July 20, 2001

 

 

John Evans hated Indians. He also had designs on a Senate seat, and perhaps beyond.

In 1863-64 there was scattered warfare in Colorado. Because of fighting, whites in Colorado wanted to end the Indian problem once and for all.

In 1864, Evans appointed John Chivington as Territorial Militia Commander. He had been a Protestant minister, but hated Indians, and believed they wee inconvertible, so they should therefore be sent to hell, exterminated. His troops called him the "fighting parson." He also had political ambitions, perhaps the U.S. House of Representatives, or Governor of Colorado. Both men saw a path to success through destruction of the Indians.

Evans sent word to the Indians that they would ultimately be destroyed, and gave them one last chance to vacate, which he said would be in their best interests. The Cheyenne, under Black Kettle, saw so much danger from warfare, and knew that the Indians days were numbered unless they relocated to the reservation. From there, they might be able to survive, and preserve their culture.

In the summer of 1864, Black Kettle met with U.S. .Army Major Wynkoop, who was sympathetic to the Indians. Both men wanted peace, but both were direct.

Wynkoop told Black Kettle that he must surrender and move to the reservation in South Colorado, half the territory away. He also told him that he could not guarantee that Washington would allow them to stay there, but that surrender was the only option. Black Kettle agreed to surrender, but refused to leave area. He left the meeting stating that he must discuss the matter with the member of his tribe. He states that they would probably concur, but he would make no promises.

Meantime, Evans and Chivington planned a meeting with Black Kettle. They did this as it was considered politically expedient. Neither man wanted nor expected peace.

The conversation didn’t go well. Chivington spoke obliquely of peace. Black Kettle was not pleased.

In October, 1864, Black Kettle met again with Wynkoop, and said they would take the deal. They were not happy, but wanted peace, and would relocate to near Fort Lion. Wynkoop was being reassigned, but told Black Kettle that he would be accepted at the fort. He gave him an American flag and a white flag. He was told to raise the American flag in the middle of his encampment which would demonstrate that he was not hostile. Also, he was to raise the white flag, a symbol of surrender, if there was any hostile threat. Any idiot could understand.

At the time, Fort Logan was under construction in South Central Colorado. It was due for completion in November – December 1864.

Black Kettle has his tribe pack up and camp at Sand Creek. They have been told to camp there by Wynkoop if they arrive early. They are at this point about 30 – 40 miles from Fort Logan.

The Indians erect both flags.(There are about 500 people.) They know that once reservated, they will not be allowed to leave the reservation. For that reason, Black Kettle allows his people one more Buffalo hunt before surrender. Young boys are sent along to give them a taste of the hunt, as they may never be able to do so again.

Approximately 100 people are on the buffalo hunt. Chevington and Evans sense trouble in the political waters, and are also concerned with the cost of upkeep for the Indians. The voters have indicated that they are not pleased with the "soft" attitude exhibited towards the Indians. For that reason, they plan an attack to destroy the Indians.

November 29, 1864, Chevington and 700 militia attack the Indians at Sand Creek without provocation. Although the American flag was raised in the camp, the troops acted as if they were on a feeding frenzy. Only women and children were in the camp; all the men who might defend it were on the buffalo hunt.

Black Kettle and others tried to run away. He and his wife and a few others made it to a refuge, and from there had to watch other members of the tribe being slaughtered. Of 400 Indians in the camp, 200 were killed. The Soldiers then began to brutally mutilate, scalp and emasculate or dismember the bodies.

News of the attack reached the East. Although Coloradoans had originally been pleased by the attack, Americans were appalled, and people turned against Chivington.

An account of the massacre at Sand Creek appears in A Century of Dishonor by Helen Hunt Jackson.

Congressional hearings and court proceedings were held into the brutality of the massacre. The testimony became a matter of public record, although evidence consisted largely of letters expressing opposing points of view.

Sand Creek remains the most documented case of white atrocity towards Indians.

Black Kettle escaped the massacre, and hid in the mountains of Southern Colorado. When his warriors returned, Cheyenne and Arapaho throughout Colorado waged relentless warfare for ten months. Brutalities were committed by both sides; worse than any before west of the Mississippi river.

A cease-fire was declared a year later (end of 1865). The Indians were not really defeated. Black Kettle rebuilt his tribe, and was still not living on a reservation.

Chivington and Evans lost credibility. Their political careers and aspirations went up in smoke.

Conflict continued throughout the 1860’s. News reached other Indians of the massacre, and as a result they became very distrustful of whites.

Gold was discovered in Montana in 1864. By 1866, the white population had grown significantly. Most were miners. They demanded military protection; were trampling on Sioux land, desecrating Sioux holy places, but were outnumbered.

The Government ordered troops to the area and constructed forts. The Civil War was over at this point, and the troops and money were available to do it.

The Bozeman Trail led into Montana, and the Army planned to construct forts along the trail.

Red Cloud, a skilled fighter, led the Sioux in the Bozeman area. The nation at large respected him. He met with the army at Fort Laramie, Wyoming, and asked for a promise not to build forts in Sioux territory. He also asked that the miners be moved. This was an ultimatum, but the army refused to budge. Red Cloud walked out of the meeting, and said he would kill any miner or soldier found in Sioux territory.

One observer of the meeting remarked: "We go to them Janus-faced. In one hand a rifle, and in the other a peace pipe. The result of both is a great deal of smoke."

There is some speculation that the Indians may have learned to distrust whites after Sand Creek and Bosque Redondo.

Notwithstanding Red Cloud’s warning, the army began constructing forts in Summer-Autumn, 1866. There was sporadic fighting along the Bozeman trail.

Red Cloud, along with Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, planned to get the soldiers out of the fort, and to ambush them. Warriors were sent to attack supply wagons that carried wood and meat. They purposely allowed some members of the wagon train to reach the fort and spread the word. They knew this would bring troops out.

Captain William Fetterman took 80 soldiers (a large contingent) and planned to destroy the Indians. The Indians presented themselves quite visible, but out of gun range. Fetterman ordered his troops to give chase. The Indians rode ahead into a forested area with hills on either side. There they stopped. Fetterman figured they had stopped to fight.

AT this point, Sitting Bull got off his horse and made a number of hand gestures to the soldiers, apparently insulting gestures. Some reports said he actually mooned them. He also adjusted the blanket on his horse, and calmly mounted before rejoining the others. This was a demonstration of his bravery.

There were 1500 – 2000 Indian warriors hiding in the woods who attacked the troops when they were too far in. Fetterman and all his men were killed. This has been called the Fetterman massacre.

The Army then realized that this was a bigger deal than they had anticipated. They were not likely to destroy Indians on their home turf. So the Army abandoned the Bozeman trail. As they left, the Indians torched the forts and chased off the miners.

A treaty was signed whereby the Indians were allowed to keep the territory. This was the only time the Indians won a war; the treaty was in their favor.

This sent conflicting signals to Americans, particularly after Sand Creek and Bosque Redondo. As a result, the reformist sentiment became more tempered. The Army also wanted revenge, and some politicians/civilians concurred. This was a crossroads of American and Indian relations.

In 1868, U.S. Grant was elected President, he who had been denominated "Grant the Butcher: during the Civil war. He took a different approach to Indian policy, which became known as Grant’s Peace Policy. The plan was to no longer consider the Indians as a distinct political unit, or a "nation within a nation." They were part of the United States, so there was no treaty making policy to be had.

As a result, no treaties between Indians and the U.S. Government were written after 1868.

Emissaries were sent to Indian communities to show them the blessings of American society, and encourage them to move to the reservation. This had no chance of working. Too many treaties in the past had been violated, and the Indians were distrustful.

Prof. Says ¾ of past Indian treaties had been violated by the whites.

The first point of conflict after the Peace policy was implemented was the Dakota Territory. God was discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1874.

A good illustration of the effects of the "gold rush: is the fact that Deadwood, South Dakota did not even exist on June, 1, 1874; yet by June 10 of that same year, it had 7,000 residents.

The Sioux were overrun and sent word to the army that they should protect the miners and keep them out of the Black Hills, or they (the Sioux) would kill them. The Sioux normally did not give warnings.

The Army sent George Armstrong Custer to the area, and was ordered to keep the miners out of the Black Hills. Problem was, Custer hated Indians, and was also a vain, glory seeking major league asshole.

It was Custer who had led the early morning attack in 1868 on Black Kettle’s village that had resulted in the death of Black Kettle and his wife.

Custer’s attitude was similar to Chivington’s attitude. Chivington had once said, "Nits make lice." Meaning little Indians grow up to be big Indians, so why spare children.

Custer sent patrols into the Black Hills and forced the miners out, but they went right back in. Custer then wrote to his superiors in Washington and said that the danger to the miners was such that the Indians should be removed instead.

Custer also had political ambitions. He considered Grant an idiot, and already had his eyes on the White House in the election of 1876. He just knew that the public would vote for the dashing handsome young war hero that he was.

In 1875, the Army and Washington both tell the Sioux that they can’t control the miners, and yet must defend them, so the Sioux will have to go to a reservation. The Indians refused’ sporadic fighting broke out Indians and the army between 1875 – 76.

In the summer of 1876, fresh troops were sent to the Area. Custer commanded only one unit: The Seventh Cavalry. He ignored warnings from his scouts that the Sioux were uniting with other tribal groups, and building a pan-Indian union. Indians from distant areas were uniting, and ready to fight a war they considered to be the war for their ultimate survival.

The Indian plan was to destroy the army in the area, and force them to abandon it; leave it to the Indians.

Scouts understood what was happening and warned Custer. He didn’t believe them, and said that the Indians wouldn’t or couldn’t unite that way. He learned of a Sioux encampment on Little Bighorn Creek, and on June 25, 1876 (a Sunday afternoon), he attacked the encampment. He didn’t even know how many Indians were encamped there.

Scouts had warned Custer against this attack, and had told him that between 2,000 – 5,000 warriors, plus women, children, and old men were encamped there. Custer commanded about 2,000 men. He divided the regiment into thirds. This was a major stupid error, and was also a breach of the first rule of military strategy. Don’t split up your troops. Of course this idiot knew more than anyone else…just ask him.

Custer took a company of 200 men and planed to ride directly into the village. (He made sure, of course, that he was in the lead, so that he could enjoy the glory of leading the attack when word of his glorious success got back home.) His plan was to drive the Indians towards the second unit who would be waiting, and the third unit would be held in reserve, just in case they were needed. Custer’s second in Command was a Major Reno.

Custer ordered a charge, but his Indian scouts refused to join in the attack. Custer went ahead without them, and against their advice. The battle was 200 soldiers against 2,000 Indians. It was a running battle over a half mile of territory. In the end, all the soldiers were killed.

An Indian at the attack said that in the midst of the attack, Custer was heard to cry out, "Aha, boys, we’ve got them."

After annihilating Custer, the Indians turned to the second unit commanded by Reno. He was on high ground, and in a better defensive position. Even so, half his men were killed. His troops were surrounded for two days.

Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse were present at the Battle of Little Bighorn Creek.

Good Book: Black Elk Speaks.

America learned of Custer’s defeat on July 4, 1876; the Country’s 100th Birthday!

Reinforcements who might have aided Custer refused to join the fight. There is some discussion as to why. Some historians say they knew it was suicide, and refused for that reason. Others say that they knew Custer was an Idiot, and sat back to let him get what he deserved.

Cheyenne, Blackfoot, Arapahoe, Crow, and Sioux all joined together for the attack at Little Bighorn Creek. They thought that they had succeeded in teaching the Whites a lesson, and for that reason, the pan-Indian union soon evaporated. Sadly, they did not make the whites retreat from the area as they had hoped.

Most textbooks of the 1950’s portray whites as good God-fearing Christians vs. a bunch of Godless heathens. This was largely due to Cold War feelings, and anti-Communism. That dispute was more on religious grounds than economic ideology; as the communists were painted as atheists, and Americans as God-fearing people. This leant itself to the idea that the Americans at Little Bighorn were God-fearing Christians. As a result of the 1950’s historians, Custer’s image was revitalized. Prior to that time, he was regarded as an idiot. (Which he was.).

The Nez Perce Indians had lived in the Oregon area. They had many chiefs. Chief Joseph was but one of several.

The Nez Perce had been at peace with whites up until 1876; for a period of 150 years. No other tribe could claim as much.

In 1876, immigration into Oregon increased. Whites demanded more land from the Indians. The Government wanted to place them on reservations. The Nez Perce agreed quickly to go to the reservation, but while moving, a number of Indians went into town, got boozed up, and presumably harassed some whites. A fistfight broke out, and several whites were killed. There were several versions of what happened. The Indians claimed it was self defense, the whites said it was murder.

Whites demanded that the offending Indians be turned over for trial. The Nez Perce refused, so whites attacked the village. The Nez Perce defeated them, so the army was sent in to bring them under control.

The Nez Perce moved towards Canada from Oregon; hoped to live with the Sioux there. The Army gave chase, and said nothing would stop them from returning the Indians.

Chief Joseph was in a position of leadership. (He had previously been in charge of women and children, and had limited leadership experience.) The flight originated in 1877. The Indians were headed to South Central Canada from Oregon.

The Army tried to block the Indians path, but Joseph meandered on path to evade the army. They meandered over 2000 miles (a straight line trip would have been 200 – 300 miles) to get to Canada without capture.

The Army commander, General Crook, was a personal friend of Chief Joseph. He was only doing his job; he really had no choice in the matter.

The American news media had picked up on the story of the Indians outdistancing the army, and tended to lean on the side of the Indians; stories tended to demean the army. The population of the U.S. in 1877 tended to also support the Nez Perce. While on the way, the Indians encountered whites who protected them, and gave the army a bum steer sometimes to protect them. ("They went that way.")

More troops were called out, and when the Indians were within 30 miles of the Canadian border, they were surrounded on three sides, East, West and South. There were repeated military engagements along the way, nothing serious. However, the Indians food supply and fighting ability were beginning to dwindle. They had stopped in the woods to regroup, restock supplies; and this allowed the army to catch up with them.

Joseph was faced with either making a mad dash for the border or staying. He decided to stay, and sent the women and children on across the border, including his own wife and child.

A battle ensued, and lasted until the warrior escorting the women and children returned, and said that they were safe. At that point, Joseph ordered a cease-fire, and met with Crook and Newspaper reporters.

It was at this point that he delivered his famous speech. "I will fight no more forever."

Joseph was taken to a temporary holding facility; and removed to a prison in Florida. The tribe was sent to a reservation in Arizona. Joseph was in prison several years. When he was released, he was reconnected with his tribe; and later toured Washington, met the President and members of Congress. However, he never saw his wife and child again.

The surrender of the Nez Perce in 1877 constituted the final conquest of the Indians. All had either been destroyed or reservated.

There was some continuing hostility. Indians got fed up with their treatment on the reservation and left. When they did so, the army chased them down and sent them back. Geronimo was one of those who left the reservation.

Geronimo was trying to get to Mexico; but the army wanted to capture him and return him to the reservation.

The flight of Chief Joseph ignited a reformist attitude among Americans. Most Americans favored the Indians; plus the fact that whites had conquered the Indians made whites reevaluate Indian – White relations.

A book by Helen Hunt Jackson, A Century of Dishonor that told the story of white cruelty to Indians, shaped attitudes. The book was a stern indictment of white attitudes towards Indians.

The Jackson book said that the goal of American policy should be to make Indians citizens of the United States. This, she argued, was the only way they could be protected. The book was an Indian version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Despite the Peace Plan, more brutal warfare against Indians occurred during the Grant administration than any other President.

As a result of Jackson’s book, civic organizations were formed to help Indians. All were formed to promote Indian citizenship and bring instruction, family care to the Indians. They included:

· The Boston Indian Citizenship Commission.

· The Women’s National Indian Association.

· The Ladies National Indian League.

The most significant was the Indian Rights Association organized in 1882 after the book was published. The leader had toured Sioux territory and photographed sites. The mission was to send fact finding teams to every major reservation and prepare goals the nation should pursue in uplifting, improving Indian life. The goal again was to pursue citizenship for the Indians. They planned to deliver their program through a series of speeches and lectures.

Ministers were enlisted to spread the word from the pulpit; there was free literature, even lobbyists who were hired to lobby the state and federal governments for Indian programs. There were those who thought the movement was extreme.

The Indian Rights Association conducted scholarly surveys, and aggressive organization for the Indian cause.

As a result of the efforts of the IRA, a separate organization was formed: The Lake Mohonk Conference, which met in the Catskills every year. A number of famous people attended, including Senator Henry Dawes, and Clinton Fiske. There were numerous educators, politicians, and businessmen.

The Lake Mohonk group saw nothing in Indian culture worth saving. They were products of American opportunity, and all were successful. They were also all devout Protestant Christians. They believed America to be a giant melting pot.

All concurred with Helen Hunt Jackson that Citizenship for the Indians was the key. There was noting in Indian culture worth saving. The idea was to yank the Indian from the Indian, teach him to become an American.

Under the reservation system, tribal structure had remained intact. The Lake Mohonk Conference said that in order to acculturate the Indians, one would need to:

· Break apart tribal identity, and separate the Indian from his previous culture and spiritual heritage. He should have a new identity created as a Christian.

· Give each male a tract of land and make him understand that his livelihood depended upon the labor he puts into the land. This would destroy tribal unity.

· Citizenship and acculturation. Reservations would be halfway houses on way to citizenship.

Discussions were held annually between 1881 – 1887. Policy was crafted which became law in 1887 under the Dawes General Allotment Act