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Encyclopedia Dubuque

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INDIAN WARS

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INDIAN WARS. The Indian Wars in the American West include hundreds of savage battles and skirmishes fought between American troops and many different Native American tribes (population over 200,000) between the 1860s and 1890s.

After the CIVIL WAR, thousands of Americans moved westward. They disregarded an earlier view of the West as a harsh and uninhabitable desert that had been given to Native Americans as a vast preserve beginning during the terms of Andrew Jackson. Americans saw the potential for ranching. News of gold and other precious metals lured thousands more adventurers westward. Nothing, however, threatened Native Americans more than the slaughter of their most important source of livelihood, the buffalo. Millions were shot for sport and as policy, bringing this large animal to the point of extinction.

Americans as a whole viewed Indians as obstacles to progress, and debated a range of “solutions” from armed annihilation to paternal missionary policies of the reservation system. Americans tried to convert the Indians’ nomadic, horse-centered way of life into one that emphasized a settled life as farmers. America ignored treaties that had established Indian territorial rights. The words of Civil War General William Sherman to President Grant in 1866 typified the views of many Americans: “We must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux, even to their extermination, men, women and children.” They “must die or submit to our dictation.”

Many Native Americans tribes strongly resisted the reservation system. Outnumbered and outgunned, the Indians offered fierce and courageous yet futile opposition. The Sioux were led by Sitting Bull, Red Cloud, and Crazy Horse. These highly skilled horsemen, adept at hit and run tactics, lived in the Northern Plains. To the southwest, the Apache, primarily led by Cochise and Geronimo, adopted highly elusive tactics suited for their desert and canyon terrain. The most prominent American military leaders during these campaigns were Kit Carson, General George Crook, and General Philip Sheridan. Iowa soldiers earned the Medal of Honor as a part of many of the major conflicts.

Two who joined the military from Dubuque were Albert SALE and George GATES. One of our former mayors, Charles J. W. SAUNDERS, was also involved in the wars and served with William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody.

Wagons like these accompanied troopers with supplies. Photo courtesy: Museum of the Horse Soldier. Tucson, Arizona
Our troops wore woolen pants like these in 118 degree heat. Photo courtesy: Museum of the Horse Soldier. Tucson, Arizona
Our soldiers were aided by Native American scouts who had their own uniforms. The cord from the helmet to the uniform was used to retrieve the helmet if it fell off. The helmet carries a crossed arrow symbol signifying its use by Native Americans as does the long "hair" which was meant to cover their dark hair. Photo courtesy: Museum of the Horse Soldier. Tucson, Arizona
Wagons like these accompanied troopers with supplies. Photo courtesy: Museum of the Horse Soldier. Tucson, Arizona
One of the highest paid soldiers during the Indian Wars was the bugler. This person was responsible for training soldiers of any language how to respond to different bugle calls. Buglers were one of the highest valued targets in combat. Without the bugler, commanders were unable to communicate to their troops.Photo courtesy: Museum of the Horse Soldier. Tucson, Arizona
Blacksmith materials (left) and equipment of the farriers, a specialist in equine hoof care, including the trimming and balancing of horses' hooves and the placing of shoes on their hooves, if necessary (right) were essential to the troops who depended upon their horses staying in great condition. Photo courtesy: Museum of the Horse Soldier. Tucson, Arizona
As horses lost weight during military campaigns, their spine began to protrude and rub painfully against the saddles. An adaption was made. The saddle was divided from the front to the back exposing about an inch and a half of the horse's spine allowing the horse to continue being ridden. Photo courtesy: Museum of the Horse Soldier. Tucson, Arizona
Buffalo coats like these were popular when winter climates dropped temperatures and snow began. Photo courtesy: Museum of the Horse Soldier. Tucson, Arizona