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History and Culture

Ft. Laramie Treaty — 1868

Ft. Laramie was the second fort to be built by the government in a series of forts to protect settlers traveling over the Oregon Trail. The fort was the scene of several treaty signings, the most significant of which was the Ft. Laramie Treaty of 1868.

Immigrants, miners, wagon trains and U.S. troops began entering the area that was a prime resource for buffalo hunting to the Cheyenne, Sioux and Arapaho. In 1866 Red Cloud refused to sign a non-aggression treaty at Ft Laramie, and declared war on all non-Indians entering the region. He and his band of Oglala Sioux made a number of attacks against U.S. settlers and miners who were traveling the Oregon and Bozeman trails. When Captain William Fetterman led a relief party into Indian territory in December of 1868, they were never seen again. After more battles including the Wagon Box Fight and the Hayfield Fight, the army finally evacuated the region in 1868.

The treaty of Ft. Laramie was signed in 1868 relinquishing the Bozeman Trail in exchange for the cessation of further Indian raids. The treaty established the “Great Sioux Reserve” giving the land west of the Missouri River, including the sacred land of the Sioux, the Black Hills to the Indians.. Red Cloud insisted that certain government forts, including Fort Laramie, be removed from Native lands before he would sign. The Sioux celebrated the signing of the treaty by burning down every abandoned fort along the Trail. Signed by various Native parties over a period of months after hard negotiations, this treaty sought to establish peaceful relations between the United States and Indian parties, as well as to settle reservation boundaries within which Indian people agreed to settle.

The treaty lasted only until gold was discovered in the Black Hills in 1874. The rush of miners to the Black Hills started the last of the Plains wars, including the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The Sioux Nation has never acknowledged the loss of the Black Hills. In 1980, in an 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the previous Court of Claims decision of 1979 which ruled that the Sioux Indians were entitled to the award of $17.5 million, plus 5% interest per year since 1877, totaling about $106 million. Justice Harry Blackmun wrote:

"In sum, we conclude that... the terms of 1877 Act did not affect mere change in the form of investment of Indian tribal property'. Rather, the 1877 Act affected a taking of tribal property, property which had been set aside for the exclusive occupation of the Sioux by the Ft. Laramie Treaty of 1868. That taking implied an obligation on the part of the Government to make just compensation to the Sioux Nation, and that obligation, including an award of interest, must now, at last, be paid."

The Sioux have not cashed the check, still arguing that the land should be returned.

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