Indian War Campaigns of the United States

U.S. Army-Cavalry Pursuing Indians, 1876.

U.S. Army-Cavalry Pursuing Indians, 1876.

The American Indian Wars were initially fought by European states and their colonists in North America and later by the United States government and American settlers against various American Indian tribes. These conflicts occurred from the time of the earliest colonial settlements in the 17th century until the end of the 19th century. The wars resulted from various factors, the most common being the desire of settlers and the government for Indian tribes’ lands.

As settlers spread westward across the United States after 1780, armed conflicts increased in size, duration, and intensity between settlers and Native tribes. The climax came in the War of 1812 when major Indian coalitions in the Midwestern United States and the South fought against the United States and lost. Conflict with settlers became less common and was usually resolved by treaties between the federal government and specific tribes, often requiring the tribes to sell or surrender land to the United States. The U.S. government frequently broke these treaties.

Campaign Dates Description
Miami January 1790 – August 1795 This operation was also called the Old Northwest War Military Campaign. In the late 1780s, a confederacy of hostile Indians, chiefly Miami, in the northern part of present-day Ohio and Indiana restricted settlement largely to the Ohio Valley. Three separate expeditions were required to remove this obstacle to Westward Expansion.
Tippecanoe September 21 – November 18, 1811 In 1804, with British backing, Shawnee Chief Tecumseh and his medicine man brother, the Prophet, began serious efforts to form a new Indian confederacy in the Old Northwest Territory.
Creek July 27, 1813 – August 9, 1814, and February 1836 – July 1837 The first of the Creek campaigns constituted a phase of the War of 1812. The Upper Creek, siding with the English, sacked Fort Mims in the summer of 1813, massacring more than 500 men, women, and children.
Seminole November 20, 1817 – October 31, 1818, December 28, 1835 – August 14, 1842, and December 15, 1855 – May 1858 This conflict began with the massacre of about 50 Americans near an army post in Georgia, the climax to a series of raids against American settlements by the Seminole based in Spanish Florida. Brigadier General Edmund P. Gaines, the Indian commissioner of the area, attempted countermeasures but soon found himself and his force of 600 Regulars confined to Fort Scott, Alabama, by the Seminole.
Black Hawk April 26 – September 30, 1832 A faction of Sauk and Fox Indians, living in eastern Iowa and led by Chief Black Hawk, threatened to go on the warpath in 1832 when squatters began to preempt Illinois lands formerly occupied by the two tribes. The faction held that the cession of these lands to the Federal Government in 1804 had been illegal.
Comanche 1867-1875 Major General Philip Sheridan, commander of the Department of the Missouri, instituted winter campaigning in 1868 to locate the region’s elusive Indian bands.
Modoc 1872-1873 The Bloc Campaign of 1872-73 was the last Indian war of consequence on the Pacific Coast. When the Modoc, a small and restless tribe, were placed on a reservation with the Klamath, their traditional enemies, they soon found the situation intolerable.
Apache 1873 and 1885-1886 After Brigadier General George Crook became commander of the Department of Arizona in 1871. He undertook a series of winter campaigns by small detachments, which pacified the region by 1874. In the years that followed, the Indian Bureau’s policy of frequent removal created new dissatisfaction among the Apache.
Little Big Horn 1876-1877 The discovery of gold in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1874 brought an influx of miners, and the extension of railroads into the area renewed unrest among the Indians, and many left their reservations. When the Indians would not comply with orders from the Interior Department to return to the reservations by the end of January 1876, the Army was requested to take action.
Nez Perce 1877 The southern branch of the Nez Perce, led by Chief Joseph, refused to give up their ancestral lands (OregonIdaho border) and enter a reservation. When negotiations broke down and angry Nez Perce warriors killed settlers in early 1877, the 1st Cavalry was sent to compel them to come into the reservation.
Bannock 1878 The Bannock, Paiute, and other tribes of southern Idaho threatened rebellion in 1878, partly because they were dissatisfied with their land allotments. Many of them left the reservations, and Regulars of the 21st Infantry, 4th Artillery, and 1st Cavalry pursued the fugitives.
Cheyenne 1878-1879 After the hostile Northern Cheyenne in the Departments of Dakota and the Platte extensive surrendered in 1877, a number were sent under guard to the Cheyenne and Arapaho Agency at Fort El Reno, Indian Territory (Oklahoma), on August 8, 1877.
Ute September 1879 – November 1880 The Indian agent, N. C. Meeker, at White River Agency in Colorado, became involved in a dispute with Northern Ute in September 1879 and requested assistance from the Army. In response, Major Thomas T. Thornburgh’s column of some 200 men (parts of the 5th Cavalry and 4th Infantry) moved out from Fort Steele, Wyoming. On September 29, 300 to 400 warriors attacked and besieged this force in Red Canyon.
Pine Ridge November 1890 – January 1891 In the late 1880s, the Lakota Sioux way of life was under severe stress. The U.S. government pressured the Lakota to adopt Western ways, such as farming and private property, and in the process, reduced the land set aside for reservations to free it up for settlement by others. Due to poor management and budget cuts, the Bureau of Indian Affairs also reduced the rations provided to the Lakota.
Brule Sioux Village, 1891, colorized

“Villa of Brule” by John C. H. Grabill, captures a Lakota tipi camp near Pine Ridge, South Dakota in 1891, complete with horses at White Clay Creek watering hole. Touch of color by LOA.