November 12

This Day in History

Old West

Nov 12, 1867:

U.S. reconsiders war with Plains Indians

After more than a decade of ineffective military campaigns and infamous atrocities, a conference begins at Fort Laramie to discuss alternative solutions to the "Indian problem" and to initiate peace negotiations with the Sioux.

The United States had been fighting periodic battles with Sioux and Cheyenne tribes since the 1854. That year, the Grattan Massacre inspired loud calls for revenge, though largely unjustified, against the Plains Indians. Full-scale war erupted on the plains in 1864, leading to vicious fighting and the inexcusable Sand Creek Massacre, during which Colorado militiamen killed 105 Cheyenne women and children who were living peacefully at their winter camp. By 1867, the cost of the war against the Plains Indians, the Army's failure to achieve decisive results, and news of atrocities like those at Sand Creek turned the American public and U.S. Congress against the Army's aggressive military solution to the "Indian problem."

Concluding that peaceful negotiations were preferable to war, the attendees at the Fort Laramie conference initiated talks with the Sioux. The talks bore results the following year when U.S. negotiators agreed to abandon American forts on the Bozeman Trail in Wyoming and Montana, leaving the territory in the hands of the Sioux.

However, the promise of peace on the central plains was fleeting. Concern about wars between the different Indian tribes led the U.S. to renege on its promise to provide guns to the Cheyenne, and the angry Indians took revenge on Kansas settlements by killing 15 men and raping five women. By late 1868, American soldiers were again preparing for war on the Plains.

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