Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
american west, buffalo soldiers, american frontier
As a real yet imagined place, the “American West” has a mythical aura surrounding it that hides a deeper reality of extreme violence and chaos. It is a place where great feats have been achieved and profound defeats have been suffered. The wars fought over control of the Great Plains lasted longer than any other armed conflict in United States history. From 1865 through 1890, the chaotic nature of seemingly unorganized warfare and the ensuing violence plagued the lives of those who, either willingly or not, took art. The two most recognizable and seemingly homogenous groups in this conflict were the U.S. Army and the Plains Indian nations; however, upon further examination specific and distinct identity groups within these two generalized entities emerge. African American soldiers, popularly known as the “Buffalo Soldiers” played an important but insufficiently recognized role on the frontier. Their experiences differ from those of white US soldiers in some important ways, including limited advancement in the ranks. Many Indian nations lived in the “West.” By looking at the experiences of the Northern Plains Indians, specifically the Sioux and Cheyenne nations, one gains insight into some of the most controversial armed conflicts. Although there is no denying that their clashes shaped their individual experiences and made them distinct from one another, the U.S. Army, Buffalo Soldiers, the Sioux and the Cheyenne all had to cope with violence, loss of life and property, and unfulfilled promises. Therefore it is important to consider these groups together. In some respects each group reacted differently to the events that brought them together, however, their shared experiences caused similar mutual feelings of suffering and endurance. This thesis attempts to make sense of these three groups’ clashing and chaotic stories by breaking down the era of the Indian resistance on the plains into three distinct phases. The Civil War threw the country into a time of disarray when the hierarchical socio-economic structure, primarily based on race, no longer seemed as immovable and now had changing implications. A pale skin-tone paired with time in the army no longer guaranteed men an honored place in society. By looking at how the end of the Civil War changed the lives of generals, officers, and soldiers in the army, as well as recently emancipated black men, their interactions with the Sioux and Cheyenne, on the Plains can be put into context and better explained. A comprehensive look at the actual events of the wars fought, the strategies behind military engagements and battles, and the effects of resulting triumphs and defeats, is necessary to understand the establishment of a social hierarchy in the West once the frontier had been conquered and its consequences. By looking at the obligations the federal government had to each group, where they succeeded and where they failed to fulfill their duties, a better understanding of the relationships and the groups’ differing and shared experiences emerge. Lastly, the resulting situations of the Army, Buffalo soldiers, Sioux and Cheyenne in the years after armed conflict subsided in the 1880’s and then all resistance after the massacre at Wounded Knee in late December of 1890, highlights the lasting impacts of this time twenty-five years of chaos and violence. This thesis works to illuminate both the unique and shared experiences of the buffalo soldiers, the army they served, and the Sioux and Cheyenne by examining the reminisces of individuals, personal accounts, newspapers and military reports. The effects of conflicts on the Plains between 1865 and 1890 last into today and are important to study to understand the history of America and all of its people, including those who do not fit the mold of “whiteness.”
Keegan, Meghan, ""We Poor Devils": The Interactions Shared Experiences and Differing Fates of the Cheyenne Sioux Buffalo Soldiers and U.S. Army in a Post-Civil War America: 1865- 1890" (2017). Honors Theses and Student Projects. 51.