Exposing the GOP's Shameful Historical Role in the Native American Genocide
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Sherman announced his objective as being “to prosecute the war with vindictive earnestness . . . till [the Indians] are obliterated or beg for mercy.” According to Fellman, Sherman gave “Sheridan prior authorization to slaughter as many women and children as well as men Sheridan or his subordinates felt was necessary when they attacked Indian villages.”
In case the media back East got wind of such atrocities, Sherman promised Sheridan that he would run interference against any complaints: “I will back you with my whole authority, and stand between you and any efforts that may be attempted in your rear to restrain your purpose or check your troops.” [Fellman’s Citizen Sherman]
Sherman and Sheridan’s troops conducted more than one thousand attacks on Indian villages, mostly in the winter months, when families were together. The U.S. army’s actions matched its leaders’ rhetoric of extermination.
As mentioned earlier, Sherman gave orders to kill everyone and everything, including dogs, and to burn everything that would burn so as to increase the likelihood that any survivors would starve or freeze to death.
The soldiers also waged a war of extermination on the buffalo, which was the Indians’ chief source of food, winter clothing, and other goods (the Indians even made fish hooks out of dried buffalo bones and bow strings out of sinews).
The escalation of violence against the Plains Indians actually began in earnest during the War Between the States. Sherman and Sheridan’s Indian policy was a continuation and escalation of a policy that General Grenville Dodge, among others, had already commenced.
In 1851, the Santee Sioux Indians in Minnesota sold 24 million acres of land to the U.S. government for $1,410,000 in a typical “trade” (as opposed to raid) scenario. The federal government once again did not keep its side of the bargain, though, reneging on its payment to the Indians. [See David Nichols’s Lincoln and the Indians: Civil War Policy and Politics.]
By 1862, thousands of white settlers were moving onto the Indians’ land, and a crop failure in that year caused the Santee Sioux to become desperate for food. They attempted to take back their land by force with a short “war” in which President Lincoln placed General John Pope in charge.
Pope announced, “It is my purpose to utterly exterminate the Sioux. . . . They are to be treated as maniacs or wild beasts, and by no means as people with whom treaties or compromises can be made.”
At the end of the month-long conflict, hundreds of Indians who had been taken prisoner were subjected to military “trials” lasting about ten minutes each, according to David Nichols. Most of the adult male prisoners were found guilty and sentenced to death — not based on evidence of the commission of a crime, but on their mere presence at the end of the fighting.
Minnesota authorities wanted to execute all 303 who were convicted, but the Lincoln administration feared that the European powers would not view such an act favorably and did not want to give them an excuse to assist the Confederacy in any way. Therefore, “only” 38 of the Indians were hanged, making this travesty of justice still the largest mass execution in U.S. history.
To appease the Minnesotans who wanted to execute all 303, Lincoln promised them $2 million and pledged that the U.S. Army would remove all Indians from the state at some future date.
One of the most famous incidents of Indian extermination, known as the Sand Creek Massacre, took place on Nov. 29, 1864. There was a Cheyenne and Arapaho village located on Sand Creek in southeastern Colorado.