tendency to become involved in seemingly endless wars dates back
to 1866, just after the Civil War ended. The absence of a military
presence on the western frontiers had allowed the Indian tribes
to wreak havoc on settlers and travelers while raiding at will across
Immediately after the Civil War ended, military units were dispatched
west to quell the attacks. In 1866, an estimated 270,000 Indians,
parts of 125 distinct groups, roamed within the U.S. boundaries.
This was the start of a war fought mostly in the southwest, in which
more than 1,000 engagements were fought over a 30-year period.
During this time, recorded and verified white casualties both civilian
and military, numbered 2,571. Reports of these same engagements
estimate 5,519 hostile Indians were killed. This is according to
The Historical Atlas of the American West published by The University
of Oklahoma Press.
Many reasons can be argued for this extended 30-year struggle. The
one obvious reason was neither the white nor the Indian sides made
any effort to understand each other's cultures or settle their differences.
Each was determined to dominate the other.
of the time were trained to fight in the conventional Old World
traditions. The Indians knew nothing of these tactics and fought
a determined guerrilla war. Using their intimate knowledge of the
terrain and living off the land as they fought, they left the military
struggling to catch up while suffering from lack of supplies and
relief caused by the political budgetary process. Doesn't this all
sound somewhat familiar today?
A little-known fact, brought about by General George Crook, occurred
when the U.S. Congress passed an act allowing the military to hire
native Indians as scouts, not to exceed 1,000 in number, to guide
and aid the Army in locating hostile groups. The reason for the
need of the act as stated by General Crook, "When we use Indian
scouts we find hostiles. When we don't use Indian scouts we don't
Obviously, the Indian scouts knew the terrain and the antagonist's
thinking. Knowing the culture and being able to live off the land
while scouting made them invaluable to the military.
Why did some of the Indian scouts turn against their contemporaries?
The many tribes had warred against each other for centuries and
this was a form of revenge. Others needed the job and money to send
back to their families already living on reservations. A psychological
side benefit, not realized at first, was the fact the scouts turning
against the hostiles, was demoralizing to the hunted.
After the first
few very successful engagements using scouts, hundreds of hostile
groups surrendered and were sent to the reservations. Only a few
renegade, hard-core bands continued to fight. Within a few months
all Indian groups were subdued.
records recognize the success of using Indian scouts because of
racism and corruption among officers and Indian agents. However,
enough records survived to leave no doubt the use of Indian scouts
helped end a long and costly war.
© Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" January
31, 2008 Column
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