History Files

The Americas

North American Native Tribes


Native American Tribes (North America)

MapGenerally speaking, the European settlers in North America coined the phrase 'Indian' or 'Red Indian' to describe the native peoples they found. This vast collection of tribes occupied varying regions and climates between what is now Canada and modern Mexico (see the accompanying regions map link, right, to see how they were distributed). Various terms have been introduced since then to describe the native peoples, none of which are universally accepted.

Older native people have grown up with the label 'Indian' and see no reason to change now. The earliest use of 'red Indian' certainly post-dated the Norse settlers of Newfoundland's Vinland settlement in the early eleventh century. They would have encountered the Beothuk people, who were know to daub themselves in red paint, further emphasising their skin colour, but the Norsemen wouldn't have been expecting any 'Indians' even if they did know what they were.

CompendiumAs the vast majority of North American Indian history comes from oral tradition which was only committed to writing many years later, these histories are, for the most part, incomplete. What is shown here and in the linked pages, whilst being little more than merely 'selective', has yet to achieve 'exhaustive' status, and still less 'definitive', but it is getting there!

However, a fairly exhaustive list of tribes, sub-tribes, and bands is included, which will be supplemented with more details as this section evolves and improves. (More information about individual Indian groups is available via the compendium link, right.)

(Information by Mick Baker, from primary sources by John Smith (1607), William Strachey (1616), The Virginia Census of 1669, and Robert Beverly (1705) with additional information from James Mooney (1907), from Everyday Life of the North American Indian, Jon Manchip White (1979), from The Encyclopaedia of North American Indian Tribes, Bill Yenne (1986), from The Native Tribes of North America - A Concise Encyclopaedia, Michael Johnson (1993), from the Atlas of Indians of North America, Gilbert Legay (1995), from Colonial America to 1763 (Almanacs of American Life), Thomas L Purvis & Richard Balkin, from The Indian Tribes of North America, John R Swanton, and from External Links: First Nations: Issues of Consequence, Lee Sultzman, and Legends of America, and Historic Jamestowne, and Colonial - A Study of Virginia Indians and Jamestown: The First Century, and Access Genealogy, and Maps of United States Indians by State, and Native American Research, and America colonisation cooled Earth's climate (BBC News), and This Day in History (History), and Solar storm confirms Vikings settled in North America (The Guardian).)


Eight timber-framed buildings covered in sod stand on a terrace above a peat bog and stream at the northern tip of Canada's island of Newfoundland: the L'Anse aux Meadows settlement. In 2021 a new dating technique reveals the precise date at which Leif Erikson's Viking settlement is founded in Vinland, by this group which has travelled from Greenland.

Leif Erikson
Leif Erikson's name is preserved by the Icelandic sagas which record the relatively short-lived Viking settlement of Newfoundland

The new dating method relies on the fact that solar storms produce a distinctive radiocarbon signal in a tree's annual growth rings. It is known there had been a significant solar storm in 992 involving a burst of high-energy cosmic rays from the sun. The trees which are cut down for the Viking dwellings have twenty-nine additional rings after that date, meaning that they are felled in 1021.

Leif Erickson is the offspring of Eirik the Red, a leading figure in the Norse settlement of Greenland. He himself is the son of Thorvald Asvaldsson of Jadar, who had been exiled from Norway in the 870s for murder. He had gone on to settle on the newly-discovered island of Iceland, providing the first link in the chain which would lead to Vinland.


According to the testimony of the Piscataway tribe as given in 1660, around the middle of the thirteenth century there comes a king from the eastern shore who rules over all of the natives who now inhabit the Algonquian-speaking lands of eastern Virginia, and also over the Patawomeck and Susquehannock. Nothing much is known about the eastern shores tribes at this time, but by around the early 1600s it is Debedeavon who is their leader, under the domination of the Powhatan confederacy.

Chesapeake Bay
Did a 'king' from the eastern shore really come to the Chesapeake Bay area in the mid-thirteenth century to rule over a number of tribes there, creating an 'empire' which endured for many generations?

c.1300 - 1400

The Late Mississippian is a period of decline. By 1300 the great mound-building city of Cahokia is a ghost town. A second massive flooding event takes place between 1340-1460, which probably helps to terminate the already-fading Mississippian culture itself. Cultural and even language traits survive in many former Mississippian groups, however. As those groups coalesce into the tribes which exist to greet the Europeans in the next three centuries, many of those traits are recorded.


The Mohegan migrate east as part of the Pequot and settle in eastern Connecticut at a point around this period in time, while the Mahican remain in the Hudson Valley. These two tribes follow separate paths and seem to have sprung from separate sources, despite their language connections and the proximity of their early settlements to one another. Some modern scholars postulate a shared origin, but there is nothing to prove this.

1522 - 1524

The Italian explorer, Giovanni da Verrazzano, makes contact with a people who are most likely to be the Lenape, who refer to the strangers from across the sea as the 'Swannuken', the 'salt water people'. They are friendly and curious and would probably have remained so but Verrazzano tries to kidnap some of them before he departs. During the next eighty years, most of the coastal Algonquian speakers learn the hard way to beware the European ships that occasionally stop to raid their villages for slaves.

Discovery of the Americas
With Spain - perhaps the most powerful European nation at this time - having already conquered large swathes of the central and southern Americas, other Europeans headed northwards to discover fresh territory and perhaps their own route to China

c.1530s - 1550

FeatureThe first chief of a new confederacy along the eastern seaboard is driven north to the Virginia area by Spanish colonists in Florida and surrounding regions. Once there, he and his Pamunkey followers take over control of at least five other Indian tribes in Virginia.

Upon his death his son, a young Wahunsenacawh, inherits the duty of ruling over the six communities. He gradually expands his Powhatan confederacy to cover more than thirty groups that includes several thousand people.

1538 - 1542

Hernando de Soto is given the governorship of Cuba and is charged with the task of colonising the North American continent for Spain within four years (territory that later forms part of the modern United States).

He leads the first European expedition deep into the territory of North America where, in a great arcing journey across what is claimed for the Louisiana territory, he traverses Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas. After encountering ever greater difficulties, de Soto dies of a fever on 21 May 1542.

One of the earliest Spanish areas of exploration in North America, Louisiana provided more of a challenge than had New Spain, with native groups proving quite hostile

1585 - 1587

The English Roanoke Colony is founded in late 1585 or early 1586 on Roanoke Island (in modern North Carolina). Hidden by outer banks, the island is protected from being spotted by passing Spanish ships. The colony is abandoned the following year, leaving a hundred and eight colonists starving, who are then massacred by the natives. An attempt to re-establish the colony in 1587 also fails, with the settlers disappearing utterly and only the bones of a single man being discovered, and the word 'Croatoan', the name of a native tribe, etched onto a tree.

The final group of colonists, led by John White, disappear after three years without supplies from England, which is involved in a war with Spain. They become known as the 'Lost Colony' after their leader, John White, returns to them from his drawn-out trip home for supplies to find them vanished. It is surmised that the colonists either die out or become assimilated into the local native tribes.

Roanoke Colony
The Roanoke Colony, located on the large island to the lower centre-left of the illustration, was founded in 1586, but by the following year it had failed

1621 - 1623

FeatureThe Dutch West India Company is founded to deal with trade monopolies in the Americas and West Africa. In 1623 it establishes the Province of New Netherland, and settlers begin to arrive from the Netherlands, the Spanish Netherlands (modern Belgium) and areas of Germany. In 1624, the first director-general is appointed by the West India Company to govern the colony; an explorer and fur trader who has been instrumental in building up the colony. By this time it seems likely that the first Dutch settlers have also entered Long Island, the western portion of which is claimed by New Netherland as Lange Eylant (see feature link).


The first wave of Swedish and Finnish settlers arrive under the leadership of Peter Minuit (former director-general of New Netherland). They create New Sweden when they settle land on the lower Delaware (claimed by the Dutch) and build Fort Christina. The land is claimed to have been purchased from the local Delaware and Susquehannock, although they counter the claim with accusations of land theft.

FeatureThe disruption which has been caused by European settlement in North America has led and is leading to a huge swathe of abandoned agricultural land being reclaimed by fast-growing trees and other vegetation. This pulls down enough carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to eventually chill the planet - a cooling period which is often referred to as the 'Little Ice Age', a time in which winters in Europe regularly witness the River Thames freezing over.

Native American depopulation may not be the only cause however. The harsh actions of Pope Innocent VIII in 1484 would seem to show that the Little Ice Age has already started before massive depopulation hits the American natives, sparked by another depopulation - that of the Black Death (see feature link).


As their lands are sold, most of the Munsee, with the exception of a few families, move west to Pennsylvania's Wyoming Valley where Moravian missionaries begin their work among them. The mixed Delaware, Shawnee, and Mingo villages which arise in western Pennsylvania and Ohio after this date supposedly owe their allegiance to the Iroquois league. Concerned that these tribes might fall under the influence of New France, the British urge the Iroquois to have them return to the Susquehanna, but when the Iroquois order them to do so, they are ignored.

King George's War
King George's War in the 1740s was just one phase in a complicated power struggle between Britain and France for control of North America, and also for political and military dominance in Europe, and the native Americans were forced to take sides in the struggle

1802 - 1818

By now only a few isolated Mahican families continue to live along the Hudson. In 1808 nearly one-third of the Stockbridge under the leadership of John Metoxin accept an offer made by their relatives amongst the Delaware and Miami and, in 1818, John leads a group that heads westwards to the White River in Indiana - amounting to around twenty-five per cent of the tribe's total population.

In 1812 the Russian-California period begins as the southernmost extension of Russian America. Native tribes in the district include the 'Kashia Band' of Pomo natives around the Stewarts Point Rancheria. Also known as Kashaya Pomo, the Pomo are the dominant tribe in the district. With the arrival of the Russians, the tribe is conscripted to work for them but is not broken up or converted to Christianity. Lesser tribes in and around the area include the Wappo, the Coastal Miwok, and the Lake Miwok, together with the periphery tribes of the Costanoan, Patwin, and Yuki.


On 12 July 1861 Special Commissioner Albert Pike of the Confederate States of America completes treaties with members of the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes, giving the newly-formed CSA several allies in 'Indian Territory' (bordering Arkansas to the west - later to become Oklahoma).

Confederate States of America President Jefferson Finis Davis
Jefferson Finis Davis was born on 3 June 1808 in Christian County, Kentucky, and led the Confederate States of America throughout its existence during the American Civil War

Ironically, many of the CSA's native allies are tribes that had been expelled from the southern states during the 1830s and 1840s. Their animosity towards the federal government is greater than it is towards the CSA, and during the American Civil War they fight on behalf of the CSA. The Catawba, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole tribes are the only ones to fight on the confederate side.


On 20 March, Governor E Lee Trinkle signs 'an Act to Preserve Racial Integrity', a law which aims to protect whiteness at the state level in the USA. It prohibits interracial marriage, defines a white person as someone who has no discernible non-white ancestry, and requires that birth and marriage certificates indicate people's race. Quite naturally this creates a major problem for anyone affected by this - including many of the powerful Virginian families who can trace their lineage back to the son of John Rolfe and Pocahontas of the Powhatan confederacy, and who had started what may be termed a new 'First Family of Virginia'.

However, between 1920 and 1950 those race-obsessed state officials who try to define a pure white race as one that 'does not contain a single drop of non-white blood', are fighting a losing battle if they try to exclude any of the elite Virginian families who claim such a heritage.

Delaware Stockbridge
The remnants of a great many tribes of the eastern seaboard congregated as the Stockbridge, Brotherton, and Housatonic, seeking protection amongst numbers - this oil painting is entitled 'Delaware Indians sign the Treaty of Penn', by Benjamin West


The Piscataway have long been denied the right of recognition but, finally, on 9 January 2012, they achieve success when Governor Martin O'Malley issues executive orders recognising all three Piscataway groups as native American tribes. For their part, the three tribes agree not to engage in any plans to participate in gambling projects. The executive orders specifically state that the tribes are not granted any special 'gambling privileges'.

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