American Indians living in this area faced new and sometimes-deadly pressures when the trickle of Eastern immigrants other Indian tribes as well as white settlers turned into a flood as the 1800s marched along.
Raymond A. Farve, a Haskell Indian Junior College faculty member who teaches courses in contemporary issues of Native Americans and history of Native American tribes, said indigenous tribes, including the Kansa, Osage and Omaha, literally were overwhelmed by the numbers.
"Most people are not aware of all the activity that was going on right in this area," he said.
The lifestyles of indigenous tribes first began to change as a consequence of contact with whites in the 1700s, Farve said. Then, French fur traders introduced the Indians to European-style goods as well as to alcohol.
By the 1800s, a few white settlers were living here and were well received by their Indian neighbors, Farve said. After the Louisiana Purchase was completed, in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson brought representatives of the Kansa and Osage tribes to Washington, D.C., for talks, negotiating cordial treatment of travelers, pass-through rights and treaties aimed at ensuring peaceful movement in this area.
BY THE 1820s, though, Farve said, President Andrew Jackson had begun to push hard for removal of Eastern tribes to Kansas and Oklahoma. The Pottawatomi, Kickapoo and Sac and Fox, from the Northeast, moved here along with increasing numbers of white settlers.
"The Kansa tribe right in this area here were constantly giving up land, ceding land for settlers," Farve said.
Immigrant Eastern tribes brought their own cultural practices with them, he explained, all of which were more affected by the European lifestyle than those of area tribes, and as a consequence, animosity developed among the Indians themselves.
By the 1840s, manifest destiny created "a tremendous amount of movement," which the Indian people, who already had given up a great deal, resented, he said.
MOST OF the Eastern tribes had been resettled by then, he said, and many white settlers felt this was a more stable area to come into than further west, where Indians had had much less contact with Europeans.
"This area here was sort of a mixing bowl of different tribes," Farve said, noting "Indian Territory" before 1854 stretched from the Red River on the Texas-Oklahoma border into Iowa.
He noted that more than "just settlers" were passing through, too. There also were religious groups, soldiers, miners, politicians and mixed bloods, he said, "and all had different understandings of where they could live and where they couldn't live.
"There were many misunderstandings."
Congress compounded problems by offering relocation lands to Eastern tribes on which whites already had settled, which triggered problems between those Native Americans and the settlers of their lands.
ALSO, FARVE said, expectations with respect to treaties were different for the tribes, many of whom had no written language, and the government.
Communications were slow and language barriers were a problem. Also, from the time a treaty was signed, the Indians were required to abide by it but the government could not fulfill its commitments until the treaty was ratified by Congress, which then as now acted slowly.
"Goods and money expected or due didn't turn up," Farve said, noting that in many cases, the displaced Indians were relying on those resource to arrive without delay.
"Usually, the Indian people didn't understand what the treaties were all about," Farve said.
Theirs was an oral tradition, he explained, and although their prodigous memories could recall precise wording, "the fine arts of the law were lost on them."
ANOTHER aspect of Indian relations that affected settlement in this area had to do with the government's official policy toward Native Americans.
In the 1840s, when the Oregon Trail was being heavily traveled, Farve said, the policy was "resettlement," which involved only minimal confrontation.
After the Civil War in the 1860s, he said, the official policy changed to "elimination," and further West, where settlement was more sparse, there were many battles.
Diseases brought by whites, like land pressures, also caused suffering among the Indians.
"Some tribes were almost completely wiped out," Farve said, noting that many lost their tribal and religious leaders, and with them, much of their oral history.
FARVE SAID inter-racial marriages, particularly Indian women to white men, weren't unusual, but often the practice was a means of obtaining land.
"There were some marriages where love was involved, but mostly they were motivated by greed," he said.
"From the early 1800s through the 1860s," Farve said, "the Oregon and Santa Fe trails were pretty heavily used. That was a real confusing time. There was so much going on."
This year's Oregon Trail anniversary can provide an opportunity "to look back at the history of the times and relationships, and get a better prespective on today," Farve said. "We can look at it with much more understanding on both sides."