Trails and Tears

The legacy of the American West is one of hope and opportunities, greed and conquest, trails and tears, broken promises, racism and genocide.

For the settlers who looked to the west with the hope that hard work would bring opportunities for them and their descendants, the west was a bright light on the horizon. For the gold seekers who rushed west to satisfy their greed, the west was a path to enrichment. For the soldiers sent to protect the settlers and miners, the west represented the conquest of territory and the subjugation of the proud independent race that occupied the land.

For the occupants of the land, whose unfortune was to have descended from peoples who came from the west tens of thousands of years ago and not from the east hundreds of years ago, the legacy is one of forced relocation, broken promises, starvation, suffering, disease, and near genocide.

Americans remember the Bataan Death March, where tens of thousands of captured American and Philippine solders were marched across the island without food or water, brutally killed or left to die, held prisoner for years under inhumane conditions by the Japanese. But we barely recognize that a fifty or a hundred years before Bataan the ancestors of these Americans were as brutal to the men, women and children of a race that they considered inferior, just as the Japanese considered westerners.

When I travel west, I think not only of the beauty of the landscape, but also of the westward migration, the gold rushes, the Pony Express and the railroads. But I think of the many Trails of Tears, the Northern Cheyennes fight to return to their homelands, the imprisonment and forced impoverishment of thousands on marginal land, and the slaughter of Wounded Knee.

I am afraid that today we are repeating the past.

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