Main events in the struggle for the Plains

Timeline to show the main events in the struggle for the Plains 1803 - 1885

1803-1851: The Permanent Indian Frontier

PolicyIn 1803, the US government purchased Louisiana from the French. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 forced all Native Americans in the eastern United States (eg Cherokee, Seminole) to go there (the Trail of Tears).
Pressures on Native AmericansFirst settler trails across the Plains to the West - Oregon Trail (1841), Mormon Trail (1846), California Trail (to the goldfields, 1849).
ResultsFirst skirmishes between Native and white Americans.

1851-1867: Concentration of Native American land

PolicyIn the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, the US government agreed that large areas of land should belong to Native American tribes 'for all time' (eg the Sioux were given the Black Hills of Dakota).
Pressures on Native AmericansGold was discovered in Colorado (1859). The first cattle drives were opened up (eg the Goodnight-Loving Trail, 1866). The Pony Express and a regular stagecoach service to California started up.
ResultsIndian wars of 1860-1867
  • Little Crow's war (1860-61)
  • Massacre of Sand Creek by Chivington's 3rd Colorado Volunteers (1864)
  • Red Cloud led the Sioux in a successful war against the US (1866-7). During this war the Fetterman massacre (1866) occurred, in which 80 US cavalry troopers died.

1867-1875: Native Americans on small reservations

PolicyIn the Treaty of Medicine Lodge (1867) the southern plains tribes agreed to move to Oklahoma. In the Second Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868) Red Cloud realised he could never defeat the US permanently, and the Sioux agreed to move onto a small reservation. The US government promised to supply food and medicine.
Pressures on Native AmericansRailroads. Cow towns and cattle ranching. Gold was discovered in the Black Hills. Many white Americans wanted to exterminate the Native Americans. Slaughter of the buffalo. The US government broke its promises of 1868, and supplies were inadequate.
ResultsIndian wars of 1875-85
  • Custer and his army were wiped out at the battle of Little Bighorn (1876).
  • Custer's Avengers swelled the US Army, and superior US numbers, technology and winter campaigns forced the Sioux to surrender.

1885: Opening up Native American territory

PolicyThe US government made Native American territory available to white settlers (eg the Oklahoma Land Run, 1889). Homesteaders arrived. The Native Americans' own law courts were abolished. The Native Americans had to seek justice in the white man's court.
ResultsEnd of the Native American way of life.