1855 - Harney sent to make peace with Indians

An artists depiction of the Battle of Ash Hollow.

        Declaring "By God, I'm for battle - no peace,"  General Harney (below) leads his troops west and soon surrounds the Brule leader, Little Thunder, at Blue Water Creek, north of Ash Hollow near the North Platte River.  Harney's aggression gave the Sioux little choice but to respond with violent resistance.

         On Sept. 3, the Sioux learned the power of the US military when Harney destroyed Little Thunder's camp, rounded up 70 hostages of women and children, and then moved on to challenge other groups who had been called in by the new agent for the Upper Platte, Thomas S. Twiss, for a peace council.  That peace, Harney declared, would only come after they had given up "the murderers" who attached a mail wagon near Fort Laramie.


        These and other encounters with Harney, seemingly unprovoked, taught the western tribes that despite the peaceful coexistence promised in the 1851 treaty at Horse Creek, the White Man's Medicine Trail (the Oregon Trail) was to be regarded as belonging exclusively to the white nation.  At a council with the Sioux in March 1856, Harney, who regarded Horse Creek as amounting to nothing more than  "molasses and crackers,' issued his own ultimatum: "The Indians must not obstruct or lurk in the vicinity of roads traveled by whites."

          He conducted a council on Nov. 9 at Fort Pierre, telling the Indians that warfare against the Sioux would be halted only if all demands of the government were accepted.

         Enboldended by Harney's strong showing, Congress continued to appropriate money for new roads that would now be "built through the territories purely as aids to their development and settlement," despite the fact that just three years earlier, Congress had ratified a treaty that formally recognized the Indians as the titled owners of that land. 

         Harney's massacre of Little Thunder's band is among the first 'post Laramie massacre's' that would mark the U.S.'s official policy toward the 'savages' of the plains. "Though hailed as a great victory and an additional plume in Harney's crest of fame," wrote one historian,  "the battle of Ash Hollow was a shameful affair, unworthy of American arms and a disgrace to the officer who planned and executed it…the opportunity was not given (the Indians to surrender) and the massacre which ensued was as needless and barbarous as any which the Dakotas have at any time visited upon the white people."

          In July, a treaty approved by Comanche, Apache and Kiowa, reaches Washington.  But things were not going well for their neighbors to the north, the Arapaho and Cheyenne.  The time was not far distant when the buffalo would cease to exist, and with the buffalo gone, relations with the tribes would take a dramatic turn for the worse.  (see profile in People)

        Reflecting on his many years of service in Indian Country at the end of his long career, General Harney told Congress that he never knew an Indian leader to break his word.