Jun 16

Indian Wars: The Campaign for the American West, by Bill Yenne ★★★★★

This book is a historical recounting of the Indian wars that were fought on American soil. While the book focuses on the wars that occurred west of the Mississippi, it is impossible to chronicle those conflicts without looking at the precedent in American history. Yenne begins with the earliest conflicts with the first settlers on North American soil and uses the first chapter as a lead-in to the greater conflicts that occurred in the western USA. It’s not that the Indians were new to war. Even during the conflicts with the European settlers, the majority of Indian battles were Indian against Indian. The first chapter is titled “Clash of Cultures”, and indeed, the entire story of the Indian wars were clashes of two radically different cultures. Though there were a few settled Indians staying for long periods of time in one place, the life of the Indians throughout North America was mostly nomadic, and much of their activity was that of raiding other tribes and taking their “stuff”. The European settlers only provided another source of “income”. Many of the Indians possessed extreme cruelty, and it was better to end up dead rather than alive in Indian hands.

Yenne details the pre-civil war conflicts, the few conflicts during the civil war, and then the major battles that occurred between 1865 and 1890. I’ll not discuss the entire contents of the book but summarize a few points. The far-west conflicts of California, Oregon, and Washington were settled fairly early on, with few major battles. The notable exception was the Modoc War which occurred in Northeast California among the lava beds in 1872-3. There were scattered limited conflicts elsewhere, in Texas particularly, but also scattered throughout the southwest and in Montana and the Dakotas until a concerted conflict with the Sioux tribes occurred. This was in 1876, the year of the Custer massacre, though battles occurred throughout the year, as the US Military pursued the ever-evasive conglomeration of Indian tribes. A year later, a series of miscommunications and misunderstandings between the US Military and the Nez Percé tribe of Idaho, Southeast Washington, and Northeast Oregon led to what were previously relatively peaceful interactions, into all-out war. The Nez Percé tribe sought to escape from the US Military by fleeing to Canada. The Nez Percé were among the most skilled warriors to ever be faced, and Chief Joseph, educated in western schools, among the greatest of all military strategists. Yet, the unrelenting pursuit of the military on their fleeing tribe ultimately led to Chief Joseph finally throwing in the towel.

Indians in the southwest region of New Mexico and Arizona were a nuisance to both the USA and Mexico, both seeking to stop the raiding and slaughter of settlers. The culminating events were the pursuit and capture on 4 (four) occasions of Geronimo, finally leading to Geronimo’s imprisonment in Florida. Based on Indian actions and the cruelty of the Apaches and Comanches, it’s a bit hard to feel sorry for them. The final Indian battle, Wounded Knee, occurred in 1890, with an attempted re-hash in 1973. The Wounded Knee conflict, while often cited as raw evidence of US aggression against the Indians, really does not stand up to the historical facts. The US military was concerned about a new Ghost Dancers religion among the Indians, and seeking to avert another military conflict, attempted to intervene when a battle broke out. There were a number of both US soldiers and Indians slaughtered in the conflict, but the Indians were subdued into submission.

The Indian wars are hard to analyze. After reading this book, I am more sympathetic to the American settlers who migrated into and across the plains of the midwest. While many Indians were eager to assimilate into European culture, many were not. The Indian Wars were the story of those resisting assimilation. The solution for the “resisters” was to funnel them into reservations, which gave the Indians a defined plot of land to use and abuse as they wished. Often, a war was created when otherwise unruly Indians refused to stay in the reservation (or assimilate to the living style of the US). To placate the Indians, government largess was steadily poured out on the Indians, which persists to this day. Thus, it was perhaps a poor solution to create reservations and force Indians onto those reservations. Yet, I don’t see any other reasonable alternatives. The book is quite thought-provoking. It has applications for many other situations that we see in the world and in the US, where cultural clashes create conflict. From a Christian point of view, there is a hierarchy of cultures, and some cultures are better than others, in so far as the culture follows Scriptural norms. An abundance of faults could be found with both the US Military and with the Indian tribes. Yet, the ultimate judgment is a cultural judgment, which I will leave to the reader to decide.

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4 Responses to “Indian Wars”

  1. Bruder Dennis says:

    ” a few settled Indians staying for long periods of time in one place …”
    In colonial America, it was recognized that the “Seven Civilized Tribes” of Indians in the Southeast (Seminole, Cherokee, Creek, etc) had European features and were of a different ethnicity than other Indians. They were homesteaders who built houses and farmed. Colonists intermarried with them. The “Trail of Tears” deportation of the Cherokee from Florida to Oklahoma is one of the tragic events in the history of indigenous people, and on it, I side with the Indians. (“They took the whole Cherokee nation, and put us on this reservation …” Paul Revere and the Raiders, Vancouver, WA, 1960s: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21ixwIaN7qw )

    What is often not appreciated is that the anthropological mythology that all the North American indigenous peoples came from the Altai region of Siberia across the Bering Strait is codswallop (Br.) – except for the Inuits, Aleuts (Eskimos) and maybe Athabascans.

    My guess is that the 7 Civilized Tribes were Phoenicians (generic Hebrews) because they had the long-boats to get here. And the others were Hittites and maybe Philistines (Sea Peoples from Greece). Hittites looked like Central Asians, from detailed Egyptian likenesses of them found in Egyptian burial chambers.

    • Kenneth Feucht says:

      You and the Mormons would make very good bedfellows. Have you ever thought about joining their church? Seriously, I don’t have a conjecture as to how the Indians got to America, or where they came from, but I really don’t see how that is an issue. Clearly, the Indians did not manifest any sort of Western ethos, so their origin is a moot point.
      Regarding the Indian tribes from the south, you are doing what so many others have done in reading back into history 20th century thought. Indians throughout the Americas were a mixture of those wishing to assimilate and those resisting assimilation. Southeast Indian tribes were as brutal as any other tribe, highly unpredictable and untrustworthy, though there was also benevolent folk. The challenge for the settlers was in distinguishing the two, something quite impossible either then or now. We assume that the Indians held to Judeo-Christian morality, a most dangerous notion. I won’t understate the deceptions also offered by the European settlers. A summary bottom line has been stated clearly in my review, in that it was a clash of cultures. Support for the Indians comes most strongly from those who wish to disparage the entire Christian culture of the West over the last millennium.

      • Bruder Dennis says:

        “Seriously, I don’t have a conjecture as to how the Indians got to America, or where they came from, …”
        I do, and it is by studying much of the history that is never taught in schools, statist or otherwise. As for the Mormons, this concurrence of propositions comes from the Book of Mormon. Now that Joe Smith’s testimony is in utter disrepute, leading to a mass exodus of families from Mormonism, the question remains as to where the Book came from. Apparently, it was a novel stolen from a print shop in upstate NY, but who the novelist was and where he got his information is unknown,. However, he could have likely gotten it from the same historical sources as I have; the seven civilized tribes have been around for centuries and there is much data about them.

        The origin of the Seven Tribes is hardly moot. “Western ethos” is irrelevant; Abraham did not have the “Western ethos”, did he? Or Moses? The Seven Tribes, I suspect, were Hebrew. Is that okay or not “Western” enough?

        “We assume that the Indians held to Judeo-Christian morality, …” Who do you mean “we”, white man?

        No, I do not assume that. I assume, if anything, that they were Phoenicians – pagan Hebrews. Were they good or evil? Are Americans good or evil? A silly question; get out a Gaussian curve.

        You are too influenced to over-react to Wokeness. Forget about it; it is nothing worthy of attention. Go back before Woke, before BLM or Hitler, before Marx … and there are the Seven Tribes, living in the SE. They intermarried with European colonists; imagine that. Maybe they were more civilized than they are given credit for. History seems to support that notion. After all, it is the conquerors who write the history.

        I recommend that you read some REAL history – some forgotten or ignored history – to round out your reading of these overly-processed accounts. Start with F. Tupper Saussy, “Rulers of Evil” that you can download PDF from here:


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