Native American Conflicts and Wars


Native American conflicts and wars were the struggles between the native people and white people for the rich lands that became the United States. The savage battles provide the background for many exciting stories and legends about frontier life and the nation's development.

English settlers established their small colonies along the Atlantic Coast in the early 1600's. As they moved into the Native American's lands in greater and greater numbers, quarrels developed between the natives and whites. These disagreements often led to the death of a native or a settler. Most of these wars resulted from such conflicts. These conflicts and wars continued until the 1890's.

Native American wars were not like wars as we know them today. We would call the "campaigns", because the fighting generally took place within a small area, and involved comparatively few people. A war usually took place between only one tribe and the white people who lived nearby. Sometimes the fighting spread, and many tribes joined in fighting the whites. Whites quickly adopted these tactics and struck in surprise attacks, usually at dawn. Native Americans killed or captured as many white men, women and children as possible, and often scalped the dead. A French missionary wrote of them at war: "They approach like foxes, fight like lions, and disappear like birds."

A basic cause for the fighting between white people and Native Americans was the different way of life of each group. Some tribes raised corn and other vegetables, but they all hunted wild animals for food and clothing. Most white settlers made a living by farming. In the East, they cut down forests to get farmland. After they destroyed trees and underbrush, wild animals could no longer live there. In the West, white hunters killed thousands of buffalos just for their skins. The tribes usually had to choose between moving to new hunting grounds, which were often occupied by hostile tribes, or fighting to keep their old ones. They know that the whites threatened both their lives and their security.

Both Native Americans and whites were to blame for the many frontier wars. The colonies refused to recognized the tribes rights. They believed the Native American were savages without souls. The Native Americans, in turn, did not understand the colonists ways. For example, when the Native Americans signed a treaty, they thought they had sold only the right to use the land, not the land itself. They did not realize that the could no longer hunt on the lands of their ancestors. just because their chiefs had made marks on a piece of paper.

Native American conflicts and wars could end in only one way. European Settlers came in a steady stream and had large families. They quickly outnumbered the Native Americans, claimed their lands, and push them westward.

But the European settlers did not bring the first warfare to the area. Native American tribes had fought among themselves for thousands of years. They struggled constantly for the best hunting grounds and village sites, for revenge after a killing of a member of their tribe, for personal glory. A brave earned his highest honors in personal combat with an enemy. Some tribes honored a warrior more for merely touching an opponent then for killing them. Many of these people thought that war and hunting were the only occupations for a man. Not all tribes were equally warlike. Some, including the Iroquois and Apache, fought almost all the time. Others, such as the Delaware, usually remained peaceful. After the whites came, Native American fought mainly for survival. Many peaceful tribes had to "take up the hatchet" and "go on the warpath".

Most conflicts and wars were little more than futile attempts by desperate, poorly equipped Native Americans to keep their land and way of life. The white people won and often rewrote history to suit themselves. A famous fighter General Nelson A. Miles, said that "the art of war among the white people is called tactics; when practiced by the Native Americans it is called treachery".

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