The Custer's Last Stand Treaty

The Indian wars in the West started on August 17, 1862.

The normally peaceful Sioux had already agreed to "civilized" lives on a reservation in exchange for an annuity to cover certain needs, including food.

In 1862, however, the Federal Government found that it could not supply both these Sioux Indians and the needs of the troops in the new American Civil War. With no food coming from the federal government, several young Indians decided to steal eggs from a local farmer.....inciting others....until over 600 settlers became victims. 392 Indians were captured and tried and 307 found guilty of rape and wounding women and children.

President Lincoln sent a letter (also preserved at the Karpeles Manuscript Library) to H. M. Rice, first U. S. Senator from Minnesota, informing him that the Assistant Secretary of the Interior would personally oversee the peace negotiations. The president reprieved all but 38 of the Indians, who were then hanged in our country's largest execution. Most of the Indians fled west spreading the news of the new found form of violent protest.

The new Indian protests complicated the white man's inevitable western migration. Roads, railroads, and forts were being built on Indian land causing retaliatory attacks on the intruders.

Some Indians chose not to fight and accepted the (Unratified) Peace Treaty of 1866 (also preserved at the Karpeles Manuscript Library). Others resisted and fought a war to remove the white man from his lands.

In 1868, after two years of war, the Sioux Indians, under Chief Red Cloud, succeeding in a negotiated defeat the United States! A treaty was signed at Fort Laramie wherein the United States agreed to abandon the Boseman Trail, remove all forts which were built in this Souix territory and guarantee the Souix fixed living boundaries and extended hunting boundaries. Negotiations directly between Red Cloud and Congress, in Washington, later amended the meaning of the treaty to allow hunting parties to winter within the hunting boundaries. (Even the United States Army had been forced to suspend operations and winter in camp during harsh weather.)

The treaty was soon violated in 1874 by a survey party under General George A. Custer. This trespass into the Black Hills living boundaries of the Sioux would not have been serious except that the survey party also discovered gold there. The United States could not control the influx of fortune seekers that followed and, indeed, could use the financial gain to cure the economic recession of 1873. First of all, the United States offered to purchase the lands in 1875, but with no success. A plan was then formulated to create a new war with the Sioux and to seize the gold lands. The first step of the plan was to announce that any Indians found living within the hunting boundaries would be considered hostiles. The Sioux pointed out that the treaty amendments specifically allowed for hunting parties to winter on those grounds. The United States ignored those arguments and sent in the army to enforce the new policy. By the time a sufficient force was amassed the next spring of 1876, the Indians had sent massive reenforcements to join and protect their hunters. Ironically, the first attack was made by General Custer, himself. No one will know of his surprise at seeing the enormous reenforcements on June 24, 1876.....he and his men were massacred in a famous battle now known as

Custer's last stand.

Custers's loss gave the government a better excuse than anyone in the administration had dreamed. Even the news of the massacre arrived back East on the best possible moment, July 4th, 1876, the centennial of the Independence of the United States. The public was easily swayed. With little opposition from the public, the government moved over 40% of its entire armed forces into the Black Hills area. The Sioux had no choice than to agree to whatever demands were made by the United States government.

By the terms of the resulting agreement, The Custer's Last Stand Treaty (also preserved at the Karpeles Manuscript Library), the Sioux surrendered all claims and hunting rights, as defined by the treaty of 1868, to any country lying outside the boundaries of a new permanent "reserve". The Government also would be given full possession the Black Hills.

To be fair(!) and in consideration of these concessions, the commissioners, on behalf of the United States, agreed to furnish subsistence to the Sioux until such time as they shall become self-supporting by new means other than hunting.... the issue of rations was to be conditioned on the performance of labor by the Indians and the attendance of their children at school.

The outrage of these actions by the United States was not addressed until 33 years later, in 1910, when the Sioux Nations sued in federal court. The lawsuit lasted 70 years until, in 1980, the U.S. Supreme court ruled in favor of the Sioux, awarding damages against the United States of $106,000,000.00. It is said that the Sioux have been unable to agree on whether to take the money (eliminating their claim to the land) or if they did take the money; how to use the funds. It is reasonable to assume that if they had invested the money in the meantime and that it could now have grown to total over a billion dollars.
Another sample page of the treaty and a sample of the 6 pages of Indian signatories may be seen at:
images/Custer2.jpg and images/Custer3.jpg Most Indian signatures were made by "touching the pen", where a secretary is used for the actual signature. The subject signing would place his finger on the top of the pen to validate the action.

Quotes sent to Washington with the Custer's Last Stand Treaty.
The quotes are from both sides; the Indian negotiators (I) and the Commissioner negotiators of the United States (C).

"I am glad to see you, you are our friends, but I hear that you have come to move us. Tell your people that since the Great Father promised that we should never be removed we have been moved five times. I think you had better put the Indians on wheels and you can run them about wherever you wish." (I)

"Our own people and the whole civilized world know that we are the aggressors." (C)

"(This war) has added to the cup of anguish which we have pressed to the lips of the Indian." (C)

"I tremble for my country when I remember that God is just." (C)

"We hardly know how to frame in words the feelings of shame and sorrow which fill our hearts as we recall the long record of the broken faith of our Government.....and that our Government has expended more money in this war than all the religious bodies of our country have spent in Indian missions since our existence as a nation." (C)

"At times they told their story of wrongs with such impassioned earnestness that our cheeks crimsoned with shame. In their speeches, the recital of the wrongs which their people had suffered at the hands of the whites, the arraignment of the Government for gross acts of injustice and fraud, the description of treaties made only to be broken, the doubts and distrusts of present professions of friendship and good-will, were portrayed in colors so vivid and language so terse, that admiration and surprise would have kept us silent had not shame and humiliation done so." (C)

"If the lands of the white man are taken, civilization justifies him in resisting the invader. If the Indian resists, civilization, with the Ten Commandments in one hand and the sword in the other, demands his immediate extermination."

"Wrongs are borne by the Indian in silence that never (would) fail to drive civilized men to deeds of violence."

"Whenever you have found a white man who will tell the truth, you may return, and I shall be glad to see (negotiate with) you." (I - Sitting Bull)

"Give this pipe of peace to the Great Father. When we give, and another receives a pipe, we regard it the same as when a white man swears on the Bible in court. If they do not speak the truth, evil will happen." (I)

"We are not simply dealing with a poor perishing race; we are dealing with God....We make it our boast that our country is the home of the oppressed of all lands. Dare we forget that there are also those whom we have made homeless..."