Great Plains Studies, Center for



Steven C. Haack

Date of this Version

Fall 2013


Great Plains Quarterly 33:4 (Fall 2013).


Copyright © 2013 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska.


When strong tensions exist between cultures, small incidents can have grave consequences. Thus, in August of 1854, when a Sioux Indian living near Fort Laramie, Nebraska Territory, found a lame cow and killed it to feed his family, a sad chapter began. The cow's emigrant owner complained of his loss to the fort's commander, and Lt. John Grattan was soon on his way to a Sioux encampment to demand that the thief be turned over to face justice. As a cannon rolled into place to reinforce his demand, violence broke out, and thirty soldiers, including Grattan, soon lay dead. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis viewed the event as a deliberate and unprovoked attack, and the following year ordered Brig. Gen. William Harney into the field to punish any Native Americans he could find and remind them to stay clear of white roads and settlements. On September 3, 1855, Harney attacked a camp of a few hundred Sioux hunting buffalo, killing eighty-six of them at the Battle of Blue Water Creek in what is now western Nebraska. Over the following year, Harney traveled through the Northern Plains and hammered out a treaty with a number of bands. Although the treaty was never ratified, it was nonetheless held over the Indians' heads for years as a prerequisite to receiving their annuity goods.