As the nation expanded westward across the continent, the Army was tasked with protecting the settlers and representing the federal government in areas where there was little or no other authority. The “Westward Expansion” display, located to the right of the Preserving the Nation sub-gallery, will explore the history of the Soldiers who served on the frontier (1820s-1890s).
Soldiers were faced with challenges as they defended pioneers from hostile American Indians while also protecting Indians who were abiding by treaty agreements from encroaching settlers.
The “Westward Expansion” display will be viewed solely from the Army Concourse. As the exhibit will span nearly a century, it will be divided into two parts—“Opening the West” and “Late Indian Wars.” In the “Opening the West” section, visitors will learn of the Army’s key role in exploring the nation’s frontier and aiding in the movement of settlers west. A large monitor will display an animated map that will feature a fast-paced two-minute video that will show the connection between exploration, settlement, and the Army’s presence as the nation moved to the unsettled territory. Visitors will also learn that as miners and speculators reached the Pacific, Soldiers were called upon to protect and maintain order.
The “Late Indian Wars” section of the display will demonstrate how the Army returned to the western frontier to protect settlers following the Civil War. Within the display, visitors will see a life-size representation of a Buffalo Soldier in field dress wearing his overcoat and mounted on his horse. Interpretive panels will tell the stories of such Soldiers. Visitors will also learn about the Army’s role in establishing forts and posts. In addition, the displays will tell of the Army’s work in maintaining order throughout the west, negotiating treaties with various American Indian tribes, and forcing these tribes onto reservations. Noted clashes between American Indians and Soldiers will include the Battle of Little Big Horn, Geronimo’s campaign in Arizona, and the attack at Wounded Knee. As tensions grew between Indians and settlers, fighting occurred sporadically from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean and from Mexico north to into Canada. By the 1890s, the more than century-long fighting came to an end, and the Army would soon be tasked with service beyond the confines of the North American continent.
Overall, the exhibit will demonstrate the difficult task the Army undertook as the nation expanded westward. By working to maintain peace and order on the frontier, Soldiers proved to be a crucial part of the west’s settlement.