Loss of Land

Native American Indian Loss of Land

There were tremendous damage and loss of land in the United States from the middle of the 19th century to the turn of the 20th century. As Manifest Destiny took hold in the United States, settlers needed natural resources to enhance their lives. There were numerous gold rushes, sizeable amounts of old-growth forests cut down, and farmers took their plows to the Great Plains and other western states.


Losing land not only affected future settlers but the Native American Indians too. As more settlers moved westward, there were more conflicts between Native American Indians. As the destruction of natural resources took place, there was a growing concern by Conservationists to help save the natural environment.

Native American Indian Loss of Land Facts

  • Manifest Destiny was a key player in the loss of lands in the United States during the middle and latter stages of the 19th
  • Losing land was very hard on Native American Indian tribes who lived a nomadic lifestyle in most cases.
  • The loss of habitat led to animal extinctions like the passenger pigeon. Overhunting and poaching led to the demise of the buffalo.
  • Timber from old-growth forests was used to build the Transcontinental Railroad, rebuild the South, and furnished construction materials for booming towns in the West. Timber was used to shore up underground gold, silver, and other mineral mines.
  • The Homestead Act of 1862 was instrumental in allowing farmers to plow up fragile grasslands in the Great Plains.
  • Coal, silver, and gold mining led to a tremendous amount of damage. Hydro mining was especially damaging and led to an increase in the loss of lands.
  • Many waterways contained undrinkable water due to chemicals used in mining and farming. Rivers became clogged with timber and debris cut from old-growth forests. The timber and debris in the waterways prohibited fish from spawning.
  • A new movement named Conservation was born around the 1870s to help save old-growth forests, clean waterways, and stop poachers.


Several gold rushes took place in several areas in the western states beginning in California during 1848. Other places include Colorado in 1859, Montana in 1862, and in the Black Hills in 1876. Gold miners originally placer mined where large nuggets lying on the surface were collected. Over time other techniques were used like hydro mining, where large amounts of water were used to separate gold from the rocky slopes. Open-pit mining was also used along with chemicals that tainted local waterways.

Coal mining was prevalent with large underground mines in places like Colorado and Utah. Other minerals were mined out west to make iron and steel products. Silver was discovered in states like Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado towards the latter part of the century. Underground mining, chemicals, and hydro mining were used to extract silver from the rock.


Millions of acres of old-growth forest were cut down during Manifest Destiny. Timber was needed to furnish buildings for growing settlements, to stabilize underground mines, and a large amount of timber was used to complete the Transcontinental Railroad. Timber was needed to rebuild the South during the Reconstruction Period, which included more railroads and hundreds of buildings. The loss of old-growth trees led to a loss of habitat for many birds and other animals.


After the removal of Native American Indians from the Great Plains, settlers began farming the arid grasslands. The Homestead Act of 1862 encouraged settlers to move westward and began new lives on the prairie. The consequences of plowing under native grasses would be seen later in the 20th century. Farmers tapped into many water sources like rivers, creeks, and underground water to nourish their crops in the arid climate. The actions led to fewer waterways for wildlife and more contaminated waterways.


Losing land during this time period led to the loss of habitat for animals. Birds like the passenger pigeon were hunted into extinction. The American Bison, known as the buffalo, was hunted to decrease the food supplies for Native American Indian tribes. Poachers entered many areas to hunt animals to supply food to East Coast cities and other settled areas along the West Coast.

A new movement

Towards the 1870s, a new movement called Conservation in the United States began to take place. The Conservationists were instrumental in talking about saving land, old-growth forests, and keeping waterways clean.


  1. Around what time period did the Conservation Movement begin?
    The 1870s
  1. What bird lost habitat and was hunted into extinction?
    Passenger pigeons
  1. Where did the timber to shore up mines, build the Transcontinental Railroad, and supply building materials for new settlements?
    Old-growth forests
  1. What law permitted settlers to plow up millions of acres of fragile grassland?
    Homestead Act of 1862
  1. What animal supplied food for Native American Indian tribes and was almost hunted to extinction?
    American Bison are known as a buffalo