Federal Government Policies Against Native Americans (1851 and 1867)
In 1851, the “concentration policy” was passed to meet white demands for access to lands in Indian Territory. It called for the assignment of Indian tribes into separate reservations. These reservations were accepted by “treaty chiefs”, unofficial representatives that agreed to the unfair reservation treaties that brought little benefit to the tribes while giving the whites the greater advantage. Right after clashing with the Indians, Congress created the Indian Peace Commission that ordered the movement of the Plains Indians into the Indian Territory and the Dakotas. This ultimately led to the weakening of the Indian tribes for the white’s own benefit.
To feed the demand for buffalo hides and a needed food supply in the 1850’s, whites relentlessly killed large numbers of Buffalo. Railroad companies hired professional riflemen such as Buffalo Bill Cody to massacre herds of buffalo during shooting expeditions to reduce railroad traffic. White settlement also brought drastic ecological changes that caused the open plains to disappear, which was the buffalo’s natural habitat. The combination of hunting and ecological changes led to the near extinction of the buffalo by 1875. Without the buffalo, Indians had no steady supply of food, which allowed the government to easily take control , pushing them away from desirable land for white settlement.
Decimation Of The Buffalo (1850-1875)
Due to the government’s unfair policies and the mass decimation of the buffalo, from the 1850’s to the 1818’s, the Indians waged relatively minor battles with the whites to regain lost territory. One of which was the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864, a battle where one band of Arapaho and Cheyenne, under the command of Chief Black Kettle, peacefully settled in a camp near Fort Leon in Sand Creek. Even though he didn't have any hostile intentions, Colonel J.M. Chivington slaughtered his people. Four years later, Black Kettle held up a fight in a war against the white; however, he and the rest of his people were killed on the Washita River. Another battle in 1876, called the Battle of the Little Bighorn, occurred where Colonel George A. Custer and his army were ambushed by tribal warriors under the control of Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. Due to a lack of political organization and supplies, the Indians struggled to remain united, allowing the whites to push the Indians back into the Dakota Reservations and kill Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull.
Indian Wars (1850's-1880's)
Not only was the U.S. Army endangering the Indians, but also white “vigilantes” took part in violence known as “Indian Huntings”. These killings weren’t because of Indian raids, but instead, the whites thought of it as a sport and some had the goal to eliminate the tribes. One such example was in 1853, when whites hanged a seven-year-old child because they believed that “nits breed lice”. In California alone from 1850 to 1880, about 5.000 Indians were massacred by civilians, which dwindled the Indian population of the state from 150,000 to 30,000 by 1870. These Indian deaths further weakened the Indians control over their land, which allowed white settlers to acquire additional land from the Dakota Territory.
Indian Hunting (1850-1880)
To annihilate the Indian’s tribal structure completely, the federal government reversed its policy of making reservations and discontinued its practice of allowing Indians to own reservations communally in order to force Indians to become landowners and farmers and leaving their collective society . One example of this attempt of assimilation was the enactment of the Dawes Act in 1887, which slowly removed tribal ownership of land and forced the allotment of tracts to individual people: individual ownership of land. 160 acres were given to each family, 80 acres were given to each individual adult, and 40 acres for each individual child. The Dawes Act was forced on to the unprepared Indians just to make them abandon their tribal ways and culture.
Dawes Act (1887)
As the wars between the whites and the Indians threatened the Indian culture and livelihood, in 1890, many of the Indians turned to Wovoka, a Paiute prophet, who influenced a spiritual awakening in Nevada that rapidly spread throughout the plains. The awakening focused attention not only on the idea that a new messiah was coming, but its “Ghost Dance”. The Ghost Dance evoked visions of the withdrawal of the white people from the plains and the reestablishment of the buffalo herds on their land. When the whites watched the Sioux dance, they believed that the Indians were preparing for violence leading to further complications.