Three Tribes Against the Whites

After spending the last forty-five years on the frontier, beginning in the then Territory of Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona and Montana, and being a close observer of cause and effect in passing events, it will, no doubt, be of interest to the general public to know the real cause of the uprising and consolidation of the three tribes of Indians, namely, the Sioux, Cheyennes and Arapahoes, against the whites.

The Sioux Nation was the most powerful and numerous of any of the tribe of Indians on the North American continent, at one time numbering one hundred and twenty thousand warriors and consisting of three distinct bands, called the Yankton Sioux, who inhabited the northern boundary of the United many of whom lived in Minnesota.

The Brulés Sioux held the territory of North and South Dakota, and the Ogalalla Sioux, who occupied the plains of Colorado.

In the fall of 1862, when the United States was engaged in the Civil war, Minnesota had been settling up pretty fast, and was crowding in on the territory of the Yankton Sioux, who were very friendly with the whites and often enjoyed the hospitality of the settlers in the small places and in the vicinity of New Ulm.

About this time they conceived the idea of stopping the white settlers from coming into that part of Minnesota. Knowing that the United States was plunged into the Civil War and, as they thought, fully occupied with their own domestic troubles, it would be the most opportune time for them to execute their plans.

Accordingly they held secret councils and matured their plans of attack and massacre without the least suspicion on the part of the frontier settlers, with whom they had been so friendly. One old squaw, however, knew of their plans and notified some of the white women who had been very kind to her and advised them to go to safety at once, but the whites did not believe the Indians would do them any harm and ignored the admonition of the old squaw; so accordingly on the night of September 23rd, 1862, (if my memory serves me right), the Indians, according to previous arrangement, raised, as if by one man, in all parts of the settlement, and began to burn buildings and kill men, women and children as fast as they could get to them. This massacre lasted a day and a night until some three hundred settlers were killed and their homes laid in ashes.

The United States troops were soon in pursuit and captured some three hundred Indians and took them to the military prison at Rock Island on the Mississippi river between Illinois and Iowa. There they held them until the spring of 1863, when they were tried by court martial and twenty-three of the leaders were sentenced to be hung; they were duly executed and the balance were made to witness the hanging. The orders from the war department were for the soldiers to take the remaining Indians out on the plains and turn them loose, with instruction to never return to Minnesota.

At this time nearly all the Indians on the plains were at war with each other over disputed territory of their hunting grounds.

The Omahas and Winnebagoes were weak tribes without much ambition, and were satisfied to live and beg from the few settlers in the vicinity of Omaha.

The Pawnees were located on the Loop Fork of the South Platte river and were deadly enemies of the Sioux, the disputed territory being near old Fort Kearney, from there west for two hundred miles up the Platte, and from the line of New Mexico south for six hundred miles.

In the north, the Ogalallas had supreme control, only when menaced by the Pawnees on the east and the Cheyennes on the west, who claimed one hundred miles of the Platte river and some five hundred miles north and south from the west end of the Cheyennes’ territory. They claimed about sixty miles along the base of the mountains, where Denver, Colorado Springs, Greeley and Pueblo now stand. Up in the mountains the Utes claimed their hunting grounds, but would occasionally go down and trespass on the Arapahoes’ territory; then there was sure to be war when this was found out.

This was the condition when nearly three hundred of the murderous band of Yankton Sioux were turned loose on the plains among their kindred.

They at once told their friends, Ogalallas, what a terrible crime the whites had committed in hanging twenty-three of their comrades and chiefs. Hanging, by the way, is the most ignoble death for an Indian imaginable. This remnant of three hundred at once advocated consolidation with all the Indians with whom they were at home, to fight and exterminate the whites. They called councils of war with the Pawnees, who refused to listen.

They then made overtures to the Cheyennes and Arapahoes, when councils were held during the summer of 1863, and speeches made denouncing the whites and calling the Indians fools for fighting among themselves and killing each other, but to combine and annihilate the whites. These councils finally prevailed late in the fall, between the three tribes of Sioux, Cheyennes and Arapahoes. The Pawnees in the east and the Utes in the mountains to the west refusing to participate with their enemies.

This combined force of three tribes soon commenced their depredations, covering a territory five hundred miles wide, east and west of the northern line of New Mexico, to the Canadian line in the northward, a distance of some nine hundred miles.

Forts were established, and soldiers stationed all along the Arkansas and Platte rivers to stop their murderous and destroying raids. But the Indian war on the plains lasted about fifteen years before the government finally got them subdued.

During this time hundreds of emigrants and soldiers were killed and scalped, and millions of dollars worth of property destroyed and stolen.

A few years ago the government created an Indian Depredation Bureau and sent attorneys west to take evidence to establish the claims of those who had been raided. The narrator proved up on his claim for stock stolen and hay burnt to the amount of eighteen thousand, two hundred and eighty dollars and the attorney told him that there was upwards of seventy million dollars in claims for Indian depredations and the government was anxious to have them all filed and settled as soon as possible, since which time there has been no effort on the part of Congress to take the matter up and amend one article so the claimants can be settled with.

Some of the Pioneers of Colorado

Source: True History of some of the Pioneers of Colorado, by Miss Luella Shaw, Press of Carson Harper Co, Denver, Colorado, 1909

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