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Collection Meeting of Frontiers

Meeting of Peoples: America

This essay was published in 2000 as part of the original Meeting of Frontiers website.

Indian Reservations west of the Mississippi River. 1923. LC Map Collections. Indian reservations became a unique feature of the social landscape of the American West.

Frontiers were not regions of unidirectional settlement--the great opportunity that they offered attracted diverse people from various directions, who helped to create multicultural societies, although often with ethnic and racial conflict and violence. The original native residents, who saw these areas as homelands and not frontiers, persisted and also contributed to the regional diversity.

In America, despite devastation by war, disease, and land grabbing, Native Americans continued to exert a strong presence in the West. Western tribes ranged over a great diversity of landscapes and economies, from desert-dwelling farmers such as the Hopi to the numerous sea-faring, hunting, and fishing cultures of the Pacific Northwest to the great buffalo hunters of the plains, the Sioux.

Some tribes also disappeared, or came to the brink of extinction, due to the pressures of colonization. The Yahi Indians of California, for example, were pushed from their lands, killed by white settlers, and finally disappeared when Ishi, the last Yahi, died of tuberculosis in 1916.

Guía de las regiones de trabajos agrícolas en los estados del oeste. 1962. LC Map Collections. The United States actively recruited migrant agricultural laborers from Mexico

Mexicans lived in large numbers in the Southwest before it became a part of the United States. In the nineteenth century, Mexicans and Mexican Americans often worked as cowboys. In the twentieth century, Mexicans became the largest ethnic minority among workers in the West. The high labor demands of extractive industries, especially farming, transportation, and mining, brought thousands of Mexicans north looking for economic opportunity.

Chinese people also came to the West looking for jobs. In the nineteenth century they worked in mines, as truck gardeners, and helped to build railroad lines. In San Francisco, the Chinese dominated the cigar and laundry industries and also worked in large numbers in the textile industry and as domestic servants and janitorial workers. The prominence of Chinese workers in the West created resentment among whites, who periodically staged anti-Chinese riots, such as the 1885 massacre of twenty-eight Chinese coal miners and laborers in Rock Springs, Wyoming.


By the mid-nineteenth century the diverse peoples of the Siouan language group had coalesced into three major groupings: the Santee, Yankton, and Teton Sioux. As Europeans spread into western Minnesota and the Northern Plains they encountered in the Sioux a formidable opponent to their expansion. In 1862, the Santee rose up against efforts to confine them to reservations, killing more than seven hundred whites settled in Minnesota. The Teton adopted the horse and moved west where they established themselves as the dominant group on the Northern Plains. In 1876 a combined force of Teton Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho defeated General Custer's Seventh Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.


The following stories were drawn from a larger collection amassed by Hugh Lenox Scott, a West Point graduate and career cavalry officer who served at various posts in the western United States between 1876 and 1897. In 1892, he was assigned to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, as commander of Troop L of the Seventh Cavalry, an all-Indian unit comprised of Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache. During his years in the West, Scott developed an increasing interest in the region's indigenous populations and became an astute practitioner of Plains Indian sign language, a non-verbal method of communicating with hand signals. Familiarity with sign talk enabled Scott to undertake "an intensive study of every phase of the Indian and his customs." In particular, he set about collecting stories from the Kiowa and other Native Americans who resided in the vicinity of Fort Sill.

Many of the stories were gathered firsthand by Scott, while other stories were brought to him by Native American informants. Scott credits Isee-o (formerly Tah-bone-mah) with actively searching out new stories. He "would sometimes be sent to outlying places where rumor pointed to another story-sometimes as far as 150 miles up the Washita...this went on until Isee-o said it was no use to search further for there were no more stories." A combination of historical accounts, firsthand observations, and traditional fables, "these stories were the means by which their history, philosophy, and moral precepts were handed down to the younger generations by tales as old as the Kiowa tribe."

Chinese in America

The California gold rush enticed large numbers of Chinese to head east to make their fortune in the American West. Most planned to return to China after they struck it rich, but a significant percentage ended up staying in the United States. Vibrant Chinese communities sprang up in urban centers such as San Francisco and Denver. Increasing anti-Chinese sentiment culminated in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which halted Chinese immigration. Those who remained faced intense racism that drove them from the mines and many other fields of employment. Nevertheless, they weathered the discrimination by providing for the needs of the local Chinese community and entering the service industry.