1850s - War with Cheyenne

      With the buffalo being driven to extinction by white hunters, the Cheyenne and Arapaho pushed back.  Half a dozen violent encounters took place between Indians and settlers on the Oregon Trail.  The federal government was not honoring its obligations under the Fort Laramie treaty, and something had to be done about protecting the buffalo or the Indians would soon perish.

click here for more on the war with the Cheyenne

       Jefferson Davis' last official act as secretary of war was to direct a campaign against the Cheyenne in order to punish them for hostilities against whites settlers .  The Cheyenne must be '"severely punished," said Davis, "and no trifling or partial punishment will suffice." 

Homesteaders Crossing Indian Lands

   Settlers unlawfully encroaching on Cheyenne lands provoked open conflcts on the high plains that ultimately led to open warfare. The federal government found itself in the untenable position of protecting white settlers guilty of violating treaties and while going to war against those who had upheld American laws.  "We do not understand you white people," said the great Crow chief, Plenty-Coups.  "You break your laws and you violate your religion.  You fool no one but yourselves."     

         By right of the treaty at Horse Creek, the Cheyenne and Arapaho held title to the land between the North Platte and the Arkansas rivers.  In 1854, the eastern boundary of their territory had crumbled under the weight of settlers in the Kansas Territory, and the federal government did nothing to protect their resources.  The migration routes of the buffalo - across the central plains of Kansas and Nebraska - was now broken in two by emigrant trails which the buffalo would not cross.  Their winter camping grounds on the eastern slope of the Rockies had been taken over by gold diggers.   By 1859, more than 100,000 'fifty-niner's' were camped in the Pike's Peak country.

         At the conclusion of the Horse Creek Treaty, treaty commissioner Thomas Fitzpatrick predicted that the freedom of the Plains Indian would be vanquished by the white man in one more lifetime.  His prediction, only five years old, was already coming to pass.

         Western historian S.J. Killoren wrote : "It was one of the most flagrant and serious violations of the guarantees made to the Plains tribes by the Fort Laramie treaty.  The invasion of Indian country by settlers was specifically prohibited by the Kansas/Nebraska Act of 1854.  Also, where were the white troops to protect Indian rights?  And while this was a depredation far more excessive than any Indian attack on an emigrant wagon train, it occasioned no government condemnation.  The War department fielded no expeditionary force to punish and remove the invaders and thus maintain the promised peaceful coexistence.  The Indian office, with direct responsibility, never filed a single complaint with the Department of War, or petitioned Congress to enforce treaty obligations.  William Bent noted in 1859 that gold miners had quickly taken over choice Indian country and brought "many causes of irritation" to the land's owners.  Now they were being pressed into a small territory that was beset by the constant parade of emigrants from Texas, Kansas, and the Platte, and bisected into even smaller segments by criss-crossing roads." 

         Bent foreshadowed things to come in his annual report to Washington: "A smothered passion for revenge agitates these Indians, perpetually fomented by the failure of food, the encircling encroachments of the white population, and the exasperating sense of decay and impending extinction with which they are surrounded."