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Tribal Historical Overview - Lakota Migration - Whitestone Hill

Intro | Lakota Migration | Establishment of the Reservation |
Breakup of the Reservation |

Lakota Migration | 1851 Treaty | Whitestone Hill | 1868 Treaty

Whitestone Hill

Two military expeditions entered Dakota Territory during the summer of 1863. One column of soldiers was led by General Henry H. Sibley and originated from Minnesota. The other expedition, commanded by General Alfred Sully, followed the Missouri River north from Iowa. Sully’s campaign culminated in the Battle of Whitestone Hill.

Map showing Sibley and Sully campaigns.  Whitestone Hill.
Battle of Whitestone Hill. The map outlines the military campaigns
of Generals Alfred Sully and Henry Sibley in the summer of 1863.
(Map by Cassie Theurer, adapted from Jacobson, Whitestone Hill, page 18)

In early September 1863, General Sully discovered a large hunting camp of Yanktonai at Whitestone Hill. These people had nothing to do with the Minnesota problems and they were not posing a threat to homesteaders in Dakota Territory. The Yanktonai people at Whitestone Hill were preparing food for the winter months ahead. Sully’s troops never determined who these people were and on September 3, 1863, 650 soldiers attacked the Yanktonai, killing at least 300, including many women and children. Twenty soldiers were killed, many caught in army crossfire. The Yanktonai who were able fled the area, abandoning all their household goods and stores of food. The scene of the battlefield and Indian camp the next day was recorded by F.E. Caldwell, a soldier with the Second Nebraska Cavalry:

Tepees, some standing, some torn down, some
squaws that were dead, some that were wounded
and still alive, young children of all ages from
young infants to eight or ten years old, who had
lost their parents, dead soldiers, dead Indians,
dead horses, hundreds of dogs howling for their
masters. Some of the dogs were packed with small
poles fastened to a collar and dragging behind them.
On the poles was a platform (travois) on which all
kinds of articles were fastened on—in one instance
a young baby.
(Jacobson, p. 99)

The next two days Sully rounded up Yanktonai survivors who were in the vicinity of the battle because they had no horses. They were taken and held as prisoners. Sully also ordered the destruction of all food and equipment left behind by the Yanktonai. Caldwell described that process:

Sully ordered all the property destroyed, tepees,
buffalo skins, and all their things, including tons and
tons of dried buffalo meat and tallow. It was gathered
in wagons, piled in a hollow and burned, and the melted
tallow ran down the valley into a stream. Hatchets,
camp kettles, and all things that would sink were thrown
into a small lake.
(Jacobson, p. 101)

Sully’s men were congratulated by the U.S. for their distinguished conduct, and the Indian story never came out though it was told among their own people. In November 1863, Sam Brown, a 19-year-old interpreter at Crow Creek, presented the Indian side of Sully’s battle at Whitestone Hill in a letter to his father:

I hope you will not believe all that is said of
“Sully’s Successful Expedition” against the Sioux. I
don’t think he aught to brag of it at all, because it
was, what no decent man would have done, he pitched
into their camp and just slaughtered them, worse a
great deal than what the Indians did in 1862, he
killed very few men and no hostile ones prisoners...
and now he returns saying that we need fear no more,
for he has “wiped out all hostile Indians from Dakota.”
If he had killed men instead of women & children, then
it would have been a success, and the worse of it, they
had no hostile intention whatever, the Nebraska Second
pitched into them without orders, while the Iowa Sixth
were shaking hands with them on the other side, they
even shot their own men.
(Jacobson, p. 105)

(For Sioux Pictograph of the Whitestone Hill Battle,
See Document 1.)

Sully and his troops wintered in the newly constructed Fort Rice while plans were being launched to force the Indians to cede large areas of their territory. In July 1864, Sully set out for the Killdeer Mountains where Yanktonai, Sihasapa, Hunkpapa, and other Dakota were in a large hunting camp. On July 23, 1864, Sully’s troops, aided by artillery, killed about 100 Indians and the people from their camp and forced them to abandon all their food and household goods. Again, all Indian property was destroyed. This is known as the Battle of Killdeer Mountains. Sully chased down some of the stragglers from the battle along the Yellowstone River in the Badlands, and in August 1864, soldiers attacked some of the survivors of the Killdeer Mountains. By fall, 1864, the commander at Fort Sully assessed the situation of the Yanktonai, Hunkpatina, and others,

“Their severe punishment in life and property
for the last two years is an excellent groundwork for
a peace I believe would be lasting…”
pp. 110–111)

With little other recourse, the Yanktonai signed a treaty with the U.S. government at Fort Sully in October 1865. The tribes agreed to be at peace with the U.S. and other tribes, withdraw from overland routes through their territory, and in return for these concessions the U.S. provided monetary reparation and agricultural implements to the tribes.

In 1861 the Union was desperate for gold and silver to fund the Civil War effort. Indian rights were not a consideration when the destiny of the Union was at stake, so when gold was discovered in Montana, little was done to hold back the flood of fortune-seekers who overran Sioux treaty lands along the Bozeman Trail.

Continued traffic through Sioux lands caused disruption in the lifeways of the people and cut through the heart of the Sioux buffalo ranges in the Powder River area. The Sioux repeatedly objected to intrusions in their territory and demanded government recognition of the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty. Ultimately their protests fell on deaf ears. With no peaceful solution in sight the Sioux began to retaliate against trespass in their country. The government’s need for gold coupled with demands for protection by travelers along the Bozeman Trail increased so the army moved in to protect non-Indian people, property, and rights-of-way through Dakota-Lakota territory. Thus began the era commonly referred to as the Plains or Sioux Wars of 1865–1876. (See map, page 6, from Utley’s The Indian Frontier.)

Map of Bozeman Trail, 1866-1868
The Bozeman Trail and its Forts, 1866–1868. (Map by Cassie Theurer,
adapted from Prucha, Atlas of American Indian Affairs, 1990, page 128)

Continue to the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty...