Extinct Tribes A-Z

An alphabetical list of extinct American Indian tribes of the United States A to Z.

Each tribal profile explains who they were, where they lived, how they lived, an account of first contact with Europeans, population if known, and a brief explanation of what happed to them.

During the Pre-Columbian era, there were thought to be over 1,000 Native American civilizations, all residing within what we would consider the United States today.

From a pre-contact population estimated at between one and ten million, the American Indian population in the United States declined to approximately 600,000 in 1800. It continued its rapid decline in the nineteenth century, reaching a low of 237,000 in the decade 1890-1900 before recovering in the twentieth century.

Resisting the widespread belief that American Indians were doomed to extinction, nineteenth-century reformers successfully pressed the government to take an active role in assisting the population.

Reformers believed that severing tribal bonds and promoting the private ownership of land would give Indians an incentive to work and, ultimately, save the population from continued decline.

Under their urging, federal policy shifted from military subjugation, land cession, and removal efforts to policies promoting acculturation and assimilation.

 In the late nineteenth century, when Congress passed legislation that allotted reservation land in severalty to individual Indians, promoted Indian citizenship in the United States, and enrolled Indian children in boarding and reservation day schools, where they were taught English and vocational skills.

The campaign to assimilate Indians resulted in substantial economic and cultural costs for American Indians.

Between 1887, when the government passed the sweeping General Allotment Act (or Dawes Act) and 1934, when the Indian Reorganization Act (or Wheeler-Howard Act) ended allotment, the amount of land owned by American Indians declined by 62 percent. 

Between 1887 and 1920, the percentage of Indians wearing “citizen’s clothing” increased from 24 to 59 and the percentage speaking English increased from 10% to almost 40%.

Although several historians have examined the impact of removal policies on the Indian population, remarkably few researchers have studied the impact of late-nineteenth century assimilationist policies. 

When the Wheeler-Howard Act ended allotment, John Collier, Commissioner of Indian Affairs in the Roosevelt Administration, argued that in addition to being the cause of Indian spiritual and material decline, allotment was responsible for an Indian death rate twice that of the white population.

Researchers have estimated the Indian population of the continental United States as low as 720,000 (Kroeber, 1939) and as high (for all of North America) as 18 million (Dobyns, 1983). Most estimates fall in the range of 2-7 million, implying a population loss between 1492 and 1900 in excess of 85 percent. 

As Thornton notes in his population history, all reasons for American Indian population decline stem in part from European contact and colonization, including introduced disease, warfare and genocide, geographical removal and relocation, and destruction of ways of life (Thornton, 1987, 43-4).

Most scholars agree that diseases introduced from the Eastern Hemisphere, including smallpox, measles, and influenza, were the overwhelming cause of population decline.

The relationship between epidemic disease and American Indian population decline is relatively well documented in the nineteenth century.

There were at least 27 epidemics among American Indians, including 13 epidemics of smallpox (two of which were major pandemics), 5 epidemics of measles, and two epidemics of influenza.

Smallpox was especially destructive. The 1801-02 pandemic all but destroyed the Omaha, the Ponca, the Oto, and the Iowa, and killed a large percentage of the Arikara, the Gros Ventre, the Mandan, the Crow and the Sioux.

The 1836-40 smallpox pandemic may have been the most severe episode of disease experienced by North American Indians, killing 10,000 American Indians on the upper Missouri in a few weeks, including virtually all the Mandans, and one-half of the Arikara, the Minnetaree, and the Assiniboin.

Warfare and genocide were much less important reasons for population loss, although wars had a large impact on some tribes. With some notable exceptions, such as the Creek (1813-14) and Seminole Wars (1835-42), most nineteenth-century Indian wars were fought west of the Mississippi.

The Cherokee, who formally sided with the Confederacy in the American Civil War (1861-65) but contributed soldiers to both sides, may have lost as much as one-third of their population during the Civil War.

The Plains Indians and the United States were engaged in nearly 50 years of constant warfare, culminating in the military subjugation of the Sioux and Cheyenne late in the century and the massacre of several hundred Indians at Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota in 1890.

Removal and relocation policies, especially after Congress passed the Indian Removal Act in 1830, also led to the deaths of thousands of American Indians.

The removal and relocation of the “Five Civilized Tribes” of the American Southeast – the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Seminole, Creek, and Choctaw – are perhaps the best known, but most tribes in North America experienced removal and relocation at some point in their history.

Justified as the only means to protect Indians from encroaching whites (while securing valuable land for white settlement), removal often resulted in substantial population loss.

Thornton estimates that the Choctaws lost 15 percent of their population during removal, the Creeks and Seminoles lost about 50 percent of their populations as a combined result of war and removal, and the Cherokee, along the infamous “Trail of Tears” lost an estimated 4,000 out of 16,000 individuals in their relocation to Indian Territory in the late 1830s.

When indirect losses are included, Thornton estimates that the Cherokee suffered a net loss of 10,000 individuals.

Finally, changes in ways of life contributed to Indian population decline. Loss of wild game, relocation, and confinement on reservations resulted in abrupt changes in traditional means of subsistence, leading to poverty, malnourishment, and greater susceptibility to disease.

The near total destruction of the nation’s buffalo in the late nineteenth century resulted in widespread starvation of many Plains Indians.

Over the course of the nineteenth century, the number of buffalo declined from approximately 60 million to less than one thousand. The US Government directly promoted this slaughter to deliberately starve Native American Tribes of the Plains into submission, to force them onto reservations.

When Yellowstone National Park became our first national park, in 1872, only 25 purebred bison remained.

On the other hand, some changes in ways of life may have been positive. The Navajo, for example, benefited from rapidly expanding herds of government-provided sheep and goats and selling blankets and jewelry to tourists.

Despite the inhospitable climate of the Navajo reservation, population growth was positive after the 1868 U.S.-Navajo treaty established the Navajo Reservation.

Today the Navajos are the largest tribe in the United States.

In 1865, a joint special committee of Congress was called to investigate Indian depopulation. Its report, while placing most of the blame for Indian depopulation on the expanding non-Indian population, concluded that the Indian population must be “civilized” or ultimately disappear.