Native American History Timeline
How It All Went Down
Treaty of Paris
The Treaty of Paris, formally ending the American Revolution, is signed by representatives of Great Britain and the United States. In the treaty, the British cede all of their North American territories south of Canada and east of the Mississippi River to the United States. Former agreements between the British and the Indian occupants of these territories are implicitly voided. The United States now claims all Indian lands east of the Mississippi River by right of conquest.
Treaty of New York
The United States Senate ratifies the Treaty of New York between the United States and the Creeks. Negotiated by Secretary of War Henry Knox and Creek Chief Alexander McGillivray, the treaty aims to place Creek-American relations on a more positive footing than that established by the Treaty of Paris. The Creeks accept an eastern border at the Oconee, rather than the Ogeechee River. In return, Knox acknowledges that vast lands to the west (present day Alabama and parts of Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Florida) belong to the Creeks and guarantees that their border will be policed by federal troops. The United States also promises to provide the tools and livestock needed to transform the hunting Creeks into farmers. Secret articles arrange a trading partnership with the Creeks and designate McGillivray an army officer with an annual salary of $1200.
St. Clair's Defeat
Northwest Territorial Governor Arthur St. Clair, leading a punitive expedition against the Indians of the Ohio Valley, is surprised in an early morning attack. His force of 1400 men suffers more than 900 casualties.
Disappointed by the federal government's poor enforcement of the Treaty of New York, Creek chief Alexander McGillivray negotiates a new treaty with Spain. Under the Treaty of New Orleans, Spain and the Creeks agree to collectively resist American encroachment against Creek lands.
Battle of Fallen Timbers
General "Mad" Anthony Wayne and an army of more than 5000 troops defeat a confederation of Native Americans (Shawnee, Miami, Delaware, Ottawa, and Ojibwa) at the battle of Fallen Timbers, leading to the Treaty of Greeneville and the surrender of vast Indian lands west and north of the Ohio River.
Murder of Doublehead
Major Ridge participates in the killing of Doublehead, a Cherokee chief accused of negotiating unfavorable land sales with the United States government in return for bribes.
Major Ridge and a delegation of Cherokee leaders travel to Washington, D.C. to dialogue with President Thomas Jefferson. The Cherokee delegation rejects government proposals to relocate west of the Mississippi River but promises to continue on the path toward "civilized life" by developing "fixed laws and regular government."3
Battle of Tippecanoe
General William Henry Harrison leads a force of 1000 men against an Indian encampment on the Tippecanoe River in Indiana Territory. In the battle, Harrison's men defeat a coalition of northwestern tribes forged by Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa, or The Prophet, in an effort to resist the expansion of white Americans into Indian lands.
Cherokee Law Against Land Sales
Cherokee leader Major Ridge authors a law making it a capital offense to sell Cherokee land without the consent of the national council.
The Cherokees adopt a national constitution completing a decade of political development. Modeled after the United States Constitution, with three branches of government and an abbreviated bill of rights, the Cherokee constitution furthers the transfer of Cherokee political power from the villages to a national government.
Georgia Sovereignty Law
A bill is introduced to the Georgia state legislature asserting the sovereignty of state government over all land and people within its geographical boundaries, including the Cherokees who maintain that they enjoy territorial and legal autonomy through treaties negotiated with the federal government.
Indian Removal Act
Congress passes the Indian Removal Act, authorizing the president to pursue ownership of all Indian lands east of the Mississippi River. Under the act, the Indians will be compensated with new lands drawn from the public domain west of the Mississippi River.
Test Case Against Georgia Law
Missionary Samuel Worcester and several other missionaries are arrested when they refuse to obtain a license to reside among the Cherokees as required by a recently passed Georgia law. In September they will be convicted and sentenced to four years in the state prison.
Worcester v. Georgia
The United States Supreme Court rules in the case of Worcester v. Georgia that the Georgia law requiring white residents to obtain a license violates the political rights of the Cherokees. The Court rules that the Cherokees are a separate nation, subject to the authority of the federal government––but only the federal government––as stipulated by treaties.
Samuel Worcester and the other missionaries imprisoned by Georgia (for refusing to register with the state government before working on Cherokee lands) accept a pardon from the governor of Georgia and are released from jail. Even though they had prevailed in their case before the Supreme Court the previous March, they refuse to pursue further litigation in fear that it will exacerbate a growing crisis over states' rights and nullification.
Major Ridge Sells Cherokee Land
A small faction among the Cherokees, labeled the Treaty Party and led by Major Ridge, signs a treaty with the United States selling all of the Cherokees' territories to the USA for $4.5 million. The treaty will be rejected by an overwhelming majority (2225-114) at a subsequent gathering of Cherokees.
Treaty of Echota
A small group of about 500 Cherokees signs a second agreement with the United States government agreeing to the sale of their lands and removal west of the Mississippi River. The United States Senate ratifies this Treaty of Echota on 18 May 1836.
Trail of Tears
The first party of Cherokees that had resisted removal begins the march westward to their new lands in present-day Oklahoma along the later-named Trail of Tears.
Sand Creek Massacre
US Cavalry led by Colonel John Chivington slaughter at least 150 Cheyenne and Arapaho (largely women and children) in what becomes known as the "Sand Creek Massacre" in Colorado Territory.
Raid on Julesburg
Cheyenne, Sioux, and Arapaho warriors raid and burn the town of Julesburg, Colorado in retaliation for the massacre at Sand Creek 39 days earlier.
Custer's Last Stand
Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull lead an army of Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho Indians to a massive victory over General George Custer and the Seventh US Cavalry at the battle of Little Big Horn. Custer's force is part of an intended three-pronged assault against the Indian coalition that has harassed miners and homesteaders crossing their lands following the discovery of gold in the Black Hills in 1874. Partially because he badly underestimates the size of the Indian encampment along the Little Big Horn River, Custer chooses not to wait for the other units led by Generals John Gibbon and George Crook before launching his attack. Within hours, Custer and his entire detachment of 210 men are dead.
Carlisle Indian School
Richard Henry Pratt and Sarah Mather arrive at Carlisle, Pennsylvania with 82 Indian children recruited from the Dakota Territory for their new school. At the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Pratt will implement his theories about education and assimilation, developed while earlier supervising 72 Indian prisoners at Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida.
Dawes Severalty Act
Congress enacts the Indian General Allotment Act, or Dawes Severalty Act, authorizing the president of the United States to carve existing Indians lands into 160 acre parcels to be distributed to individual Native American heads of households. "Surplus lands" (those remaining after individual allotments have been made) are to be purchased by the federal government and sold to Anglo-American homesteaders. Proceeds from these sales are to underwrite the "education and civilization" of the former Indian owners.
Wovoka experiences the mystical revelation that leads him to urge Indians to reform their lives and participate in the ritual of the Ghost Dance to prepare for the coming age of prosperity and peace.
Murder of Sitting Bull
Sioux chief Sitting Bull is killed by Indian police attempting to arrest him under orders from the territorial Indian agent, who fears that the hero of the Little Big Horn will unite Indians incited by the Ghost Dance to launch a war against white settlements and federal authority in the Dakota Territory. In the aftermath, Sitting Bull's followers flee the camp to seek protection under Chief Red Cloud at the Pine Ridge Agency.
Wounded Knee Massacre
Having intercepted Sitting Bull's followers the previous day, a battalion of the Seventh Cavalry opens fire on the Sioux camp on the Wounded Knee Creek, killing 300 people—two-thirds of them women and children. The "Wounded Knee Massacre" effectively marks the end of armed Indian resistance to white western expansion in the nineteenth century.
Society of American Indians
The Society of American Indians is founded at Columbus, Ohio. Graduates from the Carlisle School, the Indian Industrial Training School at Haskell, and the Hampton Institute play prominent roles in founding this organization dedicated to advancing educational opportunities for Native Americans and establishing a voice for Indians in American politics. The organization argues that to achieve these objectives, Indians must begin to look beyond tribal identities and local concerns in order to advance their common national interests.
Death of Wovoka
Jack Wilson dies in Yerington, Nevada. As Wovoka, Wilson led the revival of the Ghost Dance in 1890, a spiritual and political movement leading to the Massacre at Wounded Knee.
National Congress of American Indians
The National Congress of American Indians holds its first conference in Denver, Colorado. Building on the efforts of earlier organizations such as the Society of American Indians and the American Indian Federation, the NCAI works to overcome tribal provincialism and forge a Pan-Indian alliance to advance the common objectives of Native Americans in the modern United States. The NCAI will lead the opposition to the "termination" policies advanced by Congress during the 1950s, leading to the repudiation of these policies by President Richard Nixon in 1973.