When the first white settlers arrived from Europe, there were around 10 million Native Americans already living in what became the United States of America.
When the first white settlers arrived from Europe, there were around 10 million Native Americans already living in what became the United States of America. The native tribes had hugely diverse cultures and lifestyles – some were hunter-gatherers and others were farmers. It was Christopher Columbus who coined the term “Indian” for these peoples, under the misapprehension that he had reached the East Indies. It was actually San Salvador on which he landed back in 1492.
The new white settlers had a devastating effect on the native population. The European diseases they carried such as typhus, smallpox, influenza, measles, and diphtheria infected and killed as many as 95 percent of the natives.
Perhaps the one positive consequence of the incoming Spanish Conquistadors for the Indians was the introduction of horses to America.
This had an especially huge impact on the lifestyle of the Great Plains Indians, enabling them to run down and kill more buffalo and other wild game far more effectively. The horse also made it much easier for them to move their camps from one hunting ground to another and made for more effective inter-tribal warfare.
As more and more immigrants arrived on the Eastern Seaboard, the Indians were continually pushed westward. The United States government believed that the buffalo-hunting Plains tribes were in the way of white settlement across the western territories, especially in today’s Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado. It was generally believed that the Indians were hindering the “Manifest Destiny.”
It all began with the Arikara War of 1823 and ended with Wounded Knee.
The Arikara tribe were semi-nomadic farmers living in South Dakota who were attacked by the Sioux and the United States Army under the leadership of Col. Henry Leavenworth and driven further northward. The conflict set the tone for many future encounters. President Andrew Jackson followed with the Indian Removal Act of 1830.
The Indian Wars rumbled on for decades, and encompassed hundreds of attacks, fights, raids and skirmishes between the Native Americans, settlers and the U.S. Army. The most devastating period of hostilities took place between 1866 and 1890. Geographically, the conflict spread over most of the western states, including Arizona, California and Washington State.
There were many famous battles and countless attacks, but the Indian tribes scored very few serious hits against their white opponents. Completely outgunned by white Americans’ superior weapons, the Indian stood little chance against them. One of their few victories was Custer’s Last Stand. However, far more common were simply massacres of the tribes people, like that of the infamous Trail of Tears. The Trail of Tears was the forced removal of the Cherokee Nation from Georgia to Oklahoma, under the terms of the New Echota Treaty of 1835. A string of forts was built along the route to corral the Indians and protect the troops who forced the thousand-mile march to the West. The sophisticated Cherokees, who had been so tolerant of the white settlers arriving to share their homeland, were herded like animals, and they died by the thousands, particularly during the savagely cold winter of 1838-39. Among the victims was Quatie, who died just outside of Little Rock – she was the wife of tribal chief John Ross.
Estimates of casualties in the Indian Wars vary, but a reasonable approximation would probably be around 45,000 Indians and 19,000 whites. These casualties included many women and children on both sides, many of whom perished in bloodthirsty massacres. Both sides were extremely violent and destructive. Despite this, remnants of the native inhabitants have survived, but they account for only about 2 percent of today’s population and most of them have lost their culture and distinctive languages.
Ref: The Wild West by Bruce Wexler
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