Conflict with Native Americans The Great Plains – Grassland that extended through the west-central portion of the United States (what would be today, parts of Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Wyoming & Montana).
By the mid 1700s, most all of the Plains Indians had abandoned hunting and had taken up a more nomadic life. They became roaming hunters, following the migratory patterns of the Buffalo.
By the time the various Native American tribes had acquired horses and guns, they were able to travel farther distances to find, track, and shoot Buffalo.
This sometimes led to friction between tribes. Unlike what many people might think, the various Plains Indian tribes were aware of the concept of territorial boundaries, and in times when one tribe would violate the territory of another tribe, fighting might break out.
Sometimes raiding parties would be organized. The term “Indians are on the war path” comes from this. In some cases the goal was not necessarily to kill the people of the other tribe, but rather to prove that your warriors were fearless and more brave, and to scare the other tribe, so that they would not encroach again.
The tactic of “counting coup” and “scalping” are two examples of battle tactics that were designed to prove superiority and scare, rather than kill or decimate.
The Plains Indians believed that the Buffalo was a spiritual animal, and that it was an integral part of their culture. The Native Americans did not hunt or kill Buffalo for sport. A tribe would only kill a buffalo out of necessity. Just about every part of the Buffalo would be used in some way (a few examples, clothing, tepees, shoes, jerky).
Plains Indian Family Life:
Usually small extended families.
Young men were trained to be hunters & warriors.
Women helped butcher game, and prepared the hides from the buffalo that the men brought back.
Children learned proper behavior & culture through stories, myths, games, and good examples.
The tribe was led by a council, not by the force of one dominant person.
Land was not individually owned, but was shared in common with the whole tribe.
Plains Indian Religious Beliefs:
Plains Indians believed that powerful spirits controlled events in the natural world.
Men & women who showed particular sensitivity to the spirits, became medicine men or women (sometimes called Shamans).
Conflict with Settlers:
Native Americans believed that land could not be owned.
Settlers believed in “staking a claim,”owning land, mining rights, and starting businesses on the land.
Settlers argued that the Native Americans had forfeited their rights to the land because they hadn’t “settled down” to “improve it.” Concluding that the Plains were “unsettled,” migrants streamed westward. The U.S. government encouraged this migration.
The migrating settlers changed the previously “unspoiled” landscape and sometimes caused Native Americans to be “pushed off” of their land.
Changing Governmental Policies:
In 1834, the government passed an act that designated the entire Great Plains as an enormous reservation.
In the 1850s however, the government changed its policy and created treaties with the various Indian tribes, which in turn defined specific boundaries for each tribe.
Many tribes ignored or rejected these acts, and continued to hunt on their traditional lands.
This often led to clashes with settlers and miners.
U.S. Army soldiers began attacking Native American tribes, which evolved to a series of major conflicts, including Custer’s Last Stand.
Major Conflict with the White Man:
“Whites refer to this as the “Fetterman Massacre.”
Late 1866, the government tried to get all the friendly tribes onto reservations, and then began waging war on the other tribes.
June 1876 – Custer’s Last Stand:
Sitting Bull had a vision of cavalrymen and Indians falling off of their horses.
Colonel George Custer, in charge of the 7th Cavalry, was stationed in the Dakota territories, where gold had been discovered. Custer and his men were killing Native Americans, upon contact.
His troops were ambushed by Sioux Indians at Little Big Horn River. The ambush, led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, ended within one hour. When the fighting was over, Custer and his entire 7th Cavalry were dead.
By late 1876, the Sioux were beaten, however, Sitting Bull and a small band of followers fled to Canada. They remained there until 1881.
Eventually, to prevent the starvation of his people, Sitting Bull surrendered to the U.S. government. Later, in 1885, Sitting Bull toured in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show!
The United States Attempts Assimilation:
Congress passed the Dawes Act to “Americanize” Native Americans.
Reservations were broken up in order to give some land to individual Native Americans.
160 acres of land could go to each head of household.
80 acres of land could go to each unmarried adult.
The government would sell the remainder of reservation land to settlers.
The income from land sold to settlers would go to Native Americans, to help them to purchase farm implements.
A Final Massacre:
December 29, 1890 – The Battle of Wounded Knee:
On December 29, 1890, the 7th Cavalry (George Custer’s old regiment) rounded up about 350 starving and freezing Sioux and took them to a camp at Wounded Knee Creek, in South Dakota.
A shot was fired (it is not known from which side). The result was that the soldiers opened up with deadly canon fire.
The corpses, which included women and children, were left to freeze on the ground.
The “Battle of Wounded Knee” brought the era of the Indian Wars to a bitter close.
By 1932, white settlers had taken about 2/3 of the territory that had been set aside for Native Americans.
In the end, the Native Americans did not receive the money that they should have from the sale of reservation land.
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