This day in history – looking at the road America didn’t take

Sitting Bull, by Palmquist & Jurgens (1884)

19th century US history is mostly a horror show, but it need not have been so.  As we are reminded by this, reposted from the always-interesting Today in History page of the History Channel’s website:


12 November 1867:  U.S. reconsiders war with Plains Indians

After more than a decade of ineffective military campaigns and infamous atrocities, a conference begins at Fort Laramie to discuss alternative solutions to the “Indian problem” and to initiate peace negotiations with the Sioux.

The United States had been fighting periodic battles with Sioux and Cheyenne tribes since the 1854. That year, the Grattan Massacre inspired loud calls for revenge, though largely unjustified, against the Plains Indians. Full-scale war erupted on the plains in 1864, leading to vicious fighting and the inexcusable Sand Creek Massacre, during which Colorado militiamen killed 105 Cheyenne women and children who were living peacefully at their winter camp.


Chief Washakie

By 1867, the cost of the war against the Plains Indians, the Army’s failure to achieve decisive results, and news of atrocities like those at Sand Creek turned the American public and U.S. Congress against the Army’s aggressive military solution to the “Indian problem.”

Concluding that peaceful negotiations were preferable to war, the attendees at the Fort Laramie conference initiated talks with the Sioux. The talks bore results the following year when U.S. negotiators agreed to abandon American forts on the Bozeman Trail in Wyoming and Montana, leaving the territory in the hands of the Sioux.

However, the promise of peace on the central plains was fleeting. Concern about wars between the different Indian tribes led the U.S. to renege on its promise to provide guns to the Cheyenne, and the angry Indians took revenge on Kansas settlements by killing 15 men and raping five women. By late 1868, American soldiers were again preparing for war on the Plains.


For More Information

Summary from the Milestone Documents website, by Mark R. Ellis (Assoc Prof of History, U Nebraska at Kearney):

The Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868) was an agreement between the United States and various bands of Lakota Sioux, Yanktonai Sioux, Santee Sioux, and Arapaho. The treaty ended Red Cloud’s War (1866–1867), established the boundaries of the Great Sioux Reservation, and protected Sioux hunting grounds and the sacred Black Hills from white encroachment. Other provisions of the Treaty of Fort Laramie served as agents of assimilation by trying to induce the Indians to take up farming, wear non-Indian clothing, and educate their children.

The Treaty of Fort Laramie was one of the last great treaties signed between the American government and the Plains Indians. Despite the peaceful intentions of the treaty, the unwillingness of the federal government to live up to its stipulations and the inability of the signing tribes to enforce the treaty on all their members resulted in the Great Sioux War (also known as the Black Hills War) of 1876–1877 and their eventual removal. …

See the Wikipedia entry on the second Treaty of Fort Laramie, aka the Sioux Treaty of 1868.  How it was made.  How it was broken. Results, echoing down to our time.

See the text of the Treaty at the PBS website, in pages about the 1996 documentary New Perspectives on the West.

Posts about Notes from the Past

For more see the FM Reference Page History – economic, military and geopolitical.

Notes with advice from our past:

  1. From the 3rd century BC, Polybius warns us about demographic collapse, 11 June 2008
  2. America’s grand strategy: lessons from our past, 30 June 2008
  3. President Grant warns us about the dangers of national hubris, 1 July 2008
  4. de Tocqueville warns us not to become weak and servile, 21 July 2008
  5. Napoleon’s advice to President Obama about the financial crisis, 29 April 2009
  6. Another note from our past, helping us see our future, 16 September 2009 — by Daniel Ellsberg
  7. A note from America’s diary: “My power proceeds from my reputation…”, 22 September 2009
  8. A lesson from the Weimar Republic about balancing the budget, 10 February 2010
  9. France gives us tips for the Afghanistan War, from their successful role in the American Revolution, 11 March 2010
  10. A great philosopher and statesman comments on the Bush-Obama tweaks to the Constitution, 10 October 2010 — by Edmond Burke
  11. Important history to remember on Earth Day, 23 April 2011
  12. A warning from the past.  Might the American Empire drag down America?, 4 August 2011
  13. Advice from one of the British Empire’s greatest Foreign Ministers, 18 November 2011 — by Lord Palmerston
  14. George Orwell sends us a note, giving some perspective on our situation, 22 January 2012
  15. Rome speaks to us. Their example can inspire us to avoid their fate., 22 April 2012


9 thoughts on “This day in history – looking at the road America didn’t take”

  1. Let’s not forget that the period of Reconstruction was replete with many “problems” not just the Indians. Domestically, there were the Mexicans, Freed Negroes (culminating in the massacre in Wilmington, NC IN 1896), and the Mormons. Internationally, we had raids and occupations in Mexico, the Philippines, and Cuba.

    Interestingly enough, these small wars happened during major technology changes, rapid growth and spiritual unrest- the Industrial Revolution and the Great Awakening. By the 1890s, big recessions hit as many banks collapsed.

    Very similar to changes occurring today.

    1. Agree, the 19th was a horror show in terms of many aspects of social change.

      Slavery in the 1st half, the war (almost everybody else in the world eliminated slavery without massive bloodshed), the successful counter-revolution by the South’s whites (crushed 100 years laters, in the 2nd half of the 20th C).

      Plus the theft of the Native Amererican’s land, the crushing of the labor movement, and the class warfare that created the Gilded Age. Not much to be proud of in this list. None of these things “just happened”.

    2. Maybe this is a stupid comment, but, “The Gilded Age” at first sounds like “The Age of Gold”. But if one considers further, it means something more like “The Age that we covered with a thin gold film”.

  2. It is strange that, even now, the fate of native Americans is a sleeper issue in the USA, barely considered by even thoughtful folks. We still have to be reminded of the fact that we got this big territory by slaughtering the people who already lived there. And the reminders do not always come from the folks one would expect. Thanks for this reminder Fabius.

  3. Tom Hayden, in his book “The Long Sixties”, whose scope is all the social movements that were active during the 1950s/60s/70s, makes the point that the American Indian Movement and Native American Rights in general are possibly the most tenuous and unfinished of movements that were active during that time, with the fewest clear victories. Yet, especially in this period of threatened ecological collapse, the might be the most important of all, because they are the one that combines spirituality, identity, ecology, culture, security… in a way that none of the others manage to. Truthfully it is difficult to even imagine how the American society would change if that particular movement were more successful. But it bears consideration.

  4. Pingback: This day in history – looking at the road America didn’t take « ART 4 AWARENESS

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