DBQ: Post-war Indian Policy and the Gilded Age Government

American History 11


From around 1868 to 1890, during the post-civil war era, The United States waged a ruthless war against the Indians in the process of clearing out the frontier. It is reasonable to consider that this Indian policy was the result of the Gilded Age government. Government during the Gilded Age has often been criticized for being too pro-business, ignoring the real problems that were going on at that time. The inactive leaders were not as much controlling events, as they were controlled by events. The Indian war was very business motivated and perhaps could have been stopped by a more active and responsible government. However, there are other factors to consider, that show that the post-war Indian policy would not have been stopped by a stronger government.

During the Gilded Age there were many reasons for the United States to expand into the west, such as railroads, the growing population, cattle, fresh soil, gold, and a general dislike for Native Americans. The only thing that stood in their way were the Indians, numbering about 360,000 and not willing to give up there land. They were looked upon by the Americans as savages rather than people, and taking their land did not seem like a crime.

It is not likely that a stronger government could have, or if they could, would have held back a growing country, to protect the rights of the ununified groups of Native Americans inhabiting the west. In addition, the tribes in the west were already at war among themselves, giving the federal government and excuse to intervene, having them sign treaties which forced them into reservations. When the fled the reservations, many of whom never agreed to stay there in the first place, the army was sent to force them back into the assigned territories. This began a long and bloody war with the Indians who refused to give in. Although a stronger government might been more humane, the country was growing and a war was inevitable. They Native Americans really had no choice but to fight as examined by Indian fighter General Philip Sheridan. As he explains, the Americans stole their home from them, destroyed their culture, and gave them diseases, so they had no choice but to go to war (Doc H).

During the Gilded age there was a lot anti-Indian feeling. This is shown in Colonel Chivington’s response to a lieutenant who told him that to attack the Indians would violate the treaty. He said he believed it to be honorable kill Indians no matter what the circumstances (Doc C). Much of the cause of this anti-Indian mentality was media related. A newspaper called Harper’s weekly published an article about the Battle of Little Big Horn. They accused the Indians of breaking their treaty. However, they failed to understand that the Indians were not all united under the chiefs that signed the treaty and were mostly independent families. They stated that the Indians were receiving food and supplies while in reality the corrupt officials were selling them old and sometimes disease infested supplies in order to make money. They also portray the Indians as savage and unhuman-like. This type of negative portrayal in the media definitely affects public opinion to promote the war (Doc A).

Although it seems more active leaders would help with the Indian policy, this is a false assumption. Even and active leader would still have the same views about Indians. This is evidenced by Roosevelt’s statement about the Indians. He states that it is okay to take Indian land because they never really owned it in the first place. Although Roosevelt was the most active leader of the Gilded Age his view towards the Indians would had prevented him from stopping the Indian war if not encouraging it (Doc D).

Almost no one at the time wanted to leave the Indians their land. Even Carl Schurz who considered himself to be a friend of the Indians, proposed to modernize them rather than leave them alone. He complains about the corruption of the reservation system, and proposes that the Indians be made citizens, and adapted to American culture (Doc E). Perhaps he is right though in that it