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Wyoming in the 1840s - 1850s


Fort Larasmie
Fort Larasmie

The streams of emigrants, although headed for Oregon or California, disrupted the life of Wyoming’s Native Americans. White men killed or drove away game, destroyed vegetation along their routes, and hemmed in Native Americans that had traditionally hunted over a large expanse of the Great Plains. In 1841 a Sioux-Cheyenne party attacked and killed Henry Fraeb, a colleague of James Bridger. Although infrequent, incidents like this raised apprehension and mistrust among the whites. As a result, in 1847 the government appointed the first permanent agent for Native Americans of the Great Plains region, mountain man Thomas Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick had two principal tasks: First, he wanted to help resolve problems among the Native Americans of the Great Plains so that white emigrants would not become victims of tribal warfare; second, he needed to establish territorial agreements between the Native Americans and the whites.

In 1851 Fitzpatrick and the superintendent of Indian affairs in St. Louis, D. D. Mitchell, announced that a general conference of Native Americans of the Great Plains region was to be held at Fort Laramie. Some groups, such as the Pawnee, Comanche, and Kiowa, refused to attend. The Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Crow, and Shoshone, however, gathered at Fort Laramie in September.

An estimated 10,000 Native Americans attended the meeting, so many, in fact, that the meeting was moved down to the mouth of Horse Creek on the Platte River.

Participants signed a treaty that awarded the Native Americans gifts valued at $50,000 as compensation for the deterioration of the Great Plains bison population and grazing grounds, caused by white immigration. In an effort to reduce intertribal warfare, the treaty also set definite limits for areas in which the different Native American groups would live. Native American participants were also granted annuities over a 50-year period, which was later reduced to a 10-year period by the U.S. Senate.

Relations between Native Americans and whites remained relatively uneventful until 1854 when a Sioux party killed a stray cow. The person to whom the cow belonged reported to Fort Laramie that his cow had been stolen. In response Lieutenant John Grattan led a small force of 29 men to a Sioux village near the fort to investigate the lost cow. The Sioux were asked to surrender but refused. Both sides became apprehensive and shots were exchanged; Chief Brave Bear was killed in the confusion, and the Sioux retaliated by killing Grattan and his men.

For a time, Fort Laramie was practically under a state of siege. Reinforcements arrived and troops escorted stagecoaches and trains through the territory. As a result, travelers continued to be about as safe as they had been during the 1840s. In 1855 and 1856 Colonel William Selby Harney led a number of offensives against the Sioux, in part as an act of revenge against the Grattan massacre. In one instance, Harney led troops to a Sioux camp, demanding that all participants in the Grattan massacre surrender. When the Sioux did not comply, Harney attacked, leaving as many as 85 Sioux dead and taking 70 women and children as prisoners. Harney’s casualties included five killed and seven wounded. For a time the Sioux avoided difficulties with the whites. "Wyoming" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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