The Lakota Wars

Tensions were building and with expansion of Americans to the West, it only added to further the atomicity of the Indian towards the whites. What also added fuel to the fire were the corrupt agents that switched Indian traders with their own. After

news of the Sand Creek Massacre reached the Sioux many warriors were calling for war against the Americans. So the Sioux allied with the Cheyenne to fight the Americans.

The Lakota Sioux lived on parts of Montana, which was a piece of their original homeland. But with the discovery of gold in Montana and along the Bozeman trail in 1863, brought conflicts between the Lakota and whites over control of the area to the forefront. Conflicts occurred with miners passing on the Bozeman trail that happened to pass right through Teton Sioux territory. With increasing attacks on miners and travelers the army built three forts along the Bozeman trail. The three forts were Fort Reno which was located on the Powder River, Fort Kearney, and Fort Smith. The Forts were always in danger and were only maintained because they were heavily armed and defended. A veteran of the Civil War William J. Fetterman came to Fort Kearney to reinforce the troops. He was quoted as saying he “could ride, roughed, through the entire Sioux nation” with only 80 men. But he did not follow through with his promise on December 21, 1866. On that day a wagon left the fort to collect wood and while it was leaving it was attacked. Captain Fetterman with his 80 troops went to defend the wagon. The troops were ambushed by 1500 Indians that killed every soldier including the captain and mutilated their bodies.

The government instead of fighting decided to set up a peace committee using a mixture of civilians and military officers. The Lakota’s were reluctant to sign the agreement. But spotted tail and some other chiefs went to fort Laramie to make peace. The committee was able to map out the Lakota’s homeland. The treaty gave all of South Dakota west of the Missouri River and some regions in southeastern Montana, eastern Wyoming, and northwestern Nebraska to the Lakota Sioux. They were also given all of the Black Hills. And the treaty promised that no whites shall pass through the lands. The army even went as far as abandoning the three forts Reno, Kearny, and Smith to get Red Cloud to sign the treaty on November 6 1868. It was a win/win situation because the Indians were able to keep their unseeded territory and expel the whites from it, and the government could coral the Lakota’s and keep a watchful eye on them and hopefully civilize them at the same time. But this was not the case because conflicts began to happen after just a few weeks.

Even though the Lakota were promised the Black Hills in the 1868 Fort Laramie treaty, the government decided that the Indians needed to move onto other reservations and those who did not would be seen as hostile. The government didn’t feel bad for going back on their word because they felt as though the Lakota with their raids, anti-railroad attitude, and conflicts with other tribes did not follow the treaty rules. And with the discovery of gold a few years earlier meant a gold rush towards the Black hills and inevitably tension came along with the miners. Even though technically the miners had no right to be in the Black Hills, they came onto and through Lakota territory. So in 1876 the army sent out three commanders George Crook, Alfred Terry, and John Gibbon. They were set out to horde the hostile Indians and hopefully move them back to their assigned homeland. The battle of Rosebud on June 17 1876 was between Crooks troops and Lakota’s and their allies. The battle forced Crook to retreat, and left Terry and Gibbon’s forces by themselves. Custer who was determined to find the Indian village underestimated the size of it. He followed the Indian tracks until what he thought was a small village and ran right into the middle of 2000 Cheyenne, and Lakota warriors. Custer and his troops were quickly surrounded and as the battle is sometimes known Custer’s last stand, which is what he did. At the end of the Battle at the Bighorn lay 250 troops including Custer’s body. As a result in 1877 the Congress signs various laws to take land from the Sioux. In the end, the Sioux lose all there unseeded lands and forced to live on the western bank on the Missouri river.

By the 1880’s the Sioux had lost almost all their land. And the different chiefs in the Sioux tribes were gradually losing their power over their tribes because of the government annuities. The govt. also made medicine man, sun dance, and Indian religions illegal. But a new religion was becoming popular around the 1880’s, the ghost dance which predicted that the whites would leave their lands and while performing it that they could not get hit by bullets. But this was not the case on December 29, 1890, when the U.S. 7th Calvary surrounded Big Foot’s encampment of Lakota. The soldiers ordered the Lakota to hand over any weapons. Some how a shot rang out and the medicine man started to perform the ghost dance but the soldiers saw it as a signal to attack and they started shooting into the camp. They had Hotchkiss guns that ripped into the warriors and innocent woman and children alike. In the aftermath, 153 Lakota lay dead and the Lakota managed to kill 25 soldiers. The battle at Wounded Knee is said to be the last battle in the Indian Wars.

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