Promises Broken

Manuscript NAA MS 3912 c

Maȟpíya Lúta (Red Cloud)

GOLD! CONFIRMED! Custer’s Official Report! Gold and Silver in Immense Quantities

November marks the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Fort Laramie Treaty (1868), which many writers suggest is the start of the end of traditional American Indian life on the plains.

The idea of the Treaty was drummed up by the U.S. government to secure peace with Native Americans and settlers.

The Treaty was designed to reserve land West of the Missouri River for Native people.

The map of Indian territories is impressive: the river cuts through what are now North, South Dakota and Montana.

And the states west of the river include Wyoming, Idaho, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico.

map SD

Historians write that the agreement on the Treaty was hard-won for the Sioux, especially since they insisted the sacred Black Hills would remain under Indian control.

One of the tribal leaders, Red Cloud (Maȟpíya Lúta), pushed to secure Indian advantage, according to the Dennis W. Zotigh, writing for the Smithsonian.

Red Cloud refused to sign until the U.S. Government withdrew troops from the territory.

By 1868, Red Cloud emerged as a key figure, especially for non-Indians, who saw him as fundamental to negotiations, writes Larry McMurtry in his book on Crazy Horse.

President Andrew Johnson ratified the Treaty.

It took only a few years to break the Treaty wide open.

Some Washington politicians figured too much land had been “given” to too few Indians, and in 1872, the Secretary of the Interior under the new president—Ulysses S. Grant–approved an expedition to the sacred Black Hills.

Secretary Columbus Delano wrote:

I am inclined to think that the occupation of this region of the country is not necessary to the happiness and prosperity of the Indians, and as it is supposed to be rich in minerals and lumber it is deemed important to have it freed as early as possible from Indian occupancy. I shall, therefore, not oppose any policy which looks first to a careful examination of the subject… If such an examination leads to the conclusion that country is not necessary or useful to Indians, I should then deem it advisable…to extinguish the claim of the Indians and open the territory to the occupation of the whites.

That is, Delano decided the Black Hills should be explored and, if riches were found, the territory should be open to development by non-Indians.

A 34-year-old veteran of the Civil War was assigned to lead the trek.

The veteran—a former Major General who now held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel—took the Seventh Calvary’s 1000 troops into Indian territory in the summer of 1874.

In just a few weeks, Lieutenant Colonel George Custer reported the expedition found gold, and news circulated throughout the country, alerting investors and settlers alike to the prospect of fortune-hunting in the Black Hills.

Headlines in the Bismarck (now North Dakota) newspaper announced on August 12:



Custer’s Official Report!

Gold and Silver in Immense Quantities

Thousands of prospectors journeyed to the Black Hills, and Red Cloud and other Sioux leaders travelled to Washington, where the President and his staff tried to purchase the Black Hills.

Expedition08-sm (1)

The Indians refused to sell their homeland.

Over the next few years skirmishes erupted between settlers and local denizens, and the U.S. Government abandoned the Fort Laramie Treaty.

Two years after his expedition, Custer returned to Indian Country with the task of removing the Indians to government encampments.

On June, 1876, Custer and the Seventh Calvary were overwhelmed at Greasy Grass (now called Little Bighorn, Montana).

After Custer’s failure, the U.S. Government redoubled its efforts to eliminate Indian peoples.

By 1877, about two-thirds of all Sioux were driven to seek refuge at U.S. Government outposts.

That year, the government confiscated the Dakota territories in what was termed “The Agreement of 1877,” and declared ownership of the Black Hills.

The Sioux, however, refused to give up the Black Hills, and have rejected all entreaties for payment, including a Supreme Court ruling in 1980 to compensate the tribes with a $105 million payment.

The Sioux have never collected.


Day Eleven: Native American Heritage Month

11 November 2018


















About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
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