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Amerindian Warfare

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  1. Interpret the phrase “De Soto is the personification of evil.”

The de Soto expedition, the first major European overland expedition into what is now the eastern United States, is certainly important. It was a part of Spain’s effort to explore and colonize the eastern United States, and the expedition’s firsthand observers provide invaluable information on aboriginal Florida — the region and its native peoples before the European invasion.

In 1536 De Soto attempted to persuade the Spanish crown to grant him the right to New World lands that he could govern and exploit. He asked for either lands in Ecuador and Colombia, though these requests were denied, he was able to successfully negotiate an agreement to conquer and govern La Florida (Swanton 1939, 75-76). In 1539 de Soto’s fleet sighted the western coast of Florida. The Tequesta and Calusa are perhaps the first two southeastern United States native societies to have come in contact with Europeans.

Over the next four years the expedition would travel through much of the Southeast, going as far north as the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee. The de Soto expedition also came into contact with the Mocoso and Uzita. And de Soto’s army routinely enslaved aboriginal women for sexual favors and men as porters. De Soto did not hesitate to use force, even excessive force, fighting pitched battles. The military actions of de Soto’s army and the enslavement of many of the native peoples must have been devastating.

If epidemics occurred, they would have been even more potent among populations shrunken by battle, forced servitude, and enslavement. Unlike the Tequesta and the Calusa, the Uzita and the Mocoso may not have survived long as viable political units. After the de Soto army left Tampa Bay, the names of the Uzita and the Mocoso appear to have never again been mentioned specifically in written records. These small groups and their populations disappeared.

De Soto and his army crossed the Mississippi River into Arkansas before heading back eastward to once again reach the Mississippi River. There de Soto died. Because of acts of cruelty against native peoples de Soto was characterized as the personification of evil.



Reference List

Swanton, John R., ed. 1939.  Final Report of the United States de Soto Expedition Commission. United States House of Representatives Document 71, 76th Congress, 1st Session. Washington, D.C.

  1. Analyze the concept “the skulking way of war.”

Indian warriors possessed the skills and discipline of modern commandos, and were capable of adapting to whatever situation they encountered. Firearms transformed the nature of Indian warfare in the seventeenth century. Previous Indian combat seems to have been distinguished by hand-to-hand encounters or exchanges of arrows between large contingents. Casualties seem to have been relatively lower than during succeeding decades. Firearms caused a significant shift in power relationships among Indian peoples. By the end of the eighteenth century most native peoples seem to have adjusted to the realities of firearms warfare.

North American Indians not only turned firearms to their own use, but became excellent shooters. The Indian commitment to firepower is even more striking in the context of the eighteenth-century European theoretical debate over shock versus fire. Many European officers believed that infantry firearms did relatively little damage and expressed a preference for attacks with cold steel. Within this context the Indian practice of aimed fire seems to represent a tactical advance over the best of European thought and technique (Malone, 1991, p. 60).

The rigid and inflexible discipline associated with the European armies of the era was a means by which inexperienced and unwarlike peasants might be turned into soldiers. Volley fire of European musketeers against massed groups of men on open ground was really murderous. Seventeenth-century Indian peoples, faced with dwindling populations, could ill afford a form of warfare with a high butcher’s bill. The “skulking way of war” was the logical response to the new conditions (Axtell, 1992, pp.141-42).

That means “secret”, guerrilla action: the raid, the ambush, and the retreat. Indians avoided conflict unless the circumstances were favorable to success. They were able to carry the war in the wilderness and into the swamps, which English colonists seldom penetrated and were trained to move in loose order, to take advantage of cover, to fire at specific targets. “Skulking way of war” in retrospect appeared as an efficient and intelligent military strategy.

Europeans turned many Indian technologies to their own use in frontier warfare. Snowshoes made feasible deep winter raids such as Léry’s. Maize rations helped sustain troops on these operations. Light birchbark canoes were excellent vessels for men moving quickly on inland waterways interrupted by frequent portages (Malone, 1991, p.72).

Reference List

 Axtell, John. 1992.  Beyond 1492: encounters in colonial North America. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 141-2.

Malone, Patrick. 1991. The skulking way of war: technology and tactics among the New England Indians. Lanham, Md.: Madison Books.

  1. How effective resistance did the Seminoles wage against the Federal Government?

Seminole resistance to the land cessions developed almost at once. In August 1804 Creek and Seminole leaders didn’t sign the pact to mark the boundaries with the company. The First Seminole War started on November 21, 1817 when Fowltown village were attacked. Indian raiders attacked other plantations along the frontier, killing settlers and blacks, and taking cattle and horses (McReynolds 1957, 95-98). Creek and Seminole resistance was most determined in February 1818 when they besieged Fort Scott. In response Jackson and his force of regulars and Georgia militiamen moved into Florida.

At the end of March 1818, Jackson and his men met little resistance as they moved against the most populous group of Seminole settlements. When the Negro Fort and later the Lake Miccosukee villages had been destroyed, a steady stream of blacks and Indians had fled deeper into Florida. Peter McQueen, the only former Red Stick leader who had eluded Jackson, had fled to the Suwannee River. After capturing St. Marks Jackson moved 107 miles in a southeasterly direction to the Suwannee River.

On April 12 1,500 Creeks under McIntosh discovered near the Econfina River 200 Seminoles led by Peter McQueen hidden in a swamp and drove them into the open where a hit-and-run engagement took place. During the battle the Seminoles lost thirty-seven men killed and six men and ninety-eight women and children taken prisoner. In addition, they lost 500 head of cattle, many horses, and much corn; one white woman who had been captured at the Apalachicola ambush was taken (Craig and Peeples 1969, 176-79).

            Another phase of Seminole struggle took place under command of Osceola during the Second War at 1835-1842. Of all the tribes living east of the Mississippi River, the Seminoles put up the most determined resistance to removal to the West. They forced the federal authorities to wage a seven-year war that cost the white settlers and their government an estimated $30 million to $40 million and, counting deaths from battle, disease, and accident, the lives of 1,466 regulars, 55 militiamen, and nearly 100 civilians. Yet despite the heavy casualties on both sides, and removal to the West of four thousand or more blacks and Seminoles, four to five hundred Indians would remain in Florida.

Reference List

McReynolds, E. C. 1957. The Seminoles. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Craig, A.  and C. S. Peeples. 1969. Captain Young’s Sketch Map. F.H.Q. 48 (10).

Mahon, J. K. 1967. History of the Second Seminole War, 1835-1842. Gainesville: University of Florida Press.

  1. Discuss the reasons for the Amerindians failure in the King Philip’s War.

King Philip’s War was an armed conflict between Indians of southern New England and colonists and their Indian allies from 1675–1676. The Wampanoag sachem Metacom, Metacomet or Pometacom was the main leader of the Indian side, known to the English as “King Philip.” The war which erupted in 1675 shattered a half-century of peace between the Wampanoags of southeastern New England and their English neighbours. King Philip’s War was no more a war of religion than it was a race war, though elements of each were present. In June 1675, armed Wampanoags returned to Swansea and looted abandoned homes. The war began when a young Englishman shot and killed a looter.

It seems unlikely that the Indians could have driven the colonists from New England even if that had been their common goal. The English had overwhelming advantages in numbers and material and possessed political and social institutions which allowed them ultimately to mobilize these resources to devastating effect. But from the beginning the Indian warriors displayed a tactical superiority and an expert use of firearms that the colonists were slow to match. Indian proficiency with muskets came as a shock. William Hubbard believed that inexperience was the cause of English defeats, but contended that the Indians frequently outnumbered the colonists by six or seven to one (Hubbard, p.79).

The New Englanders’ training and militia institutions were quickly proven inadequate to the task of prosecuting a war against so formidable an enemy. Victory could be achieved not only by mobilization but by adaptation as well. Captain Benjamin Church (1639-1718) was the first leader of a picked company of English and friendly Indians who got used to the Indian way of war (Leach, 1958, pp. 228-9).

Church achieved a high level of co-operation among his English and Indian soldiers. Indeed, it was his understanding and appreciation of Indian customs that made him such an effective leader. He often recruited enemy prisoners who served with astonishing loyalty and devotion against their own people. Such recruits brought with them a fund of intelligence about enemy movements and tactics and an intimate knowledge of the terrain. He was, wrote William Hubbard, one “whom God made an instrument of Signal Victories over the Indians” (1977, p. 104). On the 12th of August 1676 Captain Church killed Philip in his camp.

In retrospect, it may be said that Church provided an example which should have been enshrined in all manuals dealing with frontier war. His experience stands out against the bitter lessons learned by most English commanders in King Philip’s War. Unfortunately, they were lessons forgotten by most colonial military leaders.

Reference List

Hubbard, W. 1977. A narrative of the troubles with the Indians in New England. London.

Leach, D. 1958. Flintlock and tomahawk: New England in King Philip’s War. New York: Macmillan.

  1. Compare/contrast Pontiac and Tecumseh’s efforts at confederation warfare against the American colonials.

“Pontiac’s Rebellion” of 1763 was called “Western Indians’ Defensive War”. It started when British garrison at Detroit was attacked by Pontiac and his followers on 7 May 1763. While Pontiac played a significant role in the siege of Detroit, he was no more the leader of a unified Indian war effort than had been Philip. Great Lakes Indians and Ohio Indians had different motives in going to war and there were divisions and mistrust among Indian communities over the decision to fight. Ohio Indians had held aloof from both the French and British alliances. Their goal was the autonomy of their communities.

In this regard they responded to the appeal of the nativist religious leader, the Delaware prophet Neolin, who called upon the Indians to reject white materialism and culture and to return to native traditions and religious practices. Neolin offered his followers a pan-Indian sense of identity around which unified resistance to white imperialism and settlement could rally. Gregory Evans Dowd has concluded that Neolin played an important role in the development of Pontiac’s ideas for resistance. Nevertheless they were much more successful in their struggle against Europeans than were the New England Indians of King Philip’s War. In 1765 the Indians had retained control over their lands.

Indian resistance revived after 1805 under the leadership of Tecumseh and his brother the Prophet Tenskatawata and culminated during the War of 1812 in the last great Indian rising east of the Mississippi. But it was, concludes the historian Wiley Sword, “as anticlimactic as it was futile” (Sword 1985, 336).

Tecumseh’s significance in the early years of the movement is unclear, Tecumseh would cast a wide net in seeking support, journeying south in 1811 to seek alliance with Creeks, Cherokees, Choctaws and Chickasaws. Tecumseh’s southern venture was not a success. Chickasaws and Choctaws, not immediately exposed to the pressure of American settlement, were reluctant to ally with old enemies.

Cherokees, caught between the white settlements in Georgia and Tennessee, had embraced accommodation as the only realistic policy of survival. While Tecumseh’s call for resistance gained adherents among Creek militants, it was rejected by other members of the Creek confederacy (Hassing 1974, 251-73). The militants, known as the Red Sticks because of their war clubs, resisted American expansion by force of arms during the Creek War of 1813-14, but at a terrible cost in lives. In November 1813 they twice lured Red Stick warriors into semicircular envelopments and inflicted heavy casualties. General Andrew Jackson and his subordinate General John Coffee adopted the Indian way of war as their own (Coles 1965, 197).

Reference List

Sword, W. 1985. President Washington’s Indian war: the struggle for the old northwest, 1790-1795. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Hickey, D. R. 1989. The War of 1812: a forgotten conflict. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Hassig, R. 1974. Internal conflict in the Creek War of 1813-1814.  Ethnohistory XXI (3).

Coles, H.L. 1965. The War of 1812. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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