Red Cloud’s War

The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 was a piece of legislation signed by representatives of several different Native American tribes in the Midwest and overseen by the lawyers of the United States government. Its purpose was to ensure a lasting peace between the disputing Native American nations as well as ensure safe passage for European American pioneers along the Oregon Trail into Montana, and it allowed the United States to build roads, forts and trading posts in Native American territory in exchange for annual recompense in the amount of $50,000 each year over the course of 50 years.

Due to a consistent unrest among Native American tribes, wars and conflicts shifted the positions and land claims of various peoples in the American Midwest. Apart from providing a dramatic theater for the Native American peoples themselves, it also made for a harrowing passageway by which European Americans would travel westward due to the California Gold Rush of 1848. In response to avoiding possible conflict between the United States and the Native American peoples, the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 was ratified to settle several land claims with many of the tribes agreeing to terms.

However, the treaty was broken almost immediately. Lakota and Cheyenne tribes attacked the Crow tribe over the course of the next two years. American emigrants settled Native American territory in the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush of 1858, causing further conflict as well as a strain of natural resources. Many tribes were displaced, most notably by the Lakota: the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes all were driven out of treaty-shared territory by 1862. Beyond all the intertribal fighting, the United States did little to intervene in any of the conflict, nor did they ever honor many their pledges of the money that was promised to the Native American people.

One of the conflicts that arose involved Lakota expansion while hunting for natural resources near the Powder River area in Crow territory as was dictated by the treaty. Hostilities waged between the Crow and the Lakota until the Crow were eventually displaced from their lands and the Lakota assumed control of Powder River in 1859.

Four years later, European Americans had blazed the Bozeman Trail as a shortcut from Fort Laramie to the gold fields of Montana. This trail cut through territory belonging to Cheyenne, Arapaho and Lakota, according to the Treaty of 1851. The emigration through the Bozeman Trail as well as the consistent competition of diminishing resources sparked what would become known as Red Cloud’s War, named so after an Oglala Lakota chief allied with both Arapaho and Cheyenne in an effort to drive the Europeans out.

Consisting mostly of skirmishes on US forts along the Powder River, Red Cloud’s War waged from 1866 to 1868 with the Lakota effectively claiming victory as well as the lands once appropriated to the Crow in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851. In 1868, a second treaty was ratified that established the Great Sioux Reservation and made official the inclusion of the western Powder River and Black Hills as Lakota lands, permanently displacing the Crow.
However, this peace would be short-lived, as the United States would impede on Sioux lands less than 10 years later in the prospect for gold within the Black Hills. The Lakota, along with their established allies in the Cheyenne and Arapaho, would see war with the United States military again by 1876 in the Great Sioux War, only this time with less than favorable results.