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Thread: 19th Century Native American History II

  1. #1
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    Default 19th Century Native American History II

    In part 1, the history of the involvement of the Native Americans in the US Civil War was covered. This was a long and bloody conflict that took numerous lives. It was also one of great significance, and the various Native American tribes and individuals knew this. Native Americans would serve in different ways on both sides of the conflict, as scouts, messengers, labourers, and soldiers.

    The conclusion of the war was the defeat of the Confederacy, and those Native Americans who aligned themselves with the South, especially the Cherokee, would see punishment at the hands of the victorious North, often unjustly. Their fate was largely the same as the entire South, which lays in a state of ruin for several years after the wars conclusion. It is not very long at all, however, that the now once more 'United' States of America becomes aware of what their next bout of conflicts will be - the fights to win the west. 'Manifest Destiny' once more entered into the American mindset in full force, and the US military knew that they had a long road ahead of them in fighting against and 'pacifying' the numerous Native American tribes between the Mississippi river and the Pacific coast. Those Native Americans who aided the Union in the war largely proved themselves to be a great asset, and now they would be needed again, this time out west. The US government quickly realized the advantages of utilizing Native Americans as scouts out west, where rugged terrain and vast, open plains meant that the role that scouts play would be a critical part to successful military operations in this part of the country.

    19th Century Native American History II - Native Scouts (expanded) and the post Civil War Indian conflicts

    Pawnee Scouts

    In 1865, the Sioux Nation was the largest and strongest of the Native American nations that could still claim to be independent. It was formed from a series of on-and-off alliances between the Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapaho and Oglala tribes, amongst others. All of these tribes shared some common interests. For one, they were all nomadic peoples who lived on the great plains. Their way of life relied very heavily on the wild buffalo, which provided them with food, clothing and tools, and as such they had respect and veneration for the animals. The encroachment of the whites threatened the buffalo, and thus threatened their way of living, which brought the tribes together in the common interest of survival. For another, the tribes that made up the Sioux Nation witnessed their territories shrink with the arrival of white settlers. This loss of territory, coupled with a very real isolation from the rest of the world, further strengthened the alliances made between the various tribes and contributed to the overall unity of the Sioux Nation, which was quickly thrust into conflict with the United States after the end of the Civil War.

    The United States government knew that the Sioux Nation would need to be pacified if the 'winning of the west' was ever to become a reality. Abraham Lincoln himself wrote multiple letters and notes expressing his worry about the Sioux long before the end of the Civil War. The Army quickly realized the challenges in fighting this 'ultra mobile' enemy. Theory became reality in Red Cloud's War, which occured shortly after the end of the Civil War. For the United States Army, this war could be called, at best, an indecisive stalemate. For Redcloud it was a decisive victory. The Army knew it needed to reorganize itself to be able to fight effectively against Native Americans once more; the Civil War was over. This 'reorganization' occured at the same time as a general 'downsizing' of the military after the end of the Civil War; a force the size of the Union Army at the beginning of 1865 was no longer needed or practical, and by 1870 the total manpower was only a fraction of what it had been 5 years prior. These things aside, the military knew that it was fighting in 'Indian country', and for this it would need the aid of scouts.

    The struggle between the US military and the Sioux brought about the arrival of the Pawnee Scouts. The Pawnee are a tribe of plains Indians that had held a traditional rivalry with the Sioux. Skirmishes would erupt somewhat frequently between the two. The Pawnee was a single tribe, and not a large one at that, while the Sioux were a 'nation' or an alliance between multiple tribes. The end of the US Civil War placed the Pawnee in a difficult position. The Pawnee realized the threat that white settlers posed to their way of life; they also realized that if the US Army were to begin direct operations against the Sioux, then the Sioux would certainly be fighting an uphill battle. The primary interest of the Pawnee was a preservation of their way of life. To this end, when the US Army needed scouts, many Pawnee would volunteer for this role in hopes that the US would allow them to continue living as they had in exchange for their services; in a sense, they saw it as 'earning' respect for their people in the eyes of the US government. The individual Pawnee who volunteered to act as scouts for the US military would eventually be organized into the 'Pawnee Scouts', which were actual units that aided the US Army in the western theatre, always led by a white commander and often armed with an assortment of outdated rifles and pistols. They proved themselves to be a valuable asset in the pacification of the Great Plains region.

    Apache Scouts

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    'Apache' is a term used to denote a number of tribes in the American southwest. Their traditional homelands include parts of what is now Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona, as well as parts of what is now Mexico. Different groups of Apache would revolt multiple times in the late 19th centry, the most famous of these revolts being led by the Apache chief Geronimo. Like in the Great Plains, the US Army saw a need for Native American scouts, and many times volunteers would come from tribes of Apaches who had held traditional rivalries with whichever tribe happened to be revolting at the time of their enlistment. Other times they were simply 'drafted' (or otherwise forcibly pressed) into service as scouts. There were also individual Apache who volunteered as US Army scouts after fleeing from persecution in Mexico (whose military was often quite ruthless in how they dealt with the natives). Whatever their background, the Apache who became scouts were organized into units led by white officers (much like the Pawnee Scouts), and would soon become a valuable asset to the US Army in their military actions in that part of the country.

    The 'Winning of the West'

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    ^Image of some of the 'Comanche Code-Talkers' used by the US in World War II.

    The true tragedy of the 'Winning of the West' was the death of the Native American way of life, and for better or for worse, the help that many Native Americans provided to the whites, from the time of the Jamestown Settlement, to Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea, to the final 'Winning of the West' at the end of the 19th century, did nothing to prevent this. In contemporary times, we generally view Native Americans as being essentially American, the same way that people of all races who are born here are, and not as 'outsiders' as was the case in the 19th century. Native American service in the US military does not stop at the end of the Indian Wars; not even remotely. Theodore Roosevelt's 'Rough Riders' that fought in the Spanish American war famously included both Native Americans and blacks. During World War I, the US would send Native American troops to fight in the trenches in the segregated 'Colored' regiments (which, contradictory to our modern common belief, were not solely African American but included anyone of a racial background deemed 'non-white', including Native Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and others). In modern times, certain tribes see high percentages of military enlistment, and amongst the entire US Native American population, military enlistment occurs at a higher percentage than it does amongst the majority white population. Native American service to the US continues, and the late 19th century is not any kindof exception to something that has happened since the nation's beginning. In the next part I will discuss the Sioux.

    "If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,"
    -First lines to the poem "If-" by Rudyard Kipling

  2. #2

    Default Re: 19th Century Native American History II

    Well written, and actually I learned quite something about these native American Scout Units.

    Thank you!

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