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Common phrases in the 19th century had very different meanings to the Native Americans than they did to the immigrating Americans. Often, both connotations were different than the denotation.

To Americans, assimilation meant teaching the savage Indians how to be good citizens. Things like learning English, wearing “normal” clothing, living in houses, and getting jobs were part of becoming “good” citizens. To the Indians, assimilation meant being deprived of their culture. All that they knew would have to be given up in favor of the newer American lifestyle. Instead of being accepted and understood, the were considered inferior, and equal with animals.

Territorial expansion means increasing the physical size of a country, but it meant exploring new frontiers, and improving the country to the new Americans. Due to the finite nature of the continent, territorial expansion meant the opposite to the Native Americans. As the Americans expanded their country, the Indians lost hunting and sacred grounds. The Americans became excited as the country grew, while the Indians were weakened by the decreased supply of food, and disheartened by the loss of spiritually significant sites.

Literally, reservation meant saving something for a particular person or group of people, but reservations were considered by the new Americans to be a way of dealing with the “Indian problem.” It got the Native Americans out of the way of people settling the frontier. It was also the beginning of Americanizing the Native Americans, which was obviously a contradiction. The Native Americans saw the contradiction, but were not powerful enough to do anything about it, as they were being rounded up and marched to small designated areas, viewed by the Native Americans to be prison camps. They didn’t have enough supplies to live decently, much less build resistance to the new Americans.

Soldiers, considered by whites to be heroes for taming the savages, were considered by the Indians to be, inhumane beasts that killed innocent women and children, sometimes raping and then mutilating them. They also killed unarmed or sleeping warriors, and sometimes killed Indians waving white flags. Warriors and braves were heroes of the Indians, protecting the tribes from barbaric soldiers, but were considered to be the most savage by the Americans for protecting their sacred grounds, hunting grounds, and people.

Homesteaders considered themselves to be adventurous and entrepreneurial; an opinion shared by the majority of the white population. They often moved west to find something better, to escape the problems of their current life, and to start over. To the natives, they were invaders, with no respect for Indian lands. They fouled the land, destroyed sacred areas, and took over hunting grounds. Whites also killed game unnecessarily, cutting further into the Indians’ food supply.

Manifest Destiny was the belief of the Americans that it was inevitable that the United States would expand over the entire continent. They believed that this was both good and right, and that it was their God-given opportunity for liberty and self-government. Again, the Indians were on the opposite side, because as the American empire grew, the Indian empire was squeezed smaller. Manifest Destiny threatened to eliminate the entire Indian nation. They would be forced to give up their culture in favor of the American culture.

Over all, Native American connotations and white American connotations were on opposite ends of the spectrum, with the true meaning somewhere in the middle. The white American meanings were euphemistic to a fault, disguising inhumane acts and blaming the Native Americans. The Native American interpretations of the same words were pejorative, which was actually a fairly accurate description of events.