The Black Hills Gold Rush: Adding Insult To Injury

Let’s just say that after the first Thanksgiving, relations between European whites and American Indians were not always so congenial. And as “Manifest Destiny” was taking hold across the Great Plains and the West, things progressively got worse, until there was an olive branch. Only to see that get snapped in two.

The Treaty of Fort Laramie

For a couple of decades in the middle of the 19th century, settlers coming from the burgeoning United States into frontier areas of the West encountered resistance from American Indians who had claimed land in the West as its own and even as sacred ground. A number of skirmishes and small battles broke out across the West, and things finally got to a point that the U.S. government, trying to protect its people, entered into an agreement with local tribes of the Sioux and Cheyenne called the Treaty of Fort Laramie that was supposed to bring some peace. The settlers were to leave the prized Indiana lands alone, and the Indians would not attack settlers without provocation.

Eureka!

In 1874, there were rumors floating around about a key precious metal being found in the Daokta Territory. The same mineral that led to California statehood 25 years earlier, was rumored to be found among the Black Hills in the territory. At first, it was just rumor or very small discoveries, but rumors grew like a conflagration and within weeks thousands of people from the East raveled to the Black Hills area to try to find their future. There were some finds in the area, but two men paired up and found a motherlode along a river, and that vein of gold produced for more than a century.

However, the Black Hills were much like the Yellowstone area of Montana – it is considered sacred and vitally important land for the Sioux and Cheyenne Indian peoples. The settlers and prospsectors who came to the rea were not as aware of the “boundaries” of Indian lands nor of the Treaty of Fort Laramie, so they poured into the area. That further angered the Indians, and by 1875 some settlements were being attacked due to their “invasion” of the land.

Enough is Enough

At the start of the rush, a military detachment was sent to the Dakota Territory to assess the gold mining opportunities and the yield of gold. Upon this work, the government gave the local tribes a deadline of January 31, 1876, to move into reservation land in the Dakota Territory or the government would force them. The government began forcible movement of the Indians off their ancestral lands to make room for the gold-rush settlers, but by the fall of 1876, the Indians were not going to go quietly – having already been “invaded” by the Northern Pacific Railroad earlier in the decade – and an 18-month campaign called the Great Sioux War went on, involving at least 10 major battles between military and Indian forces. And yes, Custer’s Last Stand at the Little Big Horn River effectively ended the conflict.