Federal Government Policies Against Native Americans
Decimation of the Buffalo
Indian Wars: Sand Creek and Little Bighorn
The traditional policy of the federal government was to regard the tribes simultaneously as independent nations and as wards of the president. However, treaties or agreements with the tribes seldom survived the pressure of white settlers eager for Indian land. The concentration policy assigned each tribe to its own defined reservation confirmed by separate treaties and the Indian Peace commission recommended replacing the concentration policy with a plan to move all the Plains Indians into two large reservations.
Worsening the fate of the tribes was the whites relentless slaughtering of the buffalo herds that supported the tribes' way of life. However, not just this hunting threatened the buffalo population The ecological changes accompanying white settlement also decimated the buffalo population. The army and the agents of the Bureau of Indian Affairs condoned and even encouraged the killing. By destroying these herds, whites were destroying the Indian’s source of food and supplies and their ability to resist white advance. They were also contributing to a climate in which Indian Warriors felt the need to fight to protect their way of life.
In the Sand Creek Massacre the whites called up an army in response to attacks by Native Americans. However the governor urged all friendly Indians congregate at army posts for protection. One Arapaho and Cheyenne band under Chief Black Kettle listened and camped near a fort. Nevertheless, Colonel J.M. Chivington led a volunteer militia to the unsuspecting camp and massacred 133 people. In 1876 General Custer led his men against the Native Americans to try and force them back to a reservation. However, he was surprised by a large group of tribal warriors. They killed Custer and all of his men.; however, the natives didn't have the political organization or supplies to keep their troops united
Indian Hunting and Dawes Act
The Sioux were now aware that their culture and their glories were irrevocably fading, thus they turned to a prophet who led them into a religious revival. The prophet, Wovoka, inspired a spiritual awakening. The revival emphasized the coming of a messiah, but its most conspicuous feature was a mass, emotional "Ghost Dance" which inspired ecstatic visions, such as the retreat of white people from the plains and a restoration of the great buffalo herds.
On December 29, 1890 the Seventh Cavalry tried to roundup a group of about 350 cold and starving Sioux at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Fighting broke out in which 40 white soldiers and more than 300 Indians died. It started as a battle but soon turned into a one sided massacre as the soldiers used their cannons to mow down the Indians in the snow.
Native Americans were also threatened by unofficial violence by white vigilantes who engaged in what became known as "Indian Hunting". This tracking down and killing of whites became somewhat of a sport for whites, and those who didn't hunt would offer rewards to those who did. Even before tragedies like this that occurred, Congress had moved to destroy tribal culture and structure thus abolished the practice by which tribes owned reservation lands communally The Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 provided for the general elimination of tribal ownership of land and the allotment of tracts to individual owners. Few Indians were prepared for this wrenching change from their traditional collective society to capitalist individualism.