Saturday, March 6, 2010

Did the railroads destroy the Native Americans in the West?



Don't forget that our next meeting for the Teaching American History grant will be this Saturday, March 13, 2010 at Stony Brook University. The topic is: Did the railroads destroy the Native Americans in the West? The book you need to have read by this Saturday is the 'The West The Railroads Made' by Carlos Schwantes and James Ronda.

Do not comment on this posting till after our meeting. To get credit for this course you MUST comment on this posting. See you on Saturday.

51 comments:

kevinallo said...

On the question of whether or not the railroad destroyed the Native Americans of the West it is fairly simple to answer that it did not. However, there are many complex issues to this debate. I agree with Dr. Wildcat that there were only a few tribes that were affected, and that to say that they were destroyed is an impossible argument. The debate comes down to culture, as well as the term destroyed. When it comes to both, it makes the most sense to say that the Native Americans were forced to adapt, and change their cultures to meet the new times rather than say that they were destroyed. For instance, Dr. Wildcat explained that in the plains, one tribe changed their ceremonial animal from the Bison to a long horned sheep. Also, even though their story is tragic, and was forced at an extremely quick rate, the Natives were not destroyed. In a sense, reservations became a tool of preservation of the culture; something that might not have happened had the government not given the tribes land. While this did change their culture, and their way of life, it did not destroy them entirely. This argument also does not dismiss the fact that Natives and their culture were treated shamefully by the government, and railroad companies. To sum it up, the railroads did not destroy the Native Americans of the West, even though our textbooks would in a sense suggest this. The railroad really made the plains Natives adapt to a new lifestyle, and culture, something that all groups have had to do in this country.

kevinallo said...

On the question of whether or not the railroad destroyed the Native Americans of the West it is fairly simple to answer that it did not. However, there are many complex issues to this debate. I agree with Dr. Wildcat that there were only a few tribes that were affected, and that to say that they were destroyed is an impossible argument. The debate comes down to culture, as well as the term destroyed. When it comes to both, it makes the most sense to say that the Native Americans were forced to adapt, and change their cultures to meet the new times rather than say that they were destroyed. For instance, Dr. Wildcat explained that in the plains, one tribe changed their ceremonial animal from the Bison to a long horned sheep. Also, even though their story is tragic, and was forced at an extremely quick rate, the Natives were not destroyed. In a sense, reservations became a tool of preservation of the culture; something that might not have happened had the government not given the tribes land. While this did change their culture, and their way of life, it did not destroy them entirely. This argument also does not dismiss the fact that Natives and their culture were treated shamefully by the government, and railroad companies. To sum it up, the railroads did not destroy the Native Americans of the West, even though our textbooks would in a sense suggest this. The railroad really made the plains Natives adapt to a new lifestyle, and culture, something that all groups have had to do in this country.

Mr. Madeiras said...

Did the railroads destroy American Indian culture? Based on our discussion Saturday, the answer is no. There is little doubt, however, that the railroad expedited the encroachment of ‘western civilization’ to the west whereby forcing the assimilation of thousands of indigenous peoples. Independent Indian nations became dependent on American technology and food. We saw the railroad as a vehicle of government policy, forcing American Indians off certain lands, being pushed into containment or reservations. The Trail of Tears re-emerges every decade with a different name or place. The death knell of indigenous culture came as a result of westward expansion, but it had started long before the transcontinental railroad.

Christina said...

The railroads did not DESTROY Native American culture in the West. The best evidence we have of this is the fact that Native American culture remains alive on reservations and at universities such as the one that the professors came from. The languages, ceremonies, and religious beliefs of native tribes have remained to this day. The railroads hurt mainly the Plains Indians, rather than all western tribes, and even they were able to preserve cultural elements. One may even argue that the reservation system, as damaging as it was, did serve in a way to preserve culture by allowing tribes to remain together. Another argument is that by the time the railroads were built, many other factors had negatively impacted native culture in the West since first contact with Europeans. For example, disease, loss of lands for hunting, and war, had all contributed to the decline of native culture. The railroads were not the final “nail in the coffin” so to speak, but was just another factor in decline of native population.

Cdonohue said...

Once again, the speakers that spent their Saturday with us were fantastic. While the book did not spend much time focusing on how the railroads impacted the Native Americans, our guest speakers were definitely able to share a lot of insight and provide the background information for us to fully engage in the controversy model.

After listening to Dan and Julia, I believe that it is not right to point one's finger at the railroads as being the cause of the destruction of the Native Americans. As they mentioned, the word "destroy" itself is highly debatable. The fact that we had Native Americans in our classroom speaking to us, the fact that there are descendants still here, there are Indian universities and Navajo only radio stations, the fact that sundances and Green Corn ceremonies are still performed is testament to the fact that the Native Americans were not destroyed. The people live on and they have found ways to keep ceremonies, customs and habits that are still the soul of who they are. In addition, it can be said that the 'destruction' was being done earlier. From the 16th century on, Europeans and then the American government enacted legislation that harmed the Native Americans. The railroads were just another step. So yes, harm was definitely caused by the advent of the railroads, but the railroads are not solely to blame, nor did the Native Americans get "destroyed."

Mrs. Cone said...

Once again, the speakers that spent their Saturday with us were fantastic. While the book did not spend much time focusing on how the railroads impacted the Native Americans, our guest speakers were definitely able to share a lot of insight and provide the background information for us to fully engage in the controversy model.

After listening to Dan and Julia, I believe that it is not right to point one's finger at the railroads as being the cause of the destruction of the Native Americans. As they mentioned, the word "destroy" itself is highly debatable. The fact that we had Native Americans in our classroom speaking to us, the fact that there are descendants still here, there are Indian universities and Navajo only radio stations, the fact that sundances and Green Corn ceremonies are still performed is testament to the fact that the Native Americans were not destroyed. The people live on and they have found ways to keep ceremonies, customs and habits that are still the soul of who they are. In addition, it can be said that the 'destruction' was being done earlier. From the 16th century on, Europeans and then the American government enacted legislation that harmed the Native Americans. The railroads were just another step. So yes, harm was definitely caused by the advent of the railroads, but the railroads are not solely to blame, nor did the Native Americans get "destroyed."

Mr. Cone said...

I also think that several points of clarification needed to be made in order to clearly understand and debate this question. When it came to the understanding of “destroy,” our group interpreted it as meaning forcing the Native Americans away from their culture and not to mean that the Indian culture evolved on their own, as all cultures do over time.
Secondly, we discussed the idea as to what exactly is a “Native American?” Does that mean the Plains Indians, or Indians from the East or some other region of the U.S.? We believe that you cannot pigeon hole an entire race of people who have developed into unique and individual nations over thousands of years.
With that being said, we decided that the railroads acted as agents of the U.S. government and helped to expedite their policy of genocide against American Indian culture which had already been implemented years earlier. As evidence, we pointed to how the Indians were forced off their ancestral lands, lands which were a sacred part of their culture and lifestyle. This is the land where their loved ones had been buried and the land in which rituals were created based upon geographic features specific to each distinct Indian nation. The flora and fauna of each tribe’s territory were also very important to their way of life as they were used in ceremonies as well as provided sustenance.
So while the railroad did not “destroy” the Native Americans, we know this because they are still here with us today, it did expedited the process of destroying a way of life that had existed for thousands of years.

Rich R said...

Did the railroads destroy the Native Americans in the West? No. The debate revolves around the word "destroy." As evidenced by the speakers on Saturday it was not destroyed. Was it harmed or changed in a negative way, yes. The railroads also impacted only certain areas of the West. As Dr. Wildcat pointed out when our group met with him, Pacific Northwest tribes living on the water not impacted at all. Same is true for tribes in the Southwest. As he pointed out why leave out tribes in the East and Southeast who were affected by railroads. If one group of Indians were harmed the most it would have been the Plains tribes whose land the railroads were built on. However after all the settlers and railroads made their way west and destroyed the bison, the single most important part of the Plains Indians culture they still adapted and changed. Additionally other factors led to the "harming" of the Native Americans such as European settlement hundreds of years before.

vwpaullos said...

What does it mean to be Native American? Is there one culture to which all Native Americans subscribe? I think that the railroad did destroy Native American culture because the fact that we don't ask, "Did the railroad destroy the cultures of The Sioux or a Kohota?" but instead group them together as one entity speaks to the fact that they lost their identity. If we CAN group all these different tribal nations into one and call them Native Americans, we can say that they were very much tied to the land in which they lived, both in spirit and in resource attainment. So once the railroad companies, essentially doing the "dirty work" for The U.S. Government, began to forcefully move them they essentially lost a huge part of their culture. Everything changed from educational practices and how they obtained their medicine to how one found his/her mate, not to mention gender roles in families. Enough of the different tribal nations' cultures were lost that their culture was DESTORYED!

P.S. The presenters we had were once again very knowledgeable and stimulating. Thank you for letting me be a part of this!

Anonymous said...

As we have learned, the word destroy is debatable. While the railroads did no doubt affect the native americans, it did not destroy them. There were other factors that impacted the natives. The settlers that came during the 1400's and earlier can be blamed for the start of the decline of thier society. As Dr. Wildcat explained that most of the natives that came in contact with the settlers learned new ways to adapt to a changing society, at least those directly affected. Tribes would change ceremonies and customs in order to adapt, therefore, the tribes were not destroyed. - L. Zederbaum

Jeff Cohn said...

To answer the question there must first be a consensus as to the meaning of the word "destroy." Are we talking about physical destruction or the possible economic, political or cultural destruction of the Western Indian. Professor Wildcat was inclined to answer the question in the negative.
His first approach was quite simple. He stated that how could the railroads have destroyed the Indians if they are still here. He explained that while the "iconic" Indian of the sort that we saw in the movie Dances with Wolves no longer roams the west, hunting buffalo and living in make-shift structures, there are numerous Western Indians from many different tribes thriving today in a myriad of ways. He emphasized that blaming one particular type of technology for the "destruction" of the western Indian fails to take into consideration the consequence of technology in the broader sense. Prof. Wildcat would rather explore the diversity among today's Western Indians and their relationship with the environment in which we live and the effect that technology is having on that environment.

M.Delaney said...

Mdelaney said...

After our discussion and debate with Julia Goodfox and Daniel Wildcat, we can conclude that the railroads did not destroy the Native American culture in the West. What the railroads did do was weaken the Native American culture and force them to change their way of life especially, the indigenous Native American of the plains. This society needed to assimilate with the modernization that the railroads fostered quickly. The repercussion of the railroads being built was the loss of the Buffalo to the plain Indian tribes. Their culture relied heavily on this natural resource for much of its culture and lively hood. It forced this society to move from an independent society to a dependent society. They became dependent on the Federal governments promises and treaties that were never kept. Contrary to this event, there were several agricultural Native American tribes who did benefit from the railroads prosperity.

Mr. DeMatteo said...

The history of the railroad possess a host of accomplishments, achievements, innovations and embarrassments. It has come to represent an era of American ingenuity full of stories, legends and lore. On the question of whether or not the railroad destroyed the Native Americans of the West – after the controversy discussion – it did not. We discussed the definition of the word DESTROY and that the term Native American paints with a broad brush. I noticed that since the class the question has become more specific. There are and were many diverse tribes in North and South America. As to the western tribes and its relationship to the Railroads - The best word to use is - adapt. Adaptation to a new lifestyle - adaptation to a new culture. This is something that we discussed in group recognizing that in this particular case this was a forced assimilation of indigenous peoples that transformed from an independent society to one of dependence. Native American culture remains alive through its descendants.

Mrs. Stewart said...

In order to determine whether or not the railroads destroyed Native American culture, we need to first define the word “destroy.” If we accept that to destroy something involves doing away with it completely, then we must say that no, the railroad did not destroy Native American culture, as the culture still exists throughout different areas of our nation. The very existence of Haskell Indian Nations University, where our speakers were from, is testimony to this. In addition, Dr. Wildcat spoke of various examples of present-day celebrations of Native American culture, such as the Green Corn Ceremony which he and his family attend each summer, and of tribes using the revenues from casinos to provide instruction in native languages to young children in daycare. It is evident that Native American culture continues to exist today.

Further, even if we were to argue that the railroad destroyed some Native American culture, we need to confine that argument to the culture of the Plains Indians, as Native peoples in the northeast, southeast, southwest, and northwest were largely untouched and unaffected by the building of the railroads. It is true that the railroads cut through a tremendous amount of land across the Great Plains and as such greatly disrupted the lives of the Plains Indians, to say the least. I was very interested in Dr. Wildcat’s discussion of indigenous peoples as drawing their identity from the land, so removing them from the land removes their identity. This is without a doubt the case with the Plains Indians, as they were driven from their land and they saw their livelihood, the bison, becoming fewer and fewer in number. However, the Native Americans in other areas of the nation really did not experience this. The indigenous peoples of the northwest, for example, drew their identity largely from the sea, and as such were untouched by the arrival of the railroad. Therefore, it is safe to say that although the railroads without a doubt had an impact on Native American culture, they did not destroy the culture.

Christy said...

No, the railroad did not destroy the Plains Indians. However, the railroad did change their culture and forced them to adapt to their new situation. In terms of economics, crops replaced buffalo as a measure of wealth. So basically, their wealth decreased since they didn't know how to farm and they weren't given the resources and tools they were promised by the government. Some of the Plains Indians even had to go into the towns and beg for food and clothing. In terms of the living situation, nuclear families living on reservations replaced the existence of clans. Native Americans were also forced to live with other tribes on the reservations, which wasn't ideal. Their languages and customs were also affected by the railroad. Native American children lost their language as they were forced to attend boarding schools. Customs and rites of passage that were dependent on the buffalo had to be altered due to the decrease in the buffalo population. So, the railroad did not destroy the Plains Indians, but did force them to change the way they lived.

mgoldberg said...

Daniel Wildcat and Julia Goodfox both gave some interesting points of view about the Native American culture during the time when railroads began to make their way across the West. Consensus stated that the RR did not destroy the Native American but perhaps influenced their way of life. The word “destroyed” was the focal point of the controversy and both Dan and Julia concurred that it did not destroy but altered the future of the Native American Indian culture. As white settlers and the Union Pacific cut its way westward, they disrupted the culture of the Plains Indians which contributed to land conflict and the way of life for the Native Indians. Decades of mass migration by settlers along overland routes and then the building of the railroad, destroyed large areas of countryside for buffalo herds. The herding patterns of the bison was diverted to other areas thus causing the Native Indians to follow and losing sacred lands of their ancestors in search for survival. There were incidents when Native Americans continuously terrorized station towns and sabotaged the iron rails themselves in retaliation of the white man intruding on their land and disrupted centuries old culture. Of all the Plains tribes, Pawnee Indians, also ancestors of Julia, had the greatest presence on the line. Friendly to the American government and bitter enemies of the Sioux, the tribe welcomed the Union Pacific to their lands. The railroad offered jobs for the Pawnee people and free passage on it work trains which the natives gladly accepted. Some tribes accepted the new way of life, while others struggled to protect and defend what was theirs. Destruction would imply death and as Dan stated, “the Native Indians are still here and we are proof of that.”

Mrs Raftery said...

The railroads served as the arteries of the growing nation to achieve the dream of Manifest Destiny. I agree that the impact of the RRs on the native Americans was substatial, but it could not be contributed soley to the construction of the RRs. One impact, however, that was significant was the loss of a major source of Native American livlihood: the buffalo. The breakdown of the Native American culture was intriniscally tied to their herds, and the RR construction did have sever impacts. Overall, the railroad construction simply sped up a process that was already "in the works".

stapes1976 said...

As stated in earlier posts, the terminology of this question allows it to be interpreted in many ways. No the railroads did not destroy the Native Americans of the West, but yes it surely changed their culture and removed them from their settlement. However other events in history placed those tribes in the west, many of them were already displaced from their original settlements years before the railroad expansion west.
American Indian culture still lives today in many forms. It is quite different than it was before the railroads, as 1s the culture
of all of settlers of America. The tribes that survived were those that were able to adapt to the changes and hardships that they faced.

Robin said...

As other's have metioned, the answer depends on how one defines "Destroy". Dr. Wildcat and Dr. Goodfox both concurred that there are tribes of indigenous people which no longer exist or have bene absorbed into other tribes.
The railroad was probably one of many factors that lead to the demise of these people along with disease, false treaties,and genocide administered by non-indigenous residence of the continent.
The tribes in the Great Plains area where the transcontinental rail road had its' main throughfares seem to have been the hardest hit as far as losing most of their cultural identity, while those tribes out of the rail road's path especially in the South West still maintain and original sense of customs and traditions. This seems to lend to the point that the railroads did indeed destroy the way of life of many of the indigenous peole in the Great Plains area.
It is also important to note that in almost all tribes carry on rituals and ceremonies that were performed by their ancestors for centuries. This shows that these tribes have survived and will continue to do so.

msmilow said...

Meeting with Professors Dan Wildcat and Julia Good Fox for Saturday’s session was a unique opportunity to think about the controversy question in an entirely different way. Initially, I had thought that the answer would have been yes; the railroads destroyed Native American culture in the West; so I was somewhat perplexed when I was assigned the con position for the controversy debate. However, after our small group meeting with Professor Wildcat I began to examine the issue through a different lens. Beyond the fact that the word “destroy” is problematic, it is also true that while the indigenous cultures of the West were altered by the railroads, no culture is static and each constantly evolves. Of course European contact had been a constant force in the shaping and reshaping Indian cultures from the time of first contact and the railroads were only one more change agent. It is remarkable; but Indian cultures have survived through improvisation and adaptation and that tribal organizations and institutions of higher learning like Haskell University are making sure that ceremonies, language, customs and habits are continued. As an example of adaptation, Professor Wildcat mentioned that when bison were not available for ceremonies, some tribes turned to the longhorn sheep because it had many bison-like characteristics. He also explained that how though many indigenous people became Christians, some like Black Elk continued their tribal practices as well.

Ironically, the attempt by the U.S. government to destroy the Indians by forcing them onto reservations actually allowed them to maintain the ties and closeness necessary to preserve and nurture their cultures. The reservations in essence became the cultural centers for some tribes who were restricted to these small areas. Likewise, as Professor Wildcat also pointed out even the Indian Boarding Schools which were a part of a system to forcibly assimilate American Indian children into white culture sometimes had an unanticipated affect. Even though the children in these schools were from a variety of tribes with different cultural beliefs and practices, in some instances the situation created a sense of an intercultural identity and unity among the students. Consequently, leaders of the National Congress of the American Indian and the Red Power movement were the children of parents who had attended these boarding schools. On the reservations and in the boarding schools, the efforts to force change on Indians made the identity issue paramount and unlike immigrants who in many instances choose to change, American Indians once again adapted. So by promulgating and modifying the cultures of their ancestors and melding a variety of customs and habits into a new intercultural identity Indians from many nations have maintained cultural vitality and nurtured twenty-first century activism.

bkilkenny said...

The Transcontinental railroad did not decisively destroy the Native Americans of the west, but it certainly had a detrimental impact on their ability to thrive on the land where they had lived for generations.
We need to define the word destroy for the context in which we are using it. I would say that the interaction between the indigenous people of North America and Europeans had been destroying (changing) their culture since the first meeting. The Railroad expedited the need for the indigenous people to either assimilate or be destroyed.

Lori Wilde said...

This was an interesting topic on whether railroads destroyed Native American land and cultures. I learned from the guest speakers that there is not a clear cut answer. Before listening to the speakers, I did think that the majority of Native American tribes were ruined and left a negative mark but to the contrary it actually improved some tribe’s way of life. The railroad definitely affected Native Americans but for some it was a benefit through technology advances and for others it crushed their spirits. It really all depended on where the railroad tracks were located.
The negatives aspects are obvious since certain tribes were forced off their land. This changed their culture or way of life. Their economic status was compromised. They no longer knew how to survive the “Old Traditional” way. On the positive side Native Americans were provided with a modern life, they had access to ready made clothes. There are many pros and cons to the creation of the railroad in regards to Native Americans. Again we see there are truths to both sides!

vbronzino said...

destroy-to reduce (an object) to useless fragments, a useless form, or remains, as by rending, burning, or dissolving; injure beyond repair or renewal; demolish. If we look at the definiton above I believe that the railroads did not destroy the Native Americans in the west as there are remnants of Native American culture thriving on reservations and universities across the west. I would argue that the the arrival of the railroad "turned the world upside down" for NAtive AMericans, especially the Plains Indians, who up until this point had very little contact with civilizations different from their own. As we know, the railroad brought with it more permanent and numerous white settlement. This ultimatley spelled growing conflict between whites and natives. In addtion, permanent settlement and railroad tracks and the destruction of bison, trees and wild game affected the whole scheme of PLains Indians culture. While many Plains Indians died from this transformation some learned to adapt to the forever changing landscape.

nmusc said...

Destroy???...definitely not. It is obvious by the very presence of our two speakers that Native Americans were not destroyed by the railroad. Hearing them speak of their respective tribes and the University at which their members are educated provides evidence that the American Indian culture is still widely celebrated. Perhaps a better way to pose this question would be to ask if the railroad "changed" the Native Americans. Even so, this may be somewhat difficult to answer. Clearly the Native Americans of the 1800's were different than they are today. But the same holds true for any society. It is not reasonable to assume that this change In American Indian culture was caused solely by the railroad. Cultures change for a combination of reasons. Of course, with the introduction of any technological advance a society will change and adapt to it. As Dr. Wildcat pointed out, the American Indians themselves went through a prior transition with the introduction of horses into their hunting practices. But other factors play an important role as well. And so it is a combination of circumstance that continually cause any people to evolve. Of course the railroad sped up this change of life for the American Indians but it clearly did not destroy them.

AFisk said...

To determine if the railroads “destroyed” the Native Americans in the West an understanding must be agreed upon for the word destroyed. The railroads certainly robbed them of the quality of life they had enjoyed before the Americans’ westward expansion took it away from them. But if destroyed means completely eliminated, the presence of Professors Wildcat and Julia certainly disproves that the railroad completely destroyed the Native Americans.
While the Native Americans may have physically survived the arrival of the railroad, their culture suffered horribly. For example, if one were to examine who the Sioux were before the railroad and who they became after its arrival, we would see two entirely different cultures. To continue to survive they had to adapt by changing their customs and traditions and attempt to assimilate to a lifestyle “acceptable” to the people controlling the westward movement of America. To remain who they were was not an option. In this sense the railroads destroyed who the Native Americans were even if they did not actually physically destroy them as a race.

Rick Iurka said...

The railroads did not completely ’destroy’ the Native American tribes of the west, but they certainly helped expedite a tragic process which slaughtered the majority of them and marginalized the rest. Unfortunately for the Indians, the two cultures were incompatible. The Native Peoples of the west stood in the way of “progress” and the railroads were just the industrial tool the corporatists needed to remove them. The completion of the transcontinental railroad led to an endless supply of gun toting settlers (and soldiers) heading out west at, for the time, incredible speed. Whether or not certain tribes felt an immediate impact from the railroads (like the Plains Indians did) is immate rial, for they inevitably would share the same fate.

Joan said...

This controversy session offered us the chance to develop a new perspective on how to define “Native American” and “the West” in addition to discussion how the interpretation of the word “destroy” in the focus question could influence coming to a conclusion. Based upon the number of tribes that existed in the U.S. at the time that the railroads were built and expanded and areas where the railroads were built, tribal experiences varied geographically. The fact that the railroad pitted tribes against tribes and the government used the railroads to implement its political agenda was very different from what existed in history books. It is a bitter reminder of the incredible amount of destruction to the way of life for people who were here before the Europeans arrived were since Columbus arrived. Therefore, it was not just the railroads that were to blame. Although they were not entirely destroyed, there were some aspects of the culture of “first nations” that no longer existed. An example of this was the story of Black Elk, who said, “the sacred hoop is broken …” His Lakota tribe had been bound to buffalo in spirit and buffalo were disappearing as a result of the railroad. He witnessed devastation of his people and their way of life, but adapted by converting to Catholicism in an attempt for his people to not lose their spirit. Dr. Wildcat and Ms. Goodfox enlightened us by sharing their viewpoints about the influence of media on indigenous cultures and that primary resources ignore or minimize events that have affected them. Much of tribal history is oral history, which is viewed as inaccurate memories have historically been absent from history books and the emphasis has been on U.S. documents. Little mention is made of the consequences of technology and how it erased aspects of the cultural lives of American Indians. On a final note, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there are 36 or 37 tribal colleges that exist in the U.S., which is evidence that these indigenous people have not been “destroyed.”

Michaela said...

Did the railroads destroy the Native Americans in the West? No. one question my partner and I grappled with was the word "destroy." Destroy assumes that the culture no longer exists and it evident, that although drastically altered, the culture still remains. Native American culture exists in America today, although on a much smaller scale. The speakers, themselves, agreed that the culture was not destroyed but certainly devastatingly impacted by the railroad. However, it did irrevocably change the lives of Native Americans. However, not all Native Americans faced the same fate. Dr. Wildcat noted that Pacific Northwest cultures living near the water were not effected in any meaningful way, if it all. The Plains tribes encountered and felt the brunt of the railroad industry. Many were even used as pawns to help the railroad destroy other tribes. Destruction of the bison led to their destruction. As Dr. Wildcat noted, “Destroy the bison, destroy the Indians.” The railroad industry devastated the Native American culture but did not lead to its demise.

Anonymous said...

I was unable to attend this class. However, it is my belief after reading the book and based on the lessons I teach in class, that the railroad hastened the destruction of the Native American populations and its culture. From other books we’ve read in this course, colonists have been waging war against the colonists since long before the days of Jamestown. Disease, war, and internal fighting weakened most tribes. Those that remained were pushed off their lands and sent further west beyond the boundaries of colonial settlement. Treaties were made and broken long before the railroad cut through prime hunting grounds. Homes, fences, and farmland replaced the communal lands that the natives shared. The railroads drove the last spike in the coffin of many Native American cultures.

kimcraig said...

Railroads did not destroy Native Americans in the West. Our speakers proved that with their presence in class. The railroads did, however, promote and hasten an ongoing effort to deny tribes of their land and culture. The history of America is the history of conquest. White Americans’ westward ambition led to native peoples being repeatedly forced off their lands and subject to countless unjust policies. The construction and completion of several transcontinental railroads brought countless workers and settlers westward, leading to greater conflict over land and resources. The desire for a resolution to the “Indian problem” led to the destruction of the buffalo, a devastating blow to the Plains’ tribes, brutal warfare through out the West, and policies such as the Dawes Act meant to destroy tribal unity and force assimilation. Despite all the hardship and suffering, western tribes were not destroyed. While social and familial structures were forever altered, many tribes still live on – albeit with adaptations. The glimmer of hope is that many tribes are experiencing a cultural resurgence with an increased emphasis on maintaining language and traditions among the youth.

Mr. Ferrante said...

Maybe not destroyed. I do think that the railroads really did sink the Native Americans down to a new low as the rails move West. Yes, some native culture remained and was visible - mostly as tourist attractions. Yes, the Native Americans adapted - as all cultures do, however, one does wonder how viable those cultures will remain in the future.

Mr. Karmin said...

As many others have commented earlier, one must define the term “destroy” before answering this question. If destroy means to completely eradicate, then the railroads obviously did NOT destroy the Native Americans in the West. This is evident by the fact that the speakers are decedents of the Native Americans. If we look at the term “destroy” differently and define it as “to drastically affect in a negative way” then perhaps the answer might be different. It is fairly obvious that the development of the railroad significantly changed the lives of the Native Americans… few would debate this issue. The railroads brought the Native populations into direct contact with the expanding industry from the East. The Plains Indians were forced from their lands, but many Indian tribes from the West had very little interaction with the railroads. Again the railroads were the driving force that would eventually bring settlements all the way to the west coast. This did affect the Native American population but to say that the Native Americans were destroyed would be inaccurate.

Jennifer said...

The railroads did not destroy Native Americans in the West. I think the consensus among the group on Saturday was that the word “destroy” made this a difficult question to answer. The railroads most definitely changed Native Americans in the west. Among the many ways that Native Americans were impacted by settlers in North America, the impact of the railroads on the Plains Indians was perhaps the most direct. The construction of the railroad through the Great Plains forced the Plains Indians to change their way of life by bringing buffalo hunters to the region and literally cutting off their ability to move. This does not mean that the tribes who lived in the Great Plains ceased to exist once the railroads were constructed, but their way of life was definitely destroyed. I think we can use this as an example of the many negative ways in which Native American culture was forced to adapt and change once confronted with white settlers.

Thone said...

Unfortuneately, I missed this class but here is my opinion. The destruction of Native American cultures can be traced back to the moment the first colonists stepped foot on this continent in the 17th century. The diseases, the broken treaties, and the increasing population of colonists all set in motion what some historians argue as genocide of the Native American populations of this country. By the mid 19th century when construction of transcontinental railroads began, this destruction of the native people of this country had been going on from over 200 years. The railroads did help to speed up this process by encouraging settlers to move west and helping to complete manifest destiny. The culture clash that occurred only made things worse. The killing of the buffalo, the closing of traditional hunting grounds and forcing to Native Americans to assimilate helped to further the destruction of many traditional cultures. While this would have happened regardless the railroads just helped to speed up the process.

Anonymous said...

The railroads facilitated the mass migration of European Americans to western lands that were previously difficult to access. The railroads also allowed sedentary agriculture to develop in the West, making settlement in western lands economically possible. The reservation system was the inevitable result. However, if railroads had not been laid in western lands, the traditional Native American lifestyle (particularly the Plains Indians) would have been forced to adapt to a changing world, just as every other culture had over time.

Mr. Gatto said...

The railroad certainly played a part in the destruction of Native American tribes. As we know, many tribes still survive. The tribes inevitably changed because they so many were forced to move into lands that were not original homes. "Destruction" is such a strong word. The issue is more complex than tyhe question.

sahmedani said...

The word destroy decided the fate of this question. The railroads could not have possibly destroyed Native Americans in the west because quite frankly, they're still here aren't they? The influence of American culture, mass production, religion, belief sytems could be said to have eventually changed native american culture, but not completely destroyed. Many tribes were not effected by the railroad at all. It can be said that those who were effected were forced to adapt to a changing world- however many kept a lot of the same tribal rituals and relationships. It is therefore impossible that native american's were destroyed by the railroad.

JKeller said...

Railroad development boomed in the mid to late 1800’s. The drive to move West through the use of railroads helped to end sectional differences and unified the United States. Although the railroads encouraged more people to settle the West the railroads did not destroy the Native American culture in the West. The defining the term “destroy” was the first obstacle to this debate. The Native American culture “changed” as a result of the railroads and the movement of people to the West however it did not “destroy”. The railroads did however force Native Americans to change and adapt to the new situation that existed in the West: growth of cities, destruction of wildlife, lose of land and the movement of people.

Liz said...

The railroads may have impacted the culture and identity of the Native Americans in the west. However, to say that the railroads destroyed the Native American society is an exaggeration. Native Americans today still practice their culture and celebrate their history. If they were destroyed by the railroads this would not be possible. The railroads did however, force the Native Americans to adapt to the changing society around them.

pcostell said...

Perhaps native american culture is not destroyed in totality, but the railroad ended their ability to "own" that land in their way. The railroads were but one piece of the process of ending some of the tribes way of life, but it was inevitable that the advancing European/American culture would have done the same regardless of the RR.Perhaps the RR sped it up, but change was coming nevertheless

CTator said...

Westward expansion and governmental incentives for the rapid development of the West were entwined into American culture; the ideal of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness lived strong. Looking towards the West came with the excitement of hitting it rich as well as encountering the unknown and uncertainty.
The so-called “Indian Problem” has been engraved into early American history from the dawn of colonization through the late industrialization era. Through the conviction of the White Man’s Burden and governmental acts of assimilation and placement, lead a pathway for toleration and coexistence. The question that comes to forefront is whether or not the Native Americans had the capacity and ability to adapt to the changing times.
In short the railroads did not necessarily “destroy” the Native Americans for it was up to the Native Americans to become accustomed to the changing times of the country. It was perhaps the development of reservations that permitted Native American culture to flourish and thrive.

kvandover said...

Did the railroads destroy the Native Americans in the West? I think not. All cultures change as the world forges ahead. "The White Man" is not the same today as he was during the railroad era. Who do you know in your neighborhood who can shoe a horse, drive cattle to market, build a sod house, raise a barn, or drive a team of mules? Is "the White Man" destroyed?

The railroad changed the culture of the Native Americans for sure. It also changed the culture of everyone else, but the change occurred more quickly for Native Americans. The loss of the buffalo, the rapid settlement of ancestral Indian lands by a different culture, and the forced relocation of tribes to reservations all hastened the metamorphosis of old tribal cultures into new ones. But when one looks back on history, is this any different from what has gone on since the dawn of time? Is the invasion of the Sumerian culture by the Assyrians so different? The Sumerians were not even permitted to keep their own language, and eventually Sumerians were wiped out through assimilation and holocausts. The Native Americans have proven to be far more tenacious in their desire to hold onto customs they hold dear and have been more adaptable in blending the old with the new.

Indians have not only survived but have reinvented themselves, while still retaining their identity as Indians. It is we "White Men" who tend to see all Native Americans as one culture, one group, when in fact they are many cultures, languages, and traditions whose histories are still being written as they continue to adapt to this age of ipods, computers, Facebook, and Twitter. If we are expecting to see tribes of people who live strictly off the land, hunt buffalo, build teepees, etc. then those Indians are indeed gone forever.

In reality, every cultural group changes over time, and most are unrecognizable today if compared with what those same people were like 100 or more years ago. Technology is forever changing the world and its inhabitants, and we all must adapt or die out.

The Native Americans certainly have not died out. Drs. Wildcat and Goodfox are proof of that, as they themselves pointed out. Drs. Goodfox and Wildcat and their tribes are alive and well in America today and are enjoying a renaissance of their traditions. The Indians of the West have retained the part of their culture that is important enough to them to pass along to their descendants. They are not destroyed and continue to adapt to the modern world, as do we all.

HSEMINTY said...

Dan and Julia were excellent speakers. The focus of the day was on the two ideas of 'destroy' and 'culture.' What is culture, and what does it mean to destroy a culture? I define culture as the values, beliefs, practicies, and way of life of a particular group of people However, culture is always changing. To think that plains Indians culture had not already been affected by other peoples is laughable. The introducture of fauna like the horse, or pathogens that had reduced the population had already altered their cutlure greatly. When we think of plains Indians we think of the horse and buffalo nomadic culture. However, certain plains tribes had been agriculturalists only a century or two before the 1800s. Their way of life had not existed for thousands of years, but only a short while. Change had already happend. However, that change was change that indigenous people had shaped themselves. They reacted to no variables in their physical culture and integrated it themselves into their culture. Julia had call that change 'controled adaptation' instead of 'forced assimilation.' Once the railroads came, Native Americans had less control over how their culture would change. Now the change came as body blows from an imperialistic American culture that Native Americans reacted to. However, even though they did not have as much power in this exchange, they were not passive actors. They were able to adapt and still, to this day, keep a seperate identity as Native Americans.

Sill's World said...

The railroad greatly influenced the Native Americans mostly by destroying the bison population, which was the lifeblood of many Native American Indian tribes living in the Plains. Despite this, the Native American found ways to adapt and preserve their cultural practices and rituals, such as substituting the bison with Mountain Goats. Also, the Native Americans used the reservations as a way to preserve their culture. So, despite the destructive nature of the railroads in regards to native Indian culture, it did not totally destroy them.

Mrs. Geldmacher said...

The word destroy implies that the railroads single handlely took apart Native American communities in the west. Although I believe that the railroads contributed by forcing western expansion and assimilation, I believe that it is only one factor that led to the decline of Native Americans in the West.

Daniela McKee said...

Unfortunately, I was not able to attend this class but based on the reading and my colleague's comments, the Native American culture was not destroyed by the railroad. It seems that the word "destroy" suggests that the culture no longer exists and that is certainly not true.

Anonymous said...

It is obvious to most of us that the Native American culture in the Western US was not destroyed by the creation of the railroad system. Was this ancient culture heavily affected due the the railroads? Yes, they were. Columbus and the spanish conquistadors did more destruction of Native American culture that the railroad did. The Great Plains Indians lifestyle was affected, but they were able to maintain their culture and heritage long after the era of westward expansion

Mr. Toth said...

Out of all the lecturers that we’ve heard over the course of the season, Professor Wildcat was my favorite. I thought this week was practically interesting, and I think the topic question was one for great debate. When asked, Did the Railroad destroy Native Americans in the West, my answer would be no. I think ultimately the railroads did a lot of damage to the Indians in the west but, the use of the word destroy, makes it difficult to agree with that question. The greatest proof that the railroad did not destroy is in the fact that many Western tribes are still around today. I also think the question is too general, especially when talking about the west. As Professor Wildcat stated, many tribes in the west were not effected by the railroad, mainly jus the Plains Indians.

dmcgoldrick said...

The railroads did not destroy the Native Americans of the West based on the evidence that these cultures exist in some form today. First, not all tribes were affected by the railroads because of their locations. For example, the Pueblo and other southwestern tribes were not affected. Second, the culture of the American Indian had been undergoing a transformation from the very first contacts with white explorers and settlers. The impact of deception and disease on native cultures cannot be overstated. So that the "culture" that existed when the railroads were built was already changed form the native culture of 300 years prior, one major difference being the use of horses which were introduced by the Spaniards in the 1500's. Additionally, the railroads were just one force in a long succession of events and planned efforts to eliminate Native peoples as distinct groups. The Plains Tribes suffered the most displacement from the railroads. As Dr. Wildcat noted, indigenous people derive their identity and culture form the land they inhabit; economic, religious, social and political structures are defined by the environment. By moving the Plains tribes to reservations to make room for the railroads, the U.S. Government destroyed the tribes' ability to survive as the people they had been. The U.S. Government did not provide the resources promised the tribes to live as an agricultural people, which reduced many to surviving as outlaws and beggars. The tribes that did survive with some remnant of their culture intact were forced by circumstances to identify, nurture, and preserve the "essential spark" or "core", as defined by Dr. Wildcat, of who they were and are as a people. The fact that any tribal pride has survived today is a testament to the tenacity of these people.

Zartler, Michael said...

The building of railroad lines into the West in the late nineteenth century led to increased white encroachment onto land that was inhabited by the Indians of the Great Plains, and that encroachment had a profoundly negative effect on those tribes' way of life. Prior to the Civil War, the Plains Indians were already dealing with problems caused by declining bison herds and deteriorating grasslands. After the discovery of gold and silver in the Rocky Mountains and Congress's passage of the Pacific Railroad Act, the federal government began to re-examine its Indian policies. Specifically, it abandoned its previous position that treated much of the West as one huge Indian reserve, and started to introduce a system of smaller, separate areas (tribal reservations) where the Indians could be concentrated (by force, if necessary) and where they would be expected to abandon their nomadic ways for a settled agricultural life. To achieve that, the U.S. Army established outposts along well-traveled trails and stationed troops that could be mobilized at a moment's notice. Within a very short space of time, eight Indian reservations had been established in the West. From the 1860s through the 1890s, more than a hundred thousand Native Americans fought this reservation system, but to no avail.

mnolan7715 said...

From the very beginning of this session, my first reaction to the question was “no, the railroads didn’t destroy Native American culture.” I felt this way for a few reasons, one being that their culture had not completely been destroyed. Although it has changed and diminished over time, I find it hard to believe that it’s completely destroyed. I also pointed out, before we even began our debate arguments, that Native American culture had been declining since the arrival of the Europeans and is not completely the result of the railroads. Native Americans in the south east were not impacted by railroads, but their culture was hurt when they were forced off of their lands by acts passed by congress. We also brought up the fact that natives in the Northwest weren’t impacted at all. The plains tribes were the ones whose culture was most altered by the construction of the railroads, but they don’t represent all Native Americans across the country.