An exception to the general pattern of the reluctance of Indians to risk high casualties was in Alabama, where in the early s the Red Stick Creeks mobilized against American expansion and Creeks they regarded as collaborating with it.
When U. This event, usually termed a battle, had some characteristics of a massacre. Though most of the Red Sticks killed were combatants, between two and three hundred were shot down while trying to escape by swimming across the Tallapoosa River. Taking stock of the period from to , it is clear that the United States never intended to put to death all Indians in the territory it claimed. If that is the standard for genocide, then the term does not apply.
On the other hand, U. Most military operations did not result in wholesale slaughter, but this was less a measure of restraint than limited U. As a general rule, U. Military operations often did not result in massacre, sometimes because of their own weakness inadequate supplies, poor intelligence, failure to avoid detection , more often because of the ability of Indians to avoid being slaughtered, sometimes by fighting back, sometimes by eluding U. Over time, what made U.
Indians might repulse a single invasion of their country or, if that was impossible, abandon their towns and rebuild, but because the United States had a large and growing population, a high capacity to continuously mobilize young men to fight, and an unwavering commitment to expansion, the nation was able to wage endless war. Faced with the very real possibility that their people would eventually be destroyed utterly, leaders of Indian resistance eventually agreed to U.
The threat of genocide in this very strong sense of the term played a crucial role in allowing the United States to achieve its primary goal of taking Indian lands. After , the United States intensified its efforts to expand. To do so, it adopted a policy, formally institutionalized through the Indian Removal Act of , of moving all Indians living east of the Mississippi River to Indian Territory the modern states of Kansas and Oklahoma. As measured by lives lost, Indian removal was far more destructive than the earlier period of war.gelatocottage.sg/includes/2020-03-15/131.php
Were American Indians the Victims of Genocide?
Consider the three largest Indian nations east of the Mississippi, the Choctaws, Creeks, and Cherokees, each with approximately 20, people. During the removal process in the s, approximately 2, Choctaws, 4, Creeks, and 5, Cherokees perished, mostly from intersecting factors of disease, starvation, exposure, and demoralization. The death toll for all three nations—close to 20 percent—is equivalent to 60 million for the current U. Smaller nations north of the Ohio also suffered significant losses through removal. A reported forty-three Potawatomis in a group of eight hundred died as they traveled from Indiana to Kansas, while sixty Wyandots, mostly young children, in a group of seven hundred died from disease shortly after their arrival in the West.
One was the withdrawal of federal protection, thus making Indians subject to state legal regimes that would leave them vulnerable to settler encroachment and eventual dispossession. The Americans fired indiscriminately, killing well over two hundred Indians, including noncombatants.
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In Florida, where the terrain and climate were unfavorable for military operations, the army had a much more difficult time finding, let alone surprising, Seminole settlements and so resorted to tactics such as seizing Seminoles during peace negotiations and sending them to prisons. Although no major massacre occurred during the Second Seminole War, military officers frequently called for the extermination of Seminoles, and so the absence of massacre was not due to a lack of disposition but to the absence of opportunity.
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Like other Indians in similar circumstances, Seminoles were often able to evade U. Scholars have begun referring to Indian removal as ethnic cleansing, a term whose aptness seems incontestable. One response would be that since the United States did not intend to kill Indians and presented removal as a humane alternative to extinction and since the deaths that resulted from removal, insufficient to constitute genocide anyway, were the unintended consequence of unforeseen circumstances bad weather, unanticipated epidemics , genocide does not apply.
Another response would be that although removal was not intended to kill, the fact that it had that effect constitutes a limited genocide, especially since government officials had ample cause to know that forcing tens of thousands of people from their homes was likely to result in substantial loss of life, knowledge made more concrete over time as the actual process of removal regularly had this effect.
The threat of massive violence was realized more readily in Gold Rush California. Even in this case, though, it was not presented as a first option. The difference in California was that settlers and officials were much quicker to sanction massive violence, in part because impulses for extermination were stronger, in part because settlers pressured California Indians to take actions that fueled these impulses. During the s, settlers enslaved California Indians especially children , overran their lands, and formed militias to hunt them down.
In militiamen calling themselves the Eel River Rangers went on a killing spree, targeting as many Indians as they could regardless of sex or age, several hundred in all. As well, the state legislature and U.
Congress appropriated money to support this and other militia campaigns, in some instances with knowledge of militia actions. The American takeover of California caused an indigenous population decline that was sharper than in any other time or place in U. In the California Indian population was probably about , By , it was only 30, Direct killing was a significant factor and may have explained the majority of deaths for some nations, such as the Yukis and Yanas, but overall more people died from disease and malnutrition as they were subjected to coerced labor, land loss, destruction of game, and reservation confinement.
Because the Indian population of California fell so precipitously and because extreme violence was integral to the process, many scholars not inclined to see genocide as pervasive in U. One argument is that genocide does not apply since disease was the primary factor in the depopulation of California Indians; another is that mass violence was undertaken primarily by settlers and that the state and federal governments did not establish a policy of physically killing all Indians.
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Under a strict definition requiring a federal or state government intention to kill all California Indians and an outcome in which the majority of deaths were from direct killing, genocide does not seem applicable. Under a less strict, though still fairly conservative, definition requiring only settler intention to destroy a substantial portion of California Indians using a variety of means ranging from dispossession to systematic killing, genocide seems apt, especially since the demographic outcome in California was so catastrophic.
The fact that the state government promoted aggressive settlement, undermined Indian land rights, and supported Indian-hunting militias strengthens the case.
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The role of the federal government is more complicated. On the one hand, federal officials, including army personnel, sometimes took action to protect Indian lands and prevent extreme settler violence. On the other hand, the army did engage in punitive massacre in when it slaughtered sixty or more Pomos in the Bloody Island Massacre. Congress failed to ratify treaties that might have provided Indians with a buffer against destructive settler actions; Congress also funded militia activity. Any discussion of genocide must, of course, eventually consider the so-called Indian Wars, the term commonly used for U.
Army campaigns to subjugate Indian nations of the American West beginning in the s. In an older historiography, key events in this history were narrated as battles. It is now more common for scholars to refer to these events as massacres. As they had done in earlier periods in U.
Policymakers presented assimilation as a benevolent alternative to physical extinction, in this way providing a way for later historians to acquit them of genocidal intentions.
But what if Indians rejected the gift of Western civilization? Or what if they attacked or raided settlers who trespassed on their land and damaged its resources? In that case, both civilian and military officials agreed, Indians would be legitimately subject to aggressive warfare. Since they usually targeted communities rather than armies, these operations inherently carried the potential for massacre. In many instances, U. Indian fighting forces were highly skilled and, in some cases, most famously at the Little Big Horn , were able to inflict massive damage on invaders.
Indians relied on intelligence-gathering systems to prevent surprise attacks and on established procedures for the evacuation and protection of noncombatants. In this way, they avoided many potential massacres. In some cases, however, troops were able to achieve surprise or break through Indian defenses, and, when they did, they showed little restraint, killing women, children, and older men.
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In some instances, troops or militiamen attacked Indians who had not actually engaged in resistance or raiding, as in the Sand Creek and the Marias massacres, thus revealing a disposition to regard all Indians as deserving of extermination. Violence, of course, was not the only destructive force operating against Indian communities in the West. The U. For many western Indian nations, population losses were severe.
The Comanches, for example, had a population of perhaps 40, in the mids. In the s, smallpox struck them for the first time and reduced their population to 20, to 30,, where it stabilized into the s. Over the next few decades Comanches were repeatedly hit by epidemics, but because of generally favorable economic conditions, they were able to recover.