Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

by Dee Brown

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Summary and Analysis Chapter 12: The War for the Black Hills

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 591

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Sitting Bull: Sioux chief and leader of the Hunkpapas who led Indians to victory at Little Bighorn.

Crazy Horse: Oglala chief and an advocate of defending the Black Hills who helped win battles at Rosebud and Little Bighorn.

General George Crook: An Army general who defeated the Apaches and led Army soldiers in battle at Rosebud and campaigns against Plains Indians. He later resigned his post under pressure.

In the early 1870s, rumors of gold in the Black Hills spread through white settlements on the Plains, and miners begin to converge on the area. After Custer and his Seventh Cavalry go to the Hills in 1874 and come back with the report that they were filled with gold, a flood of white men go there to pan and mine for gold. The Sioux, angry over the invasion of Paha Sapa, as they called the Black Hills, clash with Army soldiers. Red Cloud and Spotted Tail protest the invasions and the Army’s failure to protect the Sioux’s territory, and a peace council is held in September 1875. The Indians debate whether to demand for the gold taken from the Hills or simply resist the invasion. After rejecting an offer for the purchase of mineral rights for the Black Hills or their outright purchase, the Sioux decide on resistance. The Army responds by preparing for military operations against the Sioux throughout late 1875 and early 1876. On March 17, 1876, troops attack a Cheyenne and Oglala camp near the Powder River, and the camp is destroyed, along with 1200 to 1500 ponies. The Indians then win a clash at Rosebud on June 17. They move on to Little Bighorn, and on June 29 they route General Custer in the famous Battle of Little Bighorn. Whites respond to this defeat with outrage, and a commission is sent out to make a treaty. The treaty removes the Indians from the Black Hills and sends them to lands bordering the Missouri River. On September 9, the Army attacks Sioux chief American Horse’s village, and on October 22, Colonel Miles and Sitting Bull meet, but with no results. Soldiers then attack Bull Knife’s village in January 1877, and they clash with Crazy Horse’s soldiers on January 8. Crazy Horse surrenders with his Oglala band at Fort Robinson in April, and he is stabbed to death by a soldier on September 5.

At the start of the chapter, whites are again invading Indian land to search for gold, and again, the Army does little to stop that invasion. However, the government is willing to negotiate for the Black Hills minerals rather than simply seize them by force. The Indians, though, chose to protect their land rather than make money by selling their mineral rights. Brown clearly declares that this refusal led directly to the Army’s preparations for a large mobilization against the Sioux. Once again, it seems the whites planned to take by force what they couldn’t gain by treaty.

The defeat of Custer, a monumental event in traditional histories of the West, is discussed at some length, but Brown gives greater emphasis to the ultimate defeat of the Sioux. Sitting Bull’s decision to flee to Canada, although perhaps a wise move, was made from a position of weakness, and as the story of the subjugation of the Cheyenne and murder of Crazy Horse is told, the Indians’ future appears extremely dim. Little Big Man’s desertion of his people to become an agency policeman is a small emblem of their fading hopes for an independent existence on their own lands.

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