The Far West

The Civil War hardly provided a respite from the recurrent warfare that had plagued the Southwest and Plains in the 1850s. Instead, the Indian wars of the antebellum era continued ''while public attention has been completely absorbed with the Rebellion'' (''The Sioux War'' 1863, 695). There, the formal and informal wars waged by the United States and its citizens on Native Americans had little to do with the central issues that elsewhere defined the era of the Civil War. Instead, recurring acts of reciprocal violence resulted as American ranchers, miners, and settlers intruded on Native American territory. The onslaught of new settlers to California and the west in 1849, after the discovery of gold, brought untold disruptions to Native American societies who suffered as western settlers looted their way through their lands and coerced others into providing labor or supplies. In 1866, the Apache leader Cochise remarked that

A large number of Navajo Indians were imprisoned at Fort Sumner in New Mexico from 1863 until 1868. (Courtesy Palace of the Governors Photo Archives, NMHM/DCA, 038194)

When I was young I walked all over this country, east and west, and saw no other people than the Apaches. After many summers I walked again and found another race of people had come to take it. How is it? Why is it that the Apaches wait to die—that they carry their lives on their finger nails? (Calloway 2008, 311)

Although most Americans were preoccupied by events to the east, several of the worst massacres took place in the west. In 1863, California Volunteers used the pretext of the war and depredations committed against recent settlers to attack a Shoshoni-Bannock village in Idaho. They killed about 200 men, women, and children. In 1864, the Cheyennes discovered that the war would not ease the pressure they felt from the onslaught of settlers who coveted the gold on their lands. While under the protection of the U.S. government, Colonel J. M. Chivington and the 3rd Colorado Calvary attacked a camp at Sand Creek. Black Kettle raised white and American flags, but they were to no avail. More than 270 Indians were killed, many of them ''mutilated in the most horrible way'' (Calloway 2008, 303). Chivington's actions were widely condemned, but the damage was done. The Sand Creek Massacre, as it became known, devastated the Cheyenne, who saw one-fifth of their council and many of their most vocal spokesmen for accommodation killed. The Navajo similarly suffered during the war. In 1864, responding to retaliatory raids between the Navajos and recent settlers in New Mexico, Christopher (Kit) Carson, his California Volunteers, and some Ute allies burned villages and orchards, killed livestock, and otherwise ravaged their communities. The Navajos then suffered the ''Long Walk''—a brutal journal to the Bosque Redondo reservation in the southeastern part of New Mexico.

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