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Manifest Destiny Essay

Manifest Destiny is defined as “a belief that it was God’s will that Americans spread over the entire continent, and to control and populate the country as they see fit.” Many expansionists conceived God as having the power to sustain and guide human destiny. It was white man’s heavy burden to conquer and Christianize the heathen and savage land. While the positive side of Manifest Destiny was a surge of enthusiasm and energy from the white settlers for pushing West, the negative side was the belief that the white man had the right to destroy anything and anyone — namely Indians — who got in the way. Tracing the path of Manifest Destiny across the West would highlight mass destruction of tribal organizations, confinement of Indians to reservations, and full blown genocide. The dark side of Manifest Destiny revealed the white man’s belief that his settlement of the land and civilization of its native peoples was preordained.

While the whites were occupying the land, they decimated the Indian population, causing many tribes to flee their relentless onward push, or try to compromise with treaties and agreements. One such tribe to fall victim to the white encroachment upon their territory was the Nez Perce of North Western Oregon. The Nez Perce agreed to an 1855 treaty that guaranteed the tribe most of their traditional homeland in the Wallowa Valley of northeast Oregon to try to accommodate the white people who were beginning to invade their lands. Unfortunately, gold was soon discovered upon the Nez Perce land and the settlers wanted a larger portion of that land. The resulting 1863 treaty was agreed to by some tribal chiefs, but not all. Those who refused to sign were given an ultimatum in 1877, and rather than risk war, the non-treaty Nez Perce chiefs–Joseph, Looking Glass, White Bird, Toohoolhoolzote, Bald Head–decided to move their people onto the smaller remaining section of the reservation, towards Fort Lapwai.

There were nearly 800 of the Nez Perce–men, women and children–and a herd of about 2,000 Appaloosa horses on the trek. On the way to Lapwai, things fell apart. A few young warriors were goaded into taking revenge on several whites who had killed tribal members in the past, and the U.S. Army retaliated by attacking the Nez Perce at White Bird Canyon, Idaho. Giving up the attempt to move to the reservation, the Nez Perce chiefs resolved to flee to the east and seek out their Crow allies in Montana. When the Crow tribes showed them no friendship and tried to steal their horses, the Nez Perce set off for Canada. They almost made it, but the U.S. Army caught up with them and defeated them 45 miles shy of the border.

Although the Nez Perce were one of the welcoming tribes that met Lewis and Clark, their kind efforts led to revenge, misunderstanding, deceit, greed and death.

Another tribe which was victimized by the United States were the Cupeños. The Cupeños were a small tribe, one of the smallest Native American tribes in Southern California. It was unlikely that they ever numbered more than 1,000 at a time. They once occupied a territory approximately 10 square miles in diameter in a region of the San Luis Rey River in the valley of San Jose de Valle. Before 1810, the Cupans had very little contact with outsiders — Spanish or otherwise. They had lived on their land for countless generations, their land including the medicinal hot springs and the village called Cupa. Unfortunately for the Cupenos, the pioneers who trekked West through the southern route, took a trail which trespassed upon their territory. To add insult to injury, American officials in San Diego concluded that a reasonable source of revenue would be taxation upon the Indians of the back country. The Cupans were assessed a $600 tax that with great resentment was finally paid by the villagers.

By the late 1800’s the hot sulfur springs found on the Cupa territories were becoming very popular and attracting visitors from Los Angeles and San Diego. The popularity of the destination and the growing California population began the events which ultimately led to the expulsion of the Cupans from their homeland.

Four years after California became a state, a land survey commission was formed, and cattleman Juan Jose Warner claimed 47,500 acres of what is now Warner Springs. Warner Springs makes up the majority of the Cupan homeland. The property was later purchased by former California Governor John Downey in 1880. Downey then filed a lawsuit — later pursued by his heirs after his death — claiming title to the land and demanding eviction of the Cupenos from the property. The Cupas argued before the courts that Mexican law, as well as the peace treaty that ended the war between Mexico and the United States, ensured Indian rights and precluded the hostile takeover of their land. They argued to no avail. The California courts agreed with Downey and in 1901 the United States Supreme Court affirmed the judgment ordering removal of the Indians.

President Rutherford Hayes, prompted by the Supreme Court holding, declared the Indians “trespassers” and ordered the tribe relocated to Pala, California, just beyond the Palomar Mountains where a 10,000-acre reservation had been established. Pala was a Luiseno reservation then, not Cupa. This act marked the first time in U.S. history that two distinct Indian tribes were herded together in one reservation. This was a blemish upon a nation that prided itself on leading the world into the 20th Century and the cultural and political renaissance that accompanied such a transition.

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