Interactive Map Shows the Seizure of Over 1.5 Billion Acres of Native American Land Between 1776 and 1887

From time to time, Amer­i­cans will talk about the mass killing, treaty-break­ing, impov­er­ish­ment, and forced removal or assim­i­la­tion of Native peo­ples in the U.S. as “a shame­ful peri­od in our his­to­ry.” While this may sound like the noble acknowl­edge­ment of a geno­ci­dal crime, it is far too half-heart­ed and disin­gen­u­ous, since these acts are cen­tral to the entire­ty of U.S. his­to­ry, from the first land­ing of Euro­pean ships on North Amer­i­can shores to the recent events at Stand­ing Rock and beyond. An enor­mous body of schol­ar­ly and pop­u­lar lit­er­a­ture tes­ti­fies to the facts.

For a thor­ough one-vol­ume sur­vey, see Rox­anne Dunbar-Ortiz’s Indige­nous Peo­ples’ His­to­ry of the Unites States, a book that exhaus­tive­ly cites sev­er­al hun­dred years of well-doc­u­ment­ed events, like orders for exter­mi­na­tion and land theft under mil­i­tary lead­ers George Wash­ing­ton, Andrew Jack­son, and Army gen­er­al Thomas S. Jesup. Dun­bar-Ortiz shows how many U.S. mil­i­tary prac­tices and terms (such as the phrase “in coun­try”) came direct­ly from the so-called “Indi­an Wars.”

Take the prac­tice of “scalp hunt­ing,” encour­aged dur­ing the Pequot War and becom­ing rou­tine through­out the peri­od of New Eng­land set­tle­ment in the late 1600’s:

Boun­ties for Indige­nous scalps were hon­ored even in absence of war. Scalps and Indige­nous chil­dren became means of exchange, cur­ren­cy, and this devel­op­ment may even have cre­at­ed a black mar­ket. Scalp hunt­ing was not only a prof­itable pri­va­tized enter­prise but also a means to erad­i­cate or sub­ju­gate the Indige­nous pop­u­la­tion of the Anglo-Amer­i­can Atlantic seaboard. The set­tlers gave a name to the muti­lat­ed and bloody corpses they left in the wake of scalp-hunts: red­skins.

The Amer­i­can foot­ball team cur­rent­ly bear­ing that name and rep­re­sent­ing the nation’s cap­i­tal, as Bax­ter Holmes shows at Esquire, pays trib­ute to the extreme bru­tal­i­ty of mur­der­ing Indige­nous peo­ple and using their scalps as cash. “This way of war,” writes Dun­bar-Ortiz, “became the basis for the wars against the Indige­nous across the con­ti­nent into the late nine­teenth cen­tu­ry.” 

In the GIF above, we see a dra­mat­i­cal­ly tele­scoped visu­al­iza­tion of the “vio­lent seiz­ing of Native Amer­i­cans’ land” after 1776, writes Dylan Matthews at Vox, doc­u­ment­ed by his­to­ri­ans like Dun­bar-Ortiz and Uni­ver­si­ty of Georgia’s Clau­dio Saunt, who, along with Slate’s Rebec­ca Onion, cre­at­ed the graph­ic as a sup­ple­ment for his book West of the Rev­o­lu­tion: An Uncom­mon His­to­ry of 1776. “The project’s source data,” write Saunt and Onion, “is a set of maps pro­duced in 1899 by the Bureau of Amer­i­can Eth­nol­o­gy,” a Smith­son­ian research unit that “pub­lished and col­lect­ed anthro­po­log­i­cal, archae­o­log­i­cal, and lin­guis­tic research… as the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry drew to a close.”

Blue areas show Indige­nous home­lands, red areas show reser­va­tions. The “time-lapse func­tion,” note the map’s cre­ators, “is the most visu­al­ly impres­sive aspect of this inter­ac­tive,” but you can access a “deep lev­el of detail” at the map’s site, such as the names of the hun­dreds of dis­pos­sessed and dis­placed nations and links to the his­tor­i­cal doc­u­men­ta­tion of their land “ces­sion.”

Many of the bound­aries are vague, write Saunt and Onion, “a broad approach that left a lot of room for cre­ative imple­men­ta­tion.” As Saunt puts it, “greater legal­i­ty and more pre­ci­sion would have made it impos­si­ble to seize so much land in so short a time,” just over 100 years shown here, from the 1776 found­ing to 1887, dur­ing which over 1.5 bil­lion acres were seized and occu­pied by fron­tier set­tlers and the U.S. army in what Saunt calls in the map’s title the “Inva­sion of Amer­i­ca.”

View the full map, search­able by place and Indige­nous nation, here. You can also select a sep­a­rate lay­er that shows cur­rent reser­va­tions. See above.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

1,000+ Haunt­ing & Beau­ti­ful Pho­tos of Native Amer­i­can Peo­ples, Shot by the Ethno­g­ra­ph­er Edward S. Cur­tis (Cir­ca 1905)

New Inter­ac­tive Map Visu­al­izes the Chill­ing His­to­ry of Lynch­ing in the U.S. (1835–1964)

Visu­al­iz­ing Slav­ery: The Map Abra­ham Lin­coln Spent Hours Study­ing Dur­ing the Civ­il War

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Huh? says:

    This map of Native Amer­i­can land seizures is… STUNNINGLY incor­rect.

    The map’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion New York State alone is almost com­plete­ly erro­neous. The large part of Upstate New York shown as “seized by colonists before 1776?” That is so stun­ning­ly wrong I don’t even know where to begin. New York State was large­ly under Iro­quois con­trol in 1776 and the dis­pos­ses­sion did­n’t start in earnest until 1779 or so. Then there were many, many bro­ken treaties and carve-ups from 1788 onward. Iro­quois were not com­plete­ly dis­pos­sessed of their lands until the ear­ly 19th cen­tu­ry and even now, it is up for legal debate on how much they still have title to.

    “Don’t believe every­thing you see on the Inter­net” …

  • GM says:

    Well then, that makes it all bet­ter I sup­pose

  • Zap says:

    No point argu­ing with them, bet­ter try­ing to have a intel­li­gent con­ver­sa­tion with a rat­tlesnake. We were can­ni­bal, sav­ages who deserved to have the land tak­en. Like Trump just said, they “tamed” a whole con­ti­nent and no apolo­gies will be giv­en.

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