The 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, signed here, was an agreement by the United States government to not invade or capture a huge swath of land held then by several Indian tribes. These included: the Sioux (Lakota), Cheyennes, Arrapahoes, Crows, Assinaboines, Gros-Ventre Mandans, and Arrickaras.
The land itself mostly followed natural boundaries. This included most of western South Dakota, some of North Dakota, most of eastern Wyoming, and a chunk of the northwestern part of Nebraska. Most sacred to both the Lakota and Cheyenne were the Black Hills in South Dakota.
Like most treaties, the United States government promised to pay annuities for decades – in this case, fifty years. Typically, these payments would be made in the form of goods, supplies, and farming equipment.
Once the treaty was signed by the Indians and federal officials, it was forwarded to the United States Senate. As would become typical, they shaved down the promised payments from fifty years to ten.
But this would hardly matter, as the whites broke the treaty almost immediately with the Pike’s Peak gold rush of 1858. The more white settlers moved west, the more the various tribes, once spread out, were crammed together. This naturally caused the people to fight over resources and for years a complex array of chaos ensued.
This led to Red Cloud’s War in 1866 and finally another Treaty of Fort Laramie two years later. The new treaty formally signed over the Black Hills to the Lakota.
Less than a decade later, the United States again renegged on the treaty and stole the Black Hills from the Lakota.
Over a century later, in 1980, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the federal government did indeed violate the treaty by stealing the land. For the loss of the 9 million acres, the court granted the Lakota $15.5 million.
This land now holds such tourist attractions of Mt. Rushmore, Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park, as well as the cities of Sturgis and Rapid City.
The Lakota have refused to accept the payment. They believe that doing so would settle the affair, that it would allow the United States to justify the theft. The money remains in an interest bearing account, now worth well over $1 billion.
‘The Aforesaid Nations’
Camera: Argus C3 (1957)
Film: Tasma Mikrat 300 (x-1975); 6iso
Process: Rodinal; 1+100; 60min.
Fort Laramie, Wyoming