Many Europeans settled the Great Plains in the 1860s and 1870s. However, these settlers often went to great lengths to preserve their native culture within their communities. What methods did they use to retain their cultural characteristics? Ultimately, were they successful in this endeavor?
By 1860s, the Great Plains were predominantly considered as “the Great American Desert” as it was called by Major Long during his explorations of the region in the early 19th century. The population density was very low until the well-known westward expansion occurring in the 1860s and 1870s when 430 million acres in the areas west of Minnesota, Louisiana, Iowa, Arkansas, and Missouri were settled by Americans and Europeans who were seeking for free lands and a fresh start in their lives. At the same time, the Great Plains were originally populated by Native Americans. Besides, problems concerning acclimatization and rather harsh climatic circumstances, the settlers had to deal with cultural issues as “All of these immigrant groups have brought with them a concept of cultural identity, and they have moved to a land where Native peoples have still held to their cultures, values, and traditions”.
Instead of building close cultural relations with the natives and integrating all the immigrant communities’ cultural traditions into one integral cultural identity, settlers went to great lengths to preserve their own unique cultures within the boundaries of their communities. Thus, they settled in groups and maintained the closest relations with the representatives of their culture and ethnic group. Almost all settlers expressed a rather hostile attitude towards Native Americans and attempted to conquer their lands and subjugate them in all respects. Europeans did not understand Indian culture and religious beliefs, thus fighting Indians and spilling their blood in order to establish dominance in the region and prove supremacy of the Whites. Besides, cultural interconnection between various settler groups depended upon the closeness of their beliefs and traditions. Religion was a powerful tool of preserving one’s self-identity and propagating values of the dominant group in the community. The newcomers took new lands by force and made Native tribes live in reservations, hence discriminating them in all spheres of life. Isolation was another method to preserve settlers’ cultural characteristics.
In these years, the Great Plains were conquered by the Americans and Europeans by turning original dwellers into a minority with little rights and limited freedom. Nonetheless, it is impossible to claim that settlers managed to preserve their cultures utterly unchanged as the communities interacted and had to accommodate to new environment with harsh living conditions. Besides, mining, railway boom, and search for gold and silver affected people’s identities as well, yet the West worldview was little altered by the Native Americans’ culture.