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Indian Wars

The Indian Wars were a long-running sereis of conflicts between the United States and the Native Americans. However, the name is a bit misleading in the sense that it suggests that the Native Americans were a unified bloc fighting against the United States. In actuality, they were a diverse collection of tribes and clans, often with different interests. It was in part this lack of unity that lead to their eventual defeat.

Table of contents
1 Colonial-Era Conflicts of North America
2 Earliest Conflicts (1776-1794)
3 Post-Greenville Conflict with Native Americans (1794-1812)
4 The War of 1812
5 Territorial Expansion in the 19th century
6 Later events (1860-1891)

Colonial-Era Conflicts of North America

King Philip's War - Dummer's War - Pequot War - French and Indian Wars - Pueblo rebellion - Pontiac's Rebellion

Earliest Conflicts (1776-1794)

Although conflict with Native American tribes in North America had occurred frequently for the British colonies, the first major conflicts with Native Americans occurred in the 1790s. A series of Native American insurrections against the United States led to victories against isolated armies in the early 1790s, in part due to the large coalition formed between various tribes. However, the Native Americans were decisively defeated by a large U.S. army at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, and their villages and crops were razed. They were forced to sign the Treaty of Greenville, which ceded modern-day Ohio to the United States. Although the conflict was initiated by Native Americans, many who believe in the imperialist and expansionist nature of the United States during this period point to it as the first step in a cycle of conquest and territorial displacement that led to the near-destruction of the native peoples of North America.


William Henry Harrison defeated Tecumseh and his forces at the Battle of Tippecanoe.

Andrew Jackson was a major figure in the removal of the Seminole Indians and was the hero of the Battle of Horseshoe Bend.

Zachary Taylor played a key role in the Mexican-American and Black Hawk War.

During the later 1790s, American settlers began to flood into the Western United States. Without unified leadership, the Indian groups began to crumble apart and moved farther and farther west. Although publicly the ascendent Jeffersonian party of the era condemned the destruction of the Indians, there was a strong anti-Indian sentiment. As early as 1780, Thomas Jefferson himself, acting as governor of Virginia, wrote that "If we are to wage a campaign against these Indians the end proposed should be their extermination, or their removal beyond the lakes of the Illinois River. The same world would scarcely do for them and us."

Post-Greenville Conflict with Native Americans (1794-1812)

After the Treaty of Greenville, white settlers quickly rushed in to settle territory reserved for the Native Americans under the terms of the treaty. Many Native American groups in the region were weakened by disieses brought by the whites; others were persuaded to "sell" the land for trinkets, claiming to speak for a whole tribe of Indians, who would then be forced off the land.

Resistance to this process which was slowly eating away at the Native American community of the region was led by the Shawnee warrior Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa ("The Prophet"). They encouraged a purification of the Native American culture, specifically avoiding alcohol and extensive contact with whites, in order to hold on to their land.

The War of 1812

The War of 1812, described as some as the "Second American Revolution," was a conflict in the early 19th century between the young United States and Great Britain in a struggle for a degree of respect and a recognition of sovereignty from mother to daughter country.

Many Native American groups sided with the British in Canada, giving the United States a direct cause for war against them. Tecumseh, after taking his followers into Canada, was killed by future President of the United States William Henry Harrison, effectively ending the dream of a unified Native American resistance against the United States.

The War of 1812 also led to a strong surge of nationalism in the 1810s and 1820s which some point to as one of the causes of the intensification of relocation and slaughter of Native Americans during the period.

Indian Removal (1812-1860)

After the War of 1812, the United States government began to focus on developments at home. During this period, one of the key national questions was that of Indian policy. There was no question that Indian removal would take place; but the method and rationale for the removal was a subject of controversy. President Thomas Jefferson argued that "civilized" Native Americans should be allowed to say as United States citizens. However, during the Presidency of James Monroe and beyond, it became clear that white settlers would stop at nothing short of total removal, "civilized" or not. In the South especially, settlers clamored for the removal of Indians so that they could take their lands.

During this era, several presidents were elected at least in part because of their success in removing or killing Native Americans: Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, and Zachary Taylor are several.

Indian Removal Act of 1830

Jackson was responsible for the notorious Indian Removal Act of 1830, and thus the Trail of Tears, in unconstitutional defiance of a Supreme Court ruling.

In 1829, American demand for land due to population growth and the discovery of gold on Cherokee land led to pressure on Native American lands. In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act that Jackson signed into law. The act was challenged successfully by the Cherokee Nation in 1832 in the US Supreme Court as Worcester v. Georgia, in 1832. Despite the Supreme Court decision, Jackson took no action to uphold the Court verdict, and in fact would openly defy it; he was quoted as saying "John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it!" As the court has no executive powers to enforce its decisions, Jackson's executive disregard of the court, marked a time when the Judicial branch of government was very weak.

The state of Georgia held two land lotteries in 1835 to divide the Cherokee land, and Jackson sent military support to oust the Native population. This led to what is now known as the "Trail of Tears", which killed roughly four thousand Cherokee (25%), en route to Oklahoma.

The Northwest: Black Hawk War

Without support from their British allies, the Indians of the Ohio Valley and Northwest region were pushed west of the Mississippi River by the federal government through a series of imposed treaties. The major resistance to relocation in this region was the Black Hawk War in 1832. However, the combined forces of Sauk and Fox tribes failed to prevent the land from United States annexation. The Battle of Bad Axe marked the end of the Black Hawk War after the Indians are crushed by Colonel Zachary Taylor's forces.

Territorial Expansion in the 19th century

To be incorporated

Later events (1860-1891)