1862 - Trouble wth the Sioux

Sioux chiefs, photographed by Edward Curtis

          Several hundred Sioux arrived at Fort Pierre to air their grievances with the new agent, Samuel Latta.  The Indians told him they wanted no presents because the prior agent, a man they called 'Choteau,' had been cheating their people "for a long time."

          This was the age-old problem that Indian Commissioner Medill had attempted to correct a more than a decade earlier -- the problem of thievery by the government's middle men.  The Sioux condemned the Great Father's failure to keep the promises he made in treaties (such as Horse Creek), and later, promises made by General Harney, and they served notice that friendly relations with the government were terminated.

            The fears caused by Harney's strong threats of 1856 at Ash Hollow had faded in the intervening years, and the support D.D. Mitchell had promised to Frightening Bear in 1851 (and the assistance Harney had pledged to Bear's Rib and other chiefs he had designated at the start of 1856), never amounted to anything.  Mitchell was now dead, Fitzpatrick was dead, Frightening Bear was dead (killed during the Grattan Massacre), and the other 'paper chiefs' were scattered to the winds.

            Sioux discontent grew as power wielded by the American Fur Company waned.  Pierre Choteau was forced to sit and listen to his company being publicly criticized without the aid and comfort of his agent, Charles Galpin, who had jumped ship and joined the competition.  Choteau's long domination of the agents assigned by Indian Office to the tribes of the upper Missouri had become attenuated.  In coming months, agent Latta would file charges against the AFC for illegal trade in whiskey, a charge he could not have made (or wouldn't have dared to make) thirty years earlier.

         Latta told his superiors that by being beholden to the fur companies for transportation, shelter, interpreters, etc.,  agents could neither correct the wrongs built into the system, nor long wear their facades as independents.   In the minds of the Indians, the Great Father was inextricably identified with the thieves.  

         Latta went on (bravely) to report: "They (the agents) have involved the govt. in their speculation and schemes; they have enslaved the Indians, kept them in ignorance, taken from them year after year their pitiful earnings, in robes and furs, without giving them an equivalent; discouraged them in agriculture by telling them that should the white man find that their country would produce crops they would come in and take their lands from them."

         Historian S.J. Killoren notes: "The gravity of these charges can hardly be exaggerated. The entire annuity system was rotten to the core."