Sunday, December 29, 2013

Comanchie context to Yakama War

In order to gain some context on the Yakima War, I've been reading some other Indian histories from various other areas of the United States over roughly the same era 1830s through 1880s. The Yakima War took place in the mid 1850s.

I am currently reading Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne. This book covers the rise and fall of the Comanches - and fills a bit of a big gap in my understanding of U.S. history. Being rather provincial and never having lived or spent much time in Comanchera lands my understanding of that tribe and the bloodshed associated with the Comanches was a bit limited.

In a previous post I noted that Sheridan's first Indian battle was with the Yakama. Prior to that Sheridan had been in Texas to deal with Comanche raids, but his role was limited to scouting (and recreational hunting) and he never engaged in any battles. He did find a raiding party of Comanches which led to a military attack on the Comanche party.

A few take away notes on the Indian situation in what became Washington State relative to other White/Indian conflicts. Perhaps the mots impressive is that the Washington tribes really were peaceful relative to elsewhere - certainly compared to decades of violence or even centuries of violence on the plains. The Yakama War was a nasty business and very brutal, but it was short and though it left unresolved numerous issues those issues were later resolved fairly and unfairly without the violence that  other areas suffered. Disease played a big role in how various White/Indian conflicts played out. Fighting between Indian tribes and clans also was a key factor. Both of these played a role in the Pacific Northwest. The other key was economic situation. Pacific Northwest tribes had been engaged in trade with Whites for a half a century prior to the Yakima War. Early missionary work by Jesuits in Washington may have been significant - a Jesuit mission was located in the heart of Yakama territory by invitation of the Yakama. Military weapons and tactics of course played a huge role; in the case of the Yakama War, weaponry shifted greatly from the start to the late battles.

Perhaps what is surprising was the tactics used in the Yakama War by the U.S. Army were consistent with tactics later used by the military nearly 20 years later on the plains. Sheridan, Sherman and Mackenzie knew how to wage war and used the same methods on the horse Indians of the plains that had been applied to the Yakamas and Yakama allies in the mid 1850s. 

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