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Indian Wars in North America
Cavalry and Indians.JPG
An 1899 chromolithograph of US cavalry pursuing Native Americans, artist unknown
Date Intermittently from 1622–1918
Location North America,
United States
Result American victory; sovereignty of United States of America extended to its present borders; Indian reservation system enforced
Native Americans Colonial America
United States United States
Confederate States of America Confederate States (1861–1865)

Indian Wars is the name used in the United States to describe a series of conflicts between the colonial or federal government and the native people of North America.

The earliest English settlers in what would become the United States often enjoyed peaceful relations with nearby tribes. However, as early as the Pequot War of 1637, the colonists were taking sides in military rivalries between native nations in order to assure colonial security and open further land for settlement. The wars, which ranged from the seventeenth-century (King Philip's War, King William's War, and Queen Anne's War at the opening of the eighteenth century) to the Wounded Knee massacre and "closing" of the American frontier in 1890, generally resulted in the opening of Native American lands to further colonization, the conquest of Native Americans and their assimilation, or forced relocation to Indian reservations. Modern scholars take different positions in the ongoing genocide debate. Various statistics have been developed concerning the devastations of these wars on both the settler and Native peoples. The most reliable figures are derived from collated records of strictly military engagements such as by Gregory Michno which reveal 21,586 dead, wounded, and captured civilians and soldiers for the period of 1850–90 alone.[1] Other figures are derived from extrapolations of rather cursory and unrelated government accounts such as that by Russell Thornton who calculated that some 45,000 Indians and 19,000 whites were killed. This later rough estimate includes women and children on both sides, since noncombatants were often killed in frontier massacres.[2]

What is not disputed is that the savagery from both sides was such as to be noted in newspapers, historical archives, diplomatic reports and the United States Declaration of Independence. ("…[He] has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.")

The Indian Wars comprised a series of smaller wars. Native Americans, diverse peoples with their own distinct tribal histories, were no more a single people than the Europeans. Living in societies organized in a variety of ways, Native Americans usually made decisions about war and peace at the local level, though they sometimes fought as part of formal alliances, such as the Iroquois Confederation, or in temporary confederacies inspired by leaders such as Tecumseh.

External images
the Indian Wars
The great Dispersion
Battles of the Indian Wars in the West


East of the Mississippi (1775–1842)

These are wars fought primarily by the newly established United States against the Native Americans until shortly before the Mexican–American War.

Indian Wars
East of the Mississippi

American Revolutionary War

For the American rebels 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 the allegiance of Native American nations east of the Mississippi River. The colonial interest in westward colonisation, as opposed to the British policy of maintaining peace, was one of the minor causes of the war. Most Native Americans who joined the struggle sided with the British, hoping to use the war to halt colonial expansion onto their land. The Revolutionary War was "the most extensive and destructive" Indian war in United States history.[3]

Many native communities were divided over which side to support in the war. For the Iroquois Confederacy, the American Revolution resulted in civil war: The Six Nations split with the Oneidas and Tuscaroras siding with the rebels and the other four nations fighting for the British. While the Iroquois tried to avoid fighting directly against one another, the Revolution eventually forced inter-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. Cherokees split into a neutral (or pro-rebel) faction and a pro-British faction that the rebels referred to as the Chickamaugas, led by Dragging Canoe. Many other tribes were similarly divided.

Frontier warfare was particularly brutal, and numerous atrocities were committed on both sides. Both white 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 in order to neutralize Iroquois raids in upstate New York. The expedition failed to have the desired effect: the Native Americans became even more determined.

Native Americans were stunned to learn that, when the British made peace with the Americans in the Treaty of Paris (1783), the British had ceded a vast amount of Native American territory to the United States without informing their allies. The United States initially treated the Native Americans who had fought with the British as a conquered people who had lost their land. When this proved impossible to enforce, the policy was abandoned. The federal government of the United States was eager to expand, and the national government initially sought to do so only by purchasing Native American land in treaties. The state governments and settlers were frequently at odds with this policy, and more warfare followed.

Chickamauga wars

These were an almost non stop series of frontier conflicts that began with Cherokee involvement in the American Revolutionary War and continued until 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 well over one hundred Shawnee, in exchange for whom a hundred Chickamauga-Cherokee warriors went 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's Canoe's close ally Alexander McGillivray frequently joined their campaigns as well as operating separately, and the settlements on the Cumberland came under attack from the Chickasaw, Shawnee from the north, and Delaware as well. 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[citation needed]. 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

The Battle of Fallen Timbers

In 1787, the Northwest Ordinance officially organized the Northwest Territory for white settlement. American settlers began pouring into the region. Violence erupted as Indians resisted this encroachment, and so the administration of President George Washington sent armed expeditions into the area to put down 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 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 Indians 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

This 1848 drawing of Tecumseh was based on a sketch done from life in 1808. Benson Lossing altered the original by putting Tecumseh in a British uniform.

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 another pan-tribal resistance to American expansion. Tecumseh's goal was to get Native American leaders to stop selling land to the United States.

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 openly ally 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 Indian 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 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.

Andrew Jackson, victor at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in the Creek War, was a major figure in Indian removal.

As in the Revolution and the Northwest Indian War, after the War of 1812, the British abandoned their Indian allies to the Americans. 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

One of the results of these wars was passage of the Indian Removal Act in 1830, which President Andrew Jackson signed into law. The Removal Act did not order the removal of any American Indians, but it authorized the President to negotiate treaties that would exchange tribal land in the east for western lands that had been acquired in the Louisiana Purchase. According to historian Robert V. Remini, Jackson promoted this policy primarily for reasons of national security, noting that Great Britain and Spain had recruited and armed Native Americans within U.S. borders in wars with the United States.[4]

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. This resulted in 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

White settlers began to push into Florida which was now an American territory and had some of the most fertile lands in the nation. To compound this, 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 Seminole Indians, led by such powerful leaders as Aripeka, Micanopy, and Osceola, had little or no intention of deserting 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 Native Americans.

As the realization that the Seminoles would resist relocation sank in, Florida began preparing for war. The St. Augustine Militia asked the 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 had only one company of soldiers, and it was feared that they might be overrun by the Seminoles. There were three companies at Fort Brooke, with another two expected momentarily, so it was decided to send two companies to Fort King. On December 23, 1835 the two companies, totalling 110 men, left Fort Brooke under the command of Maj. 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 the massacre, 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.

Subsequently Major Ethan Allen Hitchcock was among those who found the remains of the Dade party in February. In his journal he wrote an account of 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. They were going to a Seminole stronghold called the Cove of the Withlacoochee, what is now known as Lake Tsala Apopka, an area of many lakes on the southwest side of the Withlacoochee River. When they reached the river, they could not find the ford, and Clinch had his regular troops ferried 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 out 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 less than 400. Taylor sent the Missouri volunteers in first. He moved 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. In the first line were the Missouri volunteers. 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 saw grass 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, against 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 Seminole save a few hundred diehards, had left Florida for Oklahoma. Estimates of the true cost of the Seminole War range from US$30,000,000 to $40,000,000. But there is no analysis of the actual cost. 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 US$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 was keeping a cumulative account of the number of Indians killed, or who died of starvation or other privations caused by the war. The Indians 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 there were only 3,136 left. As of 1962 there were only 2,343 Seminoles in Oklahoma and perhaps some 1,500 in Florida.

West of the Mississippi (1823–1890)

Indian Wars
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 and there were significant conflicts which predate the Civil War.


The wars were conducted in several theaters: the Great Plains involving the Kiowa, the Comanche, the Sioux, the Cheyenne and the Arapaho; the Rocky Mountains and Great Basin involving the Ute tribe, in the case of the Snake War, the Shoshone, the Paiute and the Bannock, and in the case of the Bannock War, the Bannock and the northern Shoshone; in New Mexico and Arizona territories including the Navajo Wars and the Apache Wars; in California, the Modoc War; in the Pacific Northwest, involving the Nez Perce; and earlier in Texas, the Texas–Indian Wars. The Dakota War of 1862, which displaced the Sioux into the Dakotas, also played a role.


The western United States had been penetrated by United States 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. Made 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.

Obverse Indian Campaign Medal

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 putting white settlers into direct competition for the land and resources of the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountain West.[5][6] 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.[7]

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 the whites 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 new arrivals on the Plains—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 Federal 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 New Mexico Territory.


Battles, army posts, and the general location of tribes

In the 18th Century, Spanish settlers in Texas came into conflict with the Apache, Commanche, and Karankawa, among other tribes. Large numbers of Anglo-American settlers reached Texas in the 1830s and from that point until the 1870s there was a series of armed confrontations mostly between Texans and Comanches.

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.[8] The Lamar administration, which followed Houston, took a very different policy towards the Indians. Under Lamar, Texas attempted to remove the Cherokee to the west and in this, the Texans were successful. 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 seized a number of Comanche chiefs and the resulting Great Raid of 1840 and the Battle of Plum Creek.

Quanah Parker, son of a Comanche Chief and an Anglo-Texas settler. His family's story comprises the history of the Texas–Indian Wars.

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.

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.

Great Basin

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 engage in their traditional avocation of stealing 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.[9] Following the massacre a series of treaties were agreed to with the various Shoshone tribes exchanging promises of peace for small annuities and reservations. For the most part Indian title was not addressed in those treaties.[10][11]


Sitting Bull, a Lakota chief.

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.[12][13] 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 60s 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.[14] 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 adapted 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.[15]

Raids by bands of plains Indians on isolated homesteads both to the east of Denver and on the advancing settlements in Kansas and on the stations on the stage lines along the South Platte, as at Julesburg,[16][17] and along the Smoky Hill Trail resulted in settlers both in Colorado and Kansas adapting a murderous attitude towards Native Americans and calls for extermination.[18] 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.

Dakota War

Robert McGee, scalped as a child by Sioux Chief Little Turtle, in 1864—photograph taken in 1890.

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 mass execution in U.S. history.[19]

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 Col. 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.

The Sand Creek massacre and the Sioux Indian War of 1865

Buffalo Hunter Ralph Morrison who was killed and scalped December 7, 1868 near Fort Dodge, Kansas by Cheyenne. Lt Philip Reade of the 3rd Infantry and John O. Austin in background. Photograph by William S. Soule.

On November 29, 1864 Colorado Volunteers attacked a peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho village camped 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,[20] taking scalps and other grisly trophies of battle.[21] 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. Later congressional investigations resulted in a short-lived U.S. public outcry against the slaughter of the Native Americans.

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 January, 1865. 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[22][23]

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, the Battle of the Platte Bridge Station.[24][25]

Black Hills War

George Armstrong Custer, the United States Army cavalry commander at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

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 Little Big Horn. 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 massacre 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 Stand” 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.[26][27]

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. During this attempt, gunfire erupted, and soldiers killed up to 300 Indians, mostly old men, women and children. 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.


Buffalo Soldiers of the 25th Infantry Regiment, 1890.

The conflicts in this large geographical area span from 1846 to 1895. They 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, but they were not the only ones. The last major campaign of the U.S. military in the Southwest involved 5,000 troops in the field. This caused the Apache Geronimo and his band of 24 warriors, women and children to surrender in 1886.

The tribes or bands in the southwest (including the Pueblos) had been engaged in cycles of trading and fighting each other and foreign settlers for centuries prior to the United States annexing their region from Mexico in 1848.

Wars of the West timeline

Great Plains


  • First Regiment of Dragoons in New Mexico Territory:
  • Gila Expedition of 1857, New Mexico Territory, April 16, to September 16, 1857.
  • Navajo Expedition, New Mexico Territory, September 9, to December 25, 1858
  • Colorado River Expedition (1858–1859), a column under Lieutenant Colonel William Hoffman imposed peace on the Mohave leaving Captain Lewis Addison Armistead to garrison Fort Mojave and enforce the peace.
  • Navajo Wars (1861–1864): ended with Long Walk of the NavajoArizona Territory and New Mexico Territory.
  • Hualapai or Walapais War (1864–1869): Arizona Territory.
  • Apache Wars or Apache Campaigns (1861–1886) Careleton put the Mescelero on a reservation with the Navajos at Fort Sumner and it continued until 1886, when Geronimo surrendered.
    • Tonto Creek, Arizona (June 16, 1873): Captain John B Babcock of the US 5th Cavalry slightly wounded in combat with Indians 7 miles north east of the forks of the Tonto River.
    • Sunset Pass, Arizona (November 1, 1874): Captain Charles King of the 5th US Cavalry severely wounded in combat with Indians at Sunset Pass 18 miles from Little Colorado River Arizona.
    • Alma, New Mexico (December 19, 1885}: An officer and 4 enlisted men of the 8th US Cavalry were killed by Apaches near Alma, New Mexico. [30])

Pacific Northwest–Great Basin


Last battles (1898; 1918)

Oscar Burkard

U.S. forces





  • U.S. 1st Artillery Regiment[43][44]
  • U.S. 2nd Artillery Regiment[45][46]
  • U.S. 3rd Artillery Regiment [47]
  • U.S. 4th Artillery Regiment [48],[49]




In American history books, the Indian Wars have often been treated as a relatively minor part of the military history of the United States. Only in the last few decades of the 20th century did a significant number of historians begin to include the American Indian point of view in their writings about the wars, emphasizing the impact of the wars on native peoples and their cultures.

A well-known and 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 its reversal of the traditional portrayal of Indian–European relations. A recent and important release from the perspective of both Indians and the soldiers is Jerome A. Greene's Indian War Veterans: Memories of Army Life and Campaigns in the West, 1864–1898 (New York, 2007).

Some historians now emphasize that to see the Indian wars as a racial war between Indians and White Americans simplifies the complex historical reality of the struggle. Indians and whites often fought alongside each other; Indians often fought against Indians. For example, although the Battle of Horseshoe Bend is often described as an "American victory" over the Creek Indians, the victors were a combined force of Cherokees, Creeks, and Tennessee militia led by Andrew Jackson. From a broad perspective, the Indian wars were about the conquest of Native American peoples by the United States; up close it was rarely quite as simple as that.

In his book American Holocaust, David Stannard argues that the destruction of the aboriginal peoples of the Americas, in a "string of genocide campaigns" by Europeans and their descendants, was the most massive act of genocide in the history of the world.[50][51] The genocide debate is ongoing, with scholars on either side.[52][53][54]

See also


  1. ^ Michno, "Encyclopedia of Indian Wars" Index.
  2. ^ Thornton, American Indian Holocaust, 48–49.
  3. ^ Raphael, People's History, 244.
  4. ^ Remini, Jackson and his Indian Wars, 113.
  5. ^ The Battle of Beecher Island and the Indian War of 1867–1869, by John H. Monnett, University Press of Colorado (1992), pp. 24–25, trade paperback, 236 pages ISBN 0-87081-347-1
  6. ^ Angie Debo, A history of the Indians of the United States, p. 213.
  7. ^ Section on the Bozeman Trail "Winning the West the Army in the Indian Wars, 1865–1890"
  8. ^ Krenek, Thomas H.. "Sam Houston". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 2007-11-11. 
  9. ^ The Shoshoni Frontier and the Bear River Massacre, Brigham D. Madsen, forward by Charles S. Peterson, University of Utah Press (1985, paperback 1995), pp. 1–56, trade paperback, 286 pages, ISBN 0-87480-494-9
  10. ^ ''Northwestern Bands Of Shoshone Indians v. United States United States Supreme Court, April 9, 1945 89 L.Ed. 985; 65 S.Ct. 690; 324 U.S. 335.
  11. ^ American Indian Soverignty and the U.S. Supreme Court: The Masking of Justice, David E. Wilkins, University of Texas Press (1997), pp. 141–165, trade paperback, 421 pages, ISBN 978-0292791091
  12. ^ The Diary of Lamech Chambers
  13. ^ Life of George Bent: Written From His Letters, by George E. Hyde, edited by Savoie Lottinville, University of Oklahoma Press (1968), pp. 105–115, hardcover, 390 pages; trade paperback, 280 pages (March 1983) ISBN 978-0806115771
  14. ^ John M. Coward, The newspaper Indian, pp. 102–110.
  15. ^ Life of George Bent: Written From His Letters, by George E. Hyde, edited by Savoie Lottinville, University of Oklahoma Press (1968), pp. 127–136, 148, 162, 163, hardcover, 390 pages; trade paperback, 280 pages (March 1983) ISBN 978-0806115771
  16. ^ "Julesburg to Latham".
  17. ^ Angie Debo, A history of the Indians of the United States, p. 196.
  18. ^ "The Settler's War" of The Battle of Beecher Island and the Indian War of 1867–1869, by John H. Monnett, University Press of Colorado (1992), pp. 55–73, Chapter 3, trade paperback, 236 pages ISBN 0-87081-347-1
  19. ^ Carley, Kenneth (1961). The Sioux Uprising of 1862. Minnesota Historical Society. p. 65. "Most of the thirty-nine were baptized, including Tatemima (or Round Wind), who was reprieved at the last minute." 
  20. ^ "CWSAC Battle Summary: Sand Creek". National Park Service. Retrieved February 8, 2010. 
  21. ^ Life of George Bent: Written From His Letters, by George E. Hyde, edited by Savoie Lottinville, University of Oklahoma Press (1968), pp. 148–163, hardcover, 390 pages; trade paperback, 280 pages (March 1983) ISBN 978-0806115771
  22. ^ Life of George Bent: Written From His Letters, by George E. Hyde, edited by Savoie Lottinville, University of Oklahoma Press (1968), pp. 168–155, hardcover, 390 pages; trade paperback, 280 pages (March 1983) ISBN 978-0806115771
  23. ^ "Mud Springs and Rush Creek" Chapter 3 "Mud Springs and Rush Creek" Circle of fire: the Indian war of 1865 by John Dishon McDermott, Stackpole Books (August, 2003), pp. 35–44, hardcover, 304 pages, ISBN 978-0811700610
  24. ^ Life of George Bent: Written From His Letters, by George E. Hyde, edited by Savoie Lottinville, University of Oklahoma Press (1968), pp. 201–207, 212–222, hardcover, 390 pages; trade paperback, 280 pages (March 1983) ISBN 978-0806115771
  25. ^ "Hanging of the Chiefs" Circle of fire: the Indian war of 1865 by John Dishon McDermott, Stackpole Books (August, 2003), pp. 46–62, Chapter 4, hardcover, 304 pages, ISBN 978-0811700610
  26. ^ Griske, Michael (2005). The Diaries of John Hunton. Heritage Books. pp. 78–79. ISBN 0-7884-3804-2. 
  27. ^
  28. ^ William Y. Chalfant, Cheyennes and Horse Soldiers: The 1857 Expedition and the Battle of Solomon's Fork, University of Oklahoma Press, 2002, ISBN 9780806135007
  29. ^ "Named Campaigns: Indian Wars."
  30. ^ (See P.Reed Albuquqerue Tribune story 12/22/2005 listed under References of Bibliography under article Alma, New Mexico {Reference only}
  31. ^ The California State Military Museum; California and the Indian Wars, The Battle of Pyramid Lake.
  32. ^ "Santala". US Army. 
  33. ^ An Act for the Government and Protection of Indians
  34. ^ Heizer, Robert F. The destruction of California Indians. Lincoln and London: Univ. of Nebraska Press, (1974).
  35. ^ David Rich Lewis, Neither wolf nor dog: American Indians, environment, and agrarian change, Oxford University Press US, 1994, pg. 86
  36. ^ Heizer, Robert F., The Destruction of California Indians, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 1993, 321 pages, ISBN 978-0-8032-7262-0 pp. 35–36.
  37. ^ Eugene L. Menefee and Fred A. Dodge, History of Tulare and Kings Counties, California, Historic, Record Company, Los Angeles, California, 1913. CHAPTER II INDIAN WAR OF '56
  38. ^ California and the Indian Wars; The Tule River War by William Gorenfield
  39. ^ David Rich Lewis, Neither wolf nor dog: American Indians, environment, and agrarian change, Oxford University Press US, 1994. pp.85–88
  40. ^ The Mendocino War of 1859–1860, The California State Military Museum
  41. ^ The California Military Museum; California and the Indian Wars, The Owens Valley Indian War, 1861–1865.
  42. ^ "10th Cavalry Squadron History". US Army. 
  43. ^ U.S. 1st Artillery Regiment
  44. ^ The Army of the United States, edited by Theophilus F. Rodenbough, Bvt. Brigadier general U.S.A. and William L. Haskin, Major, First Artillery, Maynard, Merrill, & Co., New York, 1896, pp.301–311 The First Regiment of Artillery
  45. ^ U.S. 2nd Artillery Regiment
  46. ^ The Army of the United States, edited by Theophilus F. Rodenbough, Bvt. Brigadier general U.S.A. and William L. Haskin, Major, First Artillery, Maynard, Merrill, & Co., New York, 1896, pp.312–327 The Second Regiment of Artillery
  47. ^ The Army of the United States, edited by Theophilus F. Rodenbough, Bvt. Brigadier general U.S.A. and William L. Haskin, Major, First Artillery, Maynard, Merrill, & Co., New York, 1896, pp. 328–350 The Third Regiment of Artillery
  48. ^ U.S. 4th Artillery Regiment
  49. ^ The Army of the United States, edited by Theophilus F. Rodenbough, Bvt. Brigadier general U.S.A. and William L. Haskin, Major, First Artillery, Maynard, Merrill, & Co., New York, 1896, pp. 351–375 The Fourth Regiment of Artillery
  50. ^ Staff. A review of American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World (by David Stannard), on the website of the Oxford University Press (the publishers).
  51. ^ David Stannard (1992). American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-508557-4. "During the course of four centuries—from the 1490s to the 1890s—Europeans and white Americans engaged in an unbroken string of genocide campaigns against the native peoples of the Americas." (p. 147). "[It] was, far and away, the most massive act of genocide in the history of the world."(Prologue).
  52. ^ Sharon Johnston, The Genocide of Native Americans: A Sociological View, 1996.
  53. ^ Lyman Legters, The American Genocide, Policy Studies Journal, vol. 16, no. 4, summer 1988.
  54. ^ Stafford Poole, quoted in Royal, Robert 1492 and All That: Political Manipulations of History. Washington, D.C.: Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1992. p. 63.


  • "Named Campaigns: Indian Wars". United States Army Center for Military History. Retrieved 2005-12-13. 
  • Parker, Aaron. The Sheepeater Indian Campaign (Chamberlin Basin Country). Idaho Country Free Press, c1968.
  • Raphael, Ray. A People's History of the American Revolution: How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence. New York: The New Press, 2001. ISBN 0-06-000440-1.
  • Remini, Robert V. Andrew Jackson and his Indian Wars. New York: Viking, 2001. ISBN 0-670-91025-2.
  • Richter, Daniel K. Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-674-00638-0.
  • Thornton, Russell. American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History Since 1492. Oklahoma City: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987. ISBN 0-8061-2220-X.
  • Utley, Robert M., and Wilcomb E. Washburn. 'Indian Wars. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977, revised 1987. ISBN 0-8281-0202-3.
  • Yenne, Bill. Indian Wars: The Campaign for the American West. Yardley, PA: Westholme, 2005. ISBN 1-59416-016-3.

Further reading

  • Barnes, Jeff. Forts of the Northern Plains: Guide to Historic Military Posts of the Plains Indian Wars. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2008. ISBN 0-8117-3496-X.
  • Greene, Jerome A. Indian War Veterans: Memories of Army Life and Campaigns in the West, 1864–1898. New York: Savas Beatie, 2007. ISBN 1-9327-1426-X.
  • Griske, Michael (2005). The Diaries of John Hunton, Chapter 2 – "Frontier Warfare, A Tragic and Fearsome Thing". Heritage Books. ISBN 0-7884-3804-2. 
  • Kip, Lawrence (1859). Army life on the Pacific : a journal of the expedition against the northern Indians, the tribes of the Cour d'Alenes, Spokans, and Pelouzes, in the summer of 1858. Redfield. ISBN 0-5485-0401-6.  Available online through the Washington State Library's Classics in Washington History collection.
  • McDermott, John D. A Guide to the Indian Wars of the West. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8032-8246-X.
  • Michno, Gregory F. "Deadliest Indian War in the West: The Snake Conflict, 1864–1868", 360 pages, Caxton Press, 2007, ISBN 0-87004-4605.

External links


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