As a real yet imagined place, the “American West” has a mythical aura surrounding it that hides a deeper reality of extreme violence and chaos. The wars fought over control of the Great Plains lasted longer than any other armed conflict in United States history. From 1865 through the end of 1890, the chaotic nature of seemingly unorganized warfare and the ensuing violence plagued the lives of those who both willingly and not, took part.
African American soldiers, popularly known as the “Buffalo Soldiers,” played an important but insufficiently recognized role on the frontier. Many Indian nations lived in the “West.” By looking at the experiences of the Northern Plains Indians, specifically the Sioux and Cheyenne nations, one gains insight into some of the most controversial armed conflicts. Although there is no denying that their clashes shaped their individual experiences and made them distinct from one another, the U.S. Army, Buffalo Soldiers, the Sioux and the Cheyenne all had to cope with violence, loss of life and property, and unfulfilled promises. Therefore, it is important to consider these groups together. In some respects each group reacted differently to the events that brought them together, however, their shared experiences caused similar mutual feelings of suffering and endurance.
This thesis attempts to make sense of these three groups’ clashing and chaotic stories by breaking down the era of Indian resistance on the Plains into three distinct phases: post-Civil War reorganization and raids, wartime and violence, and post-military engagement and reformation. This thesis works to illuminate the both unique and shared experiences of the Buffalo Soldiers, the army they served, and the Sioux and Cheyenne by examining reminisces of individuals, personal accounts, newspapers and military reports. The effects of the conflicts on the Plains between 1865 and 1890 last into today and are important to study in order to understand the history of America and all of its people, including those who do not fit the mold of “whiteness.”