Little changed in the Indian country in the first years after Lewis and Clark’s journey. The Corps of Discovery had failed to find an easy route to the Pacific and few people wanted to follow their difficult path. But the expedition had put American “boots on the ground” for the first time. In addition, the information it compiled documented a vast new territory ready for national expansion.
West of the Missouri River that expansion began gradually. A profitable fur trade encouraged outposts and new settlements. After 1850, gold rushes in California, Montana, and Oregon built those remote settlements into towns. Over time, open land attracted settlers. The coming of the railroads completed the transformation of the region. By century’s end, Americans had a new name for the Indian country. They now called it the “West.” This process was not a peaceful one, rather it was punctuated by violence and military conflict.
This section focuses on the experiences of five tribes encountered by the Corps of Discovery on their journey to the Pacific. It illustrates the ways in which different aspects of American expansion—the fur trade, mining, homesteading, ranching, and the “Americanization” efforts of missionaries and school teachers—altered and undermined the traditions and institutions of the Indian country.