Western Indian Wars (detail from photo 'Lakotas Receiving Rations at Standing Rock Reservation, ca. 1881')

Buffalo Soldiers, Geronimo, and Wounded Knee

Buffalo Soldiers

In 1866 and 1867, the army recruited six regiments of African Americans for regular service, about 6,000 men. Organized as four infantry and two cavalry regiments, they participated in many actions against Indians. Because of their thick curly hair and fighting spirit, the Indians called them buffalo soldiers.


Geronimo and his band of Chiricahua Apache fought government domination longer than any other group of Indians. In the 1870s, the United States forcibly moved the Chiricahua to an arid reservation in eastern Arizona. Geronimo resisted at first, but was caught and seemingly became resigned to reservation life. In 1881, however, he and his band escaped and began raiding settlements in the United States and Mexico.

Until his final surrender in 1886, Geronimo would at times agree to stay on the reservation, and then flee with marauding warriors. He became infamous in sensational press reports. In the final campaign against him, the army needed Apache scouts plus more than 5,000 soldiers to hunt him down. General Nelson A. Miles led the force that finally captured Geronimo. Miles had served bravely in the Civil War, when he was wounded four times and accorded the Medal of Honor. He received the medal shown here for service in the Indian Wars, during which he defeated Crazy Horse of the Lakota and captured Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce.

Wounded Knee

Stirred by a spiritual revival centering on the “Ghost Dance,” a group of Lakota left their reservation in South Dakota. On December 29, 1890, as they returned to surrender, a scuffle broke out. Hearing a shot, soldiers fired, killing more than 200 men, women, and children—the last to die in the Indian Wars.

Buffalo Soldiers
Soldiers on the parade ground at Fort Yates, North Dakota
Geronimo’s warriors
Nelson A. Miles
Burying Indian dead at Wounded Knee

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