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Category: Philip Stanton

“Civilizing Native Americans”

This project examines the relationship between Native Americans and American settlers since 1877. It will discuss the opinions and attitudes Americans had towards Native Americans, American methods to assimilate them to their more “civilized” lifestyle, unfair land possessions, and the efforts to erase Native American culture completely.

The ancestor of Native Americans came to America sixteen thousand years ago from Asia. Upon their arrival a vast number of cultures had developed. These cultures and people were able to flourish until the arrival of English settlers on the shores of America in 1492. It was at that point that the quality of Native American life started to decrease drastically. Before the English settlers came to America the Native Americans had been peacefully inhabiting the land. English settlers disregarded the rights of Native Americans; they viewed the land as unclaimed and thought of the Native Americans as savages who were uncivilized. Considering that these settlers came to America to have freedom after being persecuted for their religious beliefs in England it was very hypocritical of them to try to eradicate the Native Americans for having a different culture from them.

After the settlers arrived over one thousand five hundred attacks were authorized by the American government against Native Americans which is the highest number that any country in the entire world has ever placed against its own indigenous people. The first attempt by the U.S to remove the Native Americans was the Indian Removal Act of 1830. It relocated Native Americans who lived on the east side of the Mississippi River over to the west side of it. Following this, the Trail of Tears where over four thousand Native Americans died occured around the times of 1830 to 1850. To promote the Indian schools the government decided to fund them with the Civilization Fund Act of 1819 that gave federal funding to towns for educating Native Americans.  

The actions that the English settlers took to assimilate Native Americans to their culture and eliminate the traditional Native American culture permanently changed the future for Native Americans. The effects are still seen today as their population is remarkably smaller compared to others. This project will highlight America’s efforts on “civilizing” the Native Americans and what this reveals about US history since 1877. As such the project will focus on Indian schools, land disputes, and laws or policies. This theme reflects the changing ideologies of America which is evident through westward expansion, the Reconstruction Era, the Great Depression, World War II, and the Red Scare.   

The Native Americans were trying to keep peace with the English settlers and just wanted to live on the land that was rightfully theirs first. The English settlers did not see them as equals and used violence to obtain land. The Native Americans were unable to fight back as the settlers had more advanced weapons such as guns. Not only did the settlers force Native Americans from their land, they used policies to force them to conform to their culture. This coincided with the US’s westward expansion movement. Because the different lifestyle of the Native Americans was in imposition for the settlers expanding west they used assimilation tactics to get rid of them. Through assimilation they would get Native Americans off of reservations which was land the settlers wanted for themselves to farm and build railroads. Removing them from reservations and requiring them to life a farming lifestyle also made Native Americans not self sufficient anymore. After freeing up reservation lands then the Native American children would be sent to Indian Schools to break the tradition of Native American culture. The American Indian Policy allotted Native Americans pieces of land (even though this land was previously theirs) as long as the Native Americans would farm the land they were given. This forced Native Americans to give up their preferred hunting lifestyle for an agricultural lifestyle that the settlers considered normal. “Indian Schools” established by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, were said to be a way to civilize the Native American children from their savage ways but they were really just a way to get rid of the Native American culture. These schools would be boarding schools so the children would be completely removed from their families. Some of the many things the children were taught included speaking english, believing in Christianity, and the principles of democracy.

During the Reconstruction Era racism was re-establishing an equal but separate society. Voting barriers were implemented into the new state constitution against African Americans such as an annual tax poll and literacy test. (Dunning 1887)  Adding these meant it wasn’t explicitly said that African Americans couldn’t vote but the meaning of these voting barriers was quite clear. These purposely prohibited many African Americans from voting and even now a similar event happened in North Dakota. Now the majority of Native Americans reservations use a PO box for their address because they don’t have an actual address. Just this year the Supreme Court has refused to overturn the voter ID law in North Dakota. This law doesn’t allow a PO box to be used in place of an actual address on IDs. With invalid addresses on their ID’s, Native Americans are unable to vote. (Camila 2018) This shows a very similar intention as the voting barriers created during the Reconstruction Era. During the Great Depression the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 was passed by President Roosevelt. This act was part of a plan to get the entire country out of depression and reflected the worries of President Roosevelt. The Reorganization Act helped to undo some of the results of Indian assimilation such as, removing the policy of allotment and allowing the tribes to go back to their political and societal traditions. (Howard 1934) In World War II many minority groups joined the army to help fight. The Native Americans were one of these groups. World War II gave them a chance to provide income for their families which helped after the depression. (Robert 2000) The Red Scare however brought back harsher rules for Native Americans. The paranoia of society was reflected in harsher laws such as the creation of “termination”. The government stopped recognizing fifty local tribal government and the government stopped providing Native Americans with subsistence. Because of the assimilation process Native Americans had been forced to become dependant on government subsistence so without the subsistence they struggled. (Robert 2000)

One of the major battles between the Native Americans and English settlers was the Battle of Tippecanoe where a tribal leader Tecumseh, convinced multiple tribes to unite to fight against the settlers. Tecumseh’s death was celebrated by the settlers who were relieved that such a large “danger” and “threat” was gone. However the Narrative of Spoon Decorah and the Narrative of Walking Cloud reveal the true peaceful nature of Tecumseh who was a famously respected chief and what his intentions really were. (Maucchewemahnigo, 1895) The reports of Indian Schools by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs were meant to report the progress of civilizing the Native American children but the settlers prejudices and negative opinions are clearly expresses through the reports comments. (Wilkins, Charles M, 1882) The article from the Carlisle Indian Industrial School paper provides a very different outlook on the Indian schools as it is written from the viewpoint of a Native American student at one of the boarding schools. The Carlisle Indian Industrial School was the first Indian boarding school that started a whole movement of them. The children were completely separated from their culture; they were not allowed to speak their own language, they were given new names, and they had to have haircuts like the settlers.

Samson Occom

William Love talks about the Brothertown Indians who were descendants of the Mohican and Pequot tribes and how they were forced out of their territories as white settlers pushed west. As a result of this they moved to Wisconsin in the 1820s. This article goes over the early history of the tribe and Love particularly focuses on Samson Occom a Mohican leader who played a big role in organizing the move to New York. This source illustrates the project’s theme of settlers unfairly taking land away from the Native Americans as they continue their push for westward expansion.

Chester A. Arthur on American Indian Policy

The audience Arthur had intended to read this letter was congress in hope of having them pass his idea. His idea had three main arguments for accomplishing the integration of Native Americans into western civilization. The first was applying the variety of colony laws to the Indians the second was grating the Indians the right to own property and the third was implementing a western style education system for Indian children. Based off the reading, it is apparent that Arthur did not agree with the current implemented laws for integrating Native Americans into their society.

Dawes Act of 1887

The Dawes Act of 1887 was created to further assimilate Native Americans, claiming it would help them from extermination. Native Americans had been given reservations from the U.S but the Dawes Act took those areas and divided them into small sections among the Native Americans. It required the Native Americans to live separately on these sections of land causing them to be away from their nations. This connects to the theme by revealing how this method of assimilation that required Native Americans to live on these individual pieces was just another way to weaken their cultural structure and make them more dependent on the U.S.

Chief Joseph on Indian Affairs

In this source, Chief Joseph states the colonists were using violent force and killing the Indians, all of which began before the American Indian Policy of 1881 was proposed. Chief Joseph claimed that all he wanted to do was live in peace among the white men. That he did not want to see anymore of his people be slaughtered. And that it was possible for the two to live in peace among each other as long as the Americans did not strip them of their culture. The letter was written in hopes of gaining sympathy from Washington. This connects with the theme of settlers trying to eradicate Native Americans while claiming they were trying to use assimilation for good.

Charles M. Wilkins’s Report of the Forest Grove School.

This primary source discusses the annual report of the Forest Grove School. The source includes in detail, the progress Native American boys and girls are making at their American Indian School called Forest Grove School in Oregon of 1882. The article discusses that great progress for the boys is considered to be work accomplished, blacksmithing, carpentry, and farming. As for girls the source talks of how the girls have have been flourishing by manufacturing all their clothing and have learned to live in such an organized and neat manner. The reason Wilkins wrote this was to point out how well the Indians are doing in adapting into American culture, how the program is working very well, and how without these programs the goal of “civilizing” Indians would be out of reach.  


Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs

This source informs the reader that there was a decrease from 91 American Indian Schools in the US to 88. In response to this decrease, the number of school days increased from 163 to 167. In addition there was an opening of 7 more schools while 4 were discontinued. In conclusion, this source discusses changes made to the American Indian school system in 1908.


John Lee’s Reports of the Indian Schools

This source discusses the health conditions for the Native American students during their time spent at the Carlisle Indian School in 1886. The source claims the year was relatively good considering they did not stay in buildings fit for winter temperatures. Apparently there were 510 cases of illness during the winter. Of this amount, only 8 died. A relatively good number for the circumstances. Lastly the article talks of the various tribes who have enrolled in their school. Which transitions to the reasons why the staff of the school favors the Alaskan Indians more than the others. This source shows the unsuitable living conditions the children had the be in at the school. This unfair treatment such as spending winter in a building not suitable for winter resulting in extremely high numbers of illnesses and death reflects the lack of respect and care put into these schools. These schools did not have good intentions of providing the Native American children with a good education. The intention was to erase Native American culture from being passed down to the next generation.  


William Powell’s Recollections

This source shows William Powell’s records of Indian traditions as well as key events in early Wisconsin history. Within this source, Powell also talks of the Fox Wars,  the War of 1812 and his own personal time spent in the Black Hawk War. In the Fox Wars the French drove the Foxes and Sauk tribes westward from their current homes. The results of these wars often included the Native Americans being forced to move from their current homes. This ties back to the theme by showing how the Native Americans were frequently being displaced from their land because the settlers wanted it for themselves.     


Milwaukee Sentinel

This article in the Milwaukee Sentinel describes the author’s visit to the Menominee Indian Village. The author’s opinion that the Native American children have a low intellectual capacity is apparent when the author talks about their Indian school. The author writes about the people, buildings, and industries of the Menominee people from visiting. The author’s negative opinion about the Native American children reflects the general opinions society had about Native Americans at the time. It connects to the theme by showing the lack of respect society had for Native Americans.  


Narrative of Spoon Decorah

Spoon Decorah a Ho-Chunk leader is interviewed in this source by Reuben Gold Thwaites. Decorah talks about events in his life such as his tribe mining lead near Wisconsin, the effects of white settlers, and being removed from Mississippi. He also describes the events of two wars, the Black Hawk War and the Winnebago War of 1827. During the Winnebago War Decorah recalls they willing gave Red Bird to the whites because he killed a white family and the tribe did not tolerate that. The Native Americans still trying to keep fair morales and treat the white settlers as equals to them while the settlers didn’t return the same respect connects with the overall theme.

Geographical Names in Wisconsin

Chrysostom Verwyst wrote this book about the Ojibwe names and language. He was a Catholic missionary but lived among the Ojibwe people for many years. The definitions of certain terms from the Ojibwe language reveals certain beliefs they had, customs or rituals, and events. Their language reveals a lot about their culture such as how it was based on a hunting lifestyle. The hunting lifestyle of Native Americans relates to the theme of how this lifestyle conflicted with the agricultural lifestyle.

Narrative of Walking Cloud

In this source Reuben Gold Thwaites interviewed Walking Cloud a Ho-Chunk leader about the Black Hawk War. The war was caused because Black Hawk who was a Sauk leader was trying to resettle on land that was given to the U.S in the Treaty of St. Louis. Walking Cloud mentions how One-eyed Decorah was not a good person and was made a chief because of the American Fur Company. He also talks about attempts made to remove his tribe and about his belief in the Great Spirit that is involved in the ritual the tribe has when someone dies. This source ties to the theme by showing that the U.S completely ignored the fact that Native Americans already lived on land that was included in the Treaty of St. Louis. This shows the complete disrespect the settlers had for the rights of the Native Americans.

Indian Reorganization Act

The Indian Reorganization Act was created in response to the Great Depression. President Roosevelt wanted to help all Americans get out of the depression and the Indian Reorganization Act was part of this. It gave Native Americans the chance to go back to their old cultural ways. This relates to the theme because Native Americans had the chance to reverse some of the effects of the assimilation.

The Constitution of the U.S in Reconstruction

During the Reconstruction Era the new state constitution placed voting barriers against African Americans. Things like a literacy test and annual poll tax were added. These made it a lot harder for African Americans to be able to vote. This relates to the theme because a similar voting barrier has recently been placed against Native Americans.


Westward expansion for a long time had created conflict with the Native Americans and settlers. The settlers tried to resolve this by taking the Native Americans off reservations. After displacing the Native Americans the next phase included trying to absorb them into mainstream society through school. Settlers wanted to eliminate their incompatible lifestyle by forced integration. Similarly to how voting barriers were created against African Americans during the Reconstruction Era, now voting barriers are being created against Native Americans. During the Great Depression Native Americans gained more freedom and autonomy. Some of this was then taken away again during the Red Scare. The theme of “civilizing” native peoples and what is reveals about the U.S after 1877 is shown through these topics, eras, and timeframes.


Primary Sources

Love, William. “Samson Occom: the founding of Brothertown by Christian Indians.” Utica Morning Herald. Utica: Utica Morning Herald, 1894, pp. 1. From Oneida Historical Society, (Accessed December 18, 2018).  

Arthur, Chester. Chester A. Arthur on American Indian Policy. Washington D.C: Government Printing Office, 1881. (Accessed December 18, 2018).

Dawes, Henry. Dawes Act of 1887. Enrolled Acts and Resolutions of Congress. Washington D.C: Government Printing Office, 1887. (Accessed December 18, 2018).  

Joseph. Chief Joseph on Indian Affairs. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1877, pp. 630. (Accessed December 18, 2018).

Wilkins, Charles M. Report of Forest Grove School. Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Washington D.C: Government Printing Office, 1882, pp. 187-190. From Library of Congress, Assimilation through Education. 1882. (accessed December 18, 2018).

Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Washington D.C: Government Printing Office, 1908, pp. 40-41. From Library of Congress, Assimilation through Education. 1908. (Accessed December 18, 2018).

Lee, John. Reports of Indian Schools. Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Washington D.C: Government Printing Office, 1886, pp.18. From Library of Congress, Assimilation through Education. 1886. Carlisle: The Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1886. (Accessed December 18, 2018).

Powell, William. William Powell’s Recollections. Proceeding of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin at its 60th annual meeting. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1913, pp. 146-179. (Accessed December 18, 2018).     

Milwaukee Sentinel, “Menominee Indian Village.” Milwaukee: Milwaukee Sentinel, 1886, pp. 196-100. (Accessed December 18, 2018).

DeKaury, Spoon. “Narrative of Spoon Decorah.” Wisconsin Historical Collections 13, no. 3 (1889). 448-462.

Verwyst, Chrysostom. “Geographical Names in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan, having a Chippewa Origin.” Wisconsin Historical Collections 12, (1892). 390-398.

Maucchewemahnigo. “Narrative of Walking Cloud.” Wisconsin Historical Collections 13, (1895). 463.

Wheeler, Howard. The Indian Reorganization Act. Washington D.C: Government Printing Office, 1934. (Accessed December 18, 2018).

Dunning, Wm. “The Constitution of the United States in Reconstruction.” Political Science Quarterly 2, no 4. (1887): 558-602.

Secondary Sources

Hamilton, Robert. “United States and Native American Relations.” FGCU. 2000. December 18, 2018.

Domonoske, Camila. “Many Native IDs Won’t be Accepted at North Dakota Polling Places.” NPR. October 13, 2018. December 18, 2018.  

“Race and Voting in the Segregated South.” Constitutional Rights Foundation. 2018. December 18, 2018.

Simonsen, Jane E. Making Home Work. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press 2006.

Emery, Jacqueline A. Writing Against Erasure: Native American Boarding School Students and the Periodical Press. 2011.

Pearce, Roy H. Savagism and Civilization: A Study of the Indian and the American Mind. Berkeley: University of California Press 1988.

Fritz, Henry E. The Movement for Indian Assimilation. Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press 1963.

Lincoln. Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press 2016.

Fixico, Donald. “When Native Americans were Slaughtered in the Name of ‘Civilization.’” History, March 2, 2018.  

Weiser, Kathy. “Native American Timeline of Events.” Legends of America. March, 2017, 2018.

“History and Culture: Boarding Schools.” Northern Plains Reservation Aid. November, 2018.


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