Meanwhile, Out West
The Civil War was over, but another war was just getting into high gear. It was a war in the West, where the new settlers were fighting the Indians, the buffalo, and nature for control of the land. Over the years, in treaty after treaty, the Native Americans had been promised that if they would just move once more, they would be left alone. First they were asked to move across the Appalachians; then across the Mississippi; then it was off any good land left in the West. For the Indians there seemed to be no choice: it was move or fight . So for thirty years there were Indian wars in the West. The Indians were intelligent and resourceful, but they were outnumbered and outgunned.
Many of the soldiers who fought the Indians had come from Civil War battlefields. Many were young, and unmarried, and used to violence. One of them was General William Tecumseh Sherman , who had cut a path of destruction through the South and was pitiless. He wrote: "The more [Indians] we can kill this year, the less will have to be killed the next war, for the more I see of these Indians, the more convinced I am that they all have to be killed or be maintained as a species of paupers ."
The people who took the Indians' land were just ordinary people who had been told there was land and opportunity in the West. So they'd come to settle it. For most Americans, freedom meant owning land. If you owned your own farm, you weren't beholden to anyone. The land in the East was spoken for, and the vast western plains were inviting. In 1862, while the Civil War was still raging, Congress passed a bill called the Homestead Act . It said that for the sum of $10, any citizen, or anyone who had filed papers to become a citizen, could have 160 acres of public land. As soon as the war was over, a lot of people headed west to get land . Then in the 1870s, there was an economic depression in the East. Thousands were out of work. Many of them went west, too. Some say a quarter of a million widows and single women were among the new homesteaders. Many were immigrantsright off the boat.