On a frigid day in December of 1890, Sitting Bull, the famous Sioux chief and warrior, was murdered outside his home on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota during a failed attempt to arrest him. The culprits, Sioux policemen employed by U.S. Indian Bureau agents, then mutilated his body and executed his fourteen-year-old son in cold blood. The order to arrest Sitting Bull came from an Indian Bureau agent named James McLaughlin. McLaughlin falsely believed the Sioux chief instigated and led a nonviolent but anti-white movement called the Ghost Dance but others within the bureau ridiculed McLaughlin's paranoia. Distrust and fear created the conditions for Sitting Bull’s murder – fear of the culturally mysterious Ghost Dance and distrust of Sitting Bull, the man who helped defeat General George Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876 and evaded capture by the U.S. Calvary for five years after. This same distrust and fear led to the massacre of roughly 146 Lakota Sioux, mostly unarmed men, women, and children, at Wounded Knee two weeks after Sitting Bull’s murder. The massacre at Wounded Knee marked the end of the Indian Wars, the culmination of almost three hundred years of conflict on the North American continent. Why? Why did Sitting Bull and many of his people at Wounded Knee meet such a horrible end in 1890? How did the relationship between Europeans/Americans and various Native American tribes deteriorate over time and result in violence? Could other paths have been taken?
These are some questions we will seek to answer when I teach Native American History this Fall 2018 semester. We will explore why interactions between Europeans/Americans and Native Americans often ended in violence, even though people on both sides often tried to navigate a middle ground. The course will begin with an examination of pre-contact Native American societies in North America and conclude with an analysis of present-day issues facing Native American tribes in the United States. We will cover topics ranging from cultural exchange, nonviolent interactions, and trade to disease, warfare, atrocities, and environmental degradation. The course will pay particular attention to the history of the Iroquois Nation and the Seneca Tribe to take full advantage of local resources like the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum in Salamanca. In the process, we will also analyze the historical relationship between the Seneca Tribe and St. Bonaventure University.
Bibliography and Some other Incredible (not too academic) Books on Native American History:
Brown, Dee, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West (New York: Henry Hold and Co., 1970)
Cozzens, Peter, The Earth is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016)
Lipman, Andrew, The Saltwater Frontier: Indians and the Contest for the American Coast (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015)
Merrell, James H., Into the American Woods: Negotiators on the Pennsylvania Frontier (New York, 1999)
Richter, Daniel K., Ordeal of the Longhouse: The Peoples of the Iroquois League in the Era of European Colonization (Chapel Hill: Omohundro Institute and University of North Carolina Press, 1992)
Richter, Daniel K., Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America (Cambridge, Mass., 2001)
Usner, Daniel H. Jr., Indians, Settlers, and Slaves in a Frontier Exchange Economy: The Lower Mississippi Valley Before 1783 (Chapel Hill, 1992)
White, Richard, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815 (New York, 1991)