One-hundred and Fifty Years
of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868
~ by Mary Burrows
“Now therefore, be it resolved, by the Senate of
the 93rd Legislature of the State of South Dakota,
that the Legislature recognizes and honors the
importance and validity of the 1868 Treaty of
Thus concludes Resolution 1 of the 2018 South Dakota Senate.
But first, some back story:
(Note: State designations and place names are as they are known today so as to orient the reader.)
As far back as the 14th Century, the Upper and Lower Missouri River valleys were inhabited by Plains village peoples. In about 1760, the Sioux emerged into the valley after having been forced out of Minnesota. For over 30 years, they fought the Arikara for control of the Missouri River Valley in central South Dakota. By 1794, they had routed the Arikara, and the warring ended.
Into the 1800s, the Sioux dominated the Northern Plains, which encompassed most of the Dakotas, northern Nebraska, southeast Montana, and eastern Wyoming to the Shining Mountains (Big Horns)--the Powder River Valley was their prime hunting territory.
In 1803, the Louisiana Purchase of vast amounts of Native lands from France opened up the West to expansion from the East. Fifty years of growing unrest and tensions between Natives and emigrants prompted the Government in 1851 to convene a gathering of the tribes at Fort Laramie, southeastern Wyoming. Present were Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Shoshone, Crow, Assiniboine,Gros Ventres, Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara--some of whom were bitter enemies.
Outwardly, the Government wanted to treat with the tribes to ensure the safety of emigrees traveling the Oregon Road, which followed the North Platte River west and passed northward through the area around Kemmerer, southwestern Wyoming. Underlying the safety of travelers was the more insidious concept of Native homelands, wherein Indians lived and hunted and gathered and where they practiced their annual ceremonies, but from which they were not allowed to roam afield. The Treaty recognized as Sioux Country an area bounded by the eastern floodplain of the Missouri River to the east and north, the Yellowstone River on the northwest, the Shining Mountains on the west, and the Platte River to the south.
For the safe passage of humanity over the Oregon Road and the use thereof, the Government promised annuities to the Tribes of $50,000 for 50 years, which was later reduced to ten years.
The Horse Creek Treaty of 1851 was only the first step in a systematic endeavor to steal lands from the Natives in the name of Manifest Destiny, and later, White Privilege.
Montana gold discoveries in 1862 led to a stream of prospectors crawling up the eastern front of the Shining Mountains on their way to Bozeman. Consistent with Government deceit, what became known as the Bozeman Road was established in the Powder River Valley in 1864, directly violating the Treaty of 1851.
On the morning of December 29, 1864, Colonel John Chivington from Fort Lyon, Colorado, let loose with two cannon on a sleeping camp of mostly women and children Cheyenne in Black Kettle's camp along Sand Creek, after they had sought promised sanctuary at the fort. The merciless butchery of babies and children and horrendous genital mutilations of males and females by soldiers that ensued was probably the most powerful unifying force in bringing the Plains peoples together.
Many Natives were war-weary and sought to pacify the Government, but militant factions like Red Cloud, who refused to touch the pen at Fort Laramie, and his allies vowed to defend their ancestral hunting grounds against the White onslaught. In June 1866, the Government announced that the Bozeman Road WOULD be built through the Powder River Valley. Thus began Red Cloud's War up and down the road against the forts built along it and the travelers passing over it. The warriors were also successful in halting the building of the railroad across the Platte River Valley in Nebraska.
In the end, the forts were abandoned, and the Government sought yet another treaty by late 1867. The Sioux came in to Fort Laramie, but again, Red Cloud did not touch the pen. He and his warriors had fought and WON a war (the only time an Indian tribe has ever done so) against the United States Army. And now the Government was eager to treat. The Treaty, which was ratified by Congress on April 29, 1868, described as The Great Sioux Nation all of western South Dakota from the eastern floodplain of the Missouri River to the western slopes of the Black Hills. Hunting grounds in the Powder River country were “ceded” for their use, as were other surrounding lands. Any treaties henceforth would require the signatures of 3/4s of adult males in the Sioux Nation. The Government pledged to keep all non-Indian settlers out of the 26 million acres promised for the Lakotas' “absolute and undisturbed use.”
Within two years, Lt. Gen. Philip Sheridan at Fort Laramie declared that any Natives found outside the reservation (ie: hunting in the Powder River Country) would be considered hostile: a license to kill.
In 1873, the Dakota Territory legislature requested that Congress approve a survey of the Black Hills, with an eye to exploitation and settlement. Subsequently, Lt. Col. George A. Custer was sent by Gen. Sheridan to scout a route from Fort Laramie to Bear Butte. Custer's men panned gold in French Creek in the Black Hills in 1874, setting off an invasion of humanity upon the Sacred Paha Sapa.
President U.S. Grant formed a commission in 1875 to tempt the Sioux, the Cheyenne, and the Arapaho with a $6 million offer to sell the Black Hills, but were refused. That still did not stop the onslaught of invaders. In 1876, Congress passed “sell or starve” legislation , cutting off promised subsistence to the Tribes unless they agreed to sell. June of that year brought the Great Tribal Gathering at the Greasy Grass River in Montana. On June 25, 1876, the 7th Cavalry, led by Lt. Col. Custer, attacked the gathered tribes on their treaty-protected lands, resulting in his and all of his men's deaths at the hands of the Sioux and the Cheyenne.
Of course, the dominant society was outraged and demanded retribution, a decided threat to the Native way of life. August 1876, the Manypenny Commission presented the purchase of the Black Hills from the Sioux as a done deal. On September 7, Red Cloud finally, after traveling to DC and meeting with President Grant in 1875, touched the pen, and following his example, so did the Red Cloud Agency (now Fort Robinson---later, a WWII Nazi POW camp) Indians and Man-Afraid-of-His-Horse, relinquishing their Treaty rights to the Black Hills. Red Cloud had seen the futility of continuing the fight. The chiefs and their people who had sought sanctuary at the agencies and forts were increasingly treated like prisoners, and their spirits were broken. In the Act of February 28, 1877, Congress removed the Black Hills and surrounding areas from the reservation, reducing its size by seven million acres, and, in so doing, stealing the mineral resources hidden within their heart, again with no vote of 3/4ths of the adult male Sioux as mandated by the 1868 Treaty.
South Dakota became a state in 1889. The Ghost Dance, entreating the Creator to rid their lands of Wasicu, found its way to the Lakota. And the U.S. Congress, in a blatant land grab, split the Great Sioux Nation into six small reservations: along the northern Missouri River Valley were the Standing Rock (Hunkpapa) and Cheyenne River (Minneconjou) Sioux reservations; the Spotted Tail (Sicangu-Rosebud) along South Dakota-Nebraska border; in the Big Bend of the Missouri area, a related Sicangu band occupied the Lower Brule; Crow Creek (Santee and Hunkpati) at Fort Thompson on the Missouri; and the Pine Ridge (Oglala Lakota), which encompassed mainly the White River country and the Badlands, on the plains, within sight of the Sacred Paha Sapa.
Sitting Bull was murdered at Standing Rock Reservation, and Big Foot and his people fled the Cheyenne River Reservation and south to Pine Ridge and Red Cloud. On December 29, 1890, the 7th Cavalry came upon them at Wounded Knee Creek and slaughtered 250 of them, mostly women, children, and the elders. It was a final Death Song for the Sioux.
Reservation lands were platted out, and 160 acres were allotted to each head of household. The Government intended to turn the roaming Sioux into farmers and ranchers, like White people. In 1904, “excess” lands on the Rosebud Reservation were opened for non-Indian settlement. The same attempts were made at Standing Rock and Cheyenne River reservations in 1908. That same year, the Homestead Act forced impoverished Native Americans to accept pennies on the dollar for the prime lands on their reservations.
Ralph Case, clerk of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and Sioux advocate, filed a case with the United States Court of Claims in 1923 to secure the recovery of the Sacred Black Hills. An Indian Claims Commission was formed 23 years later with the idea of resolving such claims.
In 1924, the Citizenship Act “naturalized” all Native Americans born within the territorial United States. The Indian Reorganization Act in 1934 recognized Tribal governments as sovereign nations. The Act also stopped the sale or conveyance of Indian lands due to land loss related to Treaty violations and allotments.
Following exceptionally heavy Spring floods along major rivers, Congress enacted the Flood Control Act of 1940, authorizing the Corps of Engineers to construct dams, with the true goals being recreation, fish, and wildlife.
The riparian, wooded bottom lands of the Missouri River Valley sustained many Native communities on reservations. Abundant wildlife plus fruits and plants for food and medicine provided for many of their needs above and beyond Government subsistence. That was how it was before the Army Corps of Engineers came along.
A heavy Spring thaw on the Upper Missouri in 1943 resulted in massive flooding downstream that destroyed farm- and croplands and cities and towns in its floodplain, and caused about $100 million in loss and damage.
After squabbles and shenanigans between the Bureau of Reclamation and the Corps of Engineers about how to deal with the mighty Missouri River when building for flood control and/or for irrigation, a pact known as the Pick-Sloan Plan was put together in Omaha on October 17, 1944. An added bonus to sell the idea to Congress was the generation of hydroelectric power by the dams and the revenues to be derived from it.
The Corps would build five gigantic dams on the upper Missouri, and Reclamation would build irrigation projects over five million acres on its tributaries. The Plan failed to acknowledge that all potential dam sites and reclamation projects were on Native American lands.
The Tribes were reluctant when approached in the early 1950s about appropriation of lands necessary for “flood control and national security” along the Missouri River, but they finally agreed. What the Corps did was appropriate vast amounts of Native lands high above the reservoirs, far more land than was needed to build and operate a dam and reservoir. Some of the land was allotted and privately owned by individual Indians, and some was Tribal. Once again, lands desirable to the Sioux were stolen from them. In any settlement, they were paid pennies on the dollar compared to non-Indian ranchers for the enforced relocation. Construction on the dams began before the money had been budgeted by Congress, and, in some cases, Natives were gathering up their belongings as the waters rose behind the dams.
Dams in South Dakota were built at Fort Randall on the border with Nebraska, creating Lake Francis Case, the Fort Thompson Dam on the Big Bend of the Missouri, which creates the smaller Lake Sharpe; and the Oahe Dam northwest of Pierre that creates the massive Lake Oahe and backs the river up almost to Bismarck, North Dakota. The Bureau of Indian Affairs cooperated with the Corps of Engineers in attempting to railroad the Sioux in to quick settlements for their confiscated Treaty lands. The BIA also grossly under-assessed the valuation of Native properties compared to the valuations placed on non-Indian holdings.
Some settlements were made to the Tribes, but not the quick settlements the Government had pushed. Thanks to Chairman Franklin Ducheneaux of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe (CRST) and his activist approach as he led negotiations between Tribal leaders, the Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Congress; the Congress, in 1954, authorized a payment of $10.6 million to the CRST and its members for the taking 103,000 acres of river bottom lands to create Lake Oahe. The Army retained control of all Tribal resources within that territory, however. Other settlements followed.
As could have been predicted, the Army Corps planned and sited the dams upstream from White communities, offering them the most protections and least impact from their presence, and with little regard for established Native communities downstream.
Over subsequent years, there were negotiations and backs-and-forths over transferring the excess confiscated lands back to the Tribes. Since the 1980s, the Sioux had steadfastly refused any payment for land, but instead wanted Federally-held Tribal lands returned. Active outside groups, hunters, and outdoors people opposed transferring public-access recreational lands back to Tribal jurisdiction. In fact, in 1994, then Governor Bill Janklow, a racist, bully, and accused child molester, openly fought such transfers. Instead, Janklow wanted the Federal Government to transfer all such lands to the State of South Dakota.
An extreme betrayal came in 1996, when powerful Democratic Senator (now D.C. Lobbyist) Tom Daschle joined forces with Janklow in a campaign to transfer Federally-held Treaty lands in South Dakota to the State. Such transfer would mean that Native Americans could no longer freely engage as they had previously with the waters of the Missouri. Daschle had been supported by the Sioux Tribe, and probably won his Senate seat due to their vote. It was beyond betrayal. It was a blatant attempt to create division between the Tribes. And it worked. The Lower Brule and Cheyenne River tribes supported transferring to the State, while the Oglala, Crow Creek, and Rosebud tribes opposed. The land-grab bill that came out of the Congress in January 1997, was couched as a benefit to hunters and an opportunity to settle long-standing disputes over Treaty lands. In return for the transfer of hundreds of thousands of acres to the State, smaller tracts would be transferred to several tribes. The legislation moved ahead without the promised agreement of all the Tribes. After much wrangling, the Janklow/Daschle land grab bill was introduced to the Congress on October 28, 1997.
Despite efforts by the Tribes to get a hearing, and because of Daschle's tactics and secretive maneuvers, the Janklow/Daschle land transfer was inserted into the omnibus spending bill (as Title VI) that passed Congress on October 19, 1998. Title VI was soon repealed, due to process and not issue, but was later inserted into another bill by Daschle and passed in 1999. In spite of Native protests, legislative efforts, and letters to the United Nations outlining Treaty violations, the land transfer stands today.
And there still remains the issue of the Black Hills. The ”findings” by various bureaucracies over the years, since the Indian Claims Commission, had been how offensive the treatment of the Tribes had been, and how devious was the legislation robbing them of Treaty lands; and were all hot air pontifications.
The Sioux have steadfastly refused any cash payments for the Black Hills. In the 1980s, they reiterated their position about wanting their lands returned. In 1985, New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley introduced legislation that would return all Government lands in the Black Hills to the Sioux, something on the order of 1.6 million acres.
Over the years, State and Federal (and local in the case of Hot Springs) governments have turned the Black Hills Lakota Sacred Sites (of which there are seven) into parks and monuments. Bear Butte is a state park; Black Elk Peak is within a state park; Devil's Tower is a National Monument; Buffalo Gap, a sacred landmark that leads the way to Wind Cave National Park, a sacred site; and Hot Springs, where the 146 springs were exploited for commercial use and/or turned into State-managed entities such as Cold Brook Springs and Cascade Springs and Falls. The most famous of these is the Evans Plunge Mineral Spring, now owned by the citizens of the City of Hot Springs.
Homestake has mined all the viable gold out of the the Lead-Deadwood area, and, as I write, a Canadian mining company has been permitted to mine in the sacred Pe Sla area. A Chinese company, fronted by locals, is seeking to mine uranium in-situ in the Southern Hills, pumping thousands of gallons of water out of the aquifers and returning it, contaminated, to the water table. This has potential to contaminate the Cheyenne River and downstream water, especially in the area “Where the River Runs Four Directions,” on the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary.
But the Land is still sacred. The Hills have been known to many Plains tribes as a holy place. The Sioux practiced powerful ceremonies at the Seven Sacred Sites for hundreds of years, and the Hills are still revered today. In Rapid City, and Pine Ridge, and at Rosebud, communities committed to peaceful co-existence and the end of racism meet regularly in their work toward these goals. Justice would be for the Hills to be returned to the Tribes, and the fight continues.
Acknowledgement in the anniversary year by the South Dakota Senate is indeed, a positive step in the right direction. The entire Resolution 1 is available at the link below.
This is but a swift overview of some of the significant occurrences in Sioux Country in the last 150 years. Suggested reading for the full story includes:
The Land Along the River
by Peter Caposella
Where the Lightning Strikes
by Peter Nabokov
The Heart of Everything that Is
by Bob Drury and Tom Clavina
All are available at the Korczak's Heritage on-line gift shop.
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