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Essay/Term paper: Crazyhorse

Essay, term paper, research paper:  American History

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When I think back of the stories that I have heard about how the

Native American Indians were driven from their land and forced to live

on the reservations one particular event comes to my mind. That event

is the Battle of the Little Big Horn. It is one of the few times that

the Oglala Sioux made history with them being the ones who left the

battlefield as winners. When stories are told, or when the media

dares to tamper with history, it is usually the American Indians who

are looked upon as the bad guys. They are portrayed as savages who

spent their time raiding wagon trains and scalping the white settlers

just for fun. The media has lead us to believe that the American

government was forced to take the land from these savage Indians. We

should put the blame where it belongs, on the U.S. Government who

lied, cheated, and stole from the Oglala forcing Crazy Horse, the

great war chief, and many other leaders to surrender their nation in

order to save the lives of their people.

In the nineteenth century the most dominant nation in the western

plains was the Sioux Nation. This nation was divided into seven

tribes: Oglala"s, Brule", Minneconjou, Hunkpapa, No Bow, Two Kettle,

and the Blackfoot. Of these tribes they had different band. The

Hunkpatila was one band of the Oglala"s (Guttmacher 12). One of the

greatest war chiefs of all times came from this band. His name was

Crazy Horse.

Crazy Horse was not given this name, on his birth date in the

fall of 1841. He was born of his father, Crazy Horse an Oglala holy

man, and his mother a sister of a Brule" warrior, Spotted Tail. As

the boy grew older his hair was wavy so his people gave him the

nickname of Curly (Guttmacher 23). He was to go by Curly until the

summer of 1858, after a battle with the Arapaho"s. Curly"s brave

charged against the Arapaho"s led his father to give Curly the name

Crazy Horse. This was the name of his father and of many fathers

before him (Guttmacher 47).

In the 1850"s, the country where the Sioux Nation lived, was

being invaded by the white settlers. This was upsetting for many of

the tribes. They did not understand the ways of the whites. When the

whites tore into the land with plows and hunted the sacred buffalo

just for the hides this went against the morale and religious beliefs

of the Sioux. The white government began to build forts. In 1851,

Fort Laramie was built along the North Platte river in Sioux territory

(Matthiessen 6).

In 1851, the settlers began complaining of the Indians who would

not allow them to go where they wanted. U.S. Agents drew up a treaty

that required the Indians to give safe passage to the white settlers

along the Oregon Trail. In return the government promised yearly

supplies of guns, ammunition, flour, sugar, coffee, tobacco, blankets,

and bacon. These supplies were to be provided for fifty-five years.

Ten thousand Sioux gathered at the fort to listen to the words of the

white government and to be showered with gifts. In addition the

treaty wanted the Indians to allow all settlers to cross their lands.

They were to divide the plains into separate territories and each

tribe was not to cross the border of their territory. The treaty also

wanted no wars to be waged on other tribes. They wanted each Indian

nation to choose a leader that would speak for the entire nation.

Many Indians did not like this treaty and only after weeks of bribery

did the whites finally convince a sizable group of leaders to sign.

The Oglala"s were among those who refused (Matthiessen 6).

This Treaty however did not stop the trouble between the Indians

and the settlers. The Indians however, did not cause violent trouble,

they would perhaps approach a covered wagon to trade or extract gifts

of food. The most daring warrior might make away with a metal pot or

pan but nothing violent like the books and movies lead us to believe

(Matthiessen 7).

The straw that broke the camels back took place on August 17,

1854 when the relations between the Indians and Whites were shattered.

Among the settlers heading west was a group of Mormons and as they

were passing, a few miles south of Fort Laramie, an Indian stole a

cow. The Mormons reported this to Lieutenant Hugh B. Fleming, the

commander of the post. Fleming demanded that the offender, High

Forehead of the Minneconjou, face charges. Chief Conquering Bear

suggested that the Mormons come to his herd of ponies and pick out the

best pony he had to replace the cow, which to the Sioux these ponies

were their wealth. This seemed to be a very gracious offer. Fleming

would not agree and sent Lieutenant John L. Grattan to bring back the

warrior. When Grattan arrived at Conquering Bears camp, he was given

another offer. This time they could choose five ponies from five

herds among the tribes. Grattan refused and began to open fire

(Guttmacher 14-19). This outrageous act of war was not called for.

The Mormons would have surely been satisfied with the ponies or the

money the ponies would have bought. The government just did not want

to keep the Indian-White relationship peaceful. Crazy Horse, then

called Curly, was only thirteen when the soldiers and the Indians

fought. The Indians outnumbered the soldiers and won the battle

(Guttmacher 20).

Crazy Horse eventually became a leader of his people. In today"s

society our leaders are given money and gifts but in the times of

Crazy Horse it was almost the opposite. He was expected to live

modestly, keep only what he needed and give away the rest. After

hunting he would give the needy the choicest meat and keep the stringy

meat for himself. He did however, have the honor and prestige that

allowed him to make the decisions for the tribe (Ambrose 125).

As well as other Sioux leaders, Crazy Horse lead his people into

the Powder River country. The reason for this move was to leave

behind the ways of the white man and continue living the ways of the

Sioux. The white man had brought to their country sickness, liquor

and damaging lifestyles much different from the lifestyles of the


In 1865, U.S. officials wanted to obtain land from the Indians.

They offered many different bribes, such as gifts and liquor, to the

Indians who lived around the forts. They were very good at making the

sell of land seem temporary and they convinced many that what the

right thing to do was sell. The land they wanted was access land into

the Powder River country. The government did not have the luck they

needed in obtaining the land with money or bribes. So in the summer

of 1865 they sent more than two thousand soldiers from Fort Laramie

into the Powder River country (Ambrose 151).

In 1866 the government, knowing that the land they wanted was

worth much more, offered the Sioux fifteen thousand dollars annually

for access into Powder River country. The Indians did allow whites to

use the Bozeman Trail just as they allowed immigrants to use the Holy

Road. The U.S. Government had an obligation to protect its citizens

but not to provoke a crisis. They did create a crisis when they

established forts in the heart of Oglala territory. After conquering

the confederates the U.S. Army was full of optimism and wanted

desperately to have an all out war to exterminate the Sioux. Although

the Indians were allowing the whites to use the Bozeman Trail, the

government was not satisfied. They wanted the legal right to use the

trail. E.B. Taylor, a government agent at one of the Indian Offices,

tricked some of the Indian Leaders into going to Fort Laramie in 1866

for a treaty. He deliberately attempted to deceive them; he said

nothing about building forts along the trail, only that they wanted to

use the Bozeman Trail. He offered them guns, ammunition, gifts plus

money. The Indians did not sell (Ambrose 213-214).

In June 1867, the government officials produced a new treaty.

This treaty, like all the ones before, only promised lavish gifts to

those who would sign. One of the Oglala chiefs, Red Cloud, wanted

more for his nation than the simple gifts offered. He wanted the

troops to move from the forts; Reno, Philkearny and C.F. Smith.

During the summer of 1868 his request was accepted. The troops moved.

A civil war hero William Tecumseh Sherman moved into the territory as

the new commander of the plains. He had plans to get the treaty

signed. His hopes were to, shut up the congressional critics, get the

Sioux to agree on a treaty and maintain the army's morale. After

negotiations were made Red Cloud lead one hundred-and twenty-five

leaders of the Sioux nations to sign the treaty of 1868. This treaty

guaranteed "absolute and undisturbed use of the Great Sioux

Reservation. No person shall ever be permitted to pass over, settle

upon, or reside in territory described in this article, or without

consent of the Indians pass through the same" (Matthiessen 7-8). This

treaty also stated that the hunting rights on the land between the

Black Hills and the Big Horn Mountains "as long as the grass shall

grow and the water flows".(Guttmacher 73). It forced the Indians to

be farmers and live in houses. There could be no changes made to the

treaty without three fourths of all adult males of the Sioux nation

agreeing (Ambrose 282).

The Indians had divided into those who agreed with the treaty,

the "friendly" and those who wanted nothing to do with the treaty, the

"hostile". The U.S. government did not recognize these separate

groups. They forbid trade with the Powder River Indians until all

Indians moved to the reservation. This was not in the Treaty of 1868,

(Guttmacher 76).

Even though the government was getting the best part of the

treaty they were not satisfied with progress. In 1871 the Indian

Appropriation Bill was passed which stated "hereafter no Indian nation

or tribe within the United States shall be acknowledged or recognized

as an independent nation, tribe or power with whom the U.S. may

contract by treaty" (Matthiessen 7-8).

General Armstrong Custer was appointed as the new commander of

the plains. He led the Seventh Calvary on a mission to subdue a band

of hostile Cheyenne. The calvary came across an Indian village and

attacked them instead. Black Kettle, the chief of the village and his

wife were killed as they rode to surrender. This killing of 100

Cheyenne, mostly women and children, and 800 ponies was advertised as

Custer"s victory against the brutal savages (Guttmacher 81-82).

The U.S. Army led an expedition into the Sioux territory.

According to the Treaty of 1868 this expedition was not legal. The

expedition was to survey land for the Northern Pacific Railroad. The

railroad meant progress. (Guttmacher 81).

Since the civil war the American economy was booming. Railroad

stocks led the way. On, September 18 1873, banking crashed. Farm

prices plummeted, grasshopper plaques ruined crops, yellow fever

struck in the Mississippi Valley, and unemployment went sky high. The

government figured that it"s role was to pour money into the economy.

The gold supply was insufficient. President Grants solution to the

economy was to open new territory for exploration. So in the spring

of 1874 troops were sent to open a fort in the Black Hills. The

government, exaggerated at the best or lied at the worst, said the

Indians were not keeping up their part of the treaty. Custer was in

charge of this expedition. During this expedition Custer claimed that

there was gold in the Black Hills. Grant looked at this as an

opportunity to show the country he could pull them from the depression

and he opened the Black Hills for prospecting. This broke the treaty

of 1868 again (Ambrose 343-346). The Black Hills was a sacred place

to the Sioux. It was a place where spirits dwelled, a holy place

called Pa Sapa by the Sioux. The whites had only the crudest concept

of what the hills meant to the Indians. By 1876 ten thousand whites

lived in Custer City, the frontier town of the southern Black Hills.

Agency Indians were not living very well on the reservations.

Government agents were corrupt. They would accept diseased cattle,

rotten flour and wormy corn. They would get a kickback on the

profits. The Indians were undernourished and even starving. The

agents also claimed the Indians exaggerated in their numbers just to

receive more rations. However, in a census conducted by the

government trying to prove this, they found that the Indians were

actually claiming less (Ambrose 359).

In 1876, the agencies were taken from the churches and given to

the army to control. This was petitioned to Washington with

statements that soldiers were obnoxious and their dislike for Indians

was very obvious. Also the army was corrupting the Indians by

introducing and encouraging alcohol and gambling. The petition also

stated that all the agency troubles had been caused directly or

indirectly by the soldiers. No change in policy was done on behalf of

these petitions (Kadlecek 33).

Unwilling to pay for the Black Hills and unable to defeat the

Sioux in war, on August, 15, 1876 Congress passed the Sioux

Appropriation Bill. This bill stated that further provisions would

not be given to the Sioux until the hostiles gave up the Black Hills,

Powder River country and Bighorn country. They would also have to

move to the Missouri River in Central Dakota or to Oklahoma. Upset

because of there defeat the Government demanded unconditional

surrender of the Sioux or they would starve those in the agencies.

Red Cloud and the other chiefs were told to sign a treaty or their

people would starve. Crazy horse and Sitting Bull continued to fight

for land that was stolen from them in a misleading treaty (Ambrose

417-418). The Treaty of 1876 was not signed by at least three fourths

of the male members of the Sioux nation as the Treaty of 1868 had

stipulated. So they cheated by calling the treaty an "Agreement"

instead of a treaty (Friswold 19).

The government had changed or disturbed nearly every part of the

Indians lives. They had taken their horses (their wealth), taken

their land, taken the buffalo and taken their tipis. They still had

their religion. They had seven ceremonial rites of which two were the

most beneficial; the Vision Quest and the Sun Dance. The Vision quest

was an individual dance and the Sun Dance a community affair. In June

1877 the biggest Sun Dance seen on the reservation, twenty thousand

strong, was held to honor Crazy Horse. This was the last big Sun

Dance (Kadlecek 37-42).

Crazy Horse was finally persuaded to bring his people in to live

on the reservation. Crazy horse was lied to when a government

official told him that he was needed at a conference. He realized

this was a trap when he saw bars on the windows. He drew his knife

and attempted to break loose. A white soldier, William Gentiles,

lunged at Crazy Horse with a fixed bayonet that punctured his kidney.

Crazy Horse died September, 5 1877 (Kadlecek 53).

The Sioux Indians had lost nearly everything that made them a

strong nation. In 1881 the government prohibited all reservations

from allowing the Sun Dance. The government went against the First

Amendment and took away the Sioux"s greatest religious ceremony.

General Sherman, never known as an Indian lover, said a reservation

was "a parcel of land inhabited by Indians and surrounded by thieves"

(Matthiessen 17). This type of harassment did not stop. In 1887 the

General Allotment Act (the Dawes Act) was passed. This Act was

designed to assist the Indians to mainstream into America. Each male

Indian was given 160 acres of land from the reservation. Of course

the excess land was taken by the government and sold to the whites.

The Indians were not accustom to dealing with thieves and the majority

of them lost their land through shady dealings (Matthiessen 17).

The U.S. Government used many deceptions to obtain the land the

Indians once owned. The Sioux Indians were not treated with the most

respect to say the least. They must be commended for staying strong

and still being a big part of the United States today.


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