In the first chapter, Brown presents a brief history of the discovery and settlement of America, from 1492 to the Indian turmoil that began in 1860. He stresses the initially gentle and peaceable behavior of Indians toward Europeans, especially given their apparent lack of resistance to early colonial efforts at Europeanization. It was not until the further influx of European settlers, gradual encroachment, and eventual seizure of American lands by the "white man" that the Native people were shown to exhibit forms of major resistance.
Brown completes his initial overview by briefly describing incidents up to 1860 that involve American encroachment and Indian removal, beginning with the defeat of the Wampanoags and Narragansetts, Iroquois, and Cherokee Nations, as well as the establishment of the West as the "permanent Indian frontier" and the ultimate breaches of the frontier as a means to achieve Manifest Destiny.
In each of the following chapters, Brown provides an in-depth description of a significant post-1860 event in American Western expansion or Native American eradication, focusing in turn on the specific tribe or tribes involved in the event. In his narrative, Brown primarily discusses such tribes as the Navajo Nation, Santee Dakota, Hunkpapa Lakota, Oglala Lakota, Cheyenne, and Apache people. He touches more lightly upon the subjects of the Arapaho, Modoc, Kiowa, Comanche, Nez Perce, Ponca, Ute, and Minneconjou Lakota tribes.
Brown discusses the plights of Manuelito and the Navajo people in New Mexico, who make treaties and other efforts to maintain peace with Euro-Americans despite their encroachment upon Navajo land, stealing livestock and burning entire villages as punishment for perceived misbehavior. The second, third and fourth generation European immigrants occupy land in Navajo country not only to build their own forts, the first of which was Fort Defiance, but also claim rights to the surrounding prized Navajo lands as pasture for their livestock. Various disputes occur between the Navajo and the Euro-Americans, culminating in a horse race between Manuelito and a US Army lieutenant who wins as a result of dishonesty and trickery. The consequence is a massacre of Navajo bystanders.
The US Army General James Carleton orders the Navajos to relocate to a reservation at Bosque Redondo, where the Apaches had recently been moved, but is met with resistance. Employing a scorched-earth campaign, Kit Carson and Carleton force a large majority of resistant Navajos and Apaches to surrender and flee to the reservation. Manuelito and a few other Navajo leaders refuse to surrender but finally agree to relocate to the Bosque in 1866 "for the sake of the women and children", signing a peace treaty on June 1, 1868.
The narrative of the Sioux begins with Brown's discussion of the Santee Dakota tribe. Following a poor harvest and lack of promised support from the US government in the early 1860s, members of the tribe became angry at white people. After the murder of several white men and women by young Dakota, the frustrated Santee tribe, led by Chief Little Crow, attacked Fort Ridgely and a nearby town. When the Santees refuse to surrender their white hostages to Colonel Sibley, they are forced into battle again at Yellow Medicine River. The Santees lose and over three dozen Santee warriors are executed in December 1862. Santee chiefs, including Chief Little Crow, were killed during the following six months, and the remaining Santees are removed to a Missouri River and Crow Creek reservation.
Brown's discussion of the Oglala Lakota begins with the US Army's 1865 invasion of the Powder River country in Montana. The army is confronted with opposition from the local Lakota and Cheyenne tribes. This and other skirmishes result in heated conflict between the US Army and the Oglala Lakotas led by Chiefs Red Cloud and Roman Nose, forcing the US Army to retreat for the winter. The high death toll among US troops fostered great confidence in the Native Americans who began a journey to the Black Hills.
By the US Army's request, the Sioux chiefs and approximately 2000 other warriors arrived at Fort Laramie in May 1866 for treaty talks. The tribes quickly learned of the army's intent to build roads and railroads through Sioux land. As construction progresses, the Sioux plan an attack on the white men and harass white traffic through the Powder River country. Red Cloud unknowingly leads approximately 3,000 Lakota into an ambush, later called the Fetterman Massacre, at Peno Creek where 81 white men and 200 Lakotas are killed. Conflict continues between the US Army and the Lakota for years despite peace commissioners being sent to Powder River to address differences. In 1868 the US Army retreats upon the signing of the peace treaty with Red Cloud.
In 1869 Red Cloud is invited to Washington D.C. to speak with Donehogawa, a member of the Iroquois tribe who is serving as the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in the US government. Chief Red Cloud and his tribe members express their discontent with the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie which defined their reservation land as bordered by the Missouri River rather than the Powder River. Commissioner Donehogawa corrected this mistake by declaring the Powder River country as reserved for Lakota hunting grounds. Donehogawa's agency was later accused of being like a "savage Indian" and the agency was unable to purchase supplies for the reservations. Donehogawa was subsequently forced to resign his commission.
In 1874, when rumors of gold in the Black Hills were delivered by Custer and his men to the white settlers on the plains, miners and panhandlers flooded the Black Hills, angering the Lakota and Dakota living there. A peace council in 1875 tried to arrange for the US government to either purchase the mineral rights or outright ownership of the Black Hills, but both proposals were rejected by the Sioux. In 1876, a series of battles occur between the Sioux and US troops which initially ends when the Sioux defeat General Custer and his troops at the The Battle of Little Bighorn on June 29. The humiliated US Army sends a peace council to sign a treaty that forces the Sioux out of the Black Hills to the Missouri River. The troops follow this treaty with numerous attacks on Lakota villages.
Following the removal of the Lakota from the Black Hills to the Missouri River Reservation, Sitting Bull, in exile in Canada and participating in unsuccessful peace talks, returns to American soil and surrenders at Fort Buford. He is removed to the Hunkpapa reservation at Standing Rock; he subsequently joins Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. The Lakota were ultimately forced to sign a treaty in 1890 that further divided and limited their reservation.
Sitting Bull is later arrested in an attempt by US authorities to suppress Sitting Bull's endorsement of the Ghost Dance which they considered a religious disturbance. The two Native American policemen sent to arrest Sitting Bull killed him. Following the death of Sitting Bull, a conflict arose that resulted in the Hunkpapas and Minneconjous tribes fleeing Standing Rock. Deciding against further resistance, the tribes join Red Cloud at Pine Ridge where they encounter Major Whitside in late December 1890. The tribes are subsequently directed to Wounded Knee, where a member of the Minneconjou tribe called Black Coyote refuses to surrender his rifle. The US Army reacts with violence which results in the deaths of 150-350 Native Americans and 25-31 US Army soldiers. The Lakota that survived the assault fled to Pine Ridge, and returned to Wounded Knee the next day only to bury their families and comrades.
The 1858 Pikes Peak gold rush in Colorado creates a swarm of white settlers onto Cheyenne and Arapaho lands and instigates treaty talks that result in removal of Cheyenne and Arapaho territory to any area between Sand Creek and the Arkansas River. When the Civil War brings the US Army into Cheyenne and Arapaho territory, the resulting conflict endorses the murder of "hostile Indians". The Cheyenne tribe responds with numerous strikes on the army outposts.
In early 1866, the Southern Cheyenne Dog Soldiers are asked to sign the treaty that would relocate them to the south with Black Kettle and his tribe. When they refuse, Roman Nose organizes an attack which is thwarted by the coming of winter. In the following year a peace council is held between the General Hancock's army and the Cheyenne which ends when Hancock's army burns the Cheyenne camp to force their cooperation. After a series of retaliatory assaults, a treaty is signed by the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, and Comanche tribes which relocates them to the reservation south of Arkansas River. Roman Nose doesn't sign the treaty. Instead he leads his Dog Soldiers on more war parties and is eventually killed. Generals Custer and Sheridan burn Black Kettle's village and the remaining band of Dog Soldiers are killed.
After the surrender and removal, the Northern Cheyenne tribe led by Little Wolf and Dull Knife are unable to sustain themselves on the poor land at Fort Reno, and they form a hunting party to hunt buffalo north of their reservation. Their hunt was unsuccessful, and the tribe continues to suffer severe losses due to health problems from malnutrition and a measles epidemic. Chiefs Little Wolf and Dull Knife decide to move north but this leads to more violent encounters with the US Army. The tribes are reduced to nearly 10% of their earlier population. Dull Knife and his tribe try to join Red Cloud, and they defy orders to return to their southern, buffalo-depleted reservation. Battles ensue, and Dull Knife's tribe is pursued north until the majority of the tribe are killed. The survivors take refuge at Red Cloud's reservation.
The friendly relations between the Apaches and Euro-Americans, that were once signified by the Apaches allowing white travelers to pass through their land unmolested, began to diminish when Apache Chief Cochise was imprisoned for allegedly stealing cattle and kidnapping a white boy from a settler's farm. When Cochise escaped, he and his warriors killed three white men, and the army responded by hanging male members of Cochise's family. Cochise spent the next two years leading attacks on the Euro-Americans. In 1865, after Cochise refuses a treaty designed to relocate his Chiricahua tribe to a reservation, the Apaches successfully avoid contact with white men for a number of years. But in 1871, a group of settlers, Mexicans, and warriors from competing tribes massacre an Apache village, and Cochise and his followers retreat into the mountains. They stay there until the chief agrees to move the Apache to a reservation in the Chiricahua Mountains in Arizona. He dies soon thereafter in 1874.
The Apache nation is divided after Cochise's death, and they soon become infamous for raiding white villages. The Chiricahua Apaches, avoiding attempts to relocate to a reservation, flee into Mexico. Victorio and his Warm Springs Apaches are removed to the San Carlos agency in southeastern Arizona in 1877. The entire tribe is eventually killed, to stop their raids on white settlers. Geronimo and his tribe leave their reservation only to return heavily armed and determined to free their fellow Apaches. This results in the stationing of Apache guerillas in Mexico. Negotiations with Geronimo and the guerillas continue over the next few years as alleged stories of the guerillas’ brutalities and atrocities circulate. In 1886, Geronimo flees once again before being incarcerated and transported to a reservation in Florida with the remaining Chiricahua Apaches.
Captain Jack, the Chief of the Modoc tribe located in Northern California, is described as a Native American friendly to the "white people" who settled in his country. As larger numbers of settlers trespass onto Modoc land and small disputes arise between the Modocs and white settlers, the US government coerces a treaty, over Captain Jack's reluctance, that will relocate the Modocs to a reservation in Oregon and shared with the Klamaths. Conflicts between the two tribes quickly begin, and the Modocs return south to California. Their return is halted by a skirmish between the tribe and an army battalion in 1872, and the Modocs divert to the California lava beds. Another group of Modocs, led by Hooker Jim, murdered 12 white settlers and forced Captain Jack to lead his tribe into a battle against the US Army. A peace commission led by General Canby, conducts peace talks with Captain Jack who eventually, under pressure from Hooker Jim's Modocs, agrees to kill Canby should the original Modoc land not be returned to the tribe. As feared, Canby refuses to return the land to the Modocs, and he is killed by Captain Jack. Hooker Jim betrays Captain Jack to the army, and he is hanged on October 3, 1873.
After the Battle of Washita in 1868, General Sheridan ordered all tribes involved to surrender at Fort Cobb; the Kiowa tribe refused. The Kiowa chiefs are arrested and both the Kiowa and Comanche people are forced onto the Fort Cobb reservation. The Kiowas and Comanches, led by Satanta and Big Tree, decide to attack the white men, and they kill 7 teamsters. This results in the arrest and imprisonment of both chiefs. Lone Wolf, another Kiowa Chief, arranges for the release of White Bear and Big Tree so they can attend the peace talks at Fort Sill. In early 1874, while on parole, White Bear and Big Tree lead the Kiowa and Comanche tribes on an attack against white settlers in order to preserve the buffalo. When both tribes flee their reservations, they are hunted down by the US Army. Upon their surrender in early 1875, they are exiled in Florida.
Despite maintaining peaceful relations with whites, the Nez Perces are forced to sign a treaty in 1863 which removes them to a small reservation in Idaho. Chief Joseph and his tribe designated this agreement as the "thief treaty". Being highly offended by the treaty terms, and the sudden influx of gold miners and cattle farmers onto Nez Perces land, the tribe refused to move to the Lapwai Reservation, choosing instead to fight the US Army at White Bird Canyon in June 1877. After winning that battle, the tribe fled to Canada with Sitting Bull, but then they lost the battle at Big Hole River in August and were forced surrender. Some members of the tribe managed to find refuge in Canada, but those that surrendered were split between the Lapwai reservation and the Colville reservation in Washington.
Despite having previously signed treaties guaranteeing their ownership of the land on the Niobrara River, the Ponca land was taken from via a subsequent US treaty and given to the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota tribes just before they were added to a list of tribes to be exiled to Indian Territory following Custer's defeat. Ponca Chief Standing Bear was arrested along with other chiefs for refusing to leave voluntarily. The Ponca tribe was forced onto the Quapaw reservation, where over one quarter of their population died. Standing Bear returned to the Niobrara and takes his case to a white man's court in 1879 arguing that he is a person protected by the US Constitution. Standing Bear won his case but is informed by General Sherman that the case is specific to him and does not maintain validity for the other Poncas, who were forced to remain in Indian Territory.
The Utes are a Colorado tribe whose land was gradually overrun by mineral and gold miners. Chief Ouray signed a treaty in 1863 allowing settlers to mine Ute land and relinquishing all mineral rights. He signed another treaty in 1868 that allotted 16 million acres of forests and meadows in the Rockies as a personal reservation that prohibited white trespass. When disputes arose, Nathan Meeker attempted to assimilate the Utes into Euro-American culture, but William Vickers opposed the idea and started "The Utes Must Go!" campaign in 1879. Vickers called on the US cavalry to prevent an uprising by the Utes. The Utes responded by killing all the white men at the White River Indian agency. In 1881, as a result of outrage over the White River Massacre, the Utes were removed to a marginal reservation in Utah.