Fort Laramie 1869-1879

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The opening years of th 1870s offered hope of lasting peace on the Northern Plains. Destruction of the buffalo herds by hide hunters left the Indians with little choice but to settle on the new reservations in Dakota, where food and supplies were promised. Despite Red Cloud’s pleas to remain near Fort Laramie, the government moved his agency to the White River in Nebraska. After 1873, Fort Laramie was no longer the traditional center of trade between the whites and the Sioux.

News of gold in the Black Hills electrified the nation in 1874. Despite government attempts to preserve Indain treaty rights, miners poured into the region. Submitting to public pressure, in the spring of 1876, the army launched the Bighorn—Yellowstone Expedition to force the Indians back to their agencies. Several major battles ensued, culminating in the defeat of Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer at the Little Bighorn. The fate of a people was sealed.

Relentlessly pursued by the army throughout the following winter and summer, bands of warriors surrendered one by one. The Indians were no longer a proud, free roaming people, but starving, ragtag refugees, and prisoners in their own land.

By the late 1870s, the Northern Plains Indian Wars were essentially over. Settlers now made their homes on former Indian lands, and ranchers acquired great expanses of territory, where cattle replaced the buffalo. Fort Laramie was no longer a strategic outpost in the wilderness, but a fort whose military purpose was waning, a remnant of the old frontier.

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