When I think back of the stories that I have heard about how the Native American
Indians were driven from their land and forced to live on the reservations one particular
event comes to my mind. That event is the Battle of the Little Big Horn. It is one of the
few times that the Oglala Sioux made history with them being the ones who left the
battlefield as winners. When stories are told, or when the media dares to tamper with
history, it is usually the American Indians who are looked upon as the bad guys. They are
portrayed as savages who spent their time raiding wagon trains and scalping the white
settlers just for fun. The media has lead us to believe that the American government was
forced to take the land from these savage Indians. We should put the blame where it
belongs, on the U.S. Government who lied, cheated, and stole from the Oglala forcing Crazy
Horse, the great war chief, and many other leaders to surrender their nation in order to
save the lives of their people. In the nineteenth century the most dominant nation in the
western plains was the Sioux Nation. This nation was divided into seven tribes: Oglala's,
Brule', Minneconjou, Hunkpapa, No Bow, Two Kettle, and the Blackfoot. Of these tribes they
had different band. The Hunkpatila was one band of the Oglala's (Guttmacher 12). One of
the greatest war chiefs of all times came from this band. His name was Crazy Horse.
Crazy Horse was not given this name, on his birth date in the fall of 1841. He was born
of his father, Crazy Horse an Oglala holy man, and his mother a sister of a Brule'
warrior, Spotted Tail. As the boy grew older his hair was wavy so his people gave him the
nickname of Curly (Guttmacher 23). He was to go by Curly until the summer of 1858, after a
battle with the Arapaho's. Curly's brave charged against the Arapaho's led his father to
give Curly the name Crazy Horse. This was the name of his father and of many fathers
before him (Guttmacher 47).
In the 1850's, the country where the Sioux Nation lived, was being invaded by the white
settlers. This was upsetting for many of the tribes. They did not understand the ways of
the whites. When the whites tore into the land with plows and hunted the sacred buffalo
just for the hides this went against the morale and religious beliefs of the Sioux. The
white government began to build forts. In 1851, Fort Laramie was built along the North
Platte river in Sioux territory (Matthiessen 6).
In 1851, the settlers began complaining of the Indians who would not allow them to go
where they wanted. U.S. Agents drew up a treaty that required the Indians to give safe
passage to the white settlers along the Oregon Trail. In return the government promised
yearly supplies of guns, ammunition, flour, sugar, coffee, tobacco, blankets, and bacon.
These supplies were to be provided for fifty-five years. Ten thousand Sioux gathered at
the fort to listen to the words of the white government and to be showered with gifts. In
addition the treaty wanted the Indians to allow all settlers to cross their lands. They
were to divide the plains into separate territories and each tribe was not to cross the
border of their territory. The treaty also wanted no wars to be waged on other tribes.
They wanted each Indian nation to choose a leader that would speak for the entire nation.
Many Indians did not like this treaty and only after weeks of bribery did the whites
finally convince a sizable group of leaders to sign. The Oglala's were among those who
refused (Matthiessen 6). This Treaty however did not stop the trouble between the Indians
and the settlers. The Indians however, did not cause violent trouble, they would perhaps
approach a covered wagon to trade or extract gifts of food. The most daring warrior might
make away with a metal pot or pan but nothing violent like the books and movies lead us to
believe (Matthiessen 7).
The straw that broke the camels back took place on August 17, 1854 when the relations
between the Indians and Whites were shattered. Among the settlers heading west was a group
of Mormons and as they were passing, a few miles south of Fort Laramie, an Indian stole a
cow. The Mormons reported this to Lieutenant Hugh B. Fleming, the commander of the post.
Fleming demanded that the offender, High Forehead of the Minneconjou, face charges. Chief
Conquering Bear suggested that the Mormons come to his herd of ponies and pick out the
best pony he had to replace the cow, which to the Sioux these ponies were their wealth.
This seemed to be a very gracious offer. Fleming would not agree and sent Lieutenant John
L. Grattan to bring back the warrior. When Grattan arrived at Conquering Bears camp, he
was given another offer. This time they could choose five ponies from five herds among the
tribes. Grattan refused and began to open fire (Guttmacher 14-19). This outrageous act of
war was not called for. The Mormons would have surely been satisfied with the ponies or
the money the ponies would have bought. The government just did not want to keep the
Indian-White relationship peaceful. Crazy Horse, then called Curly, was only thirteen when
the soldiers and the Indians fought. The Indians outnumbered the soldiers and won the
battle (Guttmacher 20).
Crazy Horse eventually became a leader of his people. In today's society our leaders
are given money and gifts but in the times of Crazy Horse it was almost the opposite. He
was expected to live modestly, keep only what he needed and give away the rest. After
hunting he would give the needy the choicest meat and keep the stringy meat for himself.
He did however, have the honor and prestige that allowed him to make the decisions for the
tribe (Ambrose 125).
As well as other Sioux leaders, Crazy Horse lead his people into the Powder River
country. The reason for this move was to leave behind the ways of the white man and
continue living the ways of the Sioux. The white man had brought to their country
sickness, liquor and damaging lifestyles much different from the lifestyles of the Sioux.
In 1865, U.S. officials wanted to obtain land from the Indians. They offered many
different bribes, such as gifts and liquor, to the Indians who lived around the forts.
They were very good at making the sell of land seem temporary and they convinced many that
what the right thing to do was sell. The land they wanted was access land into the Powder
River country. The government did not have the luck they needed in obtaining the land with
money or bribes. So in the summer of 1865 they sent more than two thousand soldiers from
Fort Laramie into the Powder River country (Ambrose 151). In 1866 the government, knowing
that the land they wanted was worth much more, offered the Sioux fifteen thousand dollars
annually for access into Powder River country. The Indians did allow whites to use the
Bozeman Trail just as they allowed immigrants to use the Holy Road. The U.S. Government
had an obligation to protect its citizens but not to provoke a crisis. They did create a
crisis when they established forts in the heart of Oglala territory. After conquering the
confederates the U.S. Army was full of optimism and wanted desperately to have an all out
war to exterminate the Sioux. Although the Indians were allowing the whites to use the
Bozeman Trail, the government was not satisfied. They wanted the legal right to use the
trail. E.B. Taylor, a government agent at one of the Indian Offices, tricked some of the
Indian Leaders into going to Fort Laramie in 1866 for a treaty. He deliberately attempted
to deceive them; he said nothing about building forts along the trail, only that they
wanted to use the Bozeman Trail. He offered them guns, ammunition, gifts plus money. The
Indians did not sell (Ambrose 213-214).
In June 1867, the government officials produced a new treaty. This treaty, like all the
ones before, only promised lavish gifts to those who would sign. One of the Oglala chiefs,
Red Cloud, wanted more for his nation than the simple gifts offered. He wanted the troops
to move from the forts; Reno, Philkearny and C.F. Smith. During the summer of 1868 his
request was accepted. The troops moved. A civil war hero William Tecumseh Sherman moved
into the territory as the new commander of the plains. He had plans to get the treaty
signed. His hopes were to, shut up the congressional critics, get the Sioux to agree on a
treaty and maintain the army's morale. After negotiations were made Red Cloud lead one
hundred-and twenty-five leaders of the Sioux nations to sign the treaty of 1868. This
treaty guaranteed "absolute and undisturbed use of the Great Sioux Reservation. No
person shall ever be permitted to pass over, settle upon, or reside in territory described
in this article, or without consent of the Indians pass through the same"
(Matthiessen 7-8). This treaty also stated that the hunting rights on the land between the
Black Hills and the Big Horn Mountains "as long as the grass shall grow and the water
flows".(Guttmacher 73). It forced the Indians to be farmers and live in houses. There
could be no changes made to the treaty without three fourths of all adult males of the
Sioux nation agreeing (Ambrose 282). The Indians had divided into those who agreed with
the treaty, the "friendly" and those who wanted nothing to do with the treaty,
the "hostile". The U.S. government did not recognize these separate groups. They
forbid trade with the Powder River Indians until all Indians moved to the reservation.
This was not in the Treaty of 1868, (Guttmacher 76). Even though the government was
getting the best part of the treaty they were not satisfied with progress. In 1871 the
Indian Appropriation Bill was passed which stated "hereafter no Indian nation or
tribe within the United States shall be acknowledged or recognized as an independent
nation, tribe or power with whom the U.S. may contract by treaty" (Matthiessen 7-8).
General Armstrong Custer was appointed as the new commander of the plains. He led the
Seventh Calvary on a mission to subdue a band of hostile Cheyenne. The Calvary came across
an Indian village and attacked them instead. Black Kettle, the chief of the village and
his wife were killed as they rode to surrender. This killing of 100 Cheyenne, mostly women
and children, and 800 ponies was advertised as Custer's victory against the brutal savages
(Guttmacher 81-82). The U.S. Army led an expedition into the Sioux territory. According to
the Treaty of 1868 this expedition was not legal. The expedition was to survey land for
the Northern Pacific Railroad. The railroad meant progress. (Guttmacher 81).
Since the civil war the American economy was booming. Railroad stocks led the way. On,
September 18 1873, banking crashed. Farm prices plummeted, grasshopper plaques ruined
crops, yellow fever struck in the Mississippi Valley, and unemployment went sky high. The
government figured that it's role was to pour money into the economy. The gold supply was
insufficient. President Grants solution to the economy was to open new territory for
exploration. So in the spring of 1874 troops were sent to open a fort in the Black Hills.
The government, exaggerated at the best or lied at the worst, said the Indians were not
keeping up their part of the treaty. Custer was in charge of this expedition. During this
expedition Custer claimed that there was gold in the Black Hills. Grant looked at this as
an opportunity to show the country he could pull them from the depression and he opened
the Black Hills for prospecting. This broke the treaty of 1868 again (Ambrose 343-346).
The Black Hills was a sacred place to the Sioux. It was a place where spirits dwelled, a
holy place called Pa Sapa by the Sioux. The whites had only the crudest concept of what
the hills meant to the Indians. By 1876 ten thousand whites lived in Custer City, the
frontier town of the southern Black Hills.
Agency Indians were not living very well on the reservations. Government agents were
corrupt. They would accept diseased cattle, rotten flour and wormy corn. They would get a
kickback on the profits. The Indians were undernourished and even starving. The agents
also claimed the Indians exaggerated in their numbers just to receive more rations.
However, in a census conducted by the government trying to prove this, they found that the
Indians were actually claiming less (Ambrose 359).
In 1876, the agencies were taken from the churches and given to the army to control.
This was petitioned to Washington with statements that soldiers were obnoxious and their
dislike for Indians was very obvious. Also the army was corrupting the Indians by
introducing and encouraging alcohol and gambling. The petition also stated that all the
agency troubles had been caused directly or indirectly by the soldiers. No change in
policy was done on behalf of these petitions (Kadlecek 33).
Unwilling to pay for the Black Hills and unable to defeat the Sioux in war, on August,
15, 1876 Congress passed the Sioux Appropriation Bill. This bill stated that further
provisions would not be given to the Sioux until the hostels gave up the Black Hills,
Powder River country and Bighorn country. They would also have to move to the Missouri
River in Central Dakota or to Oklahoma. Upset because of there defeat the Government
demanded unconditional surrender of the Sioux or they would starve those in the agencies.
Red Cloud and the other chiefs were told to sign a treaty or their people would starve.
Crazy horse and Sitting Bull continued to fight for land that was stolen from them in a
misleading treaty (Ambrose 417-418). The Treaty of 1876 was not signed by at least three
fourths of the male members of the Sioux nation as the Treaty of 1868 had stipulated. So
they cheated by calling the treaty an "Agreement" instead of a treaty (Friswold
19). The government had changed or disturbed nearly every part of the Indians lives. They
had taken their horses (their wealth), taken their land,and taken the buffalo. But they
still had their religion. They had seven ceremonial rites of which two were the most
beneficial; the Vision Quest and the Sun Dance. The Vision quest was an individual dance
and the Sun Dance a community affair. In June 1877 the biggest Sun Dance seen on the
reservation, twenty thousand strong, was held to honor Crazy Horse. This was the last big
Sun Dance (Kadlecek 37-42).
Crazy Horse was finally persuaded to bring his people in to live on the reservation.
Crazy horse was lied to when a government official told him that he was needed at a
conference. He realized this was a trap when he saw bars on the windows. He drew his knife
and attempted to break loose. A white soldier, William Gentiles, lunged at Crazy Horse
with a fixed bayonet that punctured his kidney. Crazy Horse died September, 5 1877
The Sioux Indians had lost nearly everything that made them a strong nation. In 1881
the government prohibited all reservations from allowing the Sun Dance. The government
went against the First Amendment and took away the Sioux's greatest religious ceremony.
General Sherman, never known as an Indian lover, said a reservation was "a parcel of
land inhabited by Indians and surrounded by thieves" (Matthiessen 17). This type of
harassment did not stop. In 1887 the General Allotment Act (the Dawes Act) was passed.
This Act was designed to assist the Indians to mainstream into America. Each male Indian
was given 160 acres of land from the reservation. Of course the excess land was taken by
the government and sold to the whites. The Indians were not accustom to dealing with
thieves and the majority of them lost their land through shady dealings (Matthiessen 17).
The U.S. Government used many deceptions to obtain the land the Indians once owned. The
Sioux Indians were not treated with the most respect to say the least. They must be
commended for staying strong and still being a big part of the United States today. Budd 3