"Looking for Change in Indian Affairs"

Justin Howell

Lightning Talk Presented: March 27, 2014
Published: March 30, 2014

On March 5, 1770, in the city of Boston, shots rang out in what would eventually be called the Boston Massacre. While this was not a massacre in the normal sense of the word, as only 5 men were killed, it would have a similar effect on the hearts and attitudes of the American Colonists.1 Following the event many colonists who were considered to be moderates started to become much more outspoken radicals.2 The British soldiers who fired into the unarmed crowd, although it was possibly due to miscommunication, were portrayed as criminals and villains. Lawmakers and Government officials who were loyal to the British were also seen as tyrants and the people began to grow tired of it.

Two years later, on March 5, 1772, Dr. Joseph Warren said in a commemoration speech, "The horrors of that dreadful night are but too deeply impressed on our hearts." He asks the people not to forget the events that took place two years prior. He wants these things to be remembered to prevent them from happening again. He also reflects on the horrors that the children and women were subjected to on that night.3 This is why I found it so strange that the attitudes of the people in that century were so completely lost and changed by those in the following century, especially after enduring all of the hardships and bloodshed of the Civil War.

The attitude of American citizens on the dealings with the Native Americans was somewhat shocking when you think about the events that had angered the colonists around 100 years before them. Soldiers, who murdered, attacked, and harmed, sometimes defenseless, Native Americans were treated as heroes by the people who looked at them. Politicians sought to force Natives to become citizens of a country who they did not belong to and were looked at as great men for these acts.

The things that caused a lot of the conflict between the Native Americans and the American Government are things that have been causing conflicts between people for many years before these events, gold and broken promises. Gold was found in an Indian Territory after George Armstrong Custer led an expedition to an area that is considered sacred by the Sioux Indians called the Black Hills.4 The Black Hills was an area that was recognized by the Treaty of Fort Laramie to be part of the Great Sioux Reservation which was a large area of land that was supposed to be protected and guaranteed to the natives by the treaty. Soon after gold was found, however, miners began to flock to the Black Hills and started to demand protection from the US Government.5

Pressured by the miners to break the Treaty, Grant signed an order that required all Natives to move onto a reservation by January 31, 1876 or be considered hostile by the United States Government. Many Native Americans did not even hear about this order and a great number of others simply did not want to follow it.6 Shortly after the date passed, General Custer arrived in the Indian Territory. Custer was supposed to wait for the forces of two other men, General Crook and General Terry, but he did not wait and moved his force of just 200 men to an Indian camp that was headed by Chief Sitting Bull. 7 At mid-day, Custer marched his troops into the Little Bighorn Valley and towards the Indian camp. Sitting Bull had already heard of the impending attack and had made around 3,000 warriors ready to defend his camp and he moved his warriors swiftly to meet the attack head on.

Within one hour of meeting Custer's troops the battle was over and every last American soldier was killed. In the aftermath of the battle, Custer was looked at by the American people as a hero. The view was that he had taken a heroic stand against the savage and brutal Natives when he was only trying to fulfill his duties as a soldier. The Native Americans were almost looked at in the same light as the British were in Boston; attacking and killing innocent United States Citizens.

In the years following Little Bighorn, the United States sought to take revenge on the events that occurred there. There were many massacres and attacks on the Natives during this time, but none was as great as the last massacre and battle of the struggle with the Indians. One of the main causes of this massacre was the death of Chief Sitting Bull. In December 1890, Sitting Bull was arrested for inviting Natives to take part in the religious Ghost Dance. The Ghost Dance was a religious movement which claimed that an "Indian Messiah" would come to rid the Indian lands of the White Man.8 Although the Ghost Dance called for nonviolence, the US Government was afraid that it would lead to more radical actions by the Native people.9 It was for that reason that Chief Sitting Bull was arrested by a group of Indian Police who were working for the Government. When the police arrived to arrest him, there was some resistance from his family and tribe and in the confusion of the event shots were fired and he was killed.10

After the death of Sitting Bull, a chief named Big Foot decided to move his group to a nearby reservation called Pine Ridge so that he could work with Red Cloud and the American Government. General Nelson Miles was ordered to intercept this camp so that they could be peacefully disarmed. Later on, after the Natives had been told to move to Wounded Knee Creek, five miles from Pine Ridge, the command of the American troops was given to General Forsyth. He ordered his men to set up four Hotchkiss cannons around the Native encampment.11 Shortly after, Forsyth rode into the camp with around 500 men. The Natives numbered just 350 in total; the majority being women and children. The Natives were immediately ordered to surrender all weapons to the soldiers and most of them complied. Only two men gave any opposition; one being a medicine man who claimed that the Ghost Dance they had performed would protect them from any shots fired and the other being a deaf Indian named Black Coyote.12

While trying to persuade the deaf man to give up his weapon a single shot was fired in the confusion. The US soldiers opened fire on the defenseless Natives. At first, the Natives began to fight back by throwing rocks at the soldiers, but quickly realized they must retreat. As they ran from the soldiers they were gunned down by the Hotchkiss cannons that were set up earlier. In all, 150 Natives were killed and 50 more were wounded. The remaining Natives were left in the cold and snow to freeze to death.13 Wounded Knee was the last major even of the Indian wars and conflicts in the west.

As I began my research, I assumed that this event was the last conflict because of a change in attitude towards the Natives by the government as well as the American people. I soon found out that this was not true. Many people were just as hateful towards the Indians after this event. For example, a famous author named Frank Baum wrote in an editorial a day after the massacre: "Having wronged them for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth."14 He claimed that exterminating the Indians was to do them a favor. Baum wrote The Wizard of Oz and other books.

I set out my research looking for a distinct change in philosophy regarding the opinions of the Natives, but change like that was hard to come by. What I found instead was increasingly radical approaches by our citizens for dealing with the Native Americans. I thought that Wounded Knee was the last major event because our people felt some sort of remorse for they way Natives were treated, but what I found was that it was only the last major event because the Natives had lost hope; they had given into the ways of the White Man because they saw that there would never be any change.

1 "Boston Massacre." Boston Massacre. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.

2 Ibid.

3"The Boston Massacre." Ushistory.org. Independence Hall Association. 10 Mar. 2014.

4"Sioux Treaty of 1868." National Archives and Records Administration. National Archives and Records Administration, n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2014.


6"American Experience: TV's Most-watched History Series." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2014.

7"Battle of the Little Bighorn." History.com. A&E Television Networks. 11 Mar. 2014.

8"The Wounded Knee Massacre." Ushistory.org. Independence Hall Association. 10 Mar. 2014.

9Zimmerman, Dwight Jon, and Dee Brown. Saga of the Sioux: An Adaptation from Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970. Print.

10"Chief Sitting Bull." Chief Sitting Bull. Web. 12 Mar. 2014.



13"The Wounded Knee Massacre." Ushistory.org. Independence Hall Association. 10 Mar. 2014.

14Sutherland, JJ. "L. Frank Baum Advocated Extermination Of Native Americans." Web. 05 Mar. 2014.

Works Consulted

    "American Experience: TV's Most-watched History Series." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2014.

      I like this website because it gives reasons for the United States going to the Black Hills. It explains the thoughts of Grant and how he was pressured to do what he did.

    "Battle of the Little Bighorn." History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2014.

      I basically used this source only to gather precise dates and numbers for information on Little Bighorn. There were a few other interesting factoids but I didn't really use them for my project.

    "Boston Massacre." Boston Massacre. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.

      I only used this source to help me set up my topic. It had just enough information for what I needed. If I was researching this topic in detail this source probably would not have been that helpful, but for my purposes it was good.

    "The Boston Massacre." Ushistory.org. Independence Hall Association, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.

      This website was also only used to set up my topic. It provided some more information about the British that the other website did not include.

    Brown, Dee. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West. New York: H. Holt &, 2007. Print.

      I think that this book would have been a very good source if I had taken more time to delve into it. It was kind of difficult to read at some points as it went into a lot of detail. I preferred to use the adaptation of this book over the actual book because it was easier to read.

    Brown, Dee. Showdown at Little Big Horn. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2004. Print.

      Like the other book by this author it was kind of hard to read because of the amount of detail that it goes into. I found the internet sources on this specific topic to be easier to find information from.

    "Chief Sitting Bull." Chief Sitting Bull. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2014.

      This source was good for looking at the death of Sitting Bull. It had quite a bit of information on his life, but I really didn't need to go into to much detail on his early life.

    "Founding.com: A Project of the Claremont Institute." Founding.com: A Project of the Claremont Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.

      This is a pretty good timeline on events leading to the Revolutionary War. It included information on the Boston Massacre to help set up my topic, but there wasn't that much information that I didn't already know or have from other sites.

    Lehman, Tim. Bloodshed at Little Bighorn: Sitting Bull, Custer, and the Destinies of Nations. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2010. Print.

      This book offers a good amount of information on the background events that lead to The Battle of Little Bighorn. It includes information on the reactions of many prominent figures when they heard what had happened to Custer. It also includes the explanation of how some thought that Custer was a hero.

    Lebovic, Matt. "Lions and Tigers and Genocide? Oh Yes." The Times of Israel. 8 Mar. 2014. Web. 15 Mar. 2014. .

      This is a very shocking article to me. It is a call for the annihilation of the Native people by a famous author of the time. I very much like this article and intend to possibly make it a large focal point in my Lightning Talk. I have been looking for a change in attitude of the American people but this article may show that I have looked for the wrong sort of change.

    McMurtry, Larry. Oh What a Slaughter: Massacres in the American West, 1846-1890. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. Print.

      This book includes several different massacres of the Native Americans told in brief passages. I think this is a good book for research because you can look at small amounts of information rather than painstakingly reading through pages to find the one bit of information that is needed. I like this book because it is the opposite view point in a way from the other books about Custer and the Natives being savage people. It has a more sympathetic view.

    "Sioux Treaty of 1868." National Archives and Records Administration. National Archives and Records Administration, n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2014.

      This site is a brief look at the Treaty of Fort Laramie. It offered some detail but the books that I had on Wounded Knee had way better detail than this website.

    Sutherland, JJ. "L. Frank Baum Advocated Extermination Of Native Americans." NPR. NPR, 27 Oct. 2010. Web. 05 Mar. 2014. .

      This is a very short article and not really that useful at all. The thing that is of use in this article is the link to the PDF of Frank Baum's original editorials on the Natives and Wounded Knee.

    "U.S. Marshals Service, History, Incident at Wounded Knee." U.S. Marshals Service, History, Incident at Wounded Knee. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Mar. 2014.

      This site goes into detail about the 1973 take over of Wounded Knee. I was originally going to include this in my talk but as I started typing I ran out of a good spot to include it and it would no longer fit.

    VanDevelder, Paul. Savages and Scoundrels: The Untold Story of America's Road Empire Trough Indian Territory. New Haven: Yale UP, 2009. Print.

      I chose to use this book because it offers a lot of information on the ideas and philosophy of our people and government towards the natives during the expansion. It has a couple brief passages that really give an idea of the attitudes of the time towards Natives. The book does a good job of tying together modern events to the other historical events in the described but most of that information does not seem like it will be useful to me for this discussion.

    Welch, James, and Paul Jeffrey. Stekler. Killing Custer: The Battle of the Little Bighorn and the Fate of the Plains Indians. New York: Norton, 2007. Print.

      This book gives a lot of military detail on the events prior to and during Little Bighorn. It has a lot of information about Custer and his life and personality. The information was good, but I feel like I could not include it in my presentation in a way that fits well.

    Wishart, David J. ed. "Encyclopedia of the Great Plains." Encyclopedia of the Great Plains. University of Nebraska–Lincoln, 2011. Web. 04 Mar. 2014.

      This site gives a brief idea on what the Ghost Dance is and what it meant to the Natives. This site does not provide information on how the Natives used this dance or any specific instances of it occurring. It also does give reasons why the Ghost Dance eventually died out in the Sioux culture.

    "The Wounded Knee Massacre." Ushistory.org. Independence Hall Association, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.

      I used this source mainly for its brief description of the Ghost Dance. It was very helpful to me because I feel like I didn't need to go into a lot of detail about the ritual in order to set up my discussion on Wounded Knee.

    Zimmerman, Dwight Jon, and Dee Brown. Saga of the Sioux: An Adaptation from Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. New York: Henry Holt, 2011. Print.

      I chose this book because it Wounded Knee, in my eyes, is sort of opposite of the events that took place during Little Bighorn. One thing that makes this book important for my research is that it gives more insight to the ideas and feelings of the Natives rather than the white majority of the time. It has passages from both chiefs and Native warriors that I think will be important when looking at the differences and similarities between whites and Natives.

Yellow Bird, a medicine man killed at the Wounded Knee Massacre