Year
1923

Indian agent James McLaughlin dies

Best known today for his inadvertent role in the death of Sitting Bull, the prominent Indian agent James McLaughlin dies in Washington, D.C.

Unlike some Indian agents of the later 19th century, McLaughlin genuinely liked and respected his charges. His wife was half Sioux, and she taught her husband to speak her native language reasonably well. In 1871, this valuable skill won McLaughlin a position at the Devils Lake Indian Agency in Dakota Territory and he eventually became the chief agent.

At Devils Lake, McLaughlin gained a reputation for fair and sympathetic treatment of Indians. His appreciation for Indians was strictly limited, however. Like most Indian agents of the day, McLaughlin believed that his mission was to “civilize” the Indians by forcing them to adopt white ways. McLaughlin viewed traditional Indian practices like the Sun Dance and buffalo hunting as obstacles to the inevitable assimilation of the Native Americans into white society. Thus, while he worked hard to improve Indian living conditions, he simultaneously tried to stamp out their culture by promoting the use of English and the adoption of sedentary farming.

In 1881, McLaughlin was transferred to the larger Sioux reservation at Standing Rock, South Dakota. Two years later, the great Sioux Chief Sitting Bull was assigned to the reservation. McLaughlin worried about Sitting Bull. The chief was infamous for his role in the defeat of Custer’s 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876. He was also among the last of the Sioux to accept confinement to a reservation, and his disdain for white ways was well known.

For several years, McLaughlin and Sitting Bull enjoyed a strained but peaceful relationship. In 1890, however, a popular religious movement known as the Ghost Dance swept through the Standing Rock reservation. The Ghost Dancers believed that an apocalyptic day was approaching when all whites would be wiped out, the buffalo would return, and the Indians could return to their traditional ways.

McLaughlin wrongly suspected that Sitting Bull was a leader of the Ghost Dance movement. In December 1890, he ordered the arrest of the old chief, believing this might calm the tense situation on the reservation. Unfortunately, during the arrest, a fight broke out and McLaughlin’s policemen killed Sitting Bull. The murder only exacerbated the climate of fear and mistrust, which contributed to the tragic massacre of 146 Indians by U.S. soldiers at Wounded Knee later that month.

In 1895, McLaughlin moved to Washington, D.C., where he became an inspector for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He eventually became familiar with Indians all around the nation, leading him to write a 1910 memoir entitled, My Friend the Indian. He died in Washington in 1923 at the age of 81 and was buried at the South Dakota reservation town that bears his name.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Rudy Vallée is born

Before the electronic microphone became commonplace in the 1920s, the one quality that was required of every professional singer in every musical genre was a talent for vocal projection—i.e., the ability to make oneself heard over one’s instrumental accompaniment in a live or a ...read more

Worst modern earthquake

At 3:42 a.m., an earthquake measuring between 7.8 and 8.2 magnitude on the Richter scale flattens Tangshan, a Chinese industrial city with a population of about one million people. As almost everyone was asleep in their beds, instead of outside in the relative safety of the ...read more

Bonus Marchers evicted by U.S. Army

During the Great Depression, President Herbert Hoover orders the U.S. Army under General Douglas MacArthur to evict by force the Bonus Marchers from the nation’s capital.Two months before, the so-called “Bonus Expeditionary Force,” a group of some 1,000 World War I veterans ...read more

14th Amendment adopted

Following its ratification by the necessary three-quarters of U.S. states, the 14th Amendment, guaranteeing to African Americans citizenship and all its privileges, is officially adopted into the U.S. Constitution.Two years after the Civil War, the Reconstruction Acts of 1867 ...read more

Hamburg suffers a firestorm

On this day in 1943, the worst British bombing raid on Hamburg so far virtually sets the city on fire, killing 42,000 German civilians.On July 24, British bombers launched Operation Gomorrah, repeated bombing raids against Hamburg and its industrial and munitions plants. Sortie ...read more

Johnson announces more troops to Vietnam

President Lyndon B. Johnson announces that he has ordered an increase in U.S. military forces in Vietnam, from the present 75,000 to 125,000. Johnson also said that he would order additional increases if necessary. He pointed out that to fill the increase in military manpower ...read more

Dennis Martinez pitches perfect game

On this day in 1991, Dennis Martinez of the Montreal Expos pitches a perfect game to lead his team to a 2-0 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Martinez was the first Latino ever to pitch a perfect game.When he debuted with the Baltimore Orioles in 1976 at age 21, Martinez, ...read more

Animal House released

On this day in 1978, National Lampoon’s Animal House, a movie spoof about 1960s college fraternities starring John Belushi, opens in U.S. theaters. Produced with an estimated budget of $3 million, Animal House became a huge, multi-million-dollar box-office hit, spawned a slew of ...read more

Plane crashes into Empire State Building

A United States military plane crashes into the Empire State Building on this day in 1945, killing 14 people. The freak accident was caused by heavy fog.The B-25 Mitchell bomber, with two pilots and one passenger aboard, was flying from New Bedford, Massachusetts, to LaGuardia ...read more

Battle of Ezra Church begins

On this day in 1864, at the Battle of Ezra Church, Georgia, Confederates under General John Bell Hood make a third attempt to break General William T. Sherman’s hold on Atlanta. Like the first two, this attack failed, destroying the Confederate Army of Tennessee’s offensive ...read more

U.S. Senate approves United Nations charter

In a ringing declaration indicating that America’s pre-World War II isolation was truly at an end, the U.S. Senate approves the charter establishing the United Nations. In the years to come, the United Nations would be the scene of some of the most memorable Cold War ...read more

Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia

On July 28, 1914, one month to the day after Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife were killed by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo, Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia, effectively beginning the First World War.Threatened by Serbian ambition in the tumultuous ...read more