Buffalo Bill Cody: The Man behind the Legend

By Robert A. Carter | Go to book overview
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3
The Dark Side
of “Manifest Destiny”

Whether Will Cody shot his first Indian brave at the tender age of eleven or not, it is quite true that the blood in Bleeding Kansas was not shed solely by Border Ruffians or Free-Soilers. The Indians of Kansas were the fierce Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Arapaho, among others, and the warriors of these tribes did not take kindly to the advance of white settlers into their territory.

The history of what became known as the Plains Indian Wars goes back to Major Stephen Harriman Long, who led one of the United States' most important western explorations since the Lewis and Clark expedi/ tion. Not only soldiers and adventurers but also men of science accompa/ nied Long's small army, which was ordered to seek sites for military posts that would offset the British strength in the north. Long followed the Platte River across the Nebraska plains in the year 1820 and described the area extending five or six hundred miles east of the Rockies as being “uninhabitable by a people depending on agriculture for their subsistence” and useful to the United States in the future only “as a barrier against too great an expansion of our population westward.” It was Long who dubbed this region “the Great American Desert.” The mistaken notion that the region was a wasteland kept white settlement to a minimum on the plains west of the Missouri River until the middle of the nineteenth century, when the Indian tribes that had long lived east of the Mississippi were driven west by whites who wanted their rich farmlands for themselves. Since the plains were thought to be a worthless desert by the federal gov/ ernment, why not resettle the unwanted eastern Indians upon these deso/ late prairies? Tribes from the Alleghenys and the Ohio watershed—the Shawnee, Kickapoo, Delaware, Wyandot, and others—were uprooted and forced to settle in the West. But these plains were not uninhabited, any

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