The Western American Indian: Case Studies in Tribal History

By Richard N. Ellis | Go to book overview

Introduction

Much of the recent history of the Indian tribes of the United States has been determined or heavily influenced by the actions, policies, and attitudes of white Americans. Contact with whites brought drastic modifications in the economic, political, religious, and social lives of the Indian people--changes which in many cases were the direct result of the federal government's dealings with the tribes. This official aspect of Indian-white relations did not become an important element in the lives of the majority of American Indians until the mid-nineteenth century, when white settlers began to move into the trans-Mississippi West in large numbers. By that time most of the tribes were living west of the Mississippi; some eastern Indians had moved beyond the Mississippi by choice, and the official removal policy of the United States government had effectively relocated all but a few of the remaining eastern tribes to the western Indian country.

Until the 1840s relations with the original inhabitants of the West had been limited, although fur traders and explorers had established contact with some of the tribes and meetings with Indians increased after the opening of trade to Santa Fe in the 1820s. Nevertheless, the English-speaking people of North America had had two centuries of experience in dealing with various tribes. Official views of the Indians had developed over the years, and policies for regulating relations with them had evolved. The Constitution and subsequent legislation provided that the federal government was responsible for formulating and enforcing Indian policy and that it alone could treat with Indian tribes and purchase land from them. On the whole policy makers sought to be just and humane, but more often than not they were unsuccessful. During the early years of the Republic the Indian Trade and

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