Wars With Indian Nations

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This entry includes 3 subentries:
Colonial Era to 1783
Early Nineteenth Century (1783–1840)
Later Nineteenth Century (1840–1900)

Colonial Era to 1783

Warfare between colonists and the Native population in North America before 1783 played a vital role in shaping the attitudes and identities that emerged among both Native Americans and citizens of the United States. For Native people, these conflicts occurred in a context of catastrophic losses during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, caused by their exposure to European diseases. Between 1513 and 1783, contact between Europeans and Indians changed the nature of warfare for both parties: Native peoples experienced new levels of lethality as a result of imported weapons and tactics of mass destruction, while European colonists learned to exploit divisions among the Native population and incorporated such Indian tactics as ambush and firing from cover into their own strategies.

Clash on Contact: Invasions and Self-Defense, 1513–1609

In early April 1513, the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León landed on Florida's Atlantic coast, south of modern St. Augustine. Hoping to find new sources of gold or slaves, his expedition instead discovered an extraordinarily hostile Native population. Entering a Timucua village, the Spanish were attacked and put to flight. Further scouting up the coast led to a fierce conflict with eighty canoes full of Calusa archers. The Natives of Florida eventually drove off the Spaniards with bows and arrows.

Such immediate hostility was not the universal Native response to contact with Europeans. Native people reacted to Europeans with a mixture of fear and curiosity, but more frequent interactions over the course of the sixteenth century often proved disastrous. European aggressiveness and contempt for Native lifeways—particularly their proclivity for kidnapping Indians to gain intelligence and linguistic expertise—undermined amicable relations between the groups.

Sailing for the French in 1524, the Italian navigator Giovanni de Verrazzano was welcomed by Narragansetts and other Native peoples on the southern coast of New England, while those peoples he encountered farther north (who had dealt with European fishermen for decades) expressed hostility. Barging into the Pueblo settlement at Zuni in June 1540, the Spanish conquistador Francisco Vázquez de Coronado inadvertently profaned sacred rituals associated with the summer solstice and narrowly escaped with his life. That same year, a powerful Choctaw leader named Tuscaluza, who had grown tired of the brutalities inflicted by the Spaniard Hernando de Soto's gold-seeking expedition (1539–1543) throughout the American Southeast, assembled 5,000 warriors and engaged the intruders in pitched battle. The Battle of Mabila on 18 October 1540 lasted seven hours, and while the Choctaws and their allies suffered casualties in excess of 50 percent, their effort inspired other groups to resist De Soto's invasion with force. In 1541, the French explorer Jacques Cartier enraged the St. Lawrence Iroquoian town of Stadacona on his third voyage to Canada by failing to return any of the people he had kidnapped on his voyage in 1536, and by building a fortified settlement west of the town without permission. The Stadaconans secured assistance from all the Indians in the vicinity of modern Quebec City and besieged Cartier's post over the winter of 1541– 1542, killing thirty-five colonists and eventually forcing the abandonment of the colony. Despite the difficulty competitive Native polities experienced in formulating common policies, and despite the Europeans' advantage in military technology, Native Americans achieved a degree of success in expelling a range of European invaders from North America during the sixteenth century.

Seventeenth-Century Conflicts: Campaigns and Massacres, 1609–1689

On 30 July 1609, Samuel de Champlain, military governor of the new French settlement at Quebec, accompanied sixty Montagnais and Huron warriors to an arranged battle with the latter's Mohawk enemies on the shores of modern Lake Champlain. The French soldiers introduced the Mohawks to European firearms, killing dozens with volleys of musket balls fired from matchlock arquebuses, and rendering the Mohawks' massed, open-field battle tactics and their wooden armor immediately obsolete.

The establishment of permanent English, French, Spanish, and Dutch settlements in North America led the European powers to attempt to impose their legal authority on the Native population. This caused increased friction in the everyday contacts between colonists and Native peoples. Once colonists became capable of withstanding Native resistance, however, Indians had to adopt a mixed strategy of accommodation and resistance. Some groups sought alliances with Europeans to secure protection from hostile neighbors, while others employed alliances to extend their control over weaker peoples. The absence of solidarity among Native Americans in opposition to European invaders meant that, in conflicts after 1600, Native people were increasingly found on opposing sides of the battlefield.

Since 1607, English settlers at Jamestown, Virginia, had experienced uneasy relations with neighboring Algonquian peoples, owing to their growing appetite for Native lands. On 22 March 1622, the Pamunkey leader Opechancanough inflicted a surprise attack on the scattered plantations that resulted in the loss of 25 percent of the colony's population; he also led a second uprising in 1644 that killed 500 settlers. Brutal retaliatory attacks on the villages and crops of Virginia's Natives lasted for the next two years, as the colonists sought to eliminate the prospect of future threats. Similar belief in the need for the total defeat of enemy Indians arose in 1637 among Connecticut settlers, who procured Mohegan and Narragansett assistance to surround, burn, and slaughter an entire village of Pequots that had refused to submit to colonial legal jurisdiction. Dutch settlers in New York and their Mahican allies launched an extremely violent cycle of murders and massacres against the Raritans, Wecquaesgeeks, and Wappingers during Governor Willem Kieft's war (1641–1645). French efforts to bypass the Iroquois Confederacy as "middlemen" in the fur trade with Native peoples in the Great Lakes, and Iroquoian efforts to replace their people lost to disease through a captive-seeking "mourning war" combined to produce a protracted series of wars from 1635 through 1701. Indiscriminate attacks on neighboring Native peoples provided a rallying point for Virginia frontier settlers under Nathaniel Bacon in their rebellion against royal governor William Berkeley in 1676. In 1680, Popé, a Tewa spiritual leader of San Juan Pueblo, organized a joint uprising of the Pueblos in New Mexico against the Spanish imperial presence, targeting the Franciscan missionaries who had endeavored to effect dramatic changes in the Pueblos' daily lives. In the deadliest conflict of the century, King Philip's War (1675– 1676), the Wampanoag leader Philip responded to the

execution of three of his warriors charged with murder by Massachusetts authorities by organizing an effective campaign of frontier attacks on New England settlements. Plunging the Puritans into an intense spiritual crisis with terrifying guerrilla-style warfare that killed more than a thousand colonists, Philip elicited the combined wrath of the New England colonies, whose troops, with the assistance of Christian Indian allies, finally hunted him down in August 1676 and subjected his people to ruthless vengeance.

The Age of Imperial Wars: Alliances and Transformations, 1689–1760

On the night of 29 February 1704, a force of 48 Canadian militiamen and 200 allied Abenakis, Kahnawakes, and Hurons concluded a journey of nearly 300 miles overland to launch a surprise attack on the town of Deerfield, Massachusetts. The raiders killed between 40 and 50 residents, secured 109 prisoners, and burned the town. The prisoners were marched back to Montreal, and those who survived the arduous winter trek experienced varied fates of incarceration, redemption, or adoption into French-Canadian or Native American families.

Beginning in 1689, the imperial conflicts of Europe were exported to North America, and Native Americans became entangled in the wars between the English, French, and Spanish. As these conflicts grew increasingly professionalized, with the involvement of European regular troops and advanced techniques of fortification and siegecraft, Native Americans pursued their own objectives while fighting with their European allies as scouts and auxiliaries. They dominated warfare on the frontiers, attacking settlements at will, and defeating both settler militias and European regulars on many occasions.

The first two imperial conflicts, King William's War (1689–1697) and Queen Anne's War (1702–1713), quickly became stalemates in their North American theaters and thus had comparatively minimal impact on Native communities. Yet this period witnessed the rise of anew series of conflicts. Colonial encroachment on Native lands and Native resentment of the behavior of colonial traders, who supplied a range of goods (including firearms) many Native nations had come to depend on for their survival, led to the Tuscarora War in North Carolina (1711–1713), the Yamasee War in South Carolina (1715–1728), and the conflict known as Dummer's, or Grey Lock's, War in modern Maine and Vermont (1722–1727). The French experienced a series of wasting conflicts with interior nations who resisted the expansion of their military posts into the Upper and Lower Mississippi valleys, including the Fox of modern Wisconsin (1712–1730), the Natchez of Louisiana (1729–1742), and the Chickasaws of modern Alabama (1736–1739). King George's War (1744–1748) once again brought European rivalries to North America, but the neutral stance of the Iroquois Confederacy contributed to its indecisive conclusion. The most critical of the imperial conflicts was the last: the so-called Seven Years' War (1754–1763) began with Anglo-French rivalry for the Ohio Valley and ended with a peace that transformed the North American political landscape. English politicians poured unprecedented military resources into the final war for American empire and ultimately broke the pattern of colonial military stalemate, which left Native Americans to face an aggressively expansive Anglo-American settler population without a committed European ally.

The Revolutionary Era: The Rise of Pan-Indian Cooperation, 1760–1783

In November 1776, the Cherokee war leader Dragging Canoe made a difficult decision. Unable to convince the senior civil leaders of his nation to continue hostilities against the newly declared United States after a summer of harsh defeats, he led a migration of 500 Cherokees out of their traditional homeland in the Carolinas to the vicinity of modern Chattanooga, Tennessee. Known thereafter as Chickamaugas, Dragging Canoe's community hosted warriors from numerous eastern Native nations, and waged a relentless campaign of attacks on frontier settlers who encroached on Cherokee hunting territory through the era of the American Revolution (1775–1783) and beyond.

The years immediately following the Seven Years' War witnessed the first pan-Indian movements of resistance against the European colonial presence. The final phase of North American conflicts prior to 1783 was spurred on by the combined influence of nativistic leaders who preached of the need to reject the assimilative force of settler material culture and to return to traditional Native lifestyles, and by widespread Native resentment of the increasing arrogance of the victorious Anglo-American regime.

In 1759, the Cherokees were the first to strike out against the frontier settlements of the Carolinas, but their inability to secure any Native allies led to their crushing defeat in 1761 at the hands of British regulars. The Algonquian nations of the Great Lakes region united to fight Pontiac's War (1763–1766). Joined by Delawares, Shawnees, and Senecas, the Indians destroyed nine British forts, and killed an estimated 400 British troops and 2,000 colonial settlers before negotiating terms of peace. Virginian settlers who chose to ignore the treaty boundaries established to protect Native settlement and hunting territories in the Ohio Valley caused renewed hostilities with the Shawnees in Lord Dunmore's War (1774). No Native nation east of the Mississippi completely escaped the consequences of the American Revolution. Both British and American officials abandoned initial promises of permitting Native Americans to remain neutral in the conflict. After 1776, both combatants sought allies and pursued "enemy" Indians with equal aggression. More Native Americans sided with the British, considering them the lesser of two evils, but in the end they could not withstand the more numerous Americans' relentless and incredibly destructive assaults on their villages, crops, and population, best exemplified by General John Sullivan's devastating 1779 expedition in Iroquois country. Unable to protect their Native allies' settlements from the Americans during the war, the British abandoned the Indians entirely in the 1783 Treaty of Paris, surrendering all land east of the Mississippi to the United States without reference to extant Native claims of ownership. This action guaranteed that the early years of the new American republic would be marred by ongoing conflicts with the Native American population.


Warfare with colonists further disrupted Native subsistence patterns already rendered precarious by the demographic losses of the contact period, exacerbated intergroup rivalry and competition, and produced dramatic shifts in the political structures of Native communities as younger war leaders gradually gained ascendancy over elder civil headmen. The experience of the Indian wars of the colonial era also left deep imprints on the people who came to inhabit the United States after 1783. The frequency and brutality of conflict with Native Americans between 1513 and 1783 hardened feelings toward Native people and led to a persistent belief in their inherently "savage," treacherous, and warlike nature. Although subsequent military and administrative policies toward Native peoples frequently held assimilative intentions, they were based on assumptions of the Indians' status as beaten but still potentially dangerous obstacles to settler expansion.


Calloway, Colin G. The American Revolution in Indian Country: Crisis and Diversity in Native American Communities. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Dowd, Gregory E. A Spirited Resistance: The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, 1745–1815. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.

Ferling, John E. A Wilderness of Miseries: War and Warriors in Early America. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980.

Leach, Douglas E. Arms for Empire: A Military History of the British Colonies in North America, 1607–1763. New York: Macmillan, 1973.

Lepore, Jill. The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity. New York: Knopf, 1998.

Selesky, Harold E. "Colonial America." In The Laws of War: Constraints on Warfare in the Western World. Edited by Michael Howard, George J. Andreopoulos, and Mark R. Shulman. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1994.

Starkey, Armstrong. European and Native American Warfare, 1675– 1815. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998.

Steele, Ian K. Warpaths: Invasions of North America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.


See alsoExplorations and Expeditions: French, Spanish ; Indian Treaties, Colonial ; Indian Policy, Colonial: Dutch, French, Spanish, and English ; Warfare, Indian ; and individual conflicts , e.g., King Philip's War, Pueblo Revolt andvol. 9:Logan's Speech .

Early Nineteenth Century (1783–1840)

Warfare between the United States and the Indian Nations in the twelve years following the American Revolution involved the American attempt to occupy the region north of the Ohio River, a region Native Americans still claimed as their own. Since the British occupied Detroit throughout this period, British agents encouraged the Indians to resist and provided them with arms and ammunition.

Between 1785 and 1789, the federal government tried to purchase part of the Ohio Country in three treaties (Ft. McIntosh, 1785; Ft. Finney, 1786; and Ft. Harmar, 1789), but the tribes denounced these agreements as fraudulent. After Indian attacks forced settlers in the region to abandon their farms, the government ordered General Josiah Harmar to attack the Miamis and Wyandots, whom they accused of promoting the resistance. In October 1790, Harmar and 1,450 men marched from modern Cincinnati to the headwaters of the Maumee in northeastern Indiana. On 19 October 1790 part of Harmar's army was ambushed and defeated by a large war party led by Miami chief Little Turtle; two days later the Indians surprised the Americans again, killing forty regulars, including Major John Wyllis. Harmar retreated back to Cincinnati. He had lost 75 regulars, 108 militia, one-third of his packhorses, and much of his equipment. Meanwhile, a diversionary raid launched by Kentucky militia against Indian towns on the lower Wabash suffered no casualties and burned a few empty Indian villages, but failed to intimidate the tribesmen.

One year later Governor Arthur St. Clair and another army of over 2,000 men, including over half the standing army of the United States, retraced Harmar's route north toward the Maumee, but the results were even more disastrous. About one-third of the army (Kentucky militia and "volunteers") deserted enroute, but on the morning of 4 November 1791, near the headwaters of the Wabash, St. Clair's army was surprised by an immense war party of over 1,000 warriors. After a three-hour battle, the Americans broke through the Indian lines and fled, abandoning their wounded and most of their equipment. St. Clair's Defeat is the greatest Native American victory over an American military force in history. St. Clair survived, but he lost at least 647 men killed, and hundreds were wounded. Indian losses totaled about 150 warriors.

In response, the government ordered General Anthony Wayne, a strict disciplinarian, to rebuild the American army in the West. By 1794, Wayne was ready. He marched north from Cincinnati with 2,000 regulars and 1,500 volunteers, constructing a series of forts as supply posts for his forces. On 20 August 1794, he attacked a large force of warriors ensconced behind a natural barricade of storm-felled trees on the north bank of the Maumee River. The warriors fought back, but then retreated, intending to make another stand at Fort Miamis, a recently constructed British post just downstream from the fallen trees. Surprisingly, however, the British refused to allow the Indians entrance and the tribes dispersed into the forests. The Battle of Fallen Timbers was a major American victory. One year later, with the British still unwilling to support the Ohio tribes, the Indians signed the Treaty of Greenville (1795) in which they relinquished control of much of Ohio, and allowed the American military to construct posts at Ft. Wayne, Ft. Dearborn (Chicago), and other strategic locations.

By 1800, white settlement again spilled over onto Native American lands, and a renewed Indian resistance emerged, led by the Shawnee war chief Tecumseh, and his brother the Shawnee Prophet. The Shawnee brothers attempted to unite the tribes and prevent any further land loss, but in November 1811, Governor William Henry Harrison of Indiana Territory marched against their village at Prophetstown, near modern Lafayette, Indiana, and following the Battle of Tippecanoe, Harrison dispersed Tecumseh's followers and destroyed their village.

In the Northwest, the Battle of Tippecanoe was the opening engagement of the War of 1812, and much of the warfare in this theatre was fought between Indian and American forces. In early July 1812, an American army from Detroit attempted to invade Canada, but was forced back by British and Indian forces. After other British and Indians captured Fort Michilimackinac, on the straight between Lakes Huron and Michigan, Tecumseh and his British allies besieged the Americans at Detroit. In August they turned back two American attempts (the battles of Monguagon and Brownstown) to reestablish contact between Detroit and American forces in Ohio, and on 16 August 1812, the Americans surrendered Detroit to Tecumseh and the British.

The warfare spread from Ohio to Chicago. In mid-August Potowatomi warriors attacked the garrison of Ft. Dearborn after the army evacuated the post and was retreating toward Indiana. And in September the Kickapoos

surrounded Ft. Harrison, an American post on the central Wabash. Other Potawatomis besieged the American garrison at Fort Wayne, but in September the post was relieved by an army of militia and volunteers led by William Henry Harrison. In January 1813, the two sides clashed again when a force of Kentuckians were defeated by the Indians at Frenchtown, in southeastern Michigan.

During thespring of 1813, the Indians and British mounted another offensive. In May almost 2,400 Indians and British troops surrounded Ft. Meigs, an American post near modern Toledo, Ohio. The Americans withstood the siege, but on 4 May, the Indians surprised and killed or captured almost 600 Kentuckians led by William Dudley who had arrived to reinforce the American garrison. Two months later the Indians and British again surrounded Ft. Meigs, then abandoned the siege and launched an unsuccessful attack on Ft. Stephenson, a small post on the Sandusky River.

Following Commodore Oliver Perry's victory on Lake Erie, the Americans regained the initiative in the war and in September, they invaded Canada. Although Major Henry Proctor, the British commander, attempted to retreat to Toronto, Tecumseh demanded that the British stand and fight, and on 5 October 1813, at the Battle of the Thames, the Shawnee war chief was killed after British troops abandoned their positions and the Americans concentrated all their firepower on the Indians. After Tecumseh's death, effective Indian resistance in the Northwest during the War of 1812 crumpled.

Indians and Americans also clashed in the South during the War of 1812. Many Creeks had been receptive to Tecumseh's pleas for Indian unity, and in the spring of 1813, anti-American Creeks, or "Red Sticks," led by mixed-blood William Weatherford attacked and overran Fort Mims, a poorly constructed stockade on the Alabama River, killing over 500 unfortunate settlers. In response, Andrew Jackson assembled an army of militia and pro-American Creeks and destroyed Creek villages at Tallushatchee, on the Coosa River, and at Talledega, just east of modern Birmingham. Many Red Sticks then retreated to Tohopeka, a fortified town on a horseshoe-shaped bend on the Tallapoosa River. In March 1814 Jackson, pro-American Creeks, and 2,000 volunteers attacked Tohopeka, eventually killing over 500 of the 900 warriors, in addition to many Native American women and children.

In the 1830s, violence flared again. In 1830 federal officials forced the majority of the Sacs and Fox tribes to remove from Illinois to Iowa, but one band, led by the old war chief Black Hawk, occupied its ancestral village at Rock Island, Illinois, until the summer of 1831, when the Illinois militia also forced them across the Mississippi.

Short of food and shelter, Black Hawk and his followers spent a miserable winter (1831–1832) in Iowa, and in April 1832, the old chief and about 1,000 followers, including at least 600 women and children, recrossed the Mississippi, intent upon reoccupying their former village and harvesting corn they had left standing the previous summer. Settlers fled their farms in panic and regular troops commanded by General Henry Atkinson were dispatched from St. Louis to force the Sacs and Foxes back into Iowa. Meanwhile, units of the Illinois militia rushed toward the Rock River Valley, also intent on intercepting the Indians. On 14 May 1832, Black Hawk attempted to surrender to a force of Illinois troops led by Major Isaiah Stillman, but 300 mounted militiamen fired upon the Sacs' white flag and attacked Black Hawk's surrender party. Black Hawk and about forty other Sac warriors returned the fire and the Americans fled in panic.

For Black Hawk, the Battle of Stillman's Run was a costly victory. Additional militia units joined the volunteer army and Andrew Jackson dispatched 800 regulars to Chicago to assist in the campaign against the Indians. The Sacs and Foxes retreated up the Rock River into Wisconsin, then turned westward still attempting to reach the Mississippi and return to Iowa. Black Hawk held off his pursuers at the Battle of Wisconsin Heights, on the Wisconsin River, but the Sacs and Foxes lost almost seventy warriors while the Americans suffered only one casualty. The Sacs and Foxes reached the Mississippi at the mouth of the Bad Axe River on 2 August. Again, their attempts to surrender were rejected, and as they crossed over onto several low sandy islands in the Mississippi, they were caught between the fire from American troops on the bank, and cannons fired from an American gunboat in the river. The Battle of the Bad Axe lasted almost eight hours, but when the firing stopped, over 200 Indians lay dead on the islands or in the river. The Americans lost eleven killed and had sixteen wounded. Black Hawk escaped but was later captured and imprisoned at St. Louis. He eventually was released and died in Iowa in 1838.

American military campaigns against the Seminoles were more costly. Prior to 1819 Florida was controlled by Spain and the region was a haven for African Americans fleeing slavery in Alabama and Georgia. Since the Seminoles allowed the refugees to settle within tribal territory, plantation owners accused the Indians of harboring runaways, and in 1817, bloodshed occurred when an American military expedition attacked a Seminole village in southwestern Georgia, and the Seminoles retaliated by ambushing against American supply boats on the Apalachicola River. In response, during March 1818, Andrew Jackson led an army of 1,200 men into Florida where he found few Seminoles, but burned several villages; captured St. Marks (a Spanish fort); and executed two British traders. Jackson's success in the First Seminole War demonstrated that the region was vulnerable to American military power, and in 1819, Spain ceded Florida to the United States.

With Florida ostensibly under American control, demands for Seminole lands in the state increased. In 1823 Seminole leaders signed the Treaty of Moultrie Creek, which opened both Florida coastlines to white settlement, but retained the peninsula's interior for the Indians. But the Seminoles refused to surrender runaway slaves and plantation owners clamored for their removal. In 1832 at the Treaty of Payne's Landing, the Seminoles signed what they believed was a treaty allowing them to sendan "exploring party" to Oklahoma to examine lands in the west. If the Seminoles approved of the lands, they would agree to remove; if not they could remain in Florida. Evidence suggests that government agents bribed interpreters to misrepresent the terms of the agreement to the Indians, and when the Seminoles rejected the western lands, federal officials informed them that removal was not an option: they must leave Florida. The Seminoles refused and federal attempts to force their removal resulted in the Second Seminole War.

In 1835 Florida erupted in warfare. After stockpiling arms and ammunition, the Seminoles began to steal horses and other livestock. On 28 December 1835 a large war party of Seminoles led by Micanopy, Alligator, and Jumper ambushed a force of 107 officers and men led by Major Francis Dade just north of modern Tampa. The Seminoles killed 103 of the Americans while losing only three Indians. On the same day, Osceola and another smaller war party overran the Indian Agency near Fort King, killing seven other Americans.

Seeking retribution, General Duncan Clinch and an army of 700 regulars and volunteers pursued the Seminoles into the Wahoo Swamp on the Withlacoochee River, but were attacked and turned back before reaching any Seminole villages. Two months later, another party of Seminoles and ex-slaves attacked General Edmund Gaines near modern Citrus Springs. Although the Americans outnumbered their enemy, they remained on the defensive and after a series of skirmishes that extended over five days, the Seminoles withdrew and the Americans refused to follow them.

In January 1836, General Winfield Scott took over command of American forces in Florida, but he proved ineffectual in either finding the Seminoles or defeating them. In May he was succeeded by Governor Richard Call of Florida, who in turn was relieved by General Thomas Sidney Jesup in December. By early 1837, Jesup had 8,000 troops in the field, including friendly Creek and northern Indians, and although he could not catch the Seminoles, he destroyed many of their villages and gardens. The Seminoles faced growing shortages of ammunition. In March 1837 Seminole leaders agreed to a truce at Fort Dade where those tribe members who wished to go to Oklahoma would board ships for removal, but when white slaveholders arrived and attempted to seize both African Americans and Indians, the Seminoles again fled. The federal government committed 1,700 more troops to the campaign, and the army pursued the Seminoles relentlessly.

The pursuit took its toll, but Jesup augmented his campaign with treachery. On 25 October 1837, he invited Osceola and other Seminole leaders to meet under a flag of truce, but when they again refused removal he surrounded them with troops and imprisoned them in St. Augustine. In November Wildcat and eighteen other warriors escaped, but Osceola suffered from malaria and could not accompany them. Jesup then transferred Osceola to Fort Moultrie in South Carolina, where he died on 31 January 1838.

Following Osceola's death the Seminole resistance continued, but its intensity diminished. Yet the war also took it's toll on American military commanders. Five officers commanded American troops between 1838 and 1842. When Colonel William J. Worth took command in May 1841, fewer than 800 Seminoles remained in Florida. In March Wildcat was captured and he then used his influence to persuade other Seminoles to surrender. Small bands led by Billy Bowlegs and Halleck Tustenugge remained free of government control until August 1842, when the government established a small reservation, just west of Lake Okeechobee. Although no formal peace treaty was signed, the Second Seminole War had ended. About 600 Seminoles remained in Florida.

The costs of the war were staggering. The army had committed over 9,000 men against no more than 1,300 Seminole warriors and their African American allies. Eventually the government removed 4,400 Seminoles from Florida, but the cost totaled at least $20,000 per Indian, a colossal figure in the 1840s. Moreover, Jesup's violation of a flag of truce was disgraceful. It was neither the government's nor the army's finest hour.


Covington, James W. The Seminoles of Florida. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1993.

Gilpin, Alec R. The War of 1812 in the Old Northwest. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1958.

Hagan, William T. The Sac and Fox Indians. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1958.

Mahon, John K. History of the Second Seminole War, 1835–1842.

Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1967.

Prucha, Francis Paul. Sword of the Republic: The United States Army on the Frontier, 1783–1846. Toronto: Macmillan, 1969.

Sword, Wiley. President Washington's Indian War: The Struggle for the Old Northwest, 1790–1795. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985.

R. DavidEdmunds

See alsoFallen Timbers, Battle of ; Greenville Treaty ; Indian Policy, U.S.: 1775–1830 ; Ohio Wars ; Seminole Wars ; Tecumseh's Crusade ; Tippecanoe, Battle of ; War of 1812 ; Warfare, Indian andvol. 9:Sleep Not Longer, O Choctaws and Chickasaws .

Later Nineteenth Century (1840–1900)

These wars were a constant and recurring feature of American westward expansion. Until the Civil War, the federal government regarded the various tribes as independent nations. Prior to 1860, federal policy was to establish a permanent frontier between whites and Indians in an Indian country that would keep them apart. But the acquisition of California and the Southwest as a result of the Mexican-American War provided more opportunities for westward settlement and conflict with the native population there. The policy of creating one "Indian Territory" clearly would not work. The indigenous population of the Great Plains, Southwest, and West Coast represented a problem to many Americans since they occupied lands that the whites wanted. Federal policies and acceptance of tribal sovereignty was insufficient in the face of mounting white pressure for admittance to these lands. These demands would not be deterred by federal efforts in the early 1850s to place the various tribes on defined reserves in order to give whites access to the most desirable Indian lands. Eventually, Indians would begin to resist white encroachment.

In 1851, with the Treaty of Fort Laramie the federal government tried to curtail growing friction between Indians and the wagon trains crossing their lands. This agreement brought several Plains Indian tribes off the main routes of white advances by defining large tribal territories and pledging the tribes to peace. The federal government promised to provide food supplies in return. However, not all tribal members, some of whom were suspicious that the government would break its promises, accepted these treaties. Corrupt and unreliable Indian agents and the inability of the U.S. Army to keep white settlers from intruding on reservation lands led to warfare in the last half of the 1850s.

In southern Oregon near the California border, tribes known collectively as the Rogue River Indians turned to war to resist the invasion of gold-seeking prospectors in 1855, after efforts to negotiate treaties that would set aside lands for them failed. A similar discovery of gold in the new Washington Territory led to warfare between prospectors and the Yakima Indians at about the same

time. The Rogue River War was ended with a decisive defeat of the Indians and their removal to reserves in the Coast Range. The Yakima War ended inconclusively in September 1856, but in 1858 the tribes of the Columbia River area joined together to resist further white encroachment. Colonel George E. Wright defeated the Indians at the Battles of Four Lakes and Spokane Plains in September 1858. Wright then marched through the Indian country, hanging chiefs and others suspected of fomenting war. All resistance to white settlement ended in the Northwest by 1860.

Confined to an inadequate reservation and exploited by Indian agents, the eastern Sioux turned to war in this period, striking out under the leadership of Little Crow in 1862. Seven hundred whites were killed before federal troops and militia subdued them. In eastern Colorado, the Arapaho and Cheyenne came into conflict with miners who were settling in their territory. Seeking to recover the lands they were losing, these Indians attacked stage lines and settlements.

From 1862 to 1867, with federal troops largely diverted east because of the U.S. Civil War, Indian raids on isolated settlements and homesteads were conducted with devastating effect; whites struck back, often carrying the conflict to the "civilian" element of the indigenous population. Sioux raids in Minnesota in August 1862 led to the deaths of more than four hundred whites. After the military had defeated the Indians, capturing 2,000, a military commission tried the captives and ordered the execution of 303 of them. President Lincoln reduced the number to be hanged to thirty-eight, and the executions were carried out in December. The remaining Sioux in Minnesota were resettled in the Dakota Territory. Little Crow was fatally shot by a white farmer in the summer of 1863. In 1864 at the Sand Creek reserve in Colorado, retaliating for raids that might have involved some of the Arapaho warriors on the reservation, militia forces slaughtered al-most all of the Indians there. In late January 1870, a cavalry troop led by Major Edward M. Baker charged into a Piegan Blackfeet village in Montana, slaughtering 173 Indians, primarily women and children, many of whom were suffering from smallpox.

In the New Mexico Territory, war with the Navajo began in 1862, as that tribe resisted efforts to relocate them to the Bosque Redondo along the Pecos River. American forces led by Colonel Kit Carson under the direction of Brigadier General James H. Carleton, who commanded the Department of New Mexico, broke their resistance in January 1864. By the end of that year 8,000 Navajos had been transported to Bosque Redondo. After enduring harsh conditions for four years, the federal government allowed the Navajos to return to their homes in 1868, and the tribe remained peaceful afterwards.

After the Civil War, war broke out on a broad front. The longest running clash was in Montana, where the army was building the Bozeman Trail into the new mining areas being opened in the Black Hills. Angered by the intrusion into their hunting lands, the western Sioux, led by Red Cloud, were able to keep the army from completing the roadway. The Red Cloud War ended when Red Cloud signed a peace treaty late in 1868; the advance of the Union Pacific railroad to the south, which offered better routes into Montana, nullified his victory.

The Sand Creek Massacre led to a federal investigation and the creation of a new policy that resulted in peace treaties that placed the major tribes on a pair of large reservations, one in the Dakotas and the other in Oklahoma Indian Territory. Further, the government decided to work toward the assimilation of Native Americans into white culture, and Congress ended the practice of treating Indian nations as sovereign in 1871.

Indian resistance had not ended, however. The Modoc War began after the Modoc leader Kintpuash left the reservation in 1872, along with sixty or seventy other families, for their old lands in northern California. Efforts of Indian agents to persuade him to return to the reservation failed and force was applied. After an attack on their village in November 1872, Kintpuash and his followers took refuge in a lava formation that served as a natural fortress and heldout for several months. Peace talks between the two sides ended in April 1873 when the Modocs murdered General Edmund R. S. Can by, who led the peace commission. Eventually, dissension among the tribal leaders led to their defeat. Kintpuash and three others were hanged, and the Modocs were moved to the Indian Territory 1,500 miles to the east.

The confining nature of reservation life, continued white encroachment, and slaughter of the buffalo herds led to the Red River War of 1874–1875. Although they lived on the reservation, Kiowa, Cheyenne, and Comanche warriors often raided into Texas, Mexico, and occasionally Kansas. After the military lifted restrictions about carrying out operations on reservations, about 5,000 Kiowa, Cheyenne, and Comanche moved west beyond the boundaries of the reserves. Five columns of soldiers pursued them through the last half of 1874 and into early 1875. By autumn, some of the Indians were already returning to the reservation; all of them had come back by the spring of 1875.

In 1875 large numbers of Sioux, angered by crooked Indian agents and uneasy about white miners entering the Black Hills, began to organize. Under the leadership of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, they gathered in Montana. Three army columns were sent to round them up in the early summer of 1876, including the 7th Cavalry, commanded by George Armstrong Custer. In the battle at Little Big Horn, General Custer and his men were trapped by an overwhelming Indian force and wiped out. Lacking any real organization, however, the Indians soon began to disperse in small groups. These bands were eventually rounded up and returned to the reservation, and they ceased to pose a threat to white settlement.

In 1877 the Nez Perce refused to be restricted to an undersized reservation in Oregon and were compelled to resist efforts to keep them there. Following their leader, Chief Joseph, the Nez Perce tried to flee to Canada after defeating the military at White Bird Canyon. Following a pursuit that covered nearly 1,300 miles in twenty-five days, Joseph and his people were caught near the Canadian border and relocated to Indian Territory in Oklahoma.

A group of Cheyenne, led by Dull Knife and Little Wolf, fled the Indian Territory in 1878 in a futile effort to return to their lands in Montana. Caught and detained at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, in midwinter, the Indians made a desperate effort to escape. Soldiers gunned down many fleeing and unarmed Indians. The last organized resistance came from the Apache, who fought the whites from the 1860s into the late 1880s. Early leaders included Mangas Coloradas, who was killed during the Civil War, and Cochise, who accepted a peace treaty and agreed to move his people to a reservation in 1872. Other Apache leaders, notably Geronimo and Victorio, continued to fight, however. Victorio was killed in 1880; Geronimo surrendered in 1886. Geronimo's capture brought an end to the formal resistance between Indians and whites.

In 1890 panicked responses to a religious revival led to one final, tragic occurrence. The white assault on Indian life and culture contributed to the emergence of an emotional religion that originated in Nevada and spread swiftly among the Plains Indians. This new faith emphasized the coming of a messiah and featured the "Ghost Dance," which was believed to inspire visions in its ceremonies. Fearing an outbreak of violence, agents on the Sioux reserve sent for federal troops. The murder of Sitting Bull by an Indian policeman at Standing Rock prompted some of the Indians to flee the reservation. They were caught at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, and when fighting broke out forty soldiers and more than 200 Indians, including women and children, were killed. The battle was a one-sided slaughter as the soldiers cut down the Indians with a new weapon, the machine gun.

While the primary burden of fighting Indians was placed on the military, white civilians carried out a great deal of unofficial violence against Native Americans. For some, tracking down and killing Indians was a sport, at other times it was in retaliation for raids on white settlements. Many whites were committed to the elimination of the indigenous population, believing Indians were inferior and coexistence with them was impossible.

The Indians of the Great Plains were probably the most formidable adversaries encountered by whites in the mid-to late nineteenth century. Although there were exceptions, the inability of these tribes to unite in order to resist white encroachment contributed to their eventual defeat. Additionally, the slaughter of the buffalo herds by whites destroyed the source of food for many tribes, there by weakening their ability to fight back against the whites. Finally, the Indians had little chance to win a long-term struggle against a people who not only outnumbered them but who were economically and technologically superior.


Cole, D. C. The Chiricahua Apache, 1846–1876: From War to Reservation. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1988.

Drinnon, Richard. Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian-Hating and Empire-Building. New York: New American Library, 1980.

Faulk, Odie B. The Geronimo Campaign. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Limerick, Patricia Nelson. The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West. New York: Norton, 1997.

McDonnell, Janet. The Dispossession of the American Indian, 1887– 1934. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991.

Utley, Robert. The Indian Frontier of the American West, 1846– 1890. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1984.


See alsoApache Wars ; Black Hills War ; Nez Perce War andvol. 9:Account of the Battle at Little Bighorn ; My Army Life ; Speech of Little Crow on the Eve of the Great Sioux Uprising .