Settlers rode the railroads to new homes in the West as American Indians were driven out of their wide-open country to try to survive on confined reservations. Said one American Indian, "The antelope have gone; the buffalo wallows are empty. . . We are like birds with a broken wing."

James Earle Fraser's famous statue End of the Trail (1915), an image of an American Indian on horseback with bowed head and downcast lance, was reproduced so many times that it seemed to symbolize the end of wide-open-spaces freedom for urbanized settlers as well as the free life of Great Plains American Indians.

In one of the few times a professional historian actually made history, Frederick Turner gave a speech called "The Significance of the Frontier in the American History" at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. Turner said that the American character was formed by the possibilities of the open frontier — a frontier, he announced, that was closing.

It was unclear at the time what was to replace the challenge of the frontier, but plenty of challenges requiring work existed both at home and in the rest of the world. Actually, the frontier was as much a state of mind as a place. At the same time Turner was announcing the end of the West, the government was creating permanently open land with the world's first national parks in Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Sequoia. These preserves were the first of hundreds of national parks and forests — a good idea from the U.S. that has spread around the world.

Pressure on American Indians

Even American Indians' small reservations were threatened under the Dawes Severalty Act (1887), which tried to break up tribes and split up land for ownership by individual American Indian families. By 1900, American Indian tribes had lost more than half of the limited land onto which they'd been crowded 20 years before. Native families were forced to accept private allotments of poor land on which they'd be separated from their tribal culture. When this resulted in surplus land, the government sold it off at bargain prices to settlers.

The shortsighted policy of trying to make American Indians into settler farmers on land that wouldn't support crops lasted until the American Indian New Deal of the 1930s recognized American Indians as full U.S. citizens. One last American Indian massacre occurred in 1890, when federal troops opened fire with machine guns on American Indians gathering for a sacred dance at Wounded Knee (1890), South Dakota. Two hundred men, women, and children were killed.

From a low of fewer than 250,000 American Indians at the close of the Western frontier in 1890, the U.S. American Indian population rebounded to 3 million urban and rural American Indians by 2010 — 1 out of 100 Americans. And millions of white, black, and Hispanic Americans have some American Indian ancestry.


Question: What was the main policy of the United States toward American Indians from 1877 to the New Deal?

Answer: To break up tribes and give individual American Indians their own land.

Helen Jackson's Ramona

People who fought for American Indian rights included Helen Jackson, who wrote the factual story of mistreatment in A Century of Dishonor (1881) and then the popular fiction novel Ramona (1884).

Ramona is the story of a part-American Indian, part-Scottish girl in California. With black hair and blue eyes, Ramona is reared in a privileged ranch family until she falls in love with the poor son of an American Indian chief. The book sold 600,000 copies and spawned plays, movies, and even towns.

People loved the story so much that they named towns for Ramona; localities competed with claims to be the inspiration for her homeland. Unfortunately, the story missed its immediate goal of winning widespread sympathy for the plight of American Indians; instead, it touched off the American love of Spanish mission architecture that lives on today in many Mexican restaurants. Ramona did encourage the trend toward thinking of the defeated American Indians as being somehow noble and worthy of humane treatment. Long after the story was forgotten, its meaning moved society.

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