The Indian Wars

Thumbnail image for american-indian-wars-AB.jpeg

Time and time again, Native American tribes chose to go to war rather than give up their land and way of life.  In 1642, Miantunnomoh, a Narragansett Indian, sought out an old enemy, Waindance, to ask for his help in fighting the colonists:

Brothers, we must be one as the English are, or we shall all be destroyed.  You know our fathers had plenty of deer and skins and our plains were full of game and turkeys, and our coves and rivers were full of fish.

            But, brothers, since these Englishmen have seized our country, they have cut down the grass with scythes, and the trees with axes.  Their cows and horses eat up the grass, and their hogs spoil our bed of clams; and finally we shall starve to death; therefore, stand not in your own light, I ask you, but resolve to act like men.  All the sachems both to the east and the west have joined with us, and we are resolved to fall upon them, at a day appointed, and therefore I come secretly to you, because you can persuade your Indians to do what you will.  (Armstrong, 1971, p. 3)


Unfortunately for them, defeat was inevitable from the very first moment that settlers landed on their shores.  At first, Native Americans were unaware of the danger the settlers posed, so they welcomed and assisted the first settlers.  It did not take long for Native Americans to realize the danger the colonists posed to their way of life, indeed, to their very existence.  Once Native Americans realized the danger the settlers posed, their attitudes toward the settlers changed from friendly to antagonistic.  Native Americans were unable to comprehend the concept of individuals owning land and as a result Native American leaders constantly underestimated colonists in all their interactions with them.  Conversely, the first colonists saw a land of enormous riches inhabited by a race of people, who needed to be conquered, civilized, Christianized, and placed on small tracts of land where they could become farmers.  Inevitably, this led to armed conflicts between the two races that would span four centuries (Special Subcommittee on Indian Education, 1969).

One of the very first conflicts was between Colonial Virginia and the Powhatan Confederacy.  The colonists believed that the Indians would welcome them and willingly supply them with food.  From the colonists' perspective, it seemed that exchanging European tools and Christianity for sustenance would make a mutually beneficial arrangement.  That bargain made little sense to the Natives, however.  Most tribes hunted and gathered little more than their immediate needs required and to trade food in exchange for sermons did not make sense.  The Powhatan Confederacy was a loose confederation of about 30 Algonquian tribes led by Wahunsonacook, known to the settlers as Powhatan.  Powhatan's Algonquian Confederacy covered tidewater Virginia from the Potomac south to Albemarle Sound (The Powhatan Confederacy, n.d.).  Powhatan preferred peace with the settlers rather than war.  John Smith, an early explorer, documented a speech given in 1609 at Werowocomico (Gloucester County) by Powhatan:

Why will you take by force what you may obtain by love?  Why will you destroy us who supply you with food?  What can you get by war? . . . We are unarmed, and willing to give you what you ask, if you come in a friendly manner. . . .

I am not so simple as not to know it is better to eat good meat, sleep comfortably, live quietly with my women and children, laugh and be merry with the English, and being their friend, trade for their copper and hatchets, than to run away from them. . . . 

Take away your guns and swords, the cause of all our jealousy, or you may die in the same manner.  (Armstrong, 1971, p. 1)


Relations between the settlers and Native Americans improved when John Rolfe married Powhatan's daughter, Pocahontas.  The two sides coexisted peacefully until her death in 1617.  When Powhatan died a year later, a new chief, Opechancanough, pretended to become Christianized and allowed more colonists to settle on Native lands.  He lulled them into thinking they were safe; then in March 1622, he launched a surprise attack on the settlers, killing 350 colonists - nearly one third of the population.  Warfare between the races continued for another decade, with the settlers giving up any pretense of coexisting with the Indians and embarking upon a policy of extermination.  The tribes revolted again in 1644; however, by then the colony had grown too large for them to be a threat to its existence (The Powhatan Confederacy, n.d.).

Starting with this 12-year conflict (1622-34) between the Powhatan Confederacy and the Virginia colonists, to the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890, literally thousands of armed conflicts, skirmishes, battles, and wars would be fought between the United States and Indian tribes across the continent (Adams, 1995).  The following is a representative sample of conflicts in chronological order between Native Americans and Europeans, Native Americans and colonists, and Native Americans and early U.S. citizens over a span of three centuries (Indian Wars, n.d.).

17th Century

1.   1622-44 - The War between the Powhatan Confederacy and the English Colonists of Virginia took place.

2.   1637 - The Pequot War took place in present day Connecticut and Rhode Island.

3.   1675-78 - King Philip's War took place in present day Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

4.   1680-92 - The Pueblo Revolt took place in present day Arizona and New Mexico.

5.   1689-1763 - The French and Indian War where most Algonquian tribes allied with the French; the Iroquois, with the British.

18th Century

1.   1711 - The Tuscarora War took place in present-day North Carolina.

2.   1715-18 - The Yamasee War took place in present-day South Carolina.

3.   1763 - Pontiac's Conspiracy took place in the present-day Ohio River Valley.

4.   1774 - Lord Dunmore's War took place in the present-day Southern Ohio River Valley.

5.   1790-94 - Old Northwest Warfare took place in present-day Ohio and Indiana.

19th Century

1.   1811 - The Battle of Tippecanoe took place on the Wabash and Tippecanoe rivers in Indiana.

2.   1814 - The Creek War took place in present-day Georgia and Alabama.

3.   1816-18 - The First Seminole War took place in present-day Florida.

4.   1832 - The Black Hawk War took place in present-day northern Illinois and southwestern Wisconsin.

5.   1835-42 - The Second Seminole War took place in present-day Florida Everglades.

6.   1849-63 - The Navajo Conflicts took place in present-day Arizona and New Mexico.

7.   1854-90 - The Sioux Wars took place in present-day Wyoming, Minnesota, and South Dakota.

8.   1855-58 - The Third Seminole War took place in present-day Florida Everglades.

9.   1861-1900 - The Apache Attacks took place in present-day New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, and Mexico.

10.  1865-68 and 1879 - The Ute Wars took place in present-day Utah.

11.  1872-73 - The Modoc War took place in present-day northern California and southern Oregon.

12.  1874-75 - The Red River War took place in present-day northwestern Texas.

13.  1876 - The Battle of the Rosebud took place on the Rosebud Creek in present‑day southern Montana.

14.  1876 - The Battle of the Little Bighorn took place in present-day southern Montana.

15.  1877 - The Nez Percé War took place in present-day Oregon, Idaho, and Montana.

16.  1890 - The Wounded Knee Massacre took place in present-day South Dakota.

All the conflicts, skirmishes, raids, uprisings, battles, and wars were fought for one reason only: Indians possess the land, and the whites wanted the land (Adams, 1995).

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dr. Erich Longie published on October 6, 2016 4:29 PM.

Church the Spirit Cat was the previous entry in this blog.

Minot State University: Race-based mascot and nicknames is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.