The Lakota people, also known as the Teton Sioux, were one of the most powerful Native American tribes of the Great Plains. They faced many enemies and conflicts throughout their history as they defended their homelands and way of life. Here is an overview of some of the Lakota’s major adversaries over the centuries.
The Crow were longtime enemies and rivals of the Lakota Sioux. This enmity dated back centuries to a split within a larger Siouan-speaking tribe. The Crow were centered in what is now southern Montana and northern Wyoming, directly west of the prime Lakota lands of the Dakotas.
Battles and raids between the Crow and Lakota were common occurrences for hundreds of years as they competed for hunting grounds, horses, and other resources. The Crow were one of the few tribes that could match the Lakota’s fierceness and tenacity in warfare. Major Lakota leaders like Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse earned their reputations in part through fights with the hated Crow enemy.
Crow Warfare Tactics
The Crow were masters of stealth and surprise attacks. Their warriors would conceal themselves and their horses using the camouflage of the prairie land. When attacking Lakota camps, the Crow would split into multiple small bands and attack from multiple sides to confuse their enemy. The Crow used their knowledge of the terrain to set up ambushes and attack at opportune times.
Famous Crow Chiefs
Some of the most renowned Crow war chiefs who battled the Lakota included:
- Plenty Coups: A Crow chief and warrior who fought against Lakota incursions into Crow lands. He was known for his courage and shrewd battlefield instincts.
- Two Leggings: Led Crow warriors in raids on Lakota hunting camps and villages. His fighting prowess made him a leading chief by the mid-1800s.
The Pawnee were a powerful plains tribe centered in what is now Nebraska and northern Kansas. For generations, they faced aggression from the westward-expanding Lakota.
The Pawnee lived in permanent earth lodge villages and practiced agriculture along with hunting bison. This semi-sedentary lifestyle clashed with the Lakota’s completely nomadic culture, which was centered on following and hunting the bison herds.
Battles Between the Pawnee and Lakota
Violent clashes between the two tribes escalated in the 1800s as both groups increased their territories and vied for control of hunting grounds. Famous battles included:
- 1834 – Lakota attacked a Pawnee earth lodge village, killing more than 70 men and women.
- 1846 – A large Lakota war party ambushed a Pawnee hunting group, killing more than 30 hunters.
These losses took a major toll on Pawnee numbers, which had already been declining drastically due to disease introduced by white settlers.
Pawnee Defense and Survival
To survive Lakota aggression and expand their trading networks, the Pawnee cultivated alliances with white settlers and the U.S. military. They received guns and other weapons that helped them continue resisting Lakota encroachment.
However, the Pawnee were ultimately forced to cede their Nebraska homeland and relocate to a reservation in Oklahoma territory in the 1870s.
For a period in the early 1800s, the Cheyenne people formed one of the Lakota’s most formidable adversaries. The Cheyenne had migrated from the Great Lakes region to the plains alongside the Lakota centuries earlier.
They shared many cultural traits with the Lakota, including mobile lifestyles and reliance on horses and bison hunting. This brought them into direct competition for resources.
Early Conflicts and Battles
In the early 19th century, the Cheyenne allied themselves with the Arapaho tribe and stayed concentrated around the headwaters of the Platte River in Colorado. From here, they launched frequent raids and attacks on Lakota bands encroaching from the east.
Major confrontations during this time included:
- 1804 – Cheyenne forces ambush a Lakota hunting camp, killing Cheyenne Chief White Thunder.
- 1849 – Lakota warriors led by Little Thunder attacked Cheyenne camps on two separate occasions.
Later Peace and Alliance
As American expansion intensified across the plains in the mid-1800s, the Lakota and Cheyenne found a common threat. They made peace around 1840 and allied against encroaching settlers, the U.S. Army, and rival tribes like the Crow, Pawnee, and Shoshone.
This Lakota-Cheyenne alliance played major roles at infamous battles like the Fetterman Fight and Little Bighorn against U.S. forces.
U.S. Military and Settlers
As American pioneers pushed west across the plains throughout the 1800s, they inevitably came into violent contact with Lakota bands defending their territory.
Early Small-Scale Conflicts
During the early 1800s, the sparsely populated western frontier saw mostly small-scale conflicts between Lakota war parties and groups of American troops or settlers. Notable examples include:
- 1823 – Lakota warriors attacked trappers led by Ashley on the Upper Missouri River, killing 14 trappers.
- 1854 – Lakota killed 40 soldiers under Lt. Grattan who trespassed into Lakota territory while seeking justice after a Minnesota trade dispute.
The Plains Indian Wars (1864-1890)
In the 1860s-1880s series of final armed conflicts between Native tribes, U.S. military, and settlers engulfed the plains. The Lakota were a major force resisting American expansion and conquest during these wars. Famous battles Lakota warriors fought against the U.S. Army include:
|1876||Battle of Little Bighorn (Lakota victory led by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull)|
|1876||Battle of Slim Buttes (Lakota forced American forces retreat)|
|1890||Wounded Knee Massacre (U.S. forces kill over 150 Lakota)|
Ultimately, the Lakota and other Native peoples were unable to stop the demographic tide of settlers and America’s expansion. They lost their homelands and independence but remained a proud and resilient people.
Throughout their history, the Lakota faced many hostile rivals and enemies as they fought to maintain their nomadic way of life across the Northern Great Plains. They battled fellow Native tribes like the Crow and Pawnee for hunting domains and access to scarce resources.
Beginning in the early 1800s, American settlers and U.S. military forces became the Lakota’s main adversary. Clashes escalated into the devastating final Plains Indian Wars. Despite courageous resistance, the Lakota ultimately lost control of their sprawling ancestral lands and were confined to reservations.
The Lakota remain a proud nation today, maintaining connections to their heritage and history as one of the dominant Native peoples of the Northern Plains before American expansion.