US Military vs. Great Plains Indians: Causes of the Wars
Settlers saw Native Americans as an inconvenience, or a "problem" they needed to deal with so they could use their lands for mining, ranching, and farming. They felt they were using the land for more "productive" purposes, but the Native Americans felt the settlers were intruding in their sacred land. Even chiefs who had welcomed the newcomers were angered by their unjust invasions. These tensions caused many problems between the two groups. Native Americans were later forced onto reservations, which were federal lands set aside for them, but were still treated badly. The restrictions they faced increased violence between them, and the problem became a matter of life and death for the Native Americans, who were outnumbered and lacked new weaponry.
Sand Creek Massacre - 1864
The Cheyenne tribes in parts of Colorado Territory raided some wagon trains and settlements east of Denver, so the Colorado governor took advantage of the peace campaign Cheyenne chief, Black Kettle, held later on. Black Kettle and some other chiefs followed the orders to camp at Sand Creek. Colonel John Chivington, who had failed to be victorious over the Cheyenne so far, saw his chance and attacked the encamped Cheyenne and Arapaho. Black Kettle frantically tried to raise a flag of surrender as Chivington and his 700 men slaughtered between 150 and 500 people, who were largely women and children. This caused many southern Cheyenne groups to agree to move to reservations later on.
Battle of Little Bighorn - 1876
The Sioux of the northern plains of South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana were powerful in resisting white expansion in their land. Sioux chief, Red Cloud, even launched a two year war in which more than 80 soldiers were killed by the tribe to stop the construction of a road through prime Sioux hunting ground. This area, in what is half of South Dakota today, was abandoned in regards to the road and became a large Sioux reservation that included the Black Hills, which was sacred land to many Sioux. When Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer was sent there and found gold, the government offered to buy the land and negotiations with Red Cloud began, but two Sioux chiefs, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, did not sign the Fort Laramie Treaty and left the reservation. Custer was sent to round up the Native Americans and was met by the full force of the Sioux, almost 2,000 warriors, in what is now Montana. This is the largest Indian force ever gathered on the plains. Custer had split his forces, expecting a smaller enemy, and the Sioux wiped out Custer and his more than 200 soldiers within an hour. Americans were stunned and troops flooded the area to force Sioux back onto their reservations. Crazy Horse was later killed after surrendering and Sitting Bull and some other remaining Sioux were forced to surrender and return back to reservations after escaping to Canada.
Battle of Wounded Knee - 1890
Native Americans saw increased number of religious prophets predicting danger or prosperity, so they were encouraged to perform purification rituals in order to return to a traditional life. This included the Ghost Dance, a ritual where people held hands and whirled in a circle, which caught on with the Teton Sioux, who were struggling to adjust to reservation life and used it with great urgency. The government agent at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota saw the practices as threatening and called for protection from the army. The Seventh Calvary, Custer's old unit, was sent and tried to arrest chief Sitting Bull in attempt to calm the crisis, but shot and killed him when he hesitated. His followers, about 120 men and 230 women and children, surrendered. They were round up at a creek called Wounded Knee, where someone fired a shot as they were being disarmed. The soldiers opened fire and killed more than 200 Sioux, making the massacre the last major episode of violence in the Indian Wars.