In 1868 the Lakota people signed a treaty guaranteeing their rights to the Black Hills of
"South Dakota". Later that year, the U.S. Army led by George Armstrong Custer slaughtered
an unarmed gathering of Cheyenne encamped at the Washita River
-- again killing mostly women and children.
Between 1870 and 1884, eleven southern states passed laws forbidding interracial marriages.
In 1872 a scandal erupted in President Grant's administration. The public learned
that shares in railroad stock had been given to congressmen who then made huge
profits on the stock by approving federal subsidies for the railroad, and ignoring
In 1874, in direct violation of the 1868 treaty with the Lakota, an expedition
was led into the Black Hills area by Custer. On that expedition gold was
discovered in the Black Hills. Soon a rush of prospectors flooded the area.
Seeing the treaty so blatantly disregarded, the Lakota revolted.
The revolt led to war, and culminated in the 1876 Battle of the Little Big Horn.
On June 25, Custer attacked a large hunting camp of Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho
on the Little Big Horn River in Montana.
Sitting Bull, Gall, Crazy Horse, and several Cheyenne leaders defeated Custer and
the 7th Cavalry. General Custer and 250 soldiers were killed.
Following the recovery of Custer's body from where he fell during the Battle of
Little Big Horn, Custer was given a funeral with full military
honors and was laid to rest at the United States Military Academy at West Point,
New York on October 10, 1877.
Today, Custer -- whose motto was "the only good Indian is a dead Indian" --
has a city in South Dakota and a National Park named in his honor.
In 1875 one of the first major victories was won for civil rights. Congress
passed the Civil Rights Act, which stipulated: "That all persons ... shall be entitled to full and equal enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement."
(But see 1883.)
In the years 1875-1876, mobs of whites killed hundreds of black voters in a
bloody rampage in Mississippi. This was known as the First Mississippi Plan.
After having so violently manipulated their election, the new State Legislature
impeached and removed the African-American Lieutenant Governor, Alexander K. Davis.
At the peak of the violence, President Grant refused to send in troops.
In 1876 the secretary of war, William Belknap,
was impeached for accepting thousands of dollars in bribes.
In the presidential election of 1876, Samuel J. Tilden (a Democrat) won the
majority of the popular vote (by nearly a quarter of a million votes). Yet his opponent,
Rutherford B. Hayes (a Republican) was elected President. History would repeat itself
in the year 2000 when Al Gore (Democrat) would be defeated by George Bush (Republican) after
Gore won the majority of the popular vote.
In fact, four presidents have been elected who lost the popular vote. The other
two were John Quincy Adams and Benjamin Harrison. In addition to that, the US was
once run for two consecutive years by a president and vice president who had never
been elected at all! This happened when Spiro Agnew resigned and a new Vice President
(Nelson Rockefeller) was appointed by Nixon, and when Nixon himself resigned, he
appointed Gerald Ford to take his place as president.
In these instances, the ideal of "government by the people" seems to have
In 1877, after being pursued by the US Army for more than 1,000 miles, the
Nez Perce, led by Chief Joseph, were finally forced to surrender. The U.S. relocated
the Nez Perce to "Indian Territory", breaking its promise to allow them
to return to their homeland.
In 1881, Sitting Bull was promised a pardon if he agreed to come back from Canada.
He came back, and was promptly imprisoned for two years.
Between 1882 and 1901, more than 100 people were lynched each year in the United States, and the great majority of them were southern African Americans -- numbering nearly 2,000 men and boys killed in those two decades. The wave of mob murder continued unabated in the first two decades of the 20th century, numbering nearly 4,000 people by 1932, before tapering off in the 1930s and 1940s. Two or three people were lynched every week in the nation for over 30 years.
Whites used mob violence and lynching to control all kinds of black behavior, from voting to manners and attitudes. Most lynchings happened in rural area and small towns whereas mob violence took place in cities. People were brutally murdered by being hung, burned, beaten, mutilated, dragged behind wagons, and other acts of savage torture. In most cases, the local police allowed the lynchings to occur, and witnesses often included the entire white community. In many cases, the victim's body was cut up for souvenirs.
In 1883, the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the Civil Rights Act of 1875.
When the Cherokee had been forcibly marched to Oklahoma in the 1830's, they
were promised the area would be their permanent home "for as long as grass
grows and water runs." But in 1883 the US government declared the lands
open for settlement! On April 22 of that year the first of the "land stampedes"
was held in which thousands of white settlers raced across the land to stake their claims. In 1889
a second stampede was held.
They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one: they said they
promised to take our land and they took it.
At this point I'd like to consider the words of Justice Robert Jackson of the
United States Supreme Court, who was the lead American Prosecutor at the
Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal. In response to the Germans' defense, he stated:
"If certain acts and violations of treaties are crimes, they are crimes
whether Germany commits them, or whether the United States commits them.
We are not prepared to impose a code of criminal conduct against others that
we would not be willing to have invoked against us."
In light of that statement, the United States has acted criminally in violating
hundreds of treaties it made with the indigenous people.
In 1890, the Mississippi State Legislature concocted a "Second Plan"
whereby they could disenfranchise African-American citizens without any federal
backlash. They setup voting requirements that would automatically exclude most
On December 15, 1890, government agents swarmed Sitting Bullís family home,
forcibly removed him and shot him in the chest and head. Then they murdered his
17 year-old son Crow Foot. Sitting Bull's relative and good friend,
Big Foot, fled with his entire community as the crazed US Army marauders were coming to
get him next.
The group -- consisting mostly of women, children, and old men -- was
intercepted near present day "Porcupine, South Dakota",
beaten, strip searched, and
marched a few miles to Wounded Knee Creek. The following morning (December 29) at the
planned signal (a single shot fired by an army officer), the troops began
opening fire with thousands of rounds from Hotchkiss machine guns that had been
strategically placed around the hills overlooking the disarmed holding camp.
453 innocent Lakota were butchered by the U.S. army that day.
Pregnant women were even bayoneted with their babies cut out and flung in the
air, landing upon waiting military bayonets below.
Twenty congressional Medals of Honor were later awarded to the soldiers
who slaughtered the most Lakota women, children,
and elders that morning. The newspapers glorified the massacre, as in this quote
from the Chicago Tribune: "The members of the seventh cavalry have once more
shown themselves to be heroes in deeds of daring." Even in 1989, the
Wall Street Journal referred to the "battle" of Wounded Knee.