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Sioux Indians Essay, Research Paper
A Bitter Struggle: The Resistance and Removal of the Sioux Nation
On December 29, 1890 at Wounded Knee, South Dakota the soldiers of the U.S. 7th cavalry slaughtered unarmed Sioux men, women and children led by Chief Big Foot. The 146 corpses were gathered up and thrown casually into a mass grave. This massacre marked the end of the Sioux resistance and ultimately the Sioux Nation. The battle that had gone on for ten long years before this between the Great Sioux Nation and the United States came to a sad end, but not unnoticed by the rest of the country.
The original Sioux tribes were not plains people at all, they were a forest people who occupied the area near the head of the Mississippi. They survived upon berries, fish and game. In the mid-eighteenth century they moved westward from this area due to a scarcity of game in the area. This was result of French fur traders who had moved in from the southeast. They kept moving westward past the Missouri River into the treeless prairies of the Midwest around 1760. Once there, they began to acquire two key gifts from the white man, firearms and the introduction of the horse. With these two new tools the Sioux were now able to hunt the buffalo which became the single most important animal to the Sioux. Every part of the buffalo was used from the hide, for clothing and teepees, to the droppings that were burned for fuel. The Sioux only hunted for necessity, but with the white settlers coming further and further west, the number of buffalo in the area soon decreased dramatically.
With the influx of white settlers heading west, the United States government soon was faced with the problem of where to put the Sioux. They began to make treaties with the Sioux, the first of which took place in 1851. The more treaties the Sioux made, the less land they wound up with. The Sioux were allowed to roam from the Upper Missouri to the Arkansas River as the treaty allowed, but now the Sioux had an actual territory they could call home. The Heart, Missouri, White and North Platte Rivers and the Black Hills enclosed the territory. The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 really established the Great Sioux Reservation by defining the borders of the reservation as well as saying that whites would no longer bother the Sioux on the reservation. It also stated that there would no longer be conflict between the United States and the Sioux. Other stipulations of the Fort Laramie Treaty included the United States government would ?construct at some place on the Missouri river, near the center of the said reservation?the following buildings: a warehouse, a store room for the use of the agent in storing goods belonging to the Indians?an agency building for the residence of the agent?a residence for the physician?? The agent for the Sioux was to live among them and help them with their problems. The Sioux were forced by the treaty to send their children to the school on the reservation. The treaty basically gave the Sioux land as long as they agreed to the stipulations outlined in the treaty. The treaty tricked the Sioux into moving onto the land by giving them free rations and soon settled themselves at the agencies.
Less than a decade after in 1875, the United States government ordered the Sioux to vacate the Powder River hunting grounds due to the discovery of gold in the Black Hills. The United States used the army to force the Sioux to stay on the reservation. This betraying by the white man sparked the Sioux War of 1876-1877. Some Sioux refused to return to the reservation. They were led by the great Sitting Bull. The Sioux soon became surrounded by army regiments on all sides and many Sioux set up camp around the Little Bighorn River in eastern Montana. In June of 1876, General George Armstrong Custer and his regiment were sent to scout out the area. The Seventh Cavalry was completely wiped out in one of the worst military disasters in United States commonly known as Custer?s Last Stand. This was a costly battle and sparked Congress to come up with alternatives on how to deal with the Sioux. Belligerent Sioux. One suggestion was to completely uproot them from South Dakota and move them south to the Indian Territory. Another alternative was to place the Sioux under permanent military control. This suggestion was put forth by General Sheridan who was in charge of a regiment in the Dakota Territory around the time of the Custer. He felt that the Sioux were incurable savages who could not be taught civilized methods. The only way to control the Sioux in his eyes was to keep them on reservations under strict military control. This was granted in 1876 as a war measure.
The Sioux who were led by Sitting Bull remained off the reservation and were in constant pursuit by the United States military in the plains of Montana. The army was relentless even in the winter months and the Sioux?s morale was low. Their shelters and food had been lost, taken or burned and by February the Sioux who remained off the reservation felt that the war against the United States could not be won.
The famished Sioux on reservations soon offered peace that meant unconditional surrender. In the early spring of 1877 three thousand Sioux on reservations surrendered. A small group led by an Indian named Lame Deer would not surrender. Soon the rebellious Sioux were discovered on the Rosebud River by soldiers and Lame Deer was killed. Their camp was burned and the surviving Sioux fled. After this defeat, Sitting Bull now seriously weighed his two options, flee to Mexico or Canada. Canada seemed more realistic and that sanctuary could actually be found. There were still some problems though, such as poor relations with Canadian tribes such as the Chippewas or Blackfoot. An increase of Indians in the one of these tribes? hunting grounds could sever already fragile relations between the Sioux and Canadian tribes.
Sitting Bull and the other Sioux slowly began to cross over the Canadian border by the winter of 1877. They had a difficult time buying ammunition from forts over the Canadian border, so they turned to the Canadian Metis traders, people of French and Indian descent who hunted and trapped on the Canadian plains. Sitting Bull and the Sioux were safely out of the reach of the United States army, but had the Canadian Mounted Police to now deal with.
After much consideration and thought the Canadian officials decided upon a happy medium for the fate of the Sioux. The Sioux would be allowed to remain in Canada as long as they were peaceful, but would receive no help from the government. This is due to the fact that if the Sioux were to receive aid, there would be an unbalance of power between the Canadian tribes and the Sioux.
The United States soon became very anxious about the situation and began negotiations with the Canadian government. The Mounted Police convinced Sitting Bull and the Sioux to come to Fort Benton and hear the offer from United States. It was similar to the ones before, they must give up their arms and ammunition and the United States will provide them with rations of food on the reservations. The Sioux refused to leave Canada still though. Right before their decision to remain in Canada, the Sioux heard of the death of another Sioux who had always refused to return to the reservation, Crazy Horse. He finally surrendered and returned to the reservation, only to be killed after resisting when placed under arrest. The Sioux were convinced to stay in Canada as long as the means of survival still remained.
By the summer of 1878, food was quickly becoming scarce. The Canadian government stood by it decision saying that they would not help the Sioux refugees only allow them to seek asylum. The situation worsened into 1879 when it looked like even surrender to the United States was impossible for Sitting Bull and his followers. By 1880, almost a thousand Sioux had surrendered to General Miles, going against Sitting Bull and his council. James Walsh, a Mounted Police officer and friend to the Sioux brought their case before Prime Minister Macdonald in Ottawa, but was rejected and ordered to take a new position in the police. The Sioux remained in limbo and hungry for the rest of 1880 while officials from Canada and the United States could not come to a common solution on what to do about the Sioux situation.
Finally on July 19, 1881 Sitting Bull entered Fort Buford in the Dakota Territory and surrendered himself and the remaining two hundred Sioux to the United States army. The Sioux remained quiet on the reservation until the large Ghost Dance Movement of the late 1880?s and early 1890?s.
This Ghost Dance movement was a religion practiced by the Sioux that was supposed to bring about change and hope that were not dependent upon the promises of the white man. It was very popular at the Rosebud and Pine Ridge Reservations that had very harsh winters which caused many of the Sioux to starve. In March of 1890, the messiah came to the Sioux, his name was Wovoka and he said that the ghosts would return in the spring of 1891 and bring herds of buffalo and game the white man had destroyed. He taught them the religion and many Sioux became passionate about what the messiah said. They started the ghost dances on the reservations much to the surprise of the government agents and they quickly spread faster than the agents could handle.
The whites soon began to cut the rations of food on the reservations, so Sioux were torn between the whites who had no intention of helping them or joining the craze. It was on a Sioux reservation that the first ghost shirts were worn. These were thought to protect the wearer from the white man?s bullets. By August of 1890 the ghost dancers on the Pine Ridge reservation were no longer just dancing but armed as well. Sitting Bull claimed himself leader of the ghost dancers on Standing Rock Reservation and once again unwilling to talk to the government. On December 15, 1890 Sitting Bull was killed after a dispute broke out when he was to be arrested due to his influence in the Ghost Dance movement.
With his death, there was only one ghost dance band remaining, Big Foot?s. It was on its way to the Pine Ridge agency. It was met by troops from Major Whitside at Wounded Knee and surrendered quietly. Colonel Forsyth was dispatched and took over as the senior officer by nightfall. On the morning of December 29,1890 the Sioux were ordered to form a line outside their tents. There was then confusion a Sioux shot went off and the surrounded Sioux were massacred. This took place less then eighteen miles from the Pine Ridge Agency, where Big Foot and his ghost dancers were headed to surrender. Soon after this there were some attempted retaliation from the Sioux that were unsuccessful. On January 15, 1891 the entire Sioux nation surrendered and the Ghost Dance uprising was finished.
With this we see the real end of the Sioux resistance, but not after tragedy, success and understanding about how to deal with all Native Americans, something that the United States government has failed to do time and time again. The government needs to look back on past failures such as the Sioux in order to fix similar problems that occur to this day.
Belden, George. Belden, The White Chief. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1974.
Hyde, George. A Sioux Chronicle. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1956.
Macgregor, Gordon. Warriors Without Weapons. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1946.
Manizone, Joseph. ?I am Looking to the North for My Life?. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1991.
Standing Bear, Luther. My People the Sioux. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 1928.
U.S. House of Represetatives. Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868
Utlety, Robert. The Last Days of the Sioux Nation. New Haven: Yale University Press 1963.
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