When Christopher Columbus made his first landfall in the Bahamas he was so certain that he had reached the East Indies that he called the natives ‘Indians’, the name by which they are still known today. He found them a friendly, peaceful people. Spaniards who explored what is now the southwestern United States found the natives equally friendly. They lived in permanent settlements, growing crops. The tribes on the eastern sea-board, however, spent much of their lives hunting and fishing in the deep forests where they made their homes. One of the tribes in the east was the Iroquois, another a group which including the Seminoles, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Natchez and Creeks.
At first Indians and white men lived and traded in harmony but as time went on the former, seeing that their lands and food supplies were threatened, began to fight for their very existence. Soon there was continuous small-scale fighting. One of the most powerful tribes, the Blackfeet, killed every white man, woman and child who entered their territory, although the whites, in their turn, took a terrible revenge. The early pioneers moving westwards in their lumbering ‘prairie schooners’ and the men laying the Union Pacific railroad were always in danger of surprise attacks from Indians. This was especially likely in the south where the Crow and Cheyenne hunting grounds were, as well as those of the Kiowa, Navaho, Comanche and Apache further south still. Finally, these skirmishes flared into open warfare in 1866 when the great Sioux nation resolved to throw the white man out of their lands. After a few initial victories they wiped out a strong American force under General George Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. That was their last great victory however. By 1890 treaties were signed and an uneasy peace existed at last between Indians and ‘Palefaces’.