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During western expansion, immigrant groups moved into new towns, villages, and cities from counties in Texas to the Oregon Territory. Supply, material, land, and transportation were now affordable for the very poor, making it much simpler for them to relocate themselves. New immigrants flowed into the West on a daily basis, transforming its society. Millions of African Americans, Mexican, Chinese, Anglo Americans, and other European immigrants helped construct the West.
In every part of western life, immigrants played an important and integral role. Chinese, Irish, and African Americans worked on the railroads. Mexicans and African Americans became cowboys and cattle herders. The mining population was made up of every ethnicity, all trying to get rich. Germans, Irish, and Scandinavian immigrants became farmers, and African Americans created small, self-contained communities in Kansas and other western states.
Women, African Americans, Asians, Europeans, Indians, Mormons, Hispanics and other groups all contributed to the human geography of the West. The cultures, foods, and diverse traditions they brought with them and maintained were an influential part of the creation and of the western states.
While immigrants transformed the American West positively, there were many attempts to stamp out cultural traditions of groups considered less civilized. For example, there was a big focus on stripping American Indians of their culture using “morality” and education as a means of “killing the Indian but saving the man.” At the Carlisle Indian School, education was used to teach American Indian children to life a more “moral” way of life.
Two types of schools were created to “educate” American Indians: private boarding schools where the children left the reservation and their families, and “day schools” that were close to reservations and where students came for the day and then went home in the evening. These boarding schools were intended to transform all aspects of the children’s life. Students were only allowed to speak English and were not allowed to practice their tribes’ traditions or culture. Day schools focused on teaching the youth white traditions and cultural norms in hopes that they would go home at night and teach parents and elders the “civilized” ways of the whites.
These schools represented a prevailing racist attitude of the time, with programs designed to strip American Indians of their cultural traditions. Thousands of young Indians over a 13-year period attended the schools.
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