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America Great Indian Nations

Americas Great Indian Nations Full Length Documentary Otosection Native Americans American Lakota Sioux Tribes United States Of First Wp Img Indians

For their part, the Taino Indians of the Caribbean thought that Columbus and his sailors were gods who had come from heaven. But within a single generation, the peaceful kingdom of the Taino Indians which Columbus first saw would be gone forever, wasted by disease, slavery, torture, and war. This new world that Columbus found was in fact a very ancient place and the people he called Indios had lived upon the continent for thousands of years. Their ancestors were its true discoverers, ice age hunters who'd followed the rising sun east across the land bridge from Asia to discover a continent ruled by glaciers and great-horned bison.

When the ice melted, nomadic tribes pushed southward into the green heart of the continent, following the stars, the seasons, and the herds. They peopled the mountain ranges, the verdant river valleys, and the painted desert canyons. They fashioned languages and customs as varied as the feathers of the birds, yet between them ran spiritual roots buried deep in the earth. And then after centuries beyond number, the white man came in search of wealth and power. Two million Indians would endure four centuries of struggle before the sun finally set upon their free dominion.

These European settlers came in wave upon wave to occupy Native American lands. In the bellies of their ships, the Europeans carried horses, guns, and disease, and in their hearts, they carried a belief in their destiny to rule the Americas from the Atlantic to the Pacific. As the whites pressed ever westward, they finally waged an absolute war on the Indians that would close the frontier and usher in the white man's era of railroads, telegraphs, and mining. Yet the history of America is in many ways the history of the American Indian. For they gave the Europeans the skills and knowledge needed to survive in the new world.

These are the stories of the mightiest Indian nations. The Iroquois of upstate New York were a unique confederation of six Indian nations. Their great law of peace attracted the attention of American colonists who were forging their own new country. The Seminoles of Florida, who gathered together free Indians and black slaves fleeing the northern lands. Together, they built a patchwork nation of peoples mirroring the melting pot of America.

The Navajo, whose powerful spiritual link to their land inspired a courageous defense of their territory in the great southwest. The fiercely independent Cheyenne, the beautiful people of the planes, whose families were massacred by US Army soldiers at Sand Creek. And their brothers, the Teton Lakota, the defiant warriors of the west who united with the Cheyenne to hold back the tide of western expansion for 50 years. These stories tell only a part of the American Indians' history, yet they paint a picture of the vastness of their domain, the depth of their beliefs and hopes, and the brave defiance of these men and women as they walked into the evening of their time of freedom on this earth. In upstate New York lie the land where 100 rivers and lakes weave through dense green forests and misty, languid swamps.

Towering above this lush landscape are the smoky heights of the great Adirondack Mountains. This is the land where the people of the longhouse, the mighty Iroquois nation, took root. The Iroquois were a powerful confederacy of five separate Indian nations and in their time, were among the most feared and dominant Indians in North America. Their unique confederation was a model of democracy. Some have even said that parts of our own Constitution were borrowed of the Iroquois great law of peace.

But the five nations of Iroquois didn't always live in peace. Before they came together, these nations, the Mohawk, the Oneida, the Onondaga, the Cayuga, and the Seneca were often at war with each other until by the 14th century, their killing threatened to destroy them all. At this dreadful time, a great peacemaker came from the north, proclaiming, The word that I bring is that all people shall love one another and live together in peace. Together with the great Mohawk chief Hiawatha, the peacemaker traveled to each of the five nations to proclaim his message. But within the Onondaga nation, there lived an evil chieftain named Tadodaho who terrorized his people with deadly magic. His face was cruel and his hair was matted like a mass of writhing snakes.

He scorned these peacemakers, but finally, the peacemaker and Hiawatha held a council with Tadodaho and worked their own magic on him. They asked him to become the head chief of the new confederacy. Tadodaho agreed and the great piece was begun. The establishment of the confederacy brought a newfound sense of security to the Iroquois. The times of peace were good and the creator provided the people with their three sisters, corn, beans, and squash, to sustain them.

The women of each clan were the farmers and every spring, they planted the three sisters in the fertile fields while the men hunted and fished in the forests and lakes that surrounded their land. Women held great power for the Iroquois traced their ancestry through their mothers' lineage and the head mothers, not the men, appointed the chiefs of each clan. Growing seasons ended with great festivals of Thanksgiving. The gathering of maple sap, the harvest of berries and beans and the cutting of the corn were all celebrated with feasts and religious dances. Iroquois history was recorded on wampum belts, woven with beads of shells.

Every council decision and every treaty with the whites was sealed with an exchange of wampum. The dust fan wampum was one of the most revered, brought out whenever the Iroquois constitution was recited. The founding of the confederacy brought peace between the five nations and led to peace throughout the nations of the northeast. But in the late 1600s, beaver skins were a prized commodity in Europe, rivaling the Europeans' lust for gold. Realizing this, the Iroquois sought to monopolize the trade in pelts.

They played one European power against the other and dictated terms to other tribes eager to trade. They challenged their old enemies, the Mohicans, for the right to trade exclusively with the Dutch. Then they turned their attentions north, where the French were trading with the Hurons along the St. Lawrence. The Iroquois devastated the Hurons and absorbed many Hurons into their confederacy.

Next they turned west to the Erie nation. In a bloody three-year war, the Erie were defeated and also absorbed into the confederacy. Now expanding to the south, the Iroquois encountered the Tuscarora tribe in the Carolinas. The Tuscaroras were being driven from their lands by white settlers, so the Iroquois invited them into their great confederacy. The Tuscaroras migrated north and became the sixth nation of the Iroquois.

By the mid-1700s, the Iroquois great law of peace was attracting the attention of some of the most far-sighted American colonists. Benjamin Franklin, who worked as British envoy to the Indians, was deeply impressed with the Iroquois form of government. His contributions to the US Constitution may have come from the Iroquois principles. In 1763, the English beat the French and took control of all French holdings south of Canada but trouble was brewing with the British colonies and soon the Iroquois would be swept into the American Revolution. Formerly, the Iroquois had pledged to remain neutral in the Revolutionary War, but the Mohawk warrior Joseph Brandt convinced many of the Iroquois men to fight for the British.

For the first time since the great peace, Iroquois fought Iroquois. The Mohawks, Senecas, Cayugas, and Onondagas fought with the British while the Oneidas and Tuscaroras sided with the colonies. When the English finally fell in 1783, the new United States of America treated the entire Iroquois confederacy as a conquered nation, forcing the Iroquois to surrender most of their territory. Now, much of the precious land that sustained their life for 1000 years was gone and the scourges of reservation life appeared. Drinking and idleness led to violent fights between once-proud warriors.

In their poverty, they were forced to sell even more of their land, the whites had finally robbed them of their pride and dignity. By the end of the 18th century, the spirits of the Iroquois people had fallen to new depths. At this dark hour, an unlikely prophet came to them. Handsome Lake, a Seneca chief and a notorious drunk, fell one day into a stupor so deep his pulse stopped. Moments later, Handsome Lake awoke from near death and revealed a great vision.

Three messengers came with a command from the creator. These messengers condemned whiskey, abortion, and witchcraft and called for a return to the old ways of living before the whites came. The Iroquois people were profoundly affected and his teachings became known far and wide as the longhouse religion. But the displacement of the Iroquois from their land continued. Tragically, between 1830 and 1846, the US government carried out the removal of Indians west of the Mississippi.

In spite of a series of land swindles and broken treaties, the Iroquois managed to hold onto small parcels of their land in New York and Canada. By the mid-1800s, the Iroquois were adapting to the white man's culture. A few children attended school off the reservations and some Iroquois were finding their way into the American mainstream. Eli S. Parker, a well-educated Seneca, enlisted in the army during the Civil War and rose to the rank of brigadier general.

As Ulysses S. Grant's secretary, Parker wrote out the surrender document signed at Appamattox Courthouse. After the war, when Grant became president, he appointed Eli Parker as the first Native American Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Today, the rich legacy of the Iroquois lives on. The great confederacy of six nations not only stamped its mark on American history but also influenced the US Constitution.

The Iroquois also gave the country of Canada its name, from their word meaning community. The people of the longhouse, once the mightiest confederation of Indians in North America continue to burn their council fire and to hold onto their sacred unity. In that council flame burns the memory of 1000 struggles and the sacrifice of countless chiefs and clan mothers who fought to keep their people free. In a great peninsula at the edge of the continent lies a land of lush green forests and deep meandering swamps. Bordered on the east by the mighty Atlantic and on the west by the Gulf of Mexico, this is Florida, land of the great Seminole nation.

It was here that the Seminoles fought the longest resistance to US expansion by any Indian nation. It took three wars, half the US army, and over $30 million to subdue the proud and defiant Seminole. To this day, the Seminoles remain the only Indian nation that never signed a document of surrender with the US government. Florida's first people, the Timucua, Calusa, and other tribes were virtually wiped out by war and disease brought by the Spanish and British in the 16th and 17th centuries. Then in the early 1700s, a wave of refugees came to Florida from the north, fleeing from the expanding British colonies.

They were Creek Indians driven off their lands by settlers and African slaves and other Indians escaping slavery. In the lush grasslands of Spanish Florida, these Indians and blacks began to merge into one people known as the Seminoles. Their name came from the Creek word seminole, meaning runaway or wild. And for many years, these runaways lived together in the untamed land of northern Florida. Blacks formed their own towns side by side with Indians, some free, some enslaved to Indian masters.

Life centered around Seminole towns or tawas. They worshiped the master of breath, embodied in the sun, and took names for their clans from the world around them, names like alligator, turtle, snake, and maize. Every summer, at harvest time, the Seminole people gathered in town squares to celebrate the new year with the green corn festival. After eight days of dancing, sweat bath, and purification, the priests swept the old ashes from the fire pits, then they started a new fire in the town square and all past grievances were forgiven. Medicine men carried hot coals from the town fire to each home and on every hearth, the people roasted green corn.

In the warmer climate of Florida, Seminole farmers began to grow large groves of oranges and many learned the ways of horse ranching and slave holding from their European neighbors. The Seminole chief, King Payne, even owned a plantation with 20 slaves, 1500 head of cattle, and 400 horses. But then in 1776, American colonists revolted against British rule. England created chaos by proclaiming freedom for all African slaves. More and more African runaways fled south to join the Seminoles.

American slaveholders grew angry and nervous about whole towns of black Indians living at their southern doorstep. After the Revolutionary War, Americans began crossing the Florida border to settle on Indian lands. Slave traders raided Seminole villages, kidnapping anyone who looked black. Infuriated, the Seminoles struck back. In 1817, the American government sent Army General Andrew Jackson down south on a mission to recapture runaway slaves.

Jackson's troops illegally crossed Spain's Florida border and burned Seminole villages, confiscated livestock, and destroyed food stores. The Seminole people fought back. Their numbers tripled by new Creek refugees from the north. That November of 1817, the Seminoles ambushed a boat carrying women, children, and 40 soldiers on the Apalachicola River and all but 13 whites were shot dead. This marked the beginning of the First Seminole War.

Once again, Andrew Jackson marched into Florida. Jackson and his troops destroyed more Seminole towns and the Seminoles fled further south. Jackson's victory in the First Seminole War led Spain to sign a document with the United States for the sale of Florida. The Seminoles were coerced by the US government to sign a treaty and were pressed onto a large reservation in central Florida. These new lands were swampy and unfit for farming, game was scarce, and government rations in short supply.

The officer in charge of the reservation reported, They are in the most miserable situation and unless the government assists them, many of them will starve to death. In this hour of desperation, one warrior rose to lead the Seminoles in their second war of resistance. His name was Osceola, and he soon became one of the great leaders in American Indian history. In 1834, the government tried to get the Seminole chiefs to sign a treaty for their removal to Oklahoma. Government agents spread the treaty on the table and waited tensely. Suddenly, Osceola jumped up and plunged his knife into the treaty, saying, The only way I will sign is with this. A government agent named Wily Thompson arrested Osceola and the chief shouted as he was dragged away, I will remember the hour, the agent has had his day, I will have mine. Osceola was soon released from prison and with his great skill as a speaker, convinced his people that they must resist.

In December of 1835, Osceola ambushed and murdered the Indian agent Wily Thompson. That same day, Seminole chief Mikonobe led an attack on government troops under the command of Major Francis Dade near present-day Okalla. 180 Seminole warriors ambushed Dade's infantry unit. The entire army command was soon annihilated, with only three known survivors. The Dade Massacre was a shocking defeat for the US Army and brought down the full fury of the government.

The Second Seminole War had now begun. To the whites, Osceola said, You have guns and so have we. Your men will fight and so will ours until the last drop of the Seminoles' blood has moistened the dust of our hunting grounds. At the end of a bloody and futile year of fighting, the US had nearly 1/2 of its army in Florida. General Jessup called Osceola to meet under a flag of truce but then double-crossed him and threw the great leader into prison in St. Augustine.

Three months later, broken-hearted and severely ill, Osceola died in prison in Fort Moultrie, South Carolina. Osceola's death was a horrible setback to the Seminole resistance and the army continued its relentless war against the people, pushing the Seminoles deeper and deeper into Florida's southern swamps and everglades. Perhaps 500 Seminoles remained in Florida, nearly invisible in the deep swamps. Their lands often covered with water, they lived by hunting and gathering and by raising vegetables and small plots above the water line. They built elevated homes and they learned to avoid the deadly water moccasins that occupied their swamps.

But civilization occasionally discovered isolated bands. In 1855, in an effort to agitate the remaining Seminole people, a US surveying party raided the garden of Billy Bowlegs, the last of the Seminole chiefs. The government agents confiscated what they could carry and burned the rest. Bowlegs led his people on in resistance against the army for three years but finally, outnumbered and out of resources, Bowlegs and his followers surrendered and were sent west of the Mississippi. Yet several hundred Seminoles managed to stay behind in the vast, uncharted everglades.

The government finally gave up pursuit of these last free Seminole Indians and to this day, they never formally surrendered. Like the melting pot that became America, the Seminoles are a patchwork of different peoples and cultures. They are Indians, African slaves, and other refugees united in a struggle to create a separate nation. A proud and defiant people, the Seminoles remain today the only unconquered Indian nation in the United States. In the mystical land of the great southwest, jagged pinnacles touch the clouds and giant sandstone beauts rise dramatically from the desert floor.

It is here where the Navajo nation carved its civilization many centuries ago. The Navajos' ancient ancestors came to this land from northwest Canada over 700 years ago and settled in the red rock canyons of what is now northern Arizona and New Mexico. They invaded the homelands of the cliff-dwelling Anasazi, who they drove south towards Mexico. The Navajo created a unique culture based on raising crops, herding livestock, weaving, and crafting jewelry. While white settlers avoided this dry, rugged landscape, the Navajo held it in special reverence.

The land became a source of sustenance and spiritual nourishment. They learned to grow patches of corn in desert soil and planted peach orchards in canyon bottomlands. When Father Sky provided rain, Mother Earth provided fruit, grain, and pasture. The most common symbol of the Navajo spiritual link to the land was the hogan, a domed dwelling made of logs and earth. Hogans were used for both housing and ceremonial purposes, their entrances always faced east toward the rising sun.

Almost every act of Navajo life from the building of hogans to the planting of crops was ceremonial in nature, accompanied by songs and prayers. Sand paintings were part of many Navajo healing ceremonies and had the power to restore order to the world. These paintings were made by medicine men who sprinkled colored sand on the floor of a ceremonial hogan. The designs told stories from the Navajo creation myth, when the first holy people were miraculously produced from corn, rain, pollen, and precious stones by the gods and the winds. In the 1600s, the Spanish introduced sheep and horses to the Navajo.

They became among the southwest's most renowned herdsmen and riders. But women played a vital role in tribal life, too. Nearly every Navajo woman was skilled at hand weaving, using sheep's wool on pueblo looms. Their decorative rugs and blankets, with pattern designs or symbolic pictures, became known the world over. At the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, English-speaking whites moved into Navajo land.

The Navajo had been fighting Spanish-speaking intruders for 250 years. The Navajo stole sheep and horses from the Mexicans, who in turn captured Indians for slaves. The Navajo figured their enemies would be expelled from the new US territory of New Mexico. Instead, Washington gave the Mexicans the US citizenship it had denied the Navajo and allowed the slave trading to continue. The Indians could only read in growing anger as soldiers built their first military post in 1851.

In its name, the whites spoke their feelings for the Navajo, calling it Fort Defiance. The great Navajo chief Manuelito and his ally Barbancito were determined to sweep the fort and its people from their land. In 1860, they attacked Fort Defiance with 1000 warriors. Though their arrows were no match for musket fire, they convinced Washington that the Navajo would defend their homeland at all costs. General James Carlton, a ruthless army veteran who'd subdued the Mescalero Apaches, soon took command of Fort Defiance.

Carlton found Navajo land a princely realm, but of the Navajo people, he said they were wolves that run through the mountains and must be cleared away if the territory was to be open to settlement. So Carlton chose a new place for the Navajos, a flat and desolate wasteland far away on the Pecos River called Bosque Redondo. Here, guarded by soldiers from Fort Sumner, Carlton planned for the Navajo to become self-sufficient farmers. But Barbancito refused, saying, I will not go to the Bosque, I will never leave my country, not even if it means that I will be killed. Carlton chose his old friend Kit Carson to head the military campaign against the Navajos. Carson was reluctant at first, not wanting to fight the Indians he had traded and lived with in the past.

But the summer of 1863 found Colonel Kit Carson leading 1000 New Mexico volunteers to wage war against the Navajo who numbered more than 12,000. Carson knew the only way to conquer the Navajo was to scorch the very earth they lived upon and starve them into submission. Kit Carson's men destroyed most of the herds and crops between Fort Defiance and Canyon de Chelly in six months' time. In January 1864, Carson led 300 soldiers into the sheer-walled reaches of Canyon de Chelly, the last Navajo stronghold. The soldiers burned hogans, slaughtered livestock, destroyed cornfields, took women and children captive, and killed the men with their muskets.

Barbancito was captured but Manuelito escaped with 4000 members of his band. The 8000 Navajo who'd surrendered set out on the long walk, a terrible 300-mile journey to captivity at Bosque Redondo. Hungry, homesick, and nearly naked against the cold, 200 Navajo died along the way to the wasteland that General Carlton considered a fine reservation. But Indians who escaped the reservation told of a barren, drought-strick land where they lived like prairie dogs in burrows. Kit Carson continued to hunt those who were still free.

In September 1866, Chief Manuelito and 23 hungry, ragged warriors surrendered at a military post in northwestern New Mexico. His band had resisted capture for more than three years but now, they were too exhausted to fight on. The days of the free Navajo nation were over. By 1868, horrific reports of life at Bosque Redondo had created a public outcry. The land was desolate, the water unfit to drink, and government rations almost nonexistent.

2000 Navajo people died at the Bosque due to starvation and disease. The sooner it is abandoned and the Indians removed, the better, said the reservation superintendent. And so on June 1st, Manuelito, Barbancito, and five others met with army commander William Tecumseh Sherman to sign a treaty. When the Navajo leaders first saw Sherman, they were fearful of him because his face was the same as Carlton's, fierce and hairy with a cruel mouth. But his eyes were different, he had the eyes of a man who had suffered and seen much pain.

Sherman told the Navajo, My children, I will send you back to your homes. And so the government allowed the Navajo to return to a reservation in their old homelands. When we saw the top of the mountain from Albuquerque, said Manuelito, we felt like talking to the ground, we loved it so. The Navajo would never forget those four years of death and suffering at the Bosque Redondo, the fearing time, it was called. Over the years, the Navajo people fought countless battles to defend their territory and endured endless years of forced captivity. But they never lost their spiritual link to land. It is in this land and in the giant mountains that surround it and the sky above that the very soul of the Navajo can be found.

It was the Cheyenne and Teton Lakota who fought the hardest for their land and lives. And these two nations would be the last to ride in freedom across the Great Plains. Here, the vast prairies stretched from Texas to Canada and from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. As the mightiest of plains tribes in the 19th century, the Cheyenne and Teton Lakota shared a similar way of life. They were horse warriors who built teepee villages and they had many of the same ceremonies and rites.

And to each of them, the American bison was life, a gift from the great spirit. By 1850, millions of buffalo moved like a dark living sea across the land. This was truly the buffalo's kingdom, and the Indians who followed the herds cast only a small shadow under the sky. For the Teton Lakota and Cheyenne, the bison was endowed with supernatural powers and they took from the herds all they needed for their existence. They killed only enough animals to supply their needs for the winter, they stripped the meat carefully to dry in the sun, storing bone marrow and fat in skins, treating the sinews for bow strings and thread, and curing the hides for teepee covers, clothing, and moccasins.

The Cheyenne thought of themselves as the beautiful people. For centuries, they lived as farmers and potters in the great pine forests above the source of the Mississippi, but the Lakota and Ojibwas drove them onto the high plains in the 1700s. In time, they abandoned planting and followed the roaming buffalo. The Cheyenne were fiercely independent and were among the most feared warriors in the west. Their famous dog soldiers warrior society was a powerful military organization.

Half the warriors of each band were members and they roamed at will over a large territory, hunting and raiding. The Cheyenne were known for their advanced religious beliefs. They held a life-renewing sun dance ceremony every mid-summer after the tribes left winter camps and gathered for the buffalo hunt. It was their most important religious ritual, a thanksgiving to the mysterious power and the rebirth of life on earth, the return of the season of growth. But by the end of the Civil War, there was a force on the plains racing like a storm cloud from the east.

It would soon change the century old life of the Cheyenne people. Covered wagons streamed across the prairie, cattle grazed the grasslands, and whites began to slaughter buffalo for their hides and sometimes just for pleasure. Soon, hundreds of buffalo bones lay scattered on the southern planes, their uneaten flesh rotting in the hot prairie sun. After the territory of Colorado was created in 1861, whites wanted to open the entire land for settlement and to force the Cheyennes into submission. Colorado Governor John Evans declared war to press the Indians onto reservations.

The district military commander, Colonel John Chivington, ordered his men to burn villages and kill Cheyennes wherever and whenever found. This preacher turned soldier said, It is right and honorable to use any means under god's heaven to kill Indians that would kill women and children. But the Cheyenne peace chief Black Kettle said, It is not my intention or wish to fight the whites, I want to be friendly and peaceable and keep my band so. I want to live in peace. Black Kettle had once shook the hand of President Lincoln in Washington, and he prided himself that he had never led a raid against the settlers. In fall of 1864, Black Kettle and fellow chiefs met with Evans and Chivington. They convinced the Cheyenne to move to Fort Lion, where the Cheyenne could stay the winter under military protection.

So Black Kettle led 600 of his people to a camp in the broad valley of Sand Creek in Colorado, but there, in the gray dawn of November 29th, 1864, Chivington led his third cavalry on a senseless raid of murder and mutilation known as the Sand Creek Massacre. Most of Black Kettle's warriors were out hunting when 700 soldiers attacked the sleeping village. Black Kettle raised an American flag and a white banner over his teepee, but the troops shot everyone they found. Screaming Indians fled in all directions. A handful of warriors fought back and the skirmishing continued for four hours along the creek.

Then at noon, silence fell. 200 Cheyenne and Arapahoe were dead, 2/3 of them women and children. Nine chiefs had perished and though Black Kettle escaped unharmed, his wife was shot nine times and left for dead. Chivington's boys, as he called them, paraded through Denver, showing the scalps, severed arms and legs of the Indians. But rumors of the atrocities spread, terrible enough to outrage the American public.

Kit Carson, himself a battler of Indians, called it the action of a coward or a dog. Over the next three years, an alliance of Indians ravaged the South Platte Valley. They ripped down telegraph wires and pillaged stagecoach stations, ranches, military outposts, and towns. Scores of settlers were killed, their women and children dragged away as captives. Now public opinion turned back against the Indians and the United States launched a full-scale Indian war.

Black Kettle still hoped to spare his people and he led 80 families to a refuge south of the Arkansas River. By 1868, the Kansas military commander Philip Sheridan was convinced that the Cheyennes had to be punished. Sheridan ordered the brash and flamboyant lieutenant colonel George Armstrong Custer to proceed toward the Washita River, the supposed winter seat of the hostile tribes, to destroy their villages and ponies, to kill or hang all warriors and bring back all women and children. Four years after Sand Creek, history seemed to be thrown into a cruel and endless loop. Custer's elite seventh cavalry attacked a sleeping Cheyenne village south of the Arkansas River, where Black Kettle and his people were camped.

In a matter of minutes, 103 Cheyennes lay dead, including the great Black Kettle and his wife. Cheyenne prophet Sweet Medicine once foretold of years of darkness for his people, the end of the buffalo, and the coming of the white man, but he could not foresee how their days of roaming the prairie in freedom would end. The Cheyenne were herded onto a reservation in western Indian territory, where the warpath and the buffalo hunt was replaced by food rations and Christianity. But the land will always know the people who once walked its vast prairies and who hunted its sea of thundering bison. The Cheyenne were among the first to practice the concept of peaceful resistance.

Their advanced religious beliefs and spiritual devotion served them well in their struggle to remain free. Among Native Americans even today, the Cheyenne will always be known as the beautiful people of the plains. The most famous of North American Indians was the mighty Teton Lakota nation. They dominated the heart of the Great Plains from what is now Minnesota to Montana, from the upper Missouri River to the Platte River. They fiercely resisted the white man's rule for 50 years, holding back the tide of western expansion until they could fight no more.

The Lakota had originally come from the southeast woodlands, migrating along the Atlantic coast and then passing over the Great Lakes. They farmed and hunted in the upper Mississippi River area of Minnesota until finally settling in the Great Plains in the early 1700s. The Lakota built a free ranging lifestyle around two animals, the buffalo and the horse. They depended on the buffalo for food, clothing, and lodging. It was an animal endowed with supernatural powers, a gift from the wise one above.

The He Sapa, called by the settlers the Black Hills, became the sacred heart of the Lakota nation. Warriors traveled to He Sapa, sought visions, communed with the great spirit, and received their spiritual power or medicine. But Lakota medicine would be powerless in the face of the white man. By the early 1860s, the Lakota had lost most of their land through treaties, all that remained in their possession was the sacred He Sapa and some hunting grounds in Montana. Yet in 1866, the whites came to them again, this time for permission to make a great road through the Powder River country to the newly discovered gold fields of Montana.

The great Lakota chief Red Cloud hated the idea of an immigrant road through the Lakota's last hunting ranges. When the white man comes in my country, he leaves a trail of blood behind him. I have two mountains in that country, the Black Hills and the Bighorn Mountain. I want the great father to make no roads through them. The request for permission was only a sham. Soldiers were already on their way to secure the road with a line of forts.

Red Cloud put steel to his threat and for the next two years, the Lakota held the troops under virtual siege. No wagon train, civilian or military, was safe on the Bozeman trail and Lakota raids claimed 154 lives. In the spring of 1868, General William Tecumseh Sherman came to Fort Laramie to make a peace treaty with Red Cloud but the Ogallala leader sent a message saying, When we see the soldiers moving away and the forts abandoned, then I will come down and talk. Reluctantly, the war department complied. The Bozeman trail forts were abandoned. Red Cloud rode triumphantly into Fort Laramie and signed a treaty declaring Powder River Country and the Black Hills unceded Indian territory.

In return, Red Cloud promised to go on the reservation where he would never lift his hand against the whites again. For eight years, the Lakota would try to forget the whites. But the in summer of 1874, Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer led 1,200 men on a gold hunting expedition into the Black Hills. Custer sent reports to the eastern newspapers of gold from the grassroots down. The Indians readed a torrent of riotous prospectors pour into the sacred heart of their nation, in complete disregard for the treaty the whites had made.

When Washington tried to buy the Black Hills, the Ogallala war chief Crazy Horse replied, One does not sell the earth upon which the people walk. The Hunkpapa chief Sitting Bull warned, The Black Hills belong to me. If the whites try to take them, I will fight. Unable to buy the Black Hills, President Grant sent orders to the Lakota to report to an agency or be declared hostile by the US and subject to military action. Meanwhile, the plains tribes were gathering at Rosebud Creek for the sacred sun dance. Amidst the chanting and swirling warriors, Sitting Bull made 50 skin offerings in each of his arms until his blood flowed around him and he fell into a trance. When he awoke, he told of a vision.

I saw soldiers and some Indians on horseback, coming down like grasshoppers with their heads down and their hats falling off. They were falling right into our camp. Soldiers were indeed coming. General Sheridan had ordered troops to southern Montana. The invincible George Armstrong Custer drove his exhausted seventh cavalry through the rolling hills of Montana in a relentless search for the Indians. Finally on the morning on June 25th, 1876, Custer found his prey camped in a valley of the stream the Lakota called Greasy Grass but which the whites would remember as the Little Bighorn.

Long Hair Custer charged his soldiers straight into the Indian encampment, but 1000 warriors led by Crazy Horse met Custer's troops and on a ridge now called Custer Hill, Long Hair's forces were swallowed up by Indians and were lost in the dust and smoke of history. Sitting Bull's vision had been fulfilled. The Indians soon broke into small bands and scattered to the winds. Crazy Horse's Ogallala kept up their attacks and Sitting Bull led his Hunkpapas to Canada. That fall, the Lakota were forced to sign away their right to the Powder River and He Sapa.

The government said that they had violated the treaty by going to war with the US. Promised a reservation in the Powder River Country, in May of 1877, Crazy Horse marched his band of starving Ogallalas to Fort Robinson. They came singing peace songs and Crazy Horse threw down three rifles, giving up the warpath forever. But as Crazy Horse was brought into Fort Robinson, a soldier bayonetted him in the back. To the north, a commission came to lure Sitting Bull back from Canada, offering to pardon his war crimes in return for surrender.

The Hunkpapa leader refused, asking, What have we done that you should want us to stop? It is all the people on your side who started us to making trouble. If we must die, we die defending our rights. Canada refused them a reservation and his people were homesick and weary of cold and hunger. In July of 1881, Sitting Bull and his followers crossed the border. Over the next 10 years, the last of the Lakota were brought onto the reservations and in all the vastness of the great plains, not a herd of buffalo could be found. Sitting Bull joined Buffalo Bill Cody's wild west show, selling autographed photos of himself to gawking children all across the continent.

The show's finale was a reenactment of the battle of the Little Bighorn and the terrible Indian wars were now only an entertainment for the victor. On the reservation, warriors lived on rotting scraps and dreams of their past. Inevitably, a prophet came, telling of a new messiah coming to bury the whites beneath the earth and bring the Indian dead to life. The hunting grounds would be restored and the land would once again be heavy with buffalo. This prophet was a Nevada Paiute medicine man named Wovoka and his ghost dance religion swept across western reservations like a prairie wind, the dance lifting broken warriors into its trance.

Wovoka's followers dawned ghost shirts that would stop the white man's bullets. Fearing a new Indian uprising, Major General Nelson Miles ordered troops onto the Indian agencies. Though Sitting Bull was openly skeptical of the new religion, the whites thought he was to blame for disturbances and ordered his arrest. On the morning of December 15th, 43 Indian police led the Hunkpapa chief from his cabin. Shots were fired and Sitting Bull fell to the ground, dead.

Another band of soldiers had gone in search of the Miniconjou chief Bigfoot, whose people had gone to the badlands where they could perform the ghost dance without fear. The Blue Coats caught up with them and the Indians and the soldiers camped for the night beside Wounded Knee Creek. 500 soldiers stood guard over 350 men, women, and children. At sunrise, the army began disarming the Indians. Somehow, a rifle went off and a soldier fell dead and both sides opened fire at once.

The army cut down half the men with its first volley and rapid-fire cannons rained shrapnel from the hills. Indians ran and were shot down like buffalo. When the smoke blew away, 153 men, women, and children of the Lakota nation laid dead, their blood flowing together with 25 corpses from the seventh cavalry. The ghost shirts had been powerless and the snows fell for two days, softly muffling the moans of the dying. On New Year's Day of 1891, the frozen dead of Wounded Knee were gathered in wagons and buried in a mass grave.

Lakota shaman Black Elk said many years later, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered and I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud and was buried in the blizzard. A people's dream died there, it was a beautiful dream. But the legacy of the Teton Lakota still commands deep respect and admiration today. Their fight for survival against the US army at Little Bighorn created a legend, yet ultimately led to their final defeat. The spirit of the Lakota, a proud people who poured forth their blood to preserve a way of life will endure long after the stories of battle are forgotten. These nations each contributed a piece in the patchwork quilt that has become America.

From the Iroquois great law of peace, which influenced the writing of our Constitution to the Cheyenne concept of peaceful resistance, these great Indian nations built a heritage that still inspires new generations of Native Americans. They will always be a vital part of the American adventure..

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