Gold In Them Hills

Tension between the U.S. and the Lakota (also known as Teton and Teton Sioux) escalated in 1874, when Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer was ordered to make an exploration of the Black Hills inside the boundary of the Great Sioux Reservation.  Custer was to map the area, locate a suitable site for a future military post, and to make note of the natural resources.  During the expedition, professional geologists discovered deposits of gold.   Word of the discovery of mineral wealth caused an invasion of miners and entrepreneurs to the Black Hills in direct violation of the treaty of 1868.  The U.S. negotiated with the Lakota to purchase the Black Hills, but the offered price was rejected by the Lakota.  The climax came in the winter of 1875, when the Commissioner of Indian Affairs issued an ultimatum requiring all Sioux to report to a reservation by January 31, 1876.  The deadline came with virtually no response from the Indians, and matters were handed to the military.

On December 6, 1875, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs sent out an ultimatum to the non-reservation Sioux to return to their reservations before January 31, 1876 or else be forced there by military action.  It is likely that this ultimatum was a ploy to lure non-reservation Sioux into war so that they would be forced to formally cede the Black Hills to the U.S. Government once defeated on the battlefield.  Although many Sioux stayed at their respective agencies, others ignored the ultimatum, setting the stage for hostilities.

General Sherman felt that the Sioux must be made to know that when the Government commands them to do something, that they must obey.  He thought by turning the resisting Indians over to the army for punishment, the major source of opposition to the Black Hills acquisition would be removed.  By withdrawing military patrols from the routes leading to the gold and silver fields, the prospectors could enter in force.  The disposition of the agreed military action dictated that the Sioux and their allies must report to their agencies by January 31, 1876, or face military reprisals.  General Sheridan apparently had some doubt that the Sioux would comply, and in a report to Sherman he said that in all probability the Sioux would regard the ultimatum as “a good joke.”  He worried that unless they were caught before early spring, that they couldn’t be caught at all.

In late 1875 the Government ordered all free Sioux and Cheyenne to abandon the territory granted to them at Fort Laramie.  They were to travel east to join the reservation or they would be treated as hostile.  The ultimatum would have been impossible for the Indians to comply with during the winter, even if they had been inclined to do so.

Written for Linda G Hill Life in progress January 14, 2018 #JusJoJan Daily Prompt is Ultimatum by Itinerary Planner.

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