The “Indian Territory” to which tribes were removed faced more demands by Whites who continued to move westward, taking land, killing buffalo, and further weakening the economic viability of the tribes. Constant fighting ensued as Indians valiantly but unsuccessfully resisted white threats to their civilization. The last battle that could be called a victory for the Indians was the Battle of the Little Bighorn, also known as Custer's Last Stand. On June 25 and June 26, 1876, led by the great Sioux chief Sitting Bull, the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho people defeated the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army under George Armstrong Custer. It really turned out to be the Indians' last stand.
On the morning of December 29, 1890, the Sioux chief Big Foot and some 350 of his followers camped on the banks of Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota. Surrounding their camp was a force of U.S. troops charged with the responsibility of arresting Big Foot and disarming his warriors. Suddenly the sound of a shot pierced the early morning gloom. Within seconds the charged atmosphere erupted as Indian braves scurried to retrieve their discarded rifles and troopers fired volley after volley into the Sioux camp. Clouds of gun smoke filled the air as men, women and children scrambled for their lives. Many ran for a ravine next to the camp only to be cut down in a withering cross fire. When the smoke cleared and the shooting stopped, approximately 300 Sioux were dead, Big Foot among them. Twenty-five soldiers lost their lives. The massacre at Wounded Knee effectively ended the Indian Wars.
Hindsight is always 20-20, but no matter the pressures for national expansion that may have prevailed at the time, what we did to Native-American Indians in the United States was shameful. The white man's "certainty" that his way was the right and inevitable way justified policies that eradicated centuries-old cultures in the blink of an eye. In the time these tribes flourished, the air and water were pure, the game plentiful, and the land easily supported the people whose sacred stewardship kept the earth the way they found it for future generations. The earth on the White man's watch has not fared as well. We have exterminated hundreds of species of birds, fish and animals, torn up the hills for the coal they held, and polluted the water and air, all in the name of progress.
I've heard people joke that with all the new casinos being built, the Indians are finally getting their own back. Sadly, that is not possible. I'm sorry that when I was a kid, for all those years and through all those B movies, I was cheering for the wrong team.
(*This information is taken partially from from "The Quest for Quality Education Report of the American Indian/Alaska Native Concerns Study Committee" June 2, 2000)
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