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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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INDIAN WARS. The Indian Wars in the lands west of the Mississippi included hundreds of savage battles and skirmishes fought among native tribes and between American troops and many different Native American tribes (population over 200,000) between the 1860s and 1890s. These lands had their own native tribes, but also many displaced from the Eastern United States as white settlement encroached on traditional residents including the Chippewa, MESKWAKIES, SAUK AND FOX, and WINNEBAGO. Even west of the MISSISSIPPI RIVER, the federal government took the view that it had the power of determining where tribes lived. Forced land deals like the BLACK HAWK PURCHASE and re-negotiating treaties to allow white expansion became common.

After the CIVIL WAR, thousands of Americans moved westward. They disregarded an earlier view of the West beginning during the presidential terms of Andrew Jackson as a harsh and uninhabitable desert that had been given to Native Americans as a vast preserve. 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 government policy to control the tribes, bringing this large animal to the point of extinction.

Americans as a whole viewed Native Americans 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 nomadic, horse-centered way of life into one that emphasized a settled life as farmers. America ignored treaties that had established territorial rights for the tribes. 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 American 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 men 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