American Indian Wars

American Indian Wars

There is perhaps a tendency to view the
record of the military in terms of conflict, that may be why the U.S. Armyís
operational experience in the quarter century following the Civil War became
known as the Indian wars. Previous struggles with the Indian, dating
back to colonial times, had been limited. There was a period where
the Indian could withdraw or be pushed into vast reaches of uninhabited
and as yet unwanted territory in the west. By 1865 the safety valve
was fast disappearing. As the Civil War was closed, white Americans
in greater numbers and with greater energy than before resumed the quest
for land, gold, commerce, and adventure that had been largely interrupted
by the war. The besieged red man, with white civilization pressing
in and a main source of livelihood, the buffalo, threatened with extinction,
was faced with a fundamental choice: surrender or fight. Many chose
to fight, and over the next 25 years the struggle ranged over the plains,
mountains, and the deserts of the American West. These guerrilla
wars were characterized by skirmishes, pursuits, raids, massacres, expeditions,
battles, and campaigns of varying size and intensity.

In 1865, there was a least 15 million buffalo,
ten years later, fewer than a thousand remained. The army and the

Bureau of Indian Affairs went along with and even encouraged the slaughter
of the animals. By destroying the buffalo herds, the whites were
destroying the Indianís main source of food and supplies. The only
thing the Indians could do was fight to preserve their way of life.

There was constant fighting among the Indian and whites as the Indians
fought to keep their civilization. Indian often retaliated against
the whites for earlier attacks that whites had imposed on them. They
often attacked wagon trains, stage coaches, and isolated ranches.

When the army became more involved in the fighting, the Indians started
to focus on the white soldiers.

In 1862, when the north and south were
locked in Civil War, Minnesota felt the fury of an even more fundamental
internal conflict. The Santees, an eastern branch of the Sioux Nation,
having endured ten years of traumatic change on the upper Minnesota River,
launched the first great attack in the Indian wars. Eleven years
earlier the tribe had sold 24 million acres of hunting ground for a lump
sum of $1,665,000 and the promise of future cash annuities. The Santeeís
culture was not only disrupted, the Sioux gradually found themselves dependent
on trade goods, which made them easy prey for the white merchants.

The merchant would give them credit and collect directly from the government.

The Indians saw little of the annuities for which they had sold their birthright.

Their anger finally reached the flash point when, following a winter of
near starvation, the annual payment failed to arrive on time.

Bursting from their reservation, they killed
more than 450 settlers in the region before they were defeated by a hastily
assembled group of raw recruits led by Colonel Henry Sibley. Later
the killing of the white settlers was described as "the most fearful Indian
massacre in history. Four weeks after the rampage began, 2,000 Indian
men, women and children surrendered, 392 prisoners were quickly tried and

307 sentenced to death. Sibley favored execution at once. But Bishop

Whipple of Minnesota went to Washington to plead for clemency. After
a long appraisal President Lincoln commuted most of the sentences except
for the proven rapists and murderers. On the day after Christmas

1862, 38 Sioux warriors were brought to a specially built gallows and hanged
at the same time. Three of the leaders of the massacre had gotten away.

Shakopee and Medicine Bottle had escaped to Canada, they were kidnapped
back into the U.S. and were duly executed. Little Crow went to North

Dakota and returned to Minnesota the following summer and was shot by a
farmer while picking berries.

Red Cloud was beginning to emerge as a
major leader in 1863, when settlers and miners began to pour over a new
road called the Powder River Trail, or the Bozeman Trail after the scout
who blazed it. This road was to connect Fort Laramie, Wyoming, to
the new mining centers right through the best of all the Sioux hunting
grounds. The Indians under Red Cloudís leadership harassed travelers
on the trail with such determination that in the summer of 1866 white leaders
arranged a council at Fort Laramie. At the outset of the council
it appeared that peaceful use of the trail might be negotiated as long
as travelers did not disturb the game. But as serious talks got underway,
a Colonel Henry Carrington marched into Fort