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Digital History ID 3071


In the midst of the Civil War, a thirty-year conflict began as the federal government sought to concentrate the Plains Indians on reservations. Violence erupted first in Minnesota, where, by 1862, the Santee Sioux were confined to a territory 150 miles long and just 10 miles wide. Denied a yearly payment and agricultural aid promised by treaty, these people rose up in August 1862 and killed more than 350 white settlers at New Ulm. Lincoln appointed John Pope (1822-1892), commander of Union forces at the Second Battle of Bull Run, to crush the uprising. Pope promised to deal with the Sioux "as maniacs or wild beasts, and by no means as people with whom treaties or compromises can be made."

When the Sioux surrendered in September 1862, 1,808 were taken prisoner and 303 were condemned to death. Defying threats from Minnesota's governor and a senator who warned of the indiscriminate massacre of Indians if all 303 convicted Indians were not executed, Lincoln commuted the sentences of most, but did finally authorize the hanging of 37. This was the largest mass execution in American history, but Lincoln lost many votes in Minnesota as a result of his clemency.

In 1864, fighting spread to Colorado, after the discovery of gold led to an influx of whites. In November, 1864, a group of Colorado volunteers, under the command of Colonel John M. Chivington (1821-1894), fell on a group of Cheyennes at Sand Creek, where they had gathered under the governor's protection. "We must kill them big and little," he told his men. "Nits make lice" (nits are the eggs of lice). The militia slaughtered about 150 Cheyenne, mostly women and children.

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