April 29th 1868: Fort Laramie Treaty signed
On this day in 1868, the Fort Laramie Treaty was signed by the United States government and representatives of the Sioux Nation. The treaty officially recognised the sacred Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming as part of the Great Sioux Reservation, and set the land aside for the exclusive use of its indigenous inhabitants. During the nineteenth century, spurred by the overcrowding of Eastern states and by the providential mission of ‘Manifest Destiny’, Americans increasingly sought to expand westward. As settlers encroached on Native American land, violence became an integral part of life on the frontier. A congressional committee report in 1867 encouraged the establishment of an Indian Peace Commission, with the intention of ending the conflict. The U.S. government sought to make treaties with Native Americans which would force them to give up their land and move onto western reservations. One such treaty was made in Fort Laramie, Wyoming, in 1868. However, the U.S. soon sent General George Custer to the Black Hills in 1874 in search of gold mines. Once gold was discovered, prospectors descended on the area, and the army began to confront the Sioux. In 1876, Custer’s army at the Little Bighorn river was annihilated by Sioux and Cheyenne fighters. Despite this devastating loss, the war continued, and in 1877 the United States confiscated the Black Hills. The Sioux people continued to protest the illegal seizure of their ancestral land. They won a significant legal victory in 1980, when the Supreme Court ordered financial compensation for the loss of the land; the Sioux, however, refused payment and continued to demand the return of their land.
“From this day forward all war between the parties to this agreement shall for ever cease. The government of the United States desires peace, and its honor is hereby pledged to keep it.”
- Article I of the Fort Laramie Treaty, 1868