September 14, 2014

Pacific Northwest and Plateau Indian Wars


A number of battles occurred in the wake of the Oregon Treaty of 1846 and the creation of Oregon Territory and Washington Territory. Among the causes of conflict were a sudden immigration to the region and a series of gold rushes throughout the Pacific Northwest. These conflicts are grouped into eight Indian Wars.


The Cayuse War

The Whitman massacre of 1847 triggered the Cayuse War, which saw fighting from the Cascade Range to the Rocky Mountains. The Cayuse were defeated in 1855, but by then the conflict had expanded and continued in what became known as the Yakima War, 1855–1858.

The Yakima War

One of the triggers of the Yakima War was the creation of Washington Territory and the effort of its first governor, Isaac Stevens, to compel tribes to sign treaties ceding land and establishing reservations. The Yakama signed one of the treaties negotiated during the Walla Walla Council of 1855, and the Yakama Indian Reservation was established.

The treaties were poorly received by the native peoples and served mainly to intensify hostilities. Gold discoveries near Fort Colville resulted in many miners crossing Yakama lands via Naches Pass, and conflicts rapidly escalated into violence.

It took several years for the US Army to defeat the Yakama, during which time war spread to the Puget Sound region west of the Cascades.

The Puget Sound War

The Puget Sound War of 1855–1856 was triggered in part by the Yakima War and in part by the use of intimidation to compel tribes to sign land cession treaties. The Treaty of Medicine Creek, signed in 1855, established an unrealistically small reservation on poor land for the Nisqually and Puyallup people.

Violence broke out in the White River valley, along the route to Naches Pass, which connected Nisqually and Yakama lands. Although limited in its magnitude, territorial impact and losses in terms of lives, the Puget Sound War is often remembered in connection with the 1856 Battle of Seattle and the execution of a central figure of the war, Nisqually Chief Leschi.In 1858, the fighting on the east side of the Cascades spread.

The Coeur d’Alene War

This second phase of the Yakima War is known as the Coeur d’Alene War. The Yakama, Palouse, Spokane, and Coeur d’Alene tribes were defeated at the Battle of Four Lakes in late 1858.

Rogue River Wars

In southwest Oregon, tensions and skirmishes between American settlers and the Rogue River peoples, starting about 1850, escalated into the Rogue River Wars of 1855–1856. The California Gold Rush helped fuel a large increase in the number of people traveling south through the Rogue River Valley.

Gold discoveries continued to trigger violent conflict between prospectores and indigenous peoples. Beginning in 1858, the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush in British Columbia drew large numbers of miners, many from Washington, Oregon, and California, culminating in the Fraser Canyon War.

Although this conflict occurred in what is now Canada, the militias involved were formed mostly of Americans. Due to the discovery of gold in Idaho and Oregon in the 1860s, similar conflicts arose that culminated in the Bear River Massacre in 1863 and Snake War from 1864 to 1868.

The Nez Perce Wars

In the late 1870s another series of armed conflicts occurred in Oregon and Idaho, spreading east into Wyoming and Montana. The Nez Perce War of 1877 is known particularly for Chief Joseph and the four-month, 1,200-mile fighting retreat of a band of about 800 Nez Perce, including women and children.

As with the other wars in the Pacific Northwest, the Nez Perce War was caused by a large influx of settlers, the appropriation of Indian lands, and a gold rush—this time in Idaho. The Nez Perce engaged 2,000 American soldiers of different military units, as well as their Indian auxiliaries.

The Nez Perce fought “eighteen engagements, including four major battles and at least four fiercely contested skirmishes.” Although finally defeated and captured, Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce were much admired for their conduct in the war and their fighting ability.

The Bannock War

The Bannock War broke out the following year for similar reasons.

The Sheepeater Indian War

The Sheepeater Indian War in 1879 was the last conflict in the area.

Major Pacific Northwest Coast and Plateau Indian Wars

  • Cayuse War
  • Yakima War (Yakama War)
  • Puget Sound War
  • Rogue River Wars
  • Spokane – Coeur d’Alene – Paloos War
  • Snake War
  • Nez Perce War
  • Bannock War
  • Sheepeater Indian War
Plateau Region Tribes
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