|American Indian Wars|
An 1899 chromolithograph of US cavalry pursuing American Indians; artist unknown
American Indians (1540-1924)
First Nations (1540-1924)
Provisional Government of Saskatchewan (1885)
Spanish Empire (1540-1821)
Kingdom of France (1540-1763)
Kingdom of England (1607-1707)
Dutch Empire (1614-1664)
Swedish Empire (1638-55)
Russian Empire (1741-1867)
United States of America (1776-1924)
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Republic of Texas (1836-1846)
California Republic (1846)
Confederate States of America (1861-1865)
Dominion of Canada (1867-1924)
Dominion of Newfoundland (1907-1924)
The American Indian Wars (or Indian Wars) is the collective name for the various armed conflicts fought by European governments and colonists, and later the United States government and American settlers, against various American Indian tribes. These conflicts occurred within the United States and Canada from the time of the earliest colonial settlements in the 17th century until the 1920s. The various Indian Wars resulted from a wide variety of sources, including cultural clashes, land disputes, and criminal acts committed on both sides. European powers and the colonies also enlisted Indian tribes to help them conduct warfare against one another's colonial settlements.
After the American Revolution, many conflicts were local to specific states or regions and frequently involved disputes over land use; some entailed cycles of violent reprisal. The British Royal Proclamation of 1763 included in the Constitution of Canada prohibited white settlers from taking the lands of Indigenous peoples in Canada without signing a treaty with them. It continues to be the law in Canada today, and 11 Numbered Treaties covering most of the First Nations lands limited the number of such conflicts.
As white settlers spread westward after 1780, the size, duration, and intensity of armed conflicts increased between settlers and Indians. The climax came in the War of 1812, which resulted in the defeat of major Indian coalitions in the Midwest and the South; conflict with settlers became much less common. Conflicts were resolved by treaty, often through sale or exchange of territory between the federal government and specific tribes. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 authorized the US government to enforce the Indian removal east of the Mississippi River to the other side of the sparsely populated American frontier. The policy of removal was eventually refined to relocate Indian tribes to specially designated and federally protected reservations.
The colonization of North America by the English, French, Spanish, Dutch, and Swedish was resisted by some Indian tribes and assisted by other tribes. Wars and other armed conflicts in the 17th and 18th centuries included:
In several instances, warfare in North America was a reflection of European rivalries, with American Indian tribes splitting their alliances among the powers, siding with their trading partners. Various tribes fought on each side in King William's War, Queen Anne's War, Dummer's War, King George's War, and the French and Indian War, allying with British or French colonists according to their own self interests.
Similarly, in the American Revolution and the War of 1812, Indian tribes in the territories of conflict differed in their alliances. The Cherokees supported the British in the Revolution and raided frontier American settlements in the hope of driving out the settlers. Other tribes fought for the American Patriots, such as the Oneida people and Tuscarora people of the Iroquois Confederacy in New York.
East of the Mississippi (post-1775)
In the period after the American Revolution (1783-1812), British merchants and government agents supplied weapons to Indians living in the United States in the hope that, if a war broke out, the Indians would fight on the British side. They planned to set up an Indian nation in the Ohio-Wisconsin area to block further American expansion. The US protested and went to war in 1812. Most Indian tribes supported the British, especially those allied with Tecumseh, but they were ultimately defeated by General William Henry Harrison. The War of 1812 spread to Indian rivalries, as well.
Many refugees from defeated tribes went over the border to Canada; those in the South went to Florida while it was under Spanish control. During the early 19th century, the federal government was under pressure by settlers in many regions to expel Indians from their areas. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 offered Indians the choices of assimilation and giving up tribal membership, relocation to an Indian reservation with an exchange or payment for lands, or movement west. Some resisted fiercely, most notably the Seminoles in a series of wars in Florida. They were never defeated, although some Seminoles did remove to Indian Territory. The United States gave up on the remainder, by then living defensively deep in the swamps and Everglades. Others were moved to reservations west of the Mississippi River, most famously the Cherokee whose relocation was called the "Trail of Tears."
The American Revolutionary War was essentially two parallel wars for the American Patriots. The war in the east was a struggle against British rule, while the war in the west was an "Indian War". The newly proclaimed United States competed with the British for control of the territory east of the Mississippi River. Some Indians sided with the British, as they hoped to reduce American settlement and expansion. In one writer's opinion, the Revolutionary War was "the most extensive and destructive" Indian war in United States history.
Some Indian tribes were divided over which side to support in the war, such as the Iroquois Confederacy based in New York and Pennsylvania who split: the Oneida and Tuscarora sided with the American Patriots, and the Mohawk, Seneca, Cayuga, and Onondaga sided with the British. The Iroquois tried to avoid fighting directly against one another, but the Revolution eventually forced intra-Iroquois combat, and both sides lost territory following the war. The Crown aided the landless Iroquois by rewarding them with a reservation at Grand River in Ontario and some other lands. In the Southeast, the Cherokee split into a pro-patriot faction versus a pro-British faction that the Americans referred to as the Chickamauga Cherokee; they were led by Dragging Canoe. Many other tribes were similarly divided.
When the British made peace with the Americans in the Treaty of Paris (1783), they ceded a vast amount of Indian territory to the United States. Indian tribes who had sided with the British and had fought against the Americans were enemy combatants, as far as the United States was concerned; they were a conquered people who had lost their land.
These frontier conflicts were almost nonstop, beginning with Cherokee involvement in the American Revolutionary War and continuing through late 1794. The so-called "Chickamauga Cherokee", later called "Lower Cherokee," were those, at first from the Overhill Towns and later from the Lower Towns, Valley Towns, and Middle Towns, who followed the war leader Dragging Canoe southwest, first to the Chickamauga Creek area (near modern-day Chattanooga, Tennessee), then to the Five Lower Towns. There they were joined by groups of Muskogee, white Tories, runaway slaves, and renegade Chickasaw, as well as by more than a hundred Shawnee, in exchange for whom a hundred Chickamauga Cherokee warriors migrated north, along with another seventy a few years later. The primary objects of attack were the Washington District colonies along the Watauga, Holston, and Nolichucky rivers, and in Carter's Valley in upper eastern Tennessee, as well as the settlements along the Cumberland River beginning with Fort Nashborough in 1780, even into Kentucky, plus against the colonies, the Franklin settlements, and later states of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. The scope of attacks by the Chickamauga/Lower Cherokee and their allies ranged from quick raids by small war parties of a handful of warriors to large campaigns by four or five hundred, and once over a thousand, warriors. The Upper Muskogee under Dragging Canoe's close ally Alexander McGillivray frequently joined their campaigns as well as operated separately, and the settlements on the Cumberland came under attack from the Chickasaw, Shawnee from the north, and Delaware. Campaigns by Dragging Canoe and his successor, John Watts, were frequently conducted in conjunction with campaigns in the Northwest. The response by the colonists were usually attacks in which Cherokee towns in peaceful areas were completely destroyed, though usually without great loss of life on either side. The wars continued until the Treaty of Tellico Blockhouse in November 1794.
In 1787, the Northwest Ordinance officially organized the Northwest Territory for white settlement. American settlers began pouring into the region. Violence erupted as indigenous tribes resisted this encroachment, and so the administration of President George Washington sent armed expeditions into the area to suppress native resistance. However, in the Northwest Indian War, a pan-tribal confederacy led by Blue Jacket (Shawnee), Little Turtle (Miami),Buckongahelas (Lenape), and Egushawa (Ottawa) crushed armies led by Generals Josiah Harmar and Arthur St. Clair. General St. Clair's defeat was the most severe loss ever inflicted upon an American army by Native Americans. The Americans attempted to negotiate a settlement, but Blue Jacket and the Shawnee-led confederacy insisted on a boundary line that the Americans found unacceptable, and so a new expedition led by General Anthony Wayne was dispatched. Wayne's army defeated the Indian confederacy at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. The Indians had hoped for British assistance; when that was not forthcoming, the indigenous people were compelled to sign the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, which ceded modern-day Ohio and part of Indiana to the United States.
By 1800, the many millions of Native Americans had been reduced to 600,000 Native Americans in the area now comprising the continental United States. By 1890, their population had declined to about 250,000. The United States continued to gain title to Native American land after the Treaty of Greenville, at a rate that created alarm in Indian communities. In 1800, William Henry Harrison became governor of the Indiana Territory and, under the direction of President Thomas Jefferson, pursued an aggressive policy of obtaining titles to Indian lands. Two Shawnee brothers, Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa, organized Tecumseh's War, another pan-tribal resistance to American expansion.
While Tecumseh was in the South attempting to recruit allies among the Creeks, Cherokees, and Choctaws, Harrison marched against the Indian confederacy, defeating Tenskwatawa and his followers at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. The Americans hoped that the victory would end the militant resistance, but Tecumseh instead chose to ally openly with the British, who were soon at war with the Americans in the War of 1812.
Like the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 was also a massive war on the western front. Encouraged by Tecumseh, the Creek War (1813-1814), which began as a civil war within the Creek (Muscogee) nation, became part of the larger struggle against American expansion. Although the war with the British was ultimately a stalemate, the United States was more successful on the western front. Tecumseh was killed by Harrison's army at the Battle of the Thames, ending the resistance in the Old Northwest. The Creeks who fought against the United States were defeated. The First Seminole War in 1818 was in some ways a continuation of the Creek War and resulted in the transfer of Florida to the United States in 1819 from Spain.
As in the Revolution and the Northwest Indian War, the British abandoned their Indian allies to the Americans after the War of 1812. This proved to be a major turning point in the Indian Wars, marking the last time that Native Americans would turn to a foreign power for assistance against the United States.
Numerous Indian removal treaties were signed. Most American Indians reluctantly but peacefully complied with the terms of the removal treaties, often with bitter resignation. Some groups, however, went to war to resist the implementation of these treaties, e.g., two short wars (the Black Hawk War of 1832 and the Creek War of 1836), as well as the long and costly Second Seminole War (1835-1842).
American settlers began to push into Florida, which was now an American territory and had some of the most fertile lands in the nation. Paul Hoffman claims that covetousness, racism, and "self-defense" against Indian raids (real or imagined) were common in the 1820s and played a major part in the settlers' determination to "rid Florida of Indians once and for all". To compound the tension, runaway black slaves sometimes found refuge in Seminole camps. The inevitable result was clashes between white settlers and the Indians residing there. Andrew Jackson sought to alleviate this problem by signing the Indian Removal Act, which stipulated forced relocation of Indians (if necessary) out of Florida. The Seminoles were relatively new arrivals in Florida, led by such powerful leaders as Aripeka (Sam Jones), Micanopy, and Osceola, and they had no intention of leaving their new lands. They retaliated against the settlers, and this led to the Second Seminole War, the longest and most costly war that the Army ever waged against Indians.
In May 1830, the Indian Removal Act was passed by Congress which stipulated forced removal of Indians to Oklahoma. Also in Florida in May 1832, the Treaty of Paynes Landing was signed by a few Seminole chiefs who later recanted, claiming that they were tricked or forced to sign and making it clear that they would not consent to relocating to a reservation out west. The Seminoles' continued resistance to relocation led Florida to prepare for war. The St. Augustine Militia asked the US War Department for the loan of 500 muskets, and 500 volunteers were mobilized under Brig. Gen. Richard K. Call. Indian war parties raided farms and settlements, and families fled to forts, large towns, or out of the territory altogether. A war party led by Osceola captured a Florida militia supply train, killing eight of its guards and wounding six others. Most of the goods taken were recovered by the militia in another fight a few days later. Sugar plantations were destroyed along the Atlantic coast south of St. Augustine, Florida, with many of the slaves on the plantations joining the Seminoles.
The US Army had 11 companies (about 550 soldiers) stationed in Florida. Fort King (Ocala) had only one company of soldiers, and it was feared that they might be overrun by the Seminoles. Three companies were stationed at Fort Brooke (Tampa), with another two expected imminently, so the army decided to send two companies to Fort King. On December 23, 1835, the two companies totaling 110 men left Fort Brooke under the command of Major Francis L. Dade. Seminoles shadowed the marching soldiers for five days, and they ambushed the soldiers and wiped out the command on December 28. Only three men survived, and one was hunted down and killed by a Seminole the next day. Survivors Ransome Clarke and Joseph Sprague returned to Fort Brooke. Clarke died of his wounds later, and he provided the only account of the battle from the army's perspective. The Seminoles lost three men and five wounded. On the same day as the massacre, Osceola and his followers shot and killed Agent Wiley Thompson and six others during an ambush outside of Fort King.
On December 29, General Clinch left Fort Drane with 750 soldiers, including 500 volunteers on an enlistment due to end January 1, 1836. The group was traveling to a Seminole stronghold called the Cove of the Withlacoochee, an area of many lakes on the southwest side of the Withlacoochee River. When they reached the river, the soldiers could not find the ford, so Clinch ferried his regular troops across the river in a single canoe. Once they were across and had relaxed, the Seminoles attacked. The troops fixed bayonets and charged the Seminoles, at the cost of four dead and 59 wounded. The militia provided cover as the army troops then withdrew across the river.
In the Battle of Lake Okeechobee, Colonel Zachary Taylor saw the first major action of the campaign. He left Fort Gardiner on the upper Kissimmee River with 1,000 men on December 19 and headed towards Lake Okeechobee. In the first two days, 90 Seminoles surrendered. On the third day, Taylor stopped to build Fort Basinger where he left his sick and enough men to guard the Seminoles who had surrendered. Taylor's column caught up with the main body of the Seminoles on the north shore of Lake Okeechobee on December 25.
The Seminoles were led by "Alligator", Sam Jones, and the recently escaped Coacoochee, and they were positioned in a hammock surrounded by sawgrass. The ground was thick mud, and sawgrass easily cuts and burns the skin. Taylor had about 800 men, while the Seminoles numbered fewer than 400. Taylor sent in the Missouri volunteers first, moving his troops squarely into the center of the swamp. His plan was to make a direct attack rather than encircle the Indians. All his men were on foot. As soon as they came within range, the Indians opened with heavy fire. The volunteers broke and their commander Colonel Gentry was fatally wounded, so they retreated back across the swamp. The fighting in the sawgrass was deadliest for five companies of the Sixth Infantry; every officer but one was killed or wounded, along with most of their non-commissioned officers. The soldiers suffered 26 killed and 112 wounded, compared to 11 Seminoles killed and 14 wounded. No Seminoles were captured, although Taylor did capture 100 ponies and 600 head of cattle.
By 1842, the war was winding down and most Seminoles had left Florida for Oklahoma. The US Army officially recorded 1,466 deaths in the Second Seminole War, mostly from disease. The number killed in action is less clear. Mahon reports 328 regular army killed in action, while Missall reports that Seminoles killed 269 officers and men. Almost half of those deaths occurred in the Dade Massacre, Battle of Lake Okeechobee, and Harney Massacre. Similarly, Mahon reports 69 deaths for the Navy, while Missal reports 41 for the Navy and Marine Corps. Mahon and the Florida Board of State Institutions agree that 55 volunteer officers and men were killed by the Seminoles, while Missall says that the number is unknown. A northern newspaper carried a report that more than 80 civilians were killed by Indians in Florida in 1839. By the end of 1843, 3,824 Indians had been shipped from Florida to the Indian Territory.
West of the Mississippi
The series of conflicts in the western United States between Native Americans, American settlers, and the United States Army are generally known as the Indian Wars. Many of the most well-known of these conflicts occurred during and after the Civil War until the closing of the frontier in about 1890. However regions of the West that were settled before the Civil War, such as Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Oregon, California and Washington, saw significant conflicts prior to 1860.
Various statistics have been developed concerning the devastation of these wars on the peoples involved. One notable study by Gregory Michno used records dealing with figures "as a direct result of" engagements and concluded that "of the 21,586 total casualties tabulated in this survey, military personnel and civilians accounted for 6,596 (31%), while Indian casualties totaled about 14,990 (69%)." for the period of 1850-90. However, Michno says he "used the army's estimates in almost every case" and "the number of casualties in this study are inherently biased toward army estimations". His work includes almost nothing on "Indian war parties", and that "army records are often incomplete"; his work is a "workable" number, not a definitive account of events, since it excluded other figures.
According to Michno, more conflicts with Native Americans occurred in the states bordering Mexico than in the interior states. Arizona ranked highest, with 310 known battles fought within the state's boundaries between Americans and the natives. Also, when determining how many deaths resulted from the wars, in each of the American states, Arizona again ranked highest. At least 4,340 people were killed, including both the settlers and the Indians, over twice as many as occurred in Texas, the second highest-ranking state. Most of the deaths in Arizona were caused by the Apache. Michno also says that fifty-one percent of the Indian war battles between 1850 and 1890 took place in Arizona, Texas and New Mexico, as well as thirty-seven percent of the casualties in the country west of the Mississippi River.
The region that would later be the western United States had been penetrated by U.S. forces and settlers before this period, notably by fur trappers, the Santa Fe Trail, the Oregon Trail and the Mormon emigration to Utah, as well as by settlement of California and Oregon. Relations between American Immigrants and Native Americans were generally peaceful. In the case of the Santa Fe Trail, this was due to the friendly relationship of the Bents of Bent's Fort with the Cheyenne and Arapaho, and in the case of the Oregon Trail, to the peace established by the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Signed in 1851 between the United States and the plains Indians and the Indians of the northern Rocky Mountains, the treaty allowed passage by immigrants and the building of roads and the stationing of troops along the Oregon Trail.
The Pike's Peak Gold Rush of 1859 introduced a substantial white population into the Front Range of the Rockies supported by a trading lifeline that crossed the central Great Plains. Advancing settlement following the passage of the Homestead Act and the building of the transcontinental railways following the Civil War further destabilized the situation, placing white settlers into direct competition for the land and resources of the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountain West. Further factors included discovery of gold in the Black Hills, resulting in the gold rush of 1875-1878, and, earlier, in Montana during the Montana Gold Rush of 1862-1863 and the opening of the Bozeman Trail, which led to Red Cloud's War and later the Great Sioux War of 1876-77.
As in the East, expansion into the plains and mountains by miners, ranchers and settlers led to increasing conflicts with the indigenous population of the West. Many tribes--from the Utes of the Great Basin to the Nez Perces of Idaho--fought Americans at one time or another. But the Sioux of the Northern Plains and the Apache of the Southwest provided the most celebrated opposition to encroachment on tribal lands. Led by resolute, militant leaders, such as Red Cloud and Crazy Horse, the Sioux were skilled at high-speed mounted warfare. The Sioux were relatively new arrivals on the Plains, as, previously, they had been sedentary farmers in the Great Lakes region. Once they learned to capture and ride horses, they moved west, displacing other Indian tribes and became feared warriors. Historically the Apache bands supplemented their economy by raiding others and practiced warfare to avenge a death of a kinsman. The Apache bands were adept at fighting and highly elusive in the environments of desert and canyons.
During the American Civil War, U.S. Army units were withdrawn to fight the war in the east. They were replaced by the volunteer infantry and cavalry raised by the states of California and Oregon, by the western territorial governments or the local militias. These units fought the Indians besides keeping open communications with the east, holding the west for the Union and defeating the Confederate attempt to capture the New Mexico Territory.
After 1865 national policy called for all Indians either to assimilate into the general population as citizens, or to live peacefully on reservations. Raids and wars between tribes were not allowed, and armed Indian bands off a reservation were the responsibility of the Army to round up and return.
In the 18th century, Spanish settlers in Texas came into conflict with the Apache, Comanche, and Karankawa, among other tribes. Large numbers of Anglo-American settlers reached Texas in the 1830s, and from that point until the 1870s, a series of armed confrontations broke out, mostly between Texans and Comanches. During the same period the Comanche and their allies raided hundreds of miles deep into Mexico (see Comanche-Mexico Wars).
The first notable battle was the Fort Parker massacre in 1836, in which a huge war party of Comanches, Kiowa, Wichitas, and Delawares attacked the Texan outpost at Fort Parker. Despite the small number of white settlers killed during the raid, the abduction of Cynthia Ann Parker and two other children caused widespread outrage among Texas' Anglo settlers.
Once the Republic of Texas was declared and had secured some sovereignty in their war with Mexico, the Texas government under President Sam Houston pursued a policy of engagement with the Comanches and Kiowa. Ironically, since Houston had lived with the Cherokee, the republic faced a conflict called the Cordova Rebellion, in which Cherokees appear to have joined with Mexican forces to fight the fledgling country. Houston resolved the conflict without resorting to arms, refusing to believe that the Cherokee would take up arms against his government. The administration of Mirabeau B. Lamar, which followed Houston's, took a very different policy towards the Indians. Under Lamar, Texas removed the Cherokee to the west, and then sought to deport the Comanche and Kiowa. This led to a series of battles, including the Council House Fight, in which, at a peace parley, the Texas militia killed 33 Comanche chiefs. The Comanche retaliated with the Great Raid of 1840, and the Battle of Plum Creek followed several days later.
The Lamar Administration was known for its failed and expensive Indian policy; the cost of the war with the Indians exceeded the annual revenue of the government throughout his four-year term. It was followed by a second Houston administration, which resumed the previous policy of diplomacy. Texas signed treaties with all of the tribes, including the Comanche. The Comanche and their allies shifted most of their raiding activities to Mexico, using Texas as a safe haven from Mexican retaliation.
After Texas joined the Union in 1846, the struggle between the Plains Indians and the settlers was taken up by the federal government and the state of Texas. The years 1856-1858 were particularly vicious and bloody on the Texas frontier, as settlers continued to expand their settlements into the Comanche homeland, the Comancheria, and 1858 was marked by the first Texan incursion into the heart of the Comancheria, the so-called Antelope Hills Expedition, marked by the Battle of Little Robe Creek. This battle signaled the beginning of the end of the Comanche as an independent nation, as, for the first time, they were attacked in the heart of their domain, in force.
The battles between settlers and Indians continued and in 1860, at the Battle of Pease River, Texas militia destroyed an Indian camp. In the aftermath of the battle, the Texans learned that they had recaptured Cynthia Ann Parker, the little girl captured by the Comanche in 1836. She returned to live with the Parkers, but missed her children, including her son Quanah Parker. He was the son of Parker and Comanche Chief Peta Nocona and would go on to be a Comanche war chief at the First Battle of Adobe Walls. As chief of the Quahadi Comanches, he finally surrendered to the overwhelming force of the federal government and in 1875 moved to a reservation in southwestern Oklahoma.
A number of wars occurred in the wake of the Oregon Treaty of 1846 and the creation of Oregon Territory and Washington Territory. Among the causes of conflict were a sudden immigration to the region and a series of gold rushes throughout the Pacific Northwest. The Whitman massacre of 1847 triggered the Cayuse War, which led to fighting from the Cascade Range to the Rocky Mountains. The Cayuse were defeated in 1855, but by then the conflict had expanded and continued in what became known as the Yakima War, 1855-1858. One of the triggers of the Yakima War was the creation of Washington Territory and the effort of its first governor, Isaac Stevens, to compel tribes to sign treaties ceding land and establishing reservations. The Yakama signed one of the treaties negotiated during the Walla Walla Council of 1855, and the Yakama Indian Reservation was established. The treaties were poorly received by the native peoples and served mainly to intensify hostilities. Gold discoveries near Fort Colville resulted in many miners crossing Yakama lands via Naches Pass, and conflicts rapidly escalated into violence. It took several years for the US Army to defeat the Yakama, during which time war spread to the Puget Sound region west of the Cascades. The Puget Sound War of 1855-1856 was triggered in part by the Yakima War and in part by the use of intimidation to compel tribes to sign land cession treaties. The Treaty of Medicine Creek, signed in 1855, established an unrealistically small reservation on poor land for the Nisqually and Puyallup people. Violence broke out in the White River valley, along the route to Naches Pass, which connected Nisqually and Yakama lands. Although limited in its magnitude, territorial impact and losses in terms of lives, the Puget Sound War is often remembered in connection with the 1856 Battle of Seattle and the execution of a central figure of the war, Nisqually Chief Leschi.
In 1858, the fighting on the east side of the Cascades spread. This second phase of the Yakima War is known as the Coeur d'Alene War. The Yakama, Palouse, Spokane, and Coeur d'Alene tribes were defeated at the Battle of Four Lakes in late 1858.
In southwest Oregon, tensions and skirmishes between American settlers and the Rogue River peoples, starting about 1850, escalated into the Rogue River Wars of 1855-1856. The California Gold Rush helped fuel a large increase in the number of people traveling south through the Rogue River Valley.
Gold discoveries continued to trigger violent conflict between prospectors and indigenous peoples. Beginning in 1858, the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush in British Columbia drew large numbers of miners, many from Washington, Oregon, and California, culminating in the Fraser Canyon War. Although this conflict occurred in what is now Canada, the militias involved were formed mostly of Americans. Due to the discovery of gold in Idaho and Oregon in the 1860s, similar conflicts arose that culminated in the Bear River Massacre in 1863 and Snake War from 1864 to 1868.
In the late 1870s another series of armed conflicts occurred in Oregon and Idaho, spreading east into Wyoming and Montana. The Nez Perce War of 1877 is known particularly for Chief Joseph and the four-month, 1,200-mile fighting retreat of a band of about 800 Nez Perce, including women and children. As with the other wars in the Pacific Northwest, the Nez Perce War was caused by a large influx of settlers, the appropriation of Indian lands, and a gold rush--this time in Idaho. The Nez Perce engaged 2,000 American soldiers of different military units, as well as their Indian auxiliaries. The Nez Perce fought "eighteen engagements, including four major battles and at least four fiercely contested skirmishes". Although finally defeated and captured, Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce were much admired for their conduct in the war and their fighting ability.
The acquisition of Alta California and Santa Fe de Nuevo México from Mexico at the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, and the Gadsden Purchase in 1853, brought about conflicts with native peoples in what is now the Southwestern United States that spanned from 1846 to at least 1895. The first conflicts were in the New Mexico Territory, and later in California and the Utah Territory during and after the California Gold Rush.
Native American tribes or bands in the southwest had been engaged in cycles of trading and fighting each other and foreign settlers for centuries prior to the United States gaining control of the region. These conflicts with the United States involved every non-pueblo tribe in the region and often were a continuation of Mexican-Spanish conflicts. The Navajo Wars and Apache Wars are perhaps the best known. The last major campaign of the U.S. military against Native Americans in the Southwest involved 5,000 troops in the field, and resulted in the surrender of Chiricahua Apache chief Geronimo and his band of 24 warriors, women and children in 1886.
Because of the small U.S. Army garrison west of the Rockies, and the economic and political effects of the California Gold Rush, most of the early conflicts with the mostly unwarlike California Indians involved local parties of miners or settlers. Occasionally companies of the California Militia were involved, whose actions were dignified with the name of an "Expedition" or a "War". The first of these, the Gila Expedition in 1850, was a dismal failure and nearly bankrupted the state.
Later, during the American Civil War, California volunteers replaced Federal troops and won the ongoing Bald Hills War and the Owens Valley Indian War and engaged in minor actions against hostiles in Northern California. California and Oregon volunteer garrisons in Nevada, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, New Mexico and the Arizona Territories also engaged in conflicts with the Apache, Cheyenne, Goshute, Navajo, Paiute, Shoshone, Sioux and Ute Indians from 1862 to 1866. Following the Civil War, California was mostly pacified, but federal troops replaced the volunteers and again took up the struggle against Native Americans in the remote regions of the Mojave Desert, and in the northeast against the Snakes (1864-1868) and Modocs (1872-1873).
The tribes of the Great Basin, for the most part Shoshone, were severely impacted by the Oregon and California Trails and by Mormon emigration to Utah. Beginning with their encounter with Lewis and Clark the Shoshone had generally had friendly relations with American and British fur traders and trappers. At first, relationships were friendly with travelers on the trails, but, with time, the volume of emigrants severely impacted natural resources in the areas traversed by the trails. Often travelers treated the Indians they encountered badly and the Indians on their part continued to steal horses and other stock.
In Utah, expanding Mormon settlement pushed natives from the fertile and well-watered valleys where they had lived, and the cattle of the Mormons consumed the grasses and other plants which made up the traditional Shoshone diet. While unwilling to compensate the Shoshone, or the Ute, for their lands, the Mormons did offer food to the Indians. Relations were not smooth, however, as the Indians were aggressive and demanding, while the Mormons found the burden imposed by the Church leadership onerous. The federal government had little presence in the Great Basin and made little effort to ameliorate the situation.
The traditional way of life of the Indians was disrupted, and in retaliation for outrages suffered at the hands of emigrants, they engaged in raiding of travelers along the trails and aggressive behavior toward Mormon settlers. The efforts of the undisciplined California militia stationed in Utah during the Civil War to respond to complaints resulted in the Bear River Massacre. Following the massacre a series of treaties were agreed to with the various Shoshone tribes exchanging promises of peace for small annuities and reservations. One of these, the Box Elder Treaty, identified a land claim made by the Northwestern Shoshone. (This claim was declared non-binding by the Supreme Court in a 1945 ruling, but later recognized by the Indian Claims Commission in 1968. Descendents of the original group were compensated collectively at a rate of less than $0.50 per acre, minus legal fees.)
Most of the local groups were decimated by the war, and faced continuing loss of hunting and fishing land caused by encroachment of white settlers. Some moved to the Fort Hall Indian Reservation when it was created in 1868. Some of the Shoshone populated the Mormon-sanctioned community of Washakie, Utah.
Initially relations between participants in the Pike's Peak gold rush and the Native American tribes of the Front Range and the Platte valley were friendly. An attempt was made to resolve conflicts by negotiation of the Treaty of Fort Wise, which established a reservation in southeastern Colorado, but the settlement was not agreed to by all of the roving warriors, particularly the Dog Soldiers. During the early 1860s tensions increased and culminated in the Colorado War and the Sand Creek Massacre, where Colorado volunteers fell on a peaceful Cheyenne village killing women and children, which set the stage for further conflict.
The peaceful relationship between settlers and the Indians of the Colorado and Kansas plains was maintained faithfully by the tribes, but sentiment grew among the Colorado settlers for Indian removal. The savagery of the attacks on civilians during the Dakota War of 1862 contributed to these sentiments as did the few minor incidents which occurred in the Platte Valley and in areas east of Denver. Regular army troops had been withdrawn for service in the Civil War and were replaced with the Colorado Volunteers, rough men who often favored extermination of the Indians. They were commanded by John Chivington and George L. Shoup who followed the lead of John Evans, territorial governor of Colorado. They adopted a policy of shooting all Indians encountered on sight, a policy which in short time ignited a general war on the Colorado and Kansas plains, the Colorado War.
Raids by bands of plains Indians on isolated homesteads to the east of Denver, on the advancing settlements in Kansas, and on stage line stations along the South Platte, such as at Julesburg, and along the Smoky Hill Trail, resulted in settlers in both Colorado and Kansas adopting a murderous attitude towards Native Americans, with calls for extermination. Likewise, the savagery shown by the Colorado Volunteers during the Sand Creek massacre resulted in Native Americans, particularly the Dog Soldiers, a band of the Cheyenne, engaging in savage retribution.
The Dakota War of 1862 (more commonly called the Sioux Uprising of 1862 in older authorities and popular texts) was the first major armed engagement between the U.S. and the Sioux. After six weeks of fighting in Minnesota, led mostly by Chief Taoyateduta (aka, Little Crow), records conclusively show that more than 500 U.S. soldiers and settlers died in the conflict, though many more may have died in small raids or after being captured. The number of Sioux dead in the uprising is mostly undocumented, but after the war, 303 Sioux were convicted of murder and rape by U.S. military tribunals and sentenced to death. Most of the death sentences were commuted by President Lincoln, but on December 26, 1862, in Mankato, Minnesota, 38 Dakota Sioux men were hanged in what is still today the largest penal mass execution in U.S. history.
After the expulsion of the Dakota, some refugees and warriors made their way to Lakota lands in what is now North Dakota. Battles continued between Minnesota regiments and combined Lakota and Dakota forces through 1864, as Colonel Henry Sibley pursued the Sioux into Dakota Territory. Sibley's army defeated the Lakota and Dakota in three major battles in 1863: the Battle of Dead Buffalo Lake on July 26, 1863, the Battle of Stony Lake on July 28, 1863, and the Battle of Whitestone Hill on September 3, 1863. The Sioux retreated further, but again faced an American army in 1864; this time, Gen. Alfred Sully led a force from near Fort Pierre, South Dakota, and decisively defeated the Sioux at the Battle of Killdeer Mountain on July 28, 1864.
On November 29, 1864, the Colorado territory militia responded to a series of Indian attacks on white settlements by attacking a Cheyenne and Arapaho encampment on Sand Creek in southeastern Colorado. Under orders to take no prisoners, the militia killed and mutilated about 200 of the Indians, two-thirds of whom were women and children,taking scalps and other grisly trophies of battle. The Indians at Sand Creek had been assured by the U.S. Government that they would be safe in the territory they were occupying, but anti-Indian sentiments by white settlers were running high.
Following the massacre, the survivors joined the camps of the Cheyenne on the Smokey Hill and Republican Rivers. There, the war pipe was smoked and passed from camp to camp among the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho camped in the area and an attack on the stage station and fort at Julesburg was planned and carried out in the January 1865 Battle of Julesburg. This successful attack was followed up by numerous raids along the South Platte both east and west of Julesburg and a second raid on Julesburg in early February. A great deal of loot was captured and many whites killed. The bulk of the Indians then moved north into Nebraska on their way to the Black Hills and the Powder River.
In the spring of 1865 raids continued along the Oregon trail in Nebraska and the Sioux, the Northern Cheyenne, the Northern Arapaho together with the warriors who had come north after the Sand Creek massacre raided the Oregon Trail along the North Platte River, and in July 1865 attacked the troops stationed at the bridge across the North Platte at the present site of Casper, Wyoming in the Battle of Platte Bridge.
After the Civil War, all of the Indians were assigned to reservations; the role of the army was to keep them there. The reservations themselves were under the control of the Interior Department. Control of the Great Plains fell under the Army's Department of the Missouri, an administrative area of over 1,000,000 mi.², encompassing all land between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock had led the department in 1866, but had mishandled his campaign, resulting in Sioux and Cheyenne raids that attacked mail stagecoaches, burnt the stations, and killed the employees. They also raped, killed, and kidnapped many settlers on the frontier.
Philip Sheridan was the military governor of Louisiana and Texas in 1866. President Johnson removed Sheridan from that post claiming he was ruling over the area with absolute tyranny and insubordination. In order to preserve reconstruction efforts Sheridan had to be replaced. Shortly after Hancock was removed as Head of the Department of the Missouri and Grant selected Sheridan to replace him in August 1867. Sheridan was ordered to pacify the plains and take control of the Natives there. His first order was to immediately called General Custer back to command of the 7th Cavalry who had been suspended by Hancock.
The Department of Missouri was in poor shape upon Sheridan's arrival. A peace treaty was signed by commissioners from the government in October 1867 with the Comanche, Kiowa, Kiowa Apache, Cheyenne, and Arapaho that offered them land to live on in the form of reservations along with food and supplies. This attempt at peace through bribery was unsuccessful as Congress failed to pass it. The promised supplies from the government were not reaching the natives and they were beginning to starve. When Sheridan took command of the territory these now starving Indians numbered an estimated 6,000 warriors and families. Sheridan only had at his disposal 2,600 men at the time to control them and defend against any raids or attacks but only 1,200 of his men were mounted. These men were also under supplied and stationed at forts that themselves were in poor conditions. They were also mostly unproven units that replaced retired veterans from the American Civil War, only the West Point officers were able to maintain command positions.
Sheridan attempted to improve the conditions of the military outpost and the Indians on the plains through a peace-oriented strategy. Toward the beginning of his command members of the Cheyenne and Arapaho followed him on his travels from Fort Larned to Fort Dodge where he spoke to them. They brought their problems to Sheridan's ear and explained how the supplies they were promised by the commissioners were not being delivered. In response Sheridan gave the starving Natives a generous supply of rations. Shortly thereafter, the Saline Valley settlements were attacked and were followed by other violent raids and kidnappings in the region. Sheridan wanted to respond in force but was constrained by the government's peace police and the lack of well supplied mounted troops. Since he could not deploy official military units, Sheridan commissioned a group of 47 frontiersmen and sharpshooters called Solomon's Avengers. They investigated the recent raids near Arickaree Creek and where attacked by Native Indians on September 17 of 1868. The battle now known as Beecher's Island saw the Avengers under siege for eight days by some by seven hundred Indian warriors. Using their Spencer repeaters they were able to keep them at bay until military units arrived to help. The Avengers lost six men and another 15 were wounded. Due to the increase of violent attacks like Beecher's Island and Saline Valley, Sherman gave Sheridan authority to respond in force to these threats. During his lifetime Sheridan was known as a fierce enemy of the Indians, and his approach to the Indians were encapsulated when he is thought to have said "The only good Indian is a dead Indian", although he himself denied having said this when criticized by his political opponents. Sheridan believed that his soldiers would be unable to contend or chase the horses of the Natives during the summer months and decided to use them as a defensive force the remainder of September and October. His forces were better fed and clothed than the natives and in the winter months when they were constricted to winter camps, his forces could launch a successful campaign. His Winter Campaign of 1868 would start with the 19th Kansas from Custer's 7th Cavalry along with 5 battalions of infantry under Major John H Page setting out from Fort Dodge on November 5. A few days later a force from the East consisting of units of the 5th Cavalry along with two companies of infantry moved from Fort Bascom to Fort Cobb where they would meet up with units from the 3rd Cavalry leaving from Fort Lyon. Sheridan Directed the opening month of the campaign from Camp Supply. The Units from the 5th and 3rd Cavalry would meet at Fort Cobb without any sign of the 19th Kansas, but they had a lead on a band of Indians nearby and Custer would lead a force after them.
The coming attack by Custer on the Cheyenne Indians and Black Kettle would come to be known as the Battle of Washita River. During Custer's attack it is estimated over 100 Indians were killed and over 50 taken prisoner. For Custer's forces two officers and nineteen men were killed, two officers and eleven men wounded, and a unit under Major Elliott's command had gone missing. After the battle Custer would execute 675 ponies which were imperative to the native's survival on the plains. At this time the 19th Kansas were found and made their way into Camp Supply. Immediately following the battle, Sheridan received large amounts of backlash from Washington politicians who defended Black Kettle as a peace-loving Indian. This began the controversy arose as to whether the event was best described as a military victory or as a massacre. This discussion endures among historians to this day.
Following Washita, Sheridan oversaw the refitting of the 19th Kansas and personally led them down the Washita River toward the Wichita Mountains. During this expedition, Sheridan met with Custer along the Washita River and the two searched for the missing unit of Major Elliott. They found the bodies of the missing unit and during this expedition also found the bodies of Mrs. Blynn and her child who had been taken by natives the previous summer near Fort Lyon. The defeat at Washita had scared many of the tribes and through force and threats Sheridan was able to round up the majority of the Kiowa and Comanche people at Fort Cobb in December and get them to agree to living on reservations. Shortly following this Sheridan began negotiations with Little Robe (chief of the Cheyenne) and Yellow Bear about agreeing to living on the reservations. Sheridan then began the construction of Camp Sill, later called Fort Sill which would be named after General Sill who died at Stone River. During this time the Cheyenne would flee and Custer would chase after them. By late march Custer found them and Sheridan got them and the other tribes to agree to live on reservations under the watch of military outposts.
With his successful campaign coming to a close Sheridan was called back to Washington following the election of President Grant. He was informed on his promotion to Lieutenant General of the army and reassigned from the Department. With his campaign yet complete Sheridan protested and was allowed to stay in Missouri with the rank of Lieutenant General. The last remnants of Indian resistance came from Tall Bull Dog Soldiers and elements of the Sioux and Northern Cheyenne tribes. The 5th Cavalry from Fort McPherson were sent to handle the Situation on the Platte River in Nebraska. In May the two forces collided at Summit Springs and the Natives were pursued out of the region. This brought the end to Sheridan's campaign as the Indians had successfully been removed from the Platte and Arkansas and the majority of those in Kansas had been settled onto reservations. Sheridan would leave in 1869 to take command of the Army and was replaced by Major General Schofield. This was not the end of the wars but the beginning of a war of attrition.
In 1875, the Great Sioux War of 1876-77, the last serious Sioux war erupted, when the Dakota gold rush penetrated the Black Hills. The U.S. Government decided to stop evicting trespassers from the Black Hills, and offered to buy the land from the Sioux. When they refused, the Government decided instead to take the land, and gave the Lakota until January 31, 1876 to return to reservations. With the deadline's passing, the tribes were absent from the reservations, and military action commenced. After several indecisive encounters, Lt. Colonel George Custer found the main encampment of the Lakota and their allies at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Custer and his men--who were separated from their main body of troops--were all killed by the far more numerous Indians who had the tactical advantage. They were led in the field by Crazy Horse and inspired by Sitting Bull's earlier vision of victory. The defeat of Custer and his troopers as a popularized episode in the history of western Indian warfare was fostered by an advertising campaign by the Anheuser-Busch brewery. The enterprising company ordered reprints of a dramatic painting that depicted "Custer's Last Fight" and had them framed and hung in many American saloons, helping to create lasting impressions of the battle and the brewery's products in the minds of bar patrons.
Later, in 1890, a Ghost Dance ritual on the Northern Lakota reservation at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, led to the Army's attempt to subdue the Lakota. On December 29 during this attempt, gunfire erupted, and soldiers killed up to 300 Indians, mostly old men, women and children in the Wounded Knee Massacre. Following the massacre, author L. Frank Baum wrote: "The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extermination of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries, we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth." Long before this, the means of subsistence and the societies of the indigenous population of the Great Plains had been destroyed by the slaughter of the buffalo, driven almost to extinction in the 1880s by indiscriminate hunting.
The 2010 United States Census found 2,932,248 Americans who identified themselves as being American Indian or Alaskan Native, about 0.9% of the US population. The Canada 2011 Census found 1,836,035 Canadians who identified themselves as being First Nations (or Inuit or Métis), about 4.3% of the Canadian population. No consensus exists on how many people lived in the Americas before the arrival of Europeans, but extensive research continues to be conducted. Contemporary estimates range from 2.1 million to 18 million people living on the north American continent prior to European colonization, but the US Census Bureau stated in 1894 that North America was an almost empty continent in 1492 and that Indian populations "could not have exceeded much over 500,000."
The number of Indians dropped to below half a million in the 19th century because of infectious diseases, conflict with Europeans, wars between tribes, assimilation, migration to Canada and Mexico, and declining birth rates. The main cause was infectious diseases carried by European explorers and traders. The United States Census Bureau (1894) provided their estimate of deaths due specifically to war during the 102 years between 1789 and 1891, including 8,500 Indians and 5,000 whites killed in "individual affairs":
The Indian wars under the government of the United States have been more than 40 in number. They have cost the lives of about 19,000 white men, women and children, including those killed in individual combats, and the lives of about 30,000 Indians. The actual number of killed and wounded Indians must be very much higher than the number given.... Fifty percent additional would be a safe estimate.
According to historian David Rich Lewis, American popular histories, film, and fiction have given enormous emphasis to the Indian wars. New ethno-historical approaches became popular in the 1970s which mixed anthropology with historical research in hopes of gaining a deeper understanding of the Indian perspective. The popular trend in the 1980s was to place an emphasis on victimization, dealing more harshly with the US government and emphasizing the impact of the wars on Indian cultures. Popular history was heavily influenced by Dee Brown's non-academic treatment of historical events in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (1970). In more academic history, Francis Jennings's The Invasion of America: Indians, Colonialism, and the Cant of Conquest (New York: Norton, 1975) was notable for making strong attacks against the Puritans and rejecting the traditional portrayal of the wars between the Indians and colonists.
Most of the thirty-nine were baptized, including Tatemima (or Round Wind), who was reprieved at the last minute.