The Trail of Tears and the Wild West

Indians chasing American frontiersmen over the Great Plains to the point that one frontiersman falls of his horse.
The Mississippi River (in dark blue) and tributary rivers connected to it.
American settlers crossing a frozen Mississippi River.
Native Americans in front of their homes, which consist of two log cabins and a teepee.
Indians travelling along the so called Trail of Tears, escorted by American cavalry soldiers.
Fierce fighting between Plains Indians and American cavalry soldiers.

In the early 19th century, largely due to European immigration, the American population grew rapidly. As a result, competition for farmland in eastern North America increased, and pressure was mounting on the government to remove the remaining Indian tribes here in order to make more land available for cultivation.

Forced removal

Heeding the settlers’ desire for land, in 1830, the U.S. government passed the Indian removal Act, which in effect forced the east coast Indians to leave their homes. Having instead been assigned new homes in Oklahoma, west of the Mississippi River, the displaced natives now undertook a long march westward. For the sadness of leaving their original homes and for the people who died along the way to Oklahoma, this march is remembered as the Trail of Tears by the Cherokee, one of the displaced peoples.

The Wild West

As they had been ordered to do, the former east coast Native Americans established themselves in Oklahoma in the 1830s. Here, at this time, there were few Euro-Americans, but within a few decades, the whites had moved their mythical frontier beyond this point as well. Oklahoma, as a result, became more crowded, but the Indians here were not forced to leave their homes again. Instead, the Euro-Americans now began claiming land west of both Oklahoma and the Mississippi River, on the Great Plains. In this region, though, also dwelled proud horse-warrior Indians, who would not give up land without a fight. Led by famous chiefs such as Red Cloud and Sitting Bull, groups of horse-warriors attacked those American farmers and army soldiers who stepped too far into the plains, effectively blocking westward expansion for the settlers.

The United States government responded to the Indian attacks by deploying their effective cavalry to the area. However, even for these elite units, defeating the able Indian warriors on their own turf proved difficult. As a consequence, a change of military tactics took place, where the cavalry began attacking vulnerable Indian villages instead of the horse-warriors themselves, leading to escalating hatred and a situation where civilians on both sides were targeted. In the intensifying violence that then followed, brutal vengeance attacks were carried out regularly, and the American army’s inability to restrain the Indians gave rise to the term the Wild West.