Category Archives: military

Confederate Elections of 1863

From Bitterly Divided: The South’s Inner Civil War, by David Williams (New Press, 2010), Kindle pp. 87-88:

As early as November 1861, a committee assigned to consider revising Virginia’s state constitution called for more restricted suffrage and fewer popularly elected offices. In May 1863, the Reverend H.W. Hilliard, a former member of Congress from Georgia, spoke out publicly for a more restricted suffrage. When word of Hilliard’s remarks reached Athens, a local paper wrote that “the most unfeeling, unjust and cruel wrong we have ever witnessed, is this effort of designing politicians and juggling priests who are lying about home doing nothing, and worse than nothing, to disfranchise the brave and noble poor men who are fighting the battles of the country.”

Such efforts on the part of elites served only to inflame common folk and further undermine Confederate support. By 1863, many were openly demanding peace. In North Carolina, there were peace rallies throughout the mountain regions. In Georgia, the editor of Griffin’s Southern Union called for an end to the war, and reunification with the North. Several candidates for Georgia’s General Assembly from Gilmer and surrounding counties ran on the Union ticket. So did candidates in northern Alabama. In parts of Mississippi, so numerous were Union men that cavalry units were posted to keep them away from the polls. Still, armed bands of deserters showed up at Mississippi polling places defying arrest and demanding their right to vote. In Floyd County, Virginia, Confederates guarded every precinct to prevent deserters from voting. Nevertheless, so many local deserters’ relatives went to the polls that they elected a pro-Union sheriff, Ferdinand Winston, and several other Unionist county officials. In Mississippi’s Tishomingo County, Confederate officials were so worried about a Union victory at the polls that they suspended elections entirely.

Fear, intimidation, and despondency kept many alienated voters away from the polls. And because the Confederate Constitution gave the president a six-year term, Jefferson Davis was in no danger of losing his office. Even so, the election returns brought discouraging news for the Davis Administration. In North Carolina, candidates for the Conservative Party, composed mainly of longtime secession opponents, won nine of ten congressional seats—and eight of them were “reported to be in favor of peace.” George Logan of the Tenth District was nominated at a peace rally. Both of the state’s gubernatorial candidates were Conservative Party men.

In Texas, half the incumbent congressmen lost their seats. Of Georgia’s ten congressional representatives, only one was reelected. The state’s 90 percent freshman rate was the highest in the Confederacy. Eight of Georgia’s new representatives ran on an anti-Davis platform. Alabama voted out its staunchly pro-Davis governor. Four of the state’s new congressmen were suspected of being outright Unionists. The new legislature was made up mostly of men inclined to sue for peace. One Alabamian wrote that the election results showed a “decided wish amongst the people for peace.” In all, nearly half the old Congress was turned out. Two-thirds of the newly elected members had long opposed secession. The congressional freshman rate would likely have been much greater had it not been for the large bloc of returning members representing districts under federal occupation who were “elected” by refugees, by soldiers, or by general ticket in a given state’s districts still held by the Confederacy.

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Custer’s Black Hills Expedition, 1874

From Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power, by Pekka Hämäläinen (The Lamar Series in Western History; Yale U. Press, 2019), Kindle p. 342:

In 1874 the times were bad, spectacularly so, and when news arrived that rich veins of gold had been found in the Black Hills, it galvanized the nation. Gold had helped lift the nation from the material and moral ruins of the Civil War; now it could lift it from a debilitating depression.

The news came from one of the many small expeditions that the U.S. Army had sent in to find a suitable site for a fort near the Black Hills to protect the tracklayers of the blocked Northern Pacific Railroad. The fort, Sherman thought, would allow the army to deliver a crippling blow to the seemingly invincible Lakotas whom the national media now conflated with rebellious blacks, Chinese immigrants, disaffected farmers, and labor activists as an acute threat to the fragile industrial order. Sheridan, who had orchestrated total war against Native civilians during Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Comanche campaigns in 1868–69, believed that Lakota hostility now amounted to “a general Indian war” and proposed to President Grant that military forts in the Black Hills would “make it a little hot for the [Lakota] villages and stock if these Indians attempted to raid on the settlements south.” Grant agreed, and Sheridan picked Custer, whose conduct during the Yellowstone Expedition had much enhanced his professional standing, to lead the Black Hills Expedition: one hundred covered wagons; more than nine hundred cavalry and infantry; sixty-one Arikara scouts; several guides, engineers, and “practical miners”; three Gatling machine guns; three journalists; a photographer; and a geologist, Newton H. Winchell from the University of Minnesota, all moving out of Fort Abraham Lincoln, skirting the Great Sioux Reservation and entering the hills from the north. In mid-August, after six weeks of travel, the convoy found traces of gold. Custer exaggerated the discovery, and the expedition delivered what he had geared it up for: it created a national event. Reporters dispatched excited press releases, newspapers picked up and magnified the story, and in the late fall of 1874 the Black Hills gold rush was a reality.

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Lakota Hunting Grounds, 1870s

From Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power, by Pekka Hämäläinen (The Lamar Series in Western History; Yale U. Press, 2019), Kindle pp. 332-335:

The railroad did eventually come, ushering in U.S. troops and U.S. authority, but well before it came Lakotas. Raids into the Crow country and American settlements in the Gallatin Valley became a routine with Sitting Bull serving as a gravitational force…. Suddenly all American settlements “within the reach of the Sioux hunting-grounds” were in danger. The Carroll Trail, a crucial transportation line connecting Helena to the Missouri River, was in risk of being cut off. At times it seemed it was Crows who protected Americans against Lakotas rather than vice versa. Both settlers and soldiers saw the Crows as an extra “regiment of cavalry.”

But the Crows were Lakotas’ primary target, for they stood between them and the bison. Crows were at times forced to flee their reservation in the face of massive Lakota war parties seeking game, horses, mules, and cattle, and their powerless agent seemed to accept “the annual Sioux invasion” as a fact of life. Such was the Lakota pressure that Crow chiefs were rumored to be considering “an offensive and defensive alliance with the Sioux as against the whites.” There could be no such alliance, of course—the game was too scarce and the hatreds ran too deep—and Crows remained close allies of the United States. Before long, Lakotas occupied “the larger and most fertile portion of their reservation.”

Like Crows, Shoshones looked to Americans for protection against Lakotas and their allies. But unlike Crows, they managed to put distance between Lakotas and themselves. Decades of fighting over hunting rights had left them debilitated, and they had accepted a reservation in the lee of the Wind River Range, far to the southwest of the Lakota sphere of operations. Yet, even there, fear of Lakota attacks forced them to periodically flee. Eventually, they ceded a mineral-rich section of their reservation to secure the government’s goodwill and protection. This, in the minds of U.S. agents, was a sign of supreme wisdom: they “are among the most intelligent and best disposed of any Indians on the plains,” gushed the governor of the Wyoming Territory. “Wash-a-kie, their chief, is in all respects a superior Indian.” Their agents reported a growing consumption of government rations—beef, bacon, flour, and sugar—which indicated that Shoshones were giving up the hunt.

So were Utes. They had secured a large eighty-seven-thousand-square-mile reservation in the new Colorado Territory in 1861, but in 1868 they were compelled to accept a much-reduced domain. Five years later the government imposed another reduction, which broke Ute power. Lakota-Arapaho-Cheyenne war parties pushed deep into Ute territory, and growing numbers of Ute hunters began to frequent Denver, expecting to be fed, much to the exasperation of the city’s inhabitants and the territory’s Indian agents: “Even were they ever so well able to pay for hotel accommodations, they are not a desirable class of customers to the proprietors of any of our public-houses.” In the summer of 1873 Ute hunters wished to parade enemy scalps on the streets of Denver: they had killed three Lakota warriors while hunting along the Republican. The Indian agent banned the parade, and Utes celebrated their surprising victory outside the city for a week. It was clear that there would not be many more. Agents reported “improved industrial habits,” larger crops, and a growing willingness to live in houses.

Establishing control over shrinking bison herds was the paramount motive of Lakota warfare in the early 1870s, and it spawned a sprawling raiding hinterland that extended from the Canadian plains into the Rockies and deep into the American Southwest. Closer to home, Lakotas waged a sporadic raiding war against the Arikaras, Hidatsas, and Mandans who now shared a reservation along the Missouri and Little Missouri Rivers. Lakota war parties raided the reservation for horses and corn with growing confidence, sometimes coming with women and often informing their agents of their intentions and successes. Arikaras retaliated by raiding Lakotas at their Grand River and Cheyenne River Agencies, but their agent wanted to move them to Indian Territory, farther away from Lakotas. He was promptly rebuffed: “they fear that it is too warm for them. . . . Besides they love their own country; their dead are buried here; the Government probably would not redeem its promises better there than here.” For Arikaras the U.S. Indian policy was a demoralizing exercise in hypocrisy. “‘The hostile Sioux have all they want from the Government without removal from their country,’” their chiefs protested. “‘Why cannot the Rees [= Arikaras], who have been so friendly and faithful these many years?’” The Arikaras stayed put, their numbers slowly declining in the shadow of an overpowering Lakota-U.S. alliance.

As their rivals yielded ground, Lakotas emerged, in many ways, more powerful than ever. Never before had they ranged over more territory or reached so far. Their core area—their homeland—exceeded the Great Sioux Reservation by tens of thousands of square miles, and their hunting and raiding domain stretched from Lake Winnipeg in the north to the Republican Valley in the south and from the Missouri Valley in the east to the Continental Divide in the west. They had thousands of Indigenous allies on their orbit and diplomatic and commercial ties to Canada and Washington, D.C. They had several handsomely stocked government agencies at their disposal, and they went to war with cutting-edge military technology. Formidable, flexible, and ubiquitous, they commanded the attention of the U.S. government like no other Indigenous nation.

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U.S. Reconstruction: Southerners and Sioux

From Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power, by Pekka Hämäläinen (The Lamar Series in Western History; Yale U. Press, 2019), Kindle pp. 267-268:

The United States emerged from the catastrophic war not as a nation but as an empire. The rebelling states remained on maps as before the war, but in reality they were captive territories under military occupation and governance. Acting without any political precedent—how does a failed republican state reunite?—the federal government set out to reconstruct the South after its own image. This was the era of authoritative government agents tasked to impose industrial capitalism, yeoman farming, democracy, and Christian civilization on a vast canvas. “We are to have the charge of this continent,” declared the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher. “This continent is to be from this time forth governed by Northern men, with Northern ideas, and with a Northern gospel.” It was a formula for a comprehensive reconstruction that would simultaneously target both the Southerners and Native Americans. There would two reconstructions, one focused on the rebuilding and reforming the South, the other on pacifying the Indigenous West.

The reconstruction of Indigenous America had to start with the rebellious Lakotas and their allies, and the first challenge was to agree how to achieve it. Several generals insisted that force alone would make Indians give up raiding and settle down, but many eastern politicians and philanthropists, sickened by the Sand Creek massacre, argued that moral education was the only justifiable course. Congress sided with the humanitarians and appointed, in March 1865, Senator James R. Doolittle, a staunch Baptist and patriot, to lead a joint special committee to investigate the state of Indian-white affairs in the West. It authorized commissions to negotiate new treaties with the plains tribes, including the Sioux. The Sioux commission was headed by Newton Edmunds, governor of the Dakota Territory, who was desperate to put an end to the Indian wars that hindered white settlement in his territory, blocking its path to statehood. Pressure came also from Nebraska to the south, where the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad was poised to start in Omaha, making Lakota appeasement a matter of national importance.

Repeatedly humbled by nomad warriors over the years, generals denounced the congressional version of the Indigenous reconstruction as lily-livered and misguided. Sully and Sibley wanted to keep the pressure on the Lakotas, and Pope, in charge of military operations in the Dakota Territory, was deeply cynical of the logic of offering new treaties to the plains tribes. How will they understand treaties and annuities he asked, if “the violation of former treaties and the murder of whites are to be thus compensated?” As he saw it, treaties actually boosted Lakota raids. “It is a common saying with the Sioux, that whenever they are poor, and need powder and lead, they have only to go down to the overland routes and murder a few white men, and they will have a treaty to supply their wants.” Pope was not entirely wrong. Since the opening of the Oregon Trail in the mid-1840s, Lakotas had tolerated overland traffic because it yielded resources, whether secured through trading, raiding, extortion, or, as Pope now claimed, through treaty goods.

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U.S. View of the Great Plains c. 1850

From Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power, by Pekka Hämäläinen (The Lamar Series in Western History; Yale U. Press, 2019), Kindle pp. 211-212:

Viewed from Washington, Mexico seemed a natural addition to a nation that was exploding toward the Pacific by way of Louisiana and Texas; the question was the exact size of the appendix. There was a broad consensus that the Nueces strip and San Francisco Bay should be included, and 37° N was quickly established as a new northern boundary. But opinions differed widely on the southern one. Most in the room insisted on a direct line from the mouth of the Rio Grande to the Pacific along 26° N—a thousand-mile-wide chunk of land that would have turned ten Mexican states into U.S. soil. Some argued that they should simply take the whole of Mexico. In the end cooler heads prevailed, and the United States annexed only New Mexico and Alta California. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo transferred half of Mexico to the United States.

There was a direct mental strand between the Indian Removal Act and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, between the debates over the Indian Removal and the debates over the Mexican annexation. Key U.S. policymakers had developed an imperial mindset, a collection of attitudes, convictions, and habits that allowed them to see humans, nations, and entire societies as pawns on an immense geopolitical chessboard. Jackson, Polk, and their officials poured over maps and drew new lines on them, rearranging the world into a new shape. Indian Territory in the West was now the home of removed southern Indians and El Paso was now a U.S. town because they had drawn the lines so. It was in many ways but a reiteration of the centuries-old European imperial ethos which had pushed Spain, Portugal, France, and Britain to carve up the world into empires, but it was new to Americans, and many of them reveled in it. Washington’s dream of an expanding empire of liberty, Jefferson’s utopian schemes for Louisiana, and Monroe’s famous doctrine had been early versions of the imperial mindset, but it was only in the 1840s that Americans possessed the means—sufficient administrative capacity and an ability to borrow money on a vast scale—to start turning imperial abstractions into reality through state-sanctioned violence.

The continental grasslands figured only marginally in these designs. Policymakers in Washington looked straight through the plains nomads into New Mexico and California where the imperial stakes were highest. Seemingly devoid of extractable wealth (except for furs) and securely embedded within U.S. borders, the Great Plains became a kind of halfway house where the Natives could learn the arts of civilization in splendid isolation under the tutelage of a select group of missionaries and government agents. A line of forts running down from Fort Snelling to west-central Louisiana marked a “permanent Indian frontier,” demarcating a sizable reserve in the heart of the continent where the Indians could safely modernize themselves.

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U.S. Blind to Lakota Expansion c. 1860

From Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power, by Pekka Hämäläinen (The Lamar Series in Western History; Yale U. Press, 2019), Kindle pp. 239-240:

The well-organized and well-mounted Crows had reigned over a sizable domain that disguised their relatively small population of about five thousand. The upshot was that Crows had placed relatively little pressure on the bison, which remained so numerous that they considered hunting a routine that required neither great numbers nor elaborate planning. Much of that animal bounty now belonged to Lakotas whose expansion had secured them five fertile river valleys—the Tongue, Rosebud, Little Bighorn, Bighorn, and Yellowstone—each filled with bison and enveloped by lush grass. When women and children joined men in the West, bringing in tipis, belongings, and horses, these valleys became home. It was there that Pretty Owl, Red Cloud, Snow-on-Her, Red Woman, Sitting Bull, and many others raised their families, securing their world for generations to come.

The Lakota expansion into the Crow country violated the Horse Creek Treaty, but the government did next to nothing to quell it. Lakotas, after all, were pushing the Crows high up the northern Rockies where that “insolent” tribe posed no threat to America’s overland arteries and hegemonic pretensions. The same applied to the Eastern Shoshones, Assiniboines, and even Mormons whom Lakotas began raiding as the Crows retreated. Soon Lakotas were ranging west of the Bighorns and north of the Yellowstone.

But elsewhere Lakota policies were a direct affront to the United States. In 1853 Cheyennes carried “the pipe around to invite other tribes to war against the Pawnees,” and many Lakotas responded to the call. They killed more than one hundred. Lakotas also raided plains villages along the Missouri and south of the Platte, taking horses and captives and corn and trying to monopolize access to the bison. As if to assert their prerogative to deal with their Native neighbors as they saw best, in the spring and summer of 1860 Lakotas and their allies attacked the Pawnee reservation on the Loup eight times, each strike a blatant violation of the treaty that granted them annuities on the condition of keeping peace. The United States allowed Lakotas to stage raids, wage wars, and expand their empire in its midst without taking effective action to stop them. This passivity is one of the great puzzles in the history of U.S.-Indian relations.

Gold, once again, was at the heart of things. In 1858 rich veins had been discovered in the Rocky Mountain foothills in western Kansas Territory. A hundred thousand “fifty-niners” rushed in along the Solomon, Smoky Hill, and Arkansas Rivers, heading toward Pikes Peak where their shared dreams converged. About half of them returned home the same year, crossing the plains back east. The two-way mass migration left behind wrecked river valleys with pulverized banks almost devoid of game, grass, and timber. Those valleys belonged to Cheyennes and Arapahos, their sanctity guarded by the proudly militant Cheyenne Dog Soldiers. As tensions mounted along the trails, the army sent in soldiers to keep order. The continuing flow of gold through the central plains became a priority for the federal government, and Lakotas slipped into a liberating blind spot. The already limited military oversight shrunk to almost nothing.

The blind spot only grew when the United States descended into civil war. In 1860, pressured by federal agents, moderate Cheyennes and Arapahos accepted a reservation on the Arkansas River, signing away most of their lands. The Dog Soldiers declared the treaty unlawful and began killing anyone—Indians, ranchers, Union freighters—who competed for diminishing resources. Terrified that the Confederates in New Mexico might join with the Dog Soldiers to invade the Colorado goldfields, the Union built a frontier army out of volunteer regiments and assigned it to punish militants across the central plains. Chasing the ultra-mobile nomad warriors absorbed the bulk of the resources the Union could make available in the West. Every raid, fight, and flight the Dog Soldiers staged worked directly to Lakotas’ benefit by keeping the Union preoccupied. Lakotas had a virtual free rein to arrange the world as they saw fit. It was not a coincidence that they were raiding all over the place and enjoying best hunts for a long time during the early years of the Civil War.

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Lakota Elites, c. 1850s

From Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power, by Pekka Hämäläinen (The Lamar Series in Western History; Yale U. Press, 2019), Kindle pp. 184-185:

In the early nineteenth century Lakota men were born into an increasingly competitive world with an uneven playing field. Boys were raised to be brave and ambitious in war, hunting, horsemanship, and courtship, and aspiring young men had to participate in several raiding expeditions to accumulate enough horses for a dowry. Many accomplished this in their late twenties after which they could settle down to family life, gradually give up raiding, and assume the role of an elder. As their families grew, they could marry off their daughters to other prominent men, receive handsome bride prices, and embed their families into expansive kinship networks that brought prestige, prosperity, and security. The most successful men—those who had become wiča, complete men—could sponsor extravagant feasts and giveaways in their sons’ name, paving their way within the fiercely competitive male sphere. Many celebrated Lakota leaders were born into this kind of privilege and were in turn able to bestow their sons with similar benefits. If competent, their sons could succeed them as hereditary chiefs and assume their names. They Fear Even His Horses the Younger and American Horse the Younger belonged to old and highly esteemed lineages, their names both a privilege and an obligation.

If not quite aristocracy, such men nonetheless possessed decisive advantages over others. Sitting Bull was born into a long line of chiefs and raised by two powerful uncles—Four Horns, a prominent band leader, and Looks-For-Him-in-A-Tent, a renowned war leader—whose eminence reflected on him, propelling his rise among aspiring Hunkpapa men. Camp heralds publicized his exploits as a hunter and a warrior—he earned his first military honors at fourteen, chasing a fleeing Crow on horseback and bringing him down with a hatchet-blow to the head—a position of advantage that blended with his innate spiritual prowess, physical courage, and quiet charisma to elevate him above rivals. He had a powerful dream in a vision quest at a young age and became the leader of the prestigious Strong Hearts warrior society in his mid-twenties.

Curly Hair was the son of Crazy Horse, who was the headman of the leading Hunkpatila band of the Oglalas, which traced a proud lineage of elders and holy men. At the time of Curly Hair’s birth in 1840, his father’s band included over ten tipis of blood relatives and in-laws, all of whom looked to Crazy Horse for spiritual and political leadership. Curly Hair was a child of privilege who grew up having his first steps and words celebrated with public feasts and gifts to the poor. Through his Minneconjou mother Curly Hair found another set of supportive kin relations and a further source of esteem: his family was the key proponent of an Oglala-Minneconjou alliance that shaped Lakota politics for a generation. His family promoted solidarity in both oyátes through giveaways, accruing admiration and followers; High Backbone, an ambitious Minneconjou headman, adopted Curly Hair as his protégé, engaging him in two-way character-hardening play fights and equestrian feats. When Curly Hair became a man and assumed his father’s name, he was primed for success. Young women wanted him for a husband, fathers wanted their daughters to marry him, young men wanted to be his kȟolá, and warriors were willing to follow him into war.

Men like the young Crazy Horse inevitably overshadowed less privileged men who lacked their kin connections, family wealth, and fame. For them the path for social recognition was paved with toil, anxiety, and violence—relentless raiding that gradually, often after several years, yielded enough clout to court women and enough horses and robes to pay bride prices. Lakotas raided and fought several neighboring groups in the mid-nineteenth century, but they did not do so as a monolith. Elite men raided horses to augment their possessions, but, backed with wealthy relatives, they could also afford to focus on collecting coups—war honors earned through audacious exploits like touching the enemy with a hand or a coupstick in the midst of hot battle—which further solidified their credentials as leaders. For other men raiding was an economic necessity that could consume their lives into early middle age. Some of them succeeded in turning themselves into warrior-traders with several wives, but many died trying. Their raw, anguished ambition to become men of substance was a latent impetus behind the expansion that made Lakotas the masters of the northern plains. Red Cloud, who lacked the pedigree of some of his rivals, spent nearly twenty years raiding before he dared to make a formal bid for chieftainship.

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Fall of the Dakotas after 1815

From Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power, by Pekka Hämäläinen (The Lamar Series in Western History; Yale U. Press, 2019), Kindle pp. 155-156:

In the summer of 1815, seven months after the Treaty of Ghent, U.S. officials invited the western Indians to a council at Portage des Sioux just north of St. Louis. Two thousand Indians showed up, and Americans made treaties with Lakotas, Mdewakantons, Wahpekutes, Sissetons, Wahpetons, and Yanktons. The pithy compacts pardoned past aggressions and brought the Sioux under the protection of the United States. The Americans understood the last article as a corroboration of U.S. jurisdiction over the Sioux, but the seventy-two Sioux delegates who touched a pen probably understood it as a confirmation of the prewar status quo whereby Americans traded with them without dictating to them. When U.S. soldiers began building an unauthorized fort at Prairie du Chien a year later, Mdewakanton chiefs approached British agents in the upper Great Lakes, pleading for help in preventing their “final extinction.” It was only when the agents refused them that the chiefs realized that they would have to face the United States without British counterweight. Their fall from power was shockingly fast.

Left alone to face the Americans, Dakotas were soon reeling. In 1818 Benjamin O’Fallon, a newly appointed U.S. agent for the Sioux and William Clark’s nephew, led two heavily armed keelboats up the Mississippi and Minnesota to stop Canadian incursions and establish American authority in the region—an enterprise that echoed his uncle’s famous expedition fourteen years earlier. O’Fallon found the Sioux divided and quarrelling over trade. At a Mdewakanton village, chief Shakopee, “ferocious and savage,” complained that his warriors lacked guns and could not contain their Chippewa enemies. O’Fallon urged them to “be always last in war” and place their faith in “the Great Spirit.”

Cut off from the British trade and political support, the Mdewakantons accepted O’Fallon’s gifts—a little whiskey and some goods—and demands. Within a year the U.S. Army started planning a military fort at the Mississippi-Minnesota junction on lands Pike had purchased fourteen years earlier.

O’Fallon had succeeded where Lewis and Clark had failed. While the Corps of Discovery had inadvertently prompted Lakotas to strengthen their hold of the Missouri and its peoples, O’Fallon had extorted from Dakotas a tacit acceptance of a military fort on their lands. Fort Snelling was in operation by 1820 and was soon accompanied by St. Peter’s Indian agency. The complex marked the beginning of a growing American presence in Dakota lives. It became a hub for the growing fur trade, which soon cut into the region’s animal populations, creating food shortages and entangling Dakotas into chronic wars over hunting privileges with Chippewas and Ho-Chunks [aka Winnebago]. Indian agents tried to mediate, but they lacked the know-how to be effective. Things came to head in 1827 when Mdewakantons and Wahpetons killed two Chippewas in a council at Fort Snelling under a U.S. flag. The fort commander, Josiah Snelling, imprisoned several Dakota warriors and demanded the culprits be turned over to him in return for their release. He was given a few men whom he handed over to Chippewas. Chippewas let them run before shooting them down. Then they scalped them in front of the shocked American officials.

A century earlier, less than fifty miles downriver from Fort Snelling, the French had built Fort Beauharnois to serve Dakotas. That trading fort had been the focal point of a deep Dakota-French accommodation that stabilized the upper Mississippi Valley, fueled the expansion of the fur trade west of the Great Lakes, and made the Dakotas the dominant power in the interior. Now the region’s dominant fort was a military establishment that heralded U.S. sovereignty over the Mississippi Valley, monitored the Dakotas, and staged U.S.-sponsored public executions of Dakota people.

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Lakotas vs. Lewis and Clark

From Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power, by Pekka Hämäläinen (The Lamar Series in Western History; Yale U. Press, 2019), Kindle pp. 144-145:

Lewis and Clark had traversed the Missouri Valley one imperial expansion too late and found it hard to accept. When they returned from their arduous and exhilarating journey to the Pacific sixteen months later, they once again plunged into the Lakota Meridian, which had only grown stronger during their absence. Mandans and Hidatsas were reeling. Whooping cough had ravaged their villages, and Lakotas had intensified their raiding. Lewis and Clark made one more bid to check the Lakota ascendancy. They invited Mandan leaders to visit Washington. The president, they promised, would listen to their troubles, send traders among them, and protect them.

The offer was as unrealistic as it was alluring. Black Cat of the Mandans wanted to see “his Great Father” but said that Lakotas would “certainly kill him if he attempted to go down.” Lakota hold of the upper Missouri seemed now nearly absolute, confining the villagers to the north. Clark asked René Jusseaume, a Canadian trader who had lived among Mandans and Hidatsas for fifteen years, to coax the villagers. He did find one headman, Sheheke, willing to go. What resulted was hardly the kind of embassy Lewis and Clark had in mind: one chief, a few women and children, and Jusseaume, a Canadian, braving Lakotas’ river hegemony. When the Corps set out downriver on August 17, all Mandan headmen saw them off, crying. As Clark was about to embark, the chiefs asked him to sit “one minit longer with them.” They wanted to talk about Lakotas. It was more a lamentation than anything else. After the Americans left, they said, Lakotas would come and “kill them.” Clark told them to fight.

By late August the expedition neared Sicangu [= Brulé] territory, and the explorers grew anxious. They spotted some eighty armed warriors on the northeast bank and hoped they were Yanktons, Poncas, or Omahas. Clark walked toward them on a sandbar, and three Indians swam to him. They were Black Buffalo’s Sicangus. Painful memories flushing over him, Clark had an interpreter tell them they were “bad people.” American traders were arriving soon, he warned, and were “sufficiently Strong to whip any vilenous party who dare to oppose them.” Sicangus told him to cross so they could kill them all. Clark and his men resolved to stare at the Sicangus, thinking that it “put them some Agitation as to our intentions.” Then, quietly, they continued downriver. Twenty-four days later they arrived in St. Louis, finding the city bubbling with expectation, ambition, and opportunism.

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Arikaras as Lakota Vassals, 1800

From Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power, by Pekka Hämäläinen (The Lamar Series in Western History; Yale U. Press, 2019), Kindle pp. 123-124:

Lakotas had blended raiding and extortion with diplomacy and exchange into a flexible economy of violence that left the Arikaras weak and needy. Tabeau thought they saw in them “a certain kind of serf, who cultivates for them and who, as they say, takes, for them, the place of women.” The gendered language was carefully considered. Two generations earlier Oglalas had lived as farmers under Arikara tutelage, but now they were people of the hunt and ascending. While diminishing the Arikaras, they treaded carefully not to alienate them to a point of rebellion. Tabeau realized this and yet failed to avoid becoming a foil for Lakota stratagems. He complained bitterly how Lakotas, having returned from a trade fair on the Minnesota, “announce that merchandise is abundant and wonderful there, give in detail the price of each article and make the Ricaras understand that I treat them as slaves.” Lakotas were manipulating markets and perceptions to their advantage. While forcing Arikaras to pay inflated prices for their exports, they still managed to paint the St. Louis traders as the real exploiters and villains.

Outplayed by Lakotas, Tabeau struggled with the fallout. Hoping that Arikaras’ “customary mildness, long known, would induce the government and the traders to provide them constantly in the future,” he earmarked a good portion of his powder for them. It was too late. Arikaras denounced Tabeau as an outsider who had “seen them without breech-clout, without powder, and without knives” and yet had refused to share his wares. He faced constant insults and demands for largesse and, in the end, declared his bid to win over the Arikaras a failure. They were, he reported, “not a fit subject for a special trade expedition.”

That declaration began a long marginalization and vilification of the Arikaras, once one of the most renowned traders in the American interior. The vilification took time to take root, but once it did, it fixed the Arikaras in the American imagination as an irredeemable menace. It committed the United States to destroying them, inadvertently paving the way for a Lakota hegemony in the upper Missouri Valley.

Three thousand Arikaras had become virtual vassals of Lakotas, their economies and very lives remolded to accommodate the new masters of the Missouri. Tabeau wrote off the entire valley from the White to the Heart River—a 250-mile stretch of prime fur country—and shifted his sight to the Mandans farther north. “A post among the Mandanes,” he mused, “would be a gathering-place for more than twenty nations and would be the means in determining the Ricaras to take up a station nearby.” He envisioned a vast trade emporium extending upriver from the Mandans to embrace the Cheyennes, Crows, Shoshones, and many other people. The plan was as ambitious as it was improbable, for Lakotas would not allow it.

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