Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Great Plains Quarterly 33:2 (Spring 2013)


© 2013 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska


Nineteenth-century Indian policy in the United States stood at the crossroads of conflicting American ideals. One abiding challenge was the need to reconcile the collision between citizen land hunger and national calls for the humane treatment of Native Americans stemming from the beliefs that all people are created equal and have eternal souls. Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, the nation deferred the conflict between westward-moving citizens and national sensitivities by relocating Native Americans westward, away from the major flows of settlers. The second half of that century brought Americans face to face with the reality that there were no longer enough isolated places to stash American Indians. Furthermore, a cost-conscious nation decided that it was cheaper to feed Indians than to fight them, even though feeding Native Americans cut against the national belief that people should stand on their own rather than be dependent on others for their material needs. An added feature in the policy mix was the widespread belief that “savage” Indians could not play a major role in creating their own futures.