The Chicago newspaper declared: “GOLD! The Glittering Treasure Found at Last… A Belt of Gold Territory Thirty Miles Wide.” The article was leaking the news from an illegal US Army expedition into the Great Sioux Reservation.
The reservation, delineated by treaty just six years earlier, included Paha Sapa, the Black Hills, the sacred heart of the Sioux world. The treaty stated that the hills shall be “set apart for the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation of the Indians and no unauthorized person shall ever be permitted to pass over, settle upon, or reside in.” Nevertheless, without permission from the Sioux, General George Custer led an expedition of ten companies of cavalry and infantry, 110 wagons, two engineers, four biologists, two experienced gold prospectors, a photographer, and three newspaper correspondents. It was not a quiet, or secret, affair. The intent, it seemed, was to flood the Indian’s land with trespassers. The expedition was ordered from the top, from President Ulysses Grant. To this day, the Sioux call Custer’s route the “Thieves’ Road”.
The newspaper article continued, “The expedition has solved the mystery of the Black Hills, and will carry back the news that there is gold here, in quantities as rich as were ever dreamed of.”
A New York article was more brazen and prophetic: “A dispatch from Bismarck, Dakota, speaking of Gen. Custer’s expedition, says the explorers are well satisfied with the prospect, and are ready to conduct an expedition to the new Eldorado as soon as the Indian title is extinguished.”
This set in motion a politically contrived war, Custer’s Last Stand, and the eventual internment of most of the Sioux and Cheyenne. It led to the creation of Pine Ridge Reservation (one of the poorest parts of the country today), the Homestake Gold Mine (which produced 10% of the world’s gold), and the Hearst family fortune (from the gold). It also led to the largest civil judgment against the US government, for the illegal seizure of the land. Today, however, the Sioux refuse compensation because they say the Black Hills never were for sale.
Gray, J.S. 1988. Centennial Campaign: The Sioux War of 1876.