Interesting Facts about the American West Region

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This booklet helps students in understanding the history of Plains Indians, the early pioneers, the Mormons, homesteaders, the cattle industry and ranchers, the Indian wars, and the end of the plain Indians.
1. GCSE History – American West Revision Notes
In the 1840s the Great Plains were sparsely inhabited by the Plains Indians. The Indians depended upon
huge herds of buffalo that roamed the grasslands. To the few non‐Indians who travelled across them, the
Great Plains was seen as a useless desert.
By 1895 the Great Plains were populated by thousands of homesteaders and ranchers. The once ‐empty
grasslands were dotted with towns and cities and crossed by railroads. Those Plains Indians who still
survived were confined to reservations and the buffalo had all been slaughtered.
Native Americans used to be more commonly known as American Indians or the Plains Indians. This is
because when Columbus thought he’d reached Indian when he first got to America in 1492. He soon
realised he hadn’t, but called the people Indians anyway. The Plains Indians weren’t a single group with a
single culture – there were many different tribes.
Each family lived in a home called a tipi
The tipi was the home of each Indian family. It was made from buffalo skins
sewn together and supported by a circular frame of wooden poles. It was the
responsibility of the women. They made it, owned it, put it up and moved it.
It could be taken down and packed for transport in ten minutes. This made it
an ideal home for people who were frequently on the move.
In the summer the tipi bottom could be rolled up to let air in. In winter it
could be banked with earth to keep the tipi warm. The conical shape of the
tipi made it strong enough to resist the strong winds on the Great Plains.
They relied on the buffalo
• Plains Indians were nomadic hunter gatherers – they followed the
buffalo around the Plains. They provided the necessities of life:
o meat
o skins for wool, clothing, shoes, tipis
o sinews for thread, ropes, bowstrings
o bones for implements
o dung for fuel
Th e ho rse in cre a sed th e trib es’ p ower and efficiency
• The lives of the Native Americans were transformed by the horse.
• It became much easier to hunt, and to transport stored food and other
belongings across the Great Plains.
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2. GCSE History – American West Revision Notes
Religion – Spirits
• Believed in Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit. He created the world and everything that lives.
• They believed all things had spirits and that spirits could influence their lives.
Religion – Land
• The Plains Indians came from the land and would return to the land when they died.
• They believed the land could not be owned or bought by an individual, or even by a nation.
• High places were sacred, as they were closer to the spirit world.
• The Black Hills was particularly scared to them, as this was the place where their nation began.
Religion – Circles
• Sioux Indians believed in the circle of nature.
• Circles surrounded them: circular moon, circular sun and circular horizon.
• Indians lived through circle of life: birth, childhood, adulthood, old age, second childhood and death.
• Villages and the tipi were circular in honour of this.
Religion – Dances and Ceremonies
• Dances were used when the whole tried needed to contact the spirits.
• The Buffalo Dance was used to call the spirit world to call the buffalo to them.
• The most famous ceremony was the Sun Dance. This was used to get guidance from the Spirit World.
Religion – Visions
• Visions were a way of contacting the spirit world; names were given as a result of visions.
• Women could easily contact the spirit world – this gave them status. Puberty and menstruation began
the start of this process, and young girls received training on how to contact the spirit world.
• Visions influenced decision making, such as war.
Religion – Medicine Men
• A ‘medicine man’ was an Indian man who people believed could cure illness by using the spirits.
• All spirit power was considered ‘medicine’.
• People believed that they became ill if they possessed an evil spirits.
• Medicine men would try to drive out evil spirits; they sometimes used practical remedies such as herbs.
Family life
• Men – responsible for hunting, looking after the horses and protecting the band. They were judged by
their skills as hunters, warriors and horsemen.
• Women – responsible for the tipi, for preparing food and fetching water, and for making clothing and
other items. They were judged by their skill at crafts and as home‐makers. Women were highly valued
as the bearers of children.
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3. GCSE History – American West Revision Notes
• Children – highly valued as they were the future of the band. They learned useful skills from their
parents and other relatives. Boys were taught to hunt whilst girls were taught to maintain a home.
• Old people – important as they were able to give advice. They were involved in helping to bring up the
children. However, when they became too old and weak to keep up they might have to be left behind.
The survival of the band was of greater importance than any individual.
Political organisation of the Plains Indians
• In order to survive on the Great Plains the members of an Indian band had to co‐operate and work
closely together. They had to be well organised.
• Throughout the year the band would have to move across the Great Plains. From time to time bands
would meet up to camp and hunt together.
• Once a year, and sometimes more often, the bands would meet together as a nation. Indian society
was organised in a way that reflected the need for co‐operation.
Generosity was expected by chiefs in the tribe
• Plains Indians were highly individualistic and cherished fine possessions – but didn’t accumulate more
than they could use.
• Generosity to those in need was expected of those who could provide it, and it added to their prestige
and power. Chiefs who weren’t generous lost their influence.
Most men were warriors
• Tribal warfare was part of the culture of many Native Americans. Low
intensity warfare and raiding for animals and captives was a part of life and
the usual way for men to gain prestige.
• “Counting coup” meant riding up to an enemy and merely touching him
with a special stick, then getting away.
• Native Americans did not think of themselves as part of a Native American
nation but as members of a particular tribe. Rival tribes therefore could be
strangers and enemies to each other as much as to the white settlers.
Mountain Men
• Explorers and trappers (known as ‘mountain men’) had some knowledge of the routes that would later
become the Oregon and California trails in the 1840s. In particular, the South Pass – the only possible
route through the Rockies – was first discovered by the mountain men.
• Mountain men came from a variety of backgrounds, but all adopted Native American survival skills.
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4. GCSE History – American West Revision Notes
The Great American Desert
• Between the East and the fertile land in Oregon and California were The Great Plains.
• The extremes of climate, sparse rainfall and hard ground meant they were at first thought sustainable
for agriculture. They were called the Great American Desert.
Why did people go west?
Many factors influenced people to risk the journey across America.
Factors Pushing Them Out of the East Factors Pulling Them to the West
Poverty A new start
Disease Tall tales and newspaper reports
Religious or social persecution Fertile cheap land
Taxation Government encouragement
Eastern overpopulation Gold and silver
The tough journey west across the Great Plains
• The Oregon and California Trails stretched about 2000 miles and took about 5 months by loaded
wagon. Rivers, mountains and deserts had to be crossed. Lack of discipline and experience caused
dangerous delays – it was vital to beat the winter deadline.
• The Donner Party, heading for California, tried a short cut and were trapped in deep snow in the Sierra
Nevada in 1846. Of 87 emigrants, less than 50 survived till next spring – by eating those who had died!
• Crossing the continent wasn’t cheap – those who could outfit a wagon must have had money. Many
were farmers who had sold their farms at a profit. Young men without funds could hire themselves out
as helpers on the wagon trains.
Manifest Destiny
• Many white Americans believed that they were destined to occupy and govern all of North America.
• They saw it as their God‐given right. They thought it was their “manifest destiny” to do so.
• The white settlers saw their religion and culture as superior to those of the Native Americans – they
saw themselves as civilising the continent.
The California Gold Rush
Gold was found in California in 1848
• Gold was found by James Marshall, working at a sawmill in California in January 1848 – just nine days
before California changed hands from Mexico to the USA.
• News leaked out and people went crazy!
• Soon there were tens of thousands of fortune‐seekers coming to California – they were known as the
“49ers”. During 1848‐1852 the non‐Native American population rose from 14 000 to 225 000. Many
lived in makeshift camps, some of which grew into mining towns like Angels Camp and Placerville.
• Some came to run service industries: store keepers, saloon owners and prostitutes.
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5. GCSE History – American West Revision Notes
Not everyone made a fortune
• The first gold was found by panning the stream beds. Most people only came equipped for this
method, but the streams were soon exhausted and expensive underground mining took over.
• Prices for everything were huge, including transport home. Many ‘49ers had little choice – they could
work for mining companies in foul conditions, or starve.
Problems of law and order in mining towns
• Criminals were attracted to the Gold Rush. There were plenty of con men, violent thieves and
claim‐jumpers (who stole other people’s claims to successful mines).
• People stole other people’s land and mining stake.
• Men were often armed with guns and other weapons; this meant that disagreements between people
were often ended in shootings!
• No US government law officers to protect the miners, people made their own arrangements
• Heavy drinking was common.
Who were the Mormons and what were their beliefs?
• Another group of people to cross the Plains were the Mormons.
• The faith was started by Joseph Smith, who claimed to have seen a vision of an angel.
• He claimed the angel told him to find some engraved gold plates hidden on a hillside. Smith found
these plates and translated them; the translations were published in the Book of Mormon in 1830.
• The Book of Mormon told how Jesus had visited America after the Resurrection, and also how the lost
tribes of Israel had come to America, from which the Indians were descended.
The religious beliefs of the Mormons
• They practised polygamy – where a Mormon mad could marry more than one wife.
• Thought they were Gods chosen people and were therefore superior to the non‐Mormons.
• They believed in racial equality – they treated black people and Indians as equals.
• They were against drinking and gambling.
• They believed that they had to make God’s kingdom on earth.
The Mormons were often persecuted for their religion
• The non‐Mormons thought polygamy was immoral and were worried it’d lead to more Mormons.
• Their efforts to convert people raised fears of expansion and annoyed gentiles.
• Some Mormons (the Danites) attacked and robbed gentiles.
• Claims to be the chosen ones of God made the Mormons seem arrogant.
• People were afraid of the large and growing numbers of the Mormons, they feared them taking over.
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6. GCSE History – American West Revision Notes
Why did the Mormons have to keep moving in the east?
Kirtland, Ohio
• The Mormons were hardworking and successful. They founded a bank in Kirtland. Many non‐Mormons
invested in the bank for religious reasons.
• In a financial crisis the bank went bankrupt and everyone lost the money they had invested. The
Mormons were blamed and driven out of Kirtland. Joseph Smith was tarred and feathered by locals.
• The Mormons were mixing with blacks and encouraging them to join the church on an equal basis.
• The gentiles were jealous of their hard work and thought they were superior. They feared they would
be swamped by growing numbers of the Mormons and they would take over the government.
• The government issued an extermination order.
Nauvoo, Illinois
• The Mormons rebuilt the town of Commerce and called it Nauvoo, the town grew rapidly.
• They gained a charter, which enabled them to run Nauvoo as an independent state.
• Joseph Smith said he had a revelation from God and he introduced polygamy in 1844. Non ‐Mormons
thought polygamy was wrong and feared Mormon overpopulation.
• Some Mormons thought polygamy was wrong too, and they criticised Smith in a Mormon newspaper.
• He replied by destroying the printing presses of the newspaper, making him look like a dictator.
• Smith also announced his intention to stand for president of the United States.
• Joseph Smith was thrown into jail and killed when an angry mob attacked him.
Remembering the movements of the Mormons
Kirtland Kind
Missouri Monsters
Nauvoo Never
Salt Lake City Scare Lively Children
Why did the Mormons succeed in the west?
Brigham Young and deciding to go west
• After the death of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young (new Mormon leader) had to decide what to do next.
• Knew they could live in the east and thought that they needed somewhere isolated to live.
• Brigham Young knew about the Oregon Trail and that the most isolated area in the west was by the
Great Salt Lake. This part of the Rockies also still belonged to Mexico, so if the Mormons moved there
they would be outside the control of the US government.
• In 1845 Brigham Young decided that the Mormons would leave Nauvoo and go west across the Plains.
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7. GCSE History – American West Revision Notes
The Mormon journey west across the Great Plains
• Brigham Young was a brilliant organiser. He was practical and more down ‐to‐earth than Smith. He was
also a determined man and very considerate too.
• Preparations went on all winter. This included the building of wagons, collecting of equipment and
gathering food supplies.
• Pioneer bands left first to set up camps along the way. They planted crops and marked out the routes
for the rest of the Mormons to follow.
• The rest of the Mormons had to begin their journey before they were properly prepared because mobs
began looting their homes.
• Each group of was split into 10 wagon groups, each with a leader to keep them in line.
• Everybody stopped, ate and slept at the same time. Bugles were sounded so people knew what to do.
• They built Winter Quarters where the Mormons would spend the winter.
Problems faced when the Mormons arrived at the Great Salt Lake
• The Mormons had to develop irrigation schemes, using snow water from the mountains.
• There was a lack of building materials, so the Mormons had to make houses from mud bricks.
• There were not enough people for community to be self‐sufficient – so Young called Mormons from all
over the world to come to the Salt Lake. As a result, many Mormons migrated to Salt Lake City.
• There was no private ownership of land. The Church assigned farm land according to people’s needs.
Reaching a political settlement with the US government
• In 1848 Salt Lake Valley was handed over by Mexico and became Utah, a territory of the USA. It had no
access to the sea and no independence, but Brigham Young became governor.
• The Mormons ignored US laws. The Danites suppressed opposition and attacked US officials.
• In 1857 the US appointed a non‐Mormon governor, who arrived with 2500 US troops. Later that year
140 non‐Mormon settlers were massacred at Mountain Meadows. The Mormons blamed the Indians,
but others suspected the Mormons. The modern Mormon Church believes that local Mormons carried
out the attack without Brigham Young’s knowledge.
• Utah wasn’t allowed to become a state while it still practised polygamy. Young died in 1866 and the
Mormons finally abandoned the practise in 1890. Utah was made a state in 1896.
Who contributed more to the success of the Mormons: Joseph Smith or Brigham Young?
Joseph Smith Brigham Young
• Founded the Mormon Church • Made decision and organised the journey west
• Charismatic personality attracted new Mormons • Organised the community at the Great Salt Lake
• Organised the movements in the East • Encouraged converts from Europe
Although… Although…
• Polygamy made the Mormons unpopular • Acted like a dictator, his word was law in the
• Running for US president increased gentile fear Great Salt Lake
• Acted like a dictator when he destroyed the
printing presses of a Mormon newspaper
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8. GCSE History – American West Revision Notes
Why did so many people want to become homesteaders and settle on the Plains?
Homestead Act 1862 – families were given 160 acres of land for free, providing that they lived on it and
farmed it for five years
Timber Culture Act 1873 – settlers were given a further 160 acres of free land if they agreed to plant 40
acres of their land with trees
Desert Land Act 1877 – settlers who wanted more land could buy 640 acres of land cheaply in areas where
lack of rainfall was a problem
End of the US Civil War – thousands of demobilised soldiers and their families wanted to rebuild their lives.
Freed black slaves were also looking for a new life. Many ex‐slaves and ex‐soldiers became homesteaders,
cowboys and railroad builders.
Building of the Railroads – it was easy for homesteaders to get onto the Plains and land could be bought
cheaply from railroad companies which were selling land either side of the railroad.
Did all the homesteaders go west for the same reasons?
Pull Factors
• The offer of free land
• The chance of a new start
• Advertising by the railroad companies
• Leets home from those who had already gone west, and who were successfully farming, encouraged
people to move onto the Plains themselves
Push Factors
• Many were looking to escape poverty and unemployment
• Looking for good farming land
• Some moved to the Plains to escape religious persecution
• Ex‐soldiers from the US Civil War saw lack of opportunity when the returned home
Enabling factors
• Later homesteaders could travel by railroad
• The Indians were cleared from these lands, defeated by the US army and confined to reservations or
pushed further west
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9. GCSE History – American West Revision Notes
How did homesteaders survive on the Plains?
Problem Solution
Water was scarce. It was difficult to grow Windmills were used to pump water from
crops without water and homesteaders underground. Methods of dry farming were
couldn’t keep themselves clean. also used.
There was draught in the summer and cold Dry farming techniques were used to
in the winter. Fierce winds blew. This could overcome problems of draught.
destroy crops.
There was no wood to burn as fuel for Buffalo dung and cow dung were used as
heating and cooking. fuels.
Dirt and It was easy for disease to develop and illness Women used natural medical remedies to
Disease was common among homesteaders. treat disease.
Building There was a lack of wood and only a few Blocks of earth were cut and used as building
Materials could afford wood to build their homes. bricks to build ‘sod’ houses.
Prairie fires started in the summer. There No solution! They had to endure!
were plagues of grasshoppers that could
destroy crops.
What was life like for female homesteaders?
Jobs women did:
• Making and washing clothes
• Preparing food for their family
• Making household items, such as soap and candles
Problems and hazards women faced:
• No social life, because of the long distances between farmhouses
• Mental health problems, due to the lack of a social life and the heavy workload
• Coming into contact with hostile Indians
Which factors determined whether a homesteader would be successful?
Exact location of their land – some parts of the Plains were more fertile than others.
Adaptability – The Great Plains required them to adapt their farming techniques. Homesteaders who failed
to adapt did not succeed.
Weather – severe droughts of the 1870s and 1880s forced thousands of homesteaders into bankruptcy.
Hard work and determination – those who survived were helped by a number of inventions and
developments in homesteading.
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10. GCSE History – American West Revision Notes
How did the cattle industry develop?
Background Information
• Cattle had been first introduced to America by European invaders
• By 1850s Southern Texas was the major centre of cattle ranching
• Texas Longhorn was the traditional breed of cattle that were very hardy
• In the 1850s beef became a popular food
• Cattle were driven by cowboys to the markets where they were sold
• As they did so they came into conflict with Homesteaders
B ee f’s p op u la ri ty – in the 1850’s beef became a popular and demand for it increased in the eastern
USA. The effect of the American Civil War – Texan cattle ranchers returned from fighting in the Civil War to
that their herds had grown dramatically.
New markets – The US Army in the West, the Indians on reservations, miners and railroad builders
provided a good market for cattle.
Railroads – their development meant that beef could quickly get to these new markets. New ‘cow towns’
like Abilene and Dodge City in Kansas were built along the railway line where cattle could be hoarded onto
trains. Also the builders of the railroads bought beef for food.
Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving – they were the first to drive cattle out of Texas to the North. There
route became known as the Goodnight‐Loving trail.
Joseph McCoy – created the cow town of Abilene in Kansas in 1867. He bought land, built stock pens and
advertised the town as a shipping point.
Problems for Cattlemen
• They had to drive their cattle to markets in the east – this was long and tough for the cowboys
• Cattle drives brought cattlemen into conflict with homesteaders who were beginning to settle
• As Homesteaders settled they blocked the routes of cattle drives
• Texas Longhorns carried Texas fever which killed other cattle – homesteaders were afraid of this
What was the Open Range?
Rather than driving cattle across the Plains, why not settle cattle and set up ranches on the Plains? If the
homesteaders were moving there, why shouldn’t cattlemen? This became known as the Open Range
• Unfenced land that was used to graze cattle
• Cattle roamed freely over this land
• Cattle was branded to show which ranch it belonged to
• Land was not owned – no rancher could afford to own all the land he required to graze their cattle
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11. GCSE History – American West Revision Notes
Why was the Open Range successful?
• The Plains Indians were defeated and confined to the reservations
• The buffalo that had previously grazed on the Plains were gone, slaughtered by the hunters
• It was discovered that if Texas longhorns were held on the northern plains during the winter then the
cold would kill the disease‐carrying ticks
• The railroads that were crossing the Plains were able to take cattle to market
Why did the Open Range come to an end?
• The terrible winters of 1886 and 1887 caused the deaths of thousands of cattle
• As more ranched on the Plains, overcrowding of cattle resulted. This caused grass stocks for the cattle
on the Plains to decrease
• As people ranched cattle on the open range the cost of cattle increased which led to decreased profit.
As the price of beef fell due to overstocking, cattle ranchers on the Plains struggled to make profits.
• Large ranching corporations squeezed out smaller cattle ranchers
What was life like for cowboys?
• Drove cattle from Texas to cow towns
• Treated sick cattle
• Repaired fences when ranching took over from the long drive
• Protected the cattle from rustlers
• Loaded cattle into cattle trucks
The Johnson County War of 1892
Johnson County in Wyoming had been settled by cattle barons in the 1870s, these were men who ran large
ranches. They became very powerful in the state and joined together in the Wyoming Stock Growers
Association. Among its members was the governor of Wyoming and important individuals in the state. Its
purpose was to protect the interests of its powerful members. By the 1880s three threats had developed.
The three causes
1. Beef prices were falling. The harsh winter of 1886‐7 had damaged income from ranching cattle.
2. Homesteaders and small ranchers were settling in Wyoming and this led to disputes over land
ownership. These people were settling on land which the cattle barons claimed was their land.
3. Cattle rustling was becoming a problem. The cattle barons lost cattle to rustlers and blamed the
homesteaders and small ranchers. It was hard to get juries of local men to convict men accused of
rustling. So they took law into their own hands.
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12. GCSE History – American West Revision Notes
The first killings
• Took place in 1889. Jim Averill, who ran a small store and saloon, and his partner, a prostitute called
Ella Watson, were living on land claimed by a cattle baron. They were lynched outside their cabin.
• No one was prosecuted for this crime, although the cattle barons were known to be responsible. The
cattle barons claimed that the two were rustlers.
• Ella was said to accept cattle as payment for her services and she was accused of rustling.
A stage further
• In 1892 the cattle barons planned a full‐scale invasion of Johnson County
• The acting governor of Wyoming knew all about it and even supplied guns. A death list of names was
drawn up and gunfighters were recruited.
• They were brought to Wyoming on a special train provided by the Union Pacific Railroad Company.
• The gunfighters and cattlemen made up an invasion force of roughly 50 men. The plan was to capture
the town of Buffalo, kill the sheriff and then kill the rest of the men on the list.
Plans into action
• The invaders began by cutting the telegraph wires to cut off Johnson County from the outside world.
• But then the plan went wrong. There they were stopped by the heroic resistance of Nate Champion.
After the death of his friend, he held off the invaders all day until they finally burnt him out of his cabin.
• While this was going on the invaders were spotted by some passing riders. By the time Nate Champion
was dead the alarm had been raised in Buffalo.
• The next day, as the invaders approached Buffalo, they heard that local people were armed and ready.
They then retreated. They were besieged by nearly 300 men, until the US Cavalry arrived to save them.
• The invaders were taken into protective custody. The war ended with two dead, Nate Champion and
his friend, and several wounded.
• The large‐scale cattle ranches were never convicted for their actions. However, they never had the
same power in Wyoming again. The homesteaders were able to continue their lives in peace.
Factors Encouraging Lawlessness
• The West was vast and initially sparsely populated
• Transport was very slow
• Shortage of reliable law officers in new mining and cow towns
• Politicians would not pay to employ new or better officers
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13. GCSE History – American West Revision Notes
• Conflicts between different ethnic groups – e.g. Chinese, blacks, freed slaves, Europeans
• Civil War soldiers found it difficult to readjust to normal life
• Conflict between southern and northern ex‐Civil War soldiers
• Lots of people trying to make money
• Conflict between competing groups: e.g. cattle Barons and small ranchers (Johnson County War)
Values and attitudes
• Your responsibility to sort your own problems out
• Lots of people carried guns so arguments could turn into shootings
• If you shot a man in self defence you did not break the law
The Vigilantes
• People who took the law into their own hands
• They drove suspected criminals out of town or lynched them
• In the early days, it took time for law and order to get established in new towns. Sheriffs were often
badly paid and took bribes, criminals could pay sheriffs them off
• They helped some when there was no alternative but sometimes added to the problem by accusing
and punishing the wrong people
Little Crow’s War 1861‐62
• In 1861 the reservation system was introduced by the US government
• As a result of a bad harvest in their reservation and non payment of annual government cash paymen t,
12,000 Santee Sioux were unable to buy food and violence grew
• Indian Agency attacked by Sioux Indians
• Killing of 700 white settlers by undisciplined bands
• In October 1862, 2000 Santee Sioux were captured and surrendered
• 303 Sioux sentenced to death, but due to weak evidence President Abraham Lincoln reduced all
sentences but 38. These were hanged in December
• The remainder of Santee Sioux were transferred to a new reservation
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14. GCSE History – American West Revision Notes
Red Cloud’s War 1865‐68
• In 1862 gold was discovered in the Rocky Mountains
• The Bozeman Trail passed through Sioux lands
• The government failed to stop miners from breaking the peace treaty and they crossed Sioux lands
• Sioux Indians attacked travellers along the trail
• The government initially opened peace talks with Sioux leader, Red Cloud, to resolve issue
• At the same time, the government also ordered the US army to build a chain of forts along the
Bozeman Trail to protect travellers
• Red Cloud found out about the fort building, broke off talks in disgust and attacked the army
• Sioux laid siege to the forts, and, although unable to capture them, it prevented free movement of US
army and lack of access to Bozeman Trail
• In 1868 the government realised that the Sioux could not be defeated militarily
• An alternative route to the gold‐mining areas was opened
• The government agreed to withdraw from the forts
• Under the terms of Fort Laramie Treaty the Great Sioux Reservation was created
• No non‐Indian settlers were allowed to enter this land and so Red Cloud agreed to the treaty
The Great Sioux War 1876‐77
• In 1874 an expedition led by General Custer to the Black Hills to protect railway surveyors and find out
if gold was present in the area broke Fort Laramie Treaty
• Custer reported that the area was rich in gold and caused a vast influx of miners which the US army
was helpless to prevent from invading the territory
• The Sioux refused the government offer to buy the Black Hills as they were sacred to them as they
were the place where their nation began
• In December 1875 all Sioux were ordered to return to their reservation – this was impossible to achieve
• 7000 Indians from various tribes were in the Powder River country
• In February 1876 the army were instructed to treat all Indians outside the reservation a s hostile
• General Sheridan ordered a three‐pronged campaign
• As a result, the army suffered famous defeat to Indians at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in June 1876
• News of the defeat at the Little Bighorn reached the rest of American on 4 th July 1876, the hundredth
anniversary of the declaration of independence
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15. GCSE History – American West Revision Notes
• The public reaction to the defeat was of great shock and no effort was spared in support the army
campaign that followed
• The little bands of Indians that split up after Little Bighorn were followed and attacked during the
autumn and winter of 1876‐77
• Outnumbered and short of ammunition, food and supplies, one by one the small bands of Indians gave
in and returned to their reservations
• On 5th May 1877, Crazy Horse (one of the Sioux leaders) rode into the reservation and surrendered. The
day before Sitting Bull (another Sioux chief) and his followers escaped over the border to Canada
• The armed resistance of the Sioux was over
The Battle of the Little Bighorn
• General Sheridan thought up a three‐
pronged attack on the Sioux Indians
who were camping in the valley of the
Little Bighorn.
• The three columns had no way of
communicating with each other.
• They had not found out how many
Indians there were.
• Custer had refused offer of a Gatlin
gun and reinforcements.
• Custer was ordered to wait for Terry
but gave an ambiguous answer.
Can General Custer be blamed for the defeat of the US army at the Battle of the Little Bighorn?
Custer’s Actions Other Reasons for Defeat
• Custer refused the offer of a Gatlin gun and • The three columns had no way of
refused to accept reinforcements communicating with each other
• Custer gave an ambiguous answer when asked • The US army had not found out how many
to wait for Terry Indians there were
• He pushed his men too hard, became too tired • Crooks’ column had been attacked by Indians
and had to retreat back to their fort
• Divided his command
• The Indians were in bigger numbers
• Deliberately disobeyed orders when he rode
across he Wolf Mountains and arrived a day • The Sioux had better weapons
earlier than planned
• Indians stood and fought due to Crazy Horse,
the inspirational leader of the Sioux Indians
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16. GCSE History – American West Revision Notes
The Destruction of the Buffalo
Between 1840 and 1885 the buffalo were hunted to almost extinction; their numbers fell from an
estimated 13 million in 1840 to around 200 in 1885.
Settlement on the edge of the Great Plains, the construction of the railroads across the Great Plains, the
destruction of the buffalo’s natural habitat and the introduction of new diseases all contributed.
Hunting for sport
• To begin with, buffalo were hunted for food and sport.
• Hunting increased when the railroads reached the Great Plains.
• Special excursion trains were run so that people could go out and shoot buffalo for sport.
• Buffalo hunters were employed to keep the workers on the supplied with fresh meat .
Hunting for hides
• In 1871, an eastern tannery discovered a process to produce high quality leather from buffalo hides.
This caused the price of buffalo hides to increase.
• Railroads had reached the Great Plains. Trains could transport the hides east to the tanning industry .
• Hunters were armed with powerful rifles with a long range.
• Hunters killed using a method called a stand which was an extremely efficient way of hunting.
• By 1875 the southern herd had been destroyed. By 1883 the northern herd was destroyed.
Hunting for bones
• It was not until after the hide was removed were the bones of buffalo picked.
• Homesteaders and crews of professional ‘bone pickers’ collected skeletons and took them by wagon to
railroad sidings. From there they were sent east to the factories.
• In the east, the bones were ground into fertiliser, or made into buttons, combs and kni fe handles.
Hooves were made into glue.
The Reservations
Government Policy
• From 1825 onwards a system of Indian reservations was developed on the Great Plains.
• The Indians were supervised by government‐appointed Indian agents.
• Reservations were intended to keep Indians apart from the homesteaders and ranchers.
• On the reservations the Indians were expected to live as farmers. At first, they were allowed to leave the
reservations to hunt for buffalo. However, after conflicts in the 1860s and 1870s they lost this right.
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17. GCSE History – American West Revision Notes
Reservation Conditions
• By the 1870s the Indians were virtually prisoners on their reservations and conditions were bad.
• The reservations were usually on land settlers didn’t want, such as poor farm land. This made it difficult
for the Indians to feed themselves, and they became depended on government hand ‐outs of food.
• The Indians were sometimes badly treated by dishonest Indian agents – housing monies were stolen,
food rations were inadequate and medical treatment was not available.
The Destruction of Indian Culture
Territorial – through a series of laws the government reduced the size of the Sioux reservation and split up
the Sioux Indians into smaller groups.
Political – in 1885 the government took control of all legal matters; Indians lost any power to punish
members of their bands. Communal reservation lands were broken into individual plots by the 1887 Dawes
General Allotment Act. This meant Indians did not need to go to their chiefs and became self‐sufficient.
Economic – the ban of Sioux leaving the reservations to hunt buffalo destroyed their economy.
Religious – feasts, dances and ceremonies were banned. The power of medicine men was undermined.
There was little need for young men to seek visions to give them power in war and in the buffalo hunt.
Educational – children were taken from their parents and sent to boarding school. The Sioux were unable
to prevent their children being taken, or their rations would be stopped until they gave in. The children
lived under military conditions and were taught to have no respect for their traditional way of life.
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