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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 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
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
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
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
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,
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 hostiles 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, taken the buffalo and taken their tipis. 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 (Kadlecek 53).
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.