Timeline of Events Relevant to the Northern Plains Tribes

Pre-1795 - Trading begun with Spanish and French
merchants from St. Louis.
1804 The Sioux meet the Lewis and Clark expedition.
Post Louisana Purchase - Trading posts established
throughout the West to take advantage of established trade networks. Fur trading becomes an important part of Oglala life. Oglala and other Lakota tribes expand their region of influence and control to cover most of the current regions known as North and South Dakota, westward to the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming and south to the Platte River in Nebraska.
1834 - The Oglala become more centrally organized
with most bands following Bull Bear with many of the rest following Smoke. This was a change from their previous more loosely governed bands with many leaders of comparable influence. The Bear Butte area in western South Dakota, extending west to Devil's Tower was the geographic and spiritual center of their world.

The Oglala needed a base which provided access to the southern buffalo herds upon which their lifestyle depended. The area at the joining of the Laramie and North Platte Rivers was optimum for their needs. Simultaneously the fur trading companies were pushing westward along the Indian trading routes. William Sublette also realized that the region near the joining of the Laramie and North Platte Rivers was an ideal site for a trading post. He realized that the beaver were almost gone and that buffalo hides would become a major trade item. He established a post he called Fort William (later to be Fort Laramie) as a trade center. Hoping to compete with the American Fur Company (owned by John Jacob Astor), he sent messengers to the Oglala encouraging them to trade at Fort Laramie. Bull Bear moved 4,000 Oglala to Fort Laramie and made this area the center of Oglala activity for the next 40 years. Bull Bear brought his band the next year. Subsequently Sublette sold the Fort to the American Fur Company. While the Oglala drove other tribes from the Fort Laramie area, other Sioux bands would spend time in the area. By the 1860's many Brulé bands moved to the area.

1849 - The U.S. government purchased Fort Laramie
from the American Fur Company and brought troops in.
1851 - A series of Fort Laramie treaties were signed
with the Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapaho and other Plains tribes delineating the extent of their territories and allowing passage across these territories in exchange for payments to the tribes. The extent of Lakota territories were clearly described. Thus began the incursions of miners and wagon trains on the Oregon and later the Bozeman trails, few at first but an onslaught after the end of the Civil War.
September 3, 1855 - Colonel William Harney uses 1300 soldiers
to massacre an entire Brulé village in retribution for the killing of 30 soldiers who were killed in retribution for the killing of the Brulé chief, Conquering Bear, in a dispute over a cow.

1862 - The Homestead Act
A flood of settlers was unleashed upon the Indian lands.
August 18, 1862 - Beginning of the Sioux Uprising (or Santee War) in Minnesota
driving the Santee Sioux survivors from their homeland to the safety of the lands of their western relatives. By 1864 90% of the Santee, and many of the Teton who sheltered them were dead or in prison.
December 26, 1862 - The mass execution of 38 mostly innocent Sioux men
in Mankato, MN for crimes during the Sioux Uprising. The trials of almost every adult male who had voluntarily surrendered to General Sibley, at a rate of up to 40 a day, were conducted under the premise of guilty until proven innocent. Originally 303 men were condemned to death. President Lincoln intervened and ordered a complete review of the records. This resulted in a reduced list of 40 to be executed. One was reprieved by the military because he had supplied testimony against many of the others. A last minute reprieve removed one more from the list. A mixup in properly recording the names of the men and in associating the records with the proper men resulted in one man being ordered released for saving a woman's life, a day after he was hung.
November 29, 1864 - Massacre at Sand Creek
Colonel Chivington, a sometimes Methodist minister, leads a troop of volunteers and soldiers to Black Kettle's camp at Sand Creek with the sole purpose of killing peaceful Indians. They kill 105 Indian women and children and 28 men, many standing together under a U.S. and a white flag. Afterward, they mutilated the bodies horribly and wore the severed parts on their saddles and their hats.

Unbelievable as it may seem, this event is still classified as a major Civil War battle!

April 9, 1865 - Lee surrenders to Grant at Appomattox;
Civil War ends.
April 14, 1865 - President Lincoln assassinated.
Andrew Johnson becomes president.
July 1865 - General Patrick Conner organizes 3 columns of soldiers
to begin an invasion of the Powder River Basin, from the Black Hills, Paha Sapa, to the Big Horn Mountains. They had one order: "Attack and kill every male Indian over twelve years of age." Conner builds a fort on the Powder River. Wagon trains begin to cross the Powder River Basin on their way to the Montana gold fields.
July 24 - 26, 1865 - Battle of Platte Bridge
The Cheyennes and Lakota besiege the most northerly outpost of the U.S. army and succeed in killing all members of a platoon of cavalrymen sent out to meet a wagontrain as well as the wagon drivers and their escorts.
End of August 1865 - Battle of Tongue River
Connor's column destroys an Arapaho village, including all the winter's food supply, tents and clothes. They kill over 50 of the Arapaho villagers.
Late September 1865 - Roman Nose's Fight
The Cheyenne chief, Roman Nose, in revenge for the Sand Creek massacre, led several hundred Cheyenne warriors in a siege of the Cole and Walker columns of exhausted and starving soldiers who were attempting to return to Fort Laramie. Because they were armed only with bows, lances and a few old trade guns, they were unable to overrun the soldiers, but they harasses them for several days, until Connor's returning column rescued them.
October 14, 1865 - The Southern Cheyenne chiefs sign a treaty
agreeing to cede all the land they formerly claimed as their own, most of Colorado Territory, to the U.S. government. This was the desired end of the Sand Creek massacre.
October, 1865 - Connor returns to Fort Laramie
leaving 2 companies of soldiers at the fort they had constructed at the fork of the Crazy Woman Creek and the Powder River. Red Cloud and his warriors kept these men isolated and without supplies all winter. Many died of scurvy, malnutrition and pneumonia before winter's end. They were not relieved until June 28 by Col. Carrington's company.
Late Fall, 1865 - Nine treaties signed with the Sioux
Including the Brulés, Hunkpapas, Oglalas and Minneconjous. These were widely advertised as signifying the end of the Plains wars although none of the war chiefs had signed any of these treaties.
April 1, 1866 - Congress overrides President Johnson's veto
of the Civil Rights Bill, giving equal rights to all persons born in the U.S. (except Indians). The President is empowered to use the Army to enforce the law.
Late Spring 1866 - War chiefs Red Cloud, Spotted Tail, Standing Elk, Dull Knife
and others come to Fort Laramie to negotiate a treaty concerning access to the Powder River Basin. Shortly after the beginning of the talks, on June 13, Col. Henry Carrington and several hundred infantry men reached Fort Laramie to build forts along the Bozeman trail. It was clear to the chiefs that the treaty was a mere formality; the road would be opened whether they agreed or not. This was the beginning Red Cloud's War.
June 13, 1866 - Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,
giving negroes rights of citizenship, is forwarded to the states for ratification.
July 13, 1866 - Col. Carrington begins building Fort Phil Kearney
He halts his column between the forks of the Little Piney and the Big Piney Creeks, in the best hunting grounds of the Plains Indians, and pitches camp. The Cheyenne visit and decide that the camp is too strong for them to attack directly and begin plans for harassing the soldiers who leave the camp and for drawing out soldiers by using decoys. All summer they harasses the soldiers and make alliances with other Plains groups, forming a coalition of Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapaho and Crow groups.
December 21, 1866 - Fetterman Massacre
Early in December the young Lakota warriors, including Crazy Horse, executed an elaborate decoy manuever to draw soldiers out of the fort. They were very successful and killed several officers and severely wounded several other soldiers. In the next weeks an ambush was carefully planned and a location for a trap was chosen. Two thousand warriors moved south and set up camp two miles north of the chosen trap location. Ten young warriors were selected from the different tribal groups represented for the most dangerous job of decoying the soldiers. These decoys performed elaborate manuevers to lure the soldiers into the trap. When they were all inside the trap, the decoys signaled to the concealed warriors who rose up and killed all 80 of the soldiers. Nonetheless, casualties among the Indians were great because they were poorly armed to compete with the new repeating rifles of the soldiers. The Indians named this battle The Battle of the Hundred Slain. The whites knew it as the Fetterman Massacre because the soldiers were led by Captain Fetterman, who had boasted that he could defeat the entire Sioux Nation with a single company of cavalrymen.

Col. Carrington was appalled by the mutilation of the bodies they found. Had he seen the bodies of the Indians slain at Sand Creek, the condition of these bodies would have come as no surprise.

Summer, 1867 - Grand Council of 6,000 tribes at Bear Butte,
the sacred mountain of the Cheyenne, attended by Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, and Sitting Bull, among other great leaders, pledged to end further encroachment by the whites.
Treaty of 1868 - The Army agrees to abandon the forts on the Bozeman Trail
The treaty creates the Great Sioux Reservation and agrees that the Sioux do not cede their hunting grounds in Montana and Wyoming territories. The Indians agree to become "civilized." George Armstrong Custer established himself as a great Indian fighter by leading the Massacre on the Washita in Indian Territory (Oklahoma) in which Black Kettle is killed.
Map of the Great Sioux Nation

A photograph of Gen. William T. Sherman and commissioners in council with Indian chiefs at Ft. Laramie, Wyo. ca. 1867-68. is available in the Gallery of the Frontier.

January 23, 1870 - The Massacre on the Marias
173 Blackfeet men, women and children were slaughtered by U.S. soldiers on the Marias River in Montana in response for the killing of Malcolm Clarke and the wounding of his son by a small party of young Blackfeet men.

1873 - Custer and the Seventh Cavalry come to the northern plains
to guard the surveyers for the Northern Pacific Railroad. He has a chance encounter with Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.
1873 - The panic of 1873 is followed by the collapse of the economy.
A depression that lasts until 1877 follows.
1874 - An expedition led by Custer finds gold in the Black Hills, Paha Sapa.

A photograph of a column of cavalry, artillery, and wagons, commanded by Gen. George A. Custer, crossing the plains of Dakota Territory. By W. H. Illingworth, 1874 Black Hills expedition is available in the Gallery of the Frontier.
A photograph of a panoramic view of the camp at Hidden Wood Creek. By Illingworth, 1874, during Custer's Black Hills expedition.
A photograph of "Our First Grizzly, killed by Gen. Custer and Col. Ludlow." By Illingworth, 1874, during Black Hills expedition.
A photograph of a Hunting and camping party of Custer (standing in center) and invited guests. Fort A. Lincoln on the Little Heart River, Dak. Terr., 1875.

1875 - The U.S. government attempts to purchase Paha Sapa and fails.
1876 - The U.S. government issues an ultimatum that all Sioux
who are not on the Great Sioux Reservation by January 31 will be considered hostile. The winter is bitter and most Sioux do not even hear of the ultimatum until after the deadline.

A photograph of Deadwood in 1876. General view of the Dakota Territory gold rush town from a hillside above. By S. J. Morrow.
A photograph of Gayville in Deadwood Gulch, Black Hills [Dak. Terr.], 1876. Log cabins under construction at the foot of a hillside.

March 17, 1876 - General George Crook's advance column attacks a Sioux/Cheyenne
camp on the Powder River. The people were driven from their lodges and many were killed. The lodges and all the winter supplies were burned and the horse herd captured. That night, the warriors recaptured the horse herd. The people then sought refuge in Crazy Horse's camp an few miles away.

A photograph of cinching and loading pack mule with flour during starvation march of Gen. George Crook's expedition into the Black Hills. By S. J. Morrow, 1876.
A photograph of a horsedrawn stretcher carrying a wounded man from the Battle of Slim Buttes, Dak. Terr. By Morrow, 1876.
A photograph of Valentine T. McGillycuddy, surgeon and topographer on hunger march with General Crook's expedition to the Black Hills, Dak. Terr., 1876.
A photograph of Gen. Crook's headquarters in the field at Whitewood [Dak. Terr.]. On starvation march 1876." Closeup of a camp scene shows tents improvised from wagon frames during the Black Hills expedition.

Spring 1876 - Sitting Bull organizes the greatest gathering of Indians
on the northern plains.
June 17, 1876 - In the Battle of the Rosebud, General Crook is forced
to retire from the "pincers" campaign.
June 25, 1876 - The Battle of the Little Bighorn, where General
George Armstrong Custer and 210 men under his command are killed. The news reaches the east for the Independence Day Centennial celebrations.

A photograph of the scene of Gen. Custer's last stand, looking in the direction of the ford and the Indian village." A pile of bones on the Little Big Horn battlefield is all that remains, ca. 1877.

October 1876 - Colonel Nelson "Bear Coat" Miles arrived
on the Yellowstone River to take command of the campaign against the northern plains indians. The Manypenny Commission demands that the Sioux give up Paha Sapa or starve. Having no choice, Red Cloud, Spotted Tail and the other reservation chiefs signed over Paha Sapa.
Early May -1877 - Sitting Bull escapes to Canada.
He has about 300 followers with him.
On May 6, 1877 - Crazy Horse surrenders at Fort Robinson.
On May 7, 1877 - a small band of Minneconjou Sioux is defeated
by General Miles, thus ending the Great Sioux Wars.
On September 6, 1877 - Crazy Horse is killed at the hands of soldiers
and some of his own people.
The Manypenny Agreement is ratified by Congress,
taking Paha Sapa and confining the Indians to reservations.
January, 1878 - A Commission finds the Indian Bureau permeated with
"cupidity, inefficiency, and the most barefaced dishonesty." The department's affairs were "a reproach to the whole nation." Carl Schurz had already dismissed the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, John Q. Smith on September 27, 1877. He now discharged many more Bureau employees and began a reorganization of the Indian agents.
July 19, 1881 - Sitting Bull and 186 of his remaining followers surrender
at Fort Buford. He is sent to Fort Randall for 2 years as a prisoner of war instead of being pardoned, as promised.
Late Summer, 1881 - Spotted Tail is assassinated by Crow Dog.
White officials dismiss the killing as a simple quarrel, but the Sioux feel that it was the result of a plot to wrest control from a strong Indian leader.
1883 - Sitting Bull is allowed to go to the Standing Rock Reservation
where he lived the rest of his life across the Grand River from his birthplace.
1885 - Sitting Bull tours with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.
1887 - The Dawes Severalty Act, otherwise known as the
General Allotment Act, gives the President power to reduce the landholdings of the Indian nations across the country by allotting 160 acres to the heads of Indian families and 80 acres to individuals. The "surplus lands" on the reservations were opened up to settlement.
1889 - The Sioux sign an agreement with the U.S. government
breaking up the great Sioux Reservation. The Sioux will get six separate small reservations. The major part of their land was thrown open to settlers.
Mid-1890 - A prophet from the Paiutes in Nevada, Wovoka,
introduces a new religion, based on the Ghost Dance, to all Indian people.
1890 - The Ghost Dance religion sweeps across the Sioux reservation.
Sitting Bull is killed on December 15 by Indian policemen, acting on behalf of the U.S. government. On December 29, Big Foot's band of Minneconjous, trying to reach Pine Ridge and the protection of Red Cloud after hearing of Sitting Bull's death, are massacred at Wounded Knee Creek on December 29 by Custer's old outfit, the Seventh Cavalry.

A photograph of officers in tent by fire during the Pine Ridge campaign, 1890-91.
A photograph of the return of Casey's scouts from the fight at Wounded Knee, 1890-91." Soldiers on horseback plod through the snow.
A photograph of Big Foot, leader of the Sioux, captured at the battle of Wounded Knee, S.D." Here he lies frozen on the snow-covered battlefield where he died, 1890.

Shop at our online calendar & poster store! We have selected a great group of posters with images of Notable Native Americans, creations of many Native American artists, portraits made by Edward Curtis, and a large selection of other images and calendars.

Other timelines are available online:
Annotated Chronology for Bear Butte in the Black Hills, and
Milestones for the Great Sioux Nation
A broader timeline of Native American - Euro-American contact from the Heard Museum
A timeline from 15,000 years ago until 1492! from Maricopa College.
A Cherokee History timeline

This timeline is based upon the following references:

Brown, Dee, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, 1970, Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Fuess, Claude M., Carl Schurz, Reformer, 1932, Dodd, Mead, NY.

Welch, James, 1994, Killing Custer, 1994, W.W. Norton, New York.

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© 1995 - Karen M. Strom