With the buffalo all but exterminated by 1884 much of the Plains Indians'
culture had vanished. The destruction had begun more than a generation
earlier with the first sizeable emigrations by white settlers in the early 1840s.
The next two decades saw some two hundred thousand emigrants following
the famous Oregon Trail which cut through the very heart of Plains Indian
country. Not only did large numbers of people destroy or frighten the game
away, but the indigenous people were exposed to European diseases, such
as whooping cough, cholera and smallpox, to which they had little or no
immunity. To protect the settlers, many of the old fur trading forts, such
as Laramie, Pierre and Union, were purchased by the government and
turned into military posts.
Clashes were inevitable, the first major confrontation occurring near Fort
Laramie in August 1854 between some thirty men commanded by Lieutenant
John Grattan and a large number of Oglala Sioux warriors, including the
young Makhpiya-luta, 'Red Cloud' (who in years to come would emerge as
an outstanding leader and diplomat). This tragic battle left all of Grattan's
men dead and Grattan himself with twenty-four arrows in his body.
So began the wars of suppression, with their brutal conflicts - Ash Hollow
(1855), Sand Creek (1864), Washita (1868), the Sitting Bull wars of 1876,
Custer's defeat (1876), and the death of Crazy Horse (1877) among them -
underlining the immense differences between Native and white cultures.
The bitter confrontations ended in December 1890, on a small creek in
South Dakota when the Miniconjou chief, Big Foot, and more than one
hundred and forty of his band - men, woman and children - died at the hands
of the American cavalry. Spiritually, many more hearts were buried at
Wounded Knee for it epitomized the final tragic end of the historic
Plains Indian culture.
This candle is for all those men, woman and children that
died in the above atrocities; let their spirit live on!
Graphics © Courtesy of Sam Silverhawk