Battle of Little Bighorn: 29 – Sioux Ask $70 Million For Black Hills Sale

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

Spotted Tail and Red Cloud surely seemed like sell-outs to many of the other Sioux, but these two leaders had the experience of years. They knew that the only way their people had any chance of surviving was to do as the whites said. But these two men were very wise men. They, and Spotted Bear, stated their terms for the sale of the Black Hills.

“As long as we live on this earth, we expect pay,” Spotted Tail informed the commissioners. “The amount must be so large that the interest will support us” he wisely added, then continued. “If even only two Indians remain, as long as they live they will want to be fed, as they are now.”

Then Red Cloud spoke:

There have been six nations raised and I am the seventh, and I want seven generations ahead to be fed. These Hills out here to the northwest we look upon as the head chief of the land. My intention was that my children depend on these for the future. . . . I think that the Black Hills are worth more than all the wild beasts and all the tame beasts in the possession of the white people. I know it well, and you can see it plain enough, that God Almighty placed these Hills here for my wealth, but now you want to take them from me and make me poor, so I ask so much that I won’t be poor.

It makes you wonder – if the government had not invited Indian leaders such as Red Cloud and Spotted Tail to the east to see all that the whites possessed – would these Indians have been so aware of how rich the whites were — in comparison to the Indians.

Spearfish Falls, Black Hills

Old Spotted Bear put a price tag on the Black Hills. He asked for $7,000,000. The translator got it wrong and quoted the price as $70 million.

The commission in return submitted a formal written proposal to the collected bands. The commissioner’s counter offer was: “the government would either lease the Hills at $400,000 per year or buy them for $6 million in fifteen equal installments.” The Sioux said “No” to both options and the negotiations ended.

After Senator Allison made his report to Washington, Secretary of the Interior Chandler urged Congress to cut off the food supply to the Indians if they continued to resist.

President Grant

President Grant did not even wait for congressional action on the matter. On November 3, 1875, in a meeting with Generals Crook and Sheridan, the President secretly ordered that “no further resistance shall be made to miners going into the Black Hills.” The administration, of course, continued to make appearances as though they were doing otherwise but, as Sherman wrote to a friend, “I understand that the President and the Interior Dept. will wink at it.”

When spring came, as the Grant administration well knew, miners would flood into the Black Hills. The Sioux would retaliate, and the government would have to move to protect its citizens. There would be war. The Grant administration had a solution for this also, one that would either settle the Indian question — or bring on a bloody Indian war.