Pea Ridge National Military Park

The most celebrated event in American history is the Civil War. Each year, thousands of people dress up in period costumes and reenact popular battles. The American landscape is littered with state parks, national parks, and historic markers celebrating the Civil War. This war not only divided the Americans, but also the Indians, particularly those living in Oklahoma. Many of the tribes, such as the Cherokee and the Creek, were divided between their loyalties to a slave-owning confederacy and to the federal government.

One of the early battles in the Civil War which involved Indians occurred in Arkansas in 1862 at a place known as Pea Ridge. Nearly a century later, in 1956, the Arkansas congressional delegation proposed legislation to make this battlefield a national military park. Congress responded by passing the act which created the Pea Ridge National Military Park.

Pea Ridge

Pea Ridge 12

The Pea Ridge National Military Park is shown above.

Confederate Monument

The Confederate monument at Pea Ridge is shown above. Long before the Pea Ridge battlefield was declared a national monument, many Union and Confederate veterans attended reunions at the site. The first of these was held in 1887, some 25 years after the battle. The veterans dedicated monuments on the battlefield to both the Union and Confederate dead.

The Cherokee at Pea Ridge:

Prior to the Civil War, the Cherokee in Oklahoma were a deeply divided nation. The Civil War exacerbated this division: John Ross, a slave owner and principal chief, supported the Union and spent the war attempting to lead a government in exile; Stand Watie, a southern sympathizer, replaced Ross as principal chief and led Cherokee troops for the Confederacy. Stand Watie, who held the rank of Colonel in the Confederate Army, formed the 2nd Cherokee Mounted Rifles and commanded this regiment at Pea Ridge.

At the Battle of Pea Ridge almost 1,000 Cherokee made up two Confederate regiments. These Indian regiments were a part of the division commanded by General McCulloch.

In spite of the fact that the Union forces were outnumbered and outgunned by the Confederates, the Battle of Pea Ridge was a decisive victory for the Federal Army.

After the battle, Watie commanded a brigade of Native American troops. He led his troops in 18 battles and major skirmishes. In 1864, he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General. When he surrendered to Federal troops in June 1865 he was the last Confederate general to surrender.

Stand Watie

General Stand Watie is shown above.


Shown above are Cherokee Confederates at a 1903 reunion.  

Trail of Tears:

The Pea Ridge National Military Monument is also a part of the Cherokee Trail of Tears. A portion of the pre-war Old Telegraph/Wire Road in the Monument includes 2.5 miles of the Trail of Tears.

In 1838, the United States Army rounded up the Cherokee in Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and Alabama and then force-marched them 1,500 miles to Oklahoma. The Trail of Tears – called Nunna daul Isunyi in Cherokee which means “trail where we cried” – resulted in the death of an estimated 8,000 Cherokees. The Cherokees were forced to abandon their property and their unharvested crops. Mounted soldiers, using their bayonets as prods, herded the Cherokee like cattle.

The Cherokee were removed in 13 different groups which traveled by different routes.

The Civil War and Indians in Arizona

In some parts of the country, such as Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), the Civil War divided Indian nations with some joining the Union forces and others joining with the Confederacy. In other parts of the country, such as Arizona, the Civil War simply meant that Indians now had two enemies rather than just one. In many instances, the tribes were unclear about the difference between Union and Confederate forces.  

The California Volunteers under the command of General James Carlton entered Arizona from the west in 1862 with the intent of displaying a Union presence in a territory whose sympathies lay with the South. At Maricopa Wells, the Americans met with the Maricopa. One of the members of the Volunteers wrote:

“They presented a comical appearance, half-civilized, half-barbarous, as they rode up to our camp on their raw-boned ponies, dressed off in some United States uniforms given them by order of the General; brass buttons and red paint, infantry dress coats and bare legs, military caps and long hair.”

The Maricopa chief expressed friendship with the Americans and asked for weapons so that they might defend themselves. Two years earlier, the Maricopa, together with some American allies-the Gila Rangers-had raided the Yavapai, killing 13 and capturing five who were sold into slavery in Mexico. The Maricopa, who were probably unaware of the reality of the Civil War, viewed these new American troops as potential allies and potential partners in their raids against other Indians.

Like the Maricopa, the Apache were probably unaware of the Civil War, but when Union troops entered their territory they responded in what they felt was an appropriate fashion: under the leadership of Cochise and Mangas Coloradas, the Apache attacked the column. The troops set up artillery and returned fire. The Apache were driven off by canon fire and Mangas Coloradas was wounded. In response to this attack, Union forces established Fort Bowie at Apache Pass so that the military could escort travelers, mail couriers, and supply trains through the pass.

The attitude of the Americans toward the Apache was expressed by a member of the California Volunteers who wrote:

“Before leaving Apache Pass too far behind I wish to say that I am an advocate for the extermination of the Apaches. They have never made and kept a treaty of peace, but have ever been thieves, highwaymen and murderers. Year out and year in, hundreds have perished upon the roads by their hands, and it is estimated that within the past twelve months at least one hundred white persons have been killed by them on the road between Tucson and the Rio Grande; some of which murders were most horrible, tying up their victims by the heels and building slow fires under their heads.”

In New Mexico, Union General James Carlton ordered Kit Carson to round up the Mescalero Apache and confine them on a reservation at Bosque Redondo. The General’s orders:

“The men are to be slain whenever and wherever they can be found. The women and children may be taken as prisoners.”

Traditionally, army officers used captured Indian women as sexual slaves.

With regard to the Confederate attitudes toward the Indians in Arizona, the Confederate governor of Arizona wrote to the commander of the Arizona guards:

“The Congress of the Confederate States has passed a law declaring extermination to all hostile Indians. You will therefore use all means to persuade the Apaches of any tribe to come in for the purpose of making peace, and when you get them together kill all the grown Indians and take the children prisoners and sell them to defray the expense of killing the Indians.”

In 1863, Union General Carleton issued an ultimatum to the Navajo: they were to peacefully transfer to the reservation at Bosque Redondo or be treated as hostile. Colonel Kit Carson then began to wage a “scorched earth” campaign against the Navajo. The plan, devised by General Carleton, called for all male Navajo to surrender or be shot.

In 1863, soldiers under a white flag lured Apache leader Mangas Coloradas into a parley where he was seized. While he was sleeping, his guards touch his feet with bayonets which have been heated in the fire. When he rose in protest, he was shot. The army claimed he was killed while trying to escape.

As the other Apache prisoners watched, the soldiers boiled Mangas Coloradas’ severed head in a cauldron to prepare the skull for scientific study. While the Anglo scientists had an interest in correlating brain size and skull shape with intelligence, character, and racial characteristics, the Apache viewed the mutilation as a barbarity that exceeds the murder. As a consequence, Apache mutilation of American enemies they had killed became more common.

In 1863, Arizona gained political independence from New Mexico and its new constitution disqualified Indians from participation in the electoral process.

At Fort Yuma, Arizona, the United States negotiated a treaty of peace in 1863 among the Pima, Mohave, Yavapai, Maricopa, Chemehuevi, Walapai, and Yuma. The purpose of the treaty was to promote safe travel in tribal territories by the Americans. The tribes also promised to help the Americans in their war against the “Apache Tribes.” The treaty was not ratified by the Senate.

In 1864, Union General James Carleton took command of the war against the Apache. He claimed that he could subdue the Apache quickly and sent hundreds of troops against them. Like other Americans, Carleton never understood that there were several distinct Apache tribes and assumed that the Apache were a single unified tribes. Consequently, the American troops spent most of their time attacking peaceful groups, creating more enemies.

A U.S. Army dispatch summarized the official attitude regarding the Apache in Arizona territory:

“All Apache Indians in that territory are hostile, and all Apache men large enough to bear arms who may be encountered in Arizona will be slain wherever met, unless they give themselves up as prisoners. No women or children will be harmed; these will be taken prisoner.”

While Arizona’s many Indian nations did not become directly involved with the Civil War, during the war the American stereotypes and antagonisms towards the Indians seemed to intensify and help justify the Americans’ genocidal attitudes.  

American Indians and the Civil War

One of the major American events during the nineteenth century was the Civil War. This war, which lasted from 1861 to 1865 and caused 620,000 soldier deaths, divided the United States into two warring factions: the Union and the Confederacy. The Civil War not only divided the Americans, but also the Indians, particularly those living in Oklahoma. Many of the tribes, such as the Cherokee and the Creek, were divided between their loyalties to a slave-owning confederacy and to the federal government. Cherokee leader John Ross, himself a slave owner, and Creek leader Opothle Yoholo favored neutrality in the conflict.  

In Oklahoma, the United States withdrew its troops from Indian Territory and the Confederacy increased its pressure on the tribes to sign treaties of alliance with them. As a result the Five Tribes-Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, and Seminole-signed confederate treaties.

Yet Indians provided soldiers to both Union and Confederate armies. In North Carolina, for example, shortly after the war began the Cherokee organized a battalion to fight for the Confederacy. In Wisconsin, an estimated 500 to 600 Indian men joined the Union army. The men enlisted as individuals and escaped the attention of state officials. Since Indians were not considered citizens, they were not drafted by either the Union or the Confederacy.

In 1862, the governor of Wisconsin wrote to the Secretary of War asking about the possibility of using friendly Indians in the army. The Secretary of War informed the governor that the President did not want Indians as troops.

While the Second Creek Mounted Regiment in Oklahoma was composed of 800 men on paper, in reality, the Confederate commanders frequently furloughed their men due to lack of Union activity and shortages of food and supplies. In Indian fashion, the soldiers often drifted home for their own reasons until they heard that they were needed. Then they would return to their camps. While this pattern annoyed the non-Indian officers, it was accepted by the Indian officers.

During the Civil War, both sides had Indian generals. For the Union, General Ely S. Parker was the most prominent. Parker was Seneca and was related to both Red Jacket and to Handsome Lake. Union troops often referred to him as “Grant’s Indian” and “Big Indian.”  Later, under the administration of President Grant, Parker became the first Indian to occupy the position of Commissioner of Indian Affairs. He was also the last Indian to occupy this position for nearly a century.

For the Confederacy, General Stand Watie commanded the last Confederate combat unit to surrender to Union forces. Watie was Cherokee and was the brother of Elias Boudinot, the first editor of the Cherokee Phoenix. Some historians have described Watie as “ruthless, a negrophobe, and no saint.”

Elias Cornelius Boudinot, the son of Cherokee leader Elias Boudinot, was not only a lieutenant colonel in the Confederate Army, he was also elected to the Confederate Congress. Not all Cherokee supported the Confederacy: Lewis Downing rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Union’s Third Indian Home Guards.

Many of the Indian troops had their own war medicine and it was not uncommon for a medicine man to paint their faces prior to battle.

In recognition of the Confederate service by the Cherokee, the North Carolina General Assembly passed an act in 1866 that provided: “That the Cherokee Indians who are now residents of the State of North Carolina, shall have the authority and permission to remain in the several counties of the state where they now reside.” In 1900, the United Confederate Veterans was founded by Indian veterans in South Carolina.

The Lowry War

The popular histories of Indians often focus on the many Indian wars, often fought in the Southwest or on the Great Plains. In 1907, the War Department officially enumerated 1,470 incidents of military action against American Indians between 1776 and 1907. According to the War Department, only two of these actions have the formal status of “war” under U.S. Army terminology: the 1877 Nez Perce War and the 1878 Bannock Indian War.

One of the Indian wars which is often overlooked in the popular histories did not take place in the west, but in the South, more specifically in North Carolina. The Lowry War is one part of the story of complex race relations in the South.  

In the era leading up to the Civil War, the economy of the American South was based on plantation agriculture which was supported by slave labor. As a consequence, the South was segregated along so-called racial lines into “White” (the Euro-American slave owners) and “Black” (slaves, primarily of African descent). American Indians really didn’t fall into either category and consequently were (and still continue to be) a troubling enigma for the racially conscious South. Indians were sometimes slaves, and many were also slave-owners. During the 1830s, Southerners, together with the federal government, attempted to solve their “Indian” problem by removing all Indians from the region. However, not all Indians left.

In the racially divided South, there was a tendency to classify Indians as “free people of color,” thus grouping them with Blacks racially, but recognizing that they were not slaves.

In 1861, the South entered the Civil War. In North Carolina, “free people of color” (meaning Indians) were conscripted to build Fort Fisher on Cape Fear to protect the Confederate port of Wilmington. Conscription was viewed as military service and therefore those who resisted or fled were to be shot for desertion.

The Lumbee resisted North Carolina’s attempts to conscript them and many hid in the swamps to avoid authorities. The North Carolina Home Guard retaliated by burning Lumbee homes and stealing their property. Thus began the Lowry War in which Henry Berry Lowry led the Lumbee along with some blacks and non-Indians in a fight against the Confederacy in Robeson County.

The Lumbee did not simply avoid conscription officers, but actively fought against them. In 1865, Henry Berry Lowry killed a recruitment officer who had killed several of Lowry’s relatives. The North Carolina Home Guard then invaded the Lowry homestead, killing his father and his older brother. In response, Henry Berry Lowry and his followers raided the courthouse in Lumberton. They seized a large number of modern, breech-loading rifles destined for the local militia.

The little band then started a series of raids against upper class land owners. The band often showed up to plunder in the early evening and, posting a guard, would politely dine with their hosts before taking the goods.

In one incident, the band was ambushed by the local militia. When the band counterattacked, the militia fled. The band then stole the safe from the sheriff’s office and another one from a large store. They left both safes open and empty on the main street of Lumberton.  

In 1865, Henry Berry Lowry married Rhoda Strong. In the midst of the wedding feast, the local militia invaded and Lowry was taken prisoner. However, he soon escaped from jail, enhancing the legend of his invincibility. Among local people, particularly Indians, Lowry was seen as a a shape-changer; a culture hero who could not only change his own shape, as legends and contemporary accounts illustrate, but who changed the shape of a whole people.

The Lowry War ended in 1872 when Henry Berry Lowry disappeared and what was left of his group disbanded. Following his disappearance, Henry Berry Lowry was rumored to have been seen in New Mexico. Other rumors had him accidently shooting himself with the implication that no one else had the power to kill him.

One of the tangible legacies of the Lowry War was official acknowledgement that the Lumbee were Indians. Southern culture was-and still is-biracial: it sees only two races, white and black. Southern culture has had difficulty with the idea that “people of color” could wage a war for more than a decade. Therefore, North Carolinians preferred to regard the conflict as an Indian War and its protagonists as Native.

Indians & Race in the South After the Civil War

Following the Civil War, attitudes regarding race in the South hardened. Reinforced by pseudo-scientific reports that claimed that Whites were a superior race, and by religious claims that Whites had been chosen by God to have dominion over others, the Southern states passed laws regarding miscegenation and other forms of racial mixing (including segregated schooling, housing, and health care). Race functioned to rationalize thoughts and behavior; to explain both human behavior and social status as being innate.  

As a biracial South developed, the Indians were placed in a difficult position. Many had been slave owners prior to the Civil War and had attitudes toward African Americans that were similar to Southern Americans. On the other hand, the Southern Americans viewed the world as having only two kinds of people: Whites and Others (including African-Americans, Coloreds, and Indians). Thus in the eyes of many non-Indians, Indians in the South were the same as African-Americans: they were an inferior race and were to be segregated from White Americans. The greatest challenge faced by the Native people who remained in the South was that racism distinguished only between black and white. The dominant white society often refused to acknowledge any distinction among ‘people of color’ and placed African Americans and Native Americans in the same category. This biracial obsession denied the distinct cultures, histories, and problems of Native people.

The concept of Indians as a distinct race is neither an Indian concept nor an ancient European one. Indians were originally seen by Europeans not as racial inferiors but as people in a less developed state of culture, not unlike English peasants before the Romans arrived. When the Creek first came into contact with Europeans and for several generations afterward, they had no concept of race. Any child of a Creek mother was also Creek, sharing her town and clan affiliations.

Many Southern Americans strongly believed (and some still continue to believe) that all Indians had voluntarily left the South and relocated to Oklahoma. Therefore, anyone who claimed to be Indian was obviously a fraud, perhaps a Black trying to pass as non-Black. Therefore, it was easy to dismiss claims of Indianness and to assign these people to the inferior legal status of “colored.”

The American federal government also reinforced the concepts of race which had been reported by some of the pseudo-scientific studies of the nineteenth century. In order to determine who was Indian, the federal government adopted and promoted the idea of blood quantum. According to the blood quantum theory, the amount of ‘blood’ a person possesses from a particular race determines the degree to which that person resembles and behaves like other members of that race.

Blood quantum is based on the idea that race, and therefore behavior, is somehow carried in the blood, and that an Indian who has some European “blood” would be superior to a “full-blood” Indian. From the viewpoint of the federal government, a person with less than one-half or one-quarter Indian “blood” could be considered non-Indian. However, the social rules regarding miscegenation clearly indicate that a single drop of black blood made the individual black.  

In the century following the Civil War, Indian people in the Southeast had to fight to carve out for themselves an identity that retained their Indian culture in an environment that denied this heritage. In Mississippi, for example, the Choctaw refused to be lumped with the black community and they constantly sought to assert their separate Indian identity. Among the Mississippi Choctaw, native dress, language, dances, music, games, and crafts have had an important function as symbols of a distinct ethnic identity, and this function has served to foster their survival.