Two Animated Maps Show the Expansion of the U.S. from the Different Perspectives of Settlers & Native Peoples

After John Ford, the his­to­ry of U.S. expan­sion went by the name “How the West Was Won.” Decades ear­li­er, in his essay “Annex­a­tion,” Jack­son­ian jour­nal­ist John O’Sullivan famous­ly coined the phrase “man­i­fest des­tiny.” His­to­ri­an Richard Slotkin called it “regen­er­a­tion through vio­lence” and nov­el­ist Cor­mac McCarthy summed up the jagged, ever-mov­ing line of west­ward expan­sion from sea to sea with two words: Blood Merid­i­an.

Indige­nous ver­sions of the sto­ry do not tend to enter com­mon par­lance in quite the same way, a fact upon which Vine Delo­ria, Jr. remarks in his “Indi­an Man­i­festo,” Custer Died for Your Sins. Vio­lence is always cen­tral to the sto­ry. Usu­al­ly the sav­agery of Native peo­ple is tak­en for grant­ed. Sav­agery of set­tlers may be more or less empha­sized. Yet the long his­to­ry of land theft over the course of the cen­turies is also one of bro­ken treaty after treaty.

Few tribes were defeat­ed in war by the Unit­ed States, but most sold some land and allowed the Unit­ed States to hold the remain­der in trust for them. In turn, the tribes acknowl­edged the sov­er­eign­ty of the Unit­ed States in pref­er­ence to oth­er pos­si­ble sov­er­eigns.

Caught between war­ring Euro­pean empires, Indige­nous nations made the best deals they could with the advanc­ing U.S. and its army of Civ­il War vet­er­ans. “From this hum­ble begin­ning the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment stole some two bil­lion acres of land and con­tin­ues to take what it can with­out arous­ing the ire of the igno­rant pub­lic.”

The bru­tal­i­ty of the 19th cen­tu­ry became pro­fes­sion­al­ized, car­ried out by reg­u­lars in uni­form, hence the detached lan­guage of “Indi­an wars.” These were fol­lowed by oth­er kinds of vio­lence: insti­tu­tion­al­ized pater­nal­ism, fur­ther encroach­ment and enclo­sure, and the forced removal of thou­sands of chil­dren from their par­ents and into reed­u­ca­tion camps.

The two maps you see here, with sweep­ing­ly broad visu­al ges­tures in gif form, illus­trate the 19th cen­tu­ry seizure of land across the North Amer­i­can con­ti­nent from the per­spec­tive of a U.S. nation­al his­to­ry and that of an Indige­nous mul­ti-nation­al his­to­ry. The map at the top traces the sto­ry from the coun­try’s begin­nings in the 13 colonies to the annex­a­tion, pur­chase, and final­ly state­hood of Hawaii and Alas­ka in 1959.

The above map is more focused, span­ning the years 1810 to 1891. As Nick Rout­ley points out in a post at Visu­al Cap­i­tal­ist, “five of the largest expan­sion events in U.S. his­to­ry” took place dur­ing the 1800s, though the first one he cites falls out­side the time­line above. The 1803 Louisiana Pur­chase end­ed up acquir­ing what now makes up “near­ly 25% of the cur­rent ter­ri­to­ry of the Unit­ed States, stretch­ing from New Orleans all the way up to Mon­tana and North Dako­ta.”

Oth­er notable events include the 1819 pur­chase of Flori­da from Spain by John Quin­cy Adams, the afore­men­tioned pur­chase of Alas­ka from Rus­sia, and the 1845 annex­a­tion of Texas. The Mex­i­can-Amer­i­can War of 1848 gets less men­tion these days, though it expand­ed slav­ery and was quite hot­ly debat­ed at the time by such prin­ci­pled fig­ures as Hen­ry David Thore­au, who refused to pay his poll tax over it and wrote “Civ­il Dis­obe­di­ence” while in jail.

In the so-called Mex­i­can Ces­sion, Texas became a state and “the Unit­ed States took con­trol of a huge par­cel of land that includes the present-day states of Cal­i­for­nia, Neva­da, and Utah, as well as por­tions of Ari­zona, Col­orado, New Mex­i­co, and Wyoming.” Mex­i­co, on the oth­er hand, “saw the size of their ter­ri­to­ry halved.” After each seizure of ter­ri­to­ry, mass migra­tions west­ward com­menced in wave upon wave.

Route­ly does not sur­vey these migra­tion events, but you can learn about them in accounts like Rox­anne Dunbar-Ortiz’s Indige­nous People’s His­to­ry of the Unit­ed States and Deloria’s man­i­festo. When we approach the found­ing and expan­sion of the U.S. from mul­ti­ple per­spec­tives, both visu­al and his­tor­i­cal, we under­stand why crit­i­cal his­to­ri­ans often use the phrase “set­tler colo­nial­ism” rather than “west­ward expan­sion” or its syn­onyms. And why the overused and lim­it­ed phrase “nation of immi­grants” might just as well be “nation of migrants.”

via Visu­al Cap­i­tal­ist

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

Native Lands: An Inter­ac­tive Map Reveals the Indige­nous Lands on Which Mod­ern Nations Were Built

The Atlantic Slave Trade Visu­al­ized in Two Min­utes: 10 Mil­lion Lives, 20,000 Voy­ages, Over 315 Years

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

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