Native Americans & Settlers
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Conflict and Negotiation with European Settlers

In the years after the Homestead Act, Europeans moved in ever greater numbers into Native American territory. In the 1860s and '70s, the United States Army was engaged in war with the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes. The Pawnee tribe had fought these other tribes for years, and so the Army turned to the Pawnee for help against a common foe.

The Pawnees became scouts. They were very successful in helping protect the railroad as it was being built across Nebraska, and they accompanied several U.S. Amy expeditions against the warring Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho. But, by the late 1870s, the Pawnee Scouts were disbanded, and the U.S. Government had removed most members of the Pawnee tribe from Nebraska to Indian Territory south of Nebraska.

The Lakota (Sioux), on the other hand, had much more trouble with early emigrants, and their experience sets the stage for the history of homesteading. Trouble with whites began with the California gold rush. In 1850 approximately 50,000 gold seekers traveled the Overland Trail through the heart of Lakota country. The Lakota did not take kindly to these newcomers crossing their land, competing for resources. The government tried to intervene by peaceful means.

Ft. Laramie Treaty of 1851. In 1851 government officials met with Cheyenne, Crow, Blackfeet, Arapaho, Assiniboine, Dakota, Lakota and Nakota tribal members at Fort Laramie, just west of what would become Nebraska in Wyoming. Approximately 10,000 Native Americans camped and talked with U.S. representatives. The tribes and the government negotiated a treaty that had several main points:

  • The treaty called for peace and friendship among rival tribes.

  • It promised each tribe $50,000 each year for 10 years.

  • In exchange, the treaty recognized the U.S. government's right to establish roads and forts and the rights of immigrants to travel on the Overland Trail in peace.

  • The treaty drew lines on the map where tribes were allowed to hunt and fish; later treaties established actual reservations.

  • And the treaty allowed the government to without the money if the tribes violated the terms of the agreement.

The Fort Laramie Treaty set the precedent for U.S. recognition of tribal sovereign rights, and it set off several decades of treaty negotiations and agreements that eventually transferred almost all of the tribal lands to the U.S.

Unfortunately the peace did not last. In 1854 — eight years before the Homestead Act — some Lakota near Fort Laramie butchered an emigrant's cow they thought was abandoned. Lt. John Grattan and 29 soldiers were sent to investigate the incident. Grattan opened fire on the Indian camp. The Indians retaliated, killing all of the soldiers. The next year Gen. William Harney was ordered to restore peace on the trail. He found a Lakota camp at Blue Water Creek in Garden County and attacked it, although the camp residents had nothing to do with the Grattan slaughter. Harney's troops killed 136 men, women, and children. Although peace was restored, pressure continued to build, and war broke out again in 1863 with attacks on Overland Trail travelers. In 1867 the Lakota pushed eastward and attacked a Union Pacific railroad train in Dawson County, Nebraska. Attempts at peaceful settlements resulted in payments of food, guns, and other goods to the Lakota.

There were similar conflicts during the early homestead period with a band of Cheyenne in the Republican River valley of south central Nebraska. Again, a military expedition was sent out in 1869 to subdue the Cheyenne. The campaign killed 50 warriors.

For the immigrants, the threat they felt from Native Americans was probably greater than the actual history. There was conflict — theft, fights and murder on both sides. But there were also hundreds of treaty negotiations across the continent. These treaties lessened the conflict and, more importantly, transferred legal title for land that native tribal people had lived and hunted on for centuries to the U.S.

Some Indian Campaign Medal of Honor recipients
are in the Nebraska Hall of Fame
.
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