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The Clash of Cultures on the Plains
In the West, white soldiers spread cholera, typhoid, and smallpox to the Indians. The whites also put pressure on the shrinking bison population by hunting and grazing their own livestock on the prairie grasses.
The federal government tried to appease the Plains Indians by signing treaties with the "chiefs" of various "tribes" at Fort Laramie in 1851 and at Fort Atkinson in 1853. The treaties marked the beginning of the reservation system in the West.
"Tribes" and "chiefs" were often fictions of the white imagination, for Indians usually recognized no authority outside their own family.
In the 1860s, the federal government herded the Indians into smaller confines, mainly the "Great Sioux reservation" in Dakota Territory, and the Indian Territory in Oklahoma.
Receding Native Population
At Sand Creek, Colorado in 1864, Colonel J. M. Chivington's militia massacred 400 Indians who apparently posed no threat.
In 1866, a Sioux war party attempting to block construction of the Bozeman Trail to the Montana goldfields left no survivors when they ambushed Captain William J. Fetterman's command of 81 soldiers and civilians in Wyoming's Bighorn Mountains.
In 1874, Colonel George Armstrong Custer's Seventh Cavalry set out to suppress the Indians after the Sioux attacked settlers who were searching for gold in the "Great Sioux reservation." His cavalry was instead slaughtered.
The Nez Percé Indians were forced to surrender and were deceived into being sent to a dusty reservation in Kansas in 1877.
The taming of Indians was accelerated by the railroad, white men's diseases, and white men's alcohol.
Bellowing Herds of Bison
After the Civil War, over 15 million bison grazed the western plains. By 1885, fewer than 1000 were left after the bison had been slaughtered for their tongues, hides, or for amusement.
The End of the Trail
By the 1880s, the nation began to realize the horrors it had committed upon the Indians....