Indian Wars and Railroads in the West 1860–93

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Map Code: Ax01455

The Indians of the West experienced an apocalypse from the 1850s; its four horsemen were floods of settlers, bison hunters, the US cavalry and the ‘iron horse’ of the railroads. The Homestead Act (1862) accelerated westward migration of the land-hungry. While Indian attacks on homesteaders provoked outrage and reprisal, Mormons perpetrated the worst settler massacre, at Mountain Meadows (1857). The near extinction of the bison did more to destroy the independence of the Plains Indians than the efforts of the US cavalry. A string of mining booms stimulated the growth of the railroads, accelerating movement and supply, and beribboning the wilderness with settlements. The most effective Indian resistance came through guerrilla warfare: the Snake Wars (1864–68) in Oregon, and Geronimo’s Apache Wars (1882–86) being notable examples. All the while, the legislative machine churned out executive orders implementing Indian land cessions: by 1890 few tracts of unceded land remained.

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