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Sicangu Community Histories Fall 2012-Pt 3

December 9, 2012

“Standing Bear (age 15) heard Sitting Bull tell the people that the Black Hills ‘was just like a food pack’ (Ostler, 2010: 75)”. Referring to the resources there that would support the tribes, and allowing for sustenance[1] beyond the government dole (annuities).  “More than anywhere else in Lakota territory the Black Hills offered a diversity of resources, and this is what made them so important at a time when Lakotas were struggling to survive (Ostler, 2010: 75)”.  The `food pack’ metaphor referred to more than just the physical / economic aspect of life, it also “held important religious and spiritual meanings[2] (Ostler, 2010: 75)” as shown in the previous paragraphs.

Parfleche, 1885.

Parfleche, 1885.

With each instance of encroachment, and counter-action by the Lakota, the government worked to formulate agreements.  The agreements (in the form of Treaties or Acts of Congress) were intended to favor the needs of the American people, by opening up land for settlement, and ease the right of passage to lands further west and later, northwest of the lands in which the Lakota people resided.  Yet even to this day, there continues to be a lack of understanding by the Federal government regarding Lakota beliefs on the issue of land.

The Bureau of Land management has at times assumed that “Congress has changed or modified a particular treaty and acted accordingly (Pommersheim, 1979: 22)”.  When this has happened, and land had been opened for settlement, the return of property rights may not be an easy issue to resolve. This has especially been the case in regards to the Black Hills of South Dakota.

In 1849, the United States government established Fort Laramie as a military garrison.  Its purpose was to answer the demands of ‘over-landers’ for protection while traveling through Lakota territory. To “placate Lakota and other tribes unhappy about the overlanders, U.S. Superintendent for Indian Affairs David D. Mitchell and his associate Thomas Fitzpatrick,…proposed a peace conference (Ostler, 2010: 38)” This council began September 8, 1851 with a turn-out of around 10,000 representatives from various tribes[3].

The points of interest within this treaty were:

  1. Restitution for the damage done by emigrants to the Indian’s buffalo, grass, and timber, which would be made by providing an annuity of $50,000 for fifty years.
  2. Tribes were to maintain peaceful relationships among themselves.
  3. The tribes were to agree to permanent boundaries.1851treaty_lands_small

The council lasted until September 17th, when the signatures began to be placed on paper. During the council, Mitchell had insisted that the Lakota select a single chief to represent the people at the council. Clear Blue Earth[4] said this was too difficult a task, and tried to get Mitchell to agree to a representative or two for each band of people.  Under pressure, Maṫo Oyuhi[5] was selected.

But in May of 1852, the United States Senate had chopped the fifty year annuity down to ten years.  The change would be a final decision, and unknown to the tribes. Thus, the treaty-makers had failed to follow-through with the initial promises the tribes had understood when they had signed.

In 1853 came the first test of the treaty, in June, some Minneconjous attempted to take a ferry (operated by soldiers) across the North Platte. They were refused passage, the Minneconjous took the ferry, and the soldiers recaptured it. The commander at the fort sent soldiers to the Minneconjous camp to take the warrior who fired on the soldiers at the ferry.  They were refused; shots were fired and left four or five Indians dead.

Then in September, when the government tried to gain the assent of the Lakota people for the reduction of annuities from 50 to 10 years, those who were still angry over the deaths of Minneconjous earlier in the summer “raised their voices, this time arguing that they should dismantle Fort Laramie (Ostler, 2010: 42) “. The contention was that the fort was built in order support to protect them, but the soldiers had bloodied the ground.

The next dispute arose (in August) over an ox that strayed from main path.  The Minneconjous were camped with Maṫo Oyuhi.  High Forehead, a relative of one of the Indians killed the summer before, who came upon the ox and shot it. Maṫo Oyuhi heard the complaint of the emigrant and rode into Fort Laramie to inform the officers there of the incident, and offered restitution. But, the officers at the fort “were more interested in teaching the Lakotas a lesson (Ostler, 2010: 43)”.  It was the hot-headed John L. Grattan who was sent, with a detachment of twenty-nine men.

The Lakota camp was near the trading post of James Bordeaux, who had attempted to talk Grattan out of arresting High Forehead; meanwhile, Man Afraid of His Horses[6] was trying to calm down the relatives of High Forehead.  Grattan continued to demand the arrest of High Forehead, and when he reached the camp placed his men in fighting position with two loaded howitzers.

Maṫo Oyuhi again attempted to offer compensation, while High Forehead and five others loaded their guns. At which time, gun-fire broke out. Grattan and his men tried to flee but all of them were killed. Their unwillingness to accept restitution had violated the treaty agreement’s spirit, which had “…provided a mechanism (restitution) to resolve… (Ostler, 2010: 44)“ any disputes between the emigrants and Indians should they incur.

General William S. Harney took a hard-line approach to dealing with the Lakota people that he viewed as enemies of the United States.  “Harney intended to do more than just show the flag. ‘By God, I’m for battle—no peace, ’ he reportedly declared (Ostler, 2010)(44)”  He and his troops camped at Ash Hollow, just up the Blue Water Creek from the Brule band that were involved with the killing of Grattan and his men, one year earlier.  He entered the camp where the new leader, Little Thunder, attempted to shake his hand, but he refused saying he would listen. This was just a means to delay while his men got into position, and when they did he signaled them attack.  There were over eighty-six Lakota killed, over half of whom were women and children.  Harney took seventy women and children captive.

Harney then marched his troups and captives to Fort Laramie for renewal of provisions, and to deliver the captives…demanding arrests.  On his list of persons to be arrested was Spotted Tail. At first, Spotted Tail would not surrender.  Later he chose to surrender; he rode into the fort singing death songs with Long Chin, and Red Leaf riding with him.  These men, in October of 1855, were sent to Leavenworth for several months duration.

Later, Harney[7] went to Fort Pierre and demanded that the tribes meet him there the next spring. Harney listed his terms:

  1. Peaceful relations with the overlanders
  2. Open travel through the territory of the Lakota
  3. Return the horses stolen from Fort Laramie
  4. Surrender of High Forehead
  5. Inter-tribal peace
  6. The designation of head chiefs, to keep order.

[1] Not just food-stuffs, but also medicinal plants that are found there.

[2] Especially with more recent research into the star knowledge of the Lakota, that certain sites within the Black Hills mirror constellations and the stories surrounding them.

[3] The Cheyenne, Arapaho, Lakota, Shoshone, Assiniboine, Gros Ventre, Hidatsa, Mandan, Arikara and Crow nations.

[4] Or rather, Blue Earth Wearing a Glass-Ringlet Medallion, which in Lakota is: Mak̇̇̇aṫo Janjan Hoċok̇ala Nap’iƞ Uƞ (Douville, Cokatowela and Makatojanjan, 2012)

[5] According to Ostler, the name Maṫo Oyuhi has been “variously translated as Brave Bear, Conquering Bear, and Scattering Bear, but in the language of the Lakota means ‘the bear who is so formidable that his enemies scatter before him.’ (Ostler, 2010: 40)”.

[6] Another name erroneously translated. It could possibly be “The Man Whose Horses (or rather, dogs) They Were Afraid of” because he sent out his dogs in front of him. The dogs were fierce animals.

[7] Whom the Lakota called the “Mad Bear” and the “Hornet”(Ostler, 2010: 46)

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 26, 2014 4:50 pm

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    this informative article together. I once again find
    myself spending a significant amount of time both reading and posting comments.
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