Orlando And American Massacres

native american massacres

Image by Ryan Dix via Behance

The recent massacre in Orlando, Florida killed about fifty people. It was an horrific attack by a lone gunman on a nightclub of innocent people going about their peaceful business. Because of the description of the shooter as the son of an Afghan immigrant and his religious beliefs this incident has been conflated into much more than a crazed man carrying out a shooting; it has become a reflection of many of the fissures in American society which have come to the fore during this election season. The shooting has raised the question of immigration rules needing to be addressed; Islamophobia; the social exclusion and civil rights of the gay and lesbian community; and the right to bear arms and source them freely. It has been incorrectly described by the mass media as the largest shooting massacre in the U.S.

This Orlando massacre was not the largest shooting massacre in the U.S. There were many more involving greater numbers. However, these other massacres, like the Orlando massacre, involve important questions of civil rights and social justice which the ideology of American nativism has never paused to consider or draw out the implications of the tragedies. This is largely because the massacres were committed against “the others” in the society. These includes native Americans, blacks, labour unions and now the gay and lesbian groups.

Very little is taught in the American schools of the history of massacres; why they happened; and what they meant. These massacres have taken place throughout the history of the colonisation and settlement of America. One of the most serious massacres, which set the scene for the civil rights movement was the Battle of Fort Pillow, also known as the Fort Pillow massacre. It was fought on April 12, 1864, at Fort Pillow on the Mississippi River in Henning, Tennessee. When Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation many black volunteers joined the Union Army (much as they had joined the American Revolutionary Army in 1776). The Confederate States issued a proclamation that any Black soldier captured in battle would be tried as an insurrectionary slave and put to death. At the battle of Fort Pillow the Union forces, including four hundred troops from the 6th U.S. Regiment Colored Heavy Artillery and a section of the 2nd Colored Light Artillery, were besieged by a larger Confederate force led by Nathanial Bedford Forrest.

After several days of furious fighting the Confederates overwhelmed the Union forces. The troops attempted to surrender but Forrest gave the command to continue the slaughter. All the Black soldiers were executed on the spot. As the NY Times reported it at the time” (April 24, 1864):

“The blacks and their officers were shot down, bayoneted and put to the sword in cold blood…. Out of four hundred negro soldiers only about twenty survive! At least three hundred of them were destroyed after the surrender! This is the statement of the rebel General Chalmers himself to our informant.”[i]

Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest went on to form the Klu Klux Klan after the war.

Perhaps the greatest history of massacres was those perpetuated against the Native American population over the years. Here below is a partial list of such massacres. There were eighteen others which are left off the list as they involved less than the number of victims in Orlando. The sheer number of dead is outstanding and outrageous.

Major Native American Massacres:

1623   May 12 Pamunkey Peace Talks   The English poisoned the wine at a “peace conference” with Powhatan leaders, killing about 200; they physically attacked and killed another 50. 250

1637   May 26 Mystic Massacre  In the Pequot War, English colonists commanded by John Mason, with Mohegan and Narragansett allies, launched a night attack on a large Pequot village on the Mystic River in present-day Connecticut, where they burned the inhabitants in their homes and killed all survivors, for total fatalities of about 600–700.  600-700     

1644   Massapequa Massacre John Underhill’s men killed more than 100 Indians near present-day Massapequa. 100+

1644   March   Pound Ridge Massacre As part of Kieft’s War in New Netherland, at present day Pound Ridge, New York, John Underhill, hired by the Dutch, attacked and burned a sleeping village of Lenape, killing about 500 Indians.  500    

1675   December 19     Great Swamp Massacre  Colonial militia attacked a Narragansett fort near South Kingstown, Rhode Island. At least 40 warriors were killed and 300 women, children and elder men burnt in the village.  340       

1676   May   Massacre at Occoneechee Island  Nathaniel Bacon turned on his Occaneechi allies and his men destroyed three forts within their village on Occoneechee Island, on the Roanoke River near present-day Clarksville, Virginia. Bacon’s troops killed one hundred men as well as many women and children. 100+    

1676   May 10 Turner Falls Massacre    Captain William Turner and 150 militia volunteers attacked a fishing Indian camp at present-day Turners Falls, Massachusetts. At least 100 women and children were killed in the attack. 100

1676   July 2    Rhode Island     Militia volunteers under Major Talcott attacked a band of Narragansetts on Rhode Island, killing 34 men and 92 women and children. 126  

1689   Zia Pueblo  Governor Jironza de Cruzate destroyed the pueblo of Zia, New Mexico. 600 Indians were killed and 70 survivors enslaved. 600

1690   February 8  Schenectady Massacre  As part of the Beaver Wars, French and Algonquins destroyed Schenectady, New York, killing 60 Dutch and English settlers, including ten women and at least twelve children. 60

1704   Apalachee Massacre  Former Carolina Governor James Moore launched a series of brutal attacks on the Apalachee villages of Northern Florida. They killed 1000 Apalachees and enslaved at least 2000 survivors.  1000    

1712   Massacre at Fort Narhantes The North Carolina militia and their Indian allies attacked the Southern Tuscarora at Fort Narhantes on the banks of the Neuse River. More than 300 Tuscarora were killed, and one hundred were sold into slavery.   300    

1712   May       Fox Indian Massacre  French troops and Indian allies killed around 1,000 Fox Indians men, women and children in a five-day massacre near the head of the Detroit River. 1000

1713   March 20–23 Fort Neoheroka  Militia volunteers and Indian allies under Colonel James Moore attacked Ft. Neoheroka, the main stronghold of the Tuscarora Indians. 200 Tuscaroras were burned to death in the village and 900–1000 others were subsequently killed or captured. 1200

1730   September 9  Massacre at Fox Fort A French army of 1,400 soldiers and its Indian allies massacred about 500 Fox Indians (including 300 women and children) as they tried to flee their besieged camp. 500  

1747   October   Chama River   Spanish troops ambushed a group of Utes on the Chama River, killing 111 Indians and taking 206 as captives. 111     

1774   September  Spanish Peaks Spanish troops surprised a large fortified Comanche village near Spanish Peaks (Raton, New Mexico). They killed nearly 300 Indians (men, women and children) and took 100 captives. 300    

1782   March 8  Gnadenhütten massacre  During the Revolution, Pennsylvania militiamen massacred nearly 100 non-combatant Christian Lenape, mostly women and children; they killed and scalped all but two young boys. 100    

1805   January  Canyon del Muerto  Spanish soldiers led by Antonio Narbona massacred 115 Navajo Indians (mostly women, children and old men) in Canyon del Muerto, Arizona. 115

1813   November 3  Battle of Tallushatchee   900 Tennessee troops under General John Coffee, and including Davy Crockett, attacked an unsuspecting Creek town. About 186-200 Creek Warriors were killed, and an unknown number of women and children were killed, some burned in their houses. 186-200

1813   November 18    Hillabee Massacre Tennessee troops under General White launched a dawn attacked on an unsuspecting Creek town (the village leaders were engaged in peace negotiations with General Andrew Jackson). About 65 Creek Indians were shot or bayoneted.  65      

1813   November 29    Autossee Massacre (Battle of Autossee)             Georgia Militia General Floyd attacked a Creek town on Tallapoosa River, in Macon County, Alabama, killing 200 Indians before setting the village afire. 200    

1826   Dressing Point Massacre  A posse of Anglo-Texan settlers massacred a large community of Karankawa Indians near the mouth of the Colorado River in Matagorda County, Texas. Between 40 and 50 Karankawas were killed.  40-50   

1832   August 1  Battle of Bad Axe Soldiers under General Henry Atkinson and armed volunteers killed around 150 Indian men, women and children near present-day Victory, Wisconsin. 150

1840   March 19  Council House Massacre  The 12 leaders of a Comanche delegation (65 people including 35 women and children) were shot in San Antonio, Texas, while trying to escape the local jail. 23 others including 5 women and children were killed in or around the city. 88     

1840   October 24  Colorado River  Volunteer Rangers under Colonel Moore massacred 140 Comanches (men, women and children) in their village on the Colorado and captured 35 others (mostly small children). 140     

1840  Clear Lake Massacre A posse led by Mexican Salvador Vallejo massacred 150 Pomo and Wappo Indians on Clear Lake, California. 150       

1846   March Sacramento River Captain Frémont’s men attacked a peaceful band of Indians (probably Yanas) on the Sacramento River in California, killing between 120 and 200 Indians. 200

1847   February 3–4     Storming of Pueblo de Taos  In response to a New Mexican-instigated uprising in Taos, American troops attacked the heavily fortified Pueblo of Taos with artillery, killing nearly 150, some being Indians. Between 25 and 30 prisoners were shot by firing squads. 180

1850   May 15 Bloody Island Massacre  Nathaniel Lyon and his U.S. Army detachment of cavalry killed 60–100 Pomo people on Bo-no-po-ti island near Clear Lake, (Lake Co., California); they believed the Pomo had killed two Clear Lake settlers who had been abusing and murdering Pomo people. (The Island Pomo had no connections to the enslaved Pomo). This incident led to a general outbreak of settler attacks against and mass killing of native people all over Northern California. Site is California Registered Historical Landmark #427. 60-100

1851   Old Shasta Town  Miners killed 300 Wintu Indians near Old Shasta, California and burned down their tribal council meeting house. 300

1852   April 23  Bridge Gulch Massacre 70 American men led by Trinity County sheriff William H. Dixon killed more than 150 Wintu people in the Hayfork Valley of California, in retaliation for the killing of Col. John Anderson. 150

1852   November  Wright Massacre  White settlers led by a notorious Indian hunter named Ben Wright massacred 41 Modocs during a “peace parley”.41    

1853   Howonquet Massacre   Californian settlers attacked and burned the Tolowa village of Howonquet, massacring 70 people. 70    

1853   Yontoket Massacre A posse of settlers attacked and burned a Tolowa rancheria at Yontocket, California, killing 450 Tolowa during a prayer ceremony. 450       

1853   Achulet Massacre  White settlers launched an attack on a Tolowa village near Lake Earl in California, killing between 65 and 150 Indians at dawn. 65-150

1854   February 15  Chetco River Massacre  Nine white settlers attacked a friendly Indian village on the Chetco River in Oregon, massacring 26 men and a few women. Most of the Indians were shot while trying to escape. Two Chetco who tried to resist with bows and arrows were burned alive in their houses. Shortly before the attack, the Chetco had been induced to give away their weapons as “friendly relations were firmly established”. 36+     

1855   September 2  Harney Massacre US troops under Brigadier General William S. Harney killed 86 Sioux, men, women and children at Blue Water Creek, in present-day Nebraska. About 70

1856   June Grande Ronde River Valley Massacre  Washington Territorial Volunteers under Colonel Benjamin Shaw attacked a peaceful Cayuse and Walla Walla Indians on the Grande Ronde River in Oregon. 60 Indians, mostly women, old men and children were killed. 60

1858-1859 Round Valley Massacres  White settlers killed 150 Yuki Indians in Round Valley, California. Massacres continued through the spring and summer of 1859. In April 1859, in revenge for the killing of 3 cows and 1 stallion belonging to a white man, California militiamen massacred 240 Indians on the Eel River. On 1 May, Major Johnson reported that six hundred Yukis had been massacred by white settlers “in the last year”. 600    

1859   September  Pit River  White settlers massacred 70 Achomawi Indians (10 men and 60 women and children) in their village on Pit River in California. 70    

1859    May Chico Creek White settlers attacked a Maidu camp near Chico Creek in California, killing indiscriminately 40 Indians. 40

1860   Exact date unknown Massacre at Bloody Rock   A group of 65 Yuki Indians were surrounded and massacred by white settlers at Bloody Rock, in Mendocino County, California. 65

1860   February 26       Indian Island Massacre In three nearly simultaneous assaults on the Wiyot, at Indian Island, Eureka, Rio Dell, and near Hydesville, California white settlers killed between 200 and 250 Wiyot in Humboldt County, California. Victims were mostly women, children and elders, as reported by Bret Harte at Arcata newspaper. Other villages massacred within two days. The main site is National Register of Historic Places in the United States #66000208.        200-250

1861   Horse Canyon Massacre  White settlers and Indian allies attacked a Wailaki village in Horse Canyon (Round Valley, California), killing up to 240 Wailakis. 240

1862   August Kowonk Massacre  A posse of 25 California settlers killed 45 Konkow Indians on their reservation in Round Valley, California.  45

1863   January 29  Bear River Massacre  Col. Patrick Connor led a United States Army regiment killing Shoshone men, women and children near Preston, Idaho   280     

1864   Oak Run Massacre California settlers massacred 300 Yana Indians who had gathered near Oak Run, California for a spiritual ceremony. 300

1864   Skull Valley Massacre    A group of Yavapai families was lured into a trap and massacred by soldiers under Lt. Monteith in a valley west of Prescott, Arizona (Arizona). The place was named Skull Valley after the heads of the dead Indians left unburied. 170

1864   November 29    Sand Creek Massacre    Members of the Colorado Militia attacked a peaceful village of Cheyenne, killing at least 160 men, women and children at Sand Creek in Kiowa County. 160-180

1865   Owens Lake Massacre   White vigilantes attacked a Paiute camp on Owens Lake in California, killing about 40 men, women and children. 40

1868   November 27    Washita Massacre (Battle of Washita River)  During the American Indian Wars, Lt. Col. G.A.Custer’s 7th U.S. Cavalry attacked a village of sleeping Cheyenne led by Black Kettle. Custer reported 103 – later revised to 140 – warriors, “some” women and “few” children killed, and 53 women and children taken hostage Before returning to their base, the cavalry killed several hundred Indian ponies and burned the village.  160      

1870   January 23  Marias Massacre US troops killed 173 Piegan, mainly women, children and the elderly after being led to the wrong camp by a soldier who wanted to protect his Indian wife’s family.                                                                                                                                  173

1871   April 30  Camp Grant Massacre Led by the ex-Mayor of Tucson, William Oury, eight Americans, 48 Mexicans and more than 100 allied Pima attacked Apache men, women and children at Camp Grant, Arizona Territory killing 144, with 1 survivor at scene and 29 children sold to slavery. All but eight of the dead were Apache women or children.                                    144

1872   December 28     Skeleton Cave Massacre  U.S. troops and Indian scouts killed 76 Yavapai Indians men, women and children in a remote cave in Arizona’s Salt River Canyon. 76

1877   August 8  Big Hole Massacre US troops under Colonel John Gibbon attacked a Nez Perce village at Big Hole, in Montana Territory. They killed 89 men, women and children before being repulsed by the Indians.  89

1879   January 9–21     Fort Robinson Massacre  Northern Cheyenne under Dull Knife attempted to escape from confinement in Fort Robinson, Nebraska; U.S. Army forces hunted them down, killing 77 of them. The remains of those killed were repatriated in 1994. 77

1890   December 10     Buffalo Gap Massacre   Several wagonloads of Sioux were killed by South Dakota Home Guard militiamen near French Creek, South Dakota, while visiting a white friend in Buffalo Gap. 50

1890   December  Stronghold   South Dakota Home Guard militiamen ambushed and massacred 75 Sioux at the Stronghold, in the northern portion of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.75   

1890   December 29     Wounded Knee Massacre  Members of the U.S. 7th Cavalry attacked and killed between 297 Sioux men, women and children at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.  297      [ii]

These massacres do not include the many dead of the Indian Wars. The battles conducted by the new immigrants moving into the West were not only against Mexicans, to whom much of the land belonged. It was waged with ferocity and violence against the Native Americans (‘Indians’) who were already there. The treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo (1848), which ended the Mexican-American war, gave the United States the part of New Mexico Territory north of the Gila River. The land south of the Gila was acquired through the Gadsden Purchase of 1853. By that time the U.S. and the settlers were already violating their treaties made with the Indians. During the Mexican-American War many Apache bands agree to provide safe passage through their land for the U.S. soldiers. When the United States took over the former Mexican territories in 1848, Mangas Coloradas (of the Bedonkohe band of the Apaches) signed a peace treaty on April 2, 1851, accepting the Americans as the conquerors of the Mexicans. The Indians were expected to comply with their part of the treaty immediately while the U.S. said their obligations would commence with the ratification of the treaty by Congress. The discovery of gold in the Santa Rita Mountains and an influx of miners meant that the U.S. didn’t ever ratify the treaty. The Indians resisted further encroachments on their lands in violation of the treaty they had signed. They fought against the new settlers and miners.

A long series of Indian Wars began starting with the Jicarilla War in 1849. After the peace treaty between the Apaches and the U.S. in 1851 the refusal of the U.S. to stop wholesale immigration into Indian lands, the Apache, under Mangas Colorado, Cochise of the Chokonen band; Victorio of the Chihenne band; Juh of the Nednhi band; Delshay of the Tonto; and Geronimo of the Chiricahua band, attempted to co-ordinate the Apache efforts to keep out unwanted immigrants. More soldiers were sent and a number of forts were built. During the 1870’s, population jumped from 9,658 to 40,440. Sheep and cattle ranches multiplied. Irrigation was developed. Fortunes in gold, silver, and copper were made almost overnight.

The Indians were caught between the settlers and the miners as well as later between the Confederates on the Federals as the U.S. Civil War spread west. Mangas Colorado asked for a meeting with the U.S. Army. In January 1863, Coloradas agreed to meet with U.S. military leaders at Fort McLane. Coloradas arrived under a white flag of truce to meet with Brigadier General Joseph Rodman West, the officer in charge of the militia. Armed soldiers took him into custody, and West ordered the sentries to execute the Apache leader. That night Mangas was tortured, shot and killed, as he was “trying to escape.” The following day, soldiers cut off his head, boiled it and sent the skull to the Smithsonian Institution, where it is on exhibition today.

The U.S. decided to put the Apache, the Mescalero and the Navajo on reservations. Over the next thirty-five years the wars continued. They didn’t end until 1906, when the last group of Apache were forced back on the reservation. When Geronimo and his men were finally captured in 1886 they were sent to prisons in Florida; at Fort Pickens and Fort Marion. Many Apache died in the prisons. Later, Apache children were taken to the Carlisle school in Pennsylvania where fifty of them died. Eventually, after twenty-six years, the Apache in Florida were released to return to the reservations in the Southwest; Geronimo was sent to Fort Sill in Oklahoma.

The motivation behind the Orlando Massacre is unknown. However, the motivation for those other massacres listed above are not difficult to see. They are rooted in traditional American nativism, coupled with greed and avarice. The children and grandchildren of the settlers and miners who drove the Mexicans and the Indians from their lands; growing fat on the mineral wealth of their conquests and using the Federal Army as their source of justice in spite of the treaties that were signed promising fairness and territory to the owners of the lands they took, have small regard for the civil rights and liberties of those whom they massacred and from whom took away these rights as part of the consequences of them.

It is not strange to see that these same conflicts over race, religion and skin colour are still clouding the American political horizon; that it has a candidate for President who embodies all the evils of American nativism without any reflection of the cost of such policies. One can only remember the words of Thomas Jefferson “I fear for my country when I reflect that God is just”.

[i] Hall, Andy (April 15, 2014). “Understanding Fort Pillow: ‘Full and Ample Retaliation'”. Dead Confederates: A Civil War Blog. WordPress.on March 7, 2016
[ii] Taken from Wikpedia, 16 June 2016 (it has all the references)