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The Indians And The West

Throughout the 19th century the majority of white Americans strongly believed that the red man must yield before the unstoppable westward advance of white civilisation. In fact, some of the soldiers who were fighting the Indian tribes expressed an admiration for their enemy. General George Crook, perhaps the most successful of all Indian fighters, once told a graduating class at West Point that „with all his faults… the American Indian is not as half as black as he has been painted. He is cruel in war, treacherous at times and not over cleanly. But so were our forefathers. “

Crook’s viewpoint may have been less representative than that old frontier saying sometimes attributed to General Philip Sheridan: „The only good Indian I ever saw was a dead Indian.“ But no matter what the whites felt about these adversaries, it was believed by more and more people that two opposing ways of life simply could not coexist in one nation. If white men were to farm the Great Plains, mine the mountains beyond, build towns and cities and connect far away regions with a network of rails, there could be no room for thundering herds of buffalo or nomadic Indians wandering the landscape freely in pursuit of the shaggy beasts. Further, if whites were to claim the country and divide it into privately held parcels of land, there could be no room for tradition-bound peoples who regarded the earth as the Creator’s gift to all – peoples to whom such concepts as boundaries, private ownership and progress were practically meaningless.

In the end it was the railroads, stretching across the vastness of the plains that became the final and most deadly engines of destruction for the Indians of the West. For the great transcontinental lines not only made the settlement of the interior frontier a practical possibility, by linking the remotest regions with markets far to the east and west, they also doomed the tribes in much more direct ways. As rail lines grew in size and complexity, they gave the Indian-fighting army a new deadly mobility, allowing the soldiers to guard over vast areas of wilderness and bring overwhelming force against rebellious tribes in a far shorter time than had previously been possible.

More important still was the railroads‘ role in accomplishing the near extinction of the buffalo, without which the tribesman of the High Plains knew they must give up their way of life as hunters and warriors. But before they would give up and accept the cramped degradation of reservation existence, they would fight. For these were the years of the great Indian wars and the last generation of Indian heroes. Yet courage alone was not enough. Quick attacks against railroad men and settlers, even victories over the U. S. Army could not bring back the buffalo or seriously impede the progress of the iron horse, with its cargo of woe for the red man.

I. George Crook , a general at West Point, once compared the Indians with the forefathers of the whites.
– What did he say?
– What did he really mean by saying that?

II. Explain this:
The white people believed, that two opposing ways of life could not coexist in one nation.

III. The Indians were defeated in the end, but not only by the white soldiers. Explain this.

General George Crook says about the American Indian that he is cruel in war, sometimes treacherous and not over cleanly. He also says that he is not as half as black as he has been painted which means that he actually is not the ‚awful redskin‘ who kills for no reason. In his opinion, he is a human being like he and his fellows are. The first point he expresses is meant as he says it because the American Indian stays his enemy after all. Anyway his viewpoint is very impressive because during the 19th century the majority of white Americans didn’t agree with him and scorned the Indian. The comparison with the forefathers of the whites shows that Crook doesn’t scorn the Indian but respects him in his way. Nevertheless he killed numerous Indians by commanding an army of Indian-fighting soldiers.

The white people’s traditions strongly differ from those of the American Indian. Both peoples had two opposing ways of life. The white people had concepts as frontiers, private ownership and progress, specially the technological progress of transportation, represented by the railroad. These concepts were meaningless for the Indians because they had their own way of life. All they needed to live was the buffalo which was used by them for building wigwams, getting food and making clothes, tools and weapons. But the main thing was that they were free and didn’t have to follow any rules or laws given by the whites. They regarded the earth as the Creator’s gift to all and took the view that nobody has the right to claim the country and divide it into privately held parcels. Because the white people wanted to claim the whole country (the Indian territories as well) and didn’t want to adapt to the Indian’s ideology – of course, the Indians wanted to adapt the white people’s either – they could not coexist in one nation. For the white people, this declaration was the permission to kill the Indians and their most important thing, the buffalo.

On the one hand, the Indians were killed by the overwhelming forces of the white soldiers. But on the other hand, the white people built rail lines across the whole West. And that was the main reason why the Indians were defeated in the end. Not only white soldiers came with the progressive railroad but also many settlers who founded new towns and cities in former Indian territories. The markets in these new cities grew up quickly and in a short time, the eastern markets were connected to the western ones by the railroad. In addition, millions of buffalos were killed by the white people for getting their skins and sometimes for sheer sport. Big crowds of settlers, naturally supported by the U.S. Army, and the loss of the buffalos forced the Indians to yield whereby they were doomed finally into reservations.

Other reasons why the Indians were defeated by the whites:
1) There was never one united nation of tribes. The tribes even fought each other.
2) The numerous different tribes had different languages so they had no communication between each other.
3) The first settlers that came to the Indians were welcomed friendly by them. The Indians even helped them to start a new life in the new land.
4) Taken together, the opposing peoples (whites and Indians) first had good relations to each other, but with time they fought each other – the good relations turned into bad ones.

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