- The Gold Rush
- The Homestead Act and the exodusters
- The reservation system
- The Dawes Act
- Chinese immigrants and Mexican Americans in the age of westward expansion
- The Indian Wars and the Battle of the Little Bighorn
- The Ghost Dance and Wounded Knee
- Westward expansion: economic development
- Westward expansion: social and cultural development
- The American West
The Indian Wars and the Battle of the Little Bighorn
In the late nineteenth century, the US Army clashed with Native Americans, and General Custer took his last stand.
- The Indian Wars were a protracted series of conflicts between Native American Indians and white settlers over land and natural resources in the West.
- Many of these battles resulted from Indian resistance to the imposition of the reservation system and the repeated attempts of the US Army and white settlers to forcibly remove Native Americans from their tribal lands.
- The Battle of the Little Bighorn, also known as Custer’s Last Stand, marked the beginning of the end of the Indian Wars.
Indian removal and the reservation system
From the earliest days of European colonization of the New World, relations between white Europeans and Native Americans were plagued by violent competition for land and natural resources. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 authorized the forced removal of numerous Indian tribes from their ancestral lands in the Southeast to what was designated “Indian territory” west of the Mississippi River. The Cherokee nation was subject to a brutal mass migration that came to be known as the Trail of Tears.
Some tribes fiercely resisted the forced relocations, and Native Americans and the US Army fought many battles in the East. The Seminoles of Florida, for instance, refused to leave their lands, resulting in the Second Seminole War, which lasted from 1835 to 1842 and has been described as “the longest and most costly of the Indian conflicts of the United States.” Despite some major Indian victories in battle, the US Army ultimately succeeded in crushing this resistance, massacring or forcing into hiding those Indians who refused to march westward.
The Indian Appropriations Act of 1851 established Indian reservations in the territory that would become the states of Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Kansas. The US federal government envisioned the reservation system as a method of keeping Native American tribes off of the lands that white Americans wished to settle. Many tribes resisted the imposition of the reservation system, sparking a series of bloody battles that ultimately led to the forced relocation of most Native Americans onto the reservations.
The Indian Wars of the West
Inspired by the ideology of Manifest Destiny, which held that European Americans were divinely ordained to settle the whole of the North American continent, white settlers pushed ever further westward towards the Pacific. As they did so, they increasingly came into violent conflict with Native American Indians over land and natural resources, especially after the discovery of gold in western territories sparked the Gold Rush. Prospective gold-diggers flooded into the Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest, clashing—sometimes violently—with the Native Americans they encountered there.
Map of battles between Native Americans and the US Army, 1860-1890. Most battles occurred in the Great Plains region, with centers of activity in Montana, Wyoming, Arizona, and South Dakota.
The relentless pace of continental expansion inevitably heightened these conflicts. After the Mexican-American War, the territories comprising modern-day Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California became sites of competition and bloody skirmishing between white settlers and Native Americans.
The Battle of the Little Bighorn
As white settlers moved into the Great Plains region, they battled the Plains Indian tribes in a series of conflicts known as the Sioux Wars, which lasted from 1854 to 1890. In 1875, the discovery of gold in the Black Hills region of South Dakota brought prospective miners into the area and onto the hunting grounds of the Sioux Indians. The US Army responded to the pleas of the white settlers and miners for protection against the Sioux, and the Great Sioux War of 1876-77 erupted. It was the last major conflict between the US Army and the Sioux tribe.
Photograph of Sitting Bull, wearing Native American garb and a feather in his hair.
On June 25, 1876, Colonel George Armstrong Custer of the 7th Cavalry led his battalion in an attack on the main Sioux encampment at Little Bighorn, in a battle that is also commonly referred to as Custer’s Last Stand. Custer and his men were vastly outnumbered by the Indians, who were led by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. The Indians, enjoying both superior numbers and a strong tactical advantage, defeated the 7th Cavalry and killed Custer. Although the battle was a major victory for the Sioux, they abandoned the encampment at Little Bighorn and fled, fearing further reprisals from the US Army. The battle marked the beginning of the end of the Indian Wars, as the remaining tribes were forced to cede their lands and move onto the reservations.
What do you think?
What do you see as the primary difference between Native American and European American conceptions of land and ownership?
What was the effect of Manifest Destiny on US-Indian relations?
Why is the Battle of the Little Bighorn significant?
Want to join the conversation?
- For the picture of Sitting Bull, does the feather behind his head represent an important leading rank?(6 votes)
- Headdress feathers are basically awarded to warriors. Their shape and/or colour indicate specific types of valour or achievements at war, just like what medals and badges do today.(21 votes)
- how exactly do you pronounce "Sioux"?(3 votes)
- Someone else asked this question a while ago. It is pronounced, "Sue." Hope that helps!(13 votes)
- Where can I find a map showing the Indian Reservation near the Black Hills in South Dakota? Also what areas was Gold Found in the Black Hills South Dakota?(4 votes)
- Here is the link to the map https://goo.gl/images/7WXzKc.(5 votes)
- What was the U.S. Government and the Army's reaction to the Sioux?(3 votes)
- What was the U.S. Government and the Army's reaction to the Sioux?(0 votes)
- They hated the sioux and wanted to obliterate them.(3 votes)
- Native Americans thought of it as a gift and European Americans thought of it as property or money. It caused them to take Indian land because people thought that's what god wants. The battle of Little Bighorn is significant because it involves the Indians fighting over their land.(1 vote)
- Well, Hollister. This is well stated. Are you sure it belongs here in the section for questions from Khan Academy learners worldwide? If it belongs in your Google class, you might want to repost it there, and delete it from here.(1 vote)
- Why did Custer attack the Souix if the Souix had more men?(1 vote)
- Why did they not cover oklahoma more?(1 vote)
- Perhaps that's because the Indian wars, by and large, did not occur in Oklahoma, and Little Bighorn is in the Dakotas.(1 vote)
- where does dakoda come(1 vote)
- Why did the native Americans not form any alliance or militia with each other?(1 vote)
- Resistance proved to be futile. The white people had taken the land, and brought firearms.(1 vote)