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America's History in the Making

Contested Territories

Theme 2

This expansion affected many different groups of people in a variety of ways — offering opportunities to some, and causing dispossession, loss, and conflict for many others.

The movement of new peoples onto land that belonged to indigenous nations and Mexico created loss along with opportunity. Hundreds of thousands of Indians were dispossessed of their territories, livelihoods, and autonomy. Even groups like the Cherokee of the Deep South, who assimilated many elements of Anglo American culture, were forced from their lands, though not before ultimately challenging white encroachment in federal courts. Many Mexicans also lost their land, although the process of dispossession was more gradual and less complete. Hundreds of thousands of enslaved African Americans were taken west to Alabama, Mississippi, and beyond.

Many white men sought economic opportunity in the West, often through farming and mining. Many of them, however, did not find what they were looking for. Some groups of people—such as African Americans, Mexicans, Irish and eastern European immigrants, and women—faced steeper odds, for Western society was very race-conscious and male-dominated.

Primary Sources


Text Artifact

Excerpted from Black Hawk's Autobiography

Black Hawk, Black Hawk's Autobiography, ed. Roger L. Nichols. 1st ed. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1964), 86.

Text Artifact

Excerpted from a Letter by Chinese Merchant Norman Asing

Norman Asing, "To His Excellency Gov. Bigler," Daily Alta California (San Francisco: May 5, 1852). http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/

Text Artifact

Letter from Polly Wilson McGee

Mary Ann Wilson McGee, Letter From Polly Wilson McGee to Joshua Lacy Wilson (1814). Reuben T. Durrett Collection on Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley. Joshua Lacy Wilson Papers (Chicago: Special Collections Research Center, Univeristy of Chicago Library).

Text Artifact

Selections of "Indians Memorial (of the Cherokee Legislature)"

Cherokee leaders, "Indians Memorial (of the Cherokee Legislature)" Cherokee Phoenix and Indians' Advocate, 2, no. 52 (April 14, 1830), page 1, col. 1b-5b to page 3, col. 1a.

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