The Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho Wars
In August, 1865, the U.S. military marched soldiers into the Powder River country of the Teton Sioux and their Cheyenne and Arapaho allies. The troops built roads and forts and began hunting Native Americans. The Sioux and their allies had seen the military take the Southern Cheyennes’ Colorado lands from them through unprovoked attacks on their villages at Sand Creek and the Washita River. But the Sioux were the most powerful tribe in the West and were determined to defend their lands.
The Sioux and their allies, led by Red Cloud, a chief of the Oglala Sioux, attacked soldiers on the march and in their forts. On December 21, 1866, Crazy Horse, also an Oglala Sioux, created a decoy that led the soldiers of Fort C.F. Smith into an ambush by 2,000 of Red Cloud’s warriors. Every soldier was killed. Through his military defense and persistent refusal to sign a treaty until the forts were removed, Red Cloud forced the U.S. military out of the Powder River country in the summer of 1868.
By 1874, however, gold-hungry miners were making inroads into the Sioux’s Black Hills, and the military followed. This time, Sitting Bull of the Hunkpapa Sioux and Crazy Horse of the Oglalas led a resistance. The Sioux and their allies refused to give up their lands in a treaty, so the military ordered all Native Americans in the area to come to the agency or be killed. Many did not comply, and on March 17, 1876, General Crook attacked Two Moon’s Northern Cheyenne and Oglala village and then went after Crazy Horse’s and Sitting Bull’s people. The Sioux were alerted, and on June 17, Crazy Horse and his warriors attacked Crook’s camp on the Rosebud River. General George Custer’s 7th cavalry retaliated, attacking the Sioux camp on the Little Bighorn River on June 25. But the Sioux were aware of Custer’s approach and defended their camp, killing Custer and all of his men.
Despite the victory at the Little Bighorn, the U.S. intimidated Red Cloud and others into signing a treaty giving up the Black Hills and Powder River country. At the same time, the military continued to hunt the resistant Sioux and their allies, attacking American Horse’s village, as well as Dull Knife’s. By 1877, Sitting Bull was tired of running and took his people to Canada, while Crazy Horse and his people, also tired, hungry, and out of ammunition, finally surrendered at Fort Robinson. On September 5, 1877, Crazy Horse was killed when reservation police tried to imprison him after a misunderstanding had caused him to flee the reservation.
That fall, the Sioux were moved to a large reservation in the Dakota Territory, but the government pressured them to sign a treaty giving up much of their land. Sitting Bull had returned from Canada and held together the Sioux resistance for a few years. But in the summer of 1889, the reservation agent, James McLaughlin, was able to secure the Sioux’s signatures by keeping the final treaty council a secret from Sitting Bull. The treaty broke up their 35,000 acres into six small reservations.
In October 1890, Kicking Bear and Short Bull brought the Sioux one last hope of resistance. They taught them the Ghost Dance, something they had learned from a Paiute medicine man. He told them that in the spring, the earth would be covered with a new layer of soil that would bury the white men while the Native Americans who did the Ghost Dance would be suspended in the air. The grass and the buffalo would return, along with the ghosts of their dead ancestors. The Ghost Dance movement spread across western reservations. The U.S. government considered it a threat and sent out its military.
On the Sioux reservations, McLaughlin had Kicking Bear arrested, while Sitting Bull’s arrest on December 15, 1890, resulted in a struggle between reservation police and Ghost Dancers in which Sitting Bull was killed. Two weeks later, the military intercepted Big Foot’s band of Ghost Dancers. They were Minneconjou Sioux, mostly women who had lost husbands and other male relatives in the wars with the U.S. military. When Colonel Forsyth tried to disarm the last Minneconjou of his rifle, a shot broke out and the surrounding soldiers opened fire. Hotchkiss guns shredded the camp on Wounded Knee Creek, killing, according to one estimate, 300 of 350 men, women, and children.
In addition to searching on the names of people and places described above, also search on Sioux war and Sioux campaign. Images pertaining to the wars against the Kiowas, Comanches, Utes, Poncas, Modocs, and Nez Perces are also available by searching on these tribes’ names. For in-depth information on the Nez Perce war, see the American Memory collection, American Indians of the Pacific Northwest.