Was the Contact with Native Americans Detrimental?


Although the first European colonizers reached California back in the XVI century, they began to actively develop land on the Pacific coast of North America relatively late — there were no material values that could be exported. The massive influx of European colonists to the west coast of the continent began only in the middle of the XIX century and soon grew dramatically — gold was found in California. Most of the local Indians were not belligerent because for several centuries, they lived in calm conditions. However, in a matter of years, they were completely exterminated. In the history of the relationship between Native Americans and Europeans, various clashes have been observed, which led to the fact that the Indians faced severe diseases and poverty.

The First Settlers and The Emergence of Diseases

On the territory of present-day Mexico, the United States, and Canada were imported: plague, various variations of smallpox, including black and chickenpox, influenza, malaria, scarlet fever, tuberculosis, typhus, cholera, various hemorrhagic fevers, and measles (Collen et al., 2022). One of the reasons for the poor immunity of the Indians was the cultural characteristics of the people. By themselves, the few Indian tribes inhabited a considerable territory, and therefore contacts between tribes were limited. It is worth noting that the more diverse a person’s gene base is, the easier it is for him to carry diseases, but the tribes did not have such an opportunity (Collen et al., 2022). In addition, various restrictions were imposed on kinship with representatives of other tribes due to local civil strife.

It is difficult to say which disease has claimed the most lives on the American continent. Different historians give completely different figures — from 50% to 90% of the population of all Indians (Collen et al., 2022). The first well-documented smallpox epidemic occurred in 1518. Researchers wrote that hundreds of thousands of Indians often left no more than 10 thousand, and smallpox could come to the same tribe several times — immunity was not developed (Collen et al., 2022). Thus, one of the most critical problems was the introduction and spread of diseases caused by European settlers.

Clashes and Conflicts

The relations of the English colonists with the indigenous population were highly unfavorable, although from the first years of colonization, the idea of Indians as the real masters of North America, whose lands could be acquired by white settlers only by contract, was quite popular. This position, in particular, was held by the founder of the Baptist Church and the colony of Rhode Island, Roger Williams, and the owner of Pennsylvania, Quaker William Penn (American-Indian Wars, 2022). It was thanks to the help of the Indians that the inhabitants of Jamestown and New Plymouth managed to survive the first winters after moving to the New World, but, unfortunately, this did not guarantee their good relations in the following years.

From the very beginning of the colonization of America by Europeans, the systematic destruction or expulsion of the local population began. In 1496, there were 1,100,100 Indians on the island of Hispaniola off the coast of America, but after one generation, in 1526, only 11,000 people remained on the island (American-Indian Wars, 2022). The active offensive of the authorities of the already independent USA on the lands of the Indians unfolded at the beginning of the XIX century after the active development of the central and western territories. After the purchase of the state of Louisiana from France, it was in Louisiana that Indians from the east of the country began to move in the 1810s (American-Indian Wars, 2022). In the 1830s, US President Andrew Jackson signed about seventy treaties with the Indians, according to which they had to emigrate to the “Indian Territory” in the West (American-Indian Wars, 2022). This had a significant impact on the development of negative attitudes towards Native Americans.

The resettlement quickly took on the character of forced deportation, carried out by the troops with all the ensuing consequences. This led to a series of “Indian Wars,” which were divided into several conflicts, breaking out until the 1880s (American-Indian Wars, 2022). The next stage of hostilities broke out again after the war with Mexico and the annexation of Texas and other territories and lasted until the outbreak of the Civil War. One of the pillars of American policy towards Indians since the 1860s has been the destruction of their food and resource base (American-Indian Wars, 2022). Indians have long hunted bison: its meat was eaten, clothes were made from the skin and bones, dwellings were built, and household utensils were produced. Moreover, the railroad magnates needed to expel the Indians from the prairies and plains where the railways were to be laid. Thus, this led the indigenous population of America to hunger and the desire to leave for new lands in search of food and security.


In the end, the Indian leaders realized that numerical superiority was on the enemy’s side and agreed to transfer vast territories in California and Oregon to the American authorities in exchange for peace. They gave the Europeans guarantees that they would live in the reservation allocated to them, receiving food, clothing, and shelter from the government (Indian Reservations, 2022). However, the lands allocated to the Modocs originally belonged to the Klamath, who were dissatisfied with the new neighbors. In addition, it turned out that the reservation administration did not have the means to supply food and clothing to the Modocs.

At the same time, they were deprived of the opportunity to lead a habitual way of life on the reservation. As a result, in 1865, a group of Modocs led by Captain Jack left the reservation, heading to their traditional hunting grounds on the Lost River (Indian Reservations, 2022). Upon returning, the Modocs demanded that white farmers pay them with food and things for the right to be on Indian land (The Library of Congress, n.d.). They agreed but periodically demanded that the authorities expel the Indians entirely. Several negotiations ended unsuccessfully, and the Department of Indian Affairs in 1869 lured the Modocs to a meeting by secretly summoning regular troops (Indian Reservations, 2022). Most of the tribe managed to be forcibly sent to the reservation. If desired, the Americans could agree with the Indians on peaceful coexistence, especially since there was enough free land in the country. However, the native inhabitants of America were seen as an emotional obstacle, a reminder of who is the actual owner of these lands, and therefore they were destroyed, regardless of losses.

Impact on Native American Life

The land released for development by the Americans quickly ended. In 1851, the Ministry of the Interior began to implement a reservation policy for the forcible dispersal of Indian tribes to specially designated territories (mainly to the state of Oklahoma). In 1862, Abraham Lincoln announced the settlement of the West (Indian Reservations, 2022). The whites, who were ready to promote the expansionist policy of the state, were allocated 160 acres of land on which there were Indians. Indian lands are rapidly shrinking in area. In the next few decades, the territories of the Indians will be reduced by another 60% (The Library of Congress, n.d.). Towards the end of the century, this policy took the direction of assimilation; that is, the Indians sought to divide in order to supposedly open the way for this process.

The primary legal justification for this policy was the General Distribution Act of 1887. On the other hand, the reservations were located on lands unsuitable for agriculture; in the first decades of their existence, the reservations were overcrowded, and there was not enough state compensation – people were dying of hunger; the lack of medical care complemented the picture. In addition, the Americans were fully guided by the principle of “divide and rule” during the settlement policy: strong tribes and tribal unions were divorced on different reservations (for example, the tribes of the Iroquois League lived simultaneously in 9 reservations) (The Library of Congress, n.d.). On the contrary, tribes of different language groups could settle in one reservation; they had to use English to communicate, which, in the end, destroyed their identity. Thus, a consistent cultural, social and economic expansion was conducted.

Before the invasion by Europeans, the Indians were engaged in hunting, agriculture, gathering, and fishing, led a modest, peaceful, and completely non-aggressive lifestyle. They were no longer nomads but led a sedentary lifestyle in their well-defined territory; many were sedentary farmers or fishermen. Some tribes were indeed warlike, but, firstly, such tribes were remarkably small in number, and besides, they were divided into many small detachments – their main task was to protect food supplies; there were no significant wars but minor skirmishes (Indian Reservations, 2022). The Europeans, with their regular armies and modern weapons, imposed a ruthless war without rules on the Indians, forcing them to accept and wage an unequal, doomed to failure struggle in defense of their dignity and way of life.

The Europeans, not the Indians, demonstrated natural aggressiveness, pushing the Native Americans further and further from east to west. Linguistic diversity also influenced the difference in cultures, which prevented the unification of Indians in the struggle against white Americans. To the factor of the smallness and fragmentation of individual tribes, the factor of the language barrier between them was also added (Indian Reservations, 2022). Some tribes were so small and defenseless and lived in difficult conditions in unfavorable arid areas. Another feature was the desire of Americans to get as much land rich in minerals as possible.

Therefore, many tribes constantly moved by force, which led to instability and an inability to organize the economy. Thus, the combination of many problems associated with infertile and arid lands and the constant policy of expansion of the Americans did not leave the Indians the opportunity to establish a sustainable society. Consequently, they were constantly exposed to the problems of hunger and disease (Indian Reservations, 2022). This was compounded by the fact that the new government did not seek to change this situation in any way, provide humanitarian assistance, or organize reliable medicine in the tribes. Therefore, the indigenous population was rapidly declining or assimilated, which led to the gradual disappearance of the culture.

Now Indian reservations are more likely to serve for good because they are the centers of preservation of Native American culture. However, reservations have many problems, such as poverty, alcoholism, low literacy rate, and unemployment. Furthermore, problems in the field of medicine have not been eradicated (Indian Reservations, 2022). Currently, the American government provides Indians with many freedoms. Thus, the culture of Native America is maintained.


Settlers’ implementation of such an expansion policy led to negative consequences for Native Americans. They were faced with unprecedented diseases that could not be dealt with by existing medical knowledge. This was the first factor that had an impact on the indigenous population, which declined quite a lot since they did not have sufficient immunity. In the future, even despite initially neutral relations and interactions with Europeans, the Indians were subjected to various repressions. This had a direct impact on their development and socio-cultural aspects. Settlers sought to expand their influence on the territory due to the desire to get various minerals and new lands. Native Americans were an obstacle to achieving their goals.

The situation deteriorated significantly after the civil war and the formation of a new country. The Americans sought to push the Indians as far as possible in order to develop industry, trade, and resource extraction. This led to constant clashes, where Native Americans had fewer chances and technical capabilities. The creation of reservations for the Indians was a factor that influenced their way of life. New territories were often unsuitable for the development or development of agriculture, which exposed the population to hunger. In addition, the policy pursued was aimed at carrying out cultural assimilation. Thus, Native Americans often faced the problem of being forced to interact with settlers to survive.


American-Indian wars. (2022). History. Web.

Collen, E. J., Johar, A. S., Teixeira, J. C., & Llamas, B. (2022). The immunogenetic impact of European colonization in the Americas. Frontiers in Genetics, 13.

Indian reservations. (2022). History. Web.

The Library of Congress. (n.d.). Removing Native Americans from their land. Web.

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