Category Archives: United States

What Was President Grant’s Policy Regarding Native Americans?

What to do about the Native American “threat” to Americans was a great source of contention for the people who had already pushed these indigenous peoples far from their ancestral homes, killing millions in the process. Ulysses S. Grant ascended to the presidency in 1869 and recognized immediately that there were no standardized processes in place concerning how to approach the Native Americans.

At the time, there were hundreds of thousands of Native Americans living on lands that had been assimilated by the United States. Those peoples were bound by nearly 400 different treaties. It’s not an exaggeration to say things were confusing, and only getting worse with time.

Grant did a few things at the very beginning of his arrival in office. He appointed a Seneca man named Ely S. Parker to become Commissioner of Indian Affairs, then establishing a Board of Indian Commissioners, and finally enacting a “Peace” policy toward Native American peoples. It failed spectacularly.

Two years later in 1871, Grant managed to change the status of Native American tribes to make them wards of the United States federal government. Unfortunately, Parker resigned that same year, which put the fate of new programs in jeopardy. Despite this setback, peaceful negotiations were scaled up during Grant’s first term.

The second term is another story entirely. During a peace conference that was put together to end the bloody Modoc War, Major General Edward Canby was murdered by the Modoc leader, who was subsequently captured, convicted of murder, and hanged. The rest of the tribe was relocated shortly thereafter. 

In news sure to stun present-day environmentalists, Grant vetoed a bill that would have protected bison because he knew that the “lack” of bison would force Native Americans to abandon a nomadic lifestyle. They did. But now we’re without bison. See how that works?

These obstacles resulted in the Great Sioux War, during which General George Armstrong Custer was famously killed.

Could Custer’s Men File A Personal Injury Lawsuit (If They Had Survived)?

General George Armstrong Custer has been nearly idolized by historians for decades — and perhaps for no good reason. By some, he is considered to be battle-hardened, prepared, and ambitious. To others, he is considered among the most fool-hardy commanders in the history of the United States’ armed forces. Which argument would hold the most merit in court? Or, rather, would such a case even make it into court before being dismissed?

Keep in mind that the Battle of Little Bighorn was fought on June 25, 1876. Custer himself and most of the men he brought into battle were slaughtered by the Native Americans they had been harassing for months. These weren’t “kind” killings. The men were butchered. But this wasn’t at a time when you could hire some random Koonz McKenney Johnson & Depaolis LLP law firm to sue the pants off the United States government for personal injury or wrongful death. It didn’t work that way.

So there are a few things to first consider: One, Feres v. United States resulted in a Supreme Court decision that created a precedent that any active duty military personnel cannot sue the United States government for injuries sustained during service. More significantly, it related to medical malpractice by the federal government — because soldiers could still hold the government liable for malpractice.

But that ruling landed in 1950, which means precedent had not yet been established by the time Custer led his men into their last battle. Hypothetically, any surviving servicemen or the families of the slain could have launched a lawsuit.

The reality might have been a little different. But regardless, let’s explore the type of argument that might have been made on behalf of the servicemen in court. Where did Custer go wrong? Well, an advocate would likely argue that George Custer’s lofty aspirations led him astray — and his men with him. You see, Custer had his eye on the presidency (and was known as a man for showmanship in the public eye).

And how does a man like Custer become president? Simple: he fights his way there from the battlefield. The bigger the victory, the bigger the public eye on the man. Custer fought battles no matter the odds for one reason and one reason only: political ambition.

His life outside of the military only serves to bolster the argument. He was an avid gambler who, because of his love of betting, went to the grave with an enormous $9,000 debt. 

This is why an advocate would likely have made the case that Custer’s men almost certainly lost their lives because of his bad decision-making both on and off the battlefield. They would argue that regardless of his significant victories, they had always come at a cost, and the risks were far from calculated to ensure those victories. They might even say that Custer should never have been so elevated in the first place — and that some of the blame should fall on those still living, the men who decided to put Custer in such a high position. Ultimately, they would argue, Custer’s men paid the price for this cascade of bad decisions.

These are reports based on findings following the Battle of Little Bighorn:

What Are Custer’s Most Enduring Legacies?

We speak all the time about the past: how General George Armstrong Custer’s actions affected the conflicts with Native Americans at the time, how different factions responded at the time, what weapons and strategies were used at the time, what motivated his actions at the time, etc. But what about how all of those things affect or influence the current day? He is perhaps one of the most talked about American generals of all time, so what are his most enduring legacies?

Perhaps the most obvious legacy is based on his treatment of the Native Americans. He was brave, enthusiastic, and seemingly fearless, sure, but he was also brutal and aggressive. He slaughtered women and children, as did the men under his command, and he used survivors to act as human shields for his forces as they raped and plundered.

When we look back on the U.S. Army’s actions toward the Native Americans, many of us realize that our ancestors had no right to do what they did — that is, take land by whatever means necessary. Millions were slaughtered through biological warfare. This was genocide.

This stain on American history is the reason why many of us are here (and why many others who should be alive today are not here in our stead). 

Yet we have failed to make sufficient apologies, reparations, or even a show of respect for those who came before us. Perhaps our failures then are the most enduring legacy of Custer and his men, who died at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Those failures have echoed through the ages, and certainly we have yet to make amends the way we probably should. The dead deserve our respect.

Scholars and laymen alike will continue to debate over whether Custer was a masterful tactician or a failed general who should serve as a warning to the overzealous political and military powerhouses of today. But one thing is certain: the legacy will continue to be realized for centuries still.

Who Was Marcus Reno?

It was called “Custer’s Last Stand.” But it could easily have been “Reno’s Retreat.”

Almost 150 years later, there is still controversy about whether Maj. Marcus Reno betrayed Gen. George Custer during the Battle at the Little Bighorn against Sioux and Cheyenne with a retreat or flat-out cowardice.

Marcus Reno became a major in the U.S. military after serving in the Civil War and then spent 10 years following the war in various parts of military justice, as an inspector general, judge advocate and in court-martial duty at Fort Hays. He joined the 7th Cavalry in South Carolina in 1871 before joining a consolidated regiment at Fort Abraham Lincoln in 1875.

Shortly thereafter, Reno became a senior officer under Gen. Custer’s command as the 7th Cavalry reached the Little Bighorn River in Montana to set up an attack on a village that housed Sioux and Cheyenne Indians. Custer ordered Reno to take three companies and attack the village to the south from a wooded area, while Custer kept five companies on bluffs to the north; a third group was left to block the Indians’ escape route to the south, and a fourth had the job of protecting the horses.

When the cavalry arrived at the village, it was much larger than Custer thought (though reportedly his scouts told him accurately). Yet, Custer split up his 600 troops into four groups and Reno posted his group in the woods on the opposite side of the river from Custer. While in wait, however, a large number of Sioux and Cheyenne warriors came out of hiding in the woods and attacked Reno’s detachment, killing Reno’s scout as he sat behind Reno on his horse.

Based on who was testifying, Reno either gave an order to retreat or he panicked and gave conflicting commands, leading to a chaotic retreat back to the bluffs where Custer was.  Reno essentially led the Warriors to Custer, who was eventually overrun and killed, leaving Reno in charge of the remaining soldiers the next day, though at least one-third of the cavalry was killed.

Reno was eventually court-martialed in 1879 for his efforts at the Little Bighorn, mainly after an outcry that Custer was to be blamed for the humiliating defeat. Several supporters of Custer, including Custer’s widow, pointed the finger at Reno as the one to blame. After a 26-day court-martial, Reno was exonerated of cowardice and drinking for his conduct at the Little Bighorn.

He faced a third court-martial of his career in 1880, due to drinking and “conduct unbecoming” while at Fort Meade, finally being dismissed permanently (after a previous suspension) in April of 1880. After that, he spent the rest of his life fighting for the restoration of his military reputation, which did not work out. Custer’s loyalists were able to successfully tarnish Reno forever.

Reno died in 1889, buried in an unmarked grave in Washington D.C., where his body remained until a family member in 1967 requested his body moved to the Custer National Cemetery in southern Montana, and the request was granted.

Who Was Nelson A. Miles?

Nelson Appleton Miles was born on August 8, 1839 in Westminster, Massachusetts, and would rise to fame as a renowned member of the United States military during the American Civil War, Native American conflicts, and the Spanish-American War. An important event during the Great Sioux War, the Battle of Wolf Mountain, was sometimes called Mile’s Battle on the Tongue River because of his strategic victory on January 8, 1877. That site in time went on to become listed as part of the National Register of Historic Places before it became a National Historic Landmark in 2008.

His military service started when Miles joined the Union Army as a volunteer on September 9, 1861. He quickly rose in the ranks, going on to become a lieutenant and lieutenant colonel before even six months had elapsed. He was also well known as a survivor of terrible injuries sustained during service after he was shot in the neck and abdomen during the chaos of battle at Chancellorsville. He went on to quickly be granted a rank of brigadier general and then major general within five years, although these promotions were due to actions in battle and therefore did not provide extra compensation.

During the Great Sioux War, Miles continued his military service and married as well. In particular, he was a part of the series of raids along the Northern Plains in response to the catastrophic U.S. defeat at the Battle of Little Bighorn. One of the reasons his name became so recognized during these conflicts was his brilliant strategic use of heliographs–movable mirrors designed to send signals using reflected sunlight–along a 140 mile corridor between Fort Custer and Fort Keogh.

After the Great Sioux War ended, conflicts with Native Americans continued into the next decade. Miles was put in command of troops tracking Geronimo in 1886, replacing the famed General George Crook. He perhaps mistakenly put too much trust in his own men, replacing knowledgeable Apache scouts used by Crook with white soldiers instead. He ultimately failed to find Geronimo after a brutal 3,000 mile-long march. Instead, First Lieutenant Charles B. Gatewood had the honor of negotiating the surrender of the Apache chief–or, he would have. Miles stole the honor for himself and quietly transferred Gatewood elsewhere.

Miles served up to the end of Native American conflicts, which culminated at Wounded Knee when 300 Sioux were slaughtered–women and children among them. Even though he thought that in general Native Americans should submit to the authority of the United States, he believed the survivors of Wounded Knee did indeed have a right to compensation, and urged the government to provide it after his retirement.

In 1925, he passed away after suffering a heart attack. He was 85 at the time, and in the company of his grandchildren.

The man hasn’t been forgotten with time, either. Miles City, Alabama was named after his accomplishments in life. Although we’re not entirely certain of the fact, steamship General Miles is thought to be named after him as well. There are streets, landmarks, and other places named for him. Because of his performance during the Native American conflicts, he has also been portrayed in film and cinema. Whether any of this notoriety is actually deserved, of course, is up for debate.

The Black Hills Mountain Range

The Black Hills are a small range of mountains in the midwestern portion of the United States, located in the southwestern part of South Dakota and crossing the state border into the northeastern part of Wyoming. To some, this land goes by another name: the Paha Sapa, or “heart of everything that is.” Allegedly settled as far back as 1500 AD by the Arikara, these hills have been the center of numerous conflicts between various Native American tribes as well as European immigrants as recently as the modern day.

The most significant conflict arose after the land was claimed by the Lakota Sioux, a band of warrior tribes that had migrated west from modern Minnesota and Wisconsin. Winning the Black Hills from the Cheyenne in 1776, the Lakota quickly came to view the Black Hills as a heavily influential part of their spiritual heritage due to the abundance which the land had provided to the Native Americans as a whole.

After the Louisiana Purchase (where we had most of the East cost to the Mississippi River but no Florida) took place in 1803 between the United States and France, famed explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were sent to explore the uncharted territory. Their presence as well as the westward pioneering of American trappers and traders began an unwelcome trend of encroaching upon sacred Native American land. The Lakota became more aggressive as a result, and relations with American settlers declined. The Lakota even engaged in raids of nearby settlements that threatened their sacred land.

The hostilities between Lakota Sioux and Americans eventually reached a point that required Federal intervention. In 1868, after the American Civil War had concluded, the United States attempted to establish peaceful relations with the Lakota once again in the form of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 (not to be confused with the treaty of 1851 by the same name). This treaty established the Great Sioux Reservation and ensured all lands between the Missouri River and the Big Horn Mountains would forever remain under Sioux occupation and prohibit American expansion or exploration, including the Black Hills. However, persistent prospectors and miners continued to intrude upon Lakota land and hostilities continued. As a result of this aggression, the United States military appointed General George Armstrong Custer to lead an expedition into the Black Hills in 1874 and explore the possibility of establishing an American military presence with a fort.

During this expedition, American prospectors confirmed the presence of gold in the Black Hills. This discovery not only spurred thousands of miners to trespass upon Sioux land, but also the Lakota to conflict with the American military. This conflict, the last major Great Plains conflict, would later come to be known as the Black Hills War and would eventually lead to the Lakota’s defeat and forced relocation from the Black Hills to other reservations. Adding and enforcing what many Sioux called “sell or starve” to the Indian Appropriations Act of 1876 (due to the fact that the United States cut off all food supplies until the Sioux ceded control of the Black Hills), the Agreement of 1877 permanently claimed the Black Hills as United States territory and reestablished reservation borders that were originally set in the Fort Laramie Treaty only nine years prior. Americans were now free to traverse and trade in the Black Hills as they pleased.

The Standing Rock Agency: Fort Laramie To Dakota Access

When environmentalists wanted to take a stand in the Dakotas, they had no better representative than the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

It has always taken a stand and still does to this day, in national headlines. The Sioux have always been a very proud people, and their veterans fight hard for all they believe in and especially the lands of their ancestors.

The Standing Rock Reservation

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is based on the Standing Rock Reservation, which is one part of six Sioux reservations in the northern Great Plains. The original Great Sioux Reservation was created by the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868, which gave specific land boundaries for the Sioux Indians. This included the Black Hills area of South Dakota and the Missouri River, both of which were deemed vital and sacred topographical assets for the Sioux people.

The Standing Rock Reservation as it’s known now was established by Congress in 1889, when the Great Sioux reservation was split six ways, and Standing Rock is one of the pie pieces.

The Standing Rock Agency

As a result of the 1868 Fort Laramie treaty, the U.S. government established the Grand River Agency, to be based in Grand River, South Dakota, and serve as the field office for the fledgling Bureau of Indian Affairs within the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The agency was moved to Fort Yates, North Dakota in 1873 and became known as the Standing Rock Agency and has served the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe ever since the reservation was established in 1889. The Agency serves as liaison between the federal government and the Standing Rock Sioux, providing health, government, and other services to the people living on the reservation. These services include real estate, probate and estate, wildland and structural fire management, and social services including tribal enrollment.

Standing Rock in the News

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Standing Rock Agency were in the headlines a lot over the last couple years, as hundreds and thousands of protestors invaded the Standing Rock Reservation to protest the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The pipeline was to be built across Standing Rock land, and the Standing Rock Agency originally worked with the Sioux tribe to secure rights on behalf of the developer of the pipeline, and a deal was struck after there were assurances that the pipeline would not traverse over sacred lands (such as gravesites) and would not generate a significant environmental impact on the land.

However, despite the deal, environmentalists came to the area to protest the pipeline on “behalf” of the Standing Rock Tribe, which was in the headlines.  There was reportedly very little participation in protests by members of the Standing Rock Tribe, but with recent developments of the Dakota Access Pipeline already spilling nearly 100 gallons of oil on reservation land, protests may just get even more animated.

Needless to say, the battle is not over. But Standing Rock will continue to stand up and fight for its people and its land. History bears it out, and there is no reason to think that it will change.

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.

Who Was Ranald S. Mackenzie And What Was His Part in The Great Sioux War?

Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie, sometimes known as Bad Hand or No-Finger Chief depending on which one of the elders you asked, would survive the Civil War as part of the Union Army and go on to serve during the Great Sioux War, where his career flourished. Although his command during these wars was noteworthy for a number of reasons, he temporarily held control over the 41st, a regiment of African-American soldiers. Many officers during this time veered away from such assignments, but Mackenzie seemed to work well with the men.

On November 25, 1876, soon after the U.S. victory against a couple hundred Sioux, Cheyenne, Minneconjou, and Brules (mostly women and children) at the Battle of Slim Buttes, Colonel Mackenzie and the fourth cavalry under his command were able to annihilate another village in the Dull Knife Fight. While the Battle of Slim Buttes was the beginning of the end of the war, the Dull Knife Fight crushed the Northern Cheyenne tribe’s battle capability in the future.

The Dull Knife Fight ended the war in the Black Hills, and quashed U.S. fear that had arisen from the catastrophe at the Battle of Little Bighorn.

Before his success during the Great Sioux War, he served in a number of notable Civil War conflicts: Antietam, Second Bull Run, Gettysburg, Petersburg, Fort Stevens, Cedar Creek, Five Forks, and Appomattox Courthouse among them. During these campaigns he was injured at least six times in the line of duty, but survived to see the end of the war and the northern victory.

This service granted him the praise of Ulysses S. Grant, who wrote that Mackenzie was “the most promising young officer in the army.” This praise was not shared by the men he led into battle, who knew him as the “Perpetual Punisher.” They thought him cold and callous, but he was still successful leading them. He was well-known for his obvious ability to lead in combat.

From the period that began with the end of the Civil War until he left military service altogether, he mostly participated in the Indian Wars, of which the Great Sioux War was a part, and was injured at least once more in service.

Because of his victory at the Dull Knife Fight, he was granted a series of promotions that led to a general sense of good fortune in life. He first became commander of District of New Mexico, then brigadier general at the Department of Texas. It was there he bought a ranch and married. Unfortunately, the good luck ended in an unfortunate accident that was eventually blamed for Mackenzie’s sudden mental instability that led to an early and forced retirement from the U.S. army.

He died only five years later, the event going somewhat unnoticed at the time. It wasn’t until years and decades later that his name resurfaced and his long service in the military was acknowledged and studied at length by Ernest Wallace, a Texas historian, in 1964.

You can even watch an entire televsion show about him here:

Who Was Crazy Horse And What Did He Do?

One of the most recognizable names when people talk about American Indians is an individual by the name of Crazy Horse. He was actually a leader in a tribe called the Oglala Lakota. He is known for being very diverse in his actions, especially when it came to opposing the federal government of the United States. He was a very brave individual that later surrendered to the Americans and was subdued by a wound caused by a bayonet. Here is a little overview of what Crazy Horse actually did during his life and why he is so famous.

Early Life Of Crazy Horse

Crazy Horse was born in the 1800s. There is some debate on that exact date. Many people agree that it was around 1842. A medicine man, which is a spiritual leader within tribes of the American Indians, played a role in his famous name. Born during a year where 100 horses were stolen, he was designated with this name. However, his birth name was Cha-O-Ha, which simply means he who is amidst the trees.

The Family Of Crazy Horse

His father was also called Crazy Horse, a name that he gave to his son. His father changed his name to a word that means worm. His mother died early when he was just four years of age. Her name was Rattling Blanket Woman. His relationship with his father was strong, and they decided to go on a vision quest to discover what he was to do with his life.

The Visions Of Crazy Horse

What is well-known in the culture of American Indians is that they were often guided by their visions. Crazy Horse lived with his younger brother at a Lakota camp where American soldiers came in looking for a thief and were subsequently slaughtered. Crazy Horse, also called Curly by his mother, went on a vision quest with his father, going all the way to Sylvan Lake in South Dakota. This is something that was discussed by his cousin Black Elk who was also known for his visions. He went on a vision quest where he first went south, a reference to where the departed souls and up after death. In the vision, he was shown how to do his warpaint, mimicking a lightning bolt on the left side of his face that his father also wore. The vision was interpreted to show that he would become a great warrior, and that is actually what he became, a protector of his people.

Last Sun Dance Of 1877

This is an event that is still highly regarded in Lakota history. It was a dance that was held in honor of Crazy Horse. He had played a vital role in the victory of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Although he was the honored guest, he did not participate in the festivities. There were cousins that attended who actually sacrificed flesh and blood in his name. However, despite all of this, it led to deep suspicions about Crazy Horse from the American perspective which led to his eventual demise.

At the end of his life, he formally surrendered to Lieut. Clark at Fort Robinson in Nebraska. This subsequently led to misinterpretations of words that he had said which led them to believe that he still wanted to kill the Americans. There was a struggle at one point where he was stabbed by a bayonet, and despite the efforts of an assistant post surgeon, he died from the wounds. However, he left behind a legacy and legend that still lives today in the stories that are told about Crazy Horse.

For more information about Crazy Horse, check out this video: