This Month in Lakota History

18 May 2020

Tuesday, May 8, 1973: The Wounded Knee Occupation ended after 71 days. The occupation began on Tuesday, February 27. The Rapid City Journal reported that Kent Frizzell, Interior Department solicitor, stated there were around 120 persons in Wounded Knee when the siege ended early Tuesday morning. Twenty-eight of the occupiers were bused to Rapid City and arraigned before federal Magistrate James Wilson.

Tuesday, May 21, 1867: American anthropologist and ethnographer Francis Theresa Densmore was born in Red Wing, Minnesota. From 1911 to 1914, she recorded 240 songs sung by 29 men and 6 women in Standing Rock Reservation. These were among the earliest Lakota songs recorded. She also collected extensive information on Lakota history and culture. Her compiled work, Teton Sioux Music, was published by the Bureau of American Ethnology in 1918. Francis Densmore died in Red Wing on Wednesday, June 5, 1957, and is buried there.

Sunday, May 24, 1868: The Indian Peace Commission, represented by William Harney and John Sanborn, began its council at Fort Laramie with Oglala representatives. The topic was the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty that 25 Sicangu representatives had signed on April 29. Speaking on behalf of Oglalas were Man Afraid Of His Horses, John Richards Jr., Swift Bear and Fire Thunder. Joseph Bissionnette and others also spoke, but their words were not recorded. 

Man Afraid Of His Horses told the commissioners: “I recollect the treaty of Horse Creek; General Mitchell made it in 1851. He bound the Government for fifty years to pay us annuities and they have not done so.” Swift Bear concurred, saying: “You must remember that you promised to pay us for this country during fifty years.” Then looking toward the future, he said: “I am afraid that the whites will trouble us before we trouble them.” 

Commissioner Sanborn then read a statement from the commission that outlined the terms of the treaty, but also contained an apocalyptic threat: “These terms are all that you can ask. If you can maintain peace on these terms, then we can have peace without any more war. If you cannot, then war must commence and go on until peace results from the destruction of the Dakota race. . . We have exercised our best judgment and adopted the best plan to improve your condition and save your people. Accept it and be happy.” 

Monday, May 25, 1868: The council between the Indian Peace Commission and the Oglalas continued. The recorded speakers were Man Afraid Of His Horses, Black Hawk, High Wolf, American Horse, Kills The Bear and Four Bears. All of them indicated that they were ready to sign the treaty. In total, 39 Oglalas signed the treaty. Man Afraid Of His Horses signed first, Black Hawk was third, High Hawk and American Horse were fourteenth and fifteenth, and Four Bears and Kills The Bear were seventeenth and eighteenth. 

Interpreters that day were Joseph Bissonette, Nicholas Janis, Lefroy Jott and Antione Janis. Witnesses were Seth Ward, James O’Connor, J. M. Sherwood, W. C. Slicer, Sam Deon and H. M. Matthews.   

Monday and Tuesday, May 25-26, 1868: Seventeen Mniconjou representatives signed the treaty at Fort Laramie. The treaty lists the names of  these men, but states that 2 signed on the 25th and 13 signed on the 26th. The numbers do not add up. The Peace Commission report mentions a “Council with One Horn, Elk That Bellows Walking, and the Minneconjous” and includes a speech by One Horn, but it does not indicate a date for the council or for One Horn’s speech. 

Prior to the mention of the council, the Peace Commission report includes a letter from commissioners Sanborn and Harney, who were still at Fort Laramie, to the commanding officer of the fort, General A. J. Slemmer, dated May 27, 1868. Attached with the letter was a copy of the treaty, which the commissioners left with the commander and pointed out “has already been executed by most of the Chiefs and Headmen of the [Sicangu] and [Oglala] Bands.” 

If the Mniconjou representatives had signed on the 25th and 26th, as indicated in the treaty, why were they not mentioned along with the Sicangu and Oglala representatives in the letter? Why does the treaty state that there are 15 Mniconjou names when 17 are listed? And if the Mniconjou representatives did not sign the treaty on the 25th and 26th, then when did they sign?

Answers to these questions will require more research. 


(This article is also published in Lakota Times.)

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