How did different groups in the West experience U.S. expansion?
First edition. July 2011.

At the dawn of the nineteenth century, North America was home to diverse Native American, European, and African groups. These groups and individuals experienced U.S. expansion in very different ways. Groups betrayed and fought each other, but they also worked to understand each other across a chasm of cultural difference. In later years, people in the United States would tell a story of westward expansion that left out the violence and racism, as well as the mutual adaptation, that accompanied this conquest. In many senses the very term “westward expansion” conveys an overly benign and incomplete sense of what actually transpired.

In recent years, scholars have worked to reexamine the history of the West by focusing on Native American groups. With limited sources, they have struggled to piece together histories that do not generalize the experiences of Native Americans, and that accurately portray the complicated interactions that occurred in the West.


Westward Expansion: A New History looks at this reexamined history through two lenses. First, students explore U.S. expansion from a broad perspective by considering the major events and policies that accompanied U.S. westward growth in the nineteenth century. In Part II, students explore this history on a local level using the groundbreaking research of Brown University Professor Karl Jacoby on the effects of U.S. expansion on groups in southern Arizona. This case study is not emblematic of the entire West; rather, it allows students to understand the complicated and violent ways in which U.S. expansion affected specific individuals and communities. Finally, students consider the ways in which we remember history, and efforts to re-envision the past.

Preview this unit. Preview includes the Table of Contents for the Student Text and the Teacher Resource Book as well as a student reading excerpt and one lesson plan.


Legend as an Historical Source

In this lesson students examine a Kiowa legend about smallpox and consider its value as an historical source.

The Status of Indians in the U.S.

After examining U.S. Supreme Court Justice Marshall's decision on the status of Indians in the U.S., students analyze the government's role in determining the status of Native American groups.

Students are challenged to use maps to consider multiple perspectives on Westward Expansion.

Maps from Four Perspectives

Students practice map-reading skills and connect geography to historical events. Students use maps to explore claims that different groups made on lands in southern Arizona.

Indian Records from Arizona

Students use O'odham calendar sticks as primary sources to consider the connection between local history and the wider history of North America.

Considering the Perspectives

Working cooperatively, students research and present multiple perspectives about issues at play in southern Arizona in 1871, and consider the ways U.S. westward expansion affected different groups there.

Rewriting History

In this activity, students analyze two accounts from 1871 of the attack at Camp Grant and consider the effects of missing voices in history.

Remembering Views of the Past

Students design an exhibit for the Aravaipa Canyon Visitor's Center and reflect on the impact of U.S. westward expansion and the ways that people think about this history.

Students consider the power of an artistic image to influence an audience’s understanding of historical events.

Assessment Using Documents

Students analyze primary and secondary sources in order to answer questions about the social, political, and economic factors that led to the decline of the buffalo population.

Supplemental Resources

Additional reference material for added context and support.


Calloway, Colin G. (ed). Our Hearts Fell to the Ground: Plains Indian Views of How the West was Lost (Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press, 1996). 208 pages.

Jacoby, Karl. Shadows at Dawn: An Apache Massacre and the Violence of History (New York: Penguin Books, 2008). 278 pages.

Prucha, Francis Paul (ed). Documents of United States Indian Policy, 3rd ed. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000). 377 pages.

White, Richard. It's Your Misfortune and None of My Own: A New History of the American West (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991). 634 pages.

The website for the book Shadows at Dawn by Karl Jacoby. The site includes photographs, a timeline, maps, primary source documents, and additional lesson plans related to the Camp Grant attack and the history of southern Arizona.
The topics page for all National Archives materials on westward expansion, including many photographs and primary source documents.
The homepage of "We Shall Remain," a mini-series that aired on PBS American Experience in April 2009 and explores Native American experiences of U.S. expansion. The site includes full episodes, as well as additional video and audio resources.
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