Wednesday, August 25, 2010
The Battle of Wounded Knee was the final clash between Native Americans and the United States Army. The Indian wars were savage battles between Native Americans and white people who came to America to establish new homes. The wars were struggles for the rich lands that eventually became the United States of America. "Most Indian wars were little more than futile attempts by desperate, poorly equipped Indians to keep their land and their way of life. The white people won in the end, and often rewrote history to suit themselves. A famous Indian-fighter, General Nelson A. Miles, said that `The art of war among the white people is called strategy or tactics; when practiced by the Indians it is called treachery'" (World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 10, p. 191). Settlers from England came to the Atlantic Coast of North America in the early 1600's to establish new homes. As more and more settlers moved into Indian lands, disagreements happened between whites and Indians. The arguments usually resulted in the death of either an Indian or a colonist and often escalated into a war. An Indian war usually took place within a small area and usually involved only a few people. Most of the wars began with one Indian tribe fighting the white people who lived nearby, but many tribes could be involved in fighting white people if the battle spread. The basic cause of most fighting between white people and Indians was the difference in their ways of living. There were a few Indians who raised corn and other vegetables, but all of them hunted wild animals for their food and clothing. When white settlers moved into an area in the East, they began to cut down forests to clear the land for farming. They destroyed trees and underbrush that provided homes for wildlife, and the wild animals went elsewhere. In the West, white hunters killed buffalo by the thousands just for their hides. In both areas, the Indians were put in a situation where they had to choose to move to another area or to fight for their hunting grounds. I tried to put myself in the place of the Indians: How would I feel and what would I do if someone invited themselves to live in my house and eventually forced me out of my home? Both white settlers and Native Americans were to blame for the many misunderstandings that grew into wars. The colonists believed that Indians were savages without souls and refused to recognize that Indians had rights. The Native Americans failed to understand the ways of the white people. An example of this misunderstanding concerned treaties. While whites thought the Indians were selling their land to the settlers, the Indians thought they were selling only the right to use the land and were shocked to learn that they could no longer hunt on the lands of their ancestors. There was only one ways for the problems between colonists and Indians to end because European settlers came to America in a steady stream and had large families. The Indians were quickly outnumbered and pushed further and further west. There were approximately 1 million Indians when white settlers first landed in the Americas. By 1900 this number was reduced to approximately 237,000 because of disease, strong liquor, and nearly 300 years of warfare. The Indian tribes fought among themselves for thousands of years before the arrival of the white people, and they fought for a variety of reasons - best hunting grounds and village sites, revenge killing, and personal glory. Many of the Indians considered war and hunting as the only acceptable occupations for a man, but all tribes were not equally warlike. Some tribes, such as the Iroquois and the Apache, were fighting most of the time, but other tribes, such as the Delaware, were usually peaceful. When the white settlers arrived on the scene, Indians usually fought simply for survival. When white men invaded the Black Hills, a series of Indian uprisings started and were led by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. In 1876 the Indians signed a new treaty giving up the rights to their land in the Black Hills. Most of the Sioux surrendered to the white men and settled on reservations located west of the Missouri River. Sitting Bull went to Canada, but he returned to South Dakota in 1881 and settled on the Standing Rock Reservation in 1883. A religious movement, called the Ghost Dance, spread among the Sioux in 1890. Army leaders were afraid the movement would lead to another uprising by the Sioux and sent Indian police to arrest Sitting Bull. He resisted and was killed, but some of his followers left the reservation and joined a band of Sioux on the Cheyenne River led by Chief Big Foot. Federal troops found the Indians and took them to a cavalry camp on Wounded Knee Creek where they began to disarm the Indians. Someone fired a rifle and started a bloody massacre. The troops killed more than 200 Indian men, women and children there on the northern plains. I have had the privilege of knowing many beautiful and talented Native Americans. My mother grew up on an Indian reservation because her father was an Indian agent for the federal government. She maintained friendships with many Indian friends throughout her adult life. I attended school with many Indians and know of their intelligence and talents. One of my daughters married a man who is part Alaska Native. I find no justification for white people considering themselves better than these beautiful people. Even though I love America, there are parts of our history that I do not like. The Battle of Wounded Knee is just one of those historic moments. Facts for this post come from articles written by Joseph H. Cash, Edward Hogan, Sr. and Jerome A. Greene in World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 18, p. 683, and Vol. 10, pp. 190, 191.