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Sand Creek & the Red River War: American Indian Wars

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  • 0:01 American Indian Wars
  • 0:42 Massacre
  • 2:11 Red River War
  • 2:42 Adobe Walls
  • 3:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explain the Massacre at Sand Creek and the Red River War. It will highlight the roles of Black Kettle and John Chivington. It will also discuss the treaties of Medicine Lodge and Laramie.

American Indian Wars

There are parts of U.S. history that are very difficult to swallow. They fly in the face of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Two of these events are the 19th century's Sand Creek Massacre and Red River War. Both of these deal with the cruel treatment of Native Americans during the American Indian Wars.

To begin, the American Indian Wars is a broad term used to define the many conflicts that occurred between the U.S. government and the Native Americans during the 18th and 19th centuries. Two of the most infamous conflicts are the Sand Creek Massacre and the Red River War.

Massacre

Sand Creek stood as a 19th century Cheyenne settlement of about 800 people. Their chief, Black Kettle, led his people in negotiations with white settlers and soldiers. During the mid-19th century, the American military promised Black Kettle and his people freedom to live safely in Sand Creek. Quite horrifically, U.S. soldiers brutally revoked this promise.

According to many accounts, Black Kettle visited the nearby military fort to ensure the continued safety of his people. This meeting occurred in 1864. At the gathering, government officials assured the chief that the promise still stood. Despite this pledge, Colonel John Chivington led a group of soldiers against the settlement at Sand Creek. Descending upon the unsuspecting Cheyenne, Chivington and his men attacked and butchered over a hundred Cheyenne. According to many reports, most of the victims were women and children.

The massacre at Sand Creek led to retaliation from many differing tribes. The most famous act of vengeance occurred near the Bozeman Trail of Wyoming. Here, a group of Sioux murdered a settlement of about 80 white soldiers and settlers. In 1868, government officials and the Native Americans of the area signed the Treaty of Laramie. Although signed to end the hostilities stemming from the Sand Creek Massacre, the promise of peace proved to be short lived.

Red River War

With this, we move to the Red River War. This conflict encompassed a series of battles between the American military and the Native Americans of the Texas Red River Valley. To explain further, the 1867 Treaty of Medicine Lodge consigned the Native Americans of the Southern Plains to reservations in Oklahoma and Texas. Like most areas relegated to the Native Americans, these reservations offered poor living conditions, few buffalo to hunt, and few natural resources.

Adobe Walls

In retaliation for their unfair treatment and relegation, some Native American warriors attacked and killed about 30 white hunters and settlers at Adobe Walls in Northern Texas. These 1874 killings served as the catalyst for the Red River War.

Although called a war, the Native Americans found themselves outmatched at the onset. Already weakened by life on the reservation, and starving from lack of food, they quickly succumbed to the forces of the American military. The surviving warriors returned to their reservations defeated, while many of their leaders were killed or imprisoned. Although violence and rebellions continued, by 1875, not one Native American tribe remained free to rove or hunt the Southern Plains of the U.S.

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