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Sicangu Community Histories Fall 2012-Pt 4

December 10, 2012

In the summer of   1857, the Lakota people began to plan for a tribal council in order to discuss the threat from the United States government.  In August of that year the Lakota gathered at Bear Butte, at least 5,000 strong (more likely up to 10,000).  They agreed to allow individual bands to accept annuities without interference.

They would move into the Buffalo ranges “west of the Powder River and in the area drained by the Republican and Smoky Hill rivers to the south (Ostler, 2010: 47)”.  The heart of the Lakota territory which would include the Black Hills would be defended. They agreed to allow outsiders travel through to Fort Laramie and Fort Pierre but not to allow any travel into the interior of Lakota country. With fear that if gold was discovered in the area of the Black Hills by the white people, it was decided that it would be a capital offense to reveal its presence there.

The discovery of gold in other places had begun to affect the life of the Lakota people.  The first a discovery of gold was in the Pike’s Peak region in Colorado next was in southwestern Montana. With the first discovery came the Massacre of Sand Creek where over 150 Cheyenne were not only killed, they were mutilated by Chivington’s men (of the Colorado Third Division). With the second, was the making of the route that Bozeman chose to take through the Powder, Tongue, and the Bighorn drainage area.  Although technically this would have been legal under the 1851 treaty, the Lakota believed it violated what was “said during the Horse Creek councils (Ostler, 2010: 51)”.

In 1865 General Patrick E. Connor ordered “columns from the Omaha and Fort Laramie, to head towards the Black Hills and the Little Bighorns with  instructions to ‘locate, attack, and kill every male over the age of twelve (Ostler, 2010: 52)”.  He did not have much success. Although General Connor did establish Fort Reno.

In October of 1865 moderates being acutely aware of the lack of game had agreed to the extension of annuities with an exchange of the pledge to not interfere with travelers.  Sitting Bull and Four Horns avoided these proceedings.

Colonel Henry A. Maynadier sent word that he wished for peace, and met with the leaders of the Lakotas in June of 1866. Discussion took place regarding safe travel along the Bozeman trail, in exchange for annuities.  But, the arrival of Carrington with seven hundred soldiers made Red Cloud think that the negotiation was conducted in bad faith. Man Afraid of His Horses also cut-off the negotiation.  Only Spotted Tail remained willing to talk.

Three more forts were constructed in Lakota country, prompting the Lakota to begin a campaign against the forts along the Bozeman trail. While the attacks continued, war councils were held “to formulate plans for a decisive victory (Ostler, 2010: 55)”. The main strategist was Red Cloud, at his left side sat Crazy Horse, as well as High Backbone. A scheme to lure troops from Fort Kearny into an ambush was solidified by December of 1866.

This was planned well, with a small decoy group of warriors leading the two soldiers, Fetterman and Grummond, with infantry (a total of eighty-one men) into an ambush.  Those that planned this out, watched the activities of the soldiers and saw that a group of soldiers were sent out daily to cut wood.  They waited until the men were two miles out from the fort, and sent a small group to attack them knowing that the military command would send reinforcements to assist.  This fight was memorialized “in Winter Counts as Wasiċuƞ Opawinġe Wiċaktep̄i (a hundred whites were killed) (Biolsi, 1998: 56)”.

Although the Lakota militants were not able to secure or preserve the autonomy of the their people, their military successes through the mid-1860s had set the “stage for the most important treaty between the Lakotas and the United States (Ostler, 2010: 58)”. The treaty now known as the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty.

Not openly working on the seizure of the Black Hills, Sheridan made a suggestion to President Grant that there should be a reconnaissance of the Black Hills with a military expedition. The person that Sheridan chose as leader of the expedition, was George Armstrong Custer  Custer who had brought with  him the whole of the seventh calvary, a group of scientists, sixty Arikara scouts, artilery, and gatling guns.  The purpose of the expedition would be to “explore the topography, flora and fauna, and most importantly, geology (Ostler, 2010: 80)”.   When approval from the president  was gained “objections were raised by humanitarians, the secretary of the interior, and the commissioner of Indian Affairs, who argued that the expedition violated the 1868 Treaty (Ostler, 2010: 81)”.

Custers Bl Hills Recogn Map

When gold was discovered by the expedition, the news reporters announced the discovery to populace. Prior to this, numerous prospectors had come to the hills.  Although complaints were made by the Lakota people, little was done to stop them.

The Lakota were angered by the obvious violation of treaty rights, and were “threatening to drive out or kill the white men (Hyde, 1987: 230)”.  In order to know the truth about the gold in the Black Hills, the government then sent Professor W. P. Jenney with a group of mining experts to “make a thorough examination of the hills, and in August, Spotted Tail went into the hills with a party of his headmen to make his own investigation (Hyde, 1987: 232)”.  Spotted Tail returned to the agency convinced that there was indeed a lot of gold and that the Lakota should not sell the land.

Custer's Expedition to the Black Hills

Custer’s Expedition to the Black Hills

To work out the dilema of how to obtain the Black Hills, Washington had a delegation of chiefs come to Washington in May of 1875, where Spotted Tail made clear that the Lakota were not willing to give up the Black Hills.  As soon as the delegation left Washington, the government sent a commission to the Lakota territory.

“On September 20 on the White River in northwestern Nebraska, the commission opened a council attended by five thousand or more Lakotas, Yanktons, Santees, Cheyennes, and Arapahos (Biolsi, 1998: 91)”.  The commission failed in its intended negotiation with the Lakota people.

Meanwhile, in Washington, President Grant was growing tired of the whole negotiation. He convened a secret meeting with the Secretary of War (William W. Belknap), the Interior Secretary (Zacharia Chandler) and generals Crook and Sheridan.  At which time he announced what he planned:  To keep those who were committed to the peace policy happy, “the president would not recind orders banning non-Indians from the Black Hills (Ostler, 2010: 94)”.  But, nothing was to be done to stop the would-be miners.

When the prospectors realized that the soldiers were no longer stopping them, or they would then flood the area, causing the Lakota and Cheyenne to then attack the miners.  These very attacks would then serve as a pretence for a military campaign against the non-treaty bands.  At which time the government would demand that the Lakota at the agencies “sell the Black Hills at a non-negotiable price” and if they refused, “threaten them with starvation (Ostler, 2010: 94)”.

The army then ordered all Lakota people who were living off the reservation to come back by January, they would be made to come back by force, if they refused.  Non- treaty bands remained off the reservation, and were determined to defend the Black Hills.  In February both Crook and Colonial Joseph J. Reynolds, with their troops, proceeded from Fort Fetterman to search for and destroy those bands who had not come in.

After a grueling four-day blizzard they found a small encampment that was thought to be Crazy Horse’s, but was actually some of He Dog’s band, and they attacked.  The women and children escaped while the men fought with the troops.  There were very few casualities. Crook and Reynolds then returned to the fort.

Meanwhile, Colonial John Gibbons and his men went from Fort Ellis in western Montana, down the Yellowstone,  “Terry and Custer left Fort Abraham Lincoln six weeks later with one thousand men under arms (Ostler, 2010: 95).  Three groups of soldiers, from three directions were converging on the Lakota, with the intent of forcing a surrender or to wipe them out.  But, being aware of the oncoming troups from the United States military, the Lakota sent emmisaries to the agencies to obtain the assistance of the young Lakota warriors in order to defend their lands.

Sitting Bull held another Sun Dance in the early summer, and had a vision that he related of “American soldiers falling into the Indian’s camp, their heads down and their hats falling off (Ostler, 2010: 95-96)”.  With this assurance, the confidence of the people held.  The battle that ensued was a complete Lakota victory, with Custer having been killed, forever known as the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

Congress responded by passing legislation that demanded that Lakota people give up claim to lands that were not permanent reservation lands and everything west of the 103rd parallel, which included the Black Hills.  It also stated that “if they refused, congress would make no further appropriations for their support (Ostler, 2010: 98)”.

map- great sioux reservation

To obtain the agreement with the Lakota people the government sent George W. Manypenny, with the commissioners.  It was suggested that they give up the Black Hills, with the assurance that the government would provide rations, clothing, farm equipment and schools until the people could take care of themselves.  But it was also suggested that the Lakota give up all their lands and move south to Indian Territory (Oklahoma).

It was first to the Oglala that this commission went.  After several days of discussion amongst themselves, they complied.  Not so much due to hunger or because of diseases, but the realization that with the Buffalo no longer around, the people could not support themselves.  In other words, they had become reliant on the rations doled out by the government.  The commission went on to other agencies, as well.

Only 230 signatures were obtained for this agreement, not the ¾ths number of the male Lakota populous that was required by the 1868 Treaty in Article 12[1].  230 men was only 10% of the required signatures.  “Congress, too, gave little thought to this Treaty violation and ratified the agreement on February 28, 1877 (Biolsi, 1998: 101)”.


[1] See Appendix B: A portion of the 1868 Laramie Treaty, Article 12.

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