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What is the Black Hills War?

The Black Hills War, also known as the Great Sioux War of 1876, was a series of battles between the Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne tribes, and the United States. Sparked by gold discoveries and broken treaties, it featured the legendary Battle of Little Bighorn. How did this conflict shape U.S. history and Native American rights? Join us to explore the profound impacts.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The Black Hills War was a period of conflict lasting from 1876-1877 which took place in a region of the United States now covered by Montana and North Dakota. This series of skirmishes and battles became famous due to the involvement of General Custer, who fought in the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, dying along with almost half of the cavalry he led into battle. Ultimately, the Black Hills War was resolved with a treaty, but not without significant bloodshed in the process.

Native Americans have lived in the Black Hills area for thousands of years, with various tribes controlling these famous mountains at different points in history. By the 1800s, the Lakota Sioux had gained control of the Black Hills, and they had established a treaty with the United States which allowed them exclusive use of the land. However, in 1874, an expedition led by none other than George Armstrong Custer found gold in the area, triggering a gold rush.

A gold rush that attracted unwanted visitors angered the Lakota Sioux and triggered the Black Hills War.
A gold rush that attracted unwanted visitors angered the Lakota Sioux and triggered the Black Hills War.

The Lakota Sioux became extremely angry as intruders entered their sacred lands to search for gold, and they started fighting back, citing the treaty, which explicitly forbade non-Indians on the land. However, the United States was more interested in the gold than the treaty, and once the Lakota attacked American troops directly, the Black Hills War was launched. In a series of sometimes very brutal conflicts, American soldiers vied with the Lakota and their allies to control the Black Hills.

General Custer is famous for his defeat at the Battle of Little Bighorn, part of the Black Hills War.
General Custer is famous for his defeat at the Battle of Little Bighorn, part of the Black Hills War.

Ultimately, the two sides established a treaty to put an end to the Black Hills War. In the treaty, the Lokota ceded part of their sacred land, in return for an expansion of their reservation in another direction. The gold rush petered out shortly afterwards, but thriving cities like Deadwood and Custer City had been legitimized, thanks to the treaty, and they continued to grow.

The events of the Black Hills War were repeated in many other parts of the United States with different Indian tribes as the American government tried to seize control of as many valuable natural resources as it could. The reservation system may have originally established with the lofty goal of providing Indians with specific territory, but it ended up being used as a tool to corral Native Americans. Many tribes were forced into unfamiliar territory, and ceded land of poor quality which no one else wanted, creating festering resentments which still cause social problems in some parts of the United States.

Frequently Asked Questions

What was the Black Hills War and when did it take place?

The Black Hills War, also known as the Great Sioux War of 1876, was a series of battles and skirmishes fought between the United States and several bands of the Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes. The conflict began in 1876 and stemmed from the discovery of gold in the Black Hills of Dakota Territory, a region sacred to the Native Americans and promised to them by the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie. The U.S. government's attempts to purchase the land were rejected, leading to military expeditions into the territory and subsequent warfare.

Why are the Black Hills significant to the Native American tribes involved in the war?

The Black Hills, known as Paha Sapa to the Lakota Sioux, hold immense spiritual significance for the tribes. According to their beliefs, the Black Hills are the heart of everything that is and the place where the Lakota originated. The region is rich in cultural history, with many sacred sites used for religious ceremonies. The 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie had granted the Black Hills to the Lakota in perpetuity, recognizing their right to the land and its importance to their way of life.

What was the outcome of the Black Hills War?

The Black Hills War concluded with a victory for the United States, although it was marked by notable Native American successes, including the Battle of Little Bighorn where Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer's 7th Cavalry was defeated. Despite these victories, the overwhelming military pressure and dwindling resources forced the Native American tribes to surrender. The U.S. government subsequently annexed the Black Hills, and the Fort Laramie Treaty was effectively nullified, leading to the forced relocation of the tribes to reservations.

Who were some key figures involved in the Black Hills War?

Key figures in the Black Hills War included Lakota Sioux leaders Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, who were instrumental in organizing resistance against U.S. forces. On the American side, notable figures included Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, whose defeat and death at the Battle of Little Bighorn became legendary, and Generals Alfred Terry and George Crook, who led military campaigns against the Native American tribes.

How has the Black Hills War impacted U.S. history and Native American relations?

The Black Hills War has had a lasting impact on U.S. history and Native American relations. It highlighted the U.S. government's willingness to violate treaties when economic interests were at stake, contributing to a legacy of mistrust between Native American tribes and the federal government. The war also led to the further displacement and marginalization of Native American tribes. Contemporary legal and political battles over the Black Hills continue, reflecting ongoing disputes over land rights and sovereignty.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HistoricalIndex researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HistoricalIndex researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

PurpleSpark

@SnowyWinter: Custer was a United States Army officer and cavalry commander. Custer served in the Civil and Indian Wars. He is mostly remembered for the disastrous military engagement known as the “Battle of the Little Bighorn”.

Custer was sent to the West after the Civil War to fight in the Indian Wars. He was defeated and killed in the “Battle of Little Bighorn” in 1876. It is famously known in history as “Custer’s Last Stand”.

SnowyWinter

Does anyone have any more information on General Custer?

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    • A gold rush that attracted unwanted visitors angered the Lakota Sioux and triggered the Black Hills War.
      By: Maksim Shebeko
      A gold rush that attracted unwanted visitors angered the Lakota Sioux and triggered the Black Hills War.
    • General Custer is famous for his defeat at the Battle of Little Bighorn, part of the Black Hills War.
      General Custer is famous for his defeat at the Battle of Little Bighorn, part of the Black Hills War.