Indian Wars

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Sioux warriors in the Pine Ridge Reservation (1899)

As Indian wars in the strict sense of the wars and military conflicts between are North American Indians and European immigrants or - after the American Revolution 1783 - the troops of the United States designated. These took place from the beginning of the 17th to the end of the 19th century and led to the subjugation, expulsion or extermination of a large part of the indigenous people of North America. Its beginning is usually dated with the war of the first English colonists against the Powhatan Federation from 1620, and its end with the Wounded Knee massacre in December 1890, with which the resistance of the Plains Indians was finally broken. The best-known single event of the Indian Wars is the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, in which an Indian force consisting of Sioux , Cheyenne and Arapaho inflicted a heavy defeat on the US Army .

Use of terms and causes

Territorial expansion of the USA

Exactly which conflicts fall under the term “Indian wars” and which temporal-geographical framework best encompasses them, is not clearly defined. As a rule, the term is used for the following conflicts and conflict phases:

  • the subjugation, displacement and partial extermination of Native Americans during and after the period of the discovery of America in the " Age of Discovery ",
  • the early Indian Wars of the Thirteen Colonies and the subsequent border wars in the course of the expansion of the original colonization area,
  • the Indian Wars after the founding of the USA - a period that is closely linked to the gradual expansion of the state territory and is usually divided into the following three phases:
Indian cultures in the USA

The phases listed enjoy different levels of attention in terms of presentation and public perception. Historical treatises in Europe and the USA usually use the term to characterize the sequence of armed conflicts that went hand in hand with the settlement of the territory of today's USA. A narrower perspective focuses exclusively on the Indian wars with the plains Indians in the 19th century - especially in the period between 1860 and 1890, when the clashes with the tribes still living in the wild came to a violent conclusion. This perspective is also promoted by the familiar, ever-present image of the Wild West . While conventional historical research , which is mainly focused on states and nations , addresses Indian wars as a secondary aspect of US settlement history , current historians favor a cross-epoch, more cultural anthropological view. In this context they are only one aspect of the clash of different and differently developed cultures and societies . This is closely related to the fact that the expanding settlements encountered different Indian cultures and subsequently changed them in different ways.

Two key terms are regularly used in characterizing these wars: land and frontier . In most cases, the cause was the conflict over land. From 1608 onwards, settlements were founded by the first, mostly English, emigrants , first in Virginia , then also in what is now New England and the coastal areas in between . While living together was still possible in the first decades due to the small number of European immigrants and Indians as well as the large space available, this changed quickly from the middle of the 17th century. With the steadily growing waves of immigration , Indian interests and European territorial claims overlapped. Conflicts arose from different ideas about borders , territories and property rights . With the constant shifting of the settlement border to the west, the conflicts also intensified. In the course of this, the American indigenous population was pushed back more and more, displaced to more distant or remote areas and finally relocated to reservations . This process went hand in hand with an increasing destruction of the Indian livelihoods. The most spectacular example is the destruction of the huge bison herds , which formed the livelihood of the prairie tribes. In this process, the Indian Wars themselves were a series of sometimes smaller, sometimes larger clashes between immigrants, settlers and / or soldiers as well as individual tribes or federations from several tribes.

The individual war campaigns and the periods of rest in between were flanked by a large number of different treaties, agreements and unilateral proclamations. Some - such as the Indian Removal Act to relocate the eastern Indians to areas west of the Mississippi or the Treaty of Laramie 1868 - are considered important milestones in the history of the Indian Wars. The practice of establishing a legal status, however, goes back to the time of discovery. The Spanish acted differently towards the indigenous people in the Caribbean, Central and South America. In the course of the 17th century, the so-called requerimiento became a typical practice - a call for submission linked to the threat of war. The land grab and peace agreements concluded by the British, French and Dutch, as well as the later USA, usually emphasized the aspect of agreements between equal partners. Nonetheless, contract practice on the North American continent was also marked by numerous contradictions. In 1871, the United States suspended the practice of signing contracts with Indian tribes entirely and forced the tribes still living in the wild to place themselves under the control of the US government on reservations.

Cowboy in South Dakota (about 1888)

While the control and possession of land were mostly the cause of war, the term frontier denotes the character of the settlement border to the respective Indian areas. It first appeared in 1677 - to mark the difference between colony centers and the periphery. Between the landing of the first colonists in 1608 and the official end of the Indian wars in 1890, the frontier - and with it the scene of the Indian wars - steadily shifted to the west. In 1650, the settlement areas were still concentrated on a few narrow strips of land on the east coast (Virginia Colony, New England Colonies , Central Atlantic Colonies ; French and British settlements in Canada ). Fifty years later the hinterland was included and the remaining Indian populations were pushed back to island areas. By 1750 the settlement border to the Appalachian Mountains and Great Lakes had advanced. In the decades after the American Revolutionary War , the Ohio area and the Old Northwest first became the "frontier" and then part of the populated territory of the United States. Until 1850 the Mississippi formed the border to the Indian territory . After the last eastern tribes were forcibly relocated to areas west of the river in 1838, the territories west of it also came more and more into focus. The traditional settlement boundary, the Farmer Frontier, was joined by other frontiers in the course of economic development - the Miners Frontier of the prospectors ( California , Colorado , Montana ) or the Cattlemen's Frontier of the cowboys and cattle breeders ( Texas , Kansas , Wyoming ).

Also in Canada and in Central and South America there were disputes that were and are labeled with the term Indian Wars. However, the main characteristic of a compact, steadily advancing settlement border played a far less important role there. Despite the sometimes bloody history of conquest , European conquerors and immigrants mixed much more strongly with the native Indian population than in the USA. Societies made up of differently composed (relatively “pure-blooded”) descendants of Europeans , mestizos , indigenous populations and descendants of black slaves are characteristic of Latin American societies to this day. In addition, the terminology is different. While the term Indian is common for the North American descendants of the natives, the indigenous population in Latin American countries is commonly referred to as Indians . Although the constellation of “border wars plus the associated 'clash of cultures' ”, which is typical of Indian wars , plays a much smaller role in the history of Latin America, there were also a number of sometimes bitter Indian wars there. Examples are the war against the Mapuche in Patagonia in 1851 or disputes that went hand in hand with the land grabbing in remote areas - for example in the Amazon basin or the Gran Chaco in Paraguay . On the other hand, the term Indian wars is rarely used to refer to ongoing, sometimes armed, conflicts with indigenous populations such as in Guatemala or on the occasion of the Zapatista uprising in the southeastern Mexican province of Chiapas .

In the course of the growing interest in the fate of the remaining natives from the second half of the 20th century, further characteristic features came into focus, which were connected with the conquest of the European immigrants. Today there is unanimous agreement that 90 percent of the indigenous population did not die in the wake of armed conflict, but in the wake of epidemics brought in by the European conquerors. This applies to both North and Latin America. Conversely, the number of people who populated the two sub-continents before the discovery has been revised upwards significantly in recent years.

Vikings, Spaniards, French: the discovery phase

Reconstruction of a Vinland settlement on Newfoundland

The first contacts between Native American Indians and white colonists took place before the beginning of modern times . Although the attempts at colonization by the Vikings on the North American continent are still largely in the dark, the violent end of the second and third Vinland colony in 1004 and 1009 are historically guaranteed. The first landing - around the turn of the millennium - was only sporadic: Leif Eriksson , a son of Erik the Red , built a small, temporary settlement on the Newfoundland coast with around 30 settlers . Four years later, Leif's brother Thorwald led a larger expedition. After a clash with Indians (presumably from the Beothuk tribe ) this group also returned to Greenland . A third attempt to colonize Vinland failed five years later. Thorfinn Karlsefni and his group of around 160 settlers evidently managed to trade with the Indians. However, after the fighting broke out again, this group of settlers also left the Newfoundland coast.

Hernando Cortés

Persistent contacts between Native Americans and Europeans only came about as a result of Christopher Columbus' voyages of discovery . Columbus described the Taíno on Guanahani as hospitable and peaceful. Nonetheless, he captured ten of them and brought them to Spain as slaves, allegedly with the intention of proselytizing them . The Taino and other Arawak tribes resisted the Spanish invaders. However, they failed because of the superior weapons and the infectious diseases that the conquerors brought in. Hundreds of thousands died in the decade after 1492. The last fighting did not end until 1533. Only a few hundred remained of the Taino. In a similar way, the Spanish conquerors broke the resistance of the Central and South American high culture empires of the Aztecs and Inca . With cunning, bribery, the use of superior technology and brutal violence, a few hundred Spaniards succeeded in subjugating these empires. The exploitation of animosities and hostilities between individual tribes, peoples and empires played an important role. In particular, the fact that the Aztecs themselves spread fear and terror in the area contributed to their rapid fall, as the surrounding empires hoped the arrival of the Spaniards would bring an end to Aztec terror and oppression. With only 400 Spanish soldiers (and the active support of the surrounding tribal princes, who were more than sorry for the ongoing Aztec terror), Hernando Cortés conquered Tenochtitlán , the capital of the Aztecs, in 1519 . A similar fate befell the descendants of the Maya in the southern province of Yucatán . Francisco de Montejo , a veteran from Hernando Cortez's force, conquered the peninsula with around 400 soldiers. Overall, the conquest of Mexico was slowed down by isolated setbacks. Only a few decades after Cortés' adventure, however, the Spanish had consolidated their rule over central and southern Mexican territory. Tenochtitlán was renamed Mexico City in 1535 and became the administrative seat of the newly founded viceroyalty of New Spain . It is estimated that the number of the indigenous population was reduced to a tenth by 1567 compared to 1519 - from around 25 to 2.5 million.

The most important motivation behind the Latin American conquests were the precious metal stocks of the great Indian empires. The submission of the third Indian high culture - the Inca by Francisco Pizarro in 1532 - followed the pattern described. The gold and silver exports of the Spanish American colonies from the 16th century onwards became so important that the great power ambitions of the Spanish crown increasingly relied on this currency. The hope of discovering new gold deposits led Spanish conquerors to Florida, among other places . The conquistador Juan Ponce de León initially had little luck. During his exploration trips in 1513 and 1521 he got into skirmishes with the Calusa Indians who lived there. From 1539, Hernando de Soto went in search of gold, slaves and pagan souls, plundering and pillaging through Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina. In 1540 the first major battle with Indians in North America took place in Alabama, the Battle of Mauvilla , in which over 2,000 Indians were killed.

Coastal settlements founded later ( Fort Caroline and Pensacola ) only existed temporarily. The Spaniards only managed to establish a permanent settlement with the establishment of San Agostine (today: St. Augustine ) in 1565. Further north, on the coast of today's Georgia , the establishment of permanent settlements also failed. In the course of the so-called Juanillo Rebellion , the Indians expelled the employees of the Jesuits resident there in 1597 - mission stations .

Buildings of the Pueblo Indians: Acoma-Pueblo (1902)

The colonization of the northern areas of New Spain - roughly the area that today forms the southwestern United States - was only achieved by the Spaniards in the course of the 17th century. In the 1530s and 1540s, Spanish conquerors encountered the pueblo tribes - sedentary Indian peoples who lived in the mountains of modern-day New Mexico , including the Zuñi and Hopi . The conquistador Francisco Coronado undertook a famous expedition in 1640 . It took him over the Colorado River and the Rocky Mountains to what is now Utah . In 1607 the city of Santa Fe was founded as a trading post . As an important base, it soon became the seat of the governor of the northern Mexican province of Nuevo Mexico. A large, general uprising against Spanish rule took place around 70 years later - in 1680. In terms of its causes, the Pueblo uprising was a reaction to the draconian rule and punishment practices of the Spaniards as well as the forced labor system they used on theirs Tried to enforce country estates. In the course of the revolt, the rebelling Indian force succeeded in taking Santa Fe after only a brief three-day battle. The surviving Spanish colonists - around 2000 in number - fled to El Paso . Popé , the leader of the rebellion, appointed himself governor. It was not until twelve years later, in 1692, that the Spaniards managed to recapture the area.

The first contact between Indians and Europeans also occurred in the area of ​​the Canadian east coast in the course of the 16th century. Since 1525 the coast has been frequented regularly by French whalers . In 1534, the navigator and explorer Jacques Cartier met the Micmac , an Algonquin tribe of around 10,000 people, on the coast of the Acadian Peninsula . On another trip up the St. Lawrence River , Cartier also met the Iroquois . In the decades that followed, the French established further trading establishments. Mainly these served the trade in beaver pelts . Unlike the English colonists in the south, the French were less interested in the establishment of settlement colonies. Instead, they established an extensive and effective trading network. With their exploratory trips to the Great Lakes and the Mississippi, French traders, trappers and adventurers laid out the territorial framework for what would later become New France - the colonial territory of the French crown that stretched from Louisiana in the south to Hudson Bay in the far north.

From the beginning, the French branches were in competition with English shipping, exploration and trading companies. However, the English were initially more interested in finding the long sought-after Northwest Passage because of the possible shortened trade routes to the Far East . At about the same time as the establishment of the first settlement colonies on the later US east coast, the first settlers settled on the Canadian east coast - in Acadia , Nova Scotia and on the St. Lawrence River. The Québec branch was founded in 1608, and Montreal in 1642 . While Acadia remained a French-dominated colony, more and more Scots and Irish settled in Nova Scotia. There were two clashes among the Indians, into which the French were drawn, and clashes with settlers on the Newfoundland Island, which is far to the north: First, the so-called Tarrantiner War - a series of skirmishes between the Micmac and the Penobscot that lasted almost a decade -Federation. The second conflict was the persecution of the Beothuk on Newfoundland, which increasingly degenerated into their destruction. It began in 1613 as a dispute between northern Micmac and the Beothuk. After Scottish settlers took part in the fight against the Beothuk, the conflict turned into a creeping, long-lasting genocide . By the beginning of the 19th century the tribe had practically ceased to exist.

Indian Wars of the Thirteen Colonies

The establishment of British settler colonies on the North American Atlantic coast at the beginning of the 17th century is considered to be the causal trigger for the Indian wars of the following 300 years. The land-like occupation of the terrain resulted in a steady increase in settlements and, as a result, a rapidly growing number of colonists. If the founding settlements were still inhabited by a few hundred colonists, the number of people living in the thirteen colonies was already around 2 million on the eve of the American War of Independence . In the course of this period, the border with the Indian land shifted from isolated settlements on the Atlantic coast to a closed settlement border running roughly from the Appalachian Mountains to the Great Lakes .

Virginia, New England, and Mid-Atlantic Colonies (1607 to 1677)

The English colonists in Jamestown (1607) and New England (1620) were not the first. An unsuccessful attempt at colonization had already taken place on Roanoke Island off the coast of what is now North Carolina in the 1580s . In this case, too, the first conflicts with Indians quickly arose. Although the colonists were dependent on food deliveries from the Indians, they burned an Indian village and destroyed the harvest because of a comparatively minor cause (an allegedly stolen silver cup) . The commander of the colony, Richard Grenville , described the action in a succinct tone: "We plundered their corn and burned their village." Various myths have grown up around the end of the second attempt at settlement, the Lost Colony . On the one hand because of a puzzling message, which is the only guaranteed sign of life of the remaining 115 colonists. Second, because of Virginia Dare , the proven first settler child to be born on American soil.

Virginia Colony Indian War Theaters

In 1607, 105 English settlers founded Jamestown - the first permanent settlement on the US east coast. The colony had been initiated by the Virginia Company - an English trading company that had obtained a royal charter to operate the settlement. The relationship with the tribes of the Powhatan Federation, who dominated the region around the Chesapeake Bay and the mouth of the James River , was fraught with conflict from the start. The first years of the colony were marked by a fragile alternation between hostilities and attempts at appeasement. The chief daughter Pocahontas advanced to become a legend of American founding folklore . Whether the "Indian princess" actually saved the life of the colony founder John Smith is not certain. What is certain is that she married the tobacco grower John Rolfe and died of an illness after a visit to England.

Chief daughter Pocahontas (illustration from the 19th century)

The Virginia colonists waged two wars against the Powhatan. The first Powhatan War began after attacks by the first settlers and continued - with interruptions - until the 1620s. Jamestown was besieged twice in its course (1610 and 1622). The situation, which was fragile for the settlers, only improved after the arrival of the new governor Lord de la Warr and other colonists and soldiers. De la Warr practiced a scorched earth policy towards the Indians. One reaction to this was the so-called Jamestown massacre in 1622, in the course of which the Powhatan destroyed numerous English settlements in the vicinity of Jamestown in a coordinated attack. Due to the fact that the Indians killed around 350 settlers (around a quarter of the colonists at the time), this attack is considered the first major massacre by Indians of whites in North America.

The Second Powhatan War began twenty years later. In contrast to the first, the expulsion of the settlers was no longer an option. While the Powhatan tribes wanted to preserve their independence in the region and as large parts of their tribal area as possible, the settlers wanted to finally overthrow the local tribes. The number of people who lived in the expanding settlement had meanwhile grown to over 10,000. A wave of migration ensured a steady supply, during which tens of thousands of British, Scots and Irish emigrated to the new east coast colonies. The war ended with the defeat of the Indians and the breakup of the Powhatan Federation. As the Virginia colony continued to expand rapidly, the English made reservations for some tribes. Other tribal groups withdrew further inland.

Indian war theaters in southern New England

The Indian Wars in the New England colonies had a similar result. Unlike the Virginian colonists, the Pilgrim Fathers , who landed on the Mayflower at the end of 1620 and founded the Plymouth settlement with 102 settlers , emigrated not with the benevolent support of the king, but as opponents of the king. The Pilgrim Fathers were separatists - supporters of a particularly radical Puritan movement and had already made a stopover in the Dutch city ​​of Leiden on the train of their emigration . The basic constellation was the same as in Virginia. On the one hand, the newcomers were dependent on food supplies from the Indians. On the other hand, they displayed an increasingly arrogant, demanding attitude. The reaction of the local tribes was different. While the Wampanoag and Narraganset tried to establish a friendly relationship with the colonists, the clashes with the Pequot, who live in what is now Rhode Island, led to open war as early as the 1630s.

The Pequot War that broke out in southern New England in 1634 was fought with ruthless severity on both sides. The allied colonies in Massachusetts , Rhode Island, and the Connecticut River Valley , along with their Indian allies, launched coordinated campaigns against the Pequot. A particularly serious massacre occurred on May 26, 1637 on the Mystic River . Around 90 Connecticut militia members and several hundred Narraganset allies surrounded a fortified Pequot settlement and slaughtered around 500 residents. Recent research suggests even more deaths. The militia continued to pursue the survivors and killed a larger group - mostly women, children and the elderly - in a swampy area.

The result of the war against the Pequot was the almost complete annihilation of the tribe. Nevertheless, it is not the Pequot War, but the King Philip's War that is considered the most important and bloodiest Indian war on the east coast. Metacomet , the head of Wampanoag, had been concerned about the spread of the white settlements for some time. After a chain of minor disputes, Metacomet, called King Philip by the English, literally declared war on the New England settlements. In the course of King Philip's War 1676/77, the Indians attacked 90 settlements, completely destroyed 13 of them and killed around 600 colonists. On the Indian side, around 3,000 people were killed as a result of the war. Compared to other Indian wars of the colonial times, the King Philip's War was the most costly. The result was the same as in Virginia: The tribes on the New England coast were eliminated as a political force after this war. While individual groups continued to be harassed by the colonists, other groups fled to Canada and placed themselves there under the protection of the French.

In the central colonies, the conflicts with Indians were also changeable. In 1624 Dutch colonists established the Nieuw Amsterdam (New Amsterdam) branch and began exploring the Hudson Valley . In contrast to the British, trade interests were more in the foreground at the beginning. Nevertheless, armed conflicts were inevitable here, including with the Delaware and Mohegan , two other tribes that originally lived on the Atlantic coast. Under the aegis of Governor Willem Kieft , they escalated into a series of increasingly bitter skirmishes in the 1640s - for example the Peaches War in 1655 in the Manhattan Peninsula, which, according to tradition, was triggered by a banal fruit theft. Kieft's successor, Peter Stuyvesant , managed to calm the situation down. The colony of the Dutch ultimately failed because of its heterogeneous internal composition and the competition between the colonial powers. In 1664 the English succeeded in taking it over without further resistance.

Indian Wars in the East Coast Hinterland (1677 to 1775)

East Coast Indians from the Algonquin language group (around 1590)

The Dutch concluded what was probably the first formal land assignment contract with the Mohawk in 1643 . Unlike the Europeans, the Indians also viewed their land as property - but in a common economic sense. The English colonists and the official representatives of the British colonial administration, on the other hand, worked towards creating the legally unambiguous conditions possible - through an ever-growing list of different land assignment and peace treaties. On the one hand, many of these contracts came about through the use of deception, pressure, or overt dictation. On the other hand, subsequent settlers rarely felt bound by compliance. In 1754 the London government tried to establish the conclusion of contracts as a binding practice. In practice, however, this attempt failed.

Closely related to the different valuation of property rights was the devaluation of the indigenous indigenous population as uncivilized savages. First, it was fed by a Christian - missionary embellished sense of superiority. Increase Mather , the clerical leader of the Massachusetts Colony, described a smallpox epidemic that raged among the Massachusetts Bay tribes in 1633 as a godsend because it freed the land from the natives. In the 19th century, this feeling of superiority was increasingly mixed with the conviction that one belonged to a race chosen by Providence , which was destined to take possession of the abandoned, untouched wilderness .

The "Indian border" shifted further and further inland in the course of the 17th century. Roughly estimated, the colonial expansion took place in the following stages: By 1680, the settlements spread from the coastal plains into the hinterland and out into the rivers. From around 1650 the exploration of the Piedmont , a plateau in front of the Appalachians , began. At the turn of the century, the New England colonies were expanding northward. In 1662, another southern colony, Carolina, was established; In 1712 it was divided into North Carolina and South Carolina . Incidents with Spanish branches in Florida and Georgia became increasingly common on the southern border. In 1712 an expedition entered the Shenandoah Valley . From 1733, southern colonists began colonizing the Georgia Territory.

From the end of the 16th century, the British colonies became increasingly involved in conflicts between the major European powers. The French as well as the Spanish and the British made use of different alliances with native tribes. The War of the Palatinate Succession (1689 to 1697) operates under the term King William's War in the USA, the War of the Spanish Succession (1702 to 1713) as Queen Anne's War and the War of Austrian Succession (1744 to 1748) as King George's War . Together with the Seven Years' War (1754 to 1763) they are also known as the French and Indian Wars . Characteristic of these proxy and colonial wars were the different alliances that the British and French in particular entered into. The French, who showed a much more tolerant attitude towards the Indian tribes, succeeded in winning over the majority of the eastern tribes to their cause. The British, on the other hand, recruited the Iroquois, who live between Lake Ontario and the Atlantic coast, an ally as powerful as it is feared. In the area of ​​the "Frontier" the French and Indian Wars made themselves felt as an increasing sequence of skirmishes, Indian attacks and militia actions, only interrupted by small breaks. The main location was above all the colony hinterland between the Atlantic coast, Lake Ontario and Pennsylvania . From a world-political point of view, North America was merely a secondary theater of war. On the other hand, the colonial rights of rule were a not inconsiderable trigger for war. The British side ultimately decided all four disputes in their favor. Important interim result: France and Spain had to surrender parts of their North American possessions to England, which had now become the Kingdom of Great Britain .

North America at the time of the Seven Years War

Unlike the previous three Wars of Succession, the Seven Years' War in North America was more than just a proxy war. Supported by their respective Indian alliances, France and Great Britain finally fought for supremacy. The theater of war was both the colonial hinterland in the east and the Indian border. On the side of the French, the Delaware, Mohawk, Shawnee , Micmac, Ottawa and Hurons fought , on the side of the British Iroquois and Cherokee . Mixed operations units made up of regular units, militias and Indian associations were typical of warfare in the border region. Two important points of conflict were the Ohio Valley and the Canadian province of Acadia, an important theater of war the areas around Lake Ontario and Lake Erie . The unpredictability of the border war was shown, among other things, by the events on the occasion of the siege of Fort William Henry in 1757 - a major combat operation that later provided the background for James Fenimore Cooper's world-famous novel The Last of the Mohicans . After the commander-in-chief of the French units had negotiated an honorable withdrawal with the British defenders, Indian auxiliaries attacked the withdrawing party. With 70 to 180 dead, however, the number of victims was well below the 1,500 people who are said to have died according to contemporary reports.

Theaters of war in Pontiac's War 1763

The end of the Seven Years' War in 1763 ended, apart from the episode of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the French colonial rule in North America. A direct consequence was the Indian uprising in the area south of the Great Lakes, known as Pontiac's War . Pontiac , an Ottawa leader, had fought on the French side in the war. To prevent further penetration by British settlers, he formed an alliance with the Hurons, Delaware, Shawnee, Potawatomi and other tribes and began a large-scale attack on British forts and settlements south of the Great Lakes. Pontiac's forces managed to capture five forts. Only the siege of Fort Detroit and Fort Pitt (today: Pittsburgh ) remained unsuccessful . The siege of Fort Pitt is one of the few verified examples where the British and / or colonists considered the targeted spread of epidemics as a weapon of warfare. Jeffrey Amherst , Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces, discussed concrete procedures in an exchange of letters with the commanding officer Henry Bouquet to bring smallpox-infected blankets from a nearby military hospital and spread them among the Indians. It is not clear whether the intention was to be carried out. However, a smallpox epidemic actually raged among the surrounding Shawnee and Delaware communities as a result.

Although the Pontiac uprising caught the British unprepared, they subsequently succeeded in eliminating or pacifying the hostile Indian associations bit by bit. Three years after the start of the rebellion, Pontiac also gave up. In April 1769 he was murdered by a member of the Kaskaskia tribe - presumably on behalf of a British trader. The defeat of the Ottawa and their allies did not mark the end, but the beginning of another series of conflicts with the northeastern Indians. The scene increasingly shifted to the Ohio area - the hunting grounds of the Shawnee and Miamis. The attitude of the British colonial administration with regard to further western expansion was marked by contradictions. On the one hand, it had defined the area west of the Appalachians as an Indian area as early as 1756. In 1763 she emphasized this determination by a royal proclamation , which forbade unauthorized residence in areas west of the Appalachians. The crown officials also remained tough on other land issues: The colonial administration withdrew from Virginia's real estate companies 4 million hectares of land allocations that had already been applied for. It also recognized Kentucky as Cherokee property. Despite these declarations of intent, there were more and more actions by militias and settlers that thwarted these intentions. Shortly before the start of the Revolutionary War, for example, a militia association with 2000 members of the Virginia militia attacked the Shawnees in the Ohio Valley and drove the Indians across the river.

A Moravian brother baptizes three Delaware Indians

Overall, historians see the proclamation of 1763 as an additional point of conflict in the run-up to the American War of Independence . The polarized situation spread to declining areas of the frontier. A well-known example of the arbitrary and violent atmosphere was the appearance of the Paxton Boys - a vigilante troop who terrorized and killed 20 of the Christianized Susquehannock in the Lancaster area of eastern Pennsylvania in 1763 . Local authorities had initially tried in vain to protect the Indians. After discussions with leaders of the Paxton Boys, the governor of the colony finally relented; the murders went unpunished.

The declaration of independence of the colonies and the subsequent war of independence led to the constellation already known in the French and Indian Wars in the border areas. The vast majority of the tribes directly or indirectly supported the British. On March 8, 1782, the Pennsylvania state militia carried out the so-called Gnadenhütten massacre, an even bigger bloodbath of unarmed men than the Paxton Boys did twenty years earlier. Around 100 Delaware who had converted to Christianity and who were under the protection of the Moravian Brothers were victims . The incident also outraged many white Americans. However, none of the guilty parties were charged this time either.

In the southern colonies the urge to the west was initially less pronounced than in the central and northern ones. It is true that in the course of Bacon's rebellion there had already been efforts to proceed more aggressively against the tribes in the western hinterland of Virginia. The Appalachians remained a fixed border until the second half of the 18th century. With the beginning of colonization in the subtropical areas of what is now South Carolina and Georgia, this status quo changed. Between 1715 and 1717 the Yamasee War took place - a conflict between settlers from South Carolina and members of different tribes - including the Yamasee , Creek , Cherokee, Chickasaw , Apalachee and Shawnee. Hundreds of settlers and an indefinite number of Indians were killed in the course of this conflict. Although the disputes in the narrower sense were settled by treaties with the Creek and Cherokee, an insecure Indian frontier characterized by mistrust, vigilance and covetousness also developed in the southern border states.

Indian politics from the War of Independence to the Civil War

In the decades from the end of the Revolutionary War to the beginning of the American Civil War, the US settlement border shifted beyond the Mississippi. The western areas only became part of the United States in the decades after 1800. The most notable expansions were the purchase of the Louisiana area from France ( Louisiana Purchase , 1803), the agreement with Great Britain on the division of the Oregon Territory in 1846, the admission of Texas into the Union (1845) and the expansion to include what is now the Southwest in the course of the Mexican-American War 1846 to 1848. The settlement established with the Manifest Destiny not only led to the forced resettlement of the Indian tribes east of the Mississippi, but also to an extensive penetration into large parts of the western areas and the Pacific coast .

Indian Wars in the Old Northwest (1775 to 1814)

Settlement of Kentucky: Route of the Wilderness Road

A goal that was already achieved during the Revolutionary War was to secure the new settlements in the Ohio Valley, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee . A steadily growing influx of new settlers into the areas of Kentucky and Tennessee began on the Wilderness Road , a mountain path over the Appalachians that was built in 1775. In the Ohio Valley, General George Rogers Clark carried out several campaigns against the Shawnees, allied with the British. In 1783 he was accompanied by the ranger Daniel Boone on one of these forays . Boone wasn't just one of the main initiators of Kentucky colonization. With the leather stocking novels by the writer James Fenimore Cooper, which appeared in the 1820s , he became one of the first legends of the early Wild West. The opponents of the Americans were a heterogeneous coalition of tribes who regarded the area as their home country (Shawnees, Miamis) or who had fled westward in the course of past Indian wars (Hurons, Delaware). The war against the Shawnees turned out to be as bloody as it was protracted. Between 1774 and 1794, the Americans carried out eight military incursions into the Shawnee area. In the decade after 1779 the tribe was forced to give up its main village four times and to re-establish it elsewhere. At the Battle of Fallen Timbers , the Shawnees and the allied tribes were finally defeated. In 1786 they were forced to capitulate to the overwhelming power of the 80,000 or so settlers and in the Treaty of Greenville they ceded large parts of their territory to the USA.

Shawnee chief Tecumseh

Following the military pacification of the tribes in the Ohio Valley, the largely undeveloped areas of Indiana and Illinois moved into the focus of the settlers. William Harrison , governor of the Indiana Territory, initially acted tentatively friendly towards the Shawnee, Miami, Potawatomi and Delaware resident in the region . When the Shawnee leader Tecumseh, together with his brother Tenskwatawa , who appeared as a prophet, began to campaign for an Indian federation encompassing all tribes of the Midwest, Harrison was looking for an opportune time for the conflict. In the battle of Tippecanoe in 1811 he succeeded in severely defeating the Indian Federation. Tecumseh, who was on a journey to the southern tribes during the battle, was forced after this setback to largely abandon his idea of ​​a large federation of all North American Indians. In the British-American War of 1812 he fought with the remnants of his alliance on the side of the British and fell in one of the smaller battles of this war on the Thames River in the Canadian province of Ontario in 1813 .

The resistance of the eastern tribes was also exhausted on other sections of the Indian frontier. As governor of the new US state Virginia, Thomas Jefferson had launched several attacks against the Cherokee as early as 1780/81. Eleven villages were destroyed in the process. In 1785 the Cherokee signed a peace treaty with the new state. The North Carolina's delegation to the Continental Congress had made the extermination of the Cherokee Indians a duty and recommended that “(...) just enough of them to be left over to serve as evidence that the Cherokee people once existed. “ During the Revolutionary War, South Carolina General Griffith Rutherford destroyed more than 30 Cherokee settlements. As a result of the ongoing hostilities, the Cherokee signed a peace treaty with the new state in 1785. Jefferson's relationship with the Indian tribes on the border was altogether contradictory. Nonetheless, as US president in 1801, he promised to drive the Cherokee out of Georgia.

Seminole leader Osceola

Andrew Jackson, from 1829 US President, based his reputation among other things on his participation in the Indian wars against the southern tribes. As commander of the Tennessee Militia, he inflicted a decisive defeat on the Creek in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814. In the Treaty of Fort Jackson , the Creek had to cede large parts of their territories in Georgia and Alabama to Washington. Even before the start of Jackson's presidency, which is generally considered a turning point in terms of Indian policy, the forced sales of Indian land increased steadily. One consequence of this displacement policy was that individual Cherokee groups moved westward as early as 1794 and settled in Texas. Jackson waged another Indian war from 1814 to 1818 against the Seminole in Florida. Unlike the remaining four civilized tribes (Cherokee, Creek and the Chickasaw and Choctaw , who live further west in what is now the states of Alabama and Mississippi ), the Seminole, under their leader Osceola, continued their resistance in the Florida swamps until the 1850s.

During the Jefferson presidency (1801-1809), a number of decisive milestones fell for the western expansion of US territory. An important step was the purchase of Louisiana Territory from France in 1803. Until the first decades of the 19th century, the prairie areas west of Mississippi and Missouri and the Rocky Mountains behind were considered the Great American Desert . The expedition of Lewis and Clark made a planned exploration of this largely unexplored area . Between 1804 and 1806 it reached the headwaters of the Yellowstone River via the Missouri River and finally reached the Pacific coast via the passes of the Rocky Mountains . During her journey she not only came into contact with previously unknown Indian tribes such as the Mandan , but also discovered passable routes over the Rocky Mountains. In the following decades, US companies also increasingly participated in the fur trade with the Indians - including the American Fur Company founded by John Jacob Astor and the Rocky Mountain Fur Company owned by William Henry Ashley and Andrew Henry . The latter was based in St. Louis - an expanding trading post that had been founded by the French in 1764. The fur trade and other explorations by rangers - such as the exploration of the Colorado area by Zebulon Pike in 1806 or that of the Great Salt Lake in northern Utah by Jim Bridger in 1824 - were important milestones in the development of the western areas.

Indian Wars before and during the Jackson Era (1814-1837)

Relocation of the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminoles 1830–38

The presidency of Andrew Jackson (1829 to 1837) is not only generally regarded as an important turning point in the early history of the USA. Jackson was also an aggressive propagandist for settler interests with regard to the Indians and the western expansion of the USA. With the establishment of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1824, which was subordinate to the War Department until 1849 , the USA had already created a central authority for Indian affairs . Originally founded with the intention of protecting Indians from civilians, the Bureau developed in the following decades into a contradicting and controversial institution that was involved in corruption affairs. A central point on Jackson's agenda was the relocation of the Indians living east of the Mississippi to the area west of it. In 1830 he sent a message to Congress to relocate all Indians east of the Mississippi. In the same year the Senate and House of Representatives passed the Indian Removal Act - a relocation act that authorized the government to take concrete steps to induce the Eastern Indians to cede their lands and move away.

The five civilized tribes in the south - the Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole - were primarily affected by this relocation bill. In the course of their contact with the British and Americans, these tribes had adopted numerous cultures and institutions from their white neighbors. The 17,000 or so Cherokee remaining in the southeast had their own schools , as did the 30,000 or so Choctaw and Chickasaw in Alabama and Mississippi . In 1817 the Cherokee had their own legislature, which forbade tribal members from the further sale of Indian land. The bilingual weekly Cherokee Phoenix, founded in 1828, made tribal affairs its own . From a formal point of view, the Indian Removal Act presupposes voluntariness. In practice, however, it was associated with coercion. State governments simply repealed tribal laws. The Supreme Court , which the Cherokee appealed to, stated in its decision that the state of Georgia had violated the rights of the Indians. However, arguing that the Cherokee formed an independent nation, he ruled that the Cherokee had no power to file a lawsuit.

Two warriors of the Sauk and Foxes. Watercolor by Karl Bodmer (1833)

The deportation of around 25,000 Chocktaw began in 1830. As a result, around a quarter of the tribe perished as a result of deportation or illness. Thousands also died of the 23,000 or so Creek evicted from Alabama between 1832 and 1838. The resettlement of the Chickasaw in 1837 and 1838 turned out to be less costly. The approximately 16,000 Cherokee remaining in the east were reluctant to move until the end. In the course of the deportation, militiamen forcibly closed the offices of the Cherokee Phoenix. In total, the army deployed around 7,000 soldiers who were supposed to take care of the forced relocation. Thousands of tribesmen perished in the course of the raids, the subsequent interim internment in camps and on the march into Indian territory. Overall, it is estimated that around a quarter of the Indians involved were killed in the resettlement operation known as the Trail of Tears . The living situation in the new reserve also proved to be traumatic . The Indian territory , the eastern part of today's state of Oklahoma , was designed as a catchment basin for members of all remaining eastern tribes. While the survivors of the five civilized tribes were to find a new home in the eastern part, remnants of the Shawnee, Potawatomi, Kickapoo as well as Sauk and Fox settled to the west . Members of the Pawnee , Osage and Ponca tribes, who originally lived in the Missouri catchment area, but had increasingly come into conflict with the Sioux prairie tribes and their allies , also lived in this area.

The last great Indian war east of the Mississippi was the Black Hawk War 1831/32. At the end of the 1820s, the US authorities had succeeded in persuading the Winnebago , Kickapoo and Sauk and Foxes in the Illinois Territory to settle across the Mississippi in what is now Iowa . Parts of the territory (today's states of Indiana and Illinois) had become federal states as early as 1816. The decision of Black Hawk , a chief of the Sauk and Foxes, to return to the old area raised alarms among the settlers. The uprising itself was quickly put down with the help of state militia associations. Although the course was not very spectacular, the Black Hawk War was stylized as the last border war in the Old Northwest. In the associations that put down the uprising, two later presidents fought among others - Abraham Lincoln , President of the Union from 1861 to 1865 and the later President of the Confederate , Jefferson Davis . The first Black Hawk Purchase in 1832 confirmed the established facts. Two affiliation contracts - 1837 and 1843 - resulted in the Sauk and Foxes also having to leave their Iowa area and move further west.

The western expansion also gained a new dynamic in the Jackson era. The winged word of the Manifest Destiny did not come up until the 1840s. Formulated by journalist John L. O'Sullivan , it became an established expression for the belief that the United States and its people were destined to colonize the continent all the way to the Pacific coast.

American Indian Wars in Texas, 1821-1845

Texas around 1850. Marked in red: the area of ​​the Comancheria

From the 1820s onwards, another source of conflict in the form of the Texan Indian Wars developed southwest of the US territory . The first US settlers settled in Texas in 1821. The Spaniards initially opposed the settlement of Anglo-Saxon settlers in Texas and tried to limit them. After the Mexican War of Independence , these restrictions fell away. The new state of Mexico even recruited new settlers in order to colonize their northern provinces . The colony under Stephen F. Austin initially comprised around 3,500 people. In contrast, around 20,000 Indians lived on the Texan territory.

The first conflicts arose with Tonkawa and the Karankawa - a small tribe of only a few hundred people who lived in the savannah hinterland of the Gulf Coast on the San Antonio - and Colorado River . Austin described the Karankawa inconsistently. On the one hand he praised them as peaceful, on the other hand he called them “enemies of man” and suggested that they indulged in cannibalism , which, however, belongs in the realm of legends. With the settlement of more and more colonists, the conflicts with the tribes in the coastal hinterland intensified. The mutual skirmishes rocked higher and higher. After several punitive expeditions against members of the tribe, the Karankawa asked for peace in 1827. However, the persecution continued. In 1836 an estimated 250 to 300 members of the tribe were still alive. Most of them emigrated to Mexico. After the Mexicans drove around 50 survivors back across the border in 1850, Texan settlers killed the rest. The tribe has been considered extinct ever since.

First President of the Republic of Texas: Sam Houston (1856)

The policy of the Texan settlers towards groups of the tribes expelled from the east was contradicting itself. Davy Crockett , a war hero from the Texan Revolutionary War and politician from Tennessee who fell in defense of the Alamo in 1836 , had already spoken out critical of the Cherokee expulsion from his home state. Even Sam Houston , first president of the Republic of Texas , advocated a focused on balancing policy towards members of the displaced tribes. Houston's successor, Mirabeau B. Lamar, ignored the contracts concluded with the Cherokee. In 1839 he started a military campaign aimed at driving the Cherokee, Shawnee and Delaware out of Texas. The Cherokee chief Duwali was shot dead in a robbery, and the remaining tribesmen were driven to Arkansas. Only the second presidency of Sam Houston brought an end to the evictions policy. In 1843 and in 1844 joined Houston a series of friendship treaties with the remaining in Northeast Texas Cherokee, Chickasaw, Caddo , Biloxi and Shawnee and the Lipan - Apache and Comanche .

Lamar also pursued an expansionist policy towards the Comanche. The Comanche, the dominant equestrian tribe in the southern Plains, had pushed back the Spaniards as well as the Apaches in the course of its history. With the so-called Comancheria , he dominated a vast area that stretched from the Arkansas River in the north to the plains of Central and South Texas. The campaigns of the Texans under Lamar - also with the help of units of the newly formed Texas Rangers - ended militarily victorious. However, a settlement did not succeed. When around 40 chiefs appeared in San Antonio during negotiations in January 1840 to negotiate the release of white prisoners, the situation escalated when no agreement was reached. The Texans tried to arrest the chiefs. In the wake of the arrest, an altercation arose in which 30 Comanche were killed. The battle at the Council House was a small, rather insignificant battle in terms of magnitude. However, some historians see it as an important cause of the decades-long Indian wars on the southern plains .

Indian Wars in California until 1860

Girl of the Pomo (photography by Edward Curtis , 1924)

In the two decades before the outbreak of the Civil War , the urge to expand towards the West increased both quantitatively and qualitatively. The population of the United States had already increased to 5 million by 1800. In 1785 less than 6 percent of Americans lived west of the Appalachians, in 1840 it was 34 percent. Between 1845 and 1848, the United States expanded its state territory to the Pacific coast. Due to a partition agreement with Great Britain, the US won the Oregon Territory in 1846. In the Mexican-American War from 1846 to 1848 they secured control of the extensive area in the southwest. In addition to the new territories of New Mexico , Arizona , parts of Utah and Colorado and California, which joined the Union as a state as early as 1850, the territory of the USA now also included the territory of the former Republic of Texas. The latter had already joined the Union before the war in 1845. With the exception of a narrow strip in the southwest, which was acquired through the Gadsden purchase in 1853 , and extraterritorial areas such as Alaska , the United States had now reached its present size.

California Gold Panning Plant (1850s)

The acquisition of California in particular turned out to be a lucky coincidence - from the US point of view . As early as the 18th century, the Spaniards had established settlements on the entire Pacific coast. In 1848, less than two years after the area was occupied by US troops, gold was found in the Sacramento River valley . The California gold rush sparked a previously unknown influx of new settlers. The population of San Francisco grew from 1,000 to 25,000 people within one year. The number of gold prospectors alone increased from 92,000 to 380,000 between 1851 and 1860. The total population of the new state increased from 92,000 in 1850 to over half a million twenty years later. At the same time, the number of Indians living in California decreased. While it was around 300,000 at the beginning of the Spanish mission and around 150,000 at the end of the war with Mexico, it fell by 80 percent in the following two decades.

After the annexation of the Californian area to the USA, the Indian population was not only confronted with a new form of racism, fed by the Manifest Destiny . The Alta California newspaper, published in San Francisco, described the disappearance of the Indians as an inevitable consequence of the development of the state. In some cases, authorities and residents of the new federal state tied in with the repression of the Spanish - for example kidnapping and selling children. The newspaper Alta California described this practice in a report in 1854 as widespread: "Almost all children belonging to one of the Indian tribes in the northern part of the state were abducted." The system of forced labor practiced by the Spaniards was also changed by a resolution of the State parliament explicitly legalized in 1850.

The action taken by Californian prospectors, settlers and militia units against the Indians living in the state territory took on genocide-like forms in the course of the 1850s. During the Mexican-American War, units of the US Army under John C. Frémont and Kit Carson attacked a meeting of the Yana near the Sacramento River and killed around 200 Indians. In 1868 there were only around 100 of the previously 2000 to 3000 members of this tribe. In the area of Clear Lake , federal troops killed 135 to 200 members of the Pomo tribe in an attack in 1850 . After 1849, the fight against the California Indians came more and more into the hands of local militias and settlers. The common pattern was to organize campaigns - often in response to attacks or isolated raids by Indians. This type of persecution intensified from the mid-1850s. The California government supported the fight against the Indians by offering bonuses to Indian scalps . From 1854 to 1864, settlers and militias carried out a systematic genocide of the approximately 12,000 Yuki living in Northern California . The largest massacre took place in 1859 under the leadership of the bounty hunter HL Hall. Around 240 men, women and children fell victim to him. In 1868 the tribe had effectively ceased to exist with around 100 survivors. As victims of the Californian settlement phase, the historian Dee Brown lists a number of other tribes whose names have largely been forgotten - for example the Chilula (spoke the Hoopa-Chilula dialect of the Pacific Coast Athapaskan ), Chimariko (spoke a variant of the Northern Hokan ) , Urebure / Buriburi (tribe of the Ramaytush / San Francisco dialect group of the Ohlone ), Nipewais and Alonas.

The development of the west by 1860

19th century domain of fur traders: Green River, Wyoming

The vast area between the Mississippi and the Pacific coast was a wilderness uninhabited by whites until the first decades of the 19th century. After Lewis and Clark's expedition, fur traders had increasingly penetrated the Rocky Mountains. However, the fur trade did not lead to a density of settlements that was “critical” for Indian wars. Individual branches of the companies and military bases remained characteristic of this type of contact. In addition to the Indians, brigades, which usually consisted of two to three dozen rangers - including well-known " mountain men " such as Jim Bridger, Jedediah Smith and James Beckwourth , provided the actual fur supplies .

Similar to the French, the rangers practiced a comparatively tolerant approach to the Indians. This included numerous mixed marriages . Despite the comparatively relaxed relationship, the activities of the fur trading companies were not without problems for the Indians. On the one hand, the competition between societies often intensified animosity among the Indian tribes. Second, the fur trade promoted the transmission of diseases. Likewise, other manifestations that generally flanked the conditions in the frontier areas - overreaching, depletion of natural resources and the acquaintance of the Indians with alcohol . As a result of changing clothing preferences, the importance of the fur trade finally declined significantly in the 1830s. In 1840 the last major meeting between fur sellers and resellers took place on the Green River .

Sioux tipi settlement. Painting by Karl Bodmer (1833)

In the 1820s and 1830s, the prairie areas between the Mississippi and Rocky Mountains saw increased interest from the US and European public. Researchers and artists such as the Pennsylvania-born painter George Catlin or the Swiss Carl Bodmer traveled to the tribes on the Missouri, made sketches of the everyday life of the Indians and immortalized their impressions in naturalistic - romantic paintings. This ethnological interest was often accompanied by a romanticization of the life of the prairie Indians. In reality, this culture was a way of life in upheaval - resulting from a sequence of changes that had only occurred in the 18th century. In the course of this era, the Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Comanche and Kiowa tribes in particular had adapted the horse and, with its help, implemented a way of life as nomadic buffalo hunters. The establishment of this form of existence was accompanied by an ongoing battle against other tribes - both in the east in the Missouri region ( Pawnee , Osage and Mandan ) and in the west ( Shoshone , Ute , Crow and Blackfoot ).

From the first decades of the 19th century, Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Comanche and Kiowa formed a loose alliance of friendly tribes. This was directed more and more against the advancing settlers. While few travelers had passed the Great American Desert in the 1820s and 1830s , the number of settlers increased significantly in the 1840s. The main target was initially the Oregon Territory. With the gold rush of 1848/49 and the simultaneous exodus of the Mormons to Utah, the number of treks on the Oregon Trail , which serves as the main passage , increased significantly. While the treks only occasionally had to do with Indian raids in the first few years, these increased more frequently from the end of the 1840s. In order to contain the conflicts in the western territories, the US government concluded several treaties with the indigenous tribes living in the wild. One of these was the Medicine Creek Treaty of 1854, which sealed a series of land assignments in the Oregon Territory. The most important treaty of those years was a peace accord that US officials negotiated with representatives of the Prairie Tribes at Fort Laramie in 1851 .

In the 1850s, clashes with the tribes living there also took place in the Rocky Mountains Territories. Due to ongoing persecution, the Mormons decided in 1846 to leave their previous branches in Ohio and Missouri in order to found a Mormon state in the desert near the Great Salt Lake . In 1847, the Mormon leader Brigham Young brought a trek with around 700 participants on the Mormon Trail into the Utah Territory . In 1847 the Mormons founded Salt Lake City . In the years that followed, Mormon settlements came into increasing conflict with both the Paiute and Ute of the region and the US government. A prominent event in the run-up to the Utah War with the US government in 1857/58 was a staged raid on a settler trek. Mormons disguised themselves as Indians, presumably in order to steer US military activities towards the Indians. After a five-day siege, together with members of the Paiute tribe, they massacred 120 members of a group of settlers. The officials of the Mormon colony subsequently succeeded in delaying the investigation of the incident and thwarting the punishment of the perpetrators.

In the mountainous territories south of the Canadian border, too, conflicts with Indians increased from the mid-1850s. Two of the largest massacres in the region took place during or after the Civil War. In 1863, Union Army units surrounded a Shoshone camp on the Bear River in Idaho and killed around 250 Indians - including around 90 women and children. A similar raid occurred on January 23, 1870 on the Marias River in Montana. Presumably in response to assaults, the US Army attacked a Blackfoot camp, killing over 170 members of the tribe, three-quarters of them women and children.

Indian Wars 1860 to 1890

The Indian Wars between 1860 and 1890 shaped the confrontation with the Native Americans much more effectively than the Indian Wars before. In the course of this period the development of the western territories was stopped and the last free-living tribes were concentrated in reservations. The occupation of the western areas and the implementation of this policy led to bitter disputes - especially with the prairie tribes and the Apaches in the southwest. As a result, three massacres took place, the memory of which is still remembered today: the Sand Creek massacre in Colorado in 1864, the one on Washita in 1868 and that on the Wounded Knee in South Dakota in 1890.

Indian Wars during the Civil War (1861 to 1865)

Navajo and other tribes in what is now the American Southwest

During the American Civil War, the development of the western territories stalled temporarily. In order to replenish the Union and Confederate armies with soldiers, the garrisons of the western forts were thinned out or withdrawn entirely to the east. Nevertheless, three major Indian Wars took place between 1861 and 1865: against the Navajo in northeast Arizona and northwest New Mexico, against the Santee Sioux in Minnesota, and against the southern Cheyenne in Colorado.

The Navajo, who lived in northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico, had resisted the encroachment of Spanish and Anglo-Saxon settlers into their area in the decades before the outbreak of the civil war. They were also involved in hostilities with several Apache tribes, the Comanches and the sedentary Pueblo Indians. The tribe, which comprised several thousand members, had switched to sheep breeding , horse breeding and growing vegetables . In addition, the Navajo carried out regular raids against other Indian groups as well as white settlements.

With Fort Defiance , the USA had established a first base in the Navajo area in 1851. The advance of California Union units into Confederate territories in the southwest sparked open war in 1862. The California Column under the command of James Carleton moved into the Southwest Territories and strengthened the local units of the New Mexico Volunteers there under the command of Kit Carson. Although the real goal of the concentrated Union troops were the Confederate units along the Rio Grande , Carleton carried out a campaign against the Mescalero-Apaches after his arrival . Carleton forced them to settle in the reservation of Bosque Redondo . In 1863 he made Kid Carson supreme in the campaign against the Navajo. Carson, who had the reputation of an Indian friend, initially took the command reluctantly. Subsequently, however, he used a scorched earth strategy against the Navajo. Using coordinated advancing forces, Carson closed the main Indian base, Canyon de Chelly , and forced the Indians to surrender.

William T. Sherman

In the winter of 1864 the Navajo surrendered and began the Long March to the reservation in Bosque Redondo, 800 kilometers away. The conditions there were so scandalous that the government in Washington set up a commission of inquiry. According to historian Dee Brown, the commission members expressed partly sympathy and partly disinterest in the situation in Bosque Redondo. For the Navajo, however, Bosque Redondo was only a stopover. In 1868 - after a meeting with the Commander in Chief of the Army, William T. Sherman - the tribal members were finally allowed to return to their old territory.

Execution of 39 Santee Sioux in Minnesota (1863)

At about the same time as the war against the Navajo, the war against the Santee Sioux took place in Minnesota. The eastern branch of the Sioux in the woodland between Mississippi and Missouri had ceded nine tenths of its original territory as early as 1851. Depending on food rations, he now lived on a reservation on the Minnesota River . By the outbreak of civil war, around 150,000 settlers had moved to the former Santee area. When promised food deliveries were not made, the situation in the reservation worsened. Fueled by the indifferent to raw behavior of the local Indian commissioners, the Santee finally began a general uprising in the summer of 1862.

In the course of the Sioux uprising in the summer of 1862, there were attacks on individual settlers as well as coordinated attacks on settlements and forts. On August 19, the Santee attacked the city of New Ulm . Henry Hastings Sibley , commander of a 1,400-man expeditionary force of the American army, however, succeeded in effectively suppressing the Sioux uprising in the following weeks. Since several hundred settlers were killed during the fighting, Sibley installed a military court after the surrender of the Indians, which imposed exemplary severe sentences - including 303 death sentences . After an examination, US President Lincoln reduced the number of death sentences, but consented to the execution of 39 convicts. The 39 convicted Santee Sioux were hanged in Mankato on December 26, 1862 . The army moved the surviving members of the tribe to a reservation near Fort Snelling on the Missouri. The US government declared the contracts concluded with the tribe to be null and void after their surrender.

The third Civil War-era Indian War broke out in the Colorado Territory in 1864 . In 1858 gold was found at Pikes Peak . In the following years, thousands of gold prospectors poured into the region. At the same time, an increasing number of settlers settled in the Platte River valley . The southern Cheyenne and Arapaho were originally co-signers of the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1851. The steadily increasing hostilities were largely promoted by the actions of Governor John Evans and John M. Chivington , the commander of the Colorado Volunteers. At the end of June 1864, Evans finally accused the Cheyenne of having started a war and asked the Indians to go to "safe places" or to report to the local Indian agent in Fort Lion. In a second proclamation, Evans authorized the citizens of the territory to act individually or in groups against hostile Indians.

Chivington, a Civil War veteran and successful commander of the Battle of Glorieta Pass , New Mexico, launched a military pacification operation in the fall of 1864. On November 29, 1864, his column, consisting of around 700 soldiers, attacked a peaceful Cheyenne village on Sand Creek, mostly inhabited by women and children. In the course of the massacre at Sand Creek, the soldiers killed 105 women and children and 28 men. The Colorado Volunteers lost 9 dead and 38 wounded. Subsequently, Chivington tried to portray the raid as a military victory - among other things by stating that his troops had killed 400 to 500 enemy warriors in the action. White survivors such as the brothers Charlie and George Bent , who were in the Indian camp during the attack, contributed through their reports to publicizing the circumstances surrounding the attack and the atrocities committed during the massacre. As a result, a commission of inquiry came into being, which examined the incidents more closely, but confirmed that Chivington had behaved correctly. The southern Cheyenne survivors moved to the area south of the Arkansas River. In a treaty signed on October 14, 1865, they formally waived all land claims in Colorado.

The Wars against the Plains Indians (1865-1890)

Site of the Sioux Wars in the northern plains

In contrast to smaller tribes, the equestrian tribes of the Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Comanche and Kiowa proved to be serious military opponents until the 1870s. The western Sioux , who populated the prairies from the Nebraska Territory to the Canadian border, had made some concessions to the advancing Americans - including unhindered right of passage on the Oregon Trail. The core hunting grounds of the Oglala , Hunkpapa , Minneconjou , Brulé and Two Kettles north of the Platte River between Missouri and Black Hills in the east and the Tongue and Powder River country in the west were considered untouchable by the tribes. The northern Cheyenne and Arapaho were closely allied with the western Sioux or Teton or Lakota . The southern Cheyenne and Arapaho, on the other hand, regarded the land between the Platte and Arkansas River as their core area and maintained friendly relations with the Comanche and Kiowa south of it.

Sioux leader Red Cloud (right) and American Horse II (1891)

One of the trigger points of conflict for the Prairie Wars, which broke out after the end of the Civil War, were the events in Colorado in 1864. In addition, there were new settlements in the Platte River area and the construction of the first transcontinental railroad line by the Union Pacific Railroad . The immediate cause was gold discoveries in western Montana. Starting from Fort Laramie, the most important base of the US Army on the Platte River, the US laid a new overland route through the land that the Indians had been guaranteed to own - the Bozeman Trail . After the US Army began to secure the course of Bozeman Road with newly built forts, the Red Cloud War broke out, which lasted until 1868. With the so-called Fetterman battle , the Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho not only achieved a victory in which a unit consisting of 81 members was completely wiped out. In the second Fort Laramie Treaty , signed in 1868 , the USA explicitly recognized the area west of the Missouri, including the Black Hills and the land on the Powder River, as the territory of the tribes living there.

The clashes south of the Platte River were less favorable for the Indian tribes. In 1862 the Lincoln government passed the Homestead Act - a land acquisition law that decisively promoted settlement in the west. While the law legitimized the expropriation of Indian land, the US army, government and local officials increasingly pursued the strategy of forcibly relocating free-living Indian tribes to reservations. Another point was the greatly increased size of the US Army after the Civil War. While the federal troops limited themselves to maintaining a few presence bases in the Indian territories in the previous decades, they increasingly emerged as a conflict-determining force in the Indian wars after 1865.

George Armstrong Custer (1860s)

Former Major General George Armstrong Custer pursued a career typical of the post-civil war years . After the civil war he was retired from the army voluntary organization and continued to work as a captain in the fifth cavalry regiment of the regular army. He was then commissioned by the Army High Command to reorganize the 7th Cavalry Regiment in Fort Riley , Kansas. The fight against the Southern Prairie Tribes followed a similar pattern to the war in Colorado three years earlier. In the Medicine Lodge Treaties , negotiated in October 1867, the US negotiators required the Southern Prairie Tribes to settle near the reservation bases around Fort Sill . Following the treaty, hostilities with the southern prairie tribes intensified. Another major massacre occurred in the winter of 1868. On November 27th, Custer's column attacked a camp in southern Cheyenne on the Washita River, in which over 100 Indians - mostly women, children and the elderly - were killed. The attack on the Cheyenne camp was part of a pacification campaign, as a result of which Army Commander-in-Chief William T. Sherman and the Western Commander-in-Chief, General Philip Sheridan , carried out a series of campaigns aimed at removing the southern Cheyenne and Arapaho and the Kiowa and Comanche from the Driving away prairies and forcing them to settle in reservations.

The campaigns against the Kiowa and Comanche followed a similar pattern. After a series of mutual skirmishes from 1868 to 1871, the US Army captured the Kiowa chiefs Satanta , Satank and Big Tree , forcing the Indians to enter the reservations. In 1874/75 the resistance flared up one last time. Opponents of the US Army in the so-called Red River War were among others the Comanche chief Quanah Parker - son of a white man who had been kidnapped by Comanche during the Texan Indian Wars. At the end of the Red River War, the Comanche and Kiowa also settled in the reservation. A major contributory cause was the destruction of the buffalo herds by professional buffalo hunters. Within a few years they reduced the huge herds so much that temporarily only a few thousand animals were left. Instead of the bison, the cattle farming of the Texan ranchers increasingly dominated the southern prairies.

Sitting Bull (ca.1885)

The message of new gold discoveries in the Black Hills in 1874 also heralded the end of the Sioux tribes still living in the north. After the conclusion of the Fort Laramie Treaty in 1868, the US authorities began to set up Sioux reservations on the Platte and Missouri Rivers. The influx of settlers into the Black Hills and the associated flare-up of hostilities led to an ultimatum by the US Army with the request that the free-living tribes should be on the reservations by January 1, 1876. Since the Indian armed forces comprised several thousand warriors, the pacification campaign that the US Army began in the summer of 1876 encountered unexpectedly strong resistance. In the Battle of Rosebud Creek, the combined Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho defeated a strong military force under General George Crook . A coordinated attack on a large tribal camp in the Powder River area, presented by four army units, ultimately led to the Battle of Little Bighorn , the most famous military confrontation in the course of the Indian Wars. With his 7th Cavalry Regiment, Custer had not only separated from the remaining units, but also split his column, which consisted of 700 soldiers and Indian scouts, into three units. While the Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho under Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse succeeded in completely destroying Custer's troop, the remaining two units were liberated after a few days by arriving reinforcements.

Custer's “Last Stand” caused dismay and outrage across the country. Although the different Indian groups successfully mastered some defensive battles, they were forced to make their way into the reservation in the course of the following months. Crazy Horse and his group surrendered in May 1877. Sitting Bull and parts of his tribe initially fled to Canada. Since the dwindling buffalo population made it impossible to continue the previous way of life, Sitting Bull returned to the USA with the remains of his group in 1881. The military clashes with the Plains Indians lasted until 1878. That year the remaining groups of the Northern Cheyenne fled their allotted reservation in the Indian territory. The sensational escape over three states or territories, in which a few dozen Cheyenne warriors managed to shake off a superior military force several times, ended differently for the groups involved. While one was nearly wiped out near Fort Robinson , the second managed to make its way to the Sioux reservation and negotiate a small reservation near the Sioux reservation.

Escape route of the Nez Percé 1877

The last wars with Indians also took place in the Rocky Mountains in the 1870s. The Nez Percé War in the Northwest Territories in 1877 was just as dramatic as the exodus of northern Cheyenne. The Nez Percé , a smaller tribe in the eastern part of what is now Oregon and Washington , led five successful defensive battles against pursuing forces during their escape through Idaho and Montana Army units through. Most of the tribe eventually surrendered to Colonel Nelson Miles's troops near the Yellowstone River . A small group managed to escape to Canada, where they joined the Sioux of Sitting Bull. Another Indian war in the "Far West" of the USA was the Modoc War in 1872 against the Modoc - a small tribe in the north-eastern California mountains. Smaller Indian wars also took place against the Ute in the state of Utah and the northern Shoshone and Blackfoot.

The prairie areas were militarily pacified at the end of the 1870s. However, life on the reservations - especially the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and the western Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma - proved to be problematic for the tribes. Apathy, alcoholism, inactivity, quarrels and a lack of prospects led to persistent discontent. This was further boosted by the efforts of Indian agents and the military to sideline the leaders of the Powder River War. Crazy Horse was bayonet stabbed to death by a guard at Fort Robinson in 1877 . Sitting Bull was given the opportunity in 1883 to denounce the grievances in the reservations before a US commission. From 1885, he toured the United States and Canada with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show . Nevertheless, parts of the public held him against his participation in Little Bighorn all his life. In the course of the measures against the spreading ghost dance movement in 1890, triggered by Wovoka , a seer of the Paiuten , Sitting Bull was arrested and shot by a soldier in the ensuing tussle between supporters and police officers.

The ghost dance movement, an Indian redemption movement, fueled concerns among the US authorities about a new Indian war. In order to nip potential unrest in the bud, they once again set the military machinery in motion. The measures set in motion against the reservation Indians finally led to the massacre at the Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890 , in which around 350 men, women and children were mowed down, some with Hotchkiss cannons . The immediate trigger was the disarmament of a group of Minneconjou-Sioux who were to be deported to a military camp near Omaha . James William Forsyth , the soldiers' commander, was acquitted of all guilt. The assessment of this last incident in the course of the Indian Wars did not change until the 20th century. The Oklahoma Land Run of 1889 put a territorial line under the era - a spectacular race, as a result of which the western part of the former Indian territory was opened for general settlement.

Indian Wars in the Southwest (1860 to 1886)

'A Map in the Sand' by Frederic Remington, Cincinnati Art Museum

The Indian Wars in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico were very different from those in the eastern woodlands and on the plains and prairies. On the one hand, the area was opened up relatively late: the territorial phase of the two states of New Mexico and Arizona, which was concluded with the admission as a federal state to the Union , did not end until 1912. In addition, the type of warfare differed greatly. A characteristic feature of the Apache Wars was a guerrilla-like form of warfare, which went back to the time of the Spaniards and kept the southwestern US territories in suspense for over 30 years. In retrospect, the Apache Wars were the longest and most costly of all Indian wars.

Apache woman (photography by Edward Curtis, ca.1907)

Border wars with nomadic bands and local groups from the various Apache tribal groups in the New Spanish provinces of northern Mexico were already waged by the Spaniards. Unlike other Indian tribes, the Apaches were organized in smaller groups. During the 18th century, the eastern bands of the Apaches - the Mescalero Apache , Jicarilla Apache and Lipan Apache - became more and more infertile in the south-west and north as the enemy Comanche entered the Southern Plains (then part of the Gran Apacheria ) Pushed back Mexico, they adapted to the external circumstances and resorted to raids and raids against neighboring tribes as well as Spanish settlers and gold diggers. A commander of the Mexican army estimated that the Apaches killed around 5,000 Mexicans between 1820 and 1835 and forced around 4,000 Mexican settlers to leave their already established settlements and seek refuge in neighboring provinces. The number of members of the Indian tribes allied with the Mexicans who were killed in the conflicts or robbed by the Apaches is not mentioned, but is likely to have extended to hundreds.

While the Spaniards had previously paid premiums to allied tribes - such as Pima , Opata , Tarahumara and Comanche - for captured scalps and ears of Apaches, the raids (and war expeditions undertaken as retaliation) took place after the Mexican War of Independence from 1810 to 1821 on the part of the Apaches in the northern Mexican provinces (they reached their peak between around 1831 and 1850s), so that the Mexican states of Sonora , Chihuahua and Durango began again from 1835 to offer bonuses on Apache scalps. Sonora (at that time Arizona still belonged to it) was the first state to pay 100 pesos for each scalp (or ear or hand) of a warrior (from 14 years and older), in 1837 Chihuahua and Durango also paid 100 pesos for a warrior and in addition a premium of 50 pesos for women and 25 pesos for a child of either sex under 14 years of age; In addition, the scalp hunters were allowed to keep all Apache property as prey. The premiums paid for a warrior's scalp were very high for the time, as they corresponded to the annual earnings of many Mexican and American workers. The scalp premiums were later even increased and paid until the defeat of the Apaches in the 1890s: 200 pesos for a warrior, 100 pesos for a woman and 50 pesos for a child. There was also a flourishing slave market for captured Apaches. This official policy therefore attracted many shady characters hoping to make quick, cheap money: Famous scalp hunters like James Kirker (who was hired by the governor of Chihuahua for 25,000 pesos in 1839 to wrestle the Apaches) with his as Sahuanos (Shawnees) designated troop of approx. 200 men - consisting of Shawnee under the leadership of Skybuck (the second man after Kirker) and Lenni Lenape as well as some runaway black slaves from the USA and Americans and Mexicans. Indian bands like the Kickapoo as well as Seminoles under Chief Wild Cat (Coacoochee) and Black Seminoles (known as Mascogos in Mexico ) under John Horse, who were settled near Nacimiento in eastern Coahuila to fight the Apaches and Comanche, were taken for granted by the authorities Scalps paid. However, Kirker and other scalp hunters like John Glanton seem to have only made the situation worse, as they often enough attacked peaceful tribes (and not defensive Apaches) or peace-ready bands of the Apaches, such as in Galeana, Chihuahua in 1846, as Kirkers and local Mexicans Massacre of 130 peaceful Apaches. All in all, the rewards that were offered on Apache scalps did not bring anything militarily - they just achieved the opposite. Because when the Apaches noticed the cruel trade, they attacked the border settlements all the more brutally and abducted cattle and people by the thousands.

Apache chief Geronimo (photography by Frank A. Rinehart, 1898)

Despite their 250-year guerrilla struggle against the Spanish, the Apaches probably never numbered more than 10,000 to 15,000 members. The western Apache groups ( Tonto , Arivaipa) were less prominent in the course of the Apache Wars. The eastern Apache groups were partially pushed into the deserts of New Mexico by other Indian tribes (Mescalero, Lipan). In addition, the culture of individual groups, such as the Jicarilla, was more oriented towards the culture of the prairie and Pueblo Indians than that of other Apaches. The Chiricahua proved to be the most stubborn and bitter opponents of the US Army . The Chiricahua were not only the most feared guerrilla warriors, with Mangas Coloradas , Cochise and Geronimo , their tribal branch also included the most famous leaders of the Apache Wars.

Initially, there were only a few clashes with the US settlers. Cochise, a leading Chiricahua leader, pledged US negotiators in 1855 not to bother settlers and mail on the southern California route. After an attempted arrest, from which Cochise evaded, the precarious peace in the southwest soon escalated into a general Apache war. Cochise allied itself with other groups and covered settlements, post stations and gold rush camps on both sides of the Mexican border with years of guerrilla warfare. As a result, the Apache associations drove around 700 gold diggers from the Chiricahua Mountains .

The background to the increasing conflict with the Apaches was, among other things, the campaign against the Mescalero in 1862 and the establishment of the reservation in Bosque Redondo. Originally intended to permanently settle the free-living Indian groups and to encourage them to cultivate land, the conditions in the reservation - also due to overcrowding - became increasingly untenable. Although Bosque Redondo was disbanded in 1868 after an intervention by the Commander in Chief of the Army, General William T. Sherman, the Bureau of Indian Affairs stuck to the strategy of concentrating the individual Indian tribes in large reservations. After the civil war, the White Mountain reservation around the base of San Carlos became the central Apache reservation. Overcrowding and the ignoring of local differences and traditional ways of life meant that conditions there steadily worsened. Triggered by Apache raids in the area, on April 30, 1871, there was an attack near Camp Grant in which 144 peaceful Arivaipa Apaches were murdered.

The last phase of the Apache Wars, which lasted until the end of the 1880s, began in 1879. The trigger was the intention to relocate the Chiricahuas to the San Carlos Reservation as well. Victorio , one of their leaders, fled the reservation, recruited around 300 warriors in various reservations and covered the Mexican-American border area with a ruthless guerrilla war. On October 14, 1880, units of the Mexican army surrounded the Apache base camp and killed 78. Another breakout from the reservation under the leadership of Nana in 1881 ended similarly. During a retreat with units of the US Army, Mexican troops raided the main Apache camp and slaughtered men, women and children. In May 1885, Geronimo, another leader, fled with a group across the Mexican border. General Crook, meanwhile commander of the units of the US Army in the Territory of Arizona, managed to persuade the group to return.

The renewed flight of Geronimo and 30 warriors in the following year was the background of the last Apache campaign. The USA provided around 5,000 soldiers; in addition, there were Mexican associations across the border. With the help of Apache scouts , Geronimo and the last remaining warriors were found and persuaded to give up. The surviving Chiricahua, parts of the Arivaipa who had survived the 1871 massacre, and the Indian scouts who had helped hunt Geronimo, were deported in chains to Fort Marion in Florida. The children of the deportees were separated from their relatives and taken to a school in Pennsylvania. After the Comanche had agreed to give their former enemies refuge in their reservation, Geronimo and the survivors of his group received permission to settle near Fort Sill in Oklahoma. The result of the last Apache Wars was that - ten years after the end of the Indian Wars on the prairie - the era of the Indian Wars also ended in the southwest. However, raids by isolated Apache groups took place in northern Mexico until the 1930s.

After the Indian Wars: 1890 until today

Indian reservations in the USA (excluding Alaska)

In 1890, the US Census Bureau officially declared the end of the frontier . The number of American Indians announced by the agency in the same year (250,000) reached its all-time low of 240,000 in 1900. The criticism of the conditions in the reservations had already grown in the course of the 1880s. Nonetheless, American Indian policy remained heavily influenced by the aspect of forced assimilation in the decades after the fighting ended . The measures initiated were mostly aimed at turning the tribesmen into Christian farmers who gradually took over the way of life of the surrounding society. Boarding schools were a particularly notorious practice . Between 1880 and 1930, US authorities took away their children from thousands of parents and sent them to specially established boarding schools. The means used there - shearing the hair, forced Christianization as well as the ban on speaking one's own language - came under increasing criticism at the turn of the century. As a result, the worst parenting practices were abandoned or at least softened over time.

Woodrow W. Keeble received the Medal of Honor during World War II

Another measure of assimilation was the Dawes Act , a federal act of 1887. It cut up the reserve lands into small parcels that were allotted to individual families. A consequence of this property individualization was another massive loss of land. Between 1881 and 1900 it fell from 155,632,312 acres to 77,865,373. To make matters worse, in 1890 only a few tribes lived on their ancestral land. At the citizenship level , the first change occurred in 1901 when members of the six Iroquois tribes were granted US citizenship . The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 eventually made all Indians citizens of the United States. Large contingents of Indians were involved in the wars of the USA in the 20th and 21st centuries. At the First World War Indian than 12,000 took more volunteers participate. During World War II , over 44,000 men and women from various tribes served on the fronts in Europe and the Pacific . One of the most famous participants was the Pima Ira Hayes . Hayes was part of the unit that hoisted the American flag on a hill on the island of Iwo Jima . While the painting Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima became one of the most iconic images of World War II, Hayes, struggling with his fame, ended up being an alcoholic. In the Vietnam War fought 50,000 descendants Native Americans. Members of Indian tribes were also involved in the Second Gulf War in 1990 and in the Iraq War from 2003.

Although Indian war veterans lost their lives on the US fronts, the policy of paternalism and discrimination practiced by the Bureau of Indian Affairs changed little over the decades. Until the 1950s, for example, the Indian office interfered in the smallest private matters of the reservation residents. The freedom of movement of reserve residents was restricted until the 1950s and was dependent on special permits, which BIA employees granted or denied. A turning point was the Indian Reorganization Act of 1933, which explicitly stipulated cultural pluralism as a possibility. The new legislation was flanked by the activities of the social reformer John Collier , who had already campaigned against the common practice of land expropriation in the 1920s. The 1950s and 1960s brought both setbacks and partial successes. While the Eisenhower administration tried to reverse the group rights of the Indians in the 1950s , the federal administration under Kennedy and Johnson tried to improve the civil rights of the Indian minority and their social situation. Still, the Native Americans remained second-class citizens in many. The freedom to travel and the associated urbanization - together with the continuing social disadvantage and racist exclusion - led to uprooting and the associated ghettos in the large cities in the catchment area of ​​the reservations.

Flag with the logo of the American Indian Movement

It was not until the second half of the 20th century that there was a certain noteworthy resistance among the Indian population to cultural oppression. With the establishment of the American Indian Movement (ger .: American Indian Movement , or American Indian Movement , AIM) in 1968 it came in the 1970s to some spectacular actions of resistance to the new Indian Movement, working for a new Indian self-confidence, the revival of Indian customs and traditions and campaigned for autonomy rights in the reserves. This resistance involved symbolic rather than militarily effective actions, even if in individual cases it assumed militant proportions with the deployment of police and military on the other side. The most spectacular actions of the AIM and groups sympathetic to it were the occupation of the former prison island of Alcatraz in 1969/1970 in the Bay of San Francisco, the occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in Washington, DC and the occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973 in Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, which also resulted in gun battles with some deaths.

The situation on the reservations has been the subject of ongoing controversy since the activities of the American Indian Movement and the emergence of a civil rights movement fighting for cultural and social rights. On the one hand, the situation there is characterized by persistent poverty, neglect and extremely high unemployment. On the one hand, oil and mineral discoveries in the reserve area open up the possibility of economic improvement. On the other hand, some raw materials are the subject of legal disputes. The Indian casinos have come into the public eye in recent years - another source of income alongside tourism . On the one hand under the slogan makes New Buffalo became known casino boom for regular income. Since the majority of casino employees do not come from the reservations, the sustainability of this source of income has been questioned by a number of critics.

The 2016 protest campaign against the Dakota Access Pipeline brought the topic back into media attention. Over 100 tribes came there for one of the largest gatherings of North American Indians since 1920.

Indian Wars outside the United States

Cree Camp near Vermillion in Canada (1871)

Popular beliefs often assume that Indian wars took place predominantly or even exclusively on the territory of today's USA. On the one hand, this approach ignores a considerable part of the historical disputes. On the other hand, there are reasons for this focus - for Western Europeans as well as Americans themselves, for example, the fact that the founding history of the USA left far more lasting traces in the collective memory than that of the Latin American countries or Canada. A second major reason is the form of settlement. While in the USA this took the form of a relatively compact settlement border moving steadily westwards, the frontier in Canada, the Latin American countries and the Caribbean was a rather marginal size. Overarching considerations such as that by Ben Kiernan or the German historian Jürgen Osterhammel characterize Indian wars as a typical form of conflict on white settlement borders.

Considerations that include the entire continent usually list seven regions that were the scene of more significant Indian wars or indigenous uprisings: the USA, Canada, Mexico, Central America with the Caribbean region as well as the states of Colombia and Venezuela , the central Andean region , the southern tip of Latin America with Argentina , Chile and Paraguay and finally Brazil, which was opened up by Portugal . The development of the Canadian territories is very similar in terms of the type of settlement to the settlement of the US territory. Unlike in the USA, however, this did not lead to the intensity of border wars, settlement and displacement that shaped the western expansion of the USA. In the Latin American countries, the occupation of the territory and the subjugation of the indigenous indigenous people were shaped by different factors:

  • the claim to rule of the Spanish and Portuguese crowns, which defined the natives as subjects (to be Christianized in principle),
  • the system of large estates associated with submission and forced labor, as well as direct economic exploitation
  • Efforts to assimilate the indigenous population or to integrate them into the existing social fabric. The missionary activities of the Catholic Church played a particularly prominent role here - in particular the Jesuit reductions that were temporarily present on the whole subcontinent .
  • a stronger penetration of the different sections of the population, which in the course of the centuries produced the main groups of indigenous peoples, mestizos and Creoles (descendants of Spanish and Portuguese immigrants) typical of Latin American countries.

In addition to these common features, the type and intensity of conflicts in the New Spanish and Portuguese foundations were strongly influenced by geographical and economic factors. While the mining of ore and precious metals played a dominant role in the central Andean region of Peru , Ecuador , Bolivia , Colombia, Chile and - in the early days - in Brazil, plantation economies and the An. In the Caribbean, in Venezuela and on the Brazilian coast - and dismantling of different products the typical form of production. A frontier similar to that in the USA developed especially in the Argentine border areas. The development of the Amazon region and other remote areas such as the Gran Chaco, finally, was only tackled in the course of the 19th and 20th centuries. The political structure also took into account the different structure. At the beginning of the colonization phase, for example, the Spanish possessions were only divided into two viceroyalty: the viceroyalty of New Spain, founded in 1535 with Mexico and the rest of Central America, and the viceroyalty of Peru, founded in 1542, with the remaining Spanish possessions in South America and the Philippines . In 1717 the viceroyalty of New Granada (Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama ) split off . In 1776 the Spanish crown also combined the southern part of the Spanish conquests into an organizationally independent unit - the viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata .

The special history of the country and region is reflected, among other things, in the different proportions of indigenous groups in the total population. While Argentina is seen as a strongly Europeanized country shaped by its immigration and indigenous groups play a marginal role, they make up a high proportion of the population of the three Andean countries Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. In Brazil, on the other hand, there is a strong focus on developing the Amazon region and the associated handling of the rights of native indigenous people.


Finally, in Canada the settlement factor played a similar role as in the USA. The development of the Canadian territories, however, was much more marked by the fur trade than in the USA. This only changed with the development of the western prairies in the first decades of the 19th century. Until the founding of the Canadian Federation in 1867, the conclusion of treaties remained the predominant way of resolving conflicts and land disputes. As a rule, the Indians were viewed as contractual partners - even if this did not change the fact of the land transfer. This policy did not change fundamentally in the following decades. One consequence was that the settlement in Canada - compared to the USA - was relatively bloodless.

There has only been one major conflict with indigenous peoples in recent Canadian history: the conflict with the Métis . The origins of the Métis, a mixed population of (former) French, Indians and new settlers, reached back to the 17th and 18th centuries. Their settlements were concentrated in the mid-19th century mainly in the prairie areas of the provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan . The massive influx of new settlers from the east finally triggered two rebellions, in the wake of which part of the province of Manitoba, the Red River Colony , declared itself briefly independent. The Canadian government finally put down the Red River Rebellion of 1869/70 as well as the Northwest Rebellion of 1885. Members of the Cree also took part in the latter - an Indian tribe that belongs to the Algonquin language family and whose original settlement area stretched from the Atlantic coast to stretched out into the western prairies. The Métis are now recognized as an indigenous people, but are not part of the First Nations , as the Indians of Canada call themselves - in contrast to the Native Americans in the USA.

Mexico and Central America

Recalling Aztec Culture: The Foundation of Tenochtitlan (painting by Roberto Cueva Del Río)
Members of the Yaqui (circa 1910)

In nominal terms, the administrative unit of the Viceroy of New Spain, founded in 1535, covered a wide area: in addition to today's Mexico, large parts of the USA, Central America and a large part of the Caribbean islands. The subjugation of the Aztec and Maya empires took place within a few decades. On the borders of the Spanish-American empire, however, rule was rather superficial and was limited to isolated settlements, bases and the encomienda typical of the Spanish form of colonization . The determining factor for this system was the creation of large estates, which were given in trust to conquists or their favorites. The system, which included forced labor and slavery at least in principle, was maintained until 1791. Under pressure from the Catholic Church, among others, it was increasingly replaced by a system of land allocation, the so-called Repartimiento, in the previous centuries. On the one hand, this system left the land to the indigenous communities for use. On the other hand, it contained fixed work obligations for state institutions.

After independence in 1810, the Indian policy of the new Mexican state alternated between two opposing poles. One was a stronger return to the "Aztec" roots - a demarcation that was mainly due to the newly won independence from the Spanish crown. This national awareness went hand in hand with an upgrading of the Creole origin. In the course of the 19th century, which was largely shaped by the liberal property elite, an opposing movement was articulated more and more - the appreciation of the mestizo , i.e. the shares of ancestry traced back to white ancestors. Persistent conflicts with Indian populations occurred mainly in the southeast and northwest. In the 1830s and 1840s, bloody clashes took place on the Yucatán peninsula with the indigenous population living there. In the course of the suppression of the independence movement on the peninsula, which was also articulated in the long-running caste war , probably 200,000 to 300,000 people were killed.

While the pacification of the Yucatán Peninsula was a conflict similar to a civil war, the clashes with the Yaqui in the northwestern Mexican province of Sonora were very similar to the Apache Wars in the USA. The resistance of the Yaqui against the Spaniards reached back to the 16th century. As early as 1533, the Yaqui had succeeded in repelling a Spanish expeditionary force. Unlike other tribes, they did not oppose proselytizing, but in 1617 asked for Jesuit missionaries to be sent. A century later, however, in 1740, an uprising ensued, as a result of which the Yaqui drove the missionaries away and withdrew further into the Sierra. Between 1826 and 1833, the Yaqui joined forces with the Pima and other tribes in the region with the aim of keeping the central Sonoran government out of their territory. In 1867 the conflict finally turned into a border war that lasted a total of three decades. With the Acta de sumisión 1897 this conflict was also settled. Nonetheless, there were isolated skirmishes until 1917. Finally, in 1927, President Cárdenas granted the Yaqui their own reserve.

In the rest of Central America and the Caribbean, the situation was more strongly influenced by the interests of other European colonial powers. Until their independence, the states of Honduras , El Salvador , Guatemala and Nicaragua were part of the New Spanish Viceroyalty and Mexico, respectively. The Miskito Coast , the eastern part of Nicaragua mainly populated by Miskitos , was a British protectorate until 1860 - as was neighboring Belize . After the territory of Nicaragua fell, the Miskitos succeeded in obtaining extensive autonomy rights within the Nicaraguan Republic - a legal status that was reaffirmed in an arbitration award from the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I in 1881 . In addition, Nicaragua was not only repeatedly victim of US interventions - among others by the mercenary and adventurer William Walker from 1855 to 1857. In the years 1725, 1777 and 1881 there were armed uprisings by indigenous peoples.

Colombia and Venezuela

Greater Colombia and its successor state New Granada (1824)

The colonization of the northwestern areas of South America was part of the general Spanish conquista . The first branches in Colombia - Santa Marta and Cartagena - were established before the subjugation of the Inca Empire. From 1530, the Spanish conquerors pushed further into the Andean region . The most important tribes in the region were the Chibcha , sedentary highland inhabitants, who had much in common with the Inca culturally, and different Arawak peoples who farmed and lived mainly in the river valleys of the coastal plains. The Spaniards followed the same pattern in the area that would later become the Viceroyalty of New Granada as in other places. Bogotá , founded in 1538 under the name Santa Fé , soon advanced to become the capital of the newly founded viceroyalty. With its port cities and the goods handled there, the viceroyalty of New Granada soon advanced to become the most important interface of the Spanish American empire. In the 17th century, 80 percent of the world's gold production came from Colombian mines.

Compared to Colombia, Venezuela was initially rather neglected by the Spanish. In the period immediately after the discovery, pearl mining was the dominant industry. As elsewhere, the Spaniards forced the Indians to work - including pearl diving. The cultivation of sugar , tobacco , coffee and cotton subsequently led to an above-average use of black slaves - a population group whose descendants have played a key role in shaping the country's culture to this day. Another large population pool was provided by immigrants from the Canary Islands . A special feature of the Venezuelan colonization history was the direct participation of southern German investors. The Augsburg banker Bartholomäus Welser financed an expedition in 1528 to explore the country's riches. The first governor of the province of Venezuela was Ambrosius Ehinger from Ulm . After armed clashes with indigenous tribes in the region, he founded the city of Maracaibo in 1529 . A major rebellion of the distressed indigenous people took place in the mid-16th century. Guaicaipuro , a local Kazike , led several tribes - including the Naiguatá , Guaicamacuto , Chacao, and Baruta - into battle against the Spaniards. Only under the leadership of Diego de Losada did the Spaniards manage to permanently occupy Caracas , formerly a small base, in 1567 . Control over the region remained fragile until the 17th century. It was not until 1628 that the Spanish conquerors succeeded in subjugating the last Jirajara resistance fighters in the Yaracuy area.

Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador

At the time of its discovery and conquest by the conquistador Francisco Pizarro , the Inca Empire encompassed areas beyond the Peruvian heartland in what is now Bolivia and Ecuador and as far as Chile and Argentina. The conquest of the Inca Empire led to the rapid subjugation of the Indian cultures in the central Andean regions. The vassal peoples of the Incas did not offer any resistance to the strangers, since they had been under foreign rule anyway. Only Manco Cápac II , the Inca ruler appointed by the Spaniards, made a major military defense attempt in 1536 . He was able to flee from Cusco , the capital of the Inca Empire captured by the Spanish, and raised a gigantic army of former subjects with which he besieged Cusco and even threatened Lima . After the failure of the uprising, he organized a retreat in the region of Vilcabamba and founded a kingdom in exile there. In 1544 he was murdered by seven supporters of Diego Almagros whom he had given refuge. The murderers were caught and killed by the Indians. The last Inca, Túpac Amaru , was kidnapped by the Spaniards from Vilcabamba in a coup d'état in 1572 and then executed.

It was only the oppressive forced labor regime and the social conditions among the Indians that occasionally led to indigenous uprising movements in the 18th century, for example the rebellion under Juan Santos Atahualpa in the years 1742 to 1755, which however remained unsuccessful. Forty years later (1780 to 1783) , however, the Great Rebellion under the head of the cacique, José Gabriel Condorcanqui, was temporarily more successful . Condorcanqui, known under the name "Túpac Amaru II.", Consciously sought an alliance with Indians of other ethnic groups and mestizos. Nevertheless, the uprising failed. Condorcanqui was captured by the Spanish in 1781 and publicly quartered in Cusco . In today's Peru, Túpac Amaru II is sometimes captured as a champion of national independence. Guerrilla organizations such as the Tupamaros in Uruguay in the 1960s and 1970s also referred to his model, but not the Peruvian MRTA , which refers directly to the historical Inca in its name.

With a population of 9 to 14 million, the Quechua are the largest indigenous language group in the region. They emerged, among other things, through a decade-long struggle against the land redistribution pursued by influential landowners - a conflict that results in land occupations and expulsions in constant succession . The pronounced conflict in the region between indigenous peoples on the one hand, and rich hacienda and mine owners on the other, has led to strong polarization in the political landscape, among other things. While the economically strong Creole elite are traditionally closely associated with right-wing movements, indigenous politicians almost consistently position themselves on the left side of the political spectrum. The best-known example: the Bolivian President Evo Morales, who was re-elected for a second term in 2009 .

Argentina and Chile

Members of the Mapuche (contemporary engraving, 1890)

In comparison, the Frontera in the Argentine pampas has most of the similarities with the US American Frontier . The landscape of the country in the four regions Gran Chaco in the north, the central Pampas, Patagonia in the south and the Andean foothills on the border with Chile ensured an above-average inconsistent form of land grabbing that stretched over a long period. The Spaniards, who settled in the region in the 16th century, initially limited themselves to individual settlements. Fundamentally, little changed in this superficial form of taking possession; State dominance was only really exercised in the vicinity of the cities until the 19th century.

The policy practiced by the Spaniards of concluding internationally binding treaties was also retained by the Argentine government - as was the restriction to regard the Indians and their land as part of the Argentine national territory. The real development of the extensive pampas south of Buenos Aires lasted until the second half of the century; Even in the 1830s, Indian raids were not uncommon in the province of Buenos Aires . Juan Manuel de Rosas carried out a first campaign against the free-living tribes of the Pampa region in the 1830s, a second, much more bloody and rigorous campaign, in the 1870s by Julio Argentino Roca . Both campaigns led to the displacement of the indigenous population and finally strengthened the cattle and Hazienden economy based on large estates, which is typical of the pampas to this day.

Patagonia, the southern foothills of Argentina, was essentially inhabited by two indigenous peoples: the Tehuelche or Patagonians and the Mapuche, also known as the Araucans . The resistance of the semi-nomadic Mapuche, who had settled in the region parallel to the Spaniards, reached back to the Arauco War in the early days of Spanish colonization. The Mapuche had not only resisted the Spanish colonization bitterly, but in some cases successfully. In 1641 they recognized the Mapuche as an independent nation in the Treaty of Quillín. Due to increasing immigration in the 19th century, the situation changed more and more to the disadvantage of the tribe. Chile, which had confirmed the independence of the Mapuche in 1825, annexed the Araucanian region by force after a campaign in 1861. The Mapuche areas in southern Chile were subsequently settled by new immigrants from Europe - especially Germans. A bizarre episode in the Indian history of Argentina and Chile is the story of the Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia . In the 1870s, the French adventurer Orélie Antoine de Tounens briefly succeeded in establishing an independent Mapuche state. In 1860 the chiefs of the Mapuche elected Tounens to be king. However, his efforts to gain international recognition failed miserably. Historians tend to rate the history of the Kingdom of Patagonia as a comical fringe episode. However, the Mapuche resistance was finally broken only in the 1880s.

The border war with the Indian tribes in the Gran Chaco area in the 1880s was just as violent as the " desert campaign " carried out by President Roca against the indigenous inhabitants of the pampas. The Guaycurú and Apipones tribes in particular offered sustained resistance . The development of the partly savanna-like, partly rainforest-like region in the border area of ​​the four states Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil was partly similar to the development of the rainforest areas in the Brazilian Amazon basin. Even if not so frequently, there have been initial contacts with previously unknown indigenous groups in Gran Chaco areas as well. The Triple Alliance War between Paraguay and an alliance made up of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay from 1864 to 1870 , after which Paraguay had to cede large parts of the territory to the other three states, is considered the bloodiest war in the history of Latin America.


Church ruins of the Jesuit Reduction São Miguel das Missões , Brazil

Compared to the main scenes of the Spanish conquest, the first contacts between Europeans and indigenous people in Brazil were comparatively peaceful. However, the first period of peaceful coexistence was followed by an attempt to enslave the natives or to force them to do forced labor. In addition, there was the import of African slaves - a practice that Brazil only gave up in 1888, as a latecomer among the great nations. Typical for Brazil was the above-average number of mixed marriages and the resulting “fusion” of cultures. Violence, displacement and oppression played a not insignificant role during the settlement of the Brazilian territory. As in the other Latin American countries, the Jesuit reductions in Brazil also ensured a noticeable containment of the attacks. Founded as an antithesis to the colonization policy of the Spanish and Portuguese crowns as well as local forces, they created an increasing number of reserve-like settlements from 1610, which offered the indigenous people a certain protection against attacks, displacement and enslavement.

The relationship between the Jesuit settlements and the colonial authorities was conflictual from the start. In 1640 they received permission from the Spanish king to set up an Indian militia to repel the attacks by Bandeirantes . At the instigation of the Portuguese and Spanish governments, the Jesuits had to give up the reductions in 1759 and 1767 and leave the country. In retrospect, the assessment is mixed: On the one hand, the branches were instruments for Christianization and also served to integrate the indigenous population into colonial society. Since, on the other hand, they offered the members of the indigenous communities not only protection but also a certain degree of social security, the “holy experiment” was also rated positively by enlighteners and early socialists.

In contrast to Argentina, there was hardly any talk of a settlement border in the real sense of the word in Brazil for a long time. For a long time, the settlement boundary was determined by the cultivation of sugar cane and mining in the remote areas. It was only through the cultivation of coffee in the 19th century that something like a fronteira emerged in Brazil , which resulted in organized action against local Indian tribes - although the Indians were not even granted reservation protection until 1910. Unlike in the USA, the development of the vast wilderness of the Amazon region was only tackled in the course of the 20th century. However, the idea of ​​settlement played less of a role here than that of the timber industry, and later also that of energy generation. The indigenous people of the Amazon region also resisted the advance of civilization into the rainforest. Due to the low development, the problem is currently more of a problem than that of protection. UNESCO lists 23 tribes that are to be explicitly protected from initial contact with white civilization. Nevertheless, there were targeted extermination campaigns in the Amazon region in the first half of the 20th century. Not only local authorities were involved in this, but also the Indian Protection Service founded by Cândido Rondon in 1908 (port: Serviço de Proteção ao Índio ). As reported by the magazine “ Der Spiegel ” in 1969, the massacres and torture of the Indian protection rangers probably killed thousands of Indians.

Historical view and individual aspects

The historical consideration focuses - apart from purely descriptive summaries - above all on two aspects: firstly, the extent of violence and the question of guilt that it raises, and secondly, comparisons with the overthrowing of other indigenous population groups. The treatment of the topic in literature, in films and in other mass media plays a special role in the retrospective. Characterized by a one-sided and unrealistic presentation well into the 20th century, it was only in the 1960s that a shift towards a realistic treatment of the topic took place.


Red Cloud and other Sioux chiefs
Descendants in the traditional "look": members of the Sioux at a traditional meeting (approx. 1940)

The outcome of the Indian wars is undisputed in historical research. Nobody denies that the subjugation and annihilation of the Native Americans was a result of the settlement by white Europeans (and, conversely, that the Indians had no chance of preventing the settlement). The Indian federations, which leaders such as Pontiac and Tecumseh temporarily initiated, are generally seen as a brave, but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to stop the occupation of the Indian tribal areas. Most of the numbers associated with the Indian wars and the advancement of the settlement border are still valued. If there are many details, the output parameters also differ. The number of indigenous people who populated the North American continent in 1492 has been steadily revised upwards since the 1970s. In 1865, 0.9 to 1.5 million were calculated for the area of ​​what is now the USA and Canada, while current estimates assume 5 to 12 million for the comparison area and 45 to 60 million for the entire continent. The majority consider the figure 6 to 7 million (for the USA and Canada) to be realistic.

According to further estimates, around 3 million Indians lived east of the Mississippi in 1570 and 120,000 in what is now New England, in 1670 a tenth of them each. According to a scientific rule of thumb, Indian populations fell by around 90 percent after their first contact with Europeans - the main cause not being military violence, but the infectious diseases spread by Europeans. The tribes that the colonists encountered ranged from a few hundred to several tens of thousands of members, depending on their size. According to an estimate for 1868, the prairie tribes numbered around 150,000 members at that time. Information on the number of colonists or US residents is partly based on estimated values ​​and various parameters. By the middle of the 17th century, the number of colonists on the east coast was no more than a few tens of thousands. The Virginia Colony had around 10,000 settlers in 1640, and the New England Colony around 15,000 three years later. Around 1700 there were around 250,000 inhabitants in the east coast colonies. By the end of the Seven Years' War, the population rose to around 2 million. In 1800 the US had a population of around 5 million, in 1850 23 million and in 1900 almost 75 million.

Victims and extent of violence

The number of Indians and settlers who perished in the course of direct clashes is difficult to reconstruct. On the one hand for the reason that the conflicts declared as "war" (for example the King Philip's War or the Sioux War in Nebraska and Wyoming from 1865 to 1868) only made up part of the conflict. It is not disputed that massacres occurred on both sides in the course of the Indian wars and that attacks against non-combatants were the order of the day, both among whites and Indians. While contemporary reports were mostly one-sided and demonized the Indians as “cruel savages”, the opposite direction strongly emphasized the aspect of the generous and “noble savage”.

Prisoner on the Stake (painting by James Boroff)

Recent studies try to paint a more realistic picture. The historian Stephan Meininger, for example, states that the Indians of the American Northeast have an above-average warlike attitude. In addition to the cruel treatment of prisoners, numerous examples of peaceful neighborhood or even coexistence are documented. This does not only apply to abductees, who then continued to live with the Indians of their own free will (well-known example: Cynthia Ann Parker , mother of the later Comanche leader Quanah Parker), as well as numerous mixed marriages. The adaptation of practices of the other culture also affected the handling of slavery , for example . Especially among the five civilized tribes in the south, slavery was a natural phenomenon. Conversely, especially in the early days of colonization, numerous captured Indians were enslaved or sold into slavery. A late chapter of this contact between colored people and Indians were the so-called " buffalo soldiers " - army units put together after the Civil War , which consisted mainly or entirely of African-Americans and which were used in the wars against the prairie Indians.

It is uncertain whether the practice of scalping killed opponents originated from the Indians or was originally introduced by the Spanish. There is evidence that it was used by white settlers, militias and soldiers as well as by members of various Indian tribes. It is certain that this custom spread in the course of the Indian Wars. Numerous examples in which colonists, authorities or military commanders offered bonuses on Indian scalps are also guaranteed. Historians are still divided on the question of whether the Indian wars have genocidal traits as a whole . The historian Ben Kiernan sees in his work Earth and Blood , published in 2007, at least some genocidal tendencies. The author Stephan Scheuzger describes the military campaigns under Sherman and Sheridan after 1865 as a continuation of the strategy already practiced in the late phase of the civil war of destroying branches and the food supply of the enemy. According to Scheuzger, this scorched earth strategy accepted the killing of innocent women and children at least approvingly. The German historian Jürgen Osterhammel considers the accusation of white genocide to be generally exaggerated, but admits that the accusation is entirely appropriate for some local scenes - especially California.

Another aspect are those wars that took place between Indians and Indians. On the one hand, they came to fruition in the early colonial wars. The participation of the Iroquois Federation on the British side in the Seven Years' War, for example, was a decisive component in terms of power politics. The extent to which enmities between individual Indian peoples existed independently of the advance of white settlers or were triggered by them is also the subject of historical research. The best-known examples of these feuds between Indian tribes are the clashes between the Algonquin tribes on the east coast and the Iroquois, the displacement wars of the five dominant Prairie tribes against the Apaches and the tribes on the Missouri and in the Rocky Mountains or the disputes between the Apaches on the one hand and the Pueblo Indians and Navajo on the other hand. The rivalries between the tribes also favored the use of Indian scouts. In the Prairie Wars, contingents of Crows, Shoshone and Pawnee took part on the side of the US Army. The Apache Wars were finally ended victoriously through the use of Apache scouts.

The USA is still having a hard time coming to terms with the Indian Wars. An official apology in view of the clearly documented massacres - in particular those of Sand Creek in 1864, Washita River in 1868 and Wounded Knee in 1890 - have not yet been received. In a speech, US President George W. Bush explicitly praised the use of Indian participants in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom . The poor living conditions in the reserves are also complained about by returning veterans. In 2009, Barack Obama, the 44th US President, signed a declaration apologizing for the attacks by the US Army. In connection with protests in 2016 about the Dakota Access Pipeline , several hundred Army veterans asked the chiefs present on their behalf for forgiveness for the injustice committed.

Cultural processing

Illustration from the leather stocking story Der Wildtöter (1905)
Advertising poster for William Cody's Wild West Show (1899)

Just like other historical events, the Indian Wars were artistically reflected on in a wide variety of ways. In particular, the conquest and settlement of the western territories advanced to become an elementary part of the American founding mythology. At the beginning of the colonial phase, experience reports and treatises from a religious point of view were predominant. An early example are the testimonies of John Smith, the founder of the Virginia Colony, which he wrote between 1608 and 1622. Stories that dealt with the struggle with Indians and life on the frontier in fictional form did not spread further until the end of the colonial phase. With the expansion of the border and the accompanying spread of book printing , the demand for literature that was both authentic and entertaining increased . The best-known example of this form of contemporary workmanship are the leather stocking novels by James Fenimore Cooper. The first was published in 1826. Four more volumes followed by 1840.

With the travels of painters like George Catlin in the 1830s, interest in information about the life of the Indians increased further - especially in the eastern states, which had been far away from the Indian border for some time. More and more this interest was taken into account in the form of lurid and trivial penny novels and sensational stories. One of the most famous authors of these novels was Ned Buntline . Buntline, who himself took part in the Seminole Wars in his youth, contributed with his stories to popularizing well-known "Westmen" - for example the buffalo hunters and scouts Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill. Buffalo Bill, real name William Cody, put on a Wild West show after the end of the Sioux wars. Cody's show, in which hundreds of Indian and cowboy extras were involved at times, roamed through US and European cities. The show, staged in the style of contemporary Völkerschauen , also made a guest appearance in Germany : in Karlsruhe in 1889 , in Braunschweig in July 1900 .

Karl May (1907)
Ned Buntline (circa 1886)

In Germany, the image of the Indian wars was strongly influenced by the works of the folk writer Karl May . Criticism and scholarship generally attest to May's work a strong romanticizing tendency and an above-average free handling of historical facts. Due to their popularity, the novels about the fictional characters Winnetou and Old Shatterhand had a lasting impact on German readers' images. Younger generations got to know Winnetou and Old Shatterhand through numerous film adaptations in the 1960s. The writer Fritz Steuben provided a preparation that was more oriented towards historical facts . Steuben's Tecumseh novels were occasionally held up to idealizing tendencies. However, the charge of a certain affinity for ideological strands of National Socialism weighed more strongly . While Steuben's Tecumseh books experienced several new editions as youth and adventure novels in the Federal Republic of Germany , they were classified as Nazi-contaminated literature in the GDR .

The Indian wars were a constant topic in the numerous western films of the US film industry . Most of the time, however, they only formed superficial accessories - for example in the form of Indians attacking a stagecoach or a settler wreck. From the late 1940s the cavalry westerns advanced to become a genre of their own. Most western and Indian films in the Hollywood culture industry are now accused of conveying a strongly one-sided image that is detrimental to the Indians. This criticism has been confirmed by some statements from well-known western actors. John Wayne, for example, justified the displacement of the Indians in 1971 with the following words: “I do not think we acted wrong when we took the land from the Indians. There were thousands of people in need of new land, and the Indians were so selfish that they just wanted to keep it to themselves. "

The John Ford's Point in Monument Valley : a popular filming location for Western

From the mid-1950s onwards, writers and filmmakers turned to the subject in a more realistic way. The documentary novel Cheyenne Autumn by Mari Sandoz , which describes the escape of the Northern Cheyenne from their reservation, became an international success . In the 1970s and 1980s, new cinema caused a significant change in film. The Indian wests The Lullaby from Manslaughter (1970) not only thematized suppressed massacres like the one at Sand Creek in 1864, but also staged it in shocking, semi-documentary images. Other westerns that took greater account of the Indian perspective were Little Big Man (1970) and Dances with Wolf (1990). Flanking this new look at the era of the Indian Wars, films came out that - either as road movies or as thrillers - dealt critically with the situation in today's reservations. Examples: the film Der Indianer with Anthony Quinn by Carol Reed (1970), based on a novel by Clair Huffaker, and the thriller Half Blood from 1992. The actor Marlon Brando also called for a serious examination of this era of American history , when he refused to accept the Oscar for his role in The Godfather in 1973 - in protest against the American film industry's handling of the Indian issue .

Buffy Sainte-Marie performing in Ann Arbor (1967 or 1968)

The Indian wars and the current situation of the Native American are also occasionally a topic in pop music . The Canadian songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie , a member of the Cree, addresses the history and present of the Indians in many of her songs. Her best-known pieces include the title song Soldier Blue for the western The Lullaby of Manslaughter . The fate of American Indians was the subject of songs such as Indian Reservation - interpreted by Don Fardon , among others - or Ballad of Ira Hayes by Johnny Cash .

See also


German speaking

English speaking

  • Joseph A. Altshier: The Indian War Novels. The Horsemen of the Plains & the Last of the Chiefs. Leonaur, 2011, ISBN 978-0-85706-694-7 .
  • Fred Anderson: The War That Made America. A Short History of the French and Indian War. Penguin Books , 2006, ISBN 0-14-303804-4 .
  • Cyrus Cort, William Smith: Bouquet & the Ohio Indian War. Two Accounts of the Campaigns of 1763-1764. Leonaur, 2008, ISBN 978-1-84677-583-3 .
  • SC Gwynne: Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History. Scribner, New York, 2010, ISBN 978-1-4165-9106-1 (pb.), 978-1-4165-9715-5 (e-book).
  • Bud Hennings: The French and Indian War: A Complete Chronology. Mcfarland & Co, 2011, ISBN 978-0-7864-4906-4 .
  • Elizabeth D. Leonard: Men of Color to Arms! Black Soldiers, Indian Wars, and the Quest for Equality. University of Nebraska, 2012, ISBN 978-0-8032-4071-1 .
  • R. Eli Paul: The Nebraska Indian Wars Reader. 1865-1877. University of Nebraska, 1998, ISBN 0-8032-8749-6 .
  • Spencer C. Tucker (Ed.): The Encyclopedia of North American Indian Wars. 1607-1890. A Political, Social, and Military History. 3 volumes. ABC-Clio, 2011, ISBN 978-1-85109-697-8 .
  • Bruce Vandervort: Indian Wars of Mexico, Canada and the United States, 1812-1900 (Warfare and History). Routledge Chapman & Hall, 2006, ISBN 0-415-22471-3 .
  • Alexander Scott Withers: Chronicles of Border Warfare: The Colonial & Indian Wars of the Early American Frontier 1742–1795. Leonaur, 2010, ISBN 978-1-84677-965-7 .

Web links

Commons : Native American wars  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
  • . Longer introduction to the topic of Indians in North and Latin America including sections on colonial history and the current situation.
  • . Portal with numerous articles on the history and present of the Indians.
  • . Portal with numerous articles on the history and culture of the Indians.
  • . Indian culture page. Link: Overview of the Indian Wars.
  • Jörg Nagler: From the colonies to a united nation. Information on Civic Education No. 268/2013,, March 20, 2014 (article on the website of the Federal Agency for Civic Education on the Western Expansion of the USA and the Indian Wars).
  • Overview portal on different aspects of the American natives. The Resistance section contains a chronological table with the important dates.


  1. ^ Indian wars as part of the history of colonization and the history of the USA, among others: Heideking / Mauch: History of the USA; Guggisberg: History of the USA; Raeithel: History of North American Culture. Indian Wars focused on period between 1860 and 1890 including: Brown: Bury my heart at the bend of the river. Treatise as part of an overarching history of colonization, including: Kiernan: Earth and Blood; Osterhammel: The transformation of the world.
  2. cf. also: Hans R. Guggisberg: History of the USA. 4th edition. Verlag W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-17-017045-7 , p. 81 ff.
  3. Jörg Fisch: International treaties between Indians and Spaniards. (PDF) In: Yearbook for History of Latin America 16 (1979), pp. 205 ff; Retrieved May 9, 2017.
  4. Gerd Raeithel: History of North American Culture. Volume 1: From Puritanism to the Civil War 1600–1860. 4th edition. Zweiausendeins, Frankfurt am Main 2002, ISBN 3-88679-166-1 , p. 22 f.
  5. Gerd Raeithel: History of North American Culture. Volume 1: From Puritanism to the Civil War 1600–1860. 4th edition. Zweiausendeins, Frankfurt am Main 2002, ISBN 3-88679-166-1 , pp. 23-24.
  6. Gerd Raeithel: History of North American Culture. Volume 1: From Puritanism to the Civil War 1600–1860. 4th edition. Zweiausendeins, Frankfurt am Main 2002, ISBN 3-88679-166-1 , p. 330.
  7. see: Bruce Vanderfort: Indian Wars of Mexico, Canada and the United States. Routledge, New York 2006, ISBN 0-415-22472-1 ; excerpts as GoogleBook Online
  8. Thomas Jeier: The first Americans: A history of the Indians. DVA, Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-421-04412-9 , pp. 36-39.
  9. Dee Brown: Bury my heart at the bend of the river. Knaur, Munich 1972 (2005, ISBN 3-426-62804-X ), pp. 15-16.
  10. Ben Kiernan: Earth and Blood. Genocide and Annihilation from Antiquity to the Present. DVA, Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-421-05876-8 , p. 110 ff.
  11. Ben Kiernan: Earth and Blood. Genocide and Annihilation from Antiquity to the Present. DVA, Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-421-05876-8 , p. 123 ff.
  12. Geoffrey Parker (Ed.): The Times - Great Illustrated World History. Verlag Orac, Vienna 1995, ISBN 3-7015-0360-5 , p. 302.
  13. Thomas Jeier: The first Americans: A history of the Indians. DVA, Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-421-04412-9 , pp. 48-51.
  14. ^ Edward Countryman: The Pueblo Revolt. History Now (American History Online), Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History; Retrieved May 9, 2017.
  15. Gerd Raeithel: History of North American Culture. Volume 1: From Puritanism to the Civil War 1600–1860. 4th edition. Zweiausendeins, Frankfurt am Main 2002, ISBN 3-88679-166-1 , p. 7.
  16. Thomas Jeier: The first Americans: A history of the Indians. DVA, Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-421-04412-9 , p. 39 f.
  17. ^ Hans R. Guggisberg: History of the USA. Verlag W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2002 (4th edition), ISBN 978-3-17-017045-2 , p. 13.
  18. Ben Kiernan: Earth and Blood. Genocide and Annihilation from Antiquity to the Present. DVA, Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-421-05876-8 , p. 283.
  19. Thomas Jeier: The first Americans: A history of the Indians. DVA, Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-421-04412-9 , pp. 55-60.
  20. Gerd Raeithel: History of North American Culture. Volume 1: From Puritanism to the Civil War 1600–1860. 4th edition. Zweiausendeins, Frankfurt am Main 2002, ISBN 3-88679-166-1 , p. 9.
  21. Gerd Raeithel: History of North American Culture. Volume 1: From Puritanism to the Civil War 1600–1860. 4th edition. Zweiausendeins, Frankfurt am Main 2002, ISBN 3-88679-166-1 , pp. 76-78.
  22. a b Ben Kiernan: Earth and Blood. Genocide and Annihilation from Antiquity to the Present. DVA, Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-421-05876-8 , pp. 290-297.
  23. ^ Hans R. Guggisberg: History of the USA. 4th edition. Verlag W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-17-017045-7 , p. 16.
  24. Ben Kiernan: Earth and Blood. Genocide and Annihilation from Antiquity to the Present. DVA, Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-421-05876-8 , p. 298 ff.
  25. Gerd Raeithel: History of North American Culture. Volume 1: From Puritanism to the Civil War 1600–1860. 4th edition. Zweiausendeins, Frankfurt am Main 2002, ISBN 3-88679-166-1 , pp. 70-71.
  26. Gerd Raeithel: History of North American Culture. Volume 1: From Puritanism to the Civil War 1600–1860. 4th edition. Zweiausendeins, Frankfurt am Main 2002, ISBN 3-88679-166-1 , pp. 72-73.
  27. ^ Russell Shorto: New York. Island in the middle of the world. Rowohlt Verlag, Reinbek 2004, ISBN 3-498-06360-X .
  28. a b c Gerd Raeithel: History of North American Culture. Volume 1: From Puritanism to the Civil War 1600–1860. 4th edition. Zweiausendeins, Frankfurt am Main 2002, ISBN 3-88679-166-1 , p. 68.
  29. Gerd Raeithel: History of North American Culture. Volume 1: From Puritanism to the Civil War 1600–1860. 4th edition. Zweiausendeins, Frankfurt am Main 2002, ISBN 3-88679-166-1 , p. 23.
  30. Gerd Raeithel: History of North American Culture. Volume 1: From Puritanism to the Civil War 1600–1860. 4th edition. Zweiausendeins, Frankfurt am Main 2002, ISBN 3-88679-166-1 , pp. 174-175.
  31. ^ A b Nicole Schley, Sabine Busse: The wars of the USA. Chronicle of an aggressive nation. Diederichs Verlag, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-7205-2474-4 , pp. 15-18.
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  34. Ben Kiernan: Earth and Blood. Genocide and Annihilation from Antiquity to the Present. DVA, Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-421-05876-8 , p. 325 f.
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