Something I heard a while ago has stuck with me. I don’t remember the exact wording of what the person said, at all, but it was something like this: “Of course there was vibrant, established civilization in the Americas before white people showed up.” Like, the land here wasn’t free for the taking. It was conquered, nations were destroyed, people were displaced.
Growing up where and when I did, this reality was downplayed when I was taught history. People who subjugated Native Americans weren’t outright celebrated for the subjugation, but they were often excused or celebrated for other reasons. I remember my high school history teacher excusing Andrew Jackson‘s exploits before and during his presidency by saying that the American people would inevitably have pushed the Seminole out of Florida, he just tried to do it as humanely as possible. Of course, Columbus Day was still a thing when I was growing up as well. I guess it still is.
Anyway, I’ve been reading this book
Excuse my phrasing here, but reading about Indian war after Indian war after Indian war after Indian war just got to be so much. Like, how much did we do this?
So I went and looked at the list of American wars on Wikipedia. Somehow it never sank in for me the true extent of how much war our country engaged in with Native Americans.
On the left, each tribe that was involved in an American war. That’s 70 tribes. Some tribes were allied with the US for some wars. Most weren’t. Some were allies sometimes, enemies others. I haven’t, and will not for this post, gone into depth on all the wars that the US engaged in with Native American tribes. What struck me is the sheer volume. The nonstop war. From the moment the USA first started to exist (which I’m marking at the beginning of the Revolutionary War) until 1924 – a 149 year span – I only counted 32 years where we weren’t engaged in some sort of military action against Native American tribes. That’s over one hundred years of conflict. There were times, especially in the 1850’s and 1860’s, where the US was fighting five or six conflicts against natives at once. I counted eight conflicts, some years-long, that took place during the Civil War. Our Civil War cost us hundreds of thousands of lives, yet we had the bandwidth to fight eight other conflicts with Native Americans?
I counted 69 wars that America engaged in between 1775 and 1924. 42 were exclusively against native tribes. That’s 61%. Also… with all the wars put together that’s a new war every 2.2 years. That’s a lot of war. Take out the wars against Native Americans, and we still engaged in a war every 5.5 years. That seems like a lot. But this stuff is for my next post, not this one…
We went to war with some tribes so many times. The Cheyenne? Seven times. Arapaho? Six times. Paiute? Five times. Comanche? Four times. Seminole? Four times (The Seminole apparently fought us in a First Seminole War, a Second Seminole War, and a Third Seminole War). Shoshone? Four times. Sioux? Six times.
The drip, drip, drip of war against many of these tribes was something I didn’t understand before. If we couldn’t or didn’t get a tribe to do what we wanted the first time we’d just keep coming back over and over again. No peace was a final peace, it seems, until finally the Native Americans took whatever we were willing to give them. It seemed that as soon as we were done with one tribe, or one area, we would go on to another tribe and go to war against them until we ground them down too. Until we ground them all down.
Here’s the PDF of my spreadsheet, if you’d like to browse it. I was only able to put one link in each cell, so if you want to read about a war that isn’t linked just look amongst the other tribes to find a link to the war.
Of course there was a vibrant civilization here, it was nearly 150 years after the start of our country before it was finally beaten. Before that, more than 150 years as well.
All this data is off of Wikipedia, so it is should all be considered approximate. However, I think the greater point still stands…