Grabbing Land

George Catlin, Fort Pierre, Mouth of the Teton River, 1200 Miles above Saint Louis, 1832, oil on canvas

George Catlin, Fort Pierre, Mouth of the Teton River, 1200 Miles above Saint Louis, 1832, oil on canvas

Indians lost lands by treaties, wars, or failed agreements. The United States government pushed tribes in present-day Minnesota and South Dakota to the north and west. Surveyors mapped and divided the territory, turning it into saleable property. White settlers, encouraged by speculators, promotional broadsides, and government incentives, established settlements with hopes that land ownership would bring them prosperity.

Peace medal, early to mid-1800s

Peace medal, early to mid-1800s

American government representatives gave Indians peace medals to affirm friendship and U.S. sovereignty. The medal’s reverse often showed hands clasped in goodwill and a tomahawk crossed with a peace pipe.

Lent by National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution

George Catlin, Sho-me-kos-see, The Wolf, A Chief, 1832

George Catlin, Sho-me-kos-see, The Wolf, A Chief, 1832

Sho-me-kos-see, a chief of the Kaw (Kansa) tribe from the central Midwest, wore his peace medal along with other ornaments when George Catlin painted him in 1832.

Courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr.

Indian Land Cession Map, by J. (Joseph) Goldsborough Bruff, about 1839

Indian Land Cession Map, by J. (Joseph) Goldsborough Bruff, about 1839

Bruff's map, informed by the work of surveyor Isaac McCoy and mapmaker Captain Washington Hood, apprised the United States government on lands and acreage held by Indian nations. Bruff's map assisted Congress as it funded the 1830 Indian Removal Act.

Courtesy of National Archives

Inset of table on the Indian Land Cession Map, about 1839

Inset of table on the Indian Land Cession Map, about 1839

By the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the United States pledged that the lands west of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers would be laid into districts, surveyed, and marked so that each tribe would easily know its boundaries.

Courtesy of National Archives

Vignette on map of the State of Kentucky, 1818

Vignette on map of the State of Kentucky, 1818

This allegorical view offered a Euro-American interpretation of property. Surveyors with their tools measure and divide the land for settlement as the Indian inhabitants leave their homeland. Overlooking the scene, the figure of justice sanctioned the activities.

Courtesy of Library of Congress

City of Nininger broadside, about 1857

City of Nininger broadside, about 1857

As Indians were pushed farther west, land opened for settlement. Speculators circulated broadsides promoting the terrain’s riches. Financial downturns doomed Nininger; it became a ghost town.

Courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society

Footed glass compote, “Westward Ho!” pattern, Gillinder and Sons, 1879

The pattern refers not to the Indian on the lid but to the settler’s cabin and his land, romanticizing the “progress” of western land development.

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Copp family Bible, 1804

Copp family Bible, 1804

Some white settlers took their Bibles containing family histories with them to their new communities.