Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Last Tribe to get the Black Hills

I've been contacted by a friend in South Dakota, and asked to research the history of the Black Hills and the claim by the Lakota Sioux that the area is their ancestral homeland. My friend sent me all sorts of information that I read and found interesting. After looking into this, this is what I've found.

The Black Hills are a small isolated mountain range which rise up from the Great Plains in western South Dakota and extend into Wyoming. Harney Peak, which rises to 7,244 feet is the range's highest summit. Today, the Black Hills actually encompass the Black Hills National Forest.

The name Black Hills is a translation of the Lakota Sioux Indian tribe who called them "Ȟe Sápa." And while that's true, it should be noted that the Cheyenne Indians called them "Moʼȯhta-voʼhonáaeva" for a hundred years or more before the Lakato ever arrived there. The hills were so-called "Black Hills" because of their dark appearance from a distance, as they were covered in trees. 

Although some say they occupied that area in the year 1500 to 1530 AD, we do know that the Arikara Indian nation arrived there around 1100 AD. After reading about the Arikara, it is pretty much a given that they had the Black Hills first -- and the longest. Long before everyone else. If there are people who want to give the Black Hills "back to the Indians" as the saying goes, then it should be to the right tribe. Yes, the right tribe.

The Arikara in the Black Hills was followed by the Crow, Pawnee, Kiowa, Cheyenne, Lakota, and then the United States. The Lakota arrived in the region after getting kicked out of Minnesota in the late 1770s by other tribes. The Lakota took over the region after they drove out the Cheyenne Indian nation. The Sioux forced the Cheyenne to move West. 

The Lakota people, and Teton Sioux, are part of a confederation of seven related Sioux tribes, the "Očhéthi Šakówiŋ" or "Seven Council Fires." Siouan language speakers may have originated in the lower Mississippi River region and then migrated to the Ohio Valley. They were farmers and may have been part of the Mound Builder civilization from the 9th to 12th centuries.

The tribes belonging to the Siouan linguistic family are the Lakota, Assiniboin, Omaha, Ponka, Kansa, Osage, Kwapa, Iowa, Oto, Missouri, Winnebago, Mandan, Hidatsa, Crow, or Absaroka, tribes whose territories sat in the region now known as Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas. The Biloxi, who were formerly near Mobile Bay, the Catawba, of South Carolina, the Tutelo, Sapona, Occanechi, of North Carolina and Virginia were also part of the Siouan language speaking nation. The Dakota-Lakota-Nakota speakers lived in the upper Mississippi Region in present day Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and later in the Dakotas. 

Among tribes, the wars were more brutal than most realize. Warfare among the Native American Indian nations were brutal and not unlike savage warfare anywhere else in the world. Waging war did not always turn out well for the Lakota. Their wars with Anishnaabe and Cree nations pushed the Lakota west and into the Great Plains in the mid to late-1600s.

Historically the Anishinaabe peoples maintained close alliances with Cree nations including the Atikamekw, Montagnais, Moose Cree, Swampy Cree and Plains Cree. Others allies included the Noos (Abenaki), Miijimaag, Nii'inaa-naadawe (Wendat), Omanoominiig, Wiinibiigoog and Zhaawanoog. Other closely related Algonquin groups such as the Zhiishiigwan and Amikwaa were incorporated into the Anishinaabe family of nations through alliances. Due to competing interests for land and resources, from time to time the Anishinaabeg had strained relations with the various Iroquois nations, Sauk, Fox and Dakota peoples.

From the east in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Anishinaabe, who the Lakota called the "Chippewa" (Ojibwe), fought with the use of muskets supplied to them by the French and the British. This superior technology for waging war on other tribes enabled the Anishinaabe to push the Lakota further into Minnesota and then West and Southwest. 

No, this is not the only example of European war-fighting technology being given to one native nation to conquer another. We should remember that even in Hawaii, King Kamehameha I, also know as Kamehameha The Great, could not have united the Hawaiian islands without the use of musket, swords, and even a small cannon given to him by the British. The use of the superior European technology, and the support of the British, enabled the ruler of one island to conquer the other islands. Islands who were said to be as different as Germany is from France when it came to language, customs, traditions, and spiritual beliefs. 

Americans gave the name "Dakota Territory" to the U.S. northern expansion West of the Mississippi River and up to its headwaters. Around 1730, the Cheyenne nation introduced the Lakota to horses. Yes, the Cheyenne are said to have been the tribe that introduced horses to the Sioux, and taught them to ride. The Cheyenne called horses "šuŋkawakaŋ" which means "dog of power, mystery, wonder". After their adoption of horses, like the Cheyenne, the Lakota became a horse culture. They became a society centered on the buffalo hunt on horseback instead of farming.

The total population of the Sioux, which included the Lakota, Santee, Yankton, and Yanktonai, was estimated at 28,000 by French explorers in 1660. The Lakota population was first estimated at 8,500 in 1805. It grew and reached 16,110 in 1881. The Lakota were one of the few Native American tribes to increase in population in the 19th century.

After 1720, the Lakota branch of the Seven Council Fires split into two major sects, the "Saone," who moved to the Lake Traverse area on the South Dakota/North Dakota/Minnesota border, and the "Oglála-Sičháŋǧu," who occupied the James River valley. But by about 1750, the Saone had moved to the East bank of the Missouri River. They were followed 10 years later by the Oglála and Brulé (Sičháŋǧu) Indians.

The large and powerful Arikara, Mandan, and Hidatsa villages had  prevented the Lakota from crossing the Missouri River for a long time. Though that was the case for years, with the arrival of Europeans came the great smallpox epidemic of 1772 to 1780. The epidemic destroyed three-quarters of those tribes.

Make no mistake about it, because those tribes did not have built-up immunities to diseases such as measles, the epidemics killed thousands of Native Americans. In reality, more Native Americans died from diseases inadvertently introduced by the Europeans. In fact, thousands more died from diseases than bullets and swords in the wars with the French, the British, the Spanish, Mexicans, and Americans combined.

With less resistance from other tribes, the Lakota crossed the river into the dry short-grass prairies of the High Plains. These newcomers were the "Saone" who were said to have been mounted horsemen. With the use of horses which many tribes did not have, they increased their dominance quickly.

In 1765, a Saone raiding party led by Chief Standing Bear discovered the Black Hills which was then the territory belonging to the Cheyenne. The Lakota only found the Black Hills in 1765. Ten years later, the Oglála and Brulé also crossed the river.

In 1776, yes the same year that Americans went to war with the British to claim America as our own nation, in bloody warfare the Lakota defeated the Cheyenne who had earlier taken the Black Hills from the Kiowa after a lengthy war.

Author and historian Mark van de Logt wrote: "Although military historians tend to reserve the concept of “total war” for conflicts between modern industrial nations, the term nevertheless most closely approaches the state of affairs between the Pawnees and the Sioux and Cheyennes. Both sides directed their actions not solely against warrior-combatants but against the people as a whole. Noncombatants were legitimate targets. ... It is within this context that the military service of the Pawnee Scouts must be viewed."

After being pushed out, the Cheyenne then moved west to the Powder River country. That's when the Lakota made the Black Hills their home, until they were forced out by war with the United States.

As for Americans, initial contact with the Lakota during the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804 to 1806 was considered a standoff. During that time, Lakota bands refused to allow American explorers to continue upstream. The Lewis and Clark expedition reportedly prepared for battle, but that never happened.

Nearly 50 years later, after the U.S. Army had built Fort Laramie on what was considered Lakota land, the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 was negotiated to protect travelers on the Oregon Trail. The Northern Cheyenne, who had aligned with the Lakota, had previously attacked emigrant parties.

Though tribes were in competition with each other over resources, becoming allies against a common enemy became paramount when they saw the American settlers as encroaching on lands that were still in dispute between the tribes. Because of this, a number of tribes who were traditional enemies aligned to attack American settlers and emigrant trains.

The Grattan Massacre, also known to some as the Grattan Fight, was the opening engagement of what would be known as the First Sioux War. It actually took place on August 19th, 1854, east of Fort Laramie in what was at the time the Nebraska Territory. Today that area is part of Goshen County, Wyoming.

A small detachment of American soldiers entered a large Lakota village to arrest the man accused of taking a cow which was stolen from a Mormon immigrant. Imagine that, a cow. And though it's said such matters were supposed to be handled by the Federal government's Indian Agent according to the treaty, the Army decided to go in to take care of the situation.

The situation that would have normally been handled fairly easily and calmly is said to have quickly got out of hand. It's said one of the soldiers shot Chief Conquering Bear and killed him on the spot. The Brule Lakota there numbers about 1,400. They killed all of the soldiers and their civilian interpreter. The American dead was 28 soldiers including Lieutenant John Grattan, and the civilian interpreter.

The Grattan Massacre is considered significant in the Plains Indian Wars because it's considered what started the American Indian Wars. Less than a month later on September 3rd, 1855, a unit of about 700 soldiers under the command of General William S. Harney was dispatched by the President to avenge the Grattan Massacre. Harney did so by attacking a Lakota village in Nebraska. He had his men kill about 100 warriors, old men, women, and even children. Yes, women and children as well. It became known as the Harney Massacre.

These events caused the American public to pressure Washington D.C. to take action. Americans wanted the U.S. Army to punish the "hostiles." As a result, thousands of U.S. troops were poured into the area.

After that, a series of battles and skirmishes took place between 1862 and 1864. One result was that the refugees from the "Dakota War of 1862" in Minnesota fled West to align with their allies in Montana and the Dakota Territory. This of course, increased the number of American settlers moving West after the Civil War. The consequence of that is that caused war once again between the U.S. and the Lakota.

In 1868, the United States signed the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. This exempted the Black Hills from all American settlement. While the treaty was supposed to keep Americans out of the Black Hills, four years later gold was discovered there and American prospectors descended on the area in droves.

The Fort Laramie Treaty acknowledged Lakota sovereignty over the Great Plains in exchange for free passage on the Oregon Trail for "as long as the river flows and the eagle flies." Well, so much for that!

It is interesting that during the Black Hills War in 1876, that some Arikara served as scouts for Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer in the Little Bighorn Campaign. The Black Hills was seen as worth keeping, especially after the discovery of gold there. By the time the word got out that gold was discovered there, the United States government simply could not enforce the treaty restriction against unauthorized settlement as a flood of the gold seekers pored into the area.

Of course, the Black Hills were considered sacred by the Lakota and they objected to what they saw as an invasion. Soon they attacked the influx of American settlers. Those attacks on settlers and miners were met by military force conducted by Army commanders such as Colonel George Armstrong Custer. This is when General Philip Sheridan encouraged American troops to hunt and kill the buffalo as a means of "destroying the Indians' commissary." Imagine how cruel you have to be to want to kill off a group's food supply?

The allied Lakota and Arapaho along with the unified "Northern Cheyenne" were involved in much of the warfare after 1860. It should be noted that the Lakota-Sioux nation was still fighting other tribes while fighting the Americans. For example, the battle of Massacre Canyon on August 5th, 1873, was the last major battle between the Pawnee and the Sioux tribes. That was when the Sioux attempted to exterminate the Pawnee once and for all. Yes, men, women and children while on a buffalo hunt for food. So as for cruelty, it was fairly common at the time.

General George Crook's Army fought the Sioux at the Battle of the Rosebud. That battle occurred June 17th, 1876, in the Montana Territory between the Army along with its Crow and Shoshoni allies against a force consisting mostly of Lakota and Northern Cheyenne. Yes, Americans had allies among the tribes. Not all tribes saw the Americans as the enemy.

The battle is known to have prevented General Crook from locating and attacking their camp. It also prevent General Crook from playing a role in the Battle of Little Bighorn eight days later. Crook's Crow and Shoshoni allies left the Army for their homes shortly after the battle. The Lakota and Northern Cheyenne returned to the battlefield after Crook's departure and piled up rocks at the location of key events in the battle. Some of the rock piles they built are said to still be there.

Eight days after Battle of the Rosebud, the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho combined their forces to wipe out Custer's 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

Known to the Lakota as the Battle of the Greasy Grass, also commonly referred to as Custer's Last Stand, started on June 25th and finished on the 26th of June in 1876. It was an overwhelming victory for the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho, led by Crazy Horse and Chief Gall. Some say it was a fight that was inspired by a vision that Chief Sitting Bull had experienced.

Led by Colonel George Armstrong Custer, the U.S. Army's 7th Cavalry was a force of 700 men. Five of the 7th Cavalry's twelve companies were annihilated. The total U.S. casualty count at the Little Big Horn, including scouts, was 268 dead and 55 wounded. George Custer himself, his two brothers, a nephew, and a brother-in-law, were killed.

Some say Col. George Custer was a fool on a number of points including refusing to accept the information brought back to him by his own scouts, his wanting to move faster so he left his Gatling-guns behind as he saw them slowing him down. He also moved his troops at a pace that wore out their horses. This meant their mounts were spent when they arrived at the Little Bighorn River there in eastern Montana Territory. His horses were in no shape to retreat when he attacked a camp of several tribes that was much larger than he realized.

His scouts told him about the size of the village before he charged headlong into a hornet's nest. The combined allied tribes are said to have numbers over 5,000.

After the battle, the tribes struck camp and left. They actually scattered. After the Little Big Horn, it's said the Sioux and the Northern Cheyenne feasted and celebrated during all of that July because they saw no threat from American soldiers. After their celebrations many of the Indians slipped back to the reservation, perhaps sensing that the summer of 1876 would be their last victory.

In response to the Little Big Horn, the public wanted vengeance and the United States Congress authorized funds to expand the Army by 2,500 men. The funds were meant to specifically reinforced the Army in Montana. Once reinforcements were at hand by mid-August, General Crook and General Terry were able to take the fight to those seen as responsible for the Little Big Horn Massacre. General Nelson A. Miles took command of the effort to pursue and engage with the Indians in October 1876.

Following the defeat of the Lakota and their Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho allies in 1876, the United States took complete control of the region. But, that's not to say that skirmishes continued for years in the Black Hills.

In May of 1877, Sitting Bull escaped to Canada. Within days, Crazy Horse surrendered at Fort Robinson. The Great Sioux War of 1876 ended on May 7th of that next year 1877 when General Miles defeated the remaining Miniconjou Sioux. And as for the Lakota, they were eventually confined to reservations and prevented from hunting buffalo. They had to accept government food distributions or starve.

Later in 1877, some of the Lakota bands signed a treaty that ceded the Black Hills to the United States. Years later, Sitting Bull was killed at Standing Rock reservation on December 15th, 1890.  Right after that, the US Army attacked Spotted Elk, also known as "Bigfoot," and his Mnicoujou band of Lakota at Wounded Knee. That massacre took place on December 29th, 1890 at Pine Ridge.

The Lakota-Sioux, just as the Arikara, the Crow, Kiowa, Pawnee and the Cheyenne did before them, made the Black Hills central to their culture. Of course, the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie had previously confirmed the Lakota's ownership of the Teton Sioux mountain range -- but that treaty was rendered null and void when the it was scraped because of the war.

It should be noted that both the Sioux and the Cheyenne claimed rights to the Black Hills land. Both tribes said that in their nation's cultures, the Black Hills are considered the "axis mundi" or their "sacred center of the world." Of course, it is a fact that the Cheyenne had it before the Sioux.

Though the Lakota ceded the Black Hills to the United States, some say that those who did that on behalf of the Lakota didn't have the authority to do it. They have never accepted the legitimacy of the transaction. Those are the Lakota who have lobbied Congress to create a forum to decide their claim.

On July 23rd, 1980, in United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Black Hills were taken illegally and remuneration of the initial offering price plus interest was to be paid. That came out to nearly $106 million in 1980.

The 1980 decision acknowledged the United States had taken the Black Hills "without just compensation." But the Lakota refused the money offered, and continue to insist that it is their land and they have a right to occupy that land.

Fact is the Lakota-Sioux never accepted the validity of the United States appropriation. They continue to try to reclaim the property. The money supposedly remains in an interest-bearing account, which now amounts to over $757 million. And believe it or not, it's said that the Lakota still refuse to take the money.

The number of Lakota has now increased to about 70,000, and about 20,500 still speak the Lakota language. On the whole, they believe that accepting the settlement would allow the U.S. Government to justify taking ownership of the Black Hills. But to me, the U.S. Supreme Court decision or not, the Cheyenne also have a justifiable claim to the Black Hills. Just as much as the Lakota has, if we're talking about who was there first.

So who would be the rightfully owner of the Black Hills?

Well, since the Arikara were the first tribe to inhabit the Black Hills, it seems that they have a reasonable claim to the Black Hills. But they were forced out through bloody wars and were followed by the Crow, the Pawnee, then the Kiowa, and then Cheyenne, before the Lakota Sioux took it.

And then, there's the United States. Yes, the Black Hills was taken by the United States no differently than by any other tribe which took it from the previous occupants. Yes, by force. So to me, it belongs to the last nation who fought for it and won it. Yes, the United States.

The Lakota-Sioux arrived in the West after being on the losing end of a war with other tribes in Minnesota in the late 1700s. Known as the Lakota, or simply the Sioux, they waged genocidal war on other tribes before they took over the Black Hills from the Cheyenne. So let me say this again, they did the exact same thing that the United States did to drive the Lakota out.

What I find interesting is that the history of the Black Hills points to the fact that the Black Hills didn't belong to the Lakota in the first place. It is also interesting that there is a movement to try to return the Black Hills to the Lakota, yet they are not its first occupants. The Lakota are saying it belongs to them, but historically its longest occupants were the Arikara Indians. And even if they don't want it, there were other tribe after them who occupied it much longer than the 100 years or less that the Sioux had it.

Can you just imagine if the United States said they were only going to turn over the land to the original occupants, the Arikara Indians? Or how about to the Cheyenne? Can you imagine the uproar by the Lakota? I do find it hypocritical for the Lakota to make claim to the Black Hill, when they in fact took it over after a bloody war with the Cheyenne that ended in 1776. In reality, they did the exact same thing the United States did a hundred years later in 1876.

Americans should not accept the lie that is being perpetuated regarding some aspects of American History. Who the Black Hills "belongs" to is one of the great lies.

Whether we want to admit it or not, it is a fact that Indian tribes waged war and slaughtered each other routinely. Each time a tribe chased out an enemy tribe, the victors were were conquerors. They took over lands, crops, game, made slaves of those they defeated no differently then the Germans and French did for centuries.

As for Native Americans saying they were here first. Where's here? Since those different tribes were independent nations with their own cultures. languages, customs, religious beliefs, completely separate from other Indian nations, all having pushed each other out of lands by force, who are they to say that the they were here first. Being first is irrelevant when they are not the last one's standing after a battle. They proved that by waging war on each other to conquer lands.

Until the United States came along, the Lakota were only the most recent Indian nation to occupy the Black Hills after a horrible war. Fact is, so many separate tribal nations have waged all out war to get the Black Hills. In the end, the Lakota-Sioux nation lost the Black Hills to the another nation which is the United States.

If we look at the United States no differently than we do any other tribal nation, then the United States is the last tribe to get the Black Hills. After all, warfare being warfare, the United States took the Black Hills in the exact same way as as the other tribes did. Through brutal war, the United States did the very same thing. The United States fought for it. The United States conquered it, really no different than the Sioux did against the Cheyenne.

Americans got the Black Hills after a long line of other tribes fought for it. So, like it or not, the United States is the last tribe to get the Black Hills.

By the way, after I published this story, my friend in South Dakota who had originally contacted me about this, contacted me again. He said that a few people there have read this and are not happy with this story.

He then said, "But I love it, I'm Cheyenne!"

And there you have it.

Tom Correa


  1. Yeah It's good I appreciate this article. I recommand it to my friends,I,ll be back here again and again . Visit our blog for more .

  2. I find it interesting that I've gotten mixed results on this article. Some hate me for writing it while others like it. As for this article and how it upsets some Native American Indian tribes, I did get a great email from a reader, one that I love to quote about this article. My reader wrote to say, "You have made Native Americans angry -- but not me, I am Cheyenne!" And yes, I smile when I think about that.

  3. I am part Ojibwe, and the Sioux, for many generations, even up to the 1900s, were trying to wipe out the Ojibwe. Love your history stories. Thank you!

  4. All peoples have their own times about which they can brag and times that they would rather leave hidden. When it comes to history, it is a disservice to the decedents to paint the past with only certain colors from the crayon box. Our history influences our present and our future; and it is imperative that we know and understand all of the truth about our past -- the good, the bad, and the ugly -- so our view of the present is not distorted by half-truths and a selectively gilded memory.

  5. A great article. I wish more people would take the time to educate themselves about all of our history in this country, it could help bind us together. It is hypocritical, this supposed claim of the Black Hills. The truth isn't always easy to swallow, and the written language makes history less palatable for some.

  6. Thanks for re-posting this article. I knew some of these details, but you crafted a great store keeping the dates in order and a perspective of "to the victor goes the spoils." As you described, the war between the Lakota and the Pawnee was long and vicious. It was almost a footnote that the Lakota were farmers until the Cheyenne introduced Spanish horses traded to them by the Ute tribes of New Mexico.

  7. Glad to see that somebody took the time to do a little research and write about this episode in American history. However, it was frustrating to see so many errors in syntax and so much redundancy. And it is unnecessary to state "Lakota Sioux". "Sioux" is a derivative of a term that the French applied to them. Simply calling them Lakota is sufficient. Or Nakota, Dakota, depending on what branch is being referred to. But having said all that, kudos to Mr. Correa for taking on such an overlooked subject.

  8. As part Osage, I found this article, whether 100 percent accurate or not, very informative as to how one tribe after another overtakes land occupied by others, if they have the strength to do so. Isn't that somewhat similar to what "Europeans" did when they occupied (took over) America? As all those who came before, they shoved aside the current occupants and told the World "they discovered America." And now the Sioux claim the same with regards to the Black Hills, yet, now we know better. Thanks

    1. Thanks for your comment. Frankly, the main reason that I wrote this is because a Cheyenne friend sent me information pertaining to his tribe's ownership of the Black Hills long before the Sioux ever arrived in the area. In essence disputing the Sioux claims to that same area. But there is another reason why I wrote this, and I assure you that it wasn't to simply re-plant Old Glory and tell people that it belongs to America. It was to point out that history tells us that no matter if it's here in North America, in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, tribes overtake one another for land occupied by others. It is foolish to say that Native Americans were a peaceful people when we know they waged genocidal war on each other long before the Europeans "discovered" this land. And as for what the Europeans did, they did nothing any different than what tribes did to other tribes through war and conquest.

      Thank for visiting my blog.


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