The tension first started between the two groups when early explorers first went west. Mountain men led the way, trapping beavers and hunting other animals for their fur. Mostly the mountain men and the Indians got along; many mountain men were accepted into an Indian tribe to rest during the winter and to marry an Indian woman. Although these were the least harmless of travellers, the Mountain Men sowed the seeds for the eventual outcome. This was done in three ways. Firstly, it was the Mountain Men who introduced alcohol and firearms to the Indians.
Before they didn’t have alcohol and their only weapons were simple such as a bow and arrow or tomahawk. The new weapons and alcohol meant that the Indians were now more dependent on white men to get new guns or alcohol. Secondly, the amount of time the Mountain Men spent in the west and the places they went meant that they learnt great knowledge of the Plains. This would make it a lot simpler for further settlers to access the west, obviously leading to meetings with Indians. Finally, in 1837, the Mountain Men were no longer welcomed by the Indians after they spread smallpox to them.
This would make the Indians more wary of further white men travelling west. The first serious conflict with the Indians and white men was when gold was found in the west. The resulted mass of miners dug into the ground, including the Black Hills infuriating the Indians. The mining camps and towns took up land, impinging on the Indians religious beliefs. The mines broke treaties, bringing the miners into direct conflict with the Indians. This usually led to military intervention by the army. Obviously this would create more bad feelings to white men from the Indians.
The gold rush only lasted so long. However, soon people went west to actually settle on the plains. Encouraged by the government, with mass advertising and good deals, thousands of people emigrated to the West. For many it was a chance to start a new life, especially after the civil war with freed slaves and former soldiers anxious to build a new life on the Plains. The Homesteaders farms and houses significantly reduced the Indian’s living space, especially the buffalo hunting grounds. This drastically affected the Indian’s ability to roam freely.
Another way the homesteaders outraged the Indians was by farming the land, which went against the Indian’s strong religious beliefs. Cattle Ranchers came next taking up even more land, again in buffalo hunting grounds. Cattle drives also scared away buffalo, cutting down more living space creating great tension with the Indians. Again the cattle ranchers upset the Indians religious beliefs as the cattle ate the grass. Most cattle ranchers and Homesteaders were in constant conflict with the Indians. The spread of settlers onto the barren Plains was largely down the railroads. After the civil war the government could spend money on this.
The railroads took many settlers to the west, disturbing buffalos. The railroads were also used to take buffalo hides back to the east. To help finance these great railroads, the companies needed to sell land grants to the homesteaders. They therefore wanted to force the Indians out. As well as scaring the buffalo, the railroads split the herd in two, making it even harder for the Indians to hunt them. The railroads also supplied the army with men and supplies, ready to fight the Indians. All the arguments and fights had to be resolved somehow and the system of reservations sorted the problem to a certain extent.
This kept the Indians away from the whites and enabled the government to control the Indians. They were forbidden to leave the reservation, making them dependent on government hand-outs. This meant that the Indians couldn’t resist as they could be stopped with force or by withholding rations. What made maybe the most conflict were the US army and government. Whenever there was an argument with the Indians and a white group, the government policy was to support the whites – whenever there was an argument the usual solution was to send in the US army to sort out the Indians.
The government had complete disregard for the Indians, not allowing them to live their traditional ways. This was not only ignorant, but stupid as the Indians would be made even angrier by this. The actual US army, although maybe not as good fighters as the Indians, nearly always won a battle due to the shear number of people and tactics. The army’s forts made the Great Plains easy to control for the army. One of the best methods of destroying the Indian race was the clever destruction of the buffalo. The government realised that the Indians depended on the buffalo for everything, from clothes to hairbrushes.
Because of this they encouraged people to shoot buffalos as a sport and even employed people to kill buffalo. Although the buffalo’s meat and fur were used, the amount of buffalo killed made it obvious that this was a deliberate government ploy and a very effective one. Although the Indians were unfairly attacked and wiped out, they didn’t help themselves very much. Although effective against other tribes, the Indian way of fighting led to continuous defeat against the US army. The Indians had always fought in short spurts against each other whereas the US army fought long campaigns.
Although equally effective, the army would always win. This was because the soldiers in the army fought as a job and were professionals at it. The US army was a fighting machine compared to the Indians who couldn’t suffer heavy losses or fight for long as they had families to go back to and support. They were also less well armed, their traditional weapons such as a bow and arrow were fine against each other, but when faced with a massive US army, each man equipped with a rifle and army equipped with artillery. Although they had guns, the Indians didn’t have very many, usually not enough for one each.
Because of this the Indians could never fight on equal ground to the army. The US army took advantage of this with two clever tactics. Firstly, total war meant that the army attacked a whole enemy population instead of just the troops, destroying everything, from possessions to food supplies. This greatly demoralised the Indians forcing them to surrender. Winter campaigns also greatly favoured the army. The Indians were extremely venerable to attack in the winter as with the cold weather they needed to stay in one place for a while.
They also needed to conserve food supplies. Defeat in the winter could be devastating. Maybe the greatest reason to why the Indians never stood a chance against the US army was the division between the Indian nations. The generation of warfare between nations meant that they never combined fight the army. In fact some of the nations took the army’s side fighting an enemy. Even when fighting against the US army, Indians still raided other nations. When they came together they won, defeating Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
If they had united at the start then maybe the Indians could have stood more of a chance against the US army. Although all these factors led to the final outcome, I think the main reason why the Indians were defeated was the selfishness and ignorance of both sides. Although the Indians were on the Plains first, they could have adapted to share with the white men. Similarly, the white men never tried to understand the Indians. They believed they were primitive savages that were in the way of their manifest destiny.
Manifest Destiny was the made up belief that it was the American’s God-given right to occupy the whole of the continent, as they had the greatest way of life. Manifest Destiny was everyone’s justification for killing masses of Indians as well as Mexicans and Chinese. If anyone was in the way of this they were a traitor to the United State and God. If both sides had accepted each other, and lived cooperatively, then maybe the Indians wouldn’t have been forced into reservations for the next century and just maybe, the white men could have learnt off the Indians, giving both parties a better quality of life.