There were perhaps 30 million people in the Caribbean Islands and Mexico in 1492 and another 50 million in what was to become the United States. The American Indians Columbus first encountered in 1492 were the Taino [Arawaks} numbering between 250 thousand and one million in Puerto Rico, The Dominican Republic, Cuba and Haiti. It is estimated that about only 500 survived by 1550 and that they were extinct by 1650. Europeans brought diseases such as chicken pox, measles and small pox against which American Indians had no immunity. The result was that up to 80 percent of some American Indians may have died due to European diseases.
For five centuries since Columbus, the indigenous people of this hemisphere have been called Indians because Columbus was lost, he did not land in India. They are many different peoples with many different nations and many different languages. Today, the U.S. government recognizes more than 370 tribes or separate Indian peoples. American Indian wars or conflicts were struggles between the indigenous people and white people of several nationalities for the rich lands that became the United States.
As further explained in the Native American Rhymes web site, English settlers established their small colonies along the Atlantic coast in the 1600's. As they moved into Indian lands in greater and greater numbers, quarrels developed. These disagreements often led to the death of an Indian or a settler. Most of the wars resulted from such conflicts. These conflicts and wars continued until the 1890's.
American Indian wars were not like wars as we know them today. We would call them "campaigns", because the fighting generally took place within a small area, and involved comparatively few people. A war usually took place between only one tribe and the white people who lived nearby. Sometimes the fighting spread, and many tribes joined in fighting the whites. The whites quickly adopted new tactics and struck in surprise attacks, usually at dawn. Indians killed or captured as many white men, women and children as possible.
A basic cause of the fighting was the different way of life of each group. Many tribes raised corn and other vegetables, but they all hunted animals for food and clothing. Most white settlers made their living from farming. In the East, they cut down forests to get farmland, while in the West, white hunters killed thousands of buffalo just for their skins. In either case, the tribes usually had to choose between moving to new hunting grounds, which were often occupied by hostile tribes or fighting to keep the old ones. They knew that the whites threatened both their lives and their security.
Both Indians and whites were to blame for the many frontier wars. The colonies refused to recognize the rights of the tribes. They believed the Indians were savages without souls. The Indians, in turn, did not understand the ways of the colonists. For example, the Indians signed a treaty, they thought they had only sold the right to use the land, not the land itself. They did not understand that they could no longer hunt on the lands of their ancestors.
The English settled in Jamestown in 1607 and lived in peace with the nearby confederated tribes under their friendly chief Powhatan. He died in 1618 and a few years later Opechancanough, who hated the English, became chief. At this time the English colonies in Virginia, including Jamestown, had fewer than 4,000 settlers. In March 1622 Opechancanough, who hated the English and planned secretly to destroy the settlements, led a furious assault along a 140 mile front and killed 347 colonists. The survivors retreated to Jamestown and laid plans to massacre the Indians. They invited the tribes to plant corn and in the fall attacked, destroying the corn fields, killing many of the Indians and leaving the rest to starve. Twelve years of warfare followed. Peace was made in 1634 but was immediately followed by an Indian attack in which over 300 English people were killed. The Indians were finally defeated in a two day battle.
In New England, two other wars were fought prior to the French and Indian Wars of 1689- 1763.They were the Pequot War in 1637 and King Philip's War in 1675-1676. Both of these wars were won by the settlers who at sunrise on June 5, 1637 attacked a Pequot village, burning alive between 600 and 700 Pequot and selling most of the rest into slavery in Bermuda. After Philip became chief of the Wampanoag in 1662, he began plotting against the colonists becauase he felt that his people could survive only by driving the settlers out. In June 1675, he led an attack on Swansea, Massachusetts and during the next year both sides raided villages and massacred hundreds of victims. The Indians were defeated in Southern New England in 1675, but fighting in Northern New England continued until 1678 where in subsequent attacks more than 1,000 colonists were killed and 12 towns completely destroyed.
The final war in Colonial days involving English settlements was the French and Indian Wars 1689-1763. We'll take up more of the Indian wars in Homeland Security-Part 2.