Westward Migration of Native Americans

Expansion into North America by the French, English, and Dutch empires led to wars and rivalry for dominance that embroiled Native Americans in an intense competition for trade and land. Diseases, wars, and uprisings brought destruction to many tribes and forced others to move ever westward. Tribal migrations into the trans-Mississippi West led eventually to the formation of the Great Plains Indian culture.

Summary of Event

By the early 1640’, competition among European empires for commerce and colonies in North America was intense. England was expanding its permanent settlements in Virginia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Primarily interested in agriculture and colonization, England joined the fur trade Trade;furs
Furs, trade in rivalry. France claimed the Saint Lawrence River Valley, founded Quebec in Canada, and formed trade alliances with the Indians. By the mid-1600’, converting the Indians to Christianity and exploring the continental waterways had become major goals for the French. Holland claimed the Hudson River Valley as New Netherland New Netherland and founded New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island. The Dutch engaged in the fur trade, agriculture, shipbuilding, fishing, and whaling. The stage was set for imperial conflicts among the Dutch, French, and English over American trade and territory. These conflicts inevitably involved the American Indians who hunted, farmed, and traded throughout the contested lands. [kw]Westward Migration of Native Americans (1642-1700)
[kw]Native Americans, Westward Migration of (1642-1700)
[kw]Migration of Native Americans, Westward (1642-1700)
Expansion and land acquisition;1642-1700: Westward Migration of Native Americans[1460]
Social issues and reform;1642-1700: Westward Migration of Native Americans[1460]
Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1642-1700: Westward Migration of Native Americans[1460]
American Colonies;1642-1700: Westward Migration of Native Americans[1460]
Canada;1642-1700: Westward Migration of Native Americans[1460]
Native Americans;westward migration of

By 1642, the Beaver Wars (1642-1684) Beaver Wars (1642-1684) were underway among the French, the Dutch, the English, and their Indian allies. Intense hunting depleted the fur-bearing animals of the Northeast, and to satisfy European demand for furs, Indian hunters and traders were forced to travel ever westward, raiding and trading for furs along the Indian trails that crisscrossed the continent. The first of the Beaver Wars was a conflict between the Hurons Hurons , allied with the French, and the Iroquois Confederacy Iroquois Confederacy , allied with the Dutch. The Iroquois, supplied with firearms by the Dutch, attacked the Huron hunters and raided their villages, killing or capturing thousands of Hurons. The surviving Hurons fled westward to the Mississippi River but were forced back east by the Sioux who inhabited the wild rice marshlands of the Mississippi headwaters. Finally, joined by the Ottawas, the Hurons settled in fortified villages at the head of Black River and on the southwest shore of Lake Superior. Migration;Native Americans westward

The Native Americans of the eastern woodlands suffered as a result of European colonists’ growing need for land. In February, 1643, Willem Kieft, Kieft, Willem the director-general of New Netherland, decided to exterminate the lower Delaware River tribes to make room for more Dutch settlers. Kieft’s War (1641)[Kiefts War (1641)] Hundreds of the lower river Indians were massacred. Survivors were adopted by the Iroquois or shipped to the Caribbean as slaves. When other Indians took revenge on the settlers, retaliation came from both the Dutch and English militaries. In 1643-1644, Dutch and English troops killed more than five hundred Indians in their winter camp in Connecticut.

Peter Stuyvesant, Stuyvesant, Peter named director-general of New Netherland in 1647, continued the policy of exterminating Indians. In 1655, the tribes retaliated against Dutch settlers when a farmer killed an Indian woman for picking peaches from his orchard. In the ensuing Peach Wars Peach Wars (1655-1664) , the Dutch and their Iroquois allies relentlessly attacked the rebel tribes. In 1660, Stuyvesant called upon the Mohawks Mohawks to destroy the warring tribes, and by 1664, the Mohawks succeeded in forcing them to peace talks. The defeated tribes were required to cede all their remaining lands to the Dutch and stop attacking the settlers. Driven from their lands, the Indian survivors moved west.

The same year, 1664, English troops marched into New Amsterdam, took possession of the Dutch West India Company, and declared that all Dutch holdings in North America were now part of the English Empire. New Netherland was renamed New York New York , and New Amsterdam became New York City. England continued the established Dutch trade alliance with the Iroquois and thereby gained control of the fur trade. This brought England and its new Iroquois allies into conflict with France and its allies among the Canadian Indians and the tribes of the trans-Appalachian West.

After the Hurons’ defeat, France had turned to the Ottawas Ottawas , Wyandots Wyandots , and other Native tribes in the Great Lakes region to supply trade furs. The dominant Iroquois began to harass the western tribes along the Illinois and Wisconsin Rivers. Concentrated attacks in 1656-1657 laid waste the villages of the Illinis Illinis , who fled west of the Mississippi. The Miami, Kickapoo, Oto, and Wisconsin Indians, fearing the Iroquois, fled down the Mississippi and went west into eastern Iowa.

In 1663, King Louis XIV of France began to build more forts, increase the military, and encourage colonization Colonization;France of Canada into Canada. Jesuit missionaries joined the explorers who moved into the Great Lakes region and the Ohio River Valley. Father Jacques Marquette Marquette, Jacques made several expeditions, identifying Indian tribes and making converts to Christianity Christianity;Native Americans and . On June 17, 1673, he followed the Wisconsin River to its juncture with the Mississippi River Mississippi River, exploration of and located the Mississippi headwaters in Minnesota. In 1677, the sieur de La Salle La Salle, sieur de secured a commission to explore beyond the Great Lakes. He established Fort Frontenac at the mouth of the Niagara River and explored the Ohio River. His discovery that the Ohio River emptied into the Mississippi River earned him a commission to explore the Mississippi Valley. In 1681-1682, La Salle followed the Mississippi River from its headwaters to the Gulf of Mexico. Claiming the entire territory for France, he named it Louisiana Louisiana colony in honor of King Louis XIV and established a chain of military posts to guard France’s claim to the mightiest waterway in North America.

Continued territorial expansion by England caused a rebellion known as Metacom’s War Metacom’s War (1675-1676)[Metacoms War (1675-1676)] (King Philip’s War; 1675-1676). Led by Metacom Metacom (King Philip), the Wampanoag Wampanoags , Abenaki Abenakis , and Narrragansett Narragansetts Indians attacked Plymouth Colony Plymouth Colony . When the warriors reached western New England, they came under attack by England’s Iroquois allies. Three thousand Indians and one thousand colonists died before the uprising ended. The English executed Metacom and sold his wife, children, and followers into slavery.

In the 1680’, England’s attempt to extend its fur trade to the west provoked retaliation by the French. In June, 1687, French and Indian allies defeated the Seneca Senecas , the westernmost nation of the Iroquois Confederacy Iroquois Confederacy . By constantly attacking their towns, the French severely reduced the Iroquois population. In 1689-1697, King William’s War (also known as Wars of the League of Augsburg) League of Augsburg, Wars of the (1689-1697) began the French and English struggle for control of North America. French and Indian troops raided English settlements in New York and New England. When English-Iroquois armies marched into the Saint Lawrence Valley in 1693, French and Indian troops attacked their winter camp, destroying shelters and looting supplies. Even more destructive raids against the Iroquois in 1696 destroyed crops and further reduced their population. By 1697, even the Mohawks were defeated. Defying England’s protest, the Iroquois Confederacy committed to neutrality and swore friendship with France. The seventeenth century came to a close in a period of temporary and uneasy peace.

By 1700, European diseases, destructive wars, and forced loss of lands had pushed thirty different tribes across the Mississippi into the Great Plains. Nomadic Plains Indians Plains Indians included some Sioux tribes (including the Blackfoot), as well as the Crow, Cheyenne, and Arapaho. Other tribes of Sioux, Algonquians, and Iroquois entered the Northern and Central Plains and began trading with the nomadic tribes, the southwestern Pueblos and Apaches, and the Caddoans on the Southern Plains. The availability of horses, reintroduced into North America by the Spaniards, greatly benefited the Plains Indians. The Pueblo, or Popé’, Revolt of 1680 Pueblo Revolt (1680) had scattered the horse herds of the Spaniards who were killed or driven from New Mexico. The Indians used these horses for hunting and transportation and bred them for trade. The horse became a shared symbol of wealth among the Plains Indians.

The tribes retained their own languages but developed a common hand sign language that allowed them to trade, hold joint ceremonies, and build alliances. The synthesis of religion, commerce, and politics produced a common culture that became known as the Plains Indian culture.


By 1700, a successful Plains Indians culture came into being, blending the preexisting Plains Indians and the migrating tribes displaced into the region by European imperial expansion. The Indian tribes developed networks of trade from Canada south to Mexico and lived in relative peace for several decades, but their experiences with European empires presaged future migrations. Ultimately, the massive changes would be forced upon Native Americans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by imperial conflicts and the creation and expansion of a new nation, the United States of America.

Further Reading

  • Bancroft-Hunt, Norman. The Indians of the Great Plains. Photographs by Werner Forman. Reprint. New York: P. Bedrick Books, 1989. Describes the new culture of the Great Plains Indians after the migrations of the 1600’.
  • Gibson, Arrell Morgan. The American Indian: Prehistory to the Present. Lexington, Ky.: D. C. Heath, 1980. History of incursions of Dutch, Spanish, French, English, and Russian empires into North America and their consequences to Native American societies.
  • Hyde, George E. Indians of the Woodlands: From Prehistoric Times to 1725. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962. Focuses on Indian tribes between the Ohio and the Great Lakes, from the Hudson to the Mississippi River.
  • Kehoe, Alice B. North American Indians: A Comprehensive Account. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1981. Overview of Indian cultural groups after European contact.
  • Milner, Clyde A., Carol A. O’Conner, and Martha A. Sandweiss, eds. The Oxford History of the American West. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. Describes European-Indian relationships and changes in native societies between the 1600’s and 1800’.
  • Turner, Geoffrey. Indians of North America. New York: Sterling, 1992. Identifies Indian language groups, societies, and economies by locale.

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