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Network: Extraction

​"The Chippewa Tribe grant to the government of the United States the right to search for, and carry away, any metals or minerals from any part of their country."

  • “Treaty With the Chippewa,” August 5, 1826     

​In the 1800s, the extraction of natural resources became an increasingly important financial motivation for U.S. expansion. Lead mining became as profitable as the fur trade. The richest deposits of lead in the world lay in Missouri and in the Fever River region of Illinois and Wisconsin. Avaricious U.S. miners overran these regions, creating frequent crises in U.S.-Indian relations. Government officials such as Lewis Cass mounted expeditions to identify copper d​eposits around the Great Lakes on behalf of mining interests. In other places, gold fields and salt became the targets of U.S. aquisition. 

 

As westward expansion intensified, the forests of the Midwest and Pacific Northwest became seen less as an obstacle to farming and more as a potential source of profit. Mining and lumbering demonstrate the sea change in human relations to the natural world that U.S.-Indian treaties brought about.

Mining

Before th​e colonialist era, many Indigenous nations engaged in relatively low-impact mineral extraction. By the time the U.S. reached the Mississippi, French miners were more intensively extracting lead from the lands of the Sac and Fox, Iowa, Ho Chunk and Osage people. In 1819 mineralogist Henry Schoolcraft wrote A view of the Lead Mines of Missouri​, describing the potential for huge profits in lead mining along the Mississi​​ppi. His book kicked off the first “mineral rush” in U.S. history. Thousands of U.S. miners illegaly occupied the lead fields of Missiouri, Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin, antagonizing Indigenous nations. The treaties by which the U.S. acquired Indigenous land in the miners’ interests were often negotiated and signed by the miners themselves. Schoolcraft was appointed an Indian Agent by Le​wis Cass of Michigan Territory, and his focus switched from lead to copper deposits along the Great Lakes. These deposits became the object of targeted land acquisition treaties that were signed by representatives of copper mining companies.

 

In 1829 a rich gold deposit was discovered in the Cherokee Nation in Georgia. Settlers, who were already avid to acquire Cherokee land, pressed even more forcefully for Cherokee removal and helped motivate the passage of the Indian Removal Act the following year. With successive discoveries of gold in California, Oregon, and Idaho, the mineral rush pattern was repeated – illegal invasions by miners, followed by U.S. military presence and land cession treaties. 

Timber

To early pioneers who pursued a dream of an agrarian republic, forests were an obstacle to be cleared. Many of the men who became prominent in the settler colonies of the Midwest – and therefore helped negotiate U.S.-Indian treaties – were the owners of sawmills. They converted the forests into building materials. In the great pine forests of Wisconsin, however, timber was transformed from an impediment to a profit center. Men who signed the removal treaties that transferred these rich timberlands to U.S. control formed companies that acquired that timber and proccessed it for sale to the “irresistable tide of Anglo-Saxon immigration.” But it was in the Pacific Northwest that the greatest profits from timber were realized. Lumbering wholly replaced the fur trade there as the great moneymaker that motivated the U.S. acquisition of land.