|American Indian Wars|
An 1899 chromolithograph of US cavalry pursuing Native Americans, artist unknown
Confederate States of America (1861–1865)
Republic of Texas (1836–1846)
American Indian Wars is the name used in the United States to describe the multiple conflicts between American settlers or the federal government and the native peoples of North America from the time of earliest colonial settlement until approximately 1890. The wars resulted as the arrival of European colonists continuously led to population pressure as settlers expanded their territory, generally pushing indigenous people westward. Many conflicts were local, involving disputes over land use, and some entailed cycles of reprisal. Particularly in later years, conflicts were spurred by ideologies such as Manifest Destiny, which held that the United States was destined to expand from coast to coast on the American continent. A main driver of many of these conflicts was the policy of Indian removal, which was a planned, large scale removal of indigenous peoples from the areas where Europeans were settling, either by armed conflict or through sale or exchange of territory through treaties.
Effects on indigenous populations
On the 2010 census 0.9 percent of the U.S. population identified themselves as being Native American (or Alaskan Native). No conclusive evidence exists to determine how many native people lived in North America before the arrival of Columbus.
As the direct result of disease, wars between tribes, wars with Europeans, migration to Canada and Mexico, declining birth rates, and of assimilation, the numbers of Native Americans dropped to below one million in the 19th century. Scholars believe that the main causes were new infectious diseases carried by Europeans explorers and traders. Native Americans had no acquired immunity to such diseases, which had been chronic in Eurasian populations for over five centuries. For instance, some estimates indicate case fatality rates of 80–90% in Native American populations during smallpox epidemics.
According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census (1894), "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."
From 1600 or so the process of English settlement was contested by some tribes. The wars, which ranged from the 17th-century Jamestown Massacre of 1622, Pequot War of 1637, Anglo-Powhatan Wars (1610–14, 1622–32, 1644–46), King Philip's War, King William's War. During the 18th-century, there was Queen Anne's War, Tuscarora War, Yamasee War and Father Rale's War, King George's War, Father Le Loutre's War, French and Indian War, Pontiac's War and Lord Dunmore's War. In many of these wars, Native Americans fought both for and against the British. In the American Revolution and the War of 1812, Indians also fought for and against the United States, prompting retaliations such as the Cherokee Expedition. The contributions of those who fought for the United States, who were part of the founders of the nation, are often rendered invisible.
East of the Mississippi (1775–1842)
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 with them. The British planned to set up an Indian nation in what is now the Ohio-Wisconsin area to block further American expansion. The U.S. protested and finally, in 1812, went to war . Most Indians, especially those under the leadership of Tecumseh, did ally with the British and were defeated by General William Henry Harrison. The Indians in the South who fought the U.S. were likewise defeated in the Creek War by General Andrew Jackson. Many refugees in the north went to Canada, or in the South to Florida (which was under Spanish control). National policy did not allow for the continued existence of Indian nations inside of yet independent of state government. The Indians had the choice of assimilation, forced relocation to a controlled Indian reservation, or movement west. Some resisted, most notably the Seminoles in a series of wars in Florida. Others were moved to reservations west of the Mississippi River, most famously the Cherokees whose movement is called the "Trail of Tears."
East of the Mississippi
American Revolutionary War 1775–1783
For the Americans the American Revolutionary War was essentially two parallel wars: while the war in the east was a struggle against British rule, the war in the west was an "Indian War". The newly proclaimed United States competed with the British for control of the territory of Native American nations east of the Mississippi River. The colonial interest in westward colonisation, as opposed to the British policy of maintaining peace by designating areas reserved to Native Americans west of the Appalachians following the end of the Seven Years' War, was one cause of the revolution. Most Native Americans who joined the struggle sided with the British, hoping to use the war to reduce settlement and expansion onto their land. The Revolutionary War was "the most extensive and destructive" Indian war in United States history.
Some native communities were divided over which side to support in the war. For the Iroquois Confederacy, based in New York and Pennsylvania, the American Revolution resulted in civil war; the Six Nations split, with the Oneidas and Tuscaroras siding with the rebels, and Mohawks, Senecas, Cayugas, and Onondagas, fighting for the British. While the Iroquois tried to avoid fighting directly against one another, the Revolution eventually forced intra-Iroquois combat. Both sides lost territory under the new political dispensation. The Crown aided the landless Iroquois by rewarding them with a reservation at Grand River in Ontario. In the Southeast, the Cherokee split into a neutral (or pro-rebel) faction and a pro-British faction, which the Americans referred to as the Chickamaugas, led by Dragging Canoe. Many other tribes were similarly divided.
Both immigrant and native noncombatants suffered greatly during the war, and villages and food supplies were frequently destroyed during military expeditions. The largest of these expeditions was the Sullivan Expedition of 1779, which razed more than 40 Iroquois villages.
When the British made peace with the Americans in the Treaty of Paris (1783), they ceded a vast amount of Native American territory (without the consent of the indigenous peoples) to the United States. The United States treated the Native Americans who had fought with the British as enemy allies, a conquered people who had lost their land. The federal government of the United States was eager to expand, and the national government did so by purchasing Native American land in treaties and through warfare.
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 (Chattanooga, Tennessee) area, 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 colonies along the Watauga, Holston, and Nolichucky rivers, and in Carter's Valley in upper East Tennessee, as well as the settlements along the Cumberland River beginning with Fort Nashborough in 1780, even into Kentucky, plus against the colonies, 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.
The Chickamauga Wars were in reality a continuation of what some historians call the Second Cherokee War, fought between the whole Cherokee nation and the colonies as allies of the British in the years 1776 and 1777, waged by those who did not wish to stop resisting frontier encroachments.
Northwest Indian War
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.
Tecumseh, the Creek War, and the War of 1812
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.
Removal era wars
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).
Second Seminole War
American settlers began to push into Florida, which was now an American territory and had some of the most fertile lands in the nation. Some scholars have noted that covetousness, racism, and claims of "self-defense" against Indian raids (real or imagined) became the order of the day 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 Native Americans already residing there. Andrew Jackson sought to alleviate this problem by signing the Indian Removal Act, which stipulated forced relocation of Native Americans (if necessary) out of Florida. The Seminoles, led by such powerful leaders as Aripeka (Sam Jones), Micanopy, and Osceola, had little or no intention of leaving their ancestral homelands and quickly retaliated against settler theft, encroachment and attacks on their camps. This led to what is known as the Second Seminole War, the longest and most costly war ever waged against Indians.
The Seminoles' continued resistance to relocation led Florida to prepare for war. The St. Augustine Militia asked the U.S. War Department for the loan of 500 muskets. Five hundred 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 along the Atlantic coast south of St. Augustine were destroyed, with many of the slaves on the plantations joining the Seminoles.
The U.S. 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. On December 28, the Seminoles ambushed the soldiers, and wiped out the command. Only three men survived, and one, Edwin De Courcey, was hunted down and killed by a Seminole the next day. Two survivors, Ransome Clarke and Joseph Sprague, returned to Fort Brooke. Only Clarke, who died of his wounds later, left any account of the battle from the army's perspective. Joseph Sprague was unharmed and lived quite a while longer, but was not able to give an account of the battle because he had sought immediate refuge in a nearby pond. The Seminoles lost just three men, with five wounded. On the same day as the Dade Massacre, Osceola and his followers shot and killed from ambush Wiley Thompson and six others outside of Fort King.
Major Ethan Allen Hitchcock was subsequently among those who found the remains of the Dade party in February. In his journal he accounted for the discovery, then vented his bitter discontent with the conflict: "The government is in the wrong, and this is the chief cause of the persevering opposition of the Indians, who have nobly defended their country against our attempt to enforce a fraudulent treaty. The natives used every means to avoid a war, but were forced into it by the tyranny of our government."
On December 29, General Clinch left Fort Drane (recently established on Clinch's plantation, about twenty miles (32 km) northwest of Fort King) 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 they had found. Once they were across and had relaxed, the Seminoles attacked. The troops only saved themselves by fixing bayonets and charging 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 another key skirmish known as the Battle of Lake Okeechobee, Colonel Zachary Taylor saw the first major action of the campaign. Leaving Fort Gardiner on the upper Kissimmee with 1,000 men on December 19, Taylor headed towards Lake Okeechobee. In the first two days ninety Seminoles surrendered. On the third day Taylor stopped to build Fort Basinger, where he left his sick and enough men to guard the Seminoles that had surrendered. Three days later, on Christmas Day, 1837, Taylor's column caught up with the main body of the Seminoles on the north shore of Lake Okeechobee.
The Seminoles, led by Alligator, Sam Jones, and the recently escaped Coacoochee, were well 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. Missouri volunteers formed the first line. As soon as they came within range, the Indians opened with heavy fire. The volunteers broke, and their commander, Colonel Gentry, fatally wounded, was unable to rally them. They fled back across the swamp. The fighting in the sawgrass was deadliest for five companies of the Sixth Infantry; every officer but one, and most of their non-commissioned officers, were either killed or wounded. When that part of the regiment retired a short distance to re-form, they found only four men of these companies unharmed. Only about a dozen Seminoles had been killed in the battle. Nevertheless, the Battle of Lake Okeechobee was hailed as a great victory for Taylor and the army. Twenty-six U.S. soldiers, including the majority of Taylor's officers and NCOs, were killed, with 112 wounded, compared to only 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, save a few hundred diehards, had left Florida for Oklahoma. Estimates of the true cost of the Seminole War range from $30 million to $40 million (about $1,5 billion to $2 billion in today's prices), though no analysis of the actual cost has been made. Congress appropriated funds for the "suppression of Indian hostilities", but the costs of the Creek War of 1836 are included in that. An inquiry into extravagance in naval operations found that the navy had spent about $511,000 on the war. The investigation did find questionable expenditures. Among other things, while the army had bought dugout canoes for $10 to $15 apiece, the navy spent an average of $226 per canoe. The number of army, navy and marine regulars who served in Florida is given as 10,169. About 30,000 militiamen and volunteers also served in the war.
Sources agree that the U.S. 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 U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, but adds others may have died after being sent out of Florida as incurable. Mahon and the Florida Board of State Institutions agree that 55 volunteer officers and men were killed by the Seminoles, while Missall says the number is unknown. There is no figure for how many militiamen and volunteers died of disease or accident, however. The number of white civilians and Seminoles killed is also uncertain. A northern newspaper carried a report that more than eighty civilians were killed by Indians in Florida in 1839. Nobody kept a cumulative account of the number of Indians killed, or who died of starvation or other privations caused by the war. The Indians who were shipped west did not fare well either. By the end of 1843, 3,824 Indians had been shipped from Florida to what became the Indian Territory, but in 1844 only 3,136 remained. As of 1962 there were only 2,343 Seminoles in Oklahoma and perhaps some 1,500 in Florida.
West of the Mississippi (1811–1924)
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" & "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 county 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, Witchitas, and Delaware attacked the settler outpost Fort Parker. Despite the small number of white settlers killed during the raid, the abduction of Cynthia Ann Parker 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 Lamar administration, which followed Houston, took a very different policy towards the Indians. Under Lamar Texas removed the Cherokee to the west. With that policy in place, the Texas government sought to deport the Comanches and Kiowa. This led to a series of battles, including the Council House Fight, in which, at a peace parley, the Texas militia killed a number of Comanche chiefs and the resulting Great Raid of 1840 and the Battle of Plum Creek.
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 a viable people, 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 saw 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 prospectores 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 Bannock War broke out the following year for similar reasons. The Sheepeater Indian War in 1879 was the last conflict in the area.
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 that spanned from 1846 to 1895 in this large geographical area. The first conflicts were in New Mexico Territory and in California and Utah Territory during and after the California Gold Rush.
The 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' purchasing their region from Mexico in 1848 and 1853. These conflicts with the United States involved every non-pueblo tribe in this region and often were a continuation of Mexican–Spanish conflicts. The Navajo and Apache conflicts 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, which caused the Apache Geronimo and his band of 24 warriors, women and children to surrender 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, nearly bankrupted the state.
Later, during the American Civil War, California State 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 State volunteer garrisons in Nevada, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, New Mexico and the Arizona Territories also engaged conflicts with the Apache, Cheyenne, Goshute, Navaho, 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 of the state against the Snakes and Modoc during the next decade.
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. However relations were not smooth, with the Indians being 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 Indians, their traditional way of life disrupted and in retaliation for outrages suffered at the hands of emigrants, engaged in raiding of travelers along the trails and engaged in aggressive behavior toward Mormon settlers. The efforts of the undisciplined California militia who were 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, lead 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.
Colorado War, Sand Creek Massacre and the Sioux War of 1865
On November 29, 1864, the Colorado state 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 cin 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. Under pressure from the governors, Commanding General Ulysses Grant turned to Philip Sheridan. In September 1866, Sheridan went to Fort Martin Scott in Texas, taking three months to stop Indian raids. During his lifetime Sheridan was known as a fierce enemy of the Indians, and his approach to the Indians was encapsulated in the saying "The only good Indian is a dead Indian", although he himself denied having said this when criticized by his political opponents.
In August 1867, Grant appointed Sheridan to head the Department of the Missouri and pacify the Plains. His troops, even supplemented with state militia, were spread too thin to have any real effect. He resorted to the usual strategy of winter warfare at a time when the Indians had to protect their food supplies. In the Winter Campaign of 1868–69 he attacked the Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Comanche tribes in their winter quarters, taking their supplies and livestock, forcibly relocating them to reservations. It was as part of this campaign that in 1868 Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer carried out the Battle of Washita River in which the winter camp of Cheyenne chief Black Kettle were attacked by Custer's 7th Cavalry, and men, women and children were massacred.
Red Cloud's War and the Treaty of Fort Laramie
Black Hills War
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. Army did not keep miners off Sioux (Lakota) hunting grounds; yet, when ordered to take action against bands of Sioux hunting on the range, according to their treaty rights, the Army moved vigorously. In 1876, after several indecisive encounters, General 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 brewery, Anheuser-Busch. 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. The approximately 25 soldiers who died may have been killed by friendly fire during the battle. 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.
- October 5, 1898, Leech Lake, Minnesota: Battle of Sugar Point. Last Medal of Honor given for Indian Wars campaigns was awarded to Private Oscar Burkard of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment.
- 1907, Four Corners, Arizona: Two troops of the 5th Cavalry from Fort Wingate skirmish with armed Navajo men. One Navajo was killed and the rest escaped.
- March 1909, Crazy Snake Rebellion, Oklahoma: Federal officials attack the Muscogee Creeks and allied Freedmen who had violently resisted the government since 1901, headquartered at Hickory ceremonial grounds in Oklahoma. A two-day gun battle seriously wounded leader Chitto Harjo and quelled this rebellion.
- 1911, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico: A company of cavalry went from Fort Wingate to quell a possible uprising by Navajo.
- January 19, 1911, Washoe County, Nevada: The Last Massacre occurred. A group of Shoshones and Bannocks killed four ranchers. On February 26, 1911 eight of the natives involved in the Last Massacre were killed by a posse in the Battle of Kelley Creek; the remaining four were captured.
- March 1914 – March 15, 1915, Bluff War in Utah between Ute natives and Mormon settlers.
- January 9, 1918, Bear Valley, Arizona: The Battle of Bear Valley was fought in Southern Arizona. United States Army forces of the 10th Cavalry engaged and captured a band of Yaquis, after a brief firefight.
- March 20–23, 1923, Posey War in Utah between Ute and Paiute natives against Mormon settlers.
- Some time in 1924 both the Renegade Period and the Apache Wars ended which had begun decades earlier and brought the American Indian Wars to a close 302 years after the Jamestown Massacre of 1622.
In American history books, the Indian Wars have often been treated as a relatively minor part of the military history of the United States and were long treated from the point of view of Americans. After 1970 younger historians took the Indian point of view in their writings about the wars, dealing more harshly with the US government's failures and emphasizing the impact of the wars on native peoples and their cultures. An influential book in popular history was Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (1970). In academic history, Francis Jennings's The Invasion of America: Indians, Colonialism, and the Cant of Conquest (New York: Norton, 1975) was notable for strong attacks on the Puritans and rejection of traditional portrayal of the wars between the indigenous peoples and colonists.
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