The end of the Civil War wrapped up one conflict, in a way, but tensions were mounting on a different front. While the Reconstruction period was very difficult for the African American population and for everyone in the South, there were escalating aggressions in the west. The US government had forced most Native Americans to leave their lands by the late 1830s, and as we reached the 1870s, the situation had reached a boiling point. The population of the Lakota (Sioux), Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes, especially, were ready to fight for their land. While the Sioux had been forced to lose some of their land in a treaty with the US government, their reservation lands, which had once been out of the way, were infiltrated by white men during the fervor of the Black Hills Gold Rush. The Black Hills was land sacred to them and the breakage of trust with the government very offensive.
There had been longstanding rumors of gold in the Black Hills before the gold rush, which only heightened the event when it did take place. In 1874, the government sent Custer on an expedition to the Black Hills in order to find a good location for a fort and to see if there really was any gold. How this works in our government’s mind when it wasn’t their land is a conundrum to me, but where there’s greed, there’s a will and a way. The expedition included over 1,000 men and 110 wagons. Custer’s 7th Cavalry, miners, guides, etc. were all a part of the mission. Custer was the leader and led the men slowly through the Black Hills. It’s reported that sometimes they only trekked a few miles a day. They were taking their time and getting a feel for the area. The US government did not know much about the Black Hills at all, except for its importance to the Sioux nation. They were curious, at best, but the rumors of gold were too strong an incentive to begin scouting the area, with an eye of making it theirs once again.
The Sioux nation, of course, was not amused. They had safeguarded their sacred hills, they had believed, in 1868, only six years previously. In the treaty, the US government recognized the Black Hills as part of the Great Sioux Reservation, to be exclusive land for the Sioux population. The US government had created the treaty to end the Sioux War, and in breaking it, they paved the way for the events of the Battle of Little Bighorn or, as many know it, Custer’s Last Stand.