I find myself reading a lot about Native Americans these days. I've always admired their culture, their respect for the land and the natural world. Unfortunately during the mid 1800's we essentially decimated their population and culture, by either slaughtering them or forcing to live in inhospitable reservations where they were unable to live according to their traditions. We also introduced them to smallpox and alcohol as an added bonus. We encroached upon their land and manipulated them into signing absurdly one-sided treaties, which we kept revising. Many of the Native American tribes were openly hostile towards the white settlers and the threat to their way of life, which is understandable. However, there were many Chiefs and tribes that struggled to attain a lasting peace with the U.S., notably Black Kettle of the Cheyenne Nation.
From Wikipedia: At dawn on November 29, Chivington (Colonel in the U.S. Army) attacked the Sand Creek reservation. Most of the warriors were out hunting. Following Indian agent instructions, Black Kettle flew an American flag and a white flag from his tipi, but the signal was ignored. The Colorado forces killed 163 Cheyenne by shooting or stabbing. They burned down the village encampment. Most of the victims were women and children. For months afterward, members of the militia displayed trophies in Denver of their battle, including body parts they had taken for souvenirs.
At a later battle, Black Kettle was eventually killed along with others, while trying to escape the Battle of Washita River, when and his wife were shot in the back. By that time all prospects of peace were lost and the Amerian Indians were essentially wiped out at Wounded Knee .
Shamefully, we destroyed a great legacy of culture, knowledge and wisdon. All this in the name of "manifest destiny", which really meant greed, brutality and racsim. The quest for gold, the vested interests in the railroads and the irrepressible drive towards commercialism and commerce. It's especially painful to realize that while all this was happening African-Americans were enduring the horror of slavery. It's a legacy than none of us can be proud of. Perhaps when we played "Cowboys and Indians" as kids, we had the wrong side as the "good guys."
I recommend reading Dee Brown's classic, "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee", "Black Kettle: The Cheyenne Chief who sought peace, but found war", "Hear That Lonesome Whistle Blow", also by Dee Brown about the building of the transcontinental railroads, and "Black Elk Speaks."