As Lt. William T. Sherman, commanding the Division of the Missouri, put it, "Were I or the department commanders to send guards to every point where they are clamored for, we would need alone on the plains a hundred thousand men, mostly of cavalry. Each spot of every road, and each little settlement along five thousand miles of frontier, wants its regiment of cavalry or infantry to protect it against the combined power of all the Indians, because of the bare possibility of their being attacked by the combined force of all the Indians.
It was the good fortune of both the Army and the citizen in the West that the Indians rarely acted in concert within or between tribes, although had they done so the Army might have been able regularly to employ large units instead of dispersing troops in small detachments all over the frontier, and might also have had better luck in forcing the elusive opponent to stand and fight. But troops and units were at a premium, so much so in that Maj. Philip H. Sheridan decided to try an unusual expedient to carry out his responsibilities in the Department of the Missouri.
Sheridan directed Maj. George A.
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Forsyth to "employ fifty first-class hardy frontiersmen, to be used as scouts against the hostile Indians, to be commanded by yourself. Southern Cheyennes, and Arapahoes, augmented by some Sioux roaming south of the Platte. The tribes were restive. The Kansas Pacific Railroad was advancing through their country, frightening the buffalo—their source of food, clothing, and shelter—and attracting white settlement.
The Cheyennes were still smoldering over the massacre of some of Black Kettle's band, including women and children, by Col. John M. Chivington and his Colorado volunteers on Sand Creek in , and had demonstrated their mistrust of the whites when Maj. Winfield Scott Hancock penetrated their area with a large and presumably peaceful expedition in Forsyth and the Indians collided on the Arickaree Fork of the Republican River at dawn on November 17, , when a combined war party of about Cheyennes, Sioux, and Arapahoes attacked him in a defensive position on a small island in the river bed.
The Indians pressed the fight for three days, wounding Forsyth and upwards of 20 of his scouts and killing his second in command, Lt. Frederick H. Beecher, and his surgeon and 3 scouts. The first rescue force on the scene was Capt. Louis H. Carpenter's company of Negro troopers of the 10th Cavalry Regiment. By the late 'S the government's policy of removing Indians from desirable areas graphically represented by the transfer of the Five Civilized Tribes from the Southeast to Oklahoma—the Cherokees called it the "Trail of Tears" had run its course and was succeeded by one of concentrating them on reservations.
The practice of locating tribes in other than native or salubrious surroundings and of joining uncongenial bands led to more than one Indian war. Some bands found it convenient to accept reservation status and government rations during the winter months, returning to the warpath and hunting trail in the milder seasons.
Many bands of many tribes refused to accept the treaties offered by a peace commission and resisted the government's attempt to confine them to specific geographical limits; it fell to the Army to force compliance. In his area, General Sheridan now planned to hit the Indians in their permanent winter camps.
While a winter campaign presented serious logistical problems, it offered opportunities for decisive results. If the Indians' shelter, food, and livestock could be destroyed or captured, not only the warriors but their women and children were at the mercy of the Army and the elements, and there was little left but surrender. Here was the technique of total war, a practice that raised certain moral questions for many officers and men that were never satisfactorily resolved.
Sheridan devised a plan whereby three columns would converge on the wintering grounds of the Indians just east of the Texas Panhandle, one from Fort Lyon in Colorado, one from Fort Bascom in New Mexico, and one from Camp Supply in Oklahoma. The 7th Cavalry Regiment under Lt. George Armstrong Custer fought the major engagement of the campaign. Custer found the Indians on the Washita River and struck Black Kettle's Cheyenne village with eleven companies from four directions at dawn on November 29, , as the regimental band played "Gerry Owen.
By midmorning Custer learned that this was only one of many villages of Cheyennes, Arapahoes, Kiowas, and Comanches extending for miles along the Washita. Facing such odds, Custer hastened to destroy the village and its supplies and horses, used an offensive maneuver to deceive the enemy, and under cover of darkness withdrew from the field, taking 53 women and children as prisoners.
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The 7th lost 21 officers and men killed and 13 wounded in the Battle of the Washita; the Indians perhaps 50 killed and as many wounded. The Kiowas and Comanches did not lightly relinquish their hunting grounds and forsake their way of life. Some lived restlessly on a reservation in Indian Territory around Fort Sill, others held out. Sherman, now Commanding General of the U. Army, Sheridan, commanding the Division of the Missouri, and their field commanders were forced into active campaigning before these tribes were subdued.
In reservation Kiowas raided into Texas, killing some teamsters of a government wagon train.
General Sherman, visiting at Fort Sill, had the responsible leaders—Satanta, Satank, and Big Tree—arrested in a dramatic confrontation on the post between armed Indians and soldiers in which only Sherman's coolness prevented an explosion. Satank was later killed attempting escape, while Satanta and Big Tree were tried and imprisoned for two years.
Again in custody in , Satanta took his own life. There were other incidents on the Southern Plains before the Indians there were subjugated. An Army campaign in , involving about 3, troops under Col. Nelson A. Miles' over-all command, was launched in five columns from bases in Texas, New Mexico, and Indian Territory against the Texas Panhandle refuge of the Plains tribes.
On September 24 Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie's surprise attack separated the Indians from their horses and belongings, and these were destroyed. With winter coming on the Indians had little alternative to the reservation. Not all the Indian wars were fought with Plains tribes.
The Army engaged in wars with several Pacific slope tribes in the 's, and the operations were widely scattered over the mountainous northwestern quarter of the trans-Mississippi West. The Modoc War of began when the Modocs, who had been placed on a reservation in southern Oregon with the more numerous and traditionally unfriendly Klamaths, returned without permission to their home in the Lost River country on the California border.
When the Army attempted in November of to take them back to the reservation, fighting broke out and the Indians retreated into a natural fortress—the Lava Beds at the southern end of Tule Lake. Over the course of six month there were four engagements in which Regular and volunteer troops with superior strength and weapons incurred heavier losses than their opponents.
Extended efforts by a peace commission made little headway and ended in tragedy when two of the members, Brig. Edward R. Canby and Reverend Eleaser Thomas, both unarmed, were shot while in conference with the Indians. The Modocs finally surrendered and four of their leaders, including Canby's murderer, Captain Jack, were hanged. The practice of uprooting the Indians from their homeland was also the cause of the Nez Perce War in The Nez Perces had been friendly to the whites from the days of their contact with Lewis and Clark.
Although they ceded some of their lands to the whites, they refused to give up the Wallowa Valley in northeastern Oregon. White encroachment increased, stiffening the lines of political pressure back to Washington and leading inevitably to decisions favorable to white settlement and removal of the Nez Perces to the Lapwai Reservation across the Snake River in Idaho. Some elements of the tribe complied, but Chief Joseph and his people did not and the Army was ordered to move them. An inevitable course of events and irresponsible actions by both reds and whites made hostilities unavoidable.
In a remarkable campaign that demonstrated the unique capabilities of guerrilla forces and the difficulties that formal military units have in dealing with them, the Nez Perces led the Army on a 1,mile chase over the Continental Divide, punctuated by a number of sharp engagements.
The Indians used the terrain to great advantage, fighting when circumstances favored them, sideslipping around opposing forces or breaking contact when the situation dictated it.
They lived off the land, while the Army was tied to supply trains that were vulnerable to Indian attack. But their freedom of. Indian rifles were no match for howitzers and Gatling guns, and Indian mobility could not outstrip the Army's use of the telegraph to alert additional forces along the Nez Perce line of flight.
Sturgis, and Miles. There were heavy casualties on both sides before Chief Joseph, in a poignant speech, surrendered. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever. In and Army forces took the field against various bands of Indians in mountain areas of the Northwest. Operations against the Bannocks, Sheepeaters, and Utes were relatively minor. The Bannock War was caused by white intrusion on the Camas Prairie in Idaho, where camas roots were a prime source of food for the Indians. The Sheepeater War, also centered in Idaho, broke out when the Indians were charged with several murders they probably did not commit.
All of these clashes represented a last convulsion against fate for the tribes involved, while for the Army they meant hard campaigning and casualties. The Apaches were among the Army's toughest opponents in the Indian wars. The zone of operations embraced the territories of Arizona and New Mexico, western Texas, and Mexico's northern provinces, and, despite the fact that hostile Apaches were relatively few in number and the theater was essentially a secondary one, they tied down sizable forces over a long period of time.
Post-Civil War Apache troubles extended from the late 'S, when the Army campaigned against Cochise, on through the seventies and eighties, when Victorio and Geronimo came to the fore. On the Army side the important factor was the assignment of Bvt. George Crook to the Southwest, where he served two tours between and Crook was an able administrator as well as an outstanding soldier, and proved to be a relentless opponent of the Indian on the battlefield and a steadfast friend off it. As commander of the Department of Arizona he organized at key locations a number of mobile striking forces under experienced frontier officers and launched them in a concerted campaign supported by mule pack trains.
Acting under an Congressional act, which authorized the Army to enlist up to a thousand Indian scouts they came from traditionally friendly tribes like the Crow and Pawnee or from friendly elements of warring tribes , Crook also employed Apache scouts. Converging columns and persistent pursuit brought results, and he left Arizona in relative quiet when he went to the Department of the Platte in But the quiet in the Southwest did not last long.
Largely at the instigation of politicians, merchants, contractors, and other self-serving whites, several bands of mutually uncongenial Apaches were transferred from desirable areas to the unhealthy San Carlos Reservation in the Arizona lowlands. As a result, much of what Crook had accomplished was undone as disgruntled Apaches again turned to raiding and killing. In the summer of , for example, an Apache medicine man stirred the Indians to heights of religious fervor that led to a sharp clash on Cibicu Creek with troops commanded by Col.
Eugene A. Carr, one of the Army's most experienced Indian fighters. The action was highlighted by perhaps the most notable instance of disaffection when the Indian scouts with the command turned on the Regulars. Throughout the Indian wars there was constant friction between the War and the Interior Departments over the conduct of Indian affairs.
A committee of the Continental Congress had first exercised this responsibility. When the Department of the Interior was established in , the Indian bureau was transferred to that agency. Thus administration of Indian affairs was handled by one department while enforcement lay with another. As General Crook put it to a Congressional committee in "As it is now you have a divided responsibility. It is like having two captains on the same ship. Crook returned to Arizona in to restore confidence among the Apaches in white administration, move them along the paths of civilization, and spar constantly with the Indian bureau.
On the military side, he took the field against dwindling numbers of hostiles, co-operating with Mexican officials and authorized to cross the international boundary in pursuit of the renegades. Crook met with Geronimo in the Sierra Madre Mountains in March of and negotiated a surrender that brought in all but Geronimo and a few followers who backed out at the last moment. When Washington failed to back the field commander in the conditions on which he had negotiated the surrender, Crook asked to be relieved. Miles replaced him, and Lt. Charles B. Gatewood entered.
Geronimo's mountain fastness to arrange a surrender and bring the Apache campaigns to a close. All of the elements of the clash of red and white civilizations were present in the events leading to final subjugation of the Indians. The mounted tribes of the Great Plains were astride the main corridors of westward expansion, and this was the area of decision. The Sioux and their allies were thus north of the main transcontinental artery along the Platte. Although the arrangement worked for several years, it was doomed by the irresistible march of civilization.
The Sioux rejected white overtures for a right-of-way for the Northern Pacific Railroad, and when surveyors went ahead anyway they ran into Indian resistance, which led to the dispatch in of a large military expedition under Col. David S. Stanley up the Yellowstone Valley. When geologists with the expedition found gold, the word spread rapidly and prospectors filtered into the area despite the Army's best efforts to keep them out. Another treaty was broken and, band by band, angry reservation Indians slipped away to join nontreaty recalcitrants in the unceded Powder River region of Wyoming and Montana.
In December the Indian bureau notified the Sioux and Cheyennes that they had to return to the reservation by the end of the following month. Since the Indians were in winter quarters in remote areas and would have had little chance against the elements, they did not obey. As the deadline passed, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs appealed to the Army to force compliance. Sheridan, mindful of his success with converging columns against the Southern Plains tribes, determined upon a similar campaign in the north.
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Columns were organized to move on the Powder River area from three directions. Alfred H. John Gibbon moved eastward from Fort Ellis in western Montana with a mixed force of infantry and cavalry, while Brig. George Crook moved northward from Fort Fetterman on the North Platte in Wyoming with a force heavily weighted in cavalry. In March a part of Crook's force under Col. Joseph J. Reynolds had entered the valley of the Powder and surprised a. Cheyenne-Sioux camp, but Reynolds had failed to press an initial advantage and had withdrawn without punishing the Indians.
In June, with the major campaign under way, Crook made the first contact. The Sioux and Cheyennes learned of his approach along Rosebud Creek, and some 1, warriors moved to meet him. Crook had fifteen companies of cavalry and five of infantry, about 1, men, plus another friendly Indians and civilians.
The two forces met on roughly equal terms on the 17th in heavy fighting. Tactically, neither side carried the field conclusively enough to claim a victory. Strategically, Crook's withdrawal to a supply base to southward gave the Battle of the Rosebud the complexion of a defeat for the Army, especially in view of developments on the Little Bighorn River about fifty miles to northwestward, which his continued advance might have influenced decisively. While Crook was moving northward to his collision on the Rosebud, Terry and Gibbon, marching from east and west, had joined forces on the Yellowstone River at its confluence with the Powder, where a supply base serviced by river steamer was established.
Terry sent out the 7th Cavalry to scout for Indian sign, and Maj. Marcus A.
Reno with six companies the cavalry "company" was not called a "troop" until reconnoitered up the Powder, across the Tongue River, and into the valley of the Rosebud. Here on June 17 Reno found a fresh trail leading west out of the valley and across the Wolf Mountains in the direction of the Little Bighorn.
He was unaware, and was thus unable to inform his superiors, that Crook was also in the Rosebud valley and had been engaged and blocked by a large force of Indians not far upstream on this very same day. Terry held a council of war aboard the steamer Far West to outline his plan.
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