Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Native Americans and Fort Robinson

Sunday  Afternoon and Evening August 3, 2014
Red Cloud Campground
Fort Robinson State Park


Sunday Afternoon


As we left our tour wagon of the fort (see yesterday’s post) we noticed that the stage had just pulled up so we walked over to get a picture.  It really is a grand sight to see the stage rolling over the ground with the Cheyenne Buttes in the background.  Visions of another time.   But for now the horse was resting between the large horse barns.  If we were going to be here longer I would definitely like to have this experience.  The prices for all of the interesting activities at this park are very reasonable although I did not check this one. 




But for now, it’s getting warm and we head back for lunch.  The temperature rose to 94.  Actually 110 as soon as the sun hit our outside thermometer.  We didn’t go back out until after 6:00.  Temperatures are in the 90’s during July and August with breaks of 80’s for a few days to apparently give folks a rest. The late afternoon rains cool things off .  The temperatures are predicted to drop into the low 80’s the day after we leave – of course.  But even with afternoons in the 90’s, the mornings and evenings are lovely.  Even late mornings are fine in the shade.  Hot afternoons are the time of naps and reading, blog writing and museums.






On our way back, we passed by the Trailside Museum and discussed going in but after our morning with the mammoths yesterday, we were all mammothed out.  I understand that this too is an area of amazing archeological finds and that the museum is excellent.  I was very tempted by the two mammoths locked in combat but I need time to try to get some headway on the blog posts.




I’m finding this post particularly hard to do.



My experience of these Native American sites within the fort complex took place at multiple times over the 2 days we were here. 

When we first arrived on Saturday I biked over to the information center and among the things I picked up was “A Fort Robinson Chronology”.  I only glanced at it since I’m not very interested in military history or war history.  But the first thing on the sheet was

1868 – Treaty guarantees Sioux and other tribes food and supplies for land ceded to the U.S.  Red Cloud Indian Agency is established on Platte River in Wyoming, just west of the Nebraska line, to distribute goods to the tribes.

1873 – Red Cloud Agency moves to new site on the White River in northwest Nebraska

and so on.  The entire first column and onto the second of the sheet was about the sad history of the Native Americans in this area.  This is a subject I am interested in.  I wasn’t expecting to find this here.



A bit of history is necessary to the death of Crazy Horse at the fort.

It was raining on Saturday when I was reading this material and continued on into the dark.  But the next morning I was up with the sun and walked over to the log buildings where incidents for which the fort is famous or infamous took place.

The three buildings have been reconstructed on their foundations by the Nebraska Historic Society.  In the picture below, the large building is the Calvary Barracks, the middle is the adjunct's office and the third is the guardhouse.  I did not have a distant picture of all three so I borrowed this one from the web to give a sense of the scene.  The campground road and our tour drive are behind the buildings.


log buildings2


I have read several versions of what took place during those years of 1876-79.  As you can imagine, the soldiers have one story and the Indians have another.  It is clear there was an enormous amount of misunderstanding, some due to translation flaws and others due to lies.

The Indian Wars as they are known actually occurred from 1851 to 1890 as the Native Americans on the plains tried to maintain their way of life in the face of the migration of white settlers brought in by the Lewis and Clark expedition’s tales of the rich land to be had and subsequently by the massive onslaught motivated by greed in response to the reports of gold.

The wars actually began soon after the Fort Laramie Treaty in 1851 allowing safe passage for White Settlers along the Oregon Trail.  It was supposed to guarantee safe passage not settlement.  But that’s not what the Indians got and they fought to retain their lands.  They wars continued as more and more white settlers came wanting more and more land and defrauding the Indians.

In 1862 the largest mass execution in American History took place when 38 Santee Sioux were hanged. 



A new trail discovered by John Bozeman brought more miners and settlers into Montana through the heart of the hunting grounds of the Cheyenne and Sioux.  This led to the Red Cloud wars in the years following the Civil War.  Many of the soldiers and generals of the Civil War were reassigned to the Indian Wars. They Cheyenne, the Arapaho and several bands of Sioux joined forces in defense of their way of life.

Finally, with the transcontinental railroad south of the Platte River near completion, the government relented. The Ft. Laramie Treaty of 1868 granted Red Cloud’s demand for abandoning the Bozeman forts in exchange for stopping the raids. The Sioux burned down the forts once they were abandoned.

With the arrival of the railroad, the source of the Plains Indians life style, the buffalo, was disappearing. Not only was the new railroad frightening these once numerous animals, the soldiers and settlers were hunting them by the thousands.




Surveys for another railroad, the Northern Pacific, would make matters even worse by bringing in more settlers to homestead on the surveyed land. But it was the discovery of gold in 1874 in the Santees’ sacred Black Hills that would be the event to cause the next round of fighting.

Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse led the Native warriors. General William T. Sherman and General Philip H. Sheridan, formerly of Civil War fame, led the federal troops. War broke out again when the military ordered Indian hunting bands to come into the agencies or be declared hostile.



And then came the Little Big Horn.




Ultimately the combined Indian forces regrouped on a meadow called Greasy Grass along the Little Bighorn River where General Custer’s decision not to wait for the rest of the army led to his defeat against Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and Gall.

After the Battle of Little Bighorn  many of the Sioux and Northern Cheyennes scattered all around Montana, Wyoming as well as into the Dakotas. Sitting Bull and about 200 of his followers fled to Canada. Crazy Horse remained in the area. Crazy Horse held out during the remainder of 1876 and into 1877. Times were very tough since the buffalo had largely been driven away and the winter season took its toll.  Finally in July of 1877 Crazy Horse worked out an agreement to surrender at Fort Robinson with a few thousand others. Crazy Horse was informed that he could discuss grievances at the fort and in his thinking felt that things could be worked out.




One of the things that Crazy Horse requested after his surrender was an agency on Beaver Creek. General George Cook was not amenable to the request and also reneged on a prior promise to allow the Indians out for a summer buffalo hunt. At the same time the military brass wanted to send Crazy Horse to Washington D.C to show that he was now under the custody of the army and serve as good publicity for the army. Crazy Horse refused, especially because of General Crook's refusal on his demands. The army supposedly also wanted Crazy Horse to fight against the Nez Perce which was the military's latest conflict. Again, Crazy Horse refused.



What happened next is explained in numerous versions. 


Our wagon guide Karen, who has read nearly all the accounts in her 22 years as a guide explained it this way.  Crazy Horse was requested to come to the fort for a meeting with Cook to discuss these issues.  When he got there he waited in the Adjunct’s office for hours.  Cook did not come.  When the Adjunct went to get Cook and explain how long Crazy Horse had been waiting the General said he couldn’t see him until morning and to put him in the guardhouse over night.   Crazy Horse of course thought he was being arrested and resisted arrest.  He was bayonetted by an Army Private in front of the Guardhouse.  He was taken to the Adjunct’s office where he refused to be put on the bed but was laid on the floor.  His warriors summoned his father who was by his side when he died 5 hours later at 11:30PM at the age of 37.   His remains were turned over to his parents the next morning and are buried in an undisclosed location.



The second incident at Fort Robinson was the Cheyenne Outbreak.

The Northern Cheyenne tribe had been removed from their traditional home to a reservation with their Southern Cheyenne kinsmen in Indian Territory (later Oklahoma) in 1877. The following year, after suffering from poor food and diseases and having been denied permission to return north, more than 350 Cheyennes decided to break away from the reservation. Under the leadership of chiefs Dull Knife and Little Wolf, the group moved northward through Kansas. Several clashes with army troops and civilians occurred, with the Indians each time able to elude recapture. Eventually they were able to slip through a cordon along the Union Pacific rail line in Nebraska and resume their northerly trek.

Somewhere in Nebraska the group broke up. Little Wolf and his followers wanted to continue moving north and join the Lakota leader Sitting Bull in Canada. For the time being, they went into hiding in the vast Sand Hills. The second group decided to try to obtain refuge with the Lakota chief Red Cloud, who was a friend of Dull Knife. With this in mind, they set out for the Red Cloud Agency. Unknown to Dull Knife, however, Red Cloud and his people had been moved into Dakota Territory, and only soldiers remained near the old agency.





South of present-day Chadron, Nebraska, an army patrol intercepted Dull Knife and his people, and on October 24, 1878, escorted them into Fort Robinson. A total of 149 men, women, and children were taken into custody and confined in the cavalry barracks. Initially the Cheyennes were free to leave the barracks as long as all were present for evening roll call. Several of the women were even employed at the fort, and this arrangement continued into December 1878.

During this period Dull Knife requested that the Cheyennes be allowed either to join Red Cloud at his agency or to remain in their former northern Plains homeland. Attempts were also being made by Kansas officials to extradite certain members of the group to stand trial for alleged crimes committed during their flight through that state. Washington officials insisted on the return of the Cheyennes to Oklahoma.


By late December the Cheyennes were prisoners in the barracks, no longer allowed to come and go.


The army was under orders to pressure them into returning south, and the Cheyennes were equally determined never to go back to the southern reservation. By the night of January 9, 1879, the impasse had come to a point of crisis, and the Cheyennes broke out of the barracks. Weapons they had hidden earlier were used to shoot the guards, and while some of the men held off the soldiers, the remaining Cheyennes fled in the dark.

A running fight ensued along the White River valley between the fleeing Cheyennes and the pursuing soldiers. At least twenty-six Cheyenne warriors were killed that night and some eighty women and children were recaptured. Those still free eluded the soldiers until January 22, when most were killed or taken prisoner at a camp on Antelope Creek northwest of Fort Robinson. In all, sixty-four Native Americans and eleven soldiers lost their lives during the protracted escape attempt. Dull Knife and part of his family were among the few that managed to get away, and they eventually made their way to refuge with Red Cloud.



The final chapter of the Sioux Wars was played out violently in 1890.

Wovoka, a Paiute mystic, started the Ghost Dance Religion. He taught that the Ghost Dance would bring the “old world” back. The dead would come alive, the buffalo would return and all whites would be removed from the plains. In order to hasten the event, Native American warriors should dance the ghost dance. To an impoverished, defeated and despondent people, most living on reservations, the new religion gave them hope. It was also thought that the ghost dance shirts would protect the wearer from white men’s bullets.

In November of 1890 the U.S. Government banned the Ghost Dance on the Sioux reservations. Sitting Bull, a staunch supporter of the Ghost Dance, was ordered to be arrested. In the scuffle that ensued, Sitting Bull and six of his warriors were killed. Big Foot was also to be arrested but before soldiers arrived, he and his followers set out for the Pine Ridge Agency.

When the 7th cavalry finally found the tribe the soldiers ordered them to camp for the night at Wounded Knee Creek. On the morning of December 29th while Big Foot and other leaders were meeting with the Army officers, a rifle accidentally discharged. Colonel James Forsyth who had arrived to take charge, ordered the troops to shoot. Hotchkiss artillery was used to cut down those men, women and children trying to flee the carnage. One hundred-fifty people including Big Foot had been killed.

This ended the almost forty-year battle by the Sioux to retain their lands and their way of life. They would be allowed neither.


This morning before our Wagon Ride Tour we stopped by the Calvary Barracks



The barracks, shown above, has very nice history displays including a section on the Cheyenne Outbreak.  They also have a film entitled” The Fort Robinson Outbreak” which is excerpted from a longer film “History of the Cheyenne”.  We started to watch it but their equipment failed.  The docent there said she would have it repaired but as we are leaving in the morning  we won’t have time to come back. I  subsequently tried to find it on the internet without success.  But I’ll keep trying as what we saw of it was excellent.

When we came up to the Barracks the docent was reading one of the biographies I am going to read.  She said it was recommended highly to her by the historical society.



The last spot to visit is the Red Cloud Agency site.



After the regular evening rain cooled things off and we’d had dinner we drove the dirt road out to the Red Cloud Agency site.  The drive is beautiful through the Buttes named for the Cheyennes who fled there from Fort Robinson in their effort to return to their homeland.

None of the buildings remain having been demolished by the FDA during their tenure at the fort. The area is mowed, there is a plaque and there are small signs in the various spots where the buildings once stood. Because of the necessity to report in every evening, the Indians really were not free to continue their normal life. This was one of the things they resented. Evidence of many teepee rings was found in the area around the buildings.


Path into the former Red Cloud agency site.


The  monument is in the middle of the mowed area but on the left in this picture.






It’s dark as the storm clouds amass.  It is quiet and the land, despite its sad past, is beautiful.  Not a sound as I look out over the plains and hills lost to these people to whom they meant so much.





Blue signs mark the various sites of the various agency buildings.



One bright spot in the grasses was this Prairie Lily also known as Blazing Star.





Before we leave the Red Cloud Agency site I cut some grasses and sage to leave as an honoring at the site where Crazy Horse died.  Although there are sunflowers, yellow coneflower and the Prairie Lily among others, I cut no flowers as I do not want to interfere with their life cycle and their reseeding of the prairie.   The storm clouds seem to have darkened and increased as I finish







As it sinks low in the sky, we see the sun streaming through the storm clouds.




The orange/red sundown and storm clouds are an appropriate backdrop as we pull onto the campground road and stop to put the grasses and sage atop the memorial.  I find that someone else has had a similar idea.  I will return tomorrow for a picture of these offerings.

I whisper words of apology to a valiant warrior who only wanted to protect his family, his people and his way of life from violent change.   The rains begin in earnest as we reach the coach.   They feel like tears.  Where do my powerful feelings of sorrow and sadness come from?   I have no idea.  



  1. Sad, sad, sad. Beyond sad. Has the Ghost Dance resumed? I know at one time the Sun Dance was banned but I think it is being done today.

  2. You can see why the Indians liked that part of Nebraska, all the way up to the Black Hills...but there were so many terrible things done by the Army and Settlers against the Indians, that's for sure. In my opinion, there are still bad things going on in the Indian Reservations....so much money being poured in yet the people are still living in such poverty without jobs or even a hope for a job. --Dave (GoingRvWay.com)

  3. I have a strong emotional response too. These people were denied so much and fought so valiently only to be marginalized and discriminated against. A dark spot on our nation's history; akin to slavery, but not nearly as spoken of or acknowledged. So sad.

  4. The things that were done to the Native Americans is appalling. Apparently we haven't learned from our history.

  5. Great history! I have always been fascinated by the history of the west, especially as opposed to the old western movies.

  6. The completely quiet prairie and the single Blazing Star touched me so deeply. Denying an entire people their basic freedom, not only of movement but of their spiritual practices, is unforgiveable. Like many in my generation, my ancestry includes both Native American and European. I am at the same time the conquered and the conquering. My heart breaks at what should have been a peaceful blending instead of a bloody clashing of cultures. There can be no excuse, no reason, no justification for the things that happened here and all over the country to the native tribes. Thank you for this sad but critical reminder of the importance of honoring their memory, their reverence for this land, and our obligation to be accepting of all cultures to avoid the sins of our past.

  7. My Mother was very sensitive to the plight of Native Americans. We learned at an early age, from her, about the injustices they suffered which included the "Trail of Tears". I was struck the same way you are there and at the Crazy Horse Memorial which almost brought me to my knees. Crazy Horse, as far as the scale model is concerned, is to be carved not so much as a lineal likeness but more as a memorial to the spirit of Crazy Horse—to his people. With his left hand thrown out pointing in answer to the derisive questions asked by a white man, “Where are your lands now? He replied, “My lands are where my dead lie buried.”

    When I was there, at the fort, I was on my way home--not too happy about heading east. The coyotes howled me to sleep at night. One can almost see and hear them at Fort Robinson.

  8. I am ashamed of the way our ancestors treated the Native peoples of this land. And I'm touched by your compassion. Thank you for sharing this story so well.

  9. Well written Sherry! Truly an eye opening story of a dark time in history. Your tribute to Crazy Horse's memory was very touching. You have a special heart.

  10. traveling the country, hearing the stories, understanding more in depth truly does bring a very sad time in our history to life, in so many ways. . .

    the storm clouds pic was really great!

  11. I read "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" many years ago and although I don't remember much of it, I remember being disturbed by the treatment of the Indians by the early settlers. Very sad. Thanks for the blog - as always, it is very informative.

  12. Our family stayed at Fort Robinson last June. It was just one fort in a series of others that we camped at in order to experience the sad history of the original dwellers of the area and how they were unfairly treated. Also camping there at the same time were participants of the "500 mile hoop run", an annual event honoring sacred Native American sites in the west. To awaken to the distant sounds of their dawn drum ceremony was haunting and brought to mind the many ghosts left behind.

  13. The storm clouds are amazing. I think your sadness comes from the grave injustices by white people towards the Native Americans who were only trying to protect their land and lifestyle. We are such an arrogant people- it's truly sad.

  14. For reasons such as the things you've learned and experienced on this trip, I am so grateful for the gift of travel. Yes, I learned these things in American History, but oh my, how travel has brought them to life. This is beautifully written and your compassionate response rings so genuine. My prayer when I walk away from such an emotional experience is to say, "now that I know, don't let me forget!"

  15. Your compassion is heartfelt and touches all of us who read your words. Although we cannot change the past, we can make a difference today and for the future by the way that we walk in this world. You, my friend, are walking with peace, courage, understanding, and kindness.

  16. A very touching reminder of a sad time in our history. As a teenager I read "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" and many other books about that period. Some places the memories of the past never leaves.

  17. I began to learn about the plight of the Native Americans when we were at Lava Beds National Park and more so when we were in Cherokee, NC. Sad times in American history and I can feel your compassion even the rain came down at the right moment.

  18. As a bred and born Nebraskan who has direct ties to Fort Robinson I can tell you indeed while it is just one of the beautiful places along the Black Hills Trail....it is also a sad and somber place....still to this very day haunted by ghosts of its tragic past.
    One has only to walk out and open yourself up to the feelings of that area and sit quietly at sun down and you can still almost see the lodges and hear the chanting haunting music of the medicine men far off in the distance....you can If you really try actually feel the presence of Red Cloud, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse as they speak to you from beyond the barrier of normal space and time.
    Then and only then can you truly understand what Pah-ha Sappa is all about....the healing place.....the spiritual place......and it's the main reason the area was so fiercely protected and Important to the Nations.
    I invite you all to come and experience the soul healing experience that can transform your life and truly put you in touch with mother earth that is yours if you want it in the entire Black Hills region...
    From The Wildcat Hills of Nebraska through the Black Hills and west to Devils Tower Wyoming.....it is all one country.....one spot.....you will take with you the rest of your life.



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