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1861-1890: The Plains Indians Timeline
1861 Civil War Begins: Many tribes, including the Five Civilized Tribes (now living in Oklahoma Territory), sided with the Confederacy, which promised to respect Indian sovereignty in return for Indian support. After the end of the War, the U.S. government punished the Five Civilized Tribes by forcing the Tribes to give up land.
1862, May 20; The Homestead Act gave freehold title to 160 acres (one quarter section) of undeveloped land in the American West. The person to whom title was granted had to be at least 21 years of age. He had to build a house on the land that was at least 12 by 14 feet in size, live in it, and improve the land (plow and plant crops). After five years, the land was his. The Act was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln.
1862 Dakota Wars: In 1851, the US government and Dakota Sioux leaders negotiated a treaty ceding vast amounts of land in the Minnesota territory in exchange for money and goods. Much of the payment never arrived, due to slowness on the part of the government, inefficiency and corruption within the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and unscrupulous Euro-American traders. Dakota leaders went back to Washington to urge further action, and left with even less land than they had had before. In the meantime the ceded land was being divided into townships, forests were cleared, and game was hunted to the point where the Native way of life was threatened. These events combined with a season of crop failure in 1862 to push the Dakota to the point of starvation. The failure of the US government to live up to their end of an emergency food negotiation seems to have pushed some young Dakota men to the breaking point. Most accounts trace the beginning of the violence to the killing of five Euro-American settlers by four Dakota men on August 17. In the days that followed, violence eructed in South Central and Northwestern Minnesota, with the Euro-American settlers and soldiers bearing the brunt of the casualties. Several requests for federal help finally convinced President Lincoln to divert troops from the Civil
Settlers escaping with the help of a Dakota Indian
Artist's rendition of the Dakota executions
War to Minnesota, where six weeks of fighting ensued. At least 500 settlers and soldiers died in the conflict. Six weeks later, 303 Sioux prisoners were convicted of murder and rape by military tribunals and sentenced to death. Some trials lasted less than 5 minutes, and the Dakotas had no one to explain the proceedings to them or to represent them. President Lincoln reviewed the trial records and approved of the execution of 38 of the convicted, and commuted the death sentences of the others. The 38 were executed by public hanging on December 26, 1862, in Mankato. It remains the largest execution in the history of the United States. As a result of the war, the U.S. government abolished the reservation, declared all previous treaties with the Dakota null and void, and undertook proceedings to expel the Dakota people entirely from Minnesota. To this end, a bounty of $25 per scalp was placed on virtually any Dakota found free within the boundaries of the state. The only exceptions to this were 208 Mdewakanton
"friendlies" who sat out and even helped to protect a few white settlers in the conflict. But even these who were loyal to the US were deemed too untrustworthy and were moved. 1,300 to 1,700 Dakota people were rounded up and held through the winter of 1862–1863 in a compound that some historians have called a concentration camp. This compound was located on Pike Island below Fort Snelling. In the spring, the camp was moved southwest toward the current site of the Mall of America, prior to the mass removal of these people to Nebraska and South Dakota including the Crow Creek Indian Reservation on the Missouri River on May 4, 1863. More than 130 Dakota died in the camp and subsequent removal.

[soundSuggested listening: "Minnesota's Uncivil War" from Minnesota Public Radio, September 26, 2002]
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1864 Sand Creek Massacre: In 1851, the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes had been recognized and holding a vast territory spanning most of what are today 4 Western states. When gold was discovered in Colorado in 1858, Euro-American encroachment began and by 1861 the US government had pressured the Indians into negotiating another treaty, whereby they ceded twelve thirteenths of their 1851 territory. Some bands of Cheyenne refused to recognize the treaty and ignored the new boundaries. The outbreak of Civil War prompted the organization of military forces in Colorado. After defeating a Texas Confederate Army in New Mexico, the First Regiment of Colorado Volunteers returned to Colorado Territory under Colonel John Chivington as home guard. Chivington and Colorado territorial governor John Evans adopted a hard line against Indians, accused by white settlers of stealing stock. A series of small conflicts between settlers and Indians broke out in the spring of 1864. As the incidents grew more serious,
Colonel Chivington
Colonel Chivington
many of the Cheyenne and Arapahos (including those bands under Cheyenne chiefs Black Kettle and White Antelope who had sought to maintain the peace in spite of pressures from whites) tried to negotiate peace. They were told to camp near Fort Lyon on the eastern plains and that they would be regarded as friendly.

Black Kettle, a chief of a group of around 800 mostly Southern Cheyenne, reported to Fort Lyon and declared peace, then retired from the fort and camped at nearby Sand Creek, less than 40 miles north, to await surrender terms. The Cheyenne Dog Soldiers whose refusal to recognize the 1861 boundaries had sparked much of the conflict were not there. Having received assurances of their safety, Black Kettle sent most of his warriors to hunt, leaving only around 60 elderly men in the village. Black Kettle flew an American flag over his lodge, also as a gesture of peace. Colonel Chivington and his 800 troops of the First Colorado Cavalry, Third Colorado Cavalry and a company of First New Mexico Volunteers marched to their campsite, drinking heavily along the way. On the morning of
November 29, 1864, Chivington ordered his troops to attack. One officer, Captain Silas Soule refused to follow Chivington's order and told his men to hold fire. Other soldiers in Chivington's force, however, immediately attacked the village. Disregarding both the American flag and a white flag that was run up shortly after the soldiers commenced firing, Chivington's soldiers massacred the majority of its mostly-unarmed inhabitants. Fifteen U.S. soldiers were killed and more than fifty wounded, mostly by friendly fire from drunk soldiers. An estimated 150 Indians were killed and mutilated, mostly women, children, and elderly men. In testimony before a Congressional committee investigating the massacre, Chivington reported that as many as 500-600 Indian warriors were killed. One source from the Cheyenne said that about 53 men and 110 women and children were killed. Chivington and his men decorated their weapons, hats, and equipment with scalps and other body parts, including Indian fetuses that had been cut from their pregnant mothers, and male and female genitalia. They also publicly displayed these battle trophies in the Apollo Theater and saloons in Denver. The congressional investigations resulted in public outcry against the slaughter of the Native Americans, but it didn't last long.
Artist's depiction of the Sand Creek Massacre
1866 "The Battle of One Hundred Slain": In retaliation for the Sand Creek Massacre and other atrocities, Plains tribes banded together and declared war on the United States.
1867 Treaty of Medicine Lodge: The largest treaty-making gathering in U.S. history, between U.S. and the Cheyenne and Arapaho Nations, resulted in the removal of the two tribes to a reservation in Indian Territory (modern day Oklahoma). Their reservation was created out of lands taken from the Five Civilized Tribes who had been forced to give them up because of their support for the South during the Civil War. Crow, Comanche, Kiowa, Lakota, Apache and dozens of other tribes were represented.
1868 Lakota Treaty: In 1868, Lakota Indians signed a treaty guaranteeing their rights to the Black Hills of Dakota.
1868 Battle of Washita River: The US Army, led by George Armstrong Custer, destroyed the village occupied by Black Kettle's Cheyenne, encamped at the Washita River. This raid was part of a massive military campaign to contain all Indians who refused to stay within their newly assigned reservations.
1873-74 The "Buffalo War": A last desperate attempt by the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Comanche and Kiowa to save the few remaining buffalo herds from destruction by Euro-American hunters in Oklahoma and Texas.
1874: An expedition led by Lt. Col. George A. Custer discovered gold in the Black Hills, sending a rush of prospectors to the area in violation of the 1868 treaty. The Lakota revolted.
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1876 Battle of the Little Big Horn: On June 25, Custer attacked a large hunting camp of Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho on the Little Big Horn River in Montana. Sitting Bull, Gall, Crazy Horse, and several Cheyenne leaders defeated Custer and the 7th Cavalry. General Custer and 250 soldiers were killed. Although this battle did not inflict the highest number of casualties by Native Americans against U.S. forces, it was a total defeat for the United States military. For nearly a full century, the Victorian era depiction of the event dominated the popular imagination. Custer was depicted as a noble, heroic figure who gave the ultimate sacrifice in his country's battle to make the west civilized for women and children. Only around the 1970s, most notably with the film Little Big Man, did that image begin to fade. By the 21st Century, the general recognition of the mistreatment of the various Indian tribes in the settling of the American West, and the perception of U.S. Cavalry's role in it, have altered the image of Custer and the Battle of Little Bighorn. It is now largely seen as a confrontation between relentless U.S. westward expansion and Native Americans defending their traditional lands and way of life.
George Armstrong Custer
1877, May: Sitting Bull refused to surrender and led his band across the border into Canada, where he remained in exile for many years, refusing a pardon and the chance to return.
1877 Nez Perce: After an impressive flight of more than 1,000 miles from their homeland in Oregon, the Nez Perce led by Chief Joseph finally surrendered. The U.S. relocated the Nez Perce to Indian Territory, breaking its promise to allow them to return to their homeland.
1881, July 19: Sitting Bull surrendered at Fort Buford. He and his band were transferred first to Fort Yates, the military post located adjacent to the Standing Rock Agency. Arriving with 185 people, his band was kept separate from the other Hunkpapa gathered at the agency. Army officials remained concerned that the famed Hunkpapa chief would use his influence to stir up trouble among the recently surrendered northern bands and consequently, they decided to transfer him and his band to Fort Randall to be held as prisoners of war. Again loaded on a steamboat, Sitting Bull's band, totaling 172 people, were sent down river to Fort Randall where they spent the next 20 months. He was finally allowed to return to the Standing Rock Agency with his band, arriving in May 1883.
1885: Sitting Bull was allowed to leave the reservation to join Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show. He only stayed with the show for four months, but was rumored to earn about $50 a week for riding once around the arena and cursing the patrons in his native tongue, much to their delight. Sitting Bull became what today we would refer to as a celebrity. He earned a small fortune by charging for his autograph and picture.
1886: After more than two decades of armed conflict with the US government, Geronimo and his band (including women and children) were sent by train to Florida and imprisoned at St. Augustine.
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1887 The Dawes Act and "allotment": During the 1880s American reformers grew concerned that Indians on the reservations were not improving themselves and becoming self-sufficient, but were instead sinking into poverty and despair. The purpose of the Dawes Act was to dissolve the reservation by forcing individual Indians to live on small family farms. Every Indian would receive 160 acres of land of reservation land. Any land left over was sold. One goal of allotment was to destroy Indian "communalism," i.e., the practice of many families living together and sharing property. Tribes affected by allotment were those located in states where land was most sought after for farming by Euro American settlers: North and South Dakota, Kansas, Minnesota and Wyoming. Within the first ten years of allotment, more than 80 million acres of Indian land were opened for settlement.
1889: An act by the U.S. Congress in March 1889 split the Great Sioux Reservation into five smaller reservations. Some of the tribes began performing the Ghost Dance, a religious ceremony that sought to extinguish the Euro Americans and return the buffalo and the former way of life. South Dakota was admitted into the Union in November. The split was carried out in February, 1890. Once on the reduced reservations, tribes were separated into family units on 320 acre plots, forced to farm, raise livestock, and send their children to boarding schools that forbade any inclusion of Native American traditional culture and language.
1889, April 22 Land Rush: 50,000 people lined up for the chance to stake claim to two million acres of land in present-day Oklahoma; land that had been taken away from Indians by the Dawes Act.
1890 Ghost Dance: After experiencing a vision during a solar eclipse, Wovoka, a Paiute prophet (also known as Jack Wilson), defined a new religion combining Christian and Native elements. In the vision, Wovoka was given a glimpse of the afterlife. To reach it, God's message was for the Native peoples to love each other, to not fight, and to live in peace with Euro Americans. God also stated that Native Americans must work, not steal or lie, and that they must not engage in the old practices of war or the traditional self-mutilation practices connected with mourning the dead. The religion was dubbed the "Ghost Dance" religion and it quickly swept through the Great Plains and even out to California, though each area modified it to their own belief. The religion gained a huge following from peoples devastated by disease, warfare, and Euro American encroachment. One modification of the Ghost Dance tradition was the so-called "Ghost Shirt". These special garments were supposed to repel bullets through spiritual power. It is
Ghost Shirt
uncertain where this belief originated, but it is generally accepted that Chief Kicking Bear brought the concept his Lakota Sioux in 1890. The Lakota also reinterpreted Wovoka's vision of peaceful coexistence with Euro-Americans, replacing it with the idea of a "renewed Earth" in which "all evil is washed away". In the Lakota interpretation of the Ghost Dance, all Euro-Americans would be removed from their lands.
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The Ghost Dance at Pine Ridge (1890)
1890, Fall: To help support the Sioux during the period of transition into the five smaller units, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), was delegated the responsibility of supplementing the Lakota with food and hiring Euro American farmers as teachers for the people. The farming plan failed to take into account the difficulty Lakota farmers would have in trying to cultivate crops in the semiarid region of South Dakota. By the end of the 1890 growing season, a time of intense heat and low rainfall, it was clear that the land was unable to produce substantial agricultural yields. At this same time, the government, fed up with what they saw as Indian laziness, cut rations to the Lakota in half. The Lakota had no options available to escape starvation. Increased performances of the Ghost Dance ritual ensued, frightening the supervising agents of the BIA. Kicking Bear was forced to leave Standing Rock, but when the dances continued
unabated, Agent McLaughlin asked for more troops, claiming that Sitting Bull was the real leader of the movement. A former agent, Valentine McGillycuddy, saw nothing extraordinary in the dances and ridiculed the panic that seemed to have overcome the agencies. Nevertheless, thousands of additional US Army troops were deployed to the reservation. On December 15, 1890, Sitting Bull was arrested on the reservation for failing to stop his people from practicing the Ghost Dance. During the incident, a Sioux witnessing the arrest fired at one of the soldiers prompting an immediate retaliation; this conflict resulted in deaths on both sides, including Sitting Bull.
1890, December 29: Wounded Knee Creek: The Miniconjou leader Big Foot was on his way to a meeting with the remaining Sioux chiefs when he was stopped by US Army officers and forced to relocate with his people to a small camp near the Pine Ridge Agency so that they could keep an eye on him. On the evening of December 28, the small band of Big Foot's Sioux erected their tipis on the banks of Wounded Knee Creek. The following day, US Army officials arrived to collect any remaining weapons from the band. One young and deaf Sioux warrior refused to relinquish his arms. A struggle followed, and a weapon was discharged into the air. One US officer gave the command to open fire and the Sioux responded by taking up the confiscated weapons. The US forces opened fire with carbine firearms and several rapid fire light artillery (Hotchkiss) guns mounted on the overlooking hill. When the fighting had concluded, 25 US soldiers lay dead, many killed by friendly fire. 153 Sioux were killed, mostly women and children.
Big Foot's Band, photographed on November 11, 1890
Big Foot dead in the snow
Following the massacre, Chief Kicking Bear officially surrendered his weapon to General Nelson A. Miles. When the American public heard the news of the massacre, there was general outrage. For months the US government had been portraying the Plains Indian as having been pacified. Now there were 153 dead Indians, mostly women and children. Buckling to public pressure, the US government reversed policy by reinstating the previous treaty’s terms, including full rations and more monetary compensation for lands taken away.

Document: Lakota Wounded Knee Accounts
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Last modified July 20, 2012