From the earliest days of European settlement on the Atlantic Coast, pioneers began moving west to obtain land, trade, and raise families. From the beginning, there were Native Americans occupying these lands which created numerous conflicts as the natives tried to maintain their lifestyles.
By 1790, the United States government had claimed all the land east of the Mississippi River and many of the tribes would soon be uprooted and forced to move westward. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Americans pushed further west into territories claimed by Mexico and Great Britain. Manifest Destiny, a phrase coined in 1845, came to encompass the belief in the inevitable territorial expansion of the United States from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
By the time of the California Gold Rush in 1849, overland trails had already been blazed westward and after the Civil War, the Homestead Act was passed in 1862, which sent thousands more settlers westward. During these years, Native American tribes were made to move from their lands, causing a number of Indian wars.
On September 9, 1850 – California entered the Union. With miners flooding the hillsides and devastating the land, California’s Indians found themselves deprived of their traditional food sources and forced by hunger to raid the mining towns and other white settlements.
1851 – A series of Fort Laramie treaties were signed with the Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapaho and other Plains tribes delineating the extent of their territories and allowing passage across these territories in exchange for payments to the tribes. Thus began the incursions of miners and wagon trains on the Oregon and later the Bozeman Trail, few at first but an onslaught after the end of the Civil War.
Federal commissioners attempting to halt the brutal treatment of Indians in California negotiated 18 treaties with various tribes, promising them 8.5 million acres of reservation lands. However, California politicians succeeded in having the treaties secretly rejected by Congress in 1852, leaving the natives homeless within a hostile white society.
On August 5, 1851, Santee Sioux Chief Little Crow signed a treaty with the federal government, ceding nearly all his people’s territory in Minnesota. Though not happy with the agreement, he abided by it for many years.
1853 – California began confining its remaining Indian population on harsh military reservations, but the combination of legal enslavement and near genocide had already made California the site of the worst slaughter of Native Americans in United States history. As many as 150,000 Indians lived in the state before 1849; by 1870, fewer than 30,000 remained.
1855 – On September 3, 1855, the Ash Hollow Massacre occurred in Nebraska. Colonel William Harney used 1,300 soldiers to massacre an entire Brule village in retribution for the killing of 30 soldiers, who were killed in retribution for the killing of Brule Chief Conquering Bear, in a dispute over a cow.
1856 – On January 26, 1856, in the Battle of Seattle, settlers drove Indians from their land so that a little town of white settlers could prosper. The sloop Decatur fired its cannon, routing the “Indians.” Two settlers were killed in the fight.
1857 – In September 1857, the Fancher Party, a group of California-bound emigrants from Arkansas and Missouri, arrived in Salt Lake City. According to Brigham Young’s edict, the townspeople refused to sell supplies to the group. The wagon train then headed south and camped in Mountain Meadows.
On September 7, 1857, the Francher Party suffered a coordinated joint attack by Paiute Indians and Mormon militiamen. Many were killed on both sides before the pioneers could gain a tenable defensive position. Then followed five days of siege, in which the emigrants were massacred. When the bloodbath ended, 123 were dead and only 17 young children were left alive. Lee fled the area with his 17 wives and settled in Lee’s Ferry, Arizona.
On September 17, 1858, Colonel Wright dictated terms of surrender to Indians at Coeur d’Alene mission. Twenty-four chiefs of the Yakama, Cayuse, Wallawalla, Palouse, and Spokan tribes were shot or hanged.
1860 – On February 26, 1860, white settlers from Eureka, California attacked and killed 188 members of the Wiyot Tribe on Indian Island in Humboldt Bay. Only one Wiyot member survived — a child named Jerry James, who was the son of chief Captain Jim.
On April 29, 1860, Navajo Chief Manuelito and his warriors attacked Fort Defiance in northeastern Arizona. The fort, the first built in Navajo country, was near livestock grazing land used by the Navajo. The conflict began when the army claimed the grazing land for their horses.
1860 to 1864 – The Navajo War broke out in New Mexico Territory as a result of tensions between the Navajo and American military forces in the area. During a final standoff in January 1864 at Canyon de Chelly, fears of harsh winter conditions and starvation forced the Navajo to surrender to Kit Carson and his troops. Carson ordered the destruction of Navajo property and organized the Navajo Long Walk to Bosque Redondo reservation at Fort Sumner, New Mexico.1861
1861 – On February 13, 1861, the first military action to result in the Congressional Medal of Honor occurred. Colonel Bernard Irwin attacked and defeated hostile Chiricahua Indians in Arizona.
On June 11, 1861, rancher Nathan Hungate, his wife, and two little girls were slaughtered in Chivington, Colorado by Indians.
On September 22, 1861, in an unprovoked peacetime attack, U.S. Army soldiers massacred visiting Navajo men, women, and children during a horse race at Fort Wingate, New Mexico.
On November 29, 1861, 750 Colorado volunteers of the 3rd Colorado Cavalry, under the command of Colonel John Chivington, attacked a Cheyenne and Arapaho village in Colorado in retaliation for the Hungates. In what is known as the Sand Creek Massacre, 163 Indians were killed; 110 of them were women and children. Afterward and the soldiers scalped the victims, mutilated bodies and the dead were left to be eaten by coyotes and vultures.
1862 – Congress passes the Homestead Act making western lands belonging to many Indian Nations available to non-Indian American settlers.
August 18, 1862 – The Sioux Uprising (or Santee War) in Minnesota began. The Sioux declared war on the white settlers, killing more than 1,000. They were eventually defeated by the U.S. army, which marched 1,700 survivors to Fort Snelling. Others escaped to the safety of their western relatives. Over 400 Indians were tried for murder, 38 of whom were publicly executed. By 1864 90% of the Santee, and many of the Teton who sheltered them were dead or in prison.
December 26, 1862 – The mass execution of 38 Sioux men in Mankato, Minnesota for crimes during the Sioux Uprising. The trials of almost every adult male who had voluntarily surrendered to General Sibley, at a rate of up to 40 a day, were conducted under the premise of guilty until proven innocent. Originally 303 men were condemned to death. President Abraham Lincoln intervened and ordered a complete review of the records which reduced the list to 38.
1863 – After the end of the Santee Sioux uprising, Little Crow left the area. Eventually, he returned to steal horses and supplies so he and his followers could survive. On July 3, 1863, Little Crow was killed for a bounty of $25 and his son escaped.
1864 – The Long Walk to Bosque Redondo – Under the military leadership of Kit Carson, the federal government forced 8,000 Navajo men, women, and children to walk more than 300 miles from their ancestral homeland in northeastern Arizona to a newly-designated reservation at Bosque Redondo in northwestern New Mexico.
1865 – In July 1865, General Patrick Conner organized three columns of soldiers to begin an invasion of the Powder River Basin, from the Black Hills to the Big Horn Mountains. They had one order: “Attack and kill every male Indian over twelve years of age.”
July 24-26, 1865 – The Battle of Platte Bridge, Wyoming occurs when the Cheyenne and Lakota besiege the most northerly outpost of the U.S. Army. The Indians succeeded in killing all members of a platoon of cavalrymen sent out to meet a wagon train as well as the wagon drivers and their escorts.
Late August 1865 – The Battle of Tongue River occurs in Wyoming when General Patrick Conner’s column destroys an Arapaho village, including all the winter’s food supply, tents, and clothes. They kill over 50 of the Arapaho villagers.
Late September 1865 – Roman Nose’s Fight occurs when the Cheyenne Chief, in revenge for the Sand Creek Massacre, led several hundred Cheyenne warriors in a siege of the Cole and Walker columns of exhausted and starving soldiers who were attempting to return to Fort Laramie. Because they were armed only with bows, lances and a few old trade guns, they were unable to overrun the soldiers, but they harassed them for several days until Connor’s returning column rescued them.
October 14, 1865 – The Southern Cheyenne chiefs sign a treaty agreeing to cede all the land they formerly claimed as their own, most of Colorado Territory, to the U.S. government. This was the desired end of the Sand Creek Massacre.
October 1865 – General Patrick Conner returns to Fort Laramie leaving two companies of soldiers at the fort they had constructed at the fork of the Crazy Woman Creek and the Powder River. Red Cloud and his warriors kept these men isolated and without supplies all winter. Many died of scurvy, malnutrition, and pneumonia before winter’s end. They were not relieved until June 28th by Colonel Carrington’s company.
Late Fall, 1865 – Nine treaties were signed with the Sioux including the Brule, Hunkpapa, Oglala, and Minneconjou. These were widely advertised as signifying the end of the Plains wars although none of the war chiefs had signed any of these treaties.
December 21, 1865 – An illegal Executive Order removed lands from the Oregon Coast Indian Reservation, cutting the territory in half.
1866 – The Sioux Nations are angered as the U.S. Army begins building forts along the Bozeman Trail, an important route to the goldfields of Virginia City, Montana. Captain Fetterman and 80 soldiers are killed.
April 1, 1866 – Congress overrides President Johnson’s veto of the Civil Rights Bill, giving equal rights to all persons born in the U.S. (except Indians). The President is empowered to use the Army to enforce the law.
Late Spring 1866 – War chiefs Red Cloud, Spotted Tail, Standing Elk, Dull Knife, and others come to Fort Laramie to negotiate a treaty concerning access to the Powder River Basin. Shortly after the beginning of the talks, on June 13, Colonel Henry Carrington and several hundred infantrymen reached Fort Laramie to build forts along the Bozeman Trail. It was clear to the chiefs that the treaty was a mere formality; the road would be opened whether they agreed or not. This was the beginning of Red Cloud’s War.
July 13, 1866 – Colonel Carrington begins building Fort Phil Kearny in Wyoming. He halts his column between the forks of the Little Piney and the Big Piney Creeks, in the best hunting grounds of the Plains Indians, and pitches camp. The Cheyenne visit and decide that the camp is too strong for them to attack directly and begin plans for harassing the soldiers who leave the camp and for drawing out soldiers by using decoys. All summer they harassed the soldiers and make alliances with other Plains groups, forming a coalition of Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapaho and Crow groups.
December 21, 1866 – The Fetterman Massacre was fought near Fort Phil Kearny, Wyoming Territory. Angered at white interlopers traveling through their country, Sioux and Cheyenne forces continually harassed the soldiers at Fort Phil Kearny, constructed to provide emigrant protection along the newly opened Bozeman Trail. Out maneuvering the soldiers, the Indians killed all 80 of them.