Disease, guns and alcohol devastate the natives and by the 19th century, they’re deprived of their main food - bison. When the English first land in 1607, there are 60 million bison roaming the West. Three centuries later, they’re nearly extinct. 40 million Europeans have swept across the continent clearing all before them, human, as well animal.
The great leader, Shawnee Tcumseh (1768-1813) attempts one last stand by trying for the first time to unite all the tribes against the Americans. His alliance with the British, however, is as doomed as his predecessors and he dies in battle.
The Cherokees however fight on the side of the Americans. Despite this, they have two million acres taken from them. And President Madison can’t stop the looting and raping of their remaining lands. Attempting assimilation (as there are no bison to hunt, and resistance is useless), the Cherokee engage in agriculture, as advised by the previous president, Jefferson. By the 1820s, they have a written language and produce a written constitution, modelled on the American one.
Simon Schama argues that it was this very success, and the presence of gold, that precipitates the new president Andrew Jackson to use the law to finish the survivors off.
THE 1830 REMOVAL ACT &THE TRAIL OF TEARS
This marks the start of a hundred year policy of forced relocations onto reservations. The bill passes Congress by a single vote. Sixty thousand natives are removed from American guaranteed land to that near Mississippi. (This too will later be taken) The march, during the cold winter of 1831-2, was noted by US army private John G Burnet,
“The trail of the exiles was a trail of death, they slept in the wagons and on the ground without fire, as many as 20 die in a single night from pneumonia, cold exposure”
An 1862 Sioux uprising, the Dakota conflict, against the reservation system, leads to President Lincoln ordering the execution of 39 of 303 natives accused of war crimes. After the American Civil War, the Union army is used to finish off those natives not already displaced by the ‘railroads, mining companies and cattle ranches.’ Simon Schama
“He comes like a day that has passed, and night enters our future with him...”
Plains Chieftain, 1870
The infamous 1876 Little Big Horn, or Colonel Custer’s Last Stand, is in reality one of many native last stands. The later cornered and defeated Nez Perces Chief Joseph sums up their broken spirit.
“I am tired of fighting...I want to have time to look for my children and see how many I can find...From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”
And in 1886, the Apache, Geronimo, the last of the native warriors, surrenders. With no further resistance the 1887 Allotment Act, enabling another 17 million acres of native land to be stolen, is almost a formality.
Today, less than one per cent of US citizens are descended from Native Americans.