taught to farm.
At two conferences in 1867 and 1868, the federal government demanded that the Plains Indians give up their lands
and move to reservations. In return for supplies and annuities, the southern Plains Indians were told to move to poor,
unproductive lands in Oklahoma and the northern tribes to the Black Hills of the Dakotas. The alternative to
acceptance was warfare. The commissioner of Indian Affairs, Ely S. Parker, himself a Seneca Indian, declared that
any Indian who refused to "locate in permanent abodes provided for them, would be subject wholly to the control

The Occupation and Domination of the American West

and supervision of military authorities." Many whites regarded the Plains Indians as an intolerable obstacle to
westward expansion. They agreed with Theodore Roosevelt that the West was not meant to be "kept as nothing but a
game reserve for squalid savages."
Leaders of several tribes--including the Apaches, Arapahos, Cheyennes, Kiowas, Navajos, Shoshones, and Sioux-agreed to move onto reservations. But many Indians rejected the land cessions made by their chiefs.
In the Southwest, war broke out in 1871 in New Mexico and Arizona with the massacre of more than 100 Indians at
Camp Grant. The Apache War did not end until 1886, when their leader, Geronimo was captured. On the southern
Plains, war erupted when the Cheyennes, Comanches, and Kiowas staged raids into the Texas panhandle. The Red
River War ended only after federal troops destroyed Indian food supplies and killed a hundred Cheyenne warriors
near the Sappa River in Kansas. This brought resistance on the southern Plains to a close. In the Pacific Northwest,
the Nez Perce of Oregon and Idaho rebelled against the federal reservation policy and then attempted to escape to
Canada, covering 1,300 miles in just 75 days. They were forced to surrender in Montana, just 40 miles short of the
Canadian border. Chief Joseph, the Nez Perce leader, offered a poignant explanation for why he had surrendered:
I am tired of fighting....The old men are all killed.... The little children are freezing to death....From where the sun
now stands, I will fight no more forever.
After their surrender, the Nez Perce were taken to Oklahoma, where most died of disease. The best-known episode
of Indian resistance took place after miners discovered gold in the Black Hills--land that had been set aside as a
reservation "in perpetuity." When thousands of miners staked claims on Sioux lands, war erupted, in which an Indian
force led by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull killed General George Custer and his 264 men at the Battle of the Little
Big Horn. "Custer's Last Stand" was followed by five years of warfare in Montana that confined the Sioux to their
reservations.
Several factors contributed to the defeat of the Plains Indians. One was a shift in the military balance of power.
Before the Civil War, an Indian could shoot 30 arrows in the time it took a soldier to load and shoot his rifle once.
The introduction of the Colt six-shooter and the repeating rifle after the Civil War, undercut this Indian advantage.
During the 1870s, the army also introduced a military tactic--winter campaigning. The army attacked Plains Indians
during the winter when they divided into small bands, making it difficult for Indians effectively to resist.
Another key factor was the destruction of the Indian food supply, especially the buffalo. In 1860, about 13 million
roamed the Plains. These animals provided Plains Indians with many basic necessities. They ate buffalo meat, made
clothing and tipi coverings out of hides, used fats for grease, fashioned the bones into tools and fishhooks, made
thread and bowstrings from the sinews, and even burned dried buffalo droppings ("chips") as fuel. Buffalo also
figured prominently in Plains Indians' religious life. After the Civil War, the herds were cut down by professional
hunters, who shot 100 an hour to feed railroad workers, and by wealthy easterners who killed them for sport. By
1890, only about 1,000 bison remained alive. Government officials quite openly viewed the destruction of the
buffalo as a tool for controlling the Plains Indians. Secretary of the Interior Columbus Delano explained in 1872, "as
they become convinced that they can no longer rely upon the supply of game for their support, they will return to the
more reliable source of subsistence...."
Sand Creek Massacre
Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, the lone American Indian in Congress, called it "one of the most
disgraceful moments in American history." About 700 U.S. army volunteers stormed through an Indian encampment
near Big Sandy Creek in Colorado, slaughtering scores of women and children. This episode became known as the
Sand Creek Massacre.
In the Spring of 1864, a wing of the Cheyenne tribe unleashed attacks on white settlers, which prompted John M.
Chivington, a Methodist minister who had become Colorado's military commander and was eager to become a
member of Congress, to call for volunteer Indian fighters for 100-day enlistments. On November 29, 1864, the
colonel and his volunteers rode into the Arapaho-Cheyenne reservation, where Indians led by the Cheyenne chief
Black Kettle had set up a camp weeks earlier. A white flag and an American flag flew above Black Kettle's tepee.

The Occupation and Domination of the American West

After unleashing cannon fire into the village, the volunteers swept the Creek bed, killing every Indian they could
find, often hunting down fleeing children. "Kill them big and small," Chivington reportedly said, "nits become lice"
(nits are the eggs of lice). After six hours, about 150 Indians, a quarter of the camp's population, lay dead. The
soldiers took three prisoners, all children. A dozen soldiers were killed, some apparently by friendly fire in the
frenzy.
Eyewitness accounts are chilling. Lt. Joseph Cranmer described "a squaw ripped open and a child taken from her.
Little children shot while begging for their lives." Capt. Silas Soule, who was assassinated after testifying at a
congressional inquiry, said, "it was hard to see little children on their knees have their brains beat out by men
professing to be civilized." A joint congressional committee concluded that Chivington "deliberately planned and
executed a foul and dastardly massacre, which would have disgraced the veriest savage among those who were
victims of his cruelty."
In response to the massacre, President Lincoln replaced Colorado's territorial governor. A Congressional inquiry
condemned the battle as a massacre. The Cheyenne and Arapaho were promised reparations in an 1865 treaty, but
none were paid.
Assimilation of the American Indian
In 1879, an army officer named Richard H. Pratt opened a boarding school for Indian youth in Carlisle,
Pennsylvania. His goal: to use education to uplift and assimilate into the mainstream of American culture. That year,
50 Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Pawnee arrived at his school. Pratt trimmed their hair, required them to speak English,
and prohibited any displays of tribal traditions, such as Indian clothing, dancing, or religious ceremonies. Pratt's
motto was "kill the Indian and save the man."
The Carlisle Indian School became a model for Indian education. Not only were private boarding schools
established, so too were reservation boarding schools. The ostensible goal of such schools was to teach Indian
children the skills necessary to function effectively in American society. But in the name of uplift, civilization, and
assimilation, these schools took Indian children away from their families and tribes and sought to strip them of their
cultural heritage.
By the late 19th century, there was a widespread sense that the removal and reservation policies had failed. No one
did a more effective job of arousing public sentiment about the Indians' plight than Helen Hunt Jackson, a
Massachusetts-born novelist and poet. Her classic book A Century of Dishonor (1881), recorded the country's sordid
record of broken treaty obligations, and did as much to stimulate public concern over the condition of Indians as
Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin did to raise public sentiment against slavery or Rachel Carson's Silent
Spring did to ignite outrage against environmental exploitation. Ironically, reformers believed that the solution to the
"Indian problem" was to erase a distinctive Indian identity.
During the late 19th century, humanitarian reformers repeatedly called for the government to support schools to
teach Indian children "the white man's way of life," end corruption on Indian reservations, and eradicate tribal
organizations. The federal government partly adopted the reformers' agenda. Many reformers denounced corruption
in the Indian Bureau, which had been set up in 1824 to provide assistance to Indians. In 1869, one member of the
House of Representatives said, "No branch of the federal government is so spotted with fraud, so tainted with
corruption...as this Indian Bureau." To end corruption, Congress established the Board of Indian Commissioners in
1869, which had the major Protestant religious denominations appoint agents to run Indian reservations. The agents
were to educate and Christianize the Indians and teach them to farm. Dissatisfaction with bickering among church
groups and the inexperience of church agents led the federal government to replace church-appointed Indian agents
with federally-appointed agents during the 1880s.

The Occupation and Domination of the American West

In 1871 to weaken the authority of tribal leaders, Congress ended the practice of treating tribes as sovereign nations.
To undermine older systems of tribal justice, Congress, in 1882, created a Court of Indian Offenses to try Indians
who violated government laws and rules.
The End of the American Indian?
As the 19th century ended, Native Americans seemed to be a disappearing people. The 1890 census recorded an
Indian population of less than 225,000, and falling. The prevailing view among whites was that Indians should be
absorbed as rapidly as possible into the dominant society: their reservations broken up, tribal authority abolished,
traditional religions and languages eradicated. Late 19th century federal policy embodied this attitude. In 1871
Congress declared that tribes were no longer separate, independent governments. It placed tribes under the
guardianship of the federal government. The 1887 Dawes Act allotted reservation lands to individual Indians in units
of 40 to 160 acres. Land that remained after allotment was to be sold to whites to pay for Indian education.
The Dawes Act was supposed to encourage Indians to become farmers. But most of the allotted lands proved
unsuitable for farming, owing to a lack of sufficient rainfall. The plots were also too small to support livestock.
Much Indian land quickly fell into the hands of whites. There was to be a 25 year trust period to keep Indians from
selling their land allotments, but an 1891 amendment did allow Indians to lease them, and a 1907 law let them sell
portions of their property. A policy of "forced patents" took additional lands out of Indian hands. Under this policy,
begun in 1909, government agents determined which Indians were "competent" to assume full responsibility for
their allotments. Many of these Indians quickly sold their lands to white purchasers. Altogether, the severalty policy
reduced Indian-owned lands from 155 million acres in 1881 to 77 million in 1900 and just 48 million acres in 1934.
The most dramatic loss of Indian land and natural resources took place in Oklahoma. At the end of the 19th century,
the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Creek nations held half the territory's land. But by 1907, when Oklahoma
became a state, much of this land, as well as its valuable asphalt, coal, natural gas, and oil resources, had passed into
the possession of whites.

The Occupation and Domination of the American West