Dig into history with “American Indians and the American West, 1809-1971”

Red Cloud, chief of the Oglala Lakota, in 1880.  Photo in Wikipedia.

The Library now offers the online resource History Vault: American Indians and the American West, 1809-1971, which adds 36 new collections to the ProQuest History Vault of primary source materials designed to improve research outcomes on issues related to American politics and society. In addition to collections previously available only on microfilm, this resource offers more than 90,000 documents published for the first time — drawn from the National Archives, the Chicago History Museum, Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Records of the Major Council Meetings of American Indian Tribes, and selected first-hand accounts of westward migration.

At the prompt for your account, select “University of Virginia.” The database “American Indians and the American West, 1809-1971” will already be checked. Enter a search query, or leave the fields blank to browse, and click the search button to gain access to a trove of material covering three main historical threads of Indian-white relations:

  • The expulsion of Native peoples from their ancestral lands east of the Mississippi during the years 1832-1840, including correspondence from Indians and whites, and reports by government agents and employees.
  • Contact between the western tribes and the U.S. Army from the 1850s to the 1890s, including detailed coverage of armed Indian resistance to white settlement on Indian lands in the post-Civil War years.
  • The often-neglected story of Native Americans’ political relations with the U.S. government in the first half of the 20th century, encompassing conditions on reservations, Indian customs, education, and health conditions.

You can learn how Red Cloud’s band of Lakota resisted white invasion in 1866, forcing the government to sue for peace after his forces, armed mostly with bows and arrows and war clubs, wiped out an entire command of 81 soldiers and two civilian recruits who were armed with repeating rifles. The battle, which was fought to prevent settler traffic from crossing Indian land in northern Wyoming, was the worst defeat suffered by the U.S. military in the West until Custer’s ten years later.

You can read the government’s report detailing the provocations that led Red Cloud to act — military posts built in “the only remaining reliable hunting grounds of these Indians”; the country filling up with “white men prospecting for gold and silver,” which interfered with the Indians’ pasturage of horses crucial for hunting bison. One government commissioner concluded, “I do not wish to justify the Indians in their hostilities; but they are but men, with the necessities of life for themselves and their families staring them in the face; and if their overtures for peace are continually and wantonly repelled, they go to war …”

The story of Red Cloud, who went from leading some of the last free bands of Lakota to dying on the Pine Ridge reservation in 1909, is one of the many stories that were once difficult to find because of limited access. You can read more of these stories by visiting History Vault: American Indians and the American West, 1809-1971, located in the Library’s A-Z Databases list.

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