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Impact of U.S.-Dakota War beyond Minnesota


June 27, 2020 by Pamela Nowak

The impact of the U.S.-Dakota War stretched beyond the boundaries of Minnesota and effected many other peoples.

The removal policies also extended to the Ojibwe, who reluctantly ceded most of their lands in northwestern Minnesota in three treaties (1863, 1864, and 1867).

Some Dakota fled to Canada and sought political asylum there. These refugees settled primarily in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. Other families migrated to Dakota Territory and intermingled with western Lakota bands. Some moved to a reservation at Fort Peck, Montana (created 1866). 

Those who were forcibly removed were relocated to other areas in Dakota Territory and Nebraska. In some cases, the U.S. government settled them onto existing reservations while in other cases, new reservations were created.

In 1868, the second Treaty of Fort Laramie was signed, officially creating the Great Sioux Reservation in 1869 along the Niobrara River. This was the traditional land of the Ponca (a small tribe related to the Omaha, long-time enemies of the Sioux). The Ponca right to the land had been recognized in an 1858 treaty (with a second treaty was signed in 1865). With the 1868 treaty, the traditional Ponca lands now belonged to the Sioux and the two warring tribes were forced to occupy the same space.

In 1876, the U.S. government addressed the issue by including the Ponca in those tribes being relocated to Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma), onto the Quapaw Reservation some four hundred miles to the south. Leaders inspected the lands offered and protested, saying it was unfit for agriculture (the Ponca had been farming for years). The Ponca leaders decided they would not move and cited the earlier treaties. But in early 1877, the military came to force them to move. Many died on the forced march and once there, they struggled with malaria, heat, and food shortages. One in four died the first year.

Among the most vocal against the forced move of the Ponca was Standing Bear. When his eldest son was dying, he asked that he be buried on ancestral lands and Standing Bear and several others left the reservation in Oklahoma to do so. They were arrested for traveling without permission and confined at Fort Omaha. The Omaha tribe and many Whites in the city of Omaha took up his cause, garnering national attention. Attorneys sued the federal government for his release, filing a writ of habeas corpus to challenge the arrest. The Trial of Standing Bear (as is became known) was held in 1879, and resulted in a decision that recognized Native Americans as persons within the law, the first step toward gaining equal civil rights.

While the Ponca never regained all the lands lost to them, an attorney did find an island in the Niobrara that had been created by a shift in the river and the Ponca were awarded the island with some of the tribe later settling there. 

As years passed, treaties were signed with the Sioux to create reservations. In 1867, the Sisseton and Devils Lake (North Dakota) Reservations were created. The Great Sioux Reservation (near Santee, Nebraska) was created in 1868. Some later left reservations and formed communities. Families who left Santee moved to the Big Sioux River valley at Flandreau, South Dakota in 1869. A group left Sisseton and settled at Brown Earth, South Dakota in 1874.

In 1887, Congress passed the Dawes Act (General Allotment Act) which dismantled the reservation system of tribal lands in common and created individual family allotments. In 1889, the Great Sioux Reservation was portioned into five smaller reservations. Standing Rock Reservation included lands not originally part of the Great Sioux Reservation and has its agency at Fort Yates, North Dakota. The Cheyenne River Reservation is along the confluence of the Missouri and Cheyenne Rivers in South Dakota; its agency was moved to Eagle Butte when the Oahe Reservoir was created. The Lower Brule Indian Reservation is along the Missouri River with its agency near Fort Thompson, South Dakota. The Upper Brule/Rosebud Reservation is near Mission, South Dakota. The Pine Ridge (Oglala) Reservation is at Pine Ridge, South Dakota, near the Nebraska border.

The Crow Creek Reservation (east of the Missouri River in South Dakota) and the Fort Berthoud Reservation (along the Missouri River in western North Dakota) were not part of the Great Sioux Reservation and thus not impacted by the 1889 changes.

The re-apportionment of the Great Sioux Reservation also included loss of nearly one-half of its former area. Nine million acres were opened for settlement. Ranches and homesteads were encouraged by the railroad and immigrants targeted with most of the area homesteaded in the 1910s. The Lakota who had lost lands received $1.25 per acre (which was largely applied to offset Federal expenses charged to the tribes for meeting treaty obligations).

Warfare between the Native and White cultures continued until 1890.

White encroachment onto buffalo-rich grasslands (traditionally Crow lands taken over by the Lakota) ignited Red Cloud’s War (Bozeman War/Powder River War) from 1866 to 1868, involving the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Northern Arapahoe and U.S. forces in Wyoming and Montana. While the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868 awarded control of the western Powder River to the tribes, the lands were later lost in the Great Sioux War of 1876.

As miners began moving into the sacred areas of the Black Hills after the discovery of gold, encroachment once again began. The Sioux and Cheyenne refused to cede the Black Hills and the U.S. military began a campaign to remove them from the area. The Great Sioux War (Black Hills War) resulted. The Battle of the Little Bighorn (Custer’s Last Stand) occurred in June 1876 and was a major defeat for the U.S. That battle resulted in later offensive campaigns by the U.S. military to attack and destroy native villages. The Agreement of 1877 officially annexed much of the Sioux land and established permanent reservations. The Crow, who had not been involved in the war (indeed, many Crow had assisted the U.S. military) also lost their lands. Within a few years, most Native Americans had moved onto reservations.

Around 1890, a movement began among Plains tribes involving the ritualistic Ghost Dance. This ritual was alarming to Whites, who feared it might lead to violence. The U.S. military first responded by attempting to arrest Sioux leader Sitting Bull at his home on the Standing Rock Agency. Though the plan was to ask Buffalo Bill, a friend of the chief, to as him to use his influence to quell any impending violence, Sitting Bull resisted arrest and was shot by one of the 40 Indian policemen sent to arrest him. The incident prompted 200 members of the Hunkpapa band to flee Standing Rock and join Chief Spotted Elk (Big Foot) and the Miniconjou band at the Cheyenne River Reservation.

On December 28, a detachment of the U.S. 7th Cavalry escorted Spotted Elk, his band of Miniconjou, and 38 Hunkpapa to Wounded Knee Creek on the Pine Ridge Reservation. On December 29, the military went to disarm the camp, supported by four Hotchkiss mountain guns and enough troops to surround the camp. They encountered a deaf Lakota man, Black Coyote, who was performing the Ghost Dance ritual and who resisted giving up his gun, for which he had paid good money. The gun went off and the U.S. Army responded by firing. Many of the Lakota had already been stripped of their guns. By the time the event ended, more than 250 men, women, and children were dead and 51 wounded (4 men and 47 women and children). Twenty-five soldiers were killed, 39 wounded. Others died later that day. 

Wounded Knee was the last battle fought between the U.S. Army and Native Americans.

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As I count down to my January 2021 release of NEVER LET GO, I’ll be posting weekly blogs about the history of Lake Shetek, the Dakota Conflict or the people and cultures involved. Or, I may touch on the writing process or interesting tidbits included in the novel.

For more details on the novel, please visit my HOME page. 

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