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Unit 4


A Changing Land


Lesson 4
A Time of Strife


     The United States Army built two new forts in what is now South Dakota. Fort Sully was on the Missouri River. Fort Wadsworth was near Lake Traverse. The settlers wanted the army there to protect them. A new trail across Indian lands soon opened. It was called the Bozeman Trail. This road led even more people to the West. Prospectors went over it to the gold fields of Montana.

     Many Indians now felt that their way of life was at stake. They feared white settlements would eat away at their lands. They were afraid that they would be left with nothing. Red Cloud, was an Oglala Lakota leader. He warned the United States government of opposition. He said that there would be war if the Bozeman Trail opened. This was called Red Cloud’s War. Oglala warriors attacked wagons along the trail. The army sent troops, but a large group of Oglalas and Cheyennes defeated them. Crazy Horse was a leader in this battle. The Oglalas and Cheyennes killed more soldiers. Soon the United States wanted peace. The government called a treaty council. The year was 1868.

Red Cloud
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

Lakota Shield
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

     The treaty made at Fort Laramie ended Red Cloud’s War. The Indians had won. The Bozeman Trail was closed, but the tribes had to give up some land. They would be paid for it in money and supplies. They would have to live on reservations. The treaty set up the Great Sioux Reservation for the Lakotas. This was all the land west of the Missouri River to what is now the border of Wyoming. The Black Hills were part of it. The hills had spiritual meaning for the Lakotas and Cheyennes. This treaty made it possible for the United States to buy more of their land. Three-quarters of the adult men in the tribes had to agree to any sale.

     Agents of the United States could still enter the reservation even though settlers could not. The army sent Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer to explore the Black Hills. No one in the United States knew much about them. It was 1874. Custer brought one thousand soldiers and fifty Indian scouts. He took along scientists, newspapermen, a photographer, and even a band. Two men found gold in French Creek. The newspapers let the rest of the country know about it.

Custer's Wagon Train
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society


Gordon Stockade
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

     Just a few months later, the Gordon party left Sioux City, Iowa. These twenty-eight people slipped into the Black Hills illegally, or against the law. They spent a hard winter in a log stockade on French Creek. They found only forty dollars worth of gold. In the spring, the army forced them to leave. But prospectors poured into the Black Hills without permission. Perhaps eight hundred slipped past the army the next year.


Panning for Gold
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

Miner's Claim Book
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

     The United States tried to buy the Black Hills from the Lakotas, but they refused. So the army withdrew from the Black Hills. More prospectors rushed in. The Black Hills gold rush had begun. Soon thousands of people were there. They were panning or digging for gold. Deadwood Gulch was the center of the richest strikes. People from all over moved there. A group of Chinese people migrated there. Colorful people like Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Poker Alice walked the streets of Deadwood. Hotels, dance halls, saloons, laundries, and banks sprang up almost overnight.

     The army told the Lakotas to go to their agencies. Each Lakota group had an agency on the reservation. They met with United States agents there. Many groups would not go. The army planned to force them to go. Lakotas and Cheyennes waited for the army to come. They camped on the Little Bighorn River in what is now Montana. The Seventh Cavalry attacked the camp. George A. Custer led the United States troops. Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, and Gall were the Indian leaders. Custer and all his men were killed. This is known as the Battle of the Little Bighorn, or Greasy Grass as Lakotas call it. It took place in June 1876 near what is now Hardin, Montana.

Lakota drawing of Custer at Little Bighorn
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society


     But the Indians had little to celebrate. The buffalo were almost gone. The army was angry. Soldiers now moved onto the reservation. They took guns and horses away from the Indians. Soon Crazy Horse and his people went in to their agency. Sitting Bull and Gall and their people fled to Canada.

     The United States Congress acted even quicker than the army. It passed a bill that cut off payment to the Lakota people unless they gave up the Black Hills. Some leaders agreed; their people were starving. But less than three-quarters of the adult Lakota men approved the sale. This was not what the Fort Laramie Treaty had said. The Indians now lived on the reservation. A new and hard way of life had started for them.

council (n.), a group of people brought together to negotiate or decide something

opposition (n.), an unfriendly attitude toward something

prospectors (n.), people who look for gold, oil, or mineral deposits

stockade (n.), a fort made of log posts