Archive for Sunday, August 29, 2004

U.S. government threw white squatters off American Indian land in the 1800s

August 29, 2004

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The attempt to leave behind European-American encroachment in the East and upper Midwest would prove a losing proposition for most native peoples coming to eastern Kansas in the 19th century.

Along with the influx of up to 40 new tribal groups into eastern Kansas -- either due to European-American encroachment or to passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 -- the opening of the Santa Fe and Oregon-California trails in the 1820s brought ever-increasing numbers of European-Americans to "Indian Kansas."

That meant that not only were nearby residents in Missouri tempted to come across the border and stake their claim to Indian lands, but also that some of the European-Americans traveling the trails decided to settle in Kansas rather than continue on.

Tensions arose between native groups and emerging local settler communities, said Dan Wildcat, professor of American Indian studies at Haskell Indian Nations University.

"These were squatters who were coming into Indian lands to settle," Wildcat said.

Into this turbulent scene entered the United States government -- but not necessarily on the side that might be expected.

"Most people do not realize that soldiers were sent out here to protect the Indians, not to protect the whites," said Randy Thies, historian with the Kansas State History Museum. "Government has never been in favor of moving west, contrary to what most people think."

Rather, government wanted to maintain order, he said. And Indians who had been removed from their familiar lands on the East Coast were clamoring for government to institute such order, Thies said.

So the government sent military, but in an effort to halt expansion, it also set up what was called the "Indian frontier," a series of forts that extended from eastern Nebraska down through eastern Kansas and into Oklahoma, Thies said.

Fort Leavenworth, established in 1827, and Fort Scott, established in 1842, were the first such strongholds erected in Kansas, he said.

The forts were built "essentially to draw a line to keep white settlers from going further west into these areas that were not part of where they wanted people to settle," Thies said.

A high-profile example of squatters forced by government to vacate their home on Indian land near Independence was the Ingalls family of "Little House on the Prairie" fame.

But even with the presence of the military, another cause was about to bring the most devastating blow of the 19th century to the native peoples of eastern Kansas.

Next week in "River City Chronicles," the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 ensnares native people in the drama of "Bleeding Kansas."

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