Summary Objective 17

Students will recognize that slavery continued in many forms through most of the 19th century in what is now the United States. Maps to Key Concepts 4, 6, 8 & 10


What else should my students know?

17.A In the Southwest, most bound laborers were Indigenous or Latinx. They were forced into labor through various means, including capture in warfare and debt peonage. Indigenous enslavement in the Southwest was so widespread in the 1800s that by the mid-1860s, almost all property owners in New Mexico enslaved Indigenous people.

17.B Debt peonage was widely used in the West throughout the 1800s. Enslavers claimed that their laborers were working off debts, though these debts could be transferred from one landowner to another and could also be passed from parent to child.

17.C Some Native nations raided Mexico repeatedly, bringing Mexican captives north for sale or for incorporation into their nations. Native nations engaged in the slave trade changed tactics and even purposes over time, as social changes led to different economic needs. For example, while Comanche raiders once conducted raids for the purposes of acquiring captives to sell into slavery, a shifting economy (a rise in the hide trade, for example) led to more incorporation of captives into their own labor force.

17.D Slavery took many forms in California, technically a free state, and expanded after the population boom associated with the California Gold Rush. Some enslaved African Americans were forced to migrate west alongside their enslavers. Many thousands of Indigenous people were held in bondage in households and on ranches and mines. As slavery evolved, mandatory employment laws, forced apprenticeship, vagrancy laws and convict leasing came to control the labor and lives of Indigenous people.

17.E In Utah, Mormons enslaved Indigenous people, holding at least 400 children between 1847 and 1900. The territorial legislature authorized Utah residents to purchase Indigenous children and hold them in bondage. The practice was justified as an attempt to “civilize” or “save” these children; Brigham Young said that Mormons were called to make Indigenous people into “a white and delightsome people.”


How can I teach this?

  • NPR reported on descendants of enslaved Indigenous people in New Mexico who are fighting for recognition of their ancestors’ enslavement.
  • Andrés Reséndez, in his book The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America, covers the long history of Indigenous enslavement in the Americas. Among many other topics, he describes the role of Mormons in the slave trade in Utah. He also notes that 400 Indigenous people were enslaved in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1866, illustrating that Indigenous enslavement continued well into the late 19th century.
  • California’s 1850 Act for the Government and Protection of Indians was used to force many Indigenous Californians into slavery. As many as 10,000 Indigenous Californians were enslaved before 1863.
  • Many resources cover the enslavement of Indigenous people related to the Gold Rush, including a chapter by Jean M. O’Brien in Why You Can’t Teach United States History Without American Indians.
  • RadioWest discussed the history of Mormon enslavement of Indigenous people with history professors Elise Boxer and Matthew Garret.
  • The short film The Forgotten Slavery of Our Ancestors discusses the ways that slavery evolved after the Civil War, allowing the enslavement of Indigenous people to continue in the West well into the 1880s.



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