Sioux reservation pic

Grant's Uncivil War

  • US Policy for Reservation System

    A US federal government policy would reserve this land for the Native Americans as a treaty assigned each tribe a defined territory in the West. With the slaughter of buffalo, the natives would be forced to stay on the reservation because thier food source was no longer migratory; this led to rations given by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
  • Fort Laramie Treaty

    Treaty signed between the Lakotas and the United States that designated all present-day South Dakota west of the Missouri River, including the Black Hills, as the Great Sioux Reservation, for the Lakotas. The Unceded Indian Territory, present-day northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana, was also reserved and made off-limits to whites without the Lakotas' consent.
  • Settled Lakotas

    Most settled on the reservation, but a few thousand traditionalists rejected the treaty and made their home in the Unceded Territory.
  • President Ulysses S. Grant

    Grant took office on a pledge to keep the West free of war.
  • "New El Dorado"

    Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer led an expedition into the Black Hills, in present-day South Dakota. He was under orders to scout a suitable site for a military post. The Black Hills had been rumored to be rich in gold. Taking him at his word, miners had streamed into the "new El Dorado" for a much needed financial lift. Until this discovery, whites had stayed out of the Lakota country. Custer's official mission was permitted under the treaty; however, searching for gold was not.
  • White House Meeting

    A delegation of Lakota chiefs came to the White House to protest shortages of government rations and the predations of a corrupt Indian agent.
  • Grant Seized Opportunity

    Grant said the government's treaty obligation to issue rations had run out and that he was powerless to prevent miners from overrunning the Black Hills. The Lakotas must either cede to Paha Sapa ("hills that are black") or lose their rations.
  • Return to the Reservation

    The chiefs let the White House and returned to reservation "disgusted and not conciliated."
  • Plot Almost Exposed!!

    William E. Curtis, Chicago INTER OCEAN correspondent who'd stoked the gold frenzy, told his readers: "The roving tribes and those who are known as wild Indians will probably be given over entirely to the military until they are subdued." When Curtis took the matter up with high command, a senior officer dismissed talk o war as "an idle fancy of a diseased brain."
  • Miners Evicted

    Brigadier General George Crook, the new commander of the Military Department of the Platte, evicted many miners from the Black Hills.
  • Commission

    Grant appointed a commission to hold a grand council on the Great Sioux Reservation and buy mining rights to the Black Hills.
  • Grand Council

    Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull refused to come.
  • Sitting Bull

    The commission sent a messanger to talk to Sitting Bull. He'd picked up a pinch of dirt and said, "I do not want to sell or lease any land to the government - not even as much as this."
  • Black Hills Worth

    Whites advised the reservation chiefs that the Black Hills were worth tens of millions of dollars more than the commision was prepared to offer.
  • Lakotas' Deal

    The chiefs said the would sell if the government paid enough to sustain their people for seven generations to come.
  • Sheridan Made His Way East

    Lieutenant General Philip Sheridan's response to and order from the War Department, addressed to the adjutant general in Washington and included in Sherman's papers at the Library of Congress, notes that he had been summoned to "see the secretary [of war] and the president on the subject of the Black Hills." {This is the first of four documents that lay out the conspiracy.}
  • New Course

    Grant was plotting a new course to break impasse.
  • NY Pastors Meet With Grant

    A group of New York pastors met with Grant and exhorted him not to abandon his Peace Policy in order to satisfy a specie-starved public. The president assured the clergymen that he would never abandon the Peace Policy and "that it was his hope that during his administration it would become so firmly established as to be the necessary policy of his successors."
  • Bye Bye Peace Policy

    Grant convened a few like-minded generals and civilian officials to formulate a war plan and write the necessary public script. The Peace Policy breathed its last.
  • Crook the Crook?

    Crook shared the secret of the contained information discussed at the meeting on November 3rd with his trusted aide-de-camp Captain John G. Bourke. Bourke embodied it in a 124-volume diary held at the West Point library: "General Crook said that at the council, General Grant had decided that the Northern Sioux [i.e, the Lakotas] should go upon their reservation or be whipped." {The second of the four incriminating documents.}
  • Back Out of Black Hills Offer

    Sitting Bull and the non-treaty Lakotas had intimidated the reservation chiefs out of selling the mining rights to the Black Hills; crush the non-treaty bands and the reservation chiefs would yield.
  • Grant Needed Shift the Fault to the Lakotas

    He and his collaborators came up with a two-phase plan. The Army would deliver the ultimatum: Repair to the reservation or be whipped.The Army would no longer enforce the edict affirming Lakota ownership of the Black Hills. {This revealed the third document: a confidential order Sheridan wrote to Terry onNovember 9, 1875.}
  • Grant and Watkins

    To manufacture complaints against the Lakotas, Grant administration turned to an Indian Bureau inspector named Erwin C.Watkins.
  • Watkin's Report

    Watkin went beyond his authority to describe the behavior of the non-treaty Lakotas (it is unlikely he ever saw one). He'd singled them out as "wild and hostile bands of Sioux Indians" who "richly merit punishment for their incessant warfare and their numerous murders of settlers and their families, or white men wherever found unarmed;" they scorn the idea of white civilization. Lastly, the gov. should send 1000 soldiers into the Unceded Territory to thrash the "untamable" Lakotas in subjection.
  • Sheridan Rounds Out The Conspiracy

    Sheridan claims to not have filed his annual report because after his return from the Pacific Coast, he was obliged to go east to see...about the Black Hills, and his report had thus been delayed. {Fourth document to finish the conspiracy.}
  • Stockpiling?

    At Crook's headquarters in Wyoming Territory, rations and ammunition were being stockpiled, pack trains prepared, troops marshaled in from outlying forts. Something clearly was afoot, bu Crook and his staff declined to discuss it with the local press.
  • Chandler Sets First Phase in Motion

    He directed the Indian Bureau to inform Sitting Bull and the other non-treaty chiefs that they had until January 31, 1876, to report to the reservation; otherwise, they would be considered "hostile," and the Army would march against them.
  • Lakotas' Response to the Ultimatum

    It was unthreatening and, from Indian perspective, quite practical: They appreciated the invitation to talk but were settled in for winter; when spring arrived and their ponies grew strong, they would attend a council to discuss their future.
  • The Message Was Buried

    Edward Smith, the commissioner of Indian affairs, buried the messaged conveyed to Washington. Sticking to official line secretly scripted in November, he declared that the Lakotas were "defiant and hostile" - so much that he saw no point in waiting until January 31 to permit the Army to take action against them.
  • Sheridan's Green Light

    Sheridan ordered Terry and Crook to begin their campaign.
  • Winter Operations a Bust

    Terry was snowbound. Crook mistakenly attacked a village of peaceable Cheyennes, which only alienated them and alerted the non-treaty Lakotas. Worse, the Army's stumbling performance hardly persuaded the reservation chiefs that they needed to cede the Black Hills.
  • Non-Treaty Lakotas Blossom

    Thousands of reservation Indians migrated to the Unceded Territory, both to hunt buffalo and to join their non-treaty brethren in fighting for liberty, if necessary.
  • In Comes the Army

    The Army launched an offensive, with columns under Crook, Terry, and Colonel John Gibbon converging on the Lakota country.
  • Little Bighorn

    Terry's men set upon the Lakotas and their Cheyenne allies at the Little Bighorn and paid the ultimate price for Grant's duplicity.
  • Congress Begins to Question War Origins

    Only a little after the Little Big Horn debacle did Congress question the war's origins and the government's objectives.
  • Congressional Scrutiny

    The new secretary of war, J. Donald Cameron, took just three days to submit a lengthy explanation, together with Watkins’ report and 58 pages of official correspondence on the subject. Absent was Sheridan’s incriminating order to Terry from November 9, 1875.
  • Cameron Assures Congress

    Military operations, Cameron assured Congress, targeted not the Lakota nation, only “certain hostile parts” (those who lived in the Unceded Territory). The Black Hills, Cameron attested, were a red herring: “The accidental discovery of gold on the western border of the Sioux reservation and the intrusion of our people thereon, have not caused this war, and have only complicated it by the uncertainty of numbers to be encountered.” If Cameron was believed, the war lust of Lakotas had caused war.
  • Lakotas Defeated

    The Lakotas had been utterly defeated.
  • Taking Care of Damages

    In 1980, the Supreme Court ruled that the Lakotas were entitled to damages for the taking of their land. The sum, uncollected and accruing interest, now exceeds $1 billion. The Lakotas would rather have the Black Hills.