TROUBLE IN THE BLACK HILLS

From:
ONE HUNDRED YEARS WITH THE SECOND CAVALRY
By Joseph I. Lambert, Major, Second Cavalry
Copyright 1939 Commanding Officer, Second Cavalry, Fort Riley, Kansas
Capper Printing Company, Inc.

IWBy the treaty of 1868 with the Indians, the Bozeman trail east of the Big Horn mountains was abandoned. There was set of as a reservation all of Dakota Territory west of the Missouri River and south of parallel 46. This country included the Black Hills about which at various times there were rumors that gold was discovered. Influence was brought to bear upon the government and finally a military expedition was sent into the country under Lieutenant-Colonel Custer in 1874 which included a number of miners for prospecting. These men reported that there was much gold in the hills. There was an immediate stampede in that direction, and the government did little to keep the men out of the Indian domain. Numbers of the miners kept coming during 1875, and the complaints and raids by the Indians increased, until war was threatened.

In June, 1875, a commission was appointed by the President for the purpose of securing from the Indians the right for whites to mine the Black Hills. Most of the Sioux were represented at this conference, including also the Northern Cheyenne and Arapahoes. A majority of the Indians favored selling for large sums, but one party opposed the sale on any terms. The commission offered to lease the country at $400,000 per year, or to purchase it for $6,000,000. The savages wanted much more than this, and the conference finally broke up unsuccessful.

The disgruntled chiefs of most prominence to us during the year 1876 were Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and Gall. Although not the chiefs who ruled over the greatest number of Indians, they nevertheless caused the most trouble to the whites. Sitting Bull was a half breed Uncpapa, about five feet eight inches tall, heavy set, and was forty-two years of age in 1876. He ruled over only about thirty lodges, but on account of his influence with the discontented Indians, came to be known by the whites as the most prominent chief of the Sioux. Crazy Horse was an Ogallalla, but many of the Indians with him in 1876 were Northern Cheyennes and Minneconjous, making his band number about 500. Gall, an Uncpapa, had massive features and possessed great natural ability and force of character. He had been for years the greatest foe of the whites, and remained incorrigible until he surrendered with Sitting Bull in 1881. Being only thirty-six years of age in 1876, he was the most influential of the chiefs in the grand councils.

Although Sitting Bull commanded only a few lodges in time of peace, most of the Indians who refused to live on the reservations rallied around him. In the summer many of the agency Indians slipped away and followed the hostile marauding bands. These groups made war on the Crows, Snakes, Blackfeet, and Arickarees. Sometimes they attacked the miners; at other times they made raids upon the settlements for horses and often killed some of the people. From July, 1875, to the spring of 1876, there were seventeen attacks on the whites along the Yellowstone Valley, with nine men killed, ten wounded, and much property stolen.

The Indian inspector investigated the situation and in a report dated November 9, 1875, advised that troops be sent against the so-called wild tribes. Orders were sent out in December by the Interior Department to all roaming bands that unless they returned to reservations by January 31, 1876, they would be considered hostile and troops sent against them. On February 1, the Secretary of War received notice from the Secretary of the Interior that the time given the hostile Indians to come in had expired without their surrender, and the army could take steps to punish them.

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