Battle of Little Bighorn: 12 – Westerners Demand Sioux be Confined

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"The Custer Fight" by Charles Marion Russell. Lithograph. Shows the Battle of Little Bighorn, from the Indian side.

President Grant and his advisors wanted, and needed, to do something about the situation the United States found itself in, in 1873. One solution was to open new territories for exploitation. It had always worked in the past. Surly it would work now.

This was their reasoning as their thoughts turned towards the Sioux, “a tribe now forcefully obstructing national policy while living off $1.25 million in gratuitous rations. To a government gripped by financial panic, that money became an increasingly grudging kindness.”

From the western areas came the cry “to confine the Sioux to the reservation, buy back their hunting rights, and break the hostiles. With the Sioux militantly resisting the best efforts of the reformers and with the prospect of a new gold bonanza lurking in the unexplored regions of the Sioux domain, the policy of peace lost its firm foundation in both thrift and humanity.“

The Black Hills

Was it not the perfect solution? Force the Sioux, who rightly owned the Black Hills per the Treaty of 1868, to give them up. In doing so, mining could begin there, legally, which would put much needed capital into circulation. It would create new areas for homesteading. And — it would accomplish something that President Grant and other like-minded national leaders had long-since sought a solution for.

Here would be a legal way, at least in the eyes of the government, to subdue the Indians and force them to live on the reservations and conform to white civilized Christian standards. In the process, the unceded area that had been given to the Indians, also by the Treaty of 1868, could be opened for exploitation and white settlement.

Of course there was still an unknown factor. Was there really gold of any worthwhile amount in the Black Hills? Granted there had been rumors of such for many years. Certainly, a few whites had entered the Black Hills from time to time, seeking the gold said to be hidden within those hills the Indians called Pa Sapa. But most of those brave adventurous souls had strangely disappeared, never to return from the Hills. The few lucky ones that had returned, with their scalps intact, bragged of wealth untold. Then someone recalled that back in the 1840s some Sioux had brought a few yellow nuggets to Father De Smet. This good man who had worked so diligently among these people advised the Sioux to bury the gold deep within the earth and forget it.

Father De Smet

Adhering to Father De Smet’s sage advice, Crazy Horse’s father had been among those who attended the Indian council where warriors agreed that any Indian who revealed the presence of gold in the Black Hills to any white man, or any white men that discovered gold in the Hills, were to be killed. But of course, word of the gold in the Black Hills had leaked out and in this year, of 1874, it was remembered.