The first time the term “manifest destiny” was seen in print was in 1839 and the idea of American expansion all the way to the West Coast became popular in the 1840s. (In fact, many of the supporters of manifest destiny saw the United States occupying all of North America and Cuba.) By the 1850s, there was a steady stream of white settlers heading west. The constant river of migrants through the central plains caused tension with the Teton Sioux, who hunted from the White River region south to the North Platte.
Tension turned to skirmishes and military outposts started to crop up throughout the west. First Fort Kearney in Nebraska Territory, then Fort Laramie in Wyoming, and finally Fort Pierre in what was to be Dakota Territory were bought from failing fur companies and populated with soldiers. When it was determined that Fort Pierre was not in good enough condition to house a large military contingent, another post, Fort Randall, was established in Nebraska. These were the first military posts established in the region. Once military posts were established, exploration of the region began. Lieutenant G. K. Warren explored the country above the North Platte River and decided that continued military presence in Sioux country was important for the protection of white traders and settlers.
While the military was moving into the region west of the Missouri River, settlers in the east managed to push a bill through Congress establishing Dakota Territory in March 1861. Everything north of the 43rd parallel became part of Dakota Territory, which included the entire Upper Missouri Valley. There was no great rush to the settle the territory, however, as the nation was involved in the Civil War and trouble with the native inhabitants did little to make the lands inviting. The white population of the Dakota Territory in 1860 was estimated to be about 500 persons, most of whom were located in the southeastern corner of the state.
In the early 1860s, however, gold camps began to spring up in Montana and Congress authorized three roads through Dakota Territory. One of these roads was planned to cross along the southern base of the Black Hills and one would pass by the edge of the northern Black Hills. Neither project was successful, but as a result of the gold camps, river traffic up the Missouri increased significantly and western territories started to clamor for railroads.
In 1863, native tribes were becoming agitated by all the white activity in their regions. Between 1863 and 1868, several skirmishes caused increased military activity in Dakota Territory. Beginning with the Minnesota Santee Sioux, who fled west across the Dakota Plains, unrest spread all the way to the Teton Sioux, who roamed between the Missouri River and the Powder River Valley, northwest of the Black Hills. Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes moved into the Powder River region as well. The military was determined to defeat these tribes and to build a wagon road through the region. What ensued was later called Red Cloud’s War, for the Oglala chief who led the fight to keep the hunting grounds free of white intrusion. While the military did not want peace, the civilians did and in 1868 the treaty of Fort Laramie was signed. Under the terms of the treaty, the United States abandoned the Powder River country, the military posts were shut down, and the Bozeman Road leading to the Montana mines were closed. It was one of the few success stories for the tribes. But it wasn’t to last.
The terms of the treaty also allowed for the construction of a central agency to be built on agency land within the reservation lands. The agency would include a warehouse for native goods, a residence for the government-appointed Indian Agent responsible for ensuring that all parties follow the terms of the treaty, and additional residences for a physician, carpenter, miller, blacksmith, farmer, and engineer. The agency would also build a schoolhouse or mission building and a saw mill. Any tribal member who wished could select land with the guidance of the agent, if his intent was to farm it. The land would be removed from the common ownership of the tribe and be transferred to the individual, as long as that individual continued to cultivate the land. Clothing, food, and financial payments were also promised to the tribes that signed the treaty.
The treaty of 1868 was not signed by all of the native tribes in the regions, and most of the tribes did not live on agency lands. Many of the unsigned tribes would come to the agency, however, collect rations, and on occasion practice raids on nearby white settlers. In response, the military decided that a military outpost was needed somewhere in the Black Hills.
© Laural A. Bidwell from Moon Mount Rushmore & the Black Hills, 1st Edition