Wild West

WORST OF THE SIOUX WARS

Historians generally divide the latter 19th-century conflicts with the Sioux tribes—the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota—into five wars, the first beginning in 1854. The one most written about was the fourth, the Great Sioux War of 1876–77, as it included the shocking June 25–26, 1876, defeat of Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer’s 7th U.S. Cavalry along the Little Bighorn River in Montana Territory and brought about the surrender of most of the free-roaming Lakotas and Northern Cheyennes the following spring. A decade earlier Red Cloud’s War (the third Sioux war) stood out because it ended in victory for the Plains Indians and led to the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, though the peace would not prove as lasting as either side desired. The Ghost Dance War of 1890–91 was the last of the five and is remembered for the infamous battle turned massacre at Wounded Knee. In sizing up the Sioux wars, however, the one that rates as the deadliest—and remains the most overlooked by historians and the public—is the second, the Dakota War of 1862.

The First Sioux War was sparked by 2nd Lieutenant John Lawrence Grattan’s ill-conceived August 19, 1854, confrontation with Lakota Chief Conquering Bear over a passing Mormon emigrant’s stolen cow. The resulting clash proved fatal to Grattan and his command, as well as the chief. The major clash of the conflict was the September 3, 1855, Battle of Ash Hollow, in which Colonel William S. Harney and 600 soldiers destroyed a Brulé Lakota village on Blue Water Creek in western Nebraska Territory. Total casualties for the war numbered around 200. A treaty signed by Harney and various Sioux tribes in 1856 was never ratified by the U.S. Senate, and whatever peace was established proved ephemeral. In the absence of a tactical manual on Indian fighting, the outcome of Harney’s on-the-job training suggested one conceivable strategy—wholesale destruction of Indian villages.

Six years later came the Dakota War (aka the Sioux Uprising), which started that August when the Dakotas in Minnesota erupted and killed as many as

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