It’s probably one of the most annoying topics for people to know about, with a whole bunch of dates you need to know, but it’s important – so we’re going to cover it here. Dates and events of Little Crow’s war, Red Cloud’s war, and the Great Sioux War – and everything you need to know for the exam.
Why the Sioux went to war
There was a vicious cycle as to why the Plains Indians – primarily the Sioux on this course – went to war. This goes as follows:
- Plains Indians would sign a treaty with the US government
- However, settlers, miners, railroad companies, etc. would break the treaties
- As a result the Indians would attack them
- The Army was called in to protect against the Indians
- The Army would defeat the Indians
- As a result of their defeat, the Indians would sign a new treaty – only for the cycle to begin again.
Treaties were often based around allowing the Indians to keep certain areas of land (such as the Black Hills, specified in the Fort Laramie treaty) and giving the Indians “reservations” – areas they could live in, an idea introduced in 1861 by the US government. They would receive annual cash payments from the government, and would be taught how to be self-sufficient farmers. However, this plan was not going to be a true success in subduing the Plains Indians completely.
Little Crow’s War (1861 – 62)
This was an early failure of the US reservation system. The Santee Sioux (roughly 12,000 of them) lived on a reservation in southern Minnesota, and their life was hard. Their crops were often destroyed by cutworms, and famine as a result of their annual payment not arriving (resulting in them losing their credit at the government store), tensions were high.
They hit a peak when, on the 17th August 1862, 4 Santee Sioux warriors killed 5 settlers – and the following day, Little Crow(the chief of the Santee Sioux) led a raid on the Indian Agency of the reservation, and then ambushed the soldiers that came to aid the agency afterwards. However, Little Crow could not control his people to fight the Army – instead, many of them just raided smaller settlements.
Eventually, over 700 settlers had been killed, but large army reinforcements came back from the Civil War to subdue the Santee Sioux. Little Crow fled west, whilst by October 1862 2000 Santee Sioux had either surrendered or been captured. 38 were eventually executed, and the rest were forced to live on a much poorer reservation, Crow Creek on the Missouri River. During their first winter, nearly 400 people died – Sitting Bull was one of their visitors during this time, and this influenced his own decisions in opposing the US government. Little Crow’s War was at an end, without any real success.
Red Cloud’s War (1865 – 68)
Red Cloud was possibly one of the few truly successful Indian chiefs – he was the only one to win their “war”. It was a direct fallout of the discovery of gold in the Rocky Mountains, in 1862. The Bozeman Trail was formed, to allow miners to get to this area – however, it went straight across Sioux lands, and broke the existing peace treaty. As a result, the Sioux attacked travellers along the trail.
IN 1866, the government first decided to try and end the violence through peace talks with Red Cloud, the Sioux Leader at the time. However, even during the peace talks, the US Army was ordered to start building forts along the Bozeman trail. As a result, Red Cloud broke off peace talks immediately and attacked the army – by the winter of 1866, the soldiers were under siege in their forts. Although the Sioux could not take the forts as they were not well enough equipped, the soldiers could not break out.
Red Cloud used his warriors to surround the forts so nobody could leave, because of a major achievement – he held together several Sioux bands as well as bands of Arapaho and Cheyenne, other Indian tribes. In 1868 the government was forced to admit defeat, surrender the Bozeman trail, and leave the forts, as a result of the Fort Laramie Treaty. The US Army left, and the Indians burnt the forts. From then, Red Cloud went peacefully to live on the reservation, although not all of the Sioux did – some joined other leaders, such as Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, to continue the fight against the US government.
The Great Sioux War (1876 – 77)
This was the final major war that the Sioux had with the US government – in 1874, George Custer and the Seventh Cavalry were went into the Black Hills, violating the Fort Laramie treaty, searching for gold. When Custer reported that the Black Hills were filled with gold, miners invaded the area – the US army was unable to prevent the influx of miners, and the government unable to. This means that the Sioux could do nothing else but attack.
The government offered the Sioux a large sum of money to buy the Black Hills, but the Sioux did not believe in buying land, and the Black Hills were sacred to them as the place where their nation began. At the end of 1875, all Indians were ordered back to their reservations, but many did not. Approximately 7000 Indians supported Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, mostly Sioux but also Arapaho and Cheyenne – showing their confidence in Sitting Bull as a leader, and their anger at the invasion of the Black Hills.
By 1876, the army was ordered to treat all Indians still outside of the reservations as hostile, and were ordered to hunt them down. General Sheridan, a veteran of the Civil War, ordered a three-pronged assault on the Indians, leading to the Battle of Little Bighorn – a great victory for the Indians, which we will cover in another article.
However, after the success at Little Bighorn, the Indians had split up into their bands, and were almost entirely defeated and brought back to reservations, and by May 1877 even Crazy Horse and his followers had surrendered, whilst Sitting Bull and his followers had escaped into Canada.
Eventually, the Sioux were forced to sell the Black Hills, Powder River country and the Bighorn Mountains, and steadily the Sioux lost land, horses and weapons – the end of the armed resistance of the Sioux.
Crazy Horse was killed resisting arrest in 1877, and Sitting Bull was killed in the same way in 1890. The greatest war leaders of the Sioux were dead, and the conflict was all but over.
And that’s about it for conflict with the Plains Indians! If you have any questions, post a comment. Hope this article was helpful!