The American Plains have a history of Native American life that dates to approximately 8500 B.C., according to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Encyclopedia of the Great Plains. The Plains Wars describes the time between the 1850s and 1890s when white settlers moved in large numbers into the central plains, challenging Indian settlements and migrating native people with new farms, mines and ranches. The federal government answered the refusal to surrender traditional native lands with military force when Indians challenged white settlers, miners and business operations. History books focus on a group of military and Native American personalities, and these names have become famous in American folklore.
Native American Leaders
The list of famous native spiritual and war leaders and chiefs include some of the people involved in the Plains Indian Wars. Tatanka Iyotake, Hunkpapa Sioux spiritual leader also called Sitting Bull, gained fame by defeating American General George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. Makhpiya Luta, also identified as Red Cloud, lead the Oglala Lakota in the current area of Northern Wyoming and southern Montana to challenge white settlements. Thasuka Witko, sometimes called Crazy Horse by whites, organized Indians in a joint attack by Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne in 1876 that defeated General George Crook and his Indian Crow and Shoshone allies. Goyathlay, also known as Geronimo, lead the Chiricahua Apache in fighting to escape forced relocation in Arizona in 1872. Geronimo organized the Apache in battles over the southern plains and into Mexico until his surrender in 1886.
Wovoka, a Paiute spiritual leader, helped create the "Ghost Dance" movement in the late 1880s that encouraged Native American people to celebrate the Indian past. The movement called for the return of native ancestors who died from the disease and Plains warfare. Whites feared the new missionary movement and countered the practice with military force that resulted in the death of Sitting Bull and the massacre of Indians at Wounded Knee in present-day South Dakota in 1890.
Historic Military Men
Famous military battles during the Plains Wars include the Battles of Wounded Knee and Little Bighorn. The Sand Creek Massacre involved little fighting by Indians, but instead led to a massacre of Indian women, children and elderly adults. Colonel John Chivington supervised the 1864 massacre of native women and children at Sand Creek in Colorado Territory. Indians surrendered to the military and waited for peace terms when the massacre happened. One of the most famous military names from the Plains Indian Wars is famous for defeat, rather than victory. General George Armstrong Custer, leader of an expedition that discovered gold in the Black Hills in 1874, later lost his life in 1876 at the Battle of Little Bighorn in Montana Territory.
White artists, including Edgar S. Paxson, and unnamed Indian artists created images from personal experience and from first-person accounts. The art helped Easterners visualize life during the Plains period and the action involved in the military conflicts. The early Indian portraits and western artwork helped contribute to the romantic idea of Native Americans, according to native historian Don Trent Jacobs.
Frontier plains newspapers chronicled the disputes between the new settlers and Native American groups. Journalists and editors of the "Rocky Mountain News," "Omaha Arrow" and the "Daily Mining Journal" took the viewpoint of whites and the accounts helped shape federal Indian policy, according to historian Hugh J. Reilly, author of "Bound to Have Blood -- Frontier Newspapers and the Plains Indian Wars." Reilly notes that the important plains battles with Native Americans, including the Wounded Knee massacre in 1890, helped influenced the development of the concept of western regionalism during the Plains War period.
- Kansas Historical Foundation: Plains Wars
- Bound to Have Blood -- Frontier Newspapers and the Plains Indian Wars; Hugh J. Reilly
- Buffalo Bill Historical Center: Edgar S. Paxson
- University of Nebraska-Lincoln Encyclopedia of the Great Plains: Native Americans
- ABC-CLIO History and the Headlines: American Indian Heritage -- Myth of the Noble Savage
- PBS: The West: Marcus A. Reno
- Nevada Magazine: Wovoka -- The Paiute Messiah Promoted Peace, But Also Yearned for a Return to Tradition; David Anthony
- Prairie Public: Dakota Datebook -- Chief Drags Wolf
- PBS American Experience: We Shall Remain -- Geronimo
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: Native Voices -- 1886: Apache Armed Resistance Ends; Geronimo Surrenders
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images