The history of Indian reservations is a story of the European Americans' quest for land. The numerous Native American tribes had lived and hunted on huge swathes of land across the United States for centuries. The location of these Native American territories conflicted with European Americans' desire to expand westward from their east coast cities and explore the potential of the country from coast to coast.
The Hunger For Land
At the beginning of the 19th century, land-hungry European Americans started moving inland along the southern coastal region into what is now Alabama and Mississippi. However, five tribes stood in the way of this expansion: Creek, Seminole, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Cherokee. Settlers petitioned the government to remove the tribes, but although Presidents Jefferson and Monroe argued that these tribes should be offered lands west of the Mississippi, nothing was done about it. The first major transfer of land followed General Andrew Jackson's defeat of the Creeks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814. Jackson pushed through a treaty in which the Creek tribe surrendered over 20 million acres of its land. Over the next few decades, Jackson played a major role in the removal of Native American tribes from their lands and the creation of reservations.
The Indian Removal Act of 1830
When Andrew Jackson became president, he persuaded Congress to pass the 1830 Indian Removal Act. Jackson argued that the legislation would provide land for white settlers and civilize the Native Americans while keeping them apart from white settlements. Following his re-election in 1832, Jackson pursued a policy of removing Native Americans from fertile farming land. Land given to the tribes in Oklahoma became known as "Indian Territory." Some tribes used money they received for their land to buy more land in Oklahoma and start schools.
Exodus to Oklahoma
Some 70,000 Native Americans were forced to relocate to Oklahoma during the 1830s. Many suffered on the overland trek from Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Tennessee and Virginia. The Cherokee tribe's enforced journey to Indian Territory is one of the most infamous examples of the hardships suffered by Native Americans during removal. The Cherokees made most of the 800-mile journey, which is known as the Trail of Tears, on foot and an estimated 4,000 died from hunger and cold en route.
Geronimo, leader of the Chiricahua Apaches of Arizona, led one of the final resistance movements against living on reservations. In 1876 the U.S. government ordered the tribe to move from its mountain lands to the San Carlos reservation in southeastern Arizona. Over a period of two years, he led war parties in attacks on government troops until his capture in 1878 when he finally settled in San Carlos. The Utes also resisted government plans to make them work as farmers. The resulting battle over the issue, known as the Meeker Massacre, ended with the Ute tribe being relocated from Colorado to Utah. In 1887, the Dawes Act aimed to make Native American reservations less dependent on the federal government by allotting land parcels to individual families, a move that eroded their traditional communal lifestyle and contributed to divisions within reservation communities.
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