Indian Wars


Indian Wars
   The name commonly given to conflict between indigenous North American peoples, referred to almost uniformly as “Indians,” and European settlers encroaching on their territory, starting in the sixteenth century and lasting into the late nineteenth century. In the United States clashes of either settlers or soldiers with various Indian peoples over enormous tracts of territory in the American interior were almost continuous between the 1840s and 1890s, but most accounts of American history set the period of the Indian Wars between the conclusion of the American Civil War in 1865 and the Battle of Wounded Knee in December 1890, the last major engagement between the United States Army and indigenous American peoples. The most storied campaigns were those waged against the Apache, Comanche, Cheyenne, Modoc, Navajo, Nez Percé, and Sioux tribes, many of them organized by General Philip H. Sheridan, a veteran commander in the Union army during the Civil War and commander of the entire U.S. Army between 1883 and 1888. There was immense savagery on both sides and, as most of the campaigns were badly reported or ignored altogether by the press, an equally immense popular mythology constructed about the nature and nobility of the relentless campaign to bring ever more territory under white settlement.
   A parallel campaign took place in Canada to the north. Although the scale of westward settlement was smaller and the reaction less violent, where resistance to settlement became an inconvenience, force was routinely used to effect the “resettlement” of tribes such as the Cree, Crow, and Blackfoot by frontier constabularies such as the Northwest Mounted Police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The most famous of these was the Red River Rebellion of 1869–1870, actually a rising of Métis people of mixed French-Canadian and Indian ancestry led by Louis Riel, to this day a hero of French-Canadian and Métis history.
   FURTHER READING:
    Morris, R. B. The Indian Wars. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1985;
    Ostler, Jeffrey. The Plains Sioux and U.S. Colonialism from Lewis and Clarke to Wounded Knee. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004;
    Steele, Ian. Warpaths: The Invasion of North America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
   CARL CAVANAGH HODGE

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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