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For more than 250 years, as Europeans sought to control newly settled American land, wars raged between Native Americans and the frontiersmen who encroached on their territory, resources and trade. Known as the American Indian Wars, the conflicts involved Indigenous people, the English, French, Spanish and U.S. Army and ended with massive Native American population and tribal land losses and the forced relocation of survivors to reservations.

Below is a timeline of the most significant battles and massacres of the wars.

17th Century 

Jamestown Massacre: March 22, 1622

As part of the decades-long Powhatan Wars, Powhatan Chief Opechancanough led an attack that left nearly 350 of some 1,200 colonists dead. The English retaliated, attacking Native American villages, raiding and destroying crops and forcing them from their land.

Pequot War: 1636-37

With the British competing to control the fur and wampum trade in Colonial Connecticut, tensions led to a series of conflicts, including a May 26, 1637, attack by English militia and Narragansett and Mohegan tribe members against the Pequot at Mystic, ending in hundreds of Pequot deaths, many of them children and women. Fearing more attacks, many Pequots left their territory and the war ended with the Treaty of Hartford, which dissolved the Pequot nation.

Beaver Wars: 1640-1701

Coveted beaver pelts, traded with the English for firearms, tools and other supplies, were the focus of the bloody 60-year fur trade battle led by the Iroquois Confederacy of Ohio's St. Lawrence River against French-supported Algonquian-speaking tribes.

King Philip's War: July 4, 1675 to August 12, 1676

The execution of three of Wampanoag Chief Metacom's men, in addition to increasing encroachment on Native American land, spurred one of the deadliest conflicts per capita in American history. Also known as the Great Narragansett War, Metacom, named King Philip by the English, took place in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut and coastal Maine. Metacom and his coalition retaliated, attacking colonists and settlements, who were aided by the Mohawks and Mohegans. It ended with Metacom’s death on August 12, 1676.

Pueblo Revolt: August 10 to September 21, 1680

With rising tensions among the Spanish and Pueblo Indians in New Mexico, the Pueblos, led by Po-Pay, sieged Santa Fe, destroying Spanish settlements and forcing the colonists into a 12-year retreat.

King William's War: 1689-1697

In what's also called the First French and Indian War, England, allied with the Iroquois Confederacy, battled France, with support from the Wabanaki Confederacy, for fur trade and territory control in Colonial Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York.

February 8, 1690: Schenectady Massacre

Retaliating against an earlier attack by Iroquois in New France, French militia, with members of the Mohawk and Algonquin tribes, attacked the Dutch and English settlement in Colonial New York, leaving 60 dead and nearly 30 captured.

18th Century

Queen Anne's War: 1702-1713

Known as the War of Spanish Succession in Europe, the conflict also took hold in North America, with English colonists fighting the French, both sides with Indian allies, for territory in New England, the colony of South Carolina and Spanish Florida. 

One particularly bloody massacre was the Raid of Deerfield on February 29, 1704, when the British-ruled Massachusetts settlement was attacked by the French and their American Indian allies, leaving approximately 50 dead, while 100 survivors were made to walk to Canada in heavy snow, causing more deaths. The war ended with the Treaty of Utrecht, although fighting in the colonies continued.

Tuscarora War: 1711-1715

In what's called Colonial North Carolina's bloodiest war, the Iroquoian-speaking Tuscarora people and allies battled English colonists as the settlers sought to expand their territory. In the end, the English won, with 200 colonists and 1,000 Indians killed, and some 1,000 captured Tuscaroras sold into slavery.

Yamasee War: 1715-1718

Rebelling against their former allies, the Yamasee tribe, aligned with the Catawba and others, attacked the English in South Carolina colonies, triggered by treaty violations, encroachments and fur trade battles. Once defeated, many Indians retreated to Florida, later forming the Seminole tribe.

French and Indian War: 1754-1763

George Washington and the French and Indian War

Illustration showing George Washington in the midst of fighting during the French and Indian War, a conflict between the British and the French, aided by their respective Native American allies, 1754.

Also known as the Seven Years' War, the imperial conflict pitted France and its Native American allies against Great Britain, aligned with the Iroquois Confederacy. While England controlled the 13 colonies, France claimed land from Louisiana and beyond. Despite early French wins, the war resulted in huge territorial gains for Britain, concluding with the Treaty of Paris in 1763, ending the Revolutionary War.

Cherokee War: 1759-1761

Tensions between the Cherokee and their former British allies grew in the Carolinas, due to attacks by the settlers, betrayals and land encroachment. The Cherokee retaliated, attacking settlements, but large armies of British troops overpowered the tribe.

Pontiac's Rebellion: 1763-1765

Starting in the Ohio River Valley and Great Lakes and spreading as far east as Virginia, British forces battled members of the Algonquian, Iroquoian, Muskogean and Siouan-speaking tribes over trade restrictions, land encroachment and more. The American Indian attacks against British forts were largely a success, and led to England ceding to Native American demands. But the conflict also brought new resentment and hostilities against the Indians by the colonists.

Lord Dunmore's War: 1774

Named for Virginia's royal governor, the Virginia militia attacked the Shawnee Indians of Kentucky, who were defending their land. A key conflict of the war was the October 10, 1774, Battle of Point Pleasant, where the militia defeated the Shawnee in present-day West Virginia. The ensuing treaty led to land south of the Ohio River being ceded to the British.

American Revolution Era

Chickamauga Cherokee Wars: 1776-1794

In a struggle to keep their territory, the Cherokee, led by Chief Dragging Canoe, fought against American settlers throughout the Revolutionary War, across Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia. Post-1786, the Cherokee joined the Chief Tecumseh-organized Western Confederacy against Anglo settlers. The colonial militia responded to attacks with large forces, killing hundreds of Cherokees and selling those captured into slavery. In exchange for peace, the Cherokee were forced to surrender large areas of land and those who remained were later moved to Oklahoma.

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Battle of Fallen Timbers: August 20, 1794

Considered the final battle of the American Revolution, the U.S. military, led by Maj. Gen. Anthony Wayne, successfully fought off a confederacy of American Indians, led by Chief Michikinikwa (Little Turtle), allied with the British in Ohio. The battle resulted in the Treaty of Greenville, opening a wide swath of land (that would become Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin) to be settled.

Battle of Tippencanoe, War of 1812

Battle of Tippecanoe: November 7, 1811

The Battle of Tippecanoe.

The Shawnee battle American soldiers at the Battle of Tippecanoe.

With Maj. Gen. William Henry Harrison at the helm, U.S. forces fought the Shawnee Indians who attacked an American camp along the Tippecanoe River in central Indiana. The Shawnee, led by Laulewasikau (called “The Prophet”), the brother of Tecumseh, were defeated, although casualties were nearly equal. Harrison's role led to his landslide presidential victory in 1840 and his slogan, "Tippecanoe and Tyler, too!"

War of 1812

The United States and Great Britain went to war over trade and maritime sovereignty, with Indigenous nations joining forces with the British. Fought on land and at sea, it ended in a draw with the Treaty Ghent, ratified in 1815, and leaving the British in control of Canada and its maritime rights, while the U.S. earned respect across Europe. The war, however, led to increased western expansion, the death of Tecumseh and further threats to Native Americans.

Battle of Horseshoe Bend: March 27, 1814

Leading up to the battle, members of the Creek nation were engaged in a civil war, with the Lower Creek siding with the Americans and the Upper Creeks holding onto their autonomy. As American forces sought to expand their settlements into the southeast, Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson, with more than 3,300 men, including Cherokees and Lower Creek members, attacked the village of Tehopeka, held by the Upper Creek Red Sticks. Breaching the village's fortification, more than 800 of 1,000 Red Sticks were killed and survivors were forced to give more than 20 million acres, or half of present-day Alabama, to the U.S.

First Seminole War: 1816-1818

With Gen. Andrew Jackson at the command, U.S. soldiers attacked the Florida and southern Georgia villages of Seminoles and Black Seminoles, free African Americans and runaway slaves, seeking control of the territory and to recapture slaves. Jackson's victories and destruction of Seminole villages led Spain to cede Florida to the U.S. under the Transcontinental Treaty, giving it control of the area and the power to relocate tribes to Oklahoma.

Arikara War: June 2, 1823

The first Plains Indian War, took place west of the Missouri River between the semi-nomadic Arikara of South Dakota and the U.S, which was joined by Sioux allies. Facing encroachment, the Arikara had attacked members of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, killing about 15 trappers. The U.S. retaliated, and when the tribe retreated, its village was burned and destroyed. The Arikara later returned and rebuilt, but most of its population was decimated by smallpox in 1830.

Second Seminole War: 1835-1842

A dispute over terms of a treaty to relocate Seminoles from their established reservation near Lake Okeechobee in Florida caused a drawn-out, bloody war of resistance that ended with the loss of 1,500 U.S. soldiers and 3,000 Seminoles removed from their land, with the fewer than 500 remaining left to die in the Everglades.

Third Seminole War (1855-1858)

Also called Billy Bowlegs' War, as the Seminole leader was called, the war a series of attacks and raids over land, eventually causing the tribe's population to shrink to around 200 by the conflict's end.

Black Hawk War: April to August 1832

Sauk warrior Chief Black Hawk, leading approximately 1,500 Sauk, Kickapoo and Meskwaki tribal members across the Mississippi River from Iowa to reclaim surrendered land in Illinois, lead to an attack by the U.S. Army, allied with other tribes and state militias. Participating in the war that left nearly all of the Northwest Territory to the settlers were Abraham Lincoln, Zachary Taylor and Jefferson Davis.

Comanche War: 1840

The high plains Comanche tribe of Central and West Texas had fought against frontiersmen for years, but facing smallpox, war with the Arapaho and Cheyenne and conflicts with the Texas Rangers, leaders agreed to enter treaty negotiations. The negotiations, which involved the Comanche turning over white captives, turned ugly, with 35 Camanches killed and 30 more imprisoned. Retaliating with Mexican and Kiowan allies, the tribe attacked and destroyed the port town of Linnville. But Texas forces eventually defeated the tribe, forcing members to leave the frontier.

Sand Creek Massacre, Battle of Little Bighorn

Sand Creek Massacre: November 29, 1864

Sand Creek Massacre, 1864.

Sand Creek Massacre, 1864. (Credit: DeAgostini/Getty Images)

In the midst of the Civil War and a long-waging battle for control of eastern Colorado's Great Plains, a unit of some 675 volunteer U.S. soldiers laid siege against a Cheyenne and Arapaho village of approximately 750 along Sand Creek. As the American Indians attempted to escape, the soldiers charged after them, slaughtering 230, most of whom were unarmed women, children and elderly. Soldiers returned the next day to scalp and desecrate their bodies.

Red Cloud’s War: 1866-1867

Following the discovery of gold in Montana, pioneer John Bozeman blazed the Bozeman Trail, built on American Indian territory in the Wyoming Territory. Angered by the encroachment and presence of U.S. forces, and a failed treaty meeting, Red Cloud, leader of the Oglala, teamed with Arapaho and Cheyenne, including Crazy Horse and High-Back-Bone, to ambush travelers along the trail, as well as U.S. military. 

The Treaty of Fort Laramie of 1868, considered the sole American Indian war win against the United States, granted the Sioux the right to settle in the Black Hills as part of the Great Sioux Reservation.

Battle of the Little Bighorn: June 25-26, 1876

After an Army expedition led by Lt. Col. George Custer discovered gold in the Black Hills of South Dakota, within the Great Sioux Reservation, and offers to sell the territory were rejected by the Sioux Nation, the Treaty of Fort Laramie was quickly abandoned. Custer, with 209 men, attacked a Sioux, Arapaho and Cheyenne encampment in Montana's Little Bighorn River, resulting in the deaths of Custer and all his men. 

Although "Custer's Last Stand" was a win for the tribes, the battle led the U.S. to force native Americans to live on reservations and take back control of the Black Hills, an action that is still disputed.

Red River War: 1874-1875

In the final major southern Plains Indian and U.S. Army battle, members from a number of Indian tribes, including Arapaho, Cheyenne, Comanche, Kiowa and Kataka, who had been settled on reservations in Oklahoma and Texas, broke away to attack white settlers. In response, some 3,000 troops led by Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, attacked up to 700 Indians in Texas's Red River valley in more than a dozen battles before the surviving Indians surrendered, returning to their reservations.

Wounded Knee Massacre: December 29, 1890

Two weeks after Sitting Bull was killed by Indian police, hundreds of unarmed Kakota Sioux men, women and children were massacred by Army soldiers who had arrived at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota to stop Tribal members from performing Ghost Dance rituals. One of the final U.S. military actions against northern Plains Native Americans, 20 medals of honor were awarded to soldiers who took part in the carnage.

Sources

Indian Wars Campaigns, U.S. Army Center of Military History
Battlefields of the Pequot War, American BattleField Protection Project
Beaver Wars, Ohio History Connection
America’s Most Devastating Conflict: King Philip’s War, Connecticuthistory.org
1680—the Pueblo Revolt, Library of Congress
French and Indian War/Seven Years’ War, 1754–63, U.S. Office of the Historian
Pontiac's Rebellion, Washington Library
Autumn 1811: The Battle of Tippecanoe, National Parks Service
The Seminole Wars, Seminole Nation Museum
Sand Creek Massacre, National Parks Service

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