The Plains Indian Wars happened during the late 1860s and 1870s, where the nomadic, buffalo hunting Plains Tribes in Kansas clashed with the United States. The US government wanted to move the natives to reservations, but the tribes fought to keep their way of living. A lot of bloody encounters happened, and countless lives were lost. Let’s have a look at these tribes who fearlessly fought for their traditional ways of life against hopeless odds.


Chief Bearman, left, and Chief Mad Bull, members of the Cheyenne Tribe
Chief Bearman, left, and Chief Mad Bull, members of the Cheyenne Tribe, calling on Pres. Harris & Ewing, photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Cheyennes, just like other Indian nations, were horse warriors who mastered fighting while mounted on their horses. They had learned the way of the horse from the Spaniards who had previously tried to subdue them without success.

Cheyenne tribe was also known for their Dog Soldiers, who were aggressive and effective combatants that would stand their ground to the death as it was the custom of these fierce warrior tribes to accept nor give any surrender in battle.

In April 1856, a Cheyenne warrior was wounded after an incident at the Platte River Bridge. They retaliated by attacking travelers along the Emigrant Trail near Fort Kearny the following summer. This resulted in the attack of the US Cavalry that killed 10 Cheyenne warriors and wounded eight. The incident marked the first of the long-winding battles the Cheyenne fought against the US Army.


Portrait of Silver Horn (1860–1940), an important Kiowa Indian chief, warrior, and ledger artist. Elbridge Ayer Burbank, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Kiowa tribe migrated from western Montana into the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and then into the Southern Plains by the early 19th century. They were known for their long-distance raids reaching far south into Mexico. They allied with the Comanche, who were notable for being absolutely savage in battle. During the Buffalo Wallow Fight in 1874, about 125 Comanche and Kiowa warriors attacked US soldiers. As Texas State Historical Association wrote, “The mounted Indians indulged in a cat-and-mouse game with their intended victims by circling them and firing on a dead run.” The attack caused casualties on the soldiers while no Indian fell victim to their guns.


Band of Sioux Warriors. BPLCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Sioux tribe were known for their resistance to Western expansion, and for a reason. Their first encounter with the US soldiers that started the Sioux Wars was the Grattan Fight. This happened when the soldiers entered a large Sioux camp to arrest a man accused of taking a migrant’s cow. One of the soldiers shot Chief Matȟó Wayúhi, that battle that broke out, as a result, killed 29 soldiers.

They were also responsible for massacres at the Little Bighorn that defeated the Custer’s Regiment of the 7th Cavalry and the Fetterman Massacre in 1866. In the Fetterman Massacre, they ambushed and killed 81 troopers under the command of Captain William J. Fetterman. There were numerous others like the Colorado War, Powder River War, and the Ghost Dance War. Overall, the Sioux are generally considered to be among the most fearsome of the Indian Tribes of the late 18th century.

All talk of their warrior skills aside, the Indian wars were grinding wars of attrition between the tribes and the settlers whose cultures and way of life had come into conflict in so much blood and death.  Even warriors grow weary of war as Sioux chief Crazy Horse once said, “All we wanted was peace and to be let alone.”