Native Americans and the Expansion

by Paige Irving

An Informational Essay

Do you know any times in history where expanding the nation was more important and valuable than human lives and cultures? When the whites from the eastern side of the United States wanted to expand west in the late 1800’s, they took a lot of land, and it did not necessarily belong to them. Native Americans owned, lived on, and hunted on this land that the whites came and claimed from them. Understandably, the Native Americans fought back in attempts to regain their land which was essential and sacred to them. The whites who traveled to live in the west did not care about the lives of Native Americans or their cultures and traditions.

Many people from the eastern coast of America went to settle in the west because of the idea of Manifest Destiny. To the settlers, this meant that expanding the United States into the west was inevitable and essential to the future of the country, and they believe that God was the one who set them on this journey. A man named John Gast made a painting and titled it “American Progress,” showing what Manifest Destiny led to. In the famous picture, settlers are moving in wagons from the east to the west, and in front of them are Native Americans who look to be fleeing the area, moving to a dark region in the upper left hand corner of the painting. This shows us that the new people were making their way through, chasing the Native Americans out of their home lands, away from their cultures and traditions. Also, construction for a railroad connecting the east to the west began in the 1850s, running 1,700 miles across the plains and mountains to the Pacific coast. Now able to travel and with hopes of shipping things they find, thousands of people from the east moved out toward California, taking over and crowding the land that Native Americans claimed as their own. Soon, towns were built along the railroads and life was functioning well for the settlers; however, the Native Americans were being pushed further and further from their homes. People raced to move west, mostly because news of a gold rush in California spread. After that rush died down, the men, women, and children of the east moved elsewhere in the west, and eventually tried to take the Black Hills from Chief Red Cloud and the Oglala Sioux Indians because they wanted to mine the gold there. The Indians fought back, but failed and the land was taken away. Not long after, new states were formed as part of the Union.

The American government wanted a lot of land from the Indians. Most of all, they wanted the Black Hills because they were known to contain gold and other precious metals which miners wanted. After losing a battle over the Black Hills and other land, Chief Sitting Bull took his people to Canada where they could live and not have the land they owned taken away from them. The government took the Black Hills area after the Oglala Sioux Indians left, but the problems did not stop there. The government seized the majority of the Native American land, and only let the Indians keep a small portion. They divided this small portion of land into six different regions called reservations. Soon, these reservations were filled with sick people that could not be cured. There were outbreaks of whooping cough, influenza, and measles. The sicknesses spread, and some cases were fatal. Aside from the problems inside the reservations, the government was still doing everything they could to get more land from the Indians. They offered Native Americans in the reservations fifty cents per acre they sold to the government. When the government was not getting as much land sold to them as they wanted, they raised the rate for the Indians and offered them a dollar twenty-five for an acre. However, not only land was taken from the Native Americans, there cultures and traditions had to end. One tradition was hunting for their own food, like wild buffalo. The buffalo were one of the Indians main food sources, until the white hunters came and killed them. The whites killed herds of buffalo to use the meat for feeding the railroad crews and to stop the large crowds of buffalo from blocking trains. By the end, buffalo were endangered and there were a limited amount left. Buffalo Bill killed 4,000 buffalo in less than 18 months. Little things like killing buffalo had ruined the Native Americans’ cultures and traditions.

Today, there are about half a million Native Americans living in the United States (American). However, there are millions more that have moved into other regions of the Americas (American). They are in Central and South American countries. Still, the Indians living in this country speak about a hundred different languages (American). The Federal government has around 300 Native American reservations, with most west of the Mississippi River (American). Even with that many reservations, the Indians do not have nearly as much land as they used to and they cannot use it or own it the way they used to. There are 21 state reservations also, with the majority of those in the east (American). Some of the reservations are restricted to members of the same tribe, others have a variety of tribes (American). The land is not necessarily limited to just Native Americans, however. Several reservations allow for non-Indians to own, rent, or use the land that should belong to the Indians (American). The Native Americans have not let go of their cultures and traditions yet though. Some have found markets where they can show and sell their arts and crafts, not letting go of what they used to do before the westward expansion (American). While many have fully assimilated into the white culture, there are still quite a few who just cannot give up (American). Those are the ones who isolate themselves from the white world and carry on with what they want to do. All of the Native Americans are proud of their heritage, there are just the ones who are not willing to give it up (American).

Throughout the westward expansion, there had been times when the enlarging the nation was more important than human life. Native Americans were victims of these times, when they were forced off of their lands and into reservations. Still today, Indians from different Native American tribes live on reservations where they cannot do the things that they used to (American). The westward expansion took away many of the cultures and traditions that Native Americans had, and even their lives when they were killed during battle. Possibly, there could have been an alternate solution to the problem of wanting more land; and maybe it would not have ended this way.

A Collage of Pictures from the Westward Expansion

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A Video on this Topic from Youtube

Westward Expansion: Crash Course US History #24

Works Cited


Gast, John. 1872. “Manifest Destiny.”

<> 15 March 2016.

N.d. “A Herd of Buffalo.” <>

15 March 2016.

N.d. “Chief Washakie: Great Leader of the Shoshone People.”

<> 15 March 2016.

N.d. “Native American Life.” <> 15 March 2016.

N.d. “Red Cloud, Dakota Chief.” <> 15

March 2016.

N.d. “Sitting Bull.” <> 15 March 2016.

N.d. “Westward Expansion.”<> 15

March 2016.

N.d. “White & Chinese Miners.” <>

15 March 2016.

1867. “19th Century Housing.”

<> 15 March 2016.

1868. “Central Pacific Railroad Employees Lay Tracks in Nevada.”

<> 15 March 2016.


Meyer, Raoul; Rojas, Rosianna Halse. “Westward Expansion: Crash Course US History #24.”

Online Video Clip. Youtube. Google. 8 August 2013. Web. 17 March 2016.



“American Indians Today.” American Indians’ Cultural Network, 2000.

Web. 17 March 2016. <>