The Agreement of 1877

As a result of the Great Sioux War (also known as the Black Hills War), the United States government enforced legislation upon the defeated Lakota Sioux known as the Agreement of 1877. On the surface, this legislation was a cessation of the Black Hills territory from Lakota control into United States occupation following the Lakota’s ceasing of hostilities at the end of the Great Sioux War. It also relocated the Lakota from the Black Hills into predesignated reservations and modified the borders of Native American land that had been established by the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868.

Preceding this act, the United States and the Lakota Sioux had come to terms in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 that had originally prohibited American activity in the Black Hills as it was considered sacred land by the Lakota (as well as other tribes such as the Cheyenne). Intrusion into the Black Hills had instigated aggression and hostilities between the Lakota and American traders and debtor protectors, spurring the Federal government to action. While a peace had been struck, much speculation had centered around the Black Hills themselves as holding stores of gold within the earth. American prospectors and minors, despite Federal legislation outlawing it, continued to trespass in the Black Hills in search of this gold, further inciting Lakota to retaliate. This aggressive act, once met with peaceful legislation, now caused the United States to resort to arranging an expeditionary force led by General Custer in 1874 to consider the possibility of a fort in order to protect American citizens.

During the expedition, the rumors of gold were confirmed and the hostilities eventually led to a war between the tribes of the Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho against the United States military. The ensuing conflict ended with the Lakota defeat and cessation of the Black Hills. Many Lakota referred to this legislation as a “sell or starve” amendment to the Indian Appropriations Act of 1876, as it allowed the United States to blockade supply rations to the Lakota until they ceased all hostilities and formally ceded the Black Hills.

Despite the formality of the Agreement of 1877 that supposedly ratified the Black Hills annexation to the United States, there is much controversy that surrounds the transfer of such land even up to the present day. While the legislation itself apparently makes note that the Black Hills were purchased and paid for by the United States, there is no evidence of such a transaction actually taking place. In fact, the Lakota Sioux of the present day make note that they consistently refuse to accept payment for land they consider sacred, despite the United States Supreme Court awarding upwards of $106 million to the Sioux nation in 1980 as recompense for the United States effectively violating the fifth amendment in their seizure of the Black Hills. Many members of the Sioux nation believe that accepting such payment even now would only finalize the formality that attempted to be set in motion in 1877, and that the Black Hills would be properly sold to the United States, along with the Sioux culture and identity.