1850-1899 OFFICIAL INDIAN WARS OF THE UNITED STATES from U.S. Army Center for Military History
Comanches, 1867-1875. Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan 1831-1888, commander of the Department of the Missouri, instituted winter campaigning in 1868 as a means of locating the elusive Indian bands of the region. Notable incidents in the campaigns from then until 1875 against the Indians in the border regions of Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, & Texas were the nine-day defense of Beecher's Island against Roman Nose's band in September 1868 by Maj. George A. Forsyth's detachment; the defeat of Black Kettle on the Washita (Oklahoma) on 27 November 1868 by Lt. Col. Custer & the 7th Cavalry; the crushing of the Cheyennes under Tall Bull at Summit Spring (Colorado) on 13 May 1869; the assault on the Kiowa-Comanche camp in Palo Duro Canyon on 27 September 1875 by Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie; & the attack & rout of Greybeard's big Cheyenne encampment in the Texas Panhandle on 8 November 1875 by 1st Lt. Frank Baldwin's detachment, spearheaded by infantry loaded in mule wagons.
Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan (1831-1888)
Modocs, 1872-1873. The Bloc Campaign of 1872-73 was the last Indian war of consequence on the Pacific Coast. When the Modocs, a small & restless tribe, were placed on a reservation with the Klamaths, their traditional enemies, they soon found the situation intolerable. A majority of the Modocs soon left the reservation, led by a chief known as "Captain Jack," & returned to their old lands. A detail of 1st Cavalry troops under Capt. James Jackson became involved in a skirmish with these Modocs on Lost River on 29 November 1872 when the troops sought to disarm then & arrest the leaders.
Following the skirmish, Captain Jack & about 120 warriors with ample supplies retreated to a naturally fortified area in the Lava Beds east of Mount Shasta. On 17 January 1873 Col. Alvan Gillem's detachment of some 400 men, half of them Regulars from the 1st Cavalry & 21st Infantry, attacked the Modoc positions, but the troops could make no progress in the almost impassable terrain, suffering a loss of 10 killed & 28 wounded.
By spring of 1873 Brig. Gen. Edward R. S. Canby, commander of the Department of the Pacific, had collected about 1,000 men (elements of the 1st Cavalry, 12th & 21st Infantry, & 4th Artillery) to besiege the Modocs. Indian Bureau officials failed in attempts at negotiation, but General Canby & 3 civilian commissioners were able to arrange a parley with an equal number of Modoc representatives on 11 April. The Indians treacherously violated the truce. Captain Jack, himself, killed General Canby while others killed one commissioner, Eleazer Thomas, & wounded another. The siege was resumed.
Brig. Gen. Jefferson C. Davis, who arrived in May to replace Canby pushed columns deep into the Lava Beds, hurrying the Indians day & night with mortar & rifle fire. When their source of water was cut off, the Indians were finally forced into the open, & all were captured by 1 June 1873. Captain Jack & two others were hanged, & the rest of the tribe was removed to the Indian Territory. During the course of the siege some 80 white men were killed.
Apaches, 1873 & 1885-1886. After Brig. Gen. 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 Apaches. Dissident elements went off the reservations, led by Chato, Victorio, Geronimo, & other chiefs, & raided settlements along both aides of the border, escaping into Mexico or the United States as circumstances dictated. To combat this practice the two nations agreed in 1882 to permit reasonable pursuit of Indian raiders by the troops of each country across the international boundary.
Victorio was killed by Mexican troops in 1880, but Chato & Geronimo remained at large until May 1883 when they surrendered to General Crook & elements of the 6th Cavalry, reinforced by Apache scouts, at a point some 200 miles inside Mexico. Two years later Geronimo & about 150 Chiricahua Apaches again left their White Mountain reservation (Arizona) & once more terrorized the border region. Elements of the 4th Cavalry & Apache scouts immediately took up pursuit of the Chiricahua renegades. In January 1886 Capt. Emmet Crawford & 80 Apache scouts attacked Geronimo's main band some 200 miles south of the border, but the Indians escaped into the mountains. Although Crawford was killed by Mexican irregulars shortly thereafter, his second in command, 1st Lt. M. P. Maus, was able to negotiate Geronimo's surrender to General Crook in late March 1886. But Geronimo & part of his band escaped within a few days (29 March). Capt. Henry W. Lawton's column (elements of the 4th Cavalry, 8th Infantry, & Apache scouts) surprised Geronimo's camp in the mountains of Mexico on 20 July. Although the Chiricahuas again fled, by the end of August they indicated a willingness to surrender. On 4 September 1886, 1st Lt. Charles B. Gatewood of Lawton's command negotiated the formal surrender to Brig. Gen. Nelson Miles who had relieved General Crook in April. Geronimo sad his band were removed to Florida & finally to the Fort Sill military reservation.
Little Big Horn, 1876-1877. Discovery of gold in the Black Hills in 1874, bringing an influx of miners, & extension of railroads into the area renewed unrest among the Indians, & 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.
A small expedition into the Powder River country in March 1876 produced negligible results. Thereafter, a much larger operation, based on a War Department plan, was carried out in the early Sumner months. As implemented by Lt. Gen. Philip Sheridan, commander of the Division of the Missouri (which included the Departments of the Missouri, Platte, & Dakota), the plan was to converge several columns simultaneously on the Yellowstone River where the Indians would be trapped & then forced to return to their reservations.
In pursuance of this plan, Maj. Gen. George Crook, commander of the Department of the Platte, moved north from Fort Fetterman (Wyoming) in late May 1876 with about 1,000 men (elements of the 2d & 3d Cavalry & 4th & 9th Infantry). At the same time two columns marched south up the Yellowstone under Brig. Gen. Alfred H. Terry, commander of the Department of Dakota. One column of more than 1,000 men (7th Cavalry & elements or the 6th, 17th, & 20th Infantry), under Terry's direct commend, moved from Fort Abraham Lincoln (North Dakota) to the mouth of Powder River. The second of Terry's columns, numbering about 450 men (elements of the 2d Cavalry & 7th Infantry) under Col. John Gibbon, moved from Fort Ellis (Montana) to the mouth of the Big Born.
On 17 June 1876 Crook's troops fought an indecisive engagement with a large band of Sioux & Cheyenne under Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, & other chiefs on the Rosebud & then moved back to the Tongue River to wait for reinforcements. Meanwhile, General Terry had discovered the trail of the same Indian band & sent Lt. Col. George A. Custer with the 7th Cavalry up the Rosebud to locate the war party & move south of it. Terry, with the rest of his command, continued up the Yellowstone to meet Gibbon & close on the Indians from the north.
The 7th Cavalry, proceeding up the Rosebud, discovered an encampment of 4,000 to 5,000 Indians (an estimated 2,500 warriors) on the Little Big Horn on 25 June 1876. Custer immediately ordered an attack, dividing his forces so as to strike the camp from several directions. The surprised Indians quickly rallied & drove off Maj. Marcus A. Reno's detachment (Companies A, G, & M) which suffered severe losses. Reno was joined by Capt. Frederick W. Benteen's detachment (Companies D, H, & K) & the pack train (including Company B) & this combined force was able to withstand heavy attacks which were finally lifted when the Indians withdrew late the following day. Custer & a force of 211 men (Companies C, E, F, I, & L) were surrounded & completely destroyed. Terry & Gibbon did not reach the scene of Custer's last stand until the morning of 27 June. The 7th Cavalry's total losses in this action (including Custer's detachment) were: 12 officers, 247 enlisted men, 5 civilians, & 3 Indian scouts killed; 2 officers & 51 enlisted men wounded.
After this disaster the Little Big Horn campaign continued until September 1877 with many additional Regular units seeing action (including elements of the 4th & 5th Cavalry, the 5th, 14th, 22d, & 23d Infantry, & the 4th Artillery). Crook & Terry joined forces on the Rosebud on 10 August 1876, but most of the Indians slipped through the troops, although many came into the agencies. Fighting in the fall & winter of 1876-77 consisted mostly of skirmishes & raids, notably Crook's capture of American Horse's village at Slim Buttes (South Dakota) on 9 September & of Dull Knife's village in the Big Horn Mountains on 26 November, & Col. Nelson A. Miles' attack on Crazy Horse's camp in the Wolf Mountains on 8 January. By the summer of 1877 most of the Sioux were back on the reservations. Crazy Horse had come in & was killed resisting arrest at Fort Robinson (Nebraska) in September. Sitting Bull, with a small band of Sioux, escaped to Canada but surrendered at Fort Buford (Montana) in July 1881.
Nez Perces, 1877. The southern branch of the Nez Perces led by Chief Joseph refused to give up their ancestral lands (Oregon-Idaho border) & enter a reservation. When negotiations broke down & Nez Perce hotheads killed settlers in early 1877, the 1st Cavalry was sent to compel them to come into the reservation. Chief Joseph chose to resist & undertook an epic retreat of some 1,600 miles through Idaho, Yellowstone Park, & Montana during which he engaged 11 separate commands of the Army in 13 battles & skirmishes in a period of 11 weeks. The Nez Perce chieftain revealed remarkable skill as a tactician & his braves demonstrated exceptional discipline in numerous engagements, especially those on the Clearwater River (11 July), in Big Hole Basin (9-12 August), & in the Bear Paw Mountains where he surrendered with the remnants of his band to Col. Nelson A. Miles on 4 October 1877. Maj. Gen. O. O. Howard, commander of the Department of the Columbia, & Col. John Gibbon also played a prominent part in the pursuit of Joseph, which, by the end of September 1877 had involved elements of the 1st, 2d, 5th, & 7th Cavalry, the 5th Infantry, & the 4th Artillery.
Bannocks, 1878. The Bannock, Piute, & other tribes of southern Idaho threatened rebellion in 1878, partly because of dissatisfaction with their land allotments. Many of them left the reservations, & Regulars of the 21st Infantry, 4th Artillery, & 1st Cavalry pursued the fugitives. Capt. Evan Miles so effectively dispersed a large band near the Umatilla Agency on 13 July 1878 that most of the Indians returned to their reservations within a few months.
The Sheepeaters, mountain sheep hunters & outcasts of other Idaho tribes, raided ranches & mines in 1879. Relentless pursuit by elements of the 1st Cavalry & 2d Infantry compelled them to surrender in September of that year.
Cheyennes, 1878-1879. After the extensive surrenders in 1877 of the hostile Northern Cheyennes, in the Departments of Dakota & the Platte, a number were sent under guard to the Cheyenne & Arapaho Agency, at Fort Reno, Indian Territory, on 8 August 1877. Subsequent to that date other small parties surrendered & some died, so that on 1 July 1878, the number of Northern Cheyennes, at Fort Reno amounted to more than 940. An attempt had been made by General Pope, commending the Department of the Missouri, to disarm & dismount these Indians, so as to place them on the same footing with the Southern Cheyennes, but as it was found this could not be done without violation of the conditions of their surrender, they were permitted to retain their arms & ponies.
A large part of the Northern Cheyennes found friends among the Southern Cheyennes, mixed with them, & joined the various bands. About one-third of the Northern Cheyennes, however, under the leadership of "Dull Knife," "Wild Hog," "Little Wolf," & others, comprising about 375 Indians, remained together & would not affiliate with the Southern Cheyennes. Dissatisfied with life at their new agency, they determined to break away, move north, & rejoin their friends in the country where they formerly lived. Their intention to escape had long been suspected & their movements were consequently watched by the troops, but by abandoning their lodges, which they left standing, about 89 warriors, & slightly less than 250 women & children escaped from the agency on 9 September 1877.
Although troops were dispatched from several posts to intercept & return them to the agency, they eluded their pursuers & continued north raiding settlements for stock & committing other depredations. On 21 September a minor skirmish took place between the Indians & Army troops assisted by citizens. Six days later, Colonel Lewis' command overtook the Cheyennes on "Punished Woman's Fork" of the Smoky Hill River, where the Indians were found very strong entrenched & waiting for the troops. Colonel Lewis attacked them at once & was mortally wounded while leading the assault. In the clash, 3 enlisted men were wounded, one Indian killed; 62 head of stock were captured.
In spite of all precautions, the Cheyennes managed to escape & continue north. Two Cheyennes who had been taken prisoner by cowboys told authorities the fugitives had intended to reach the Cheyennes, supposed to be at Fort Keogh, Montana, where, if permitted to stay, they would surrender, otherwise they would try to join Sitting Bull, who still remained in Canada. The prisoners also said that the escaping Cheyennes had lost 15 killed in the various fights subsequent to their escape from Fort Reno.
On 23 October, two troops of the 3d Cavalry captured 149 of the Cheyennes & 140 head of stock. "Dull Knife," "Old Crow," & "Wild Hog" were among the prisoners. Their ponies were taken away, together with such arms as could be found, but the prisoners said they would die rather than be taken back to Indian Territory. "Little Wolf" & some of his followers escaped &, in January 1879, additional members of the tripe escaped to join "Little Wolf" after a skirmish with troops near Fort Robinson.
Some of the escaping Cheyennes strongly positioned on some cliffs were intercepted, but again they escaped. However, two days later they were again located near the telegraph line from Fort Robinson to Hat Creek, where they were entrenched in a gully. Refusing to surrender, they were immediately attacked & the entire party either killed or captured. "Dull Knife" their leader was among those killed.
On 25 March "Little Wolf" & his band were overtaken near Box Elder Creek by a force made up of two troops of Cavalry, a detachment of Infantry, a field gun, & some Indian scouts. The Indians were pursuaded to surrender without fighting & gave up all their arms & about 250 ponies, & marched with the troops to Fort Keogh. The band numbered 33 men, 43 squaws, & 38 children.
Utes, September 1879-November 1880. The Indian agent, N. C. Meeker, at White River Agency (Colorado) became involved in a dispute with Northern Utes in September 1879 & requested assistance from the Army. In response, Maj. T. T. Thornburgh's column of some 200 men (parts of the 5th Cavalry & 4th Infantry) moved out from Fort Steele (Wyoming). On 29 September this force was attacked & besieged in Red Canyon by 300 to 400 warriors. Thornburgh's command was finally relieved by elements of the 9th Cavalry that arrived on 2 October & of the 5th Cavalry under Col. Wesley Merritt who arrived on 5 October, but in the meantime Meeker & most of his staff had been massacred. Before the Utes were pacified in November 1880, several thousand troops, including elements of the 4th, 6th, 7th, 9th, & 14th Infantry had taken the field. In 1906 the Utes of this area left their reservation & roamed through Wyoming, terrorizing the countryside, until they were forced back on their reservation by elements of the 6th & 10th Cavalry.
Pine Ridge. November 1890- January 1891. Accumulated grievances, aggravated by teachings of an Indian prophet named Wovoka, who claimed to be the Messiah, brought about this last major conflict with the Sioux. General Miles, commander of the Department of the Missouri, responded to a Department of Interior request to check the rising ferment by ordering apprehension of the great Sioux leader, Sitting Bull, who was killed during the attempted arrest at Standing Rock Agency on 15 December 1890. Meanwhile, large numbers of Sioux had been assembling in the Bad Lands, & a serious clash took place at Wounded Knee Creek on 29 December 1890 between Col. James W. Forsyth's 7th Cavalry & Chief Big Foot's band with considerable losses on both sides. Almost half the infantry & cavalry of the Regular Army (including elements of the 1st, 6th, 7th, 8th, & 9th Cavalry & the 1st, 2d, 3d, 7th, 8th, 12th, 16th, 17th, 20th, 21st, 22d, & 25th Infantry as well as the 4th Artillery) were concentrated in the area, & in January 1891 the warriors were disarmed & persuaded to return peaceably to their reservations.