Genealogy: Early Indian Wars 1815-1858, Researching and finding military records

Indian WarsBy Barry J. Ewell
The early Indian wars also known as the old wars refer to conflicts between American settlers or Federal government with Native Americans.  The conflicts include the following:

  • Northwest Indian War 1785-1795
  • Creek War 1813-1814
  • First Seminole War 1817-1818
  • Winnebago War 1827
  • Black Hawk War 1832
  • Second Creek War 1836-1837
  • Cherokee Disturbances and Removal 1836-1939
  • Second Seminole War 1835-1842
  • Third Seminole War 1855-1858

Finding evidence that ancestor served in the U.S. military
The following are few tips I have used to define if my ancestor might have served in the military during this period of time.

  • List all the wars that existed during the each ancestor’s life time and what age they were during the war.  As a rule of thumb the age range for soldiers during a war period is 16-60.
  • Look for clues that might be found on gravestones, family papers, obituaries, biographies.
  • Look where the ancestor lived. Does your ancestor live on what is referred to as the frontier (western most land) of the United States in the early 1800′? This might indicate that he received bounty lands.
  • Search indexes for military land patents and other military records. If you don’t find ancestor in one index, try another.  It is not uncommon to have ancestors who were veterans of multiple wars.

Search for the following records
Pension records. Search for pension applications and records of pension payments for veterans, their widows, and other heirs. The pension applications usually provide the most information and can include supporting documents such as marriage, birth, and dead records/certificates, pages from family Bibles, family letters, dispositions of witnesses, affidavits, discharge papers and other supporting documents. Indian War records includes a family questionnaire that shows the wife’s maiden name, date and place of marriage and who performed the marriage, former wife if any, date and place of death/divorce, names and birth dates of living children. Even if your ancestor did not receive a pension, look to see if his pension request was denied. Pension applications, pension-payment records and many other military records for all U.S. forces 1775–1916 are held at the NARA in Washington, D.C.

Bounty land applications also are related wartime service. The federal government provided bounty land for those who served in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and Indian wars between 1775 and 1855. Bounty lands were offered as incentive to serve and as a reward for service. Bounty land was claimed by veterans or their heirs.  The actual bounty land warrants have less information. Digitized land patents may be found on the Bureau of Land Management.

bount land warrantLand surrender warrants.  Many veterans who received bounty-land did not take possession but instead sold them to another party. To find the land surrender warrant, you will need to know the war, the warrant number, the number of acres, and the act of congress under which the persona was eligible.  These can be requested using the NATF form 84, “Order the copies of the land entry files” at order online at www.archives.gov.

Service Records. The service records consist of compiled service records (CMSRs) which were formed from various sources (e.g., muster rolls, descriptive rolls, pay rolls.)  The service records can show the soldier’s name, rank, regimental unit (usually showing the last name of the regimental commander), the company commander’s name, dates of service and pay, whether the soldier was a substitute, date of discharge, and sometimes, distance to the soldier’s home from place of discharge, date of death, if applicable, and periods of sickness.

Societies. Search for information and records provided by various societies related to the Indian wars that include Continental Society Daughters of Indian Wars and Order of the Indian Wars of the United States.

On the internet.  To find records and learn more about the Early Indian Wars, try the following Google searches

  • Indian Wars index to pension applications files
  • Indian Wars bounty land applications OR warrants
  • Mexican War service records
  • Indian Wars FamilySearch OR Ancestry.com OR Fold3
  • National Archives Indian Wars
  • Indian Wars societies
  • Texas Indian Wars (Replace Texas with the desired state)
  • United States Indian Wars
  • Northwest Indian War 1785-1795
  • Creek War 1813-1814
  • First Seminole War 1817-1818
  • Winnebago War 1827
  • Black Hawk War 1832
  • Second Creek War 1836-1837
  • Cherokee Disturbances and Removal 1836-1939
  • Second Seminole War 1835-1842
  • Third Seminole War 1855-1858

Search the cemetery. Finding graves of your ancestors is really hit and miss. Resources to consider as a starting point follow: