The Progressive Era,
From 1900 to America's entry into World War I, important changes in the West affected Indians. One of these, the revival of settlement, increased pressures for Indian land. Another, the progressive reforms, affected westerners' perceptions about regional development and Indian matters. The West, however, took a very selective attitude toward progressivism. Regional leaders wanted no major obstacles that curtailed economic development, especially their access to Indian land and other resources.
During the early twentieth century, agriculture, ranching, mining, lumbering, and railroading continued to dominate the western economy. Similarly, the region specialized in the production of raw or semi-processed goods for outside markets. Despite sizeable railroad construction after 1900, transportation remained an obstacle to western development because of high costs and the incomplete internal transportation system. In short, the West remained a dependent region without a mature industrial base.
Nevertheless, population prior to 1910 increased sharply throughout all of the western states except Nevada, which experienced a loss. In large measure, irrigation and reclamation projects contributed to this rapid growth. But neither could increase the amount of water in the West, and battles over water rights became common. Because the federal government claimed total jurisdiction over reservation trust lands, legal conflicts with states over Indian water rights were inevitable, and court decisions became vital to Indian well-being.
The Indian was primarily a bystander, seldom a participant, often a victim, and rarely a beneficiary of the progressive reforms. While the western white community turned its attention to corporate abuses, government corruption, and efforts toward direct democracy, the Indian remained a voiceless outsider who had little role in determining his own fate. Indeed, as more western states were added to the Union, the influence of whites over Indian affairs increased, usually to the Indian's detriment.
Western influence received a major boost in 1901 when Theodore Roosevelt assumed the presidency. Roosevelt's experience as a Dakota