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Indian wars

Wars in the West

After 1860 the wars continued but they now took place W of the Mississippi; the heaviest fighting occurred on the Great Plains, but there was also intermittent warfare in the Southwest and Northwest. In these conflicts most of the fighting was done by the regular army led by two of the more renowned Indian fighters, generals George Crook and Nelson Miles. Much of the opposition was furnished by four tribes: the Sioux, the Apache, the Comanche, and the Cheyenne. Other tribes that presented courageous but generally futile opposition to the white man's rapacity were the Arapaho, the Kiowa, the Ute, the Blackfoot, the Shoshone, the Nez Percé, and the Bannock. Among the Native American fighting leaders were Geronimo, Crazy Horse, Chief Joseph, Captain Jack, Red Cloud, and Mangas Coloradas. The warfare was characterized by numerous atrocities on both sides.

Until 1861 the Plains people had been relatively peaceful, but the advance of white settlers, with their wanton slaughter of the buffalo herds on which the Native Americans depended for their livelihood, led to the first of the numerous outbreaks in the West. Dissatisfaction among the Native Americans continued; the contributing causes were corrupt Indian agents, transgressions by prospectors seeking valuable minerals in tribal lands, and the interference of the railroads with the tribes' traditional hunting practices. Hostilities between the army and indigenous tribes reached its height between 1869 and 1878, when over 200 pitched battles were fought. Although the Native Americans fought fiercely and courageously, the continuing flow of settlers to the West and the spread of a Western railroad network made their resistance ineffectual.

Notable incidents in this bloody warfare include the virtual siege of Tucson by a band of Apaches led by Cochise, the massacre at Sand Creek, the Fetterman Massacre (see under Fetterman, William Judd), Custer's last stand (see Custer, George Armstrong), and the battle of Wounded Knee. Wounded Knee in 1890 is often considered the last battle of the Indian Wars although there was an expedition against the Ojibwa in Minnesota in 1898. By 1887, with the passage of the Dawes Act, a new era had begun. The resistance of the Native Americans was at an end, and the government had successfully confined them to reservations.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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