Native American Timeline – Westward Expansion

Westward Expansion by Currier & Ives, 1866.

Westward Expansion by Currier & Ives, 1866.

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, Native Americans occupied these lands, creating 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 several Indian wars.


Hunting buffalo to feed a wagon train of pioneers

Hunting buffalo.

1850 – There are 20,000,000 buffalo on the plains between Montana and Texas.

On September 9, 1850 – California entered the Union. With miners flooding the hillsides and devastating the land, California’s Indians were deprived of their traditional food sources and forced by hunger to raid the mining towns and other white settlements.

1850-1875 – The extermination of buffalo herds by sports and hide hunters severely limits the Plains Indians‘ food supply and survival ability.

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 unhappy with the agreement, he abided by it for many years.

1853 – California began confining its remaining Indian population on harsh military reservations. Still, 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.

Ash Hollow Massacre, Nebraska.

Ash Hollow Massacre, Nebraska.

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 killing 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.

Mountain Meadows Massacre, Utah

Mountain Meadows Massacre, Utah

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 died, and only 17 young children were left alive. John Lee fled the area with his 17 wives and settled in Lee’s Ferry, Arizona.

1858 – On May 17, 1858, 1,200 Coeur d’Alene, Palouse, Spokan, and Skitswich Indians defeated a strong force of Colonel Steptoe near Colfax, Washington, at the village of To-ho-to-nim-me.

On September 17, 1858, Colonel Wright dictated terms of surrender to Indians at the Coeur d’Alene mission. Twenty-four chiefs of the Yakama, Cayuse, Walla Walla, 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.

Navajo War Chief Manuelito, by Elbridge Ayer  Burbank, 1908

Navajo War Chief Manuelito, by Elbridge Ayer  Burbank, 1908

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 grazing land for their horses.

1860 to 1864 – The Navajo War broke out in New Mexico Territory due to tensions between the area’s Navajo and American military forces. 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 February 18, 1861, the Arapaho and Cheyenne ceded most of eastern Colorado, which had been guaranteed to them forever in an 1851 treaty.

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.

Chiricahua Apache Chief Cochise

Chiricahua Apache Chief Cochise

On September 22, 1861, 500 Apache led by Cochise attacked the town of Pinos Altos, New Mexico. Three miners and 14 Indians were killed.

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, the soldiers scalped the victims, mutilated their 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 – Minnesota’s Sioux Uprising (or Santee War) began. The Sioux declared war on the white settlers, killing more than 1,000. The U.S. army eventually defeated them, and marched 1,700 survivors to Fort Snelling. Others escaped to the safety of their western relatives. Over 400  Indians were tried for murder, 38 were publicly executed. By 1864 90% of the Santee and many of the Teton who sheltered them were dead or in prison.

Execution of 38 Sioux, Mankato Minnesota, December 26, 1862

Execution of 38 Sioux, Mankato, Minnesota, December 26, 1862

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, reducing 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.”

Platte Bridge Station, Casper, Wyoming by William Henry Jackson

Platte Bridge Station, Casper, Wyoming by William Henry Jackson

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 killed all members of a platoon of cavalrymen sent out to meet a wagon train and 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 could not overrun the soldiers, but they harassed them for several days until Connor’s returning column rescued them.

Cheyenne Warriors by Edward S. Curtis

Cheyenne Warriors by Edward S. Curtis

October 14, 1865 – The Southern Cheyenne chiefs signed a treaty agreeing to cede all the land they formerly claimed, 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.

Bozeman Trail, Montana by Kathy Alexander

Bozeman Trail, Montana by Kathy Alexander

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 Andrew 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.

Fort Phil Kearny, Wyoming

Fort Phil Kearny, Wyoming

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 to harass the soldiers who leave the camp and draw them out using decoys. All summer, they harassed the soldiers and made 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. Outmaneuvering the soldiers, the Indians killed all 80 of them.

1866 to 1867 – Red Cloud’s fight to close off the Bozeman Trail – The Oglala Sioux Chief Red Cloud successfully fought the U.S. army to protect Sioux lands against the American construction of the Bozeman Trail, which was to run from Fort Laramie to the Montana goldfields.

Medicine Lodge, Kansas Council Tent, by James E. Taylor, 1867.

Medicine Lodge, Kansas Council Tent, by James E. Taylor, 1867.

1867 – In October 1867, the Treaty of Medicine Lodge was negotiated. After Congress passed a law to confine the Plains tribes to small reservations where they could be supervised and “civilized,” U.S. representatives organized the largest treaty-making gathering in U.S. history. Over 6,000 Arapaho, Cheyenne, Apache, Comanche, and Kiowa members met at Medicine Lodge, Kansas. The Grand Council of tribes was attended by Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, and Sitting Bull, among other great leaders, and pledged to end further encroachment by the whites. The treaty ensured that all tribes would move onto reservation lands. After that, the army was instructed to punish Indian raids and to “bring in” any tribes that refused to live on reservations.

1868 – The Nez Perce Treaty is negotiated. This was the last Indian treaty ratified by the U.S. government.

The Second Treaty of Fort Laramie was negotiated, which guaranteed the Sioux Indians’ rights to the Black Hills of South Dakota and gave the Sioux hunting permission beyond reservation boundaries. The treaty also created the Great Sioux Reservation and agreed that the Sioux do not cede their hunting grounds in Montana and Wyoming territories. The Army agrees to abandon the forts on the Bozeman Trail, and the Indians agree to become “civilized.”

Battle of Washita, Oklahoma by Steven Lang

Battle of Washita, Oklahoma, by Steven Lang.

George Armstrong Custer established himself as a great Indian fighter by leading the Massacre on the Washita in Indian Territory (Oklahoma), in which Black Kettle was killed. The entire village was destroyed, and all of its inhabitants were killed.

In June 1868, the Navajo signed a treaty after the Long Walk when Kit Carson rounded up 8,000 Navajo and forced them to walk more than 300 miles to the Bosque Redondo reservation in southern New Mexico. English officials called it a reservation, but to the conquered and exiled Navajo, it was a prison camp.

1869 – The First Sioux War ends with the Treaty of Fort Laramie. The government agrees to abandon Forts Smith, Kearney, and Reno.

Congress created the Board of Indian Commissioners to investigate and report on the alleged Bureau of Indian Affairs mismanagement and conditions on reservations where corruption was widespread. The Board continued to operate as an investigative and oversight commission that helped shape and direct American Indian policy.

Plains Indians

Plains Indians.

1870 – Buffalo herds are diminished to a crisis point for the Plains Indians.

On January 20, 1870, Buffalo Soldiers, under the command of Captain Francis Dodge, came upon a settlement of Mescalero Apache in the most remote region of New Mexico’s Guadalupe Mountains and attacked them, killing ten Mescalero Apache and taking 25 ponies.

On January 23, 1870, in the Massacre on the Marias, 173 Blackfeet men, women, and children were slaughtered by U.S. soldiers on the Marias River in Montana in response to the killing of Malcolm Clarke and the wounding of his son by a small party of young Blackfeet men.

On March 30, 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified, finally recognizing all men’s natural right to vote, including Indians. However, women continued to be second-class citizens.

1871 – On March 3, 1871, the Indian Appropriation Act was passed, specifying that no tribe after that would be recognized as an independent nation with which the federal government could make a treaty. All future Indian policies would not be negotiated with Indian tribes through treaties but determined by passing Congressional statutes or executive orders. Marking a significant step backward, the act made tribal members wards of the state rather than preserving their rights as members of sovereign nations.

Old Camp Grant, Arizona

Old Camp Grant, Arizona

On April 30, 1871, 144 Aravaipa Apache, most women, and children, were murdered outside Camp Grant, Arizona, where they had been given asylum. The attack occurred when an angry mob of citizens from Tucson and their Papago Indian mercenaries attacked the camp, clubbing and shooting the people, mostly women, and children. All but eight corpses were women and children, as the men had been off hunting in the mountains. The attack was retaliation for a Gila Apache raid in which six people had been killed and some livestock stolen. Twenty-seven children who were captured were sold in Mexico by the Papago Indians. See Camp Grant Massacre.

May 17, 1871 – Kiowa war leaders Satanta, Big Tree, and Satank led an attack on a freight train known as Warren Wagon Train Raid in Texas, where seven white men died.

Kiowa warrior Setangya, aka: Satank, Sitting Bear, by William S. Soule

Kiowa warrior Setangya, aka: Satank, Sitting Bear, by William S. Soule

July 5, 1871 – Kiowa warriors, Satanta, Big Tree, and Satank are tried for the Warren Wagon Train Raid in Texas. Satank is killed while trying to escape. After three days of testimony, the other two are found guilty. Although sentenced to be hanged, the Texas Governor, fearing a Kiowa uprising, decides to commute the sentence to life in a Texas prison. Eventually, Big Tree and Satanta are freed.

1872 – Congress passed the Mining Act of 1872. Alaskan natives were excluded from claiming ownership of their own land. During this period, natives were not accepted as national citizens and had no land or load claim rights, which took many years to change.

1873 – George Custer and the Seventh Cavalry come to the northern plains to guard the surveyors for the Northern Pacific Railroad. He has a chance encounter with Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.

On June 5, 1873, Alcatraz’s first Indian prisoner, Paiute Tom, started his prison term at the infamous facility. Tom’s stay at the prison was short. He was shot and killed by a guard two days after arriving. It is unknown today what he was convicted of or why he was killed.

George Custer leads an expedition into the Black Hills in 1874.

George Custer led an expedition into the Black Hills in 1874.

1874 – George Armstrong Custer announced the discovery of gold in the Black Hills of South Dakota, setting off fortune-hunters’ stampede into this most sacred part of Lakota territory. Although the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty required the government to protect Lakota lands from white intruders, federal authorities worked instead to protect the miners already crowding along the path Custer blazed for them, which they called “Freedom’s Trail” and the Lakota called “Thieves’ Road.”

On February 25, 1874, the Skokomish reservation was established near Shelton, Washington.

On July 26, 1874, the order was given that friendly Indians were to remain in fixed camps at the Wichita Agency in Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and answer periodic roll calls.

On September 10, 1874, a group of Kiowa and Comanche attacked a military supply caravan along the Washita River in Indian Territory. The soldiers barricaded themselves for several days until others came to help. One soldier was killed.

On September 28, 1874, Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie, the Fourth U.S. Cavalry head, attacked and destroyed a large Indian encampment in Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle.

The Black Hills of South Dakota by the National Park Service.

The Black Hills of South Dakota by the National Park Service.

1875 – The U.S. government attempts to purchase the Black Hills and fails. The Second Sioux War erupts after the Sioux refused to sell the lands north of the Platte River to the federal government.

On November 9, 1875, the Indian Bureau reported that Plains Indians outside reservations were “well-fed… lofty and independent in their attitudes, and are a threat to the reservation system.”

1876 – In January, the U.S. government issued an ultimatum that all Sioux not on the Great Sioux Reservation by January 31 would be considered hostile. The winter is bitter, and most Sioux do not even hear of the ultimatum until after the deadline.

February 1, 1876 – The Secretary of the Interior notified the Secretary Of War that time given to “hostile” Sioux and Cheyenne Indian families to abandon their villages and come into U.S. agencies had expired; it was now a military matter.

February 7, 1876 – The War Department authorized General Philip Sheridan to commence operations against “hostile” Lakota, including bands of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.

March 17, 1876 – General George Crook’s advance column attacked a Sioux/Cheyenne camp on the Powder River in South Dakota, mistakenly believing it to be the encampment of Lakota warrior Crazy Horse. The people were driven from their lodges, and many were killed. The lodges and all the winter supplies were burned, and the horse herd was captured.

George A. Custer

George A. Custer

Spring 1876 – George Armstrong Custer and the Seventh Cavalry begin to place the Lakota Sioux onto reservations forcibly.

Sitting Bull organizes the greatest gathering of Indians on the northern plains.

May 15, 1876 – President Ulysses S. Grant issued an executive order creating the Cabazon Reservation for the Cahuilla Indians. Before the order, the Cahuilla moved many times due to Southern Pacific Railroad’s claim to local water rights.

June 17, 1876 – General Crook is forced to retire from the “pincers” campaign in the Battle of the Rosebud.

June 25, 1876 – The Battle of the Little Bighorn occurs. Ignoring warnings of an amassed Sioux army of 2,000-4,000 men, Custer, and 250 soldiers attack the forces of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse at the Little Bighorn. George Armstrong Custer and 210 men under his command are killed. The news reaches the east for the Independence Day Centennial celebrations. In response, the federal government spent the next two years tracking down the Lakota, killing some and forcing most onto the reservation. On July 6, The New York Times called those American people “red devils.”

General Nelson Miles

Colonel Nelson Miles

October 1876 – Colonel Nelson Miles arrived on the Yellowstone River to take command of the campaign against the northern Plains Indians. The Manypenny Commission demands that the Sioux give up the Black Hills or starve. Having no choice, Red Cloud, Spotted Tail, and the other reservation chiefs signed over the Black Hills.

November 25, 1876 – The U.S. took retaliatory action for the Battle of the Little Bighorn against the Cheyenne. U.S. troops under General Ronald Mackenzie burned Chief Dull Knife’s village, even though Dull Knife himself didn’t fight at the Little Bighorn.

“I am poor and naked, but I am the chief of the nation. We do not want riches, but we do want to train our children right. Riches would do us no good. We could not take them with us to the other world. We do not want riches. We want peace and love.”

—  Chief Red Cloud, Sioux Chief

1877 – Nez Perce War – This war occurred when the U.S. Army responded to some American deaths along the Salmon River, said to have been committed by the Nez Perce. To avoid a battle that would have resulted in being forced onto a reservation, about 800 Nez Perce fled 1,500 miles. They were caught 30 miles south of the Canadian border. Survivors were sent to Indian Territory in Oklahoma, despite the promise of the U.S. government to allow them to return to their homeland.

January 15, 1877 – Standing Bear, a Ponca chief, refused to move to a reservation because it was within lands already given to the Lakota.

Lakota Sioux Camp, by John Graybill, 1891

Lakota Sioux Camp, by John Graybill, 1891

February 28, 1877 – The U.S. Government seized the Black Hills from Lakota Sioux violating a treaty.

March 23, 1877 – John D. Lee was brought to trial for his part in the Fancher Party Massacre of 1857. He was convicted by an all-Mormon jury. On March 23, he was executed by firing squad at the site of the massacre after denouncing Brigham Young for abandoning him. His last words are for his executioners: “Center my heart, boys. Don’t mangle my body.”

Early May -1877 – Sitting Bull escapes to Canada with about 300 followers.

May 6, 1877 – Crazy Horse finally surrendered to General George Crook at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, on May 6, having received assurances that he and his followers would be permitted to settle in the Powder River country of Montana. Defiant even in defeat, Crazy Horse arrived with a band of 800 warriors, all brandishing weapons and chanting songs of war.

May 7, 1877 – A small band of Minneconjou Sioux is defeated by General Nelson A. Miles, thus ending the Great Sioux Wars.

Ponca Indians

Ponca Indians

June 1877 – The Ponca arrived at the Otto reservation. They were forcibly marched from their old reservation to Indian Territory. The Otto took pity on the Ponca and gave them horses to help carry their people.

September 6, 1877 – By late summer, there were rumors that Crazy Horse was planning a return to battle. On September 5, he was arrested and brought back to Fort Robinson, where, when he resisted being jailed, he was held by an Indian guard and killed by a bayonet thrust by a soldier on September 6. He was 36.

Congress passed the Manypenny Agreement, a law taking the Black Hills and ending Sioux rights outside the Great Sioux Reservation. The Sioux land – 134 million acres guaranteed by the treaty in 1868 was reduced to less than 15 million acres.

Nez Perce Chief Joseph

Nez Perce Chief Joseph

October 5, 1877 – Nez Perce leader Chief Joseph surrendered his rifle at Eagle Creek in the Bear Paw Mountains in Montana after months in which his starving band eluded pursuing federal troops: “From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”

1877-1888 – The buffalo have disappeared, and Lakota now live on handouts from the Federal Government.

1878 – The Northern Cheyenne escaped from their reservation in Oklahoma in an attempt to reach their lands in Montana Territory.

January 1878 – A Commission finds the Indian Bureau permeated with “cupidity, inefficiency, and the most barefaced dishonesty.” The department’s affairs were “a reproach to the whole nation.” Carl Schurz had already dismissed the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, John Q. Smith, on September 27, 1877. He now discharged many more Bureau employees and began a reorganization of the Indian agents.

Indian Training School, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Indian Training School, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

1879 – The first students, 84 Lakota children, arrived at the newly established the United States Indian Training and Industrial School at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Over the next two decades, 24 more schools on the Carlisle model will be established outside the reservations, along with 81 boarding schools and nearly 150 day schools on the Indians’ own land.

On January 14, 1879, Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Tribe addressed Congress about tribal lands stolen through treaties. He gave the analogy that it was like having horses that he doesn’t want to sell being sold by his neighbor, with the neighbor then letting the buyer take the horses.

In January, the U.S. Army rounded up 540 Paiute in Oregon and, in what’s known as the Paiute Trail of Tears, forcibly took them to the Yakima Reservation in Washington. On February 2, they arrived at the reservation after a forced march through winter snows.

Sun Dance ceremony by George Catlin

Sun Dance ceremony by George Catlin

1880 – Civilization Regulations – Congress set up a series of offenses that only Indians could commit. These regulations outlawed Indian religions, the practices of “so-called” medicine men, ceremonies like the Sun Dance, and leaving the reservation without permission. These regulations were in place until 1936.

1881 –  Helen Hunt Jackson released her book, A Century of Dishonor, detailing the plight of American Indians and criticizing the U.S. government’s treatment of Indians.

January 18, 1881 – The Spokan Indian Reservation was established.

July 19, 1881 – Sitting Bull and 186 remaining followers surrender at Fort Buford, North Dakota. He is sent to Fort Randall, South Dakota, for two years as a prisoner of war instead of being pardoned, as promised.

Sioux Chief Spotted Tail

Sioux Chief Spotted Tail

Late Summer, 1881 – Spotted Tail is assassinated by Crow Dog. White officials dismiss the killing as a simple quarrel, but the Sioux feel it resulted from a plot to wrest control from a strong Indian leader.

1882 – A Congressional Act provided funds for the mandatory education of 100 Indian pupils in industrial schools and the appointment of an Inspector or Superintendent of Indian schools.

The Indian Rights Association was created to protect the interests and rights of Indians. The association was composed of white reformers who wanted to help Indians abandon their cultural and spiritual beliefs and assimilate into American society.

On October 24, 1882, a federal Grand Jury in Arizona charged civil authorities with mismanagement of Indian Affairs on the San Carlos Reservation.

1883 – Ex Parte Crow Dog Supreme Court decision. Crow Dog, a Sioux Indian who shot and killed an Indian on the Rosebud Reservation, was prosecuted in federal court, found guilty, and sentenced to death. On appeal, it was argued that the federal government’s prosecution had infringed upon tribal sovereignty. The Court ruled that the U.S. did not have jurisdiction and that Crow Dog must be released. The decision reaffirmed tribal sovereignty and led to the passage of the 1885 Major Crimes Act, which identified seven major crimes, that, if committed by an Indian on Indian land, were placed within federal jurisdiction.

A group of clergymen, government officials, and social reformers calling itself “The Friends of the Indian” met in upstate New York to develop a strategy for bringing Native Americans into mainstream American life. Their decisions set the course for U.S. policy toward Native Americans over the next generation, resulting in the near destruction of native American cultures.

War dance of the Sac and Fox, by Peter Rindisbacher, about 1830

War dance of the Sac and Fox, by Peter Rindisbacher, about 1830.

Courts of Indian Offenses – The Secretary of the Interior established these courts to uphold the 1880 Civilization Regulations to eliminate “heathenish practices” among the Indians. The rules of the courts forbade the practice of all public and private religious activities by Indians on their reservations, including ceremonial dances, like the Sun Dance, and the practices of “so-called medicine men.”

In May 1883, Lakota Chief Sitting Bull was released from prison. He rejoined his tribe in Standing Rock, where he was forced to work the fields. He spoke forcefully against plans to open part of the reservation to white settlers. Despite the old chief’s objections, the land transfer proceeded as planned. He lived the rest of his life across the Grand River from his birthplace.

On September 8, Sitting Bull delivered a speech at the celebration of the driving of the last spike in the transcontinental railroad system to great applause. He delivered the speech in his Sioux language, departing from a speech originally prepared by an army translator. Denouncing the U.S. government, settlers, and army, the listeners thought he was welcoming and praising them. While giving the speech, Sitting Bull paused for applause periodically, bowed, smiled, and continued insulting his audience as the translator delivered the original address.

On November 3, 1883, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an Indian is by birth “an alien and a dependent.”

1885 – Sitting Bull tours with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

The Major Crimes Act gave federal courts jurisdiction over Indians accused of rape, manslaughter, murder, assault with intent to kill, arson, or larceny against another Indian on a reservation. The list was eventually expanded to include 14 crimes.

When U.S. troops pursued a band of Apache near Pleasanton, New Mexico, the Indians caught the soldiers in a triple cross-fire trap and killed them all.

Geronimo, 1903, by J.W. Collins

Geronimo, 1903, by J.W. Collins

1886 – Geronimo, described by one follower as “the most intelligent and resourceful… most vigorous and farsighted” of the Apache leaders, surrendered to General Nelson A. Miles in Skeleton Canyon, Arizona, after more than a decade of guerilla warfare against American and Mexican settlers in the Southwest. The terms of surrender required Geronimo and his tribe to settle in Florida, where the Army hoped he could be contained.

1887 – The Dawes Severalty Act, or the General Allotment Act, gives the President power to reduce the landholdings of the Indian nations across the country by allotting 160 acres to the heads of Indian families and 80 acres to individuals. The “surplus lands” on the reservations were opened up to settlement.

On July 16, J. D. C. Atkins, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, wrote in his annual report that English would be the exclusive language used at all Indian schools. He argued that native languages were not only of no use but were detrimental to the education and civilization of Indians.

1888 – The Oglala Lakota Sioux move to Pine Ridge Agency on South Dakota/Nebraska border.

The Sioux Act – This Congressional Act divided the Great Sioux Reservation into six separate reservations to dilute their power and make much of their land available for non-Indian settlement.

1889 – The Oklahoma Organic Act divided Indian land into two territories in Oklahoma. The Territory of Oklahoma in western Oklahoma was opened up to non-Indian settlement, and the Indian Territory in eastern Oklahoma was retained for continued Indian settlement.

Two Zuni Indians were hanged over the wall of a Spanish church in Arizona on the charge of using witchcraft to chase away rain clouds.

Ghost Dance

Ghost Dance

On January 1, 1889, a Paiute rancher named Wovoka announced that he had dreamed a vision of a new world set aside for native people and where white people would vanish en masse. This was the birth of the short-lived Ghost Dance religion.

February 19, 1889 – The Quileute Indian reservation at La Push, Washington, was established.

April 22, 1889 – In the first “Oklahoma Land Rush,” the U.S. government bows to pressure and opens for settlement land that it had previously promised would be a permanent refuge for Native Americans moved from their eastern territories. Native American tribes are paid about $4 million for the parcel of land. The starting gun sounds at noon, and an estimated 50,000 settlers race across the land; by sunset, all 1.92 million acres have been claimed.

1890 – Congress established the Oklahoma Territory on unoccupied lands in the Indian Territory, breaking a 60-year-old pledge to preserve this area exclusively for Native Americans forced from their lands in the east.

May 29, 1890 – Charles L. Hyde, a Pierre, South Dakota citizen, wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Interior saying the Ghost Dance led to a possible uprising by the Sioux. Before the letter, federal agents were not concerned about the Ghost Dance, but soon after, they feared the ceremony.

October 16, 1890 – Reservation Police forcibly removed Kicking Bear from Standing Rock Agency, South Dakota, for teaching the Ghost Dance, a visionary ceremony foretelling the disappearance of white people.

Sitting Bull, D.F. Barry, 1885

Sitting Bull, by D.F. Barry, 1885.

December 15, 1890 – When Federal troops tried to arrest Sioux Indians in Little Eagle, South Dakota, on December 15, Chief Sitting Bull ordered his warriors to resist, and he was shot in the back of the head and killed. The aftermath of his death led to the massacre of the Sioux at Wounded Knee.

December 29, 1890 – Big Foot’s band of Minneconjous try to reach Pine Ridge and the protection of Red Cloud after hearing of Sitting Bull’s death. Also present were members of the Sioux band led by Chief Spotted Elk. Hungry and exhausted, they assembled under armed guard as requested to receive the protection of the Government of the United States of America, surrendering their arms and submitting to a forced search of tents and teepees that yielded only two remaining rifles. Marched to Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota, they were disarmed by the U.S. Army. Major Samuel Whitside counted 120 men and 230 women and children at sundown on December 28, 1890. The next day an unidentified shot rang out, and the well-armed 487 U.S. soldiers surrounding the defenseless people opened fire. Afterward, 256 Sioux lay dead and were buried in mass graves. Twenty Congressional Medals of Honor were awarded to the soldiers.

1891 – Indian Education – A Congressional Act authorized the Commissioner of Indian Affairs “to make and enforce by proper means” rules and regulations to ensure that Indian children attended schools designed and administered by non-Indians.

Amendment to the Dawes Act – This amendment modified the amount of land allotted and set conditions for leasing allotments.

1893 – Experts estimated that fewer than 2,000 buffalo remained of the more than 20 million that once roamed the Western plains.

Over 100,000 white settlers rushed into Oklahoma’s Cherokee Outlet to claim six million acres of former Cherokee land.

On February 10, the Campo Indian Reservation near San Diego was established for the Campo band of Kumeyaay Indians. The tribe that had dwindled down to 200 members from 2.000 forty years earlier was given one acre of land.

1894 – On January 8, the Yakama signed away 23,000 acres of timberland formerly inhabited by the Wenatchee tribe to the U.S. for $20,000.

Hopi Prisoners sent to Alcatraz.

Hopi Prisoners sent to Alcatraz.

1895 – From January through August, Chief Lomahongyoma and 18 other Hopi Indians were placed in Alcatraz for resisting government attempts to erase the Hopi culture. The 19 Hopi members were jailed for their resistance to farm on individual plots away from the mesas and for refusing to send their children to government boarding schools.

1898 – The Curtis Act ended tribal governments’ practice of refusing allotments and mandated the allotment of tribal lands in Indian Territory – including the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw lands, and Seminole nations.

1899 – On March 2, Congress allowed railroad companies blanket approval for rights-of-way through Indian lands.

Compiled and edited by Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated March 2023.

Also See:

Native American Photo Galleries

Native American Timelines

Native American Tribes

Native Americans – First Owners of America