Witness the tragic fall of the great Indian nations. Share the tales of the “conquering” of the American West from the Native American perspective.
How The West Was Lost is a series about the westward expansion of colonialists across the North American continent during the latter half of the 19th Century from the experience and point of of view of the Native American peoples.
It is the story of how mutual misunderstanding, incomprehension and differing viewpoints contributed to bring into conflict an expanding nation and the land’s indigenous population.
Each episode examines a separate tribe or battle and features interviews with descendants of legendary Native American warriors.
Produced by KUSA-TV for Discovery Channel
Part 1: A Clash of Cultures
This episode relives the Long Walk of 2,400 Navajos from their home in Canyon de Chelly to the Bosque Redondo in Eastern New Mexico. It was 1864 when General James H. Carleton assigned Colonel Kit Carson to force the Navajos on the walk. During the trek, 200 Navajos died and the rest suffered horribly. It was one example of the European settlers forcibly removing Native Americans from their land. In 1868 Navajo leaders journeyed to Washington and convinced President Andrew Johnson to let their people go home and leave the disease and insect-ridden poverty of the Bosque Redondo. This episode includes interviews with direct descendants of the Navajo leaders.
Part 2: I Will Fight No More, Forever
This episode follows the 1,600-mile path taken by the Nez Perce 114 years ago, as they fought 13 battles with the United States Army, for the right to the Nez Perce homeland. The Nez Perce are a Native American tribe of the northwest who were first visited by white missionaries in the 1830s. The white men presented the Nez Perce with two treaties which resulted in the loss of 90 percent of their sacred land, and then the further loss of 90 percent of what was left. The Nez Perce, who became Christians, accepted their fate but others embarked on the 1,600-mile war path. The Nez Perce outmarched, outwitted and outfought the US Army for four months before surrendering.
Part 3: Always the Enemy
This is the story of Geronimo and Victorio, two Apache leaders who repeatedly struck out against, and were victorious over, the white men who tried to oppress their people and force them to live on a hot, barren, malarial flat on the Gila River in Arizona, called the San Carlos Reservation. For years, US and Mexican troops attacked Victorio and Geronimo and eventually won their surrender only to find that the two had escaped once again from the reservation and had resumed the battle. In 1886, with Victorio now dead, Geronimo formally surrendered to General Nelson Miles. In this episode viewers will meet direct descendants of Geronimo and Victorio and other Apache.
Part 4: The Only Good Indian, is a Dead Indian
No Native American tribes suffered more than the Cheyenne and the Arapaho when Union soldiers from the Civil War spilled over into the West and attacked these groups and others. In 1861 the Cheyenne and Arapaho accepted, in exchange for the vast land they once occupied, a small reservation in Southeastern Colorado, the Sand Creek Reserve. There were few buffalo on the reservation and without them, the Indians could not survive. A series of battles broke out, with Black Kettle leading his Cheyenne against the ambitious Col. John Chivington, his rival and enemy. This episode visits Sand Creek and other battlefields from the conflict and talks to ancestors of the warriors.
Part 5: A Good Day to Die
The 1865 Montana gold rush pitted white prospectors against Lakotas of the Great Sioux Nation, and Northern Cheyenne, whose hunting ground had to be crossed to get to the gold. The white treasure hunters blazed the Boseman Trail through sacred Lakota ground. For the next two years, Red Cloud, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and the Cheyenne Chief Dull Knife fought anyone who tried to use the Boseman Trail. In 1868 peace was reached. In 1874, more gold in South Dakota started the battles again. This time General Custer was involved and met his fate at the Battle of Little Bighorn. This episode explores the greatest Indian triumph in American history.
Part 6: Kill the Indian, Save the Man
This episode tells the story of the final battles for Indian land – the battle at Wounded Knee. Within a year of the Indian’s triumph over General Custer at Little Big Horn, most of Custer’s defeaters had surrendered to reservations. The white government continued to impose restrictions on the remaining Native Americans, giving them less hospitable land. Out of their need for spiritual uplifting, the Indians developed the Ghost Dance to ward off whites. The government banned the dance and murdered Sitting Bull. When the smoke cleared, Big Foot and 350 followers were also dead. The rest were taken to reservations where they remained, spirits broken.
Part 7: Divided We Fall
This episode traces the rise and fall of the Iroquois confederation. Long before the Europeans arrived, Iroquois nations engaged in bloody conflicts among themselves. Finally, Hiawatha persuaded the Mohawk, Oneida, Cayugas, Onondaga and Senecas to establish a “Great Peace” which began the confederation. The arrival of white men rekindled ancient rivalries and the fur trade lead to the “Beaver Wars” in the mid 1600s. This devastated the Iroquois through warfare, as well as disease. Next, French missionaries attracted some Iroquois with their talk of baptism and peace. Others, however considered the missionaries evil. This was the beginning of the break in the great confederation.
Part 8: The Trail of Tears
George Washington protected Cherokee land, but under Adams and Jefferson they are forced to give up land in 25 different cessions. They chose to understand and adopt some of the white man’s culture to help stop encroachment. They welcome Christianity, make their government resemble that of the United States, invent an alphabet, establish a Supreme Court and publish a newspaper. But in 1830, under President Jackson, Congress passes the Indian Removal Bill. The Cherokee resist. A furious attack ensues. By 1835 all Cherokee land east of the Mississippi is taken from them. An estimated 4,000 Cherokee die as they are imprisoned to prepare for the Removal. This tragic event is known as The Trail of Tears.
Part 9: Let them Eat Grass
The Dakotas (“friend”) thrived in what is today Minnesota until American settlers began to convert the area to farmland. By the 1830s droves of settlers had moved into the Minnesota River Valley. The Dakotas, who the whites called Sioux (“enemy”), tried to live peacefully with the settlers, but by 1851 both groups knew it wasn’t working. The settlers persuaded the Dakotas to move to a reservation. Their promises of food and amenities for the Dakotas were not kept and after 10 years of broken promises the Dakotas were starving. Bloodshed was inevitable when a trader told the Dakotas they could eat their own grass. Led by Chief Little Crow, the Dakotas embarked on a tragic war.
Part 10: The Utes Must Go!
In 1873, Chief Ouray and the Utes yielded four million acres to white gold miners. Still the miners were dissatisfied and in 1876, sought to remove the Utes from the newly recognized state of Colorado and send them to Indian Territory. Coloradans even blamed the Utes for unsolved murders and natural disasters. An eccentric named Nathan Meeker thought he could “civilize” the Utes and he tried to force them into a completely new way of life. When they resisted, tensions rose. A Utes chief met Major Thomas Thornburgh and they agreed to meet in a small group: one misunderstanding led to another and a large battle ensued. Eventually Chief Ouray submitted and the Utes moved to a reservation.
Part 11: The Unconquered
Spaniards were established in what is now Florida when the Americans forced them out in 1819 and inherited the Indian “problem” that would haunt them for more than 50 years. The Seminoles hunted and fished in the Florida wilds, but conflicts arose between them and the Americans, especially over slaves who escaped from Georgia. The Seminoles adopted the slaves but this angered Georgia planters who felt they had lost their property. The Georgia planters and other land-hungry Americans forced the government to remove the Seminoles from Florida in what was called the Removal Act. Determined to remain in their homeland, the Seminoles fought back ferociously for 8 years, before most submitted.
Part 12: Death Will Come Soon Enough
When the small Indian nation of Modoc were forced to live on a reservation with the larger and more powerful nation of Klamath, the Modoc were unhappy and determined to return to their home in what is now Northern California. The white settlers there convinced the United States army to capture and remove the Modoc. The fighting occurred in lava beds where the Modoc inflicted heavy casualties while suffering few themselves. The white settlers agreed to negotiate but factionalism within the Modoc tribe thwarted negotiations and led to a Modoc assassination of General Canby and Rev. Eleanor Thomas. Eventually, the Modoc leader, Captain Jack, was executed for the assassination.
Part 13: As Long As the Grass Shall Grow
Though the fledgling United States tried to respect Indian rights, the country couldn’t restrain settlers’ impulses to be “fruitful, multiply replenish the earth, and subdue it”. Every Indian felt the pressure as the white men moved them to smaller tracts of land further west, into an area called “Indian Country.”
Despite being uprooted, the Cherokee enjoyed a Golden Age launched by an 1846 Treaty. They established public schools, and seminaries for men and women. (The female seminary was revolutionary since most Americans thought women were intellectually inferior to men). They also built homes and farms. But when the Civil War swept west, the railroads signalled the end of Cherokee sovereignty.