Native American Conflicts and Wars

Death on the Plains


When the government first moved Native Americans beyond the Mississippi River, it settled them in what they called Indian country. This huge region included almost all the land between the Missouri River and the Oregon Territory. Treaties guaranteed this land to them "as long as the rivers shall run and the grass shall grow". Americans at first considered the area too dry for farming. Bur pioneers who traveled to the Southwest , California and Oregon soon began to cast hungry eyes on the land they passed through. Prospectors discovered gold and silver on Indian Land. The government began buying parts of the land back from the tribes during the 1850's and settled them on reservations throughout the West. The Plains people fought to keep their hunting lands and to avoid being confined to reservations. These Native Americans, unlike those in the East, owned horses. American soldiers praised their daring enemies as "the best fighters the sun ever shone on". But fighting between them and whites was so bitter that many Westerners claimed that "the only good Indian is a dead Indian."In this later period of warfare, the U.S. Army took over from the state militias the job of fighting the tribes. Also, the Indian Bureau, formerly the War department, became part of the Department of the Interior.

The Sioux wars (1854-1890)

They began with small clashes at Fort Laramie, Wyo., and nearby posts. In 1862 Little Crow led an uprising in Minnesota. The Sioux massacred hundreds of settlers in the New Ulm area before Army troops subdued them. Many of the surviving Sioux joined other Sioux farther west. In the 1860's, Ted Cloud and other strong chiefs drove out whites who entered Sioux territory. In 1868, in the Treaty of Fort Laramie, some of the Sioux agreed to live on a reservation in what is now South Dakota. But with the gold rush to the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1874, miners poured into the area, disregarding Sioux rights. Skirmishes broke out, and the government ordered all Sioux onto the reservation. Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse refused to bring their people. Outraged by attacks against the Sioux by the U.S. Army, Sitting Bull declared: "We are an island of Indians in a lake of whites&These soldiers want war. All right, we'll give it to them!"

On June 17, 1876, a force of Sioux surprised Brigadier General George Crook's troops and defeated them in the Battle of the Rosebud in southeastern Montana. The Army then sent another force against the Sioux. On June 25, troops led by Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer encountered several thousand Sioux and Cheyenne warriors on the Little Bighorn River. Not a single soldier in Custer's immediate command of about 210 men survived "Custer's Last Stand." The tribes then split into bands in order to escape more easily. The Army caught some, and others gave themselves up. A few, including Sitting Bull's band, fled to Canada.

A final Sioux uprising occurred in 1890, in connection with the religious cult of "the Ghost Dance". Major General Nelson A. Miles feared another war. He ordered the arrest of Sitting Bull, who had settled on the Standing Rock Reservation in South Dakota. When Sitting Bull resisted arrest, Native American policemen killed him. Big Foot then assumed command of the last band of hostile Sioux. The Army trapped the Sioux on Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota in December 1890, and destroyed them.

The Southern Plains (1860-1879)

In Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, other Plains tribes also fought against being placed on reservations. Hostile tribes, including the Arapaho, the Comanche, the Cheyenne under Black Kettle and the Kiowa under Satanta. These tribes were provoked by such incidents as the Sand Creek massacre of 1864, when a large force of militia in Colorado ambushed a village of peaceful Arapaho and Cheyenne, and killed warriors, women and children alike. Native American raids on settlements in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico and Texas came to a climax in the Red River of 1874-1875. Lieutenant General Philip H. Sheridan directed a campaign which resulted in the defeat to the warriors who surrendered after over 14 battles.

The Ute tribe also rose against the whites at various times. In Utah, the Walker War of 1853 and the Black Hawk war of 1865-1867 caused many casualties among Mormon settlers. In 1879, the Meeker Massacre marked the final Ute outbreak in Colorado. Chief Ouray restrained his people and stopped the revolt after N. C. Meeker, an unpopular agent of the government, had been killed.

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