The first Americans: 30000 - 5000 years ago

During the most recent of the Ice Ages, lasting from 30,000 to 10,000 years ago, an undersea ridge between Siberia and Alaska emerges from the sea. Known as the Bering Land Bridge, it lies partly south of the ice cap. It develops a steppe-like ecology of grasslands, grazed by large animals such as horses, reindeer and even mammoth.

Gradually, in many separate incursions, the Hunter-gatherers of the Siberian steppes pursue their prey across the land bridge and into America. When the melting ice submerges the bridge, about 10,000 years ago, these northeast Asians become isolated as the aboriginal Americans.

The Siberian Hunter-gatherers probably make their way along the north coast of Alaska and down through the valley of the Mackenzie river. Archaeological evidence shows that by about 15,000 years ago the central plains of America are widely inhabited. Traces of human activity at this time are preserved in the remarkable La Brea tar pit in Los Angeles. The glacial conditions further north mean that the central plains are at this time cool and moist.

During the next 5000 years, while the glacial period continues, humans penetrate far into South America.

The retreat of the ice caps (see Ice Ages) makes northern regions increasingly habitable both for large animals and for the humans who prey on them. By 8000 years ago Hunter-gatherers have moved up the eastern side of the continent into Newfoundland and the prairie provinces of Canada.

From about 7000 years ago human groups adapt to the conditions of the northern coast of Canada, living mainly as hunters of sea mammals. They spread gradually eastwards along the edge of the Arctic Circle, eventually reaching Greenland. These hardiest of all human settlers survive today as the Eskimo (or, in their own name for themselves, inuit - meaning simply 'the people').

The first American farmers: 5000 - 2500 BC

The cultivation of crops in America begins in the Tehuacan valley, southeast of the present-day Mexico City. Squash and chili are the earliest plants to be grown - soon followed by corn (or maize) and then by beans and gourds.

These are all species which need to be individually planted, rather than their seeds being scattered or sown over broken ground. This is a distinction of importance in American history, for there are no Animals in america at this time strong enough to pull a plough.

At first these crops merely supplement the food produced by hunting and gathering. But by 3000 BC the people of this area are settled agriculturalists. In this development they are followed by the hunter-gatherers of south America and then, considerably later, by some in the northern part of the continent.

The earliest known settled community in south America is at Huaca Prieta, at the mouth of the Chicama river in Peru. By about 2500 BC the people here have as yet no corn, but they cultivate squash, gourds and chili. They also grow cotton, from which they weave a coarse cloth.

The first American civilizations: from 1200 BC

The earliest civilization in America develops in the coastal regions of the Gulf of Mexico. Dating from around 1200 BC, it is the achievement of the Olmec people. Their culture is contemporary with Mycenae and the Trojan War, with the spread of the Aryans through northern India and with the Shang dynasty in China. At approximately the same time the Hebrews are moving from Egypt through Sinai towards the promised land of Canaan.

The Olmecs represent the beginning of civilization in central America. They are followed, about three centuries later, by the earliest civilization of south America - the Chavin culture of Peru.

These two first American civilizations, in Mexico and Peru, set a pattern which will last for more than 2000 years. A succession of highly developed cultures, all strongly influenced by the traditions of their predecessors, follows in the same two limited regions of the continent - in central America (also known as Mesoamerica) and in the strip of land between the Andes and the Pacific.

Archaeology provides evidence of these various cultures, but the only ones known about in any great detail are those surviving when the Spaniards arrive - to marvel and destroy. These are the very ancient Maya, and the relatively upstart dominant cultures of the time, the Aztecs and the Incas.

The people of north America: 1500 BC - 1500 AD

The original people of north America live in a wide range of environments. On the east side of the continent there are woodlands, where they kill elk and deer. On the grass plains of the midwest they hunt to extinction several American species, including the camel, mammoth and horse. In the desert regions of the southwest human subsistence depends on smaller animals and gathered seeds. In the Arctic north, where there is very much more hunting than gathering, fish and seals are plentiful.

The first trace of settled village life is in the southwest, where by the 2nd millennium BC gourds, squash and corn (or maize) are cultivated (see Hunter-gatherers).

The natives of this region derive their Crops from the more advanced civilization to the south, in Mexico. The same cultural influence brings a custom eventually shared by many of the tribes, that of Mound building. From about 1000 BC great burial mounds begin to be constructed around tomb chambers of log or wood.

The earliest burial mounds in north America are those of the Adena culture of the Ohio valley, closely followed by nearby Hopewell tribes. The period of greatest activity is from the 1st century BC to the 5th century AD, by which time a vast number of mounds have been built throughout north America.

During and after this period two regions of North America develop quite advanced farming societies - the Mississipi valley and the southwest. Farming, accompanied by village life, spreads up the east coast, where fields are cleared from the woodlands for the planting of maize. But in most parts of the continent the tribes continue to live a semi-nomadic existence, in the traditional manner of Hunter-gatherers, even though they lack the one animal which makes movement on the plains easy.

Hunted to extinction in America, this useful creature will only become available again to the Indians through the event which destroys their way of life. The Spaniards arrive with horses.

During and after this period two regions of North America develop quite advanced farming societies - the Mississipi valley and the southwest. Farming, accompanied by village life, spreads up the east coast, where fields are cleared from the woodlands for the planting of maize. But in most parts of the continent the tribes continue to live a semi-nomadic existence, in the traditional manner of Hunter-gatherers, even though they lack the one animal which makes movement on the plains easy.

Hunted to extinction in America, this useful creature will only become available again to the Indians through the event which destroys their way of life. The Spaniards arrive with horses. But they are not the first Europeans to reach this continent.

Pre-Columbian Indians: before AD 1492

The arrival of Columbus in 1492 is a disaster for the original inhabitants of the American continent. The chief agent of their downfall is disease. With no resistance to new germs, tribes rapidly succumb to unfamiliar illnesses on their first brief contact with Europeans - in many cases vastly reducing the number of the Americans without anyone even firing a shot.

Where the tribes develop a closer relationship with the new arrivals, they are frequently tricked, tormented and massacred by their visitors. Two elements make the Europeans both strong and ruthless - their possession of guns, and an unshakable conviction in the rightness of their Christian cause.

The event of 1492, the biggest turning point in the history of America, has had the Eurocentric effect of defining that history in terms of this one moment. Historians describe the previous American cultures as pre-Columbian. And the original people of the continent become known as Indians, simply because Columbus is under the illusion that he has reached the Indies.

In recent years 'native Americans' has come into use as an alternative name. But it is a misleading phrase - meaning, but failing to say, aboriginal or indigenous Americans. In spite of its quirky origins, American Indians remains the more direct and simple term.

16th - 17th century

Post-Columbian Indians: after AD 1492

The fate of the American Indians varies greatly in different parts of the continent. The regions of the great American civilizations, in central America and down the western coastal strip of south America, are densely populated when the Spanish arrive. Moreover the Spaniards are mainly interested in extracting the wealth of these regions and taking it back to Europe.

The result is that the Europeans in Latin america remain a relatively small upper class governing a population of Indian peasants. From Mexico and central America, down through Ecuador and Colombia to Peru and Bolivia, Indians survive in large numbers through the colonial centuries and retain even today much of their own culture.

North America, by contrast, is less populated and less developed when the Europeans arrive. No part of the continent north of Mexico has reached a stage which could be defined as Civilization. The breadth of the continent offers a wide range of environments in which tribes live as hunter-gatherers, or as settled neolithic farmers, or - most often - in any appropriate combination of the two.

In another significant contrast, the Europeans arriving in these regions (the French, the British, the Dutch) are primarily interested in settling. Much more than the Spanish, they want to develop this place as their own home. Their interests directly clash with those of the resident population.

When Europeans begin to settle in north America, in the 17th century, the tribes are spread thinly over the continent and they speak hundreds of different languages. The names by which the tribes are now known are those of their language families.

Each group of Indian tribes becomes prominent in the story of north America as the Europeans spread westwards and compete with them for land. The first to be confronted by the challenge from Europe are the Pueblo of the southwest, reached by Spaniards exploring north from Mexico; and two large tribal groups in the eastern part of the continent, the Algonquians and the Iroquois, whose lands are threatened by English and French colonists.

Secotan and the English: AD 1584-1586

The Indians with whom the English first make contact in America are from the Algonquian group of tribes. The first encounter is friendly. Two ships sent by Raleigh on reconnaissance reach Roanoke Island, off the coast of North Carolina, in 1584. The local Secotan Indians welcome an opportunity for trade.

The Secotan offer leather goods, coral and a mouth-watering profusion of meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. What they want in return is metal implements, for they have no source of iron. Hatchets and axes are handed over by the English. Swords, even more desirable, are withheld. The visitors set sail that autumn for England, taking back to Raleigh a good report of the area for a likely settlement.

This first encounter reveals very clearly the interests of the two sides, mutual at first but leading easily to conflict once the Europeans attempt to settle. Many of the Indian tribes are friendly and welcoming by nature, but they also have a passionate desire for the material goods of the west - including, eventually, horses and guns.

The settlers at first need the help of the Indians in the difficult matter of surviving. Yet the newcomers are also a nervous minority in a strange place, armed with deadly weapons. In any crisis there is the likelihood that the Europeans will react with sudden and extreme violence.

Moreover there is a clash of attitudes in relation to land. The English settlers arrive with the firm intention of owning land. But the Indians of eastern America are semi-nomadic. During the spring and summer they live in villages to grow their crops. In the winter they hunt in the thick forests. Land, in the Indian view, is a communal space, impossible to own. The question of land leads eventually to appalling conflicts, with the Indians the inevitable losers.

By a happy chance we can glimpse an Indian community before these conflicts develop. When a second English expedition sent out by Raleigh reaches Roanoke Island in 1585, a member of the party is a talented painter, John White.

White's drawings give an enchanting picture of the Secotan Indians in their everyday lives. They are seen in their villages, fishing, cooking, eating, dancing. Beautifully engraved by Theodore de Bry, and published in 1590 in four languages (the English title is A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia), these illustrations rapidly provide Europe with an enduring image of the American Indian.

Unfortunately, owing to the effect on the Indians of the disease, alcohol, brutality and treachery associated with European expansion in America, the image lasts rather longer than the reality.

Meanwhile the first attempts at English colonization in America also end badly. The 1585 settlers in Roanoke Island initially enjoy good relations with the Indians, but by the following spring they are on the verge of war. The English strike first, employing the ancient technique of treachery. On June 1, 1586, the Indian chief Pemisapan and other tribal leaders are invited to a council on the shore of the Croatan Sound. As they approach, they are shot.

Ten days later Francis Drake arrives, on his way home from preying on Spanish ships in the Caribbean. The settlers by now think it wise to abandon their new settlement and return with him to England. But in spite of these experiences, a third group of settlers, this time including women and children, reaches Roanoke Island in 1587. But when the next English ship arrives, in 1590 (the threat of the Armada has altered English priorities in the intervening years), there is no remaining trace either of the settlers or their settlement.

Powhatan and the English: AD 1607-1644

The first successful English settlement, at Jamestown, falls in the territory of the Powhatan confederacy, a group of nine Algonquian tribes. Here the Europeans meet an unfriendly reception. Within two weeks of their arrival, in 1607, they suffer an Indian attack. It is easily fought off with muskets and cannon.

The appeal of trade, and the link made with the settlers by Pocahontas, turns a distinctly uneasy relationship into one which is workable. But the Powhatan are well aware of the threat to their well-being, as the Virginians establish new townships and tobacco plantations along the rivers.

By 1622 the colonists number more than 1000. In that year a new Powhatan chieftain, Opechancanough, decides upon a sudden attack on the English settlements, killing 347 colonists in a single day. The most discreditable moment in the European reprisals occurs in 1623, when the English organize a peace conference. The Indians attending it are systematically murdered, some by poison and some by gunshot.

In 1644 the Powhatan make one final assault on the now thriving colony, still under the leadership of Opechancanough, carried now into battle on a litter . Five hundred colonists die in the surprise attack. Two years later the aged chieftain of the confederacy is captured and executed, ending the last significant Indian threat to Virginia.

Wampanoag and the English: AD 1621-1676

When the Pilgrim fathers are struggling through their first winter on American soil, from December 1620, they see no sign of any Indians. The reason, they later discover, is that the local tribes have recently been wiped out by a European epidemic.

This news reaches them in March 1621, when they are visited by Wampanoag Indians. Living some forty miles away, they are leaders of another Algonquian confederacy. The Wampanoag are friendly. Their territory is not threatened by this small English group. The Indians help the settlers with their agriculture, and join them in their celebration of Thanksgiving.

The Wampanoag chieftain, Massasoit, makes a treaty of friendship which holds good for forty years, until his death in 1662. During that period Plymouth and the later English colonies thrive. The main effect of Massasoit's peaceful policy is that his tribal lands are steadily whittled away in the face of ever-increasing demands from the newcomers.

By the time Massasoit dies, there are some 40,000 English settlers in New england. They outnumber the Indian population by perhaps two to one. Indians find themselves working for the settlers as labourers or domestic servants. They are expected to behave according to Puritan standards, and are punished for following their own traditions.

Massasoit's son, Metacom, decides that the only hope is a joint uprising by the Indian tribes of New england. It begins with devastating suddenness in 1675. Of ninety colonial settlements, fifty-two are attacked and many of them burned to the ground.

The chaos spreads throughout New england, but eventually English fire-power proves too strong. By the summer of 1676 English deaths number about 600. The Indian figure is at least five times as large. And hundreds of Indians have been shipped to the West Indies for sale as slaves.

Among those sent into slavery are the wife and 9-year-old son of the chieftain, Metacom. The Rev. Increase Mather, minister of a church in Boston, notes with satisfaction that this 'must be bitter as death for him, for the Indians are marvellously fond and affectionate towards their children'.

Metacom himself is captured and killed in August 1676. He is known to the English colonists as King Philip, with the result that this last Indian uprising against colonial rule in New england has entered the history books under the name King Philip's War.

Pueblo and the Spanish: AD 1540-1680

The most successful Indian uprising against colonial intrusion occurs in 1680 in the region which is now New Mexico. The arid territory around the Rio Grande has been, from about 2000 years ago, the home of the distinctive Anasazi culture. The Spanish give the name Pueblo to this tribal group of American Indians.

The Pueblo live in elaborate towns of multi-storied mud houses, often clustered in rocky inaccessible places. It is their misfortune that the rumour spreads among the Spaniards of Mexico, from the 1530s, that these mysterious towns are places of fabulous wealth, full of gold, jewels and fine cloth.

Spanish expeditions to find this wealth - particularly those of Coronado in 1540 and of OÑate in 1598 - inflict great cruelty on the Indians and bring a large province under Spanish rule. A colonial administration is established from 1610 in a new capital founded at Santa Fe.

With no riches discovered in the region, the Spanish settlers remain few in number (only about 2000). But the friars are busy here, as elsewhere, with vigorous efforts to replace the rituals of the Indians with those of Christianity. Eventually Spanish provocation, both secular and religous, is such that in 1680 the normally passive Pueblo kill twenty-one missionaries and some 400 colonists.

After this disaster of 1680 the Spanish withdraw to Mexico for twelve years. When they eventually return, in 1692 with a large army, a more responsible era of Spanish rule begins. A new respect is shown for the Indians of the region. Royal grants are produced to give the Pueblo guaranteed rights in their ancestral territories.

This sequence of events, combined with the relatively inhospitable region which they inhabit, has enabled the Pueblo Indians to preserve more of their distinctive religion and their culture - in particular pottery and weaving - than other tribal groups among the American Indians.

Iroquois and Huron: 16th - 17th century AD

The Indian tribes of greatest significance to the early French and British colonists are the Iroquois and a rival group, the Huron (part of the same Iroquois linguistic family). The Huron are the Indians first encountered along the St Lawrence river by Jacques Cartier in 1534. But by the time Samuel de Champlain returns to claim the region for France, in 1603, the Huron have been driven west by the Iroquois.

The two tribal groups are fierce competitors in the developing fur trade. In the late 16th century both sides establish protective confederacies. The Huron confederacy brings together the Bear, Cord, Rock and Deer tribes into an alliance numbering some 20,000 people.

The Iroquois derive from south of the Huron territory, in the region stretching from the eastern Great Lakes down through the Appalachian mountains into what is now the state of New York. Their confederacy, also formed in the late 16th century, is an alliance between five tribal groups - Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca. Together they become known as the Iroquois League.

The Iroquois League is no larger than the Huron equivalent, but it is better organized and more aggressive. In 1648-50 Iroquois raiding parties kill and capture thousands of Hurons, driving the survivors west towards Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. As a result the Iroquois gain control of a region of great strategic significance in the expansion of European colonial interests.

The Iroquois territory lies between the coastal colonies of the English and the Fur-trading empire of the French, stretching from the Great Lakes down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.

The friendship of the Iroquois League becomes an important factor in the new-world struggle between the two European powers. It is the misfortune of the French that they have from the start befriended the Huron, ancient enemies of the Iroquois. The Iroquois incline for this reason to the English. From 1664 the town of Albany (acquired in that year by the English from the Dutch) becomes the Iroquois' main link with the colonists - both in terms of trade and diplomacy.

18th century

Albany and the Iroquois: AD 1689-1754

Representatives of the Iroquois League are present at a gathering in Albany in 1689 which is one of the first joint assemblies of English colonies. Delegates from New York, Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth and Connecticut discuss with the Iroquois a plan for mutual defence.

The Iroquois are again present at the much more significant Albany Congress of 1754. On this occasion the topic is a very specific threat of war. Even while they talk, George Washington is skirmishing with French troops in the Ohio valley. It is the opening engagement in what becomes known as the French and indian war.

Each European side is eager to secure the support of its traditional Indian allies. The Iroquois are particularly important as they control the Appalachian mountains which separate the British colonies from the Ohio valley.

There are 150 Indian representatives at the congress, negotiating with twenty-five commissioners from the colonies of New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire. The Iroquois are sent away with presents and with promises (later disregarded) that English settlers will not encroach on their lands. In the event Iroquois support for the English is not solid in the coming conflict, but this does not affect the outcome.

The Albany Congress wins a secure place in history not for the Iroquois involvement but because a first proposal is made for some degree of political union among the British colonies.

One of the delegates, Benjamin Franklin, points out an anomaly. The six nations of the Iroquois can make a confederacy work to their mutual advantage. In striking contrast, the thirteen British colonies have failed to achieve any practical degree of cooperation. He puts forward a plan for a union (already proposed more than half a century previously, by William Penn, in a document of 1696). Franklin supports his argument with America's First political cartoon.

Pontiac: AD 1763-1766

The victory of the British in the French and indian war is followed by the departure of the French from all their forts. This leaves their Indian allies at the mercy of the British, whose interests are very different from those of the French.

The French colonists, consisting mainly of soldiers and traders, have established an easy relationship with the tribes. There is no direct rivalry, and both sides benefit from the trade in fur. Indians have traditionally been welcome in French forts and have been given presents, including even guns and ammunition. By contrast the British, interested in settled agriculture, are a direct threat to the Indians' territory.

Pontiac, a chief of the Ottawa Indians, responds to the new situation by planning an uprising of the Indian tribes. Skilfully synchronized to begin in May 1763, with each tribe attacking a different fort, the campaign has an early and devastating success. Many garrisons are overwhelmed and massacred, in an attempt to drive the British back east of the Appalachians. But a ferocious counter-offensive is launched by the governor-general, Jeffrey Amherst.

Amherst lacks any form of moral scruple in his treatment of tribes whom he regards as contemptible savages. He even suggests spreading smallpox by gifts of infected blankets (and Indians given blankets by the British, in a peace conference at Pittsburgh in 1764, do develop the disease).

In the first flush of Pontiac's success, in 1763, the British government is so alarmed that a royal proclamation is issued; all land between the Appalachians and the Mississippi is to be reserved as hunting grounds for the Indians. But two years later the British army regains control of the situation. Pontiac makes formal peace in 1766, whereupon the royal proclamation is soon forgotten.

Settlers press west in increasing numbers into the Ohio valley. With the threat from both French and Indians removed in the recent wars, the colonists are now in buoyant mood. Soon they even feel sufficiently confident to confront the British crown.

The Northwest Territory: AD 1787-1795

When the American colonists win their war of independence against the British, the resulting Treaty of paris in 1783 transfers to the new state not only the thirteen colonies but also the territories west of the Appalachians to which various colonies lay claim. These regions around the Ohio river, the hunting territories of many Indian tribes, have already been the scene of violent conflict in the French and indian war.

Now, in the 1790s, there is a desperate Indian attempt to resist the westward pressure of American settlers. The Indians are dangerously misled in their campaign by British encouragement, which is never transformed into any degree of practical help.

Before independence four colonies (Virginia, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts) have claims under their original charters to parts of the Ohio region. During the 1780s they cede these claims to the federal government. In 1787 Congress defines the region as the Northwest Territory. All land within it is to be sold in lots, either to individuals or companies.

It is expected that as many as five states will eventually emerge from this area. Meanwhile separate parts of it are to be administered as territories. Once a territory has a population of 60,000 free inhabitants, it will have the right to draw up a state constitution and to enter the union on equal terms with the original thirteen states.

These careful proposals pay scant attention to the interests of the Indians. They rely on disputed treaties, virtually imposed on the tribes by American delegates in 1784-5 and rapidly repudiated by the Indians themselves. In 1789 the government builds Fort Washington (the kernel of the future Cincinnati) on the north bank of the Ohio river. Meanwhile violent Kentucky frontiersmen have been creating mayhem in raids on Indian villages.

The result is equally violent reprisals, led by the chiefs of the Miami and Shawnee tribes who are determined to keep the American intruders south of the Ohio river.

Two expeditions sent by George Washington against the tribes are complete disasters. The second, in 1791, is led by a personal friend of Washington, Arthur St Clair. His 1400 men are surprised by the Indians at dawn in their camp beside the Maumee river. Three hours later more than 600 are dead and nearly 300 seriously wounded. Indian casualties are 21 killed and 40 wounded. It is one of the worst days in US military history.

The Americans have their revenge in 1794, once again in the region of the Maumee, when an army commanded by Anthony Wayne defeats a force of Shawnees and other tribes at a woodland location which becomes known as Fallen Timbers.

In the aftermath of Fallen Timbers, representatives of the defeated tribes assemble for peace talks in Fort Greenville in 1795. Their leaders accept a treaty which cedes to the United States much of present-day Ohio.

This concession, giving the green light to a surge of new land speculation and settlement, is only the first of many in the region. Eventually the Northwest Territory yields five states, joining the union between 1803 and 1848 (Ohio 1803, Indiana 1816, Illinois 1818, Michigan 1837, Wisconsin 1848). In the early years, until 1813, Indian resistance to this encroachment is gallantly continued by Tecumseh. But the beginning of the National Road in 1811 is a powerful sign of American determination to open up the region.

19th - 20th century

Tecumseh: AD 1791-1813

When the army of General St clair is destroyed on the Maumee river in 1791, one of the young Indian warriors in the engagement is a Shawnee by the name of Tecumseh. Four years later, in the treaty negotiations at Fort greenville, he is outraged that the elders of his tribe, along with all the others, cede their ancestral hunting grounds to the Americans.

It becomes his life's work to resist the transfer of land, a concept which he claims to be incompatible with the Indian tradition of shared hunting rights. 'Sell a country!', Tecumseh exclaims in his speeches. 'Why not sell the air, the clouds, and the great sea? Did not the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his children?'

The concession at Fort greenville is only one in a continuing series. Between 1802 and the Treaty of Fort Wayne in 1809 the governor of the territory of Indiana, William Henry Harrison, uses judicious bribery to relieve Indian chiefs of a further 33 million acres of land north of the Ohio - providing ever more fuel for Tecumseh's passionate oratory as he travels among the Indian tribes preaching the need for resistance.

He is helped in this by the charisma of his younger brother Tenskwatawa, a reformed alcoholic whose evangelical talents earn him the name 'the Prophet' and whose rejection of firewater (one of the standard weapons of the white man in negotiating with the Indians) underlines the message that Indians must remain true to their own traditions. In 1808 Tecumseh and his brother together establish a base in Indiana, calling it Prophetstown.

Tecumseh is in the south in 1811, preaching his pan-Indian theme to the Creek Indians, when his brother unwisely attacks a military expedition led into Indian territory by Harrison. The Indians are defeated on the Tippecanoe river near Prophetstown, their wigwam and log-hut capital.

Tecumseh returns from the south to find Prophetstown burnt and deserted, but he continues with his crusade. In the following year, 1812, circumstances at last seem to help him. War breaks out between Britain and the United States. The deceptive promise of British help becomes a reality.

During 1812 Tecumseh fights in several successful engagements alongside British forces in the region of the Great Lakes, but he is killed in 1813 in a battle against General Harrison on the Thames river east of Detroit. Five months later, far to the south in March 1814, Creek Indians carry into battle the red-painted sticks which proclaim their allegiance to Tecumseh and his cause. They are heavily defeated by Andrew Jackson at Horseshoe Bend on the Tallapoosa river. As in the Northwest Territory, millions of Creek acres pass into American hands.

Such achievements greatly please American voters. Both Jackson and Harrison are future presidents of the USA.

The Cherokees and acculturation: AD 1796-1828

From the early days of the American nation it is government policy that the Indian tribes should be subjected to a process of 'civilization'. This description, implying improvement, is a highly subjective term for a process more accurately described by the clumsy but neutral word 'acculturation' - meaning the adoption by one group of the customs of another.

In 1796 George Washington selects the Cherokee Indians, living in the western regions of North Carolina and Georgia, for a pilot scheme in integration. He informs their leaders that government policy in relation to other tribes will depend on the success of this experiment.

Funds are provided for Cherokee education. The people of the tribe are shown how to build log cabins. The procedures of western agriculture are demonstrated. Missionaries arrive to explain the mysteries of Christianity.

During the three decades after the introduction of Washington's scheme, the Cherokee people rise magnificently to the challenge. Plantations are established on the southern model. Tribal leaders live on them in elegant two-storied houses. They ride around in carriages. They own slaves. In all this they seem to suggest that they too can be southern gentlemen. From 1819 they have a capital city of their own at New Echota, in northwest Georgia.

1828 is the year in which the Cherokee nation (the Indians' own preferred word for a tribe or people) seems most fully to transform itself into a nation in the western sense. A political constitution is adopted by the tribe. Based on the example of the American republic, it provides for an elected principal chief, a council consisting of two chambers, and a system of courts of law.

In the same year the Cherokees publish the first American Indian newspaper. Using a newly invented alphabet (attributed to Sequoyah), the cherokee phoenix is printed weekly in New Echota with adjacent columns in English and Cherokee.

Yet 1828 is the last good year for the Cherokees. Andrew Jackson, beginning his first term in the White House in 1829, is the first president to come from west of the Appalachians. He knows at first hand the aggressive land hunger of the frontier settlers, who view Indian lands to the immediate west as a present obstacle and future prize. He has little sympathy for the protective paternalism of his aristocratic predecessors in the office of president.

To make matters worse for the Cherokees, gold is discovered on their lands in 1829. Swarms of lawless prospectors arrive in their midst.

These events give added impetus to attempts, already initiated by the state government of Georgia, to annexe territory assigned by federal treaty to the Cherokees. State laws are passed in 1829 making it illegal for Cherokees to mine gold, to testify against a white man and to hold political assemblies (except for the single purpose of ceding land).

It is the ultimate misfortune for the Cherokees, and for other tribes in their position, that the mood of Georgia is now reflected in the White House.

The Indian Removal Act: AD 1830-1839

In 1830 congress passes President Jackson's Indian Removal Act. It provides for treaties to be made with the Indian tribes if they can be persuaded to exchange their land west of the Appalachians for territory beyond the Mississippi.

Persuasian soons blends into coercion, even though the Cherokees - the most developed of the tribes - take their case with considerable success to the Supreme Court in Washington. The chief justice, John Marshall, rules that the Indian tribes are a federal responsiblity, meaning that any appropriation of Cherokee land by the state of Georgia is illegal. But President Jackson takes no steps to impose this interpretation of the law upon Georgia.

During the 1830s the situation worsens. In 1833 the state of Georgia raises funds by holding a lottery of seized Cherokee property, including even the government buildings of New Echota. Eventually one faction of the Cherokee leadership signs a treaty selling the Cherokee lands to Georgia and agreeing to move west by 1838. The Cherokee council unanimously rejects the treaty, but the senate in Washington ratifies it.

By 1838 the Cherokees have not moved. In that year federal troops are sent to Georgia to enforce the removal of the Indians. The Cherokees are rounded up into camps and are then despatched under guard on a long march to the west.

Of 18,000 Cherokees displaced from their traditional lands in this way, it is calculated that as many as 4000 fail to survive what becomes known as the Trail of Tears to the area now designated as Indian Territory.

Neighbours of the Cherokee are moved at the same time. The chief victims are four other southeastern tribes (Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole and Creek) who have also adopted many of the white man's customs. They are described by American settlers, together with the Cherokee, as the Five Civilized Tribes. Their enforced migration in the late 1830s becomes known as the Great Removal. It is calculated that about 100,000 are driven from their land, and that more than 20,000 die on the journey west.

The broad plains of the new Indian Territory are promised to the tribes as their own land 'as long as the grass grows and the rivers run'. But within a few decades the pressure of white settlement sends this agreement the way of earlier treaties. As it turns out, the grass grows and the rivers run only until 1907. By that time so many homesteads have encroached on the Indian Territory that the region is admitted to the union as Oklahoma, the 46th state.

In the Slave trade and the Great Removal, the story of America contains two of the three main instances of large ethnic groups being forcibly resettled thousands of miles from home. (Stalin, in the USSR in the 1930s, provides the third.)

The Plains Indians: from the 1860s

The last indigenous Americans to be threatened by white encroachment on their territory are the Plains Indians, in the region between the Mississippi and the Rockies. There are many tribes in this vast area, living in a state of almost permanent warfare among themselves. Young men make their reputation as braves by their skill in combat and in the hunting of Buffalo.

The traditional existence of the Plains Indians is under threat by the 1860s from a combination of circumstances. The westward spread of the Railways, in itself an intrusion, is accompanied by large grants of land to new white owners. A side effect, profoundly harmly to Indian interests, is decimation of the Buffalo herds by ruthlessly efficient white hunters.

An extra degree of crisis occurs every time gold is discovered in the eastern slopes of the Rockies (there are frequent new finds in Colorado and Montana from the late 1850s). Each gold rush brings not only unruly prospectors, but also local militia and federal troops to protect the new settlements from the Indians. In such circumstances violence and disaster is hard to avoid.

The threat from the east brings the Indian tribes into an unprecedented degree of alliance. Disagreement between their leaders is now largely on the issue of whether a peaceful coexistence with the white man is possible.

Black Kettle, a leader of the southern Cheyenne in Colorado, is a chieftain who believes in cooperation. But his experience at the hands of American troops is not well calculated to convince others that he is right.

In 1864, after travelling to Denver to meet Colorado officials, he moves his people to a region where he has been led to understand they will be safe. At dawn on a November morning the Indians are asleep in an encampment at Sand Creek, near Fort Lyon, when they are attacked and indiscriminately massacred by a troop of Colorado militia. Estimates of the Indian deaths vary from 150 to 500.

Black Kettle himself escapes and continues to search for some means of accomodation with the white Americans. Almost incredibly, history repeats itself four years later. One dawn in November 1868 he and his people are asleep in their village of tents, by the Washita river on an official Indian reservation, when federal troops, in pursuit of a raiding party, burst in upon them and slaughter 101 people - on this occasion including Black Kettle and his wife.

The American commander in this atrocity is George Custer. He later plays a prominent and disastrous role in the campaigns against the strongest tribes among the Plains Indians, known collectively as the Sioux.

Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull: AD 1874-1890

In 1874 George Custer leads a military force into the Black Hills of South Dakota. This is a sacred region to the Sioux tribes and it has been guaranteed to them by treaty, but there are rumours of gold. When Custer's expedition confirms these rumours, a new gold rush begins. As Sioux hostility mounts, the government attempts to purchase from them the mineral-rich Black Hills. The negotiations fail, whereupon the Sioux are ordered to move into specified reservations by the end of January 1876 or be regarded as 'hostile'.

In the ensuing war the first two encounters are victories for the Sioux, one of them dramatically so.

On 17 June 1876 a Sioux chieftain, Crazy Horse, drives back an American army under George Crook at the Rosebud river in southern Montana. Crazy Horse then joins a much larger Sioux force, of possibly as many as 10,000 people, led by Sitting Bull and encamped on the Little Bighorn river.

This camp is reached on the evening of June 24 by George Custer with a contingent of the US 7th cavalry. Rather than wait for reinforcements, he leads a surprise attack with 263 men on June 25. The result of this reckless act is that not one of his force survives. Indeed the only survivor on the federal side is a single horse, Comanche, which for years appears as a saddled but riderless guest of honour on 7th cavalry parades.

It is impossible for the tribes to maintain this level of success against the might of the United States. Gradually they surrender and move, as required, into reservations. Crazy Horse gives himself up in 1877. Sitting Bull remains free, by retreating into Canada, until 1881 (after which he spends much of his time in Buffalo bill's Wild West show as the most famous Indian chieftain). Both men are eventually killed, in custody, in struggles with American soldiers or police.

Sitting Bull's death, in 1890, is shortly followed by the final shameful massacre of Indians by American troops - at Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota.

Hundreds of Sioux, including women and children, die at Wounded Knee Creek on 29 December 1890 under a hail of machine-gun fire when they are already surrounded and are being relieved of their arms (an unexpected rifle shot begins the panic and the slaughter).

Wounded Knee and the death of Sitting Bull make 1890 seem the last climactic year of tribal resistance in north America. But the federal government has recently passed an act which does more fundamental damage to Indian interests. The General Allotment Act of 1887 (also known as the Dawes Severalty Act) is intended by its sponsor, Henry L. Dawes, to benefit the Indians by settling them on the land and integrating them in American society. It has a very different effect.

The act stipulates that the Indians shall give up their joint right to their tribal lands and instead have individual holdings of up to 160 acres (the amount of land allotted to white Homesteaders). Any surplus land in the territories will be sold, with the purchase money going to the tribes.

This ostensibly worthy scheme fails in the short term because it overlooks the disinclination of hunting people to transform themselves rapidly into farmers. And in the long run it has the effect of depriving the Indians of two thirds of the 138 million acres reserved for them in 1887. The vigour with which white settlers grab the spare land is vividly seen in the Indian territory, the first of the reservations.

The Indian Territory and Oklahoma: AD 1872-1907

In 1872 a railway (the Missouri, Kansas and Texas railroad) is completed through the Indian Territory. It soon brings would-be settlers, known as 'boomers', into an area not as yet assigned to particular tribes. They are removed by federal troops until such time as the government in Washington has formally revoked any Indian rights to this part of the territory. This is achieved by 1889.

There is then launched the first example of an extraordinary method by which the government allows settlers to compete for homesteads in the newly opened region. This is the dramatic event known as a 'run'.

The starting time for the first run is declared to be noon on 22 April 1889. The competing settlers line up on horseback. When the gun is fired at noon, they gallop into the territory to seek out the best plot of land on which to stake their claim for a homestead. Thousands select their site in this way on this opening day. By nightfall, arriving to register their claim at a government office in a railway siding, they establish the tented town which develops into Oklahoma City.

The success of this first run soon prompts others, but now there remain only regions already allocated to tribes - most of whom have recently been moved here. This is not allowed to dampen enthusiasm for this new form of settlement.

There are runs in 1891, 1893 and 1895. Subsequently it is considered better to adopt a less chaotic method of distributing the land. Homestead plots of 160 acres are marked out and are assigned to owners by lottery in 1901 and by auction in 1906. By now the only part of the original territory still reserved for Indians is the east, an area occupied ever since the Great removal by the Cherokees and others of the Five Civilized Tribes.

In 1907 the entire region, including the diminished Indian Territory in the east, is admitted to the union as Oklahoma, the forty-sixth state.

The 20th century

In the early decades of the 20th century the American Indians suffer the long-term effects of the treatment suffered in previous generations. They become increasingly impoverished. Their numbers fall.

The situation improves gradually during the rest of the century, beginning with the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 which restores tribal ownership of land in the reservations. In 1946 an Indian Claims Commission is set up to consider claims in cases where Indian land has been lost by government malpractice. By the 1990s more than $1 billion has been granted in compensation.

Nevertheless the original inhabitants of north America remain, at the end of the century, the most deprived community in the world's richest nation.

But the civil rights movement (of which the American Indian Movement, founded in 1968, is a part), combined with an increased awareness of past injustices, ensures that the plight of the American Indians is now very much on the political agenda. And the Indians themselves are more condident in pressing their case, with a keen awareness of the emotive potential of their past history. The American Indian Movement wins world-wide attention in 1973 when it occupies the village of Wounded knee and survives a ten-week siege by the authorities.
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