Native Americans

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Courtesy the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, University Libraries, via the Mountain West Digital Library.

If immigrants were second-class citizens to the white American miners who flooded the West starting in the 1840s, then the native inhabitants of the land were barely considered human, worthy of extermination without a second thought. Starting in 1850 in California, Native Americans could be indentured indefinitely for “vagrancy” by law and enslaved by white miners and ranchers for up to fifteen years. Native men were often slaughtered if they were not put to work, and women and children were kidnapped and used as cheap labor or for sexual gratification. The natural resources that various tribes had relied on for centuries were decimated in months, leading to death by starvation for thousands who had managed to escape murder or slavery. Massacres of entire villages were commonplace throughout the American West and were reported in newspapers as sport, often with morbid headlines “Good Haul of Diggers.” Tribes throughout the West were annihilated in incredibly short stretches of time, and for those who managed to survive the bloodbath, the future was bleak. Seen as animals with no morals, sense of ownership of the land, or reason for existence, the Native inhabitants of the American West were violent casualties of the new American idea of Manifest Destiny. God’s plan for white American expansion left no room for the original inhabitants of the land.