The Western Tribes

Western Population
The Indian Tribes were the largest and most important group in the western population, before the Anglo-American migration. The vast expanse of various tribes in the West was very apparent as Western society expanded. Some members of eastern tribes such as the Cherokee were forced to resettle west of the Mississippi to “Indian Territory,” later becoming Oklahoma, and elsewhere before the civil war. Despite this, most in the western tribes already lives in the west.

Pueblos \ Plains
Pueblo Indian adobe houses
Pueblo Indian adobe houses
The western tribes (the including Serrano, Chumash, Pomo, Maidu, Yurok, and Chinook tribes), developed many forms of civilization. The Pueblos were a very important group within the Native American population. They lived largely as farmers, growing mostly corn. They were very advanced people and also built cities of adobe houses as they practiced elaborate forms of irrigation. Trade and commerce was very important within their society, which may have been a reason for their close relationship with the Spanish.

A caste system in the Southwest developed as the interaction between Pueblos and the Spanish, and between other tribes, increased overtime. The Caste system reflected the obsession of society of the Spanish empire in America with racial ancestry (Brinkley 434).
1. The Spanish (later, called Mexicans) who controlled trading centers and owned large properties
2. The Pueblos
3. Apaches, Navajos, and Genizaros-- (men/women who voluntarily left their own tribes; Indians without tribes)

The Plain Indians were the most widespread and diverse Indian tribe in the West. Some formed alliances, while others were in constant conflict. Some lived as farmers, while others lived as hunters. Despite this diversity, most of the Plains society was based on close and extended family networks as well as a close relationship with nature. Tribes were usually subdivided into bands of up to 500 men and women, who were usually related. The hunting of buffalo was a very important aspect of Plain Indian society; they provided economic basis for society. The flesh was used for food, skin for clothing, bones for weapons, tendons for the strings of bows, and “Buffalo Chips” provided fuel.

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Removal \ Reservations \ Conflict
After 1850, the loss of land of the Native Americans was very significant

The same frontier that native Americans revered as their homeland and source of livelihood was gradually being taken over by white settlers, and those tribes began to lose freedom and tradition.
In 1851, the government began assigning plains tribes to live on certain reservations, however many tribes refused to restrict their movements to these reservations. As a result, those Plains Indians continued to migrate where the buffalo roamed, which was the beginning of increased conflict between the US government and the tribes.

Dawes Severalty Act - 1887
Various reformers persuaded congress to end the practice of feeling with Native Americans as if they were a separate nation, because although they may have appeared as outcasts to the rest of society, they have every right to the land. A new approach incorporated in the Dawes Severalty Act broke up tribal organization, which many felt kept tribes from becoming civilized beings within society (Newman and Schmalbach, 317). As part of the act, 57 million acres of land were distrusted among Native Americans. Despite this great feat by the tribes, 90 million acres of former reservation land (some of the best land yet) was to be told over the years to white settlers by the government pr Native Americans themselves. The new policy was a complete failure because disease and poverty reduced the Native American population greatly.

Sioux medicine man, Sitting Bull
Sioux medicine man, Sitting Bull
Native American response
In a last attempt at redeeming themselves from the firm grasp of whites, Native American tribes sought after deceased ancestors. The widespread ghost dance movement was a religious movement to resist US domination and drive whites from the Native American’s ancestral lands. Sadly, in an attempt by the government to suppress the movement, the government took charge; famous Sioux medicine man, Sitting Bull, was killed during his arrest, as well in December 1890, 200+ native American woman and children were gunned down by the US army in the battle of Wounded Knee


Clearly, the US’s attempt to assimilate the Native Americans was a complete failure. However, partial recognition of the failure of the policy somewhat forced assimilation within society, perhaps because of the now present fear among Native Americans. As part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s, congress created the Indian Reorganization Act (1934) which promotes the reestablishment of tribal organizations and culture.

Territorial Loss Map
Pueblo indian adobe
Sitting Bull

Additional Information
Indian Reorg. Act
Pueblo Indians Info