TRAIL OF TEARS
(INED 411—October 7, 2004)
What I’ve tried to do so far in this course is give you a sense of pre-Columbian Sioux culture. The Lakota/Dakota/Nakota peoples established a very successful society, a society that lasted for hundreds of years and could have lasted for hundreds more basically unchanged. But Sioux society was radically transformed as a result of their encounter with an entirely different culture, a culture brought to this continent by Europeans. As was often the case with Native American peoples, the Sioux encounter with Europeans resulted in a “trail of tears.” However, along with tragic moments, there were moments of glory as well (Study Question 3).
II. Different patterns of European/Native American relations
Encounter with Europeans did not necessarily have to be a disaster for Native Americans, and (at first at least) it must have seemed like a splendid opportunity. They didn’t have to go out and explore strange new worlds: strange new worlds were coming to them.
First, there was the “strange new world” of the French. The French were largely interested in trade, particularly the fur trade. The French offered metal tools (everything from needles to cooking pots to knives) as well as luxuries previously unknown to Sioux, e.g., sugar. Trade, as the economists tell you, tends to be a win-win situation, and the increased trading opportunities meant increased wealth and more comfortable living for Native Americans who dealt with them. Not only that, there was considerable intermarriage between the French and Native Americans, a potential major plus in helping the two cultures get along.
Second, there was the strange new world of the Spanish. Well, not really second…but I’m talking about them second. Spanish interaction with Native Americans is a very complicated subject, and somewhere or other in your education you ought to get a full lecture on it from someone like Dr. Grettler. Unlike the French, who were primarily interested in trade, the Spanish came looking for—well, what? God, glory, and gold, say the textbooks, and that’s a good way to understand it, but not quite enough. You get men like Francisco Pizarro who, in 1531, with 3 ships and 180 men began an incursion into Inca Empire in Peru. He invited the Inca prince Atahuallpa to a meeting in his camp. Atahuallpa came unarmed, but with a bodyguard. All of a sudden, the Spaniards attacked, massacred Atahuallpa’s followers, and held Atahuallpa for ransom—enough gold to fill a 17x22 foot room! Atahuallpa was eventually executed nevertheless. Pizarro eventually got the title “Marquis” and was in a position to set up his choice as a puppet king.
Many of the Spanish in the new world wanted to become like the landed aristocrats of Europe, and created “encomiendas,” huge estates worked by Native Americans who were turned (essentially) into serfs—and sometimes worse.
There’s this from Columbus: “A hundred castellanoes are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm...and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.”
But there were among the Spanish those who truly loved the native peoples and devoted their lives to helping them. One such, the Dominican friar Bartolome de las Casas (1464-1566). Las Casas’ father sailed with Columbus, and Las Casas himself knew Columbus and was familiar with Spanish/native interaction from the start, coming to the New World himself in 1502. Las Casas worked both directly with native peoples in the New World and as an advocate back in Europe. Particularly important was his “Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies.” This work (as well as Las Casas Debates with Juan Gines de Sepulveda) created much sympathy for the Natives. Sepulveda argued that the Spanish had not only the right but the responsibility to subjugate the native peoples of the New World. He argued that….
1) Indians are barbarous
2) Indians commit crimes against natural law
3) Indians oppress and kill innocent people
4) Wars may be waged against the infidels in order to prepare the way for preaching the faith.
But note also Sepulveda’s insistence that the Spanish are really doing what, in the long run, is in the best interests of the native peoples:
Natives are “ as children are to adults, as women are to men...as cruel
people are from mild people. [They] require, by their own nature and in
their own interests, to be placed under the authority of civilized and
virtuous princes...so that they may learn, from the might, wisdom, and
law of their conquerors, better morals, worthier customs and a more civilized
way of life.”
Now one of the things that makes the Native American story such a trail of tears is that so much of the misery is connected to well-intended people (like Sepulveda). And also, sometimes, to well intended people like Las Casas.
Las Casas renounced his own encomienda and actually secured laws freeing natives from forced labor on the estates. But what was the alternative? “Well, why don’t we use blacks instead,” says Las Casas. Yes, out of the frying pan, and into the fire in terms of human rights.
None of Las Casas’ experiments with alternatives to the encomienda worked out all that well. And there is here another cause for tears here, the failure of idealistic solutions to work out as one would hope.
Further, Las Casas works contributed greatly to what is called the Black Legend, a story used to make the Spanish look like devils incarnate. Las Casas, naturally enough, includes every foul deed the Spanish committed in the New World, and, quite often, the context is lacking. The English loved Las Casas’ stories—partly, because they made the English look good by contrast. “See how horrible the Spanish are? Well, that’s why we should be the ones running the New World.”
Anyway, it’s important to know the dark side of Spanish colonialism, but be mighty careful here. There’s a lot of anti-Spanish stuff that is misleading. The Columbus quote above, for instance, is all the time used out of context. Columbus was writing a letter complaining about the way he had been undermined by a man named Bobadilla. The letter is addressed to Dona Juana de la Torre, who had been nurse to Prince Juan and a friend of the Queen. The basic situation was this. Many New World Spaniards had complained the Columbus was getting in their way, not letting them do what they liked. Bobadilla had been authorized to deal with their complaints. And Columbus was complaining that this was the result of the flouting of his authority. Columbus is every bit as aghast at the pedophilia as we would be. You want Spanish settlers to do what they like. This is what they like.
Now you will see that Columbus quote used again and again by people trying to lambaste Columbus himself: and if you ever do see this, you’ll know that your source is either dishonest or unreliable.
The truth is, that Spanish and Native American interaction was very complex, with some Spaniards truly loving the natives, and others exploiting them ruthlessly. And part of the tears is the way in which these two things interacted: Natives approached with Christian love: and then exploited ruthlessly. To understand just how tragic, I recommend to you 1986 movie “The Mission” (with Jeremy Irons and Robert Deniro. This is set in 1750’s Brazil, and it’s a little Black Legendy in its approach, but it is a powerful, powerful movie nevertheless.
One last thing about the Spanish: as with the French, there was considerable intermarriage. Pizarro himself had three children by a Native woman he regarded as his wife, and he made sure that they would be legitimized. This meant that in Latin America there would be a lot more hybridization, and that, while traditional Native culture would be changed, many aspects of that culture would survive.
And then we’ve got the strange new world of the English.
While English prided themselves on being more humane than the Spanish in their treatment of the Natives, the pattern of English settlement in the New World was in some ways even more of a threat to traditional culture. English law didn’t recognize rights to land used in the way that many Native Americans used it. Further, the English settlers had no particular use for Native Americans in their economic scheme. They were going to farm the land themselves in the north, and in the south: well, when natives proved ineffective slaves, blacks were a much more attractive alternative.
There was some intermarriage (you probably know the story of John Rolfe and Pocahontas), but even intermarriage didn’t mean much mixing of cultures. Pocahontas converted to Christianity, changed her name to Rebecca, and, in most respects, adopted English style manners and customs.
III. Problems created by European encounter
Regardless of whether the Europeans encountered were English, Spanish, or French, the Native Americans experienced some common problems.
1. European weapons. These weapons aggravated and disrupted existing quarrels among Native American groups. It’s important to remember that there were perhaps 600 different cultural groups among the native population, all with radically different values. Some (e.g., the Hopi) despised war as madness. For others, war was the greatest source of glory. Remember also that, for a very long time, Native Americans were more wary of their traditional enemies among other Native American groups than they wee of the Europeans.
2. Economic change. Once trade relationships are established, everything else tends to change as well. One can’t easily go back to using stone and bone once one has metal. Chop down a tree with a stone axe when iron is available? You just won’t do it.
3. Economic change means social change. Notice that marriage and kinship relations are in part economic relations, and these will change too as economic conditions change.
4. Disease. This was the most devastating of all problems associated with the European encounter. Cholera, TB, measles, syphilis, and, most devastating of all, smallpox wiped out in short order perhaps 80% of the native population of the New World.
Making a bad situation even worse from the Native point of view, the advent of a new nation, the United State of America.
IV. The United States and Native Americans
From the beginning of our nations history, the relationship of the United States to the native peoples was a troubled one. The main attraction of America to many European settlers was the availability of free or cheap land, and, as the original east coast areas of settlement filled up, there was a strong desire to somehow continue that wonderful opportunity and to expand westward. The British government had tended to restrain colonists from pushing into new territory. Conflicts with Indians were expensive, and the British govt. did what it could to prevent such conflicts. Also, Native Americans had chosen badly in conflicts among the Europeans. Many had sided with the French in the French and Indian War, and then sided with the British during the Revolution. This latter was a really bad mistake, since the British did nothing at all for their allies when negotiating peace with the colonists. The Treaty of Paris that ended the revolutionary war ceded to the Colonists, not only the colonies themselves, but considerable additional territory to the west… Indian territory! Negotiating away territory belonging to your allies is hardly fair dealing.
Within the original 13 colonies and in the additional territories, there were many different tribes, all of which had legitimate claims to territory whites coveted. The United State government did feel, in general, a responsibility to protect Indian rights. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787, for instance, says this:
Art. 3. Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government
and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall
forever be encouraged. The utmost good faith shall always be observed towards
the Indians; their lands and property shall never be taken from them without
their consent; and, in their property, rights, and liberty, they shall
never be invaded or disturbed, unless in just and lawful wars authorized
by Congress; but laws founded in justice and humanity, shall from time
to time be made for preventing wrongs being done to them, and for preserving
peace and friendship with them.
Nice principles, but not enforced well. The basic pattern was frontiersman would move into Indian land. The government would do nothing. Indians would take matters into their own hands. Whites would retaliate. The government would then step in, and there would be a “just and lawful war authorized by Congress.” Or maybe a not so just and lawful war, but, regardless, the war would end with a treaty ceding the disputed land and promising Indians other land instead. But then this new land would be coveted by frontiersmen, and the whole process would start over.
Complicating matters were disputes among the Indians themselves. Leaders, often mixed bloods, and often artificially designated as leaders by whites, couldn’t agree among themselves on what could and could not be negotiated, and these disagreements often led to violence and murder.
Here’s one example of east coast Native Americans before I go on to what I’m really supposed to be talking about, the Sioux.
The original home of the Cherokee was northern Georgia. They were one of the five so-called civilized tribes, Native Americans who worked to adopt much of white culture for their own. The Cherokee produced figures like Sequoia, a mixed blood who put the Cherokee language into written form. The Cherokee adopted European-style technology. They had their own newspapers. They often adopted white fashions. And they intermarried at a very high rate. Many, if not most, of their leaders were mixed bloods with white as well as traditional names. Surely if any Native American group could be successfully assimilated, it would be the Cherokee.
But whites coveted their land and other native land, and, under Andrew Jackson, Congress passed (in 1830) the Indian Removal Act. The state of Georgia began confiscating Cherokee land, but, ultimately, the Supreme Court said no (Worcester vs. The State of Georgia, 1832). But President Jackson refused to intervene on behalf of the Cherokee. “John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it.”
There was no agreement among the Cherokee on exactly what to do. Some voluntarily went west. Others debated on how and what to negotiate. In the end, 21 Cherokee signed on to the Treaty of New Echota which gave away all Cherokee land east of the Mississippi. They had no authority to do so, and other Cherokee petitioned Congress not to ratify the treaty. By a single vote, the Senate ratified it anyway, and Cherokee removal began. Bad enough, but the way the removal was carried out was worse. In the Fall of 1839, 15,000 Cherokee were rounded up, not given time to sell their property or make proper preparations, and then they were marched, mostly on foot, 1200 miles, west toward Oklahoma. Winter set in. Temperatures dipped below freezing. Food was short. Four thousand died on the march, with more deaths before and after, perhaps as many as 8,000—almost half the Cherokee population.
Jackson’s successor, Martin Van Buren, said the U.S. government had been, “just and friendly throughout; of efforts for their civilization constant, and directed by the best feeling of humanity; its watchfulness in protecting them from individual frauds unremitting.” And if that doesn’t bring you to tears, well….
How about the aftermath? Whites soon wanted Oklahoma too, and, in 1889, most of that land too was opened up to homesteaders and the Cherokees and other Native Americans lost that too.
And now, the treat you’ve all been waiting for, the story of the Sioux.
V. Initial Impact of European contacts on the Sioux
For the Sioux, initial contacts with whites were relatively little problem—almost the reverse. The Spanish had brought horses to the new world, and, in the 16th century, Plains Indians (like the Sioux) took advantage of this innovation with incredible rapidity. With horses, the Sioux could move more rapidly than ever before, and their hunting areas increased. By 1750, the Sioux were traversing the range from Texas to Canada and from the Mississippi to the Rockies. Trade also brought luxuries like coffee and sugar.
But there was a bit of a problem too. The traditional Sioux enemy, the Ojibway (Chippewa) traded more extensively with the Europeans and had a lead on the Sioux in firearms. They were ultimately able to push the Sioux out of their traditional hunting areas in the east.
However, this wasn’t a huge problem, since there was plenty of land to the west. The Mandans and Omaha who had lived in that region were devastated by exposure to European diseases. For some reason, the Sioux weren’t hit as hard, and they now moved into territory left relatively empty by the deaths of so many Mandans and Omaha.
And for 100 years, it looked like whites would be no problem for the Sioux. The 1750-1850 periods is, in some ways, the height of Lakota civilization, and it certainly looked like the Lakota and other Plains Indians would continue successful.
Whites realized that taking on the warlike Indians of the plains was going to mean trouble.
“I am ready, without hesitation, to pronounce the Comanches the most extraordinary horsemen that I have seen yet n all my travels, and I doubt whether any people in the world can surpass them.”
Not only were the Plains Indians excellent horsemen, they excelled at the bow. One observer reported that, at 30 yards, galloping at full speed, they could keep six to eight arrows in the air and on target, all with enough force for the entire shaft to penetrate the body of a buffalo.
By the 1850’s, Plains Indians had plenty of guns as well.
Pretty formidable—and better left alone. And for some time, the plains Indians were left alone.
Whites weren’t interested in Plains Indian land, and certainly not Sioux land. Maps of the 19th century labeled most of the land west of the Mississippi “The Great American Desert.” An 1856 survey said:
“We may as well admit that Kansas and Nebraska, with the exception of the small strip of land upon their eastern borders, are perfect deserts, with a soil forever to unfit them for the purposes of agriculture. We may as well admit that Washington, Oregon, and Utah, and New Mexico are, with the exception of limited areas, composed of mountain chains and unfruitful plains, and that, whatever route is selected for a railroad to the Pacific, it must wind the greater part of its length through a country destined to remain forever an uninhabited waste.”
As long as most whites believed this was the case, the whole of the plains was left to the Native Americans. It’s no wonder that, in 1825, the U.S. government was willing to sign a treaty declaring the land west of the Mississippi Indian country “for as long as the grass shall grow and water run.”
But as it became apparent that the land wasn’t so worthless after all, all of a sudden the grass quit growing and the water stopped running. There was increasing pressure on the government to permit encroachment on this land as well.
But the first problem for the Lakota was not white annexation of land. No, the first problems came from whites headed to California and Oregon. The trail west headed across Sioux hunting grounds, and pioneer parties made an awfully tempting target for Sioux raids. Problems increased with the Mormon migration to Utah and even more with the California gold rush.
Still, it seemed an amicable settlement could be reached. In 1851, several the Sioux signed on to the Laramie Treaty. This treaty gave the Sioux 50,000 a year for 50 years and a wagon train of gifts in return for allowing safe passage through their land. Both sides agreed to compensate the other if there were treaty violations. Well and good.
But the U.S. Senate changed the treaty unilaterally, cutting the compensation period to 10 years (?) and compensating the Sioux in ways to their own liking (e.g., farm implements instead of cash).
The Sioux also ignored portions of the treaty. The Powder Rive area had been given to the Crow, but the Sioux thought they had won it fair and square and should keep it.
Not surprisingly, the treaty didn’t last long. A dispute over an animal belonging to a wagon train (and taken for dinner by an enterprising brave), led to what was essentially the murder of Conquering Bear, a Sioux Chief who had been trying to negotiate in good faith. This led to a general uprising of the Sioux against whites. Colonel William Harney set out to pacify things, and, at Ash Hollow, wiped out a band led by Little Thunder who was trying to negotiate.
But then the real trouble began. In 1862, four young Santee Sioux living in Minnesota attached some white settlers, killing and scalping a 16 year old girl, murdering a man while his wife watched, and then murdering her as well. As the news spread, fear of white retaliation made some of the Santee decide that they had better get the whites before the whites got them. This was what caused the Minnesota uprising. Lazarus tells you about the 750 whites killed, but should also probably tell you that the deaths were especially brutal. Whites were killed, and scalped, their bodies left mutilated. Women were routinely raped and dismembered while children had their brains dashed out.
What Lazarus also doesn’t tell you is that a large number of Christian Santee did their very best to try to prevent these atrocities and to save the whites of the region: and that seems to me to be another of the real tragedies of this whole situation—that so many on both sides wanted to act in good faith and couldn’t overcome those who wouldn’t.
And, also, it’s tragic how polarizing the actions of a few can be. The Minnesota uprising led to growing sentiment that the only settlement of the Indian problem was out and out genocide. In Colorado, John Chivington (a leader of confederate forces in the west wanted a time-out from the civil war to deal with a more pressing problem. "The Cheyennes will have to be roundly whipped -- or completely wiped out -- before they will be quiet.” Well, Chivington was a man of action. In 1864, he led a massacre of peaceful Cheyenne at Sand Creek, Colorado. He and his men murdered innocent women and children, mutilating their bodies, and slicing open pregnant women.
But it wasn’t just such atrocities that made white/native relations difficult. There were real issues at stake. The Sioux wanted whites off the Bozeman trail, for instance, since it really interfered with their hunting. And, in 1866, this led to war. Red Cloud’s War (1866-68). The outstanding even of this war, Fetterman’s Massacre (or, the Battle of 100 Slain). Crazy Horse led 80 U.S. cavalry into a trap where they were killed by Red Cloud’s warriors. Well the bodies were mutilated, but really this is a battle, not a massacre. One of your moments of glory, I guess.
Sioux win Red Cloud’s War, but now there is a new treaty, Treaty of 1868. U.S. agrees to abandon Bozeman trail. All of west river is declared Sioux land. Food and supplies are also promised the Sioux. Particularly important, the Treaty of 1868 said that any further treaty would have to be approved by 75% of Sioux men or it was of no effect.
As good as it gets? Maybe. But, as Lazarus points out, changed economic conditions were going to play havoc with Lakota way of life no matter what the treaty was. The elimination of the Buffalo herds (last week) a major factor. But there was a new source of trouble.
George Armstrong Custer took an expedition into the Black Hills (Sioux Territory) and brought with him surveyors. And, lo and behold, they discovered gold. This was played up big, and soon prospectors were heading into the Black Hills where they certainly didn’t belong.
No matter. The U.S. government wasn’t going to keep them out. The government tried to buy the land at bargain basement prices ($6 million…Homesteak alone produced $50 million). But this wasn’t attractive. The Black Hills was sacred to the Sioux, and they weren’t going to sell.
The Black Hills is my land and I love it, said little big man, and whoever interferes will here this gone.
Ok. Sioux won’t sell. So…provoke a war.
“Hostile” Indians given order to report to reservations, (Dec. 1875). Just try and move through SD in winter! By January 1876, troops under Sheridan and Custer were moving in to compel compliance. Mid March, soldiers attached Low Dog’s Village, plundering and killing. Those who escaped took refuge with Crazy Horse. And, next time, the Sioux were ready.
At the Battle of Rosebud, Crazy Horse withdrew, found favorable ground, then attached, winning an impressive victory. But even more impressive, the Battle of Little Big Horn (Greasy Grass).
Custer had been winning victories against women and children in undefended villages. Crazy Horse tricked him into dividing his forces, and drew him into a trap. Custer and 200 bluecoats killed. Custer Massacre. But not the real massacre of course.
Anyway, this was all the excuse needed for govt. to pour resources
into subduing Sioux and negotiating a new treaty (1876) which ceded Black
And much hunting ground. This:
1. Destroyed way of life
2. Disrupted leadership
3. Destroyed economy
4. Destroyed religon
5. Created conflicts among Indians themselves.
In 1877, Crazy Horse reluctantly agreed to what he thought were going to be negotiations. As he saw prison bars, he struggled to get away, and was killed.
Sitting Bull too gave up, attempting to lead people into Canada, and then returning.
But: a faint glimmer of hope, not just for Sioux, but for all NA.
Started with a Paiute Indian named Jack Wilson, Wovoka. He fell sick, had a vision. The dead buffalo would all come back, and the whites would depart. He combined elements of Christianity, Mormonism, and Native tradition into a celebration called by whites the Ghost Dance. This spread rapidly among NA’s, and reached the Sioux. There, the Ghost Dance seemed particularly ominous to whites, like a war dnce, and they tried to surpress it.
But Lakota danced anyway. In 1890, groups of Lakota were gathering together for the Dance. Sitting Bull invited to join the dancers, but he was killed before he could do so.
At Wounded Knee Creek, and band under Big Foot, coming together to do Ghost dance, was surrounded by 7th Cavalry—Custer’s old unit. The were cooperating, surrendering their weapons. Apparently, a brave fired a single shot: and that was enough for the 7th. Struggle led to fighting, but Sioux were badly outnumbered. Most were women and children. The 7th turned their guns (Hotchkiss guns?) on all. Over 150 killed including young boys and girls and at least 7 babies under two. Many wounded left to die on the snow-covered ground.
And that is the end of the Sioux Wars.