scene-from-the-last-of-the-mohicans-cora-kneeling-at-the-feet-of-tanemund-1827
The Last of the Mohicans. By: Thomas Cole.

By 1815, the Native Americans had been pushed mostly out of the New England area and into territories just east of the Mississippi River and the entirety of the territory west of the Mississippi River. The Native Americans were a significant obstacle to expanding American territory.

In 1820, the United States government engaged Jedidiah Morse to examine the Native American tribes within the United States. He estimated that the Native Americans numbered approximately 472,000, with most living in the territory acquired in the Louisiana Purchase or the Oregon Territory, which was controlled by the United States and Britain. See Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America 1815-1848, 23 citing Jedidiah Morse, Report to the Secretary of War on Indian Affairs (New Haven, 1822), 375. On top of that, Morse found, there was approximately 300,000-500,000 Native Americans in the territory of California, Texas, and the land owned by Mexico. See id.

Comparing these figures to the estimates of scholars in 1600, the decline in the Native American population becomes startling and disconcerting. Scholars estimate that 5-10 million Native Americans populated the same area in or around 1600. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America 1815-1848, 23 citing Alan Taylor, American Colonies (New York, 2001), 40.

Alexis de Tocqueville predicted that the Native Americans “were ‘doomed’ to die out entirely.” Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America 1815-1848, 23 quoting Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, ed. Phillips Bradley (1834; New York, 1945), I, 342.

By 1815, even the territory surrounding the Great Lakes, which had been a stronghold for Native Americans, was eroding. See Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America 1815-1848, 29. The “once-powerful Iroquois, a confederation of six nations, no longer found themselves in a position to carry out an independent foreign policy.” Id.

Some Americans viewed Native Americans as “hostile savages” that should “be removed or even exterminated.” Id. at 30. Others hoped that Native Americans could be converted to Christianity and adopt Western culture to be their own. Id. citing Margaret Szasz, Between Indian and White Worlds (Norman, Okla., 1994). One manifestation of these sentiments was the intermarrying of whites and Native Americans, which became increasingly less acceptable in American society as time went on. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America 1815-1848, 30 citing Theda Perdue, “Mixed Blood” Indians (Athens, Ga., 2003).

The Native Americans, by 1815, had their last grasp on land east of the Mississippi River. Many of the alliances that had preserved the Native Americans’ collective territory were being broken, and many had already been significantly displaced.

While the population of Native Americans had taken a hit from 1600 to 1815, the loss in population would soon be compounded by the Americans’ obsession with manifest destiny.

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