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The American West through British Eyes, 1865 - 1900: Part 2

Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

Native Americans

By the time British travellers reached the post-Civil War trans-Mississippi West, Native Americans had been driven onto the defensive. Whole tribes had been wiped out by diseases carried by Europeans, and where individuals and bands survived they found it increasingly difficult to feed themselves as the newcomers not only killed the buffalo, but also interrupted the gathering of edible plants, often wantonly destroying sources of food. Armed resistance by Native Americans was sporadic and undermined by tribal rivalries and the federal government's policies were weakly pursued and vacillating. While some whites believed that disease and alcoholism would answer 'the Indian problem', others believed it could only be solved by civilising the Native Americans, that is, by replacing their cultures by that of the Anglo-American.

Carrying the Mail

Travelling across the United States, Reverend Samuel Manning made detailed pen and pencil sketches of scenes from both the present and the recent past. This one, entitled 'Carrying the United States Mail Across the Prairies, 1860', depicts one aspect of the often violent and bloody encounters between the native people and those determined to open up the West to farmers, cattlemen and miners.

Carrying the mail
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Rev. Samuel Manning, American Pictures.
London, [1876]. (10410.f.2)
Copyright © The British Library

 

Pueblo Indians of the Rio Grande Valley

The title of Dr William Bell's work - New Tracks in North America - refers to the Kansas Pacific Railway's survey, for which he served as physician and photographer in 1867. He was particularly struck by the Pueblo Indians of the Rio Grande Valley, whom he described as being as different from the Plains tribes 'as light from darkness'. These Indians were early converted to Christianity by the Spanish missionaries and each pueblo had its own church, built of adobe, and dedicated to its patron saint. Yet, Bell admits: 'I never, in my residence in their valley, saw a Pueblo Indian laugh; I do not remember even a smile…I looked on them with pity, and wondered what they thought of this new state of things, and how they liked the intruders whose presence they bore so meekly.'

Pueblo Indians of the Rio Grande Valley
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William A. Bell, New Tracks in North America.
London, 1869. (10412.g.25/1)
Copyright © The British Library

 

Native Americans in Oregon

This sketch depicts the Chief of the Alcea Indians between his two wives and his son. The Alceas were one of nineteen tribes who were forced onto reservations in Oregon during the 1860s and 1870s. Visiting this state in 1877, Wallis Nash saw little to condemn in this arrangement and argued that: 'One hears too much of the fraud and violence said to be practised against the red men by our American cousins.' He believed that the inhabitants of the reservations were provided with plenty of the finest land in the area, schools, medical help and advice, and 'instructions in the necessary arts of house-building, farming, stock-raising, clothing and many comforts…What more could the incoming white man do for them?'

Native Americans in Oregon
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Wallis Nash, Oregon: There and Back in 1877. London, 1878. (10409.bbb.3)
Copyright © The British Library

 

Corruption and Mismanagement of the Indian Bureau

Sir Arthur Pendarves Vivian, an M.P. and colonel in the Welsh infantry, argued that members of the U.S. Congress meant to be just and fair in their dealings with the Native people, but '. their intentions have been thwarted by the slackness and corruption of the Indian Department or Bureau...I have been told that goods sent as free gifts by the Government are often sold by the officials to the Indians actually before they have been unloaded from the waggon in which they have been brought to the post, and that a single blanket is not unfrequently cut in half and sold as two.' In addition, 'a great deal of the money voted to ameliorate their conquered condition feathers the nest of the officials and subordinates. No wonder then that they cease to believe in the white man's promises.'

Corruption and Mismanagement of the Indian Bureau
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A. Pendarves Vivian, Wanderings in the Western Land.
London, 1879. (7905.cc.9)
Copyright © The British Library

 

Sitting Bull

Sitting Bull
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Charles Lord Russell, Diary of a Visit to the United States of America in the Year 1883.
New York, 1910. (10410.s.16)
Copyright © The British Library

Meeting Sitting Bull on 5 September 1883, Lord Russell of Killowen, (Lord Chief Justice of England), was clearly impressed by the Sioux Chief, yet in his diary he describes him as 'an old ruffian'. However, by the following day he had obviously revised his opinion, for he wrote: 'I wish to begin today's note by a word of apology to Sitting Bull. I am told by well-informed Americans that S.B. is not the ruffian I have called him, and that the better opinion now is that he was not guilty of any unwarlike or treacherous conduct in relation to the defeat of General Custer's force, which was fairly met by S.B. in the open, but met by a vastly superior force to that of the American General.'

Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7


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