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2.3 History

A major American encyclopaedia starts its article on American history with the following:

"The history of the United States is the story of a great nation that was carved out of a wilderness by a brave and freedom-loving people. The men and women who built the United States came from almost every part of the world. They represented many different nationali­ties, and religions. Through the years, the people and their descendants learned to live and work together, and to take pride in being Americans."

The reality is of course rather different. The history of the USA here is split into three sections: the history of Native Americans, the history of the main groups of immigrants and how the USA came to be formed and the third section is post-revo­lution USA.

2.3.1 Native Americans

Based on anthropological and genetic evidence, scientists generally agree that most Native Americans descend from people who migrated from Siberia across the Bering Strait, at least 12,000 years ago.

One result of these successive waves of migration is that large groups of Na­tive Americans with similar languages and perhaps physical characteristics as well, moved into various geographic areas of North, and then later, Central and South America.

While many Native American groups retained a nom­adic or semi-nomadic lifestyle through the time of Europe­an occupation of the New World, in some regions, especia­lly in the Mississippi River valley of the United States, they built advanced civilizations with monumental architecture and large-scale organization into cities and states.

Etowah (Mississippi) idols from about 950 AD left

It was not acceptable to American immigrants in the 18th and 19lh centuries that the people they regarded as "savages" had built civilizations and by policy, most archaeological remains were destroyed and records obliterated.

The European colonization of the Americas forever changed the lives and cul­tures of the Native Americans. In the 15th to 19th centuries, their populations were ravaged, by the results of displacement, disease, and in many cases by warfare with European groups and enslavement by them. The first Native American group encountered by Columbus, the 250,000 Araxvaks, were violently enslaved. Only 500 survived by the year 1550, and the group was extinct before 1650.

In the 15th century Spaniards and other Europeans brought horses to the Americas. Some of these animals escaped and began to breed and increase their numbers in the wild. Ironically, the horse had originally evolved in the Americas, but the last Ameri­can horses, died out at the end of the last ice age. The re-introduction of the horse had a profound impact on Native American culture in the Great Plains of North America. This new mode of travel made it possible for some tribes to greatly expand their ter­ritories, exchange goods with neighboring tribes, and more easily capture game.

Europeans also brought diseases against which the Native Americans had no immunity. Ailments such as chicken pox and measles, though common and rarely fatal among Europeans, often proved fatal to Native Americans. More dangerous diseases such as smallpox were especially deadly to Native American populations. It is difficult to estimate the percentage of the total Native American population killed by these diseases, since waves of disease oftentimes preceded European ex­ploration, sometimes destroying entire villages. Some historians estimate that up to 80 % of some Native populations may have died due to European diseases.

In recent years it has become popular to assert that Native Americans learned scalping from Europeans, historical evidence suggesting that scalping by Native Americans had not necessarily been practiced before contact with Europeans. The first admitted case of white men scalping Native Americans took place in New Hampshire colony on February 20,1725.

In the 19th century, the Westward expansion of the United States incrementally expelled large numbers of Native Americans from vast areas of their territory, either by forcing them into marginal lands farther and farther west, or by outright massa­cres. Under President Andrew Jackson, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which forced the Five Civilized Tribes from the east onto western reserva­tions, primarily to take their land for settlement. The forced migration was marked by great hardship and many deaths. Its route is known as the Trail of Tears.

Conflicts generally known at the time as "Indian Wars" broke out between U.S. forces and many different tribes. Authorities entered numerous treaties during this period, but later broke almost all of them. Well-known battles include the atypical Native American victory at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, and the massacre of Native Americans at Wounded Knee in 1890, when the US Cavalry attempted to exterminate the Sioux Nation and killed all the men, women and children they could find. On January 31,1876 the United States government ordered all surviv­ing Native Americans to move into reservations or reserves.

Probably the most famous leader of the Native Americans was Geronimo, born Goyathlay ("He Who Yawns"), (1829 - 1909).

He was leader of the Chiricah.ua Apache who fo­ught long against the encroachment of settlers of European descent on tribal lands. He became fam­ous for his daring exploits and numerous escapes from capture. His forces became the last major for­ce of independent Indian warriors who refused to acknowledge the United States Government in the American West. This came to an end in 1886, when Geronimo surrendered to US Army General Miles at Skeleton Canyon, Arizona. He was a prisoner in­itially, but later a celebrity.

Geronimo in about 1870 right

In the late nineteenth century reformers in efforts to civilize Indians adapted the practice of educating native children in Indian Boarding Schools. These schools, which were primarily run by Christians proved traumatic to Indian children, who were forbidden to speak their native languages, taught Christianity instead of their native religions (both in violation of the U.S. Constitution), and in numerous other ways forced to abandon their Indian identity and adopt European-American cul­ture. There are also many documented cases of sexual, physical and mental abuses occurring at these schools.

Military defeat, cultural pressure, confinement on reservations, forced cultural assimilation, outlawing of native languages and culture, forced sterilizations, ter­mination policies of the 1950s, and 1960s, and slavery have had negative effects on Native Americans' mental and ultimately physical health. Contemporary health problems include poverty, alcoholism, heart disease and diabetes.

As recently as the 1960s, Native Americans were being jailed for teaching their traditional beliefs. As recently as the 1970s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs was still actively pursuing a policy of "assimilation" the goal of which was to eliminate the reservations and steer Indians into mainstream U.S. culture. Even their lands are perhaps no longer safe; as of 2004, there were still claims of theft of Native Ameri­can land for the coal and uranium it contains.

According to 2003 United States Census Bureau estimates, a little over one third of the 2,786,652 Native Americans in the United States live in three states: Califor­nia with 413,382, Arizona with 294,137 and Oklahoma with 279,559. As of 2000, the largest tribes surviving in the U.S. by population were Cherokee, Navajo, Choctaw, Sioux, Chippewa, Apache, Blackfoot, Iroquois and Pueblo.