When the European settlers came to North America, it was already inhabited by an indigenous group of people. In the 19th century white Americans came with the idea of Manifest Destiny and in order to realize their idea of possessing the entire continent of North America, they began removing Native Americans from their ancestral homeland into reserved territories for the Indians. The US government initiated the One Big Reservation policy in 1851 and according to this policy Native Americans were to shift into ‘One Big Reservation’ but the constant migration of European settlers, the evolution of transportation technology which required the railroads passing through the center of Native American territory in Kansas and Nebraska and the development of white towns along that area made the US government break many promises signed in the treaties with the Indian tribal leaders. Native Americans were forced into shifting to less fertile lands and areas not ideal for maintaining tribal customs. Thus a new wave of concentration began when the US government pushed Native Americans into isolation by forcing them to live on lands of reservation. The Sioux got the Dakota region north of the Platte River, the Crows got the west of the Powder River and the Cheyenne and Arapaho received the foothills of Colorado (Bowles, 2011, p 50). But with the continuation of oncoming European settlers, the territory of Indian reservation became smaller by degrees, resulting in a continuous battle between Native Americans and the white settlers. This paper would highlight six pivotal incidents that exemplify how the white Americans subjugated Native Americans and forced them into isolation at reserved territories.
The Battle of the Little Bighorn
One of the notable incidents bearing testimony to the atrocity of white settlers is the Battle of the Little Bighorn which was a pinnacle of a series of wars that broke out between the Indians and white men. After the discovery of gold in Black Hills in 1875, a surge of white settlers thronged the area. It was decided in a treaty of 1868 that the area of Black Hills belonged to Native Americans indefinitely. But with the discovery of gold, white Americans started thinking of ways to remove the Indians from the land. They first made a deal with Red Cloud who was the tribal chief of the Lakota Sioux by offering “$6, 000, 000 for the Black Hills, or $400, 000 (per annum) for the mining rights” (Hughes, 2001, p 52). But the Indians didn’t see any value in the gold metal nor did they show any interest in financial matters. In the event of Native Americans unwilling to sell off their lands, the US government declared a proclamation that Indians who didn’t surrender their land would be declared as hostile. The deadline was fixed at 31st January of 1876 when it was winter in North America. Indians were not known for moving during the winter and hence the government deployed Lt. Colonel George Custer for the mission of forced removal. A series of war and negotiations broke out between the Indians and white Americans which were known as the Great Sioux War of 1876. Of all these battles, the Battle of the Little Bighorn were the most noteworthy as it was known as the last stand of Custer. At this war, Custer with his 265 men, Marcus Albert Reno with his 175 soldiers and Captain Frederick Benteen with his army attacked the tribal force comprised of 4, 000 members of Cheyenne and Sioux who were united by the tribal chiefs Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull (Bowles, 2011, p 52). The white soldiers fought bravely but they were outnumbered and lost the battle. Custer was dead by bullet wounds. The loss of Custer and his battalion led the American military applying force to acquire the surrender of Indians within a year after.
“ I Will Fight No More Forever”
Another instrumental battle that exemplified how the US government isolated and controlled Native Americans was the battle that took place between the US military and tribal chief Joseph and the Nez Perce tribe. Originally the Nez Perce tribe shared cordial relationship with the whites and they tried their best to remain friendly with the white men but all their efforts were thwarted by outrageous government policies and headstrong generals leading to a tragedy. When the Nez Perce tribe was ordered by the US government to move into the Lapwai Reservation, the tribal chief Joseph unwilling to comply with the demand decided to leave the ancestral home in western Idaho without fighting. He with his 750 tribal men headed towards the safety zone of Canada and they covered 1, 500 miles in their journey that lasted 4 months (Bowles, 2011, p 52). Though some occasional fighting took place with the US military, they for the most part successfully evaded the pursuit from the American frontier military led by General Howard. But just when they were 40 miles short of reaching the safe destination in Canada, they were surrounded by the US military in Montana and most of the leaders were killed except chief Joseph and White Bird. In order to prevent further catastrophe, Chief Joseph surrendered for the sake of his tribe but the Nez Perce encountered the same ignominious treatment by the white men as other Indians faced. His words are worth remembrance: “ I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killedIt is cold and we have no blankets; the little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are—perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children and see how many I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever. ” (Bowles, 2011, p 53).
The deliberate destruction of buffalo herds manifests how the European settlers tried to starve the Indians by taking away their means of survival. North America had about 30 million buffaloes roaming the land before European settlers came here. Native Americans were dependent on buffaloes for their sustenance and everything they required for survival came from buffaloes, right from clothing, shelter, food and bones to make weaponry. They not only relied on buffalo for their living, buffaloes held an important place in their social, political and cultural beliefs. But the European settlers came into the land with guns and by the mid-19th century when trains started plying on American lands, buffalo killing became a recreational practice for whites who bored with long tiring journey resorted to killing buffaloes for amusement. While Native Americans tried to use almost each portion of the buffalo they killed including tails, meat and horns, the ones killed by the white hunters were left there to rot in the open with the hunters getting out of the train to pose for photographs in front of their kill and moving on with their journey thereafter (Bowles, 2011, p 53). In the beginning of 1870s when the tanners realized that buffalo hides could be used for making outstanding leather items, a group of ‘hide hunters’ emerged and they killed almost 3 million buffaloes every year. In order to put pressure on Native Americans to relocate to the plot of Indian reservation, some officials of US government actively killed buffalo herds to vanquish the Indians who resisted the attempts of white settlers in usurping their lands (PBS). With the rampant destruction of buffalo herds, Indians were left with no other option but to move into the Indian reservation for survival.
The Apache War
In the torrid deserts of New Mexico, Arizona and Texas lived a ferocious and warring Indian tribe known as the Apache. Due to gold rush in California, horde of fortune seekers began encroaching upon the lands of Apache and Yavapai. Mangas Coloradas was one of the powerful tribal chief who was humiliated by the white miners when he went to make a negotiation with them for a peaceful coexistence. This incident was followed by a chain of events when Coloradas and his nephew Cochise started attacking intruders. Their hatred for the Indian reservation policy and continuous encroachment of white men upon their lands led to the Apache war that continued for decades and reached a culmination in the years between 1978 and 1886. Geronimo was a medicine man as well as the leader of the Chiricahua Apache who actively fought the US military, after the death of Cochise, showing resistance against the forceful usurpation of their homeland by the white men. In 1874 when about 4, 000 Apaches were forcefully removed from their homelands into the Indian reservation at San Carlos which was an arid badland in Arizona (Faulk, 1993). Hundreds of Apache under the leadership of Geronimo resumed a battle against the whites but they could not sustain their fight against the US military which was more powerful in military tactics and use of weapons. The US soldiers easily outnumbered and defeated the Apache warriors. Geronimo was forced to surrender in 1986 and spent his remaining life in one of Indian reservations that he so hated. The end of Apache war is another example of how forcefully the US government forced Native Americans into isolation.
When the Indians were forcefully confined to the reservations, there emerged one last war from Native Americans against the white rulers and this war was a spiritual war. In 1889 on a New Year’s Day, Wovoka who was Paiute Holy Man saw a vision that told him that all their problems would come to an end if they performed a sacred ritual called Ghost Dance. Successful observance of this ritual would eliminate all their agonies by taking them into a utopian world where the buffaloes would roam aplenty, their white enemies would vanish mysteriously without putting up any battle and the ghosts of the dead ancestors of the Indian would return (Hughes, 2001, p 85). Within months of its beginning, the cult spread among the Indian reservations like wildfire. By 1890, the Ghost Dance arrived in Lacota Sioux through Kicking Bear, a tribal leader. The participants in Ghost Dance started wearing a shirt which the Indians considered as bullet proof but the US government fearing a stage being set for revolt tried to quell the practice, resulting in Wounded Knee Massacre.
Wounded Knee Massacre
The white Americans sensed a potential for revolt in the ritual of Ghost Dance and they became especially alarmed when they heard of Sitting Bull’s participation in this ritual. Under the order of Major McLaughlin who was an Indian agent, 40 Indian police tried to arrest Sitting Bull who resisted the arrest and in the ensuing skirmish broken out with Sitting Bull and his people, Sitting Bull and his son, brother and nephew were killed. Arrest warrant was issued against another tribal leader called Big Foot who in order to escape arrest fled with his 300 followers and the US army launched a hot pursuit of the fugitives with General Miles leading the mission. When the army caught the fugitives, the snow-covered badlands had already taken a toll on them. Big Foot was caught with pneumonia and his followers too were bogged down by the stinging cold. They didn’t resist and went quietly with the US soldiers to Wounded Knee Creek. As per the plan there they were to be disarmed and sent off to the Indian reservation, but in reality when the Indians were being disarmed and lined up and their teepees rummaged for further concealed weaponry one Indian unwilling to surrender his rifle triggered it off accidentally and that led to the US military firing volleys of bullets at the Indians (Hughes, 2001, p 87). A battle ensued resulting in the massacre of 150 Sioux Indians including men, women and children. The Wounded Knee Massacre was significant because it marked the end of Indian wars and the success of white Americans in completely subjugating the Indians.
The US government in order to maintain a peaceful coexistence with Native Americans made a lot of treaties with the tribal chiefs marking the territory for Indian reservation, but the continuous European migration and the mushrooming of white towns along with the evolution of technology made the US government break the promises given to the Indians. With the territories of Indian reservation becoming smaller by degrees and Indians being forced to migrate into barren wastelands, there ensued a series of battles between the Indians and the white Americans. The white men’s barbaric action of isolating, controlling and subduing the Indians is exemplified in a number of shocking incidents including the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the battle between the US military and tribal chief Joseph and the Nez Perce tribe, Buffalo Hunting, the Apache War, Ghost Dance and Wounded Knee Massacre. At the beginning of European settlement in North America in 1940s, the number of Indians roaming the country were 10, 000, 000 which by the end of 1840 reduced to 400, 000. By the end 1890, there were fewer Indians left in the American territory. The fate of Native Americans resembles that of the buffaloes that barely survived the extinction just like the Indians.
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