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Title: Native American Wars: Wars Among Native Americans
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(Date Posted:02/09/2009 21:46 PM)
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Native American Wars: Wars Among Native Americans
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Native American Ancestry

This entry is a subentry of Native American Wars.

Among most Indian groups east of Mississippi River on the eve of European contact—including the Iroquois and Cherokee—warfare served both social‐psychological and demographic functions. Indians waged war against one another to help members of their group cope with the grief experienced at the loss of a loved one or to avenge the death of a relative. Known as “mourning wars,” these conflicts were intended to acquire captives who would in turn either be ceremonially tortured to death or adopted into the group. Although men had responsibility for waging war and conducting the raids for captives, women often decided to initiate wars and typically chose between killing and adopting captives. Because taking captives rather than acquiring territory or economic goods was the primary impetus to fight, most wars before the arrival of Europeans were sporadic and consisted of relatively quick raids with little bloodshed.

Contact with Europeans spread trade goods and new diseases throughout the Eastern Woodlands, changing and intensifying wars between Indian groups. In the Northeast, for example, Iroquoian peoples dependent on European firearms and iron tools expanded militarily to acquire the beaver pelts Europeans sought in exchange for their goods. The result, a protracted series of “beaver wars” between Iroquoian and Algonquian groups near the Great Lakes from the 1640s to 1680s, had both economic and demographic motives. Having lost many members to European diseases, the Iroquois waged mourning wars in a desperate effort to maintain their populations; meanwhile, having hunted out the local beaver supply, they expanded their hunting grounds, creating conflict with neighboring groups. The attendant warfare led to further depopulation, and, in a dangerous cycle, escalated mourning wars.

Beginning in the 1680s, wars among the Eastern Woodland Indians became entangled with the European wars for control of the continent and the Atlantic trade. King William's War (1689–97), Queen Anne's War (1702–13), King George's War (1744–48), and the French and Indian War (1754–63), all pitted Indians against one another as allies of European powers. Incentives for Indians in these wars were both economic and demographic. Indians used European allies to further their interests in wars for captives and control of economic resources.

Indian rebellions against colonial domination also tended to become wars among Indian groups. In King Philip's War (1675–76), for example, Indian groups including the Mohawks helped the New England colonies put down a great Wampanoag‐Narragansett‐Abenaki uprising. These actions reflected old rivalries among New England's Indians, as well as the view of some who preferred a strategy of accommodation toward the English over violent resistance. Similarly, in the Yamasee War (1715), Cherokees seeking English trade goods helped white Carolinians suppress the Yamasee and Creek Indians who resisted European military encroachments.

Wars on the Plains and in the Southwest differed from those in the Eastern Woodlands in that these primarily broke out between peoples pursuing two distinct lifestyles—nomadic and horticulturist. While such groups often forged symbiotic relationships, e.g., exchanging crops for buffalo meat, these contacts sometimes degenerated into nomadic raids on villages. The arrival of Europeans and the spread of the horse heightened distinctions between nomads and villagers. Most horticulturists, like the Pueblos, Pawnees, Navajos, Omahas, and Arikaras, remained sedentary once they acquired the horse; but others, such as the Cheyennes and Crows, abandoned horticulture for nomadism. Yet other groups, such as the Lakota Sioux and Blackfeet, moved onto the Plains from the east to take advantage of the buffalo supply and became nomads in the process. Those Plains and southwestern groups that had practiced nomadism before European contact usually continued after the arrival of the horse. The horse enabled nomads to hunt more efficiently, but did not end their reliance on agricultural peoples for many goods; trade between nomads and villagers became rarer, however, as raids largely supplanted trading as a means of procuring agricultural products.

The development of horse culture shifted the military balance of power on the Plains in favor of nomads. The Comanches came to dominate the southern Plains in the first half of the eighteenth century at the expense of Pueblos, Plains Apaches, and Navajos. Early in the eighteenth century, for example, the Navajos lived north of Santa Fe; pressures from northern raiders gradually drove them westward, until by 1750 they inhabited what is now Arizona and western New Mexico.

In the second half of the eighteenth century, the Lakota Sioux did to northern and central Plains Indians what the Comanches had done to the Navajos. Originally residents of the Eastern Woodlands, the Sioux became the dominant power of the northern and central Plains through their willingness to use the horse as a tool of conquest against the horticulturists of the upper Missouri River. From Minnesota, they ranged westward to the Rocky Mountains and southward to the Platte River, finding allies in the Arapahos and Cheyennes, who helped devastate the Pawnees, Arikaras, and other groups by the mid‐nineteenth century. The rise of the Lakota Sioux at the expense of sedentary tribes explains why the latter behaved as they did after the arrival of the United States on the Plains in the 1840s. Horticultural groups saw a greater threat in the expanding Lakota Sioux than the United States. They felt that a military alliance with the United States against the Lakota Sioux offered their best hope for survival.
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