This Month in Lakota History

20 Apr 2020

Perhaps the most important event in Lakota history to take place in the month of April was the signing of the Fort Laramie Treaty in 1868. The treaty was between the Oceti Sakowin Confederacy, then called the “Sioux Nation of Indians,” and the United States of America. 

The Oceti Sakowin Confederacy was represented by spokespersons from its three divisions—Dakota, Nakota and Lakota. The latter was represented by leaders from its seven oyates—Sicangu, Sihasapa, Itazipco, Oglala, Mniconjou, Oohenunpa and Hunkpapa. Representing the United States were seven members of the Indian Peace Commission. 

The Peace Commissioners arrived in Omaha, Nebraska, on April 1, 1868, and lodged at the Cozzens House Hotel, the newest and fanciest hotel in the city. From there, they traveled to North Platte, where on April 4th they conducted a “council with Spotted Tail of the Brules [Sicangus] and others of his band.” The proceedings of the meeting record the speeches of Spotted Tail and General Sanborn, but no one else. There also is no mention of other interactions or outcomes of the council.

On the 13th of April, the Commission conducted a “preliminary council with the Brules.” General Sanborn again opened the council, this time by saying, “We have come out to see if we could make a treaty this spring. We want to hear you talk in order to learn what you desire. When you all get here, we will meet you in grand council for the purpose of making a treaty of peace.”  

The only other speech recorded was the one by Baptiste (Wa-yo-ge). As he finished speaking, Baptiste said “our people send this to you,” and then “handed to General Sanborn a few ounces of tobacco tied up in a piece of deerskin as a token of peace. General Terry filled his pipe with the tobacco and handed it around to the commissioners, each of whom smoked it in turn.” 

The next reported meeting was April 28th. In addition to General Sanborn, speakers that day included Iron Shell, Red Leaf, General Harney, Swift Bear and Long Face. Speeches continued the next day. White Bull, American Horse, White Crane and Big Mouth spoke, then Iron Shell closed the speechmaking, saying, “I will always sign any treaty you ask me to do, but you have always made away with them, broke them. The whites always break them, and that is the way that war has come up.”

True to his word, Iron Shell signed the treaty on April 29, 1868. His is the first Oceti Sakowin signature. Signing after him, in order, were Red Leaf, Black Horn, Spotted Tail, White Tail, Tall Mandan, Bad Left Hand, Two And Two, White Bull, Pretty Coon, Bad Elk, Eye Lance, Bear That Looks Behind, Big Partisan, Swift Bear, Cold Place, White Eyes, Fast Bear, Standing Elk, The Brave Heart, Day Hawk, Sacred Bull, Hawk Cloud, Stands And Comes, and Big Dog. 

These 25 Sicangus were the first Oceti Sakowin Confederacy representatives to sign the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty. Eventually, 157 Confederacy representatives signed the treaty, including two more Sicangus, Thunder Man and Thunder Flying Running, who signed the treaty on November 6th, 1868, when Red Cloud and three more Oglalas signed. They were the final Oceti Sakowin signatories to the treaty.

The interpreters who signed the treaty on April 29th were Charles Guern, Leon Pallardy and Nicholas Janis. Witnesses were George Holtzman, John Howlano and James O’Connor. Ashton White, secretary of the Indian Peace Commission, and George Withs, phonographer to the commission, signed the treaty, as did seven commissioners: Nathaniel Taylor, William Sherman, William Harney, John Sanborn, Samuel Tappan, Christopher Augur and Alfred Terry.

The 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty would become the basis for the Oceti Sakowin Confederacy’s legal case against the United States for the taking of over thirty million acres of land in 1877, including the Black Hills. That case, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1980, awarded approximately $106 million to the Oceti Sakowin Confederacy. To this day, not a single cent of that award has been paid. The U.S. took the land from the Oceti Sakowin Confederacy and has used it for 143 years without paying a penny.


(This article is also published in Lakota Times.)

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