Category: History

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The Defeat of the Plains Indians

The war between the Federal Government of the United States of America and the Plains Indians that begun in the early 1860s ended after a lengthy battle that lasted for nearly thirty years. According to Santella, the war ended after the Plains Indians were defeated in the battles (80). At two different Conferences between 1867 and 1868, the Federal Government of the United States of America ordered that all Plains Indians should give up their lands and move to reservations that were set aside for them by the Government. The reservations were poor, unproductive lands in less fertile areas such as Oklahoma and the Black Hills in Dakotas. The Federal Government further threatened that refusal to accept the offer would result in war with the Plains Indians. The whites regarded the Plains Indians as an excruciating and unendurable hindrance to westward expansion. The Federal Government with support from local chiefs and some leaders of the Plains Indians asserted that those who refused to move to the reservations would not receive social support from the Federal Government and would also be subjected to military control and supervision. However, many Plains Indians rejected the land cessions. Thus, the Plains Indians were moved to reservations forcefully by the Federal Government. They were also denied yearly payments and agricultural aid that they were promised by the Federal Government through a treaty (Page 91). As a consequence, the Plains Indians rose against the whites and killed more than five hundred Native Americans in early 1862. The Federal Government also sent troops to forcefully evacuate the Plains Indians who refused to give out their lands and to fight Plains Indians who killed the white settlers.

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A renowned episode of the battles and struggles between the Federal Government and the Plains Indians took place when miners discovered gold deposits at the Black Hills. According to Brooks, Black Hills was set aside by the Federal Government as a reservation for the Plains Indians (149). However, when the miners discovered gold deposits at the Black Hills, they invaded the area and tried to gain access and claim the land. Conversely, the Plains Indians rejected the move and war erupted between the miners and Plains Indians. This led to the Battle of the Little Big Horn in which an Indian Force led by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull killed U.S. Army General George Custer and other two hundred sixty-two soldiers. The Battle of the Little Big Horn lasted for more than five years (Brooks 153).

Factors That Contributed to the Defeat of the Plains Indians

One of the major factors that contributed to the defeat of the Plains Indians was the shift in the military balance of power (Goble 192). Before the Civil War, Indians were good fighters and could shoot approximately thirty arrows consecutively and continuously in the time it would take the U.S. Army soldier to load and shoot his rifle. However, this advantage of the Indians was interrupted and terminated when the U.S. Army introduced the Colt six-shooter and repeating rifles after the Civil War. Also, the shift in the military balance of power in the U.S. Army led to the introduction of a new military tactic commonly referred to as winter campaigning during the 1870s. Winter campaigning was a military strategy in which soldiers of the U.S. Army would attack the Plains Indians during the winter when they were divided into small groups thus unable to defend themselves against or resist the attacks effectively. The division of the Plains Indians into small groups also led to power imbalances which weakened the ability of the Plains Indians to fight against the U.S. Army soldiers.

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Secondly, the destruction of the major food supply systems for the Plains Indians which mainly consisted of wild buffalos was another major factor that contributed to the defeat of the Plains Indians during the war. In 1860, nearly thirteen million buffalos moved to the plains. These animals provided the Plains Indians with many necessities. For example, the Plains Indians ate buffalo meat, made traditional clothing and tipi coverings from hides and skins of the animals, and used fats obtained from the buffalos to make grease. The Plains Indians also made tools and fishhooks from bones obtained from the buffalos. Similarly, the Plains Indians also made threads and bowstrings from sinews obtained from the animals. The Plains Indians also burned dried buffalo dung as fuel. A research study by Goble Paul on the history of Plains Indians also established that the buffalos also figured as important creatures in the religious lives of the Plains Indians (210). The Plains Indians largely depended on the buffalos. However, professional hunters invaded the plains and killed hundreds of thousands of buffalos after the Civil War. The professional hunters shot nearly one hundred buffalos after every one hour to feed people who were constructing railway lines. Wealthy people from the East also killed the buffalos mercilessly for sporting purposes. This massive killing of the buffalos led to severe starvation and destruction of the lives of the Plains Indians who largely depended on buffalos for their necessities. According to Page, the U.S. Federal Government figured out that destroying or eliminating the buffalos was a major way of interrupting the lives of the Plains Indians (95). This was evidenced by an explanation given by Delano, the Secretary of the Interior Columbus, who asserted that destroying buffalos would deny the Plains Indians the basic support they received from the animals, hence they would be forced to return to other sources of subsistence (Page 103). Carlson also asserts that the Red River War which was a major fight between the Federal Government and the Plains Indians ended only after the federal troops had destroyed the main food supplies that the Plains Indians depended on (227). The federal troops were able to kill hundreds of Plains Indians because the Plains Indians became weak and feeble due to lack of adequate food after their major food supplies were destroyed. This led to their defeat in the battles. Colby, Leander, and Adkison also affirm that the commercial hunting of buffalos which were the main food of the Plains Indians led to their defeat during the battles (69).

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The third major factor that contributed to the defeat of the Plains Indians during the battles against the U.S. Federal Government was the passing of infectious diseases such as chickenpox, measles, influenza, and yellow fever to the Plains Indians. The Plains Indians neither had immunity nor a cure for these diseases. As a consequence, most of the Plains Indians died and the few who remained were killed by the army soldiers. A research study by Liberty and Wood also revealed that the Plains Indians who survived during the battle were taken to other areas such as Oklahoma where most of them died from disease infections (163).

Last but not least, the Plains Indians were defeated in the battles because of their massive deaths. Many Plains Indians died due to starvation, attack by infectious disease, from injuries obtained during the battles as well as through mass killing by the army soldiers. For example, a war that broke out in 1871 in New Mexico and Arizona in the Southwest led to the killing of nearly one thousand Plains Indians at Camp Grant. As a consequence, the populations of the Plains Indians reduced rapidly, hence weakening their resistance.

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