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. They 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-Sioux ever arrived there. The hills were so-called "Black Hills" because of their dark appearance from a distance, as they were covered in trees. 

We do know that the Arikara Indian nation arrived by 1100 AD, although some say they occupied that area in 1500. After reading about the Arikara Indians, it is pretty much a given that the Arikara had the Black Hills the longest and long before everyone else. If there are people who want to give the Black Hills back to the Indians, than 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 Sioux, and then the United States. The Lakota Sioux arrived in the region after getting kicked out of Minnesota in the late 1770s by other tribes. The Lakota Sioux took over the Black Hills after they drove out the Cheyenne Indian nation. The Sioux forced the Cheyenne to move West. The Lakota-Sioux, who are also known simply as the Lakota or the Sioux, 

Among tribes, the wars were more brutal than most realize. The Lakota took over the territory of the Black Hills only after they got kicked out of Minnesota by other tribes. 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. 

Wars between Native American tribal nations did not always turn out well for the Lakota-Sioux. Their wars with Anishnaabe and Cree nations pushed the Lakota-Sioux 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 resurces, 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 pushed 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 The Great could not have united the islands without the use of musket, swords, and even a small cannon given to him by the British. The use of the European superior technology and the support of the British enabled the ruler of one island to conquer the other islands who were said to be as different as Germany is from France. Warfare among the Native American Indian nations were brutal and not unlike savage warfare anywhere else in the world.

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 horse, 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 these tribes. Make no mistake about it, because those tribes did not have built-up immunities to diseases such as measles, those epidemics killed thousands of in all of the tribes. In reality, thousands more than bullets and swords in the wars with the French, the British, the Spanish, and Americans.

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 well-mounted. 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 Sioux only found out about 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."

The Cheyenne then moved west to the Powder River country, and the Lakota made the Black Hills their home until they were forced out by war with the United States. Initial the American 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 United States 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. It's said that though they were in competition with each other over resources, but more important to them is that they saw the American settlers as encroaching on lands that were still in dispute between the tribes. Because of this, soon all sorts of tribes who were traditional enemies aligned to attack American settlers and even emigrant trains. This caused public pressure on the US Army to punish the "hostiles."

Then there was the Grattan Massacre, also known as the Grattan Fight, which was the opening engagement of the First Sioux War, fought between United States Army and Lakota Sioux warriors on August 19, 1854. That took place east of Fort Laramie, Nebraska Territory, in what is present-day Goshen County, Wyoming.

A small detachment of American soldiers entered a large Sioux village to arrest a man accused of taking a immigrant's cow. Imagine that! And though it's said such matters were to be handled by the US Indian Agent according to the treaty, the Army decided to go in. The situation quickly got out of hand and became hostile. It's said one of the soldiers shot Chief Conquering Bear and killed him. The Brule Lakota then killed all of the soldiers and their civilian interpreter. That was a total of 29 soldiers including Lieutenant John Grattan.

The Grattan Massacre is considered a significant event in the Plains Indian Wars because it's considered the spark that escalated the U.S. vs Indian Wars. In fact, on September 3, 1855, about 700 soldiers under American General William S. Harney avenged the Grattan Massacre by attacking a Lakota village in Nebraska, killing about 100 men, women, and children. Yes, women and children as well.

After that a series of conflicts took place between 1862 and 1864. One result was that refugees from the "Dakota War of 1862" in Minnesota fled west to their allies in Montana and Dakota Territory. This increased the number of American settlers west after the American Civil War. That of course caused war once again.

In 1868, the United States signed the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. This exempted the Black Hills from all white settlement. Supposedly forever. But, 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 in the Black Hills. The United States government simply could not enforce the treaty restriction against unauthorized settlement by the flood of the gold seekers.

Of course, the Black Hills were considered sacred by the Lakota and they objected to mining. 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."

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 were still fighting other tribes while fighting the United States. For example, the battle of Massacre Canyon on August 5, 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.

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 American Army along with its Crow and Shoshoni allies against a force consisting mostly of Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne Indians. Yes, Americans had allies among the tribes.

The battle is known to have prevented Gen.Crook from locating and attacking their camp. It also prevent Gen. Crook from playing a role in the Battle of Little Bighorn eight days later. Gen. 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 Gen. 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. Imagine that.

Eight days after Battle of the Rosebud, the Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho Indians tribes combined to wipe out Custer's 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. The Battle of the Little Bighorn, known to Lakota as the Battle of the Greasy Grass, and commonly referred to as Custer's Last Stand, started on June 25th and finished on the 26th in 1876. It took place near the Little Bighorn River in eastern Montana Territory, hence the name.

It was an overwhelming victory for the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho, led by Crazy Horse and Chief Gall. That fight was inspired by the supposed visions of Sitting Bull.

The U.S. Army's 7th Cavalry included the Custer Battalion. That was a force of 700 men led by Col. George Armstrong Custer. They suffered a severe defeat. Five of the 7th Cavalry's twelve companies were annihilated. George Custer himself, as with his two brothers, a nephew, and a brother-in-law, were killed. The total U.S. casualty count at the Little Big Horn, including scouts, was 268 dead and 55 injured. The allied tribes wiped out the entire Custer battalion in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, and inflicted more than 50 percent casualties on the regiment.

Some say Col. George Custer was a fool when he attacked a camp of several tribes which was much larger than he realized. This is especially true since it is said that his scouts told him about the size of large village before he charged headlong into a hornet's nest.

The combined forces of the allied tribes are said to have numbers over 5,000 were led by Chief Crazy Horse. After the battle, the tribes there reportedly folded their camp and scattered. It is also said that the Sioux and the Northern Cheyenne feasted and celebrated during that July with no threat from 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, the United States Congress authorized funds to expand the Army by 2,500 men. The funds were meant to specifically reinforced the Army. With reinforcements, Generals Crook and Terry finally took the field against the Indians in August. General Nelson A. Miles took command of the effort 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 though 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 year when Gen. Miles defeated the remaining Miniconjou Sioux. And as for the Lakota Sioux, 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 15, 1890.  Then 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 "sacred center of the world." Of course the Cheyenne had it before the Sioux.

Though the Sioux ceded the Black Hills to the United States, some Sioux never accepted the legitimacy of the transaction. Those Sioux 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.

The 1980 decision acknowledged the United States had taken the Black Hills "without just compensation." But the Sioux refused the money offered, and continue to insist on their right to occupy the 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, U.S. Supreme Court decision or not, the Cheyenne Indians have as justified a claim to the Black Hills as the Lakota Sioux if we want to talk about who was there first.

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

Well, since the Arikara arrived by 1100 AD, and 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 it was taken by the United States. 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. The Sioux waged genocidal war on other tribes before they took over the Black Hills from the Cheyenne. Yes, they did the very same thing that the United States did to drive the Lakota out.

What I find interesting is that the history of the Black Hills point to the fact that the Black Hills didn't belong to the Lakota-Sioux in the first place. It is also interesting that there is a movement to try to return the Black Hills to the Lakota-Sioux. Yet, they're not its historical occupants. The Lakota are saying it belongs to them, but historically its longest occupants were the Arikara Indians.

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 who arrived there around 1100 AD or so? Or how about the Cheyenne? Can you imagine the uproar by the Lakota Sioux? I do find it hypocritical for Lakota-Sioux 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. American Indian tribes slaughtered each other routinely. These different tribes were independent nations with their own cultures. languages, customs, religious beliefs, completely separate from other Indian nations.

Until the United States came along, the Lakota Sioux were only the most recent Indian nation to occupy the Black Hills after a horrible war with the Cheyenne nation. Fact is, so many separate tribal nations have waged all out war to get the Black Hills. In the end, the Arikara lost the area to the Crow nation, the Crow lost it to the Pawnee, the Pawnee nation lost it to the Kiowa, the Kiowa nation lost it the Cheyenne, the Cheyenne nation lost  it to the Lakota Sioux, and then finally 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 thing as as the other tribes did. Through war, the United States did the very same thing in that the United States fought for it. Americans got it after a long line of other tribes fought for it.  Yes indeed, 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 back. He said that a few people that have read this up in that area 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.


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