Pioneer history includes mistreatment of Native Americans

Imagine you received a message from the city that your street was going to be a detour for Eighth Street for the next 20 years. What would change – more noise, more litter, broken down vehicles, more dead animals and wild critters, knocked down pedestrians on the way to the mailbox?

When I wrote recently about pioneers risking everything for a better life, I told the story of Euro-American pioneers.

The other side of the story belongs to the indigenous peoples living in North America for millennia before the departure of Christopher Columbus in 1492. Nearly 300,000 people walked the trail to California from 1840 to 1869 through the back- course of the people who already lived there.

Several Plains tribes call the area we call Kansas and Nebraska their home. Tens of thousands of American bison were grazing on the prairie. The plains natives hunted them. Animals provided meat, skins for shelter, blankets and clothing, bones for tools. They also gave hunters something to trade with farming tribes and travelers.

Further west in the Great Basin of Utah, southern Idaho and Nevada were other tribes who lived near the few rivers and lakes. The water provided game, fish and other sources of protein. Grasses and reeds growing near water provided shelter and could be woven into baskets to store food.

While researching this subject, I came across a quote from a Puritan minister in 1722: “To acquire Indian lands for little or no payment is just. They only use it for hunting.

The lack of appreciation for the abundant native way of life remained 120 years later as emigrants began to flood the West. Their cattle ate the grass. They cut down trees to make firewood. They shot the bison for sport and left the carcasses to rot. They transmitted measles, smallpox, cholera and other diseases to people without immunity. They taxed limited water resources. They littered the trail with wagon parts, dumped personal property, graves and the carcasses of dead pets.

Native Americans who had once lived like the lilies of the field and the birds of the sky with the Creator providing for all their needs found themselves in poverty.

Depending on how you look at it, the California Trail may have been the first mother road, securing western territories from foreign incursions and stopping the spread of slavery. Or it may have been the worst example of eminent domain in US history.

Margaret Ludington has lived in Altoona since 1971. She is a retired editor and columnist for the Herald-Index. Margaret is a mother of two and grandmother of four. She and her husband travel frequently and have visited every state except Alaska and five Canadian provinces.

Nohemi M. Moore