Native American Conflicts and Wars

Desert Conflicts


Native Americans in the Southwest had a different background from that of others in the United States. The Spaniards, who ruled this territory for many years, believed in making them dependent on their masters. They did not settle the tribes on reservations or take them away from their hunting grounds. But they sometimes massacred whole villages if the people disobeyed them. Many Americans favored the same violent method. The whites would often start a fight, then call on the government to kill the "hostile" Native Americans.

Apache Warfare (1861-1890"s)

Apaches terrorized Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Mexico for many years. The Apache disliked reservation life. They were determined to live as they had in the past or to die fighting. Their raids increased in the 1860's because the Civil War closed many frontier army posts. Leaders such as Chochice, Victoria, Mangas Coloradas and Geronimo led small bands of brave, cruel warriors in hundreds of lightening attacks on lonely posts outposts. In 1873 and 1883, General George Crook led expeditions that returned the bands to reservations temporarily.

In 1885, one group of 11 Apache braves escapes from a reservation. In four weeks, they traveled more than 1,200 miles, killed 38 people and captured 250 horses and mules. Army troops pursued them, but they eventually reached the safety in Mexico. The government decided on a campaign to bring about the final defeat of the Apache. Soldiers were ordered to "kill every Apache man capable of bearing arms and capture the women and children." Geronimo and his band surrendered in 1886. However, occasional raids by other bands continued. The Apache wars died away during the 1890's.

Navajo Conflicts (1846-1864)

The Navajo of Arizona and New Mexico easily adopted the customs of the whites. But sometimes they raided settlements of Americans, Mexicans, and other peaceful tribes. The government sent many expeditions against the Navajo, but fighting always broke out again. Finally, in 1863, Kit Carson marched with 400 men around the Navajo stronghold, the Canyon de Chilly in northeast Arizona. His troops killed much livestock and destroyed many crops. In 1864, they entered the canyon and captured the remaining Navajo. They were taken to Fort Sumner in New Mexico and imprisoned there until 1868.

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