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The Trans-Mississippi West, Native Americans Living on the Plains
Dawes Severalty Act, Dawes Act, independent farmers, land speculators, Fierce battles
The Native Americans of the Great Plains included diverse tribes—among them the Blackfoot, Sioux, Dakota, Cheyenne, Comanche, Arapaho, Navajo, and Apache. After the Civil War, the Native Americans confronted a growing stream of settlers—prospectors, ranchers, and farm families. The newcomers brought with them new diseases that ravaged the tribes. The settlers also killed off the buffalo and thus damaged the Native American economy.
The Plains peoples defended their land and their way of life from the oncoming settlers. Fierce battles took place in the 1860s and 1870s between the Plains peoples and federal troops. Ultimately, disease and conflict reduced the population and power of the tribes. Displacement by settlers and concentration on Indian reservations, mainly in Oklahoma, Wyoming, and the Dakotas, challenged the traditional Native American way of life.
In the late 19th century, Congress developed a new policy toward Native Americans. Instead of isolating them on reservations, as had been done in the mid-1800s, the new policy sought to assimilate Native Americans into the cultural mainstream. Congressional policymakers responded to pressure from two different groups. First, some people sought to suppress Native American culture by converting Native Americans to Christianity and turning them into farmers. Second, land-hungry settlers and speculators wanted the Native Americans removed from desirable land in the reservations.
The Dawes Severalty Act, passed by Congress in 1887, addressed both concerns. The law broke up reservations and encouraged private farms. Native Americans families received individual plots of land, carved from reservations, as well as farm equipment. These families were to give up their communal way of life on the reservations and become independent farmers. But few Native Americans profited from the Dawes Act; the greatest beneficiaries were land speculators, who under the law were able to buy the best pieces of reservation land.
In 1890 at the Battle of Wounded Knee federal troops fired on a group of Sioux and massacred from 150 to 370 men, women, and children. The Battle of Wounded Knee marked the end of Native American resistance to settlement.
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