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Sioux Indians

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The largest and most important Indian tribe north of Mexico, with the single exception of the Ojibwa (Chippewa), who, however, lack the solidarity of the Sioux, being widely scattered on both sides of the international boundary, while the Sioux are virtually all within the United States and up to a comparatively recent period kept up close connection among the various bands.

Name and affiliation

The name Sioux (pronounced Su) is an abbreviation of the French spelling of the name by which they were anciently known to their eastern Algonquian neighbours and enemies, viz. Nadouessioux, signifying "little snakes", i.e. little, or secondary enemies, as distinguished from the eastern Nadowe, or enemies, the Iroquois. This ancient name is now obsolete, having been superseded by the modern Ojibwa term Buanag, of uncertain etymology. They call themselves Dakota, Nakota, or Lakota, according to dialect, meaning "allies". From the forms Dakota, Lakota, and Sioux are derived numerous place-names within their ancient area, including those of two great states.

Linguistically the Sioux are of the great Siouan stock, to which they have given name and of which they themselves now constitute nearly three-fourths. Other cognate tribes are the Assiniboin, Crow, Hidatsa, or Minitarí, Mandan, Winnebago, Iowa, Omaha, Ponca, Oto, Missouri, Kaw, Osage, and Quapaw, all excepting the Winnebago living west of the Mississippi; together with a number of tribes formerly occupying territories in Mississippi and the central regions of the Carolinas and Virginia, all now virtually extinct, excepting a handful of Catawba in South Carolina. Linguistic and traditionary evidence indicate this eastern region as the original home of the stock, although the period and causes of the westward migration remain a matter of conjecture.

The Sioux language is spoken in three principal dialects, viz. Santee (pronounced Sahntee), or eastern; Yankton, or middle; and Teton, or western, differing chiefly in the interchange of d, n, and l, as indicated in the various forms of the tribal name. The Assiniboin are a seceded branch of the Yankton division, having separated from the parent tribe at some time earlier than 1640.


When and why the Sioux removed from their original home in the East, or by what route they reached the upper Mississippi country, are unknown. When first noticed in history, about 1650, they centered about Mille Lac and Leech Lake, toward the heads of the Mississippi, in central Minnesota, having their eastern frontier within a day's march of Lake Superior. From this position they were gradually driven by the pressure, from the east, of the advancing Ojibwa, who were earlier in obtaining firearms, until nearly the whole nation had removed to the Minnesota and upper Red River, in turn driving before them the Cheyenne, Omaha, and other tribes. On reaching the buffalo plains and procuring horses, supplemented soon thereafter by firearms, they rapidly overran the country to the west and southwest, crossing the Missouri perhaps about 1750, and continuing on to the Black Hills and the Platte until checked by the Pawnee, Crow, and other tribes. At the beginning of treaty relations in 1805 they were the acknowledged owners of most of the territory extending from central Wisconsin, across the Mississippi and Missouri, to beyond the Black Hills, and from the Canada boundary to the North Platte, including all of Southern Minnesota, with considerable portions of Wisconsin and Iowa, most of North Dakota and South Dakota, Northern Nebraska, and much of Montana and Wyoming. The boundaries of all that portion lying east of the Dakotas were defined by the great inter-tribal treaty of Prairie du Chien in 1825 and a supplemental treaty at the same place in 1830. At this period the Minnesota region was held by the various Santee bands; Eastern Dakota and a small part of Iowa were claimed by the Yankton and their cousins the Yanktonai; while all the Sioux territory west of the Missouri was held by bands of the great Teton division, constituting three-fifths of the whole nation.

Under the name of Naduesiu the Sioux are first mentioned by Father Paul le Jeune in the Jesuit Relation of 1640, apparently on the information of that pioneer western explorer, Jean Nicolet, the first white man known to have set foot in Wisconsin, probably in 1634-5. In 1655-6 two other famous French explorers, Radisson and Groseilliers, spent some time with them in their own country, about the western border of Wisconsin. At that time the Sioux were giving shelter to a band of refugee Hurons fleeing before the Iroquois. They were rated as possessing thirty villages, and were the terror of all the surrounding tribes by reason of their number and prowess, although admittedly less cruel. Fathers Allouez and Marquette, from their mission of St. Esprit, established at Lapointe (now Bayfield, Wis.) on Lake Superior in 1665, entered into friendly relations with the Sioux, which continued until 1671, when the latter, provoked by insults from the eastern tribes, returned Marquette's presents, declared war against their hereditary foes, and compelled the abandonment of the mission. In 1674 they sent a delegation to Sault Ste. Marie to arrange peace through the good offices of the resident Jesuit missionary, Father Gabriel Druillettes, who already had several of the tribe under instruction in his house, but the negotiations were brought to an abrupt end by a treacherous attack made upon the Sioux while seated in council in the mission church, resulting in the massacre of the ambassadors after a desperate encounter, and the burning of the church, which was fired over their heads by the Ojibwa to dislodge them.

The tribal war went on, but the Sioux kept friendship with the French traders, who by this time had reached the Mississippi. In 1680 one of their war parties, descending the Mississippi against the Illinois, captured the Recollect Father Louis Hennepin with two companions and brought them to their villages at the head of the river, where they held them, more as guests than prisoners, until released on the arrival of the trader, Du Luth, in the fall. While thus in custody Father Hennepin observed their customs, made some study of the language, baptized a child and attempted some religious instruction, explored a part of Minnesota, and discovered and named St. Anthony's Falls. In 1683 Nicholas Perrot established a post at the mouth of the Wisconsin. In 1689 he established Fort Perrot near the lower end of Lake Pepin, on the Minnesota side, the first post within the Sioux territory, and took formal possession of their country for France. The Jesuit Father Joseph Marest, officially designated "Missionary to the Nadouesioux", was one of the witnesses at the ceremony and was again with the tribe some twelve years later. Another post was built by Pierre LeSueur, near the present Red Wing about 1693, and in 1695 a principal chief of the tribe accompanied him to Montreal to meet the governor, Frontenac. By this time the Sioux had a number of guns and were beginning to wage aggressive warfare toward the west, driving the Cheyenne, Omaha, and Oto down upon the Missouri and pushing out into the buffalo plains. During Frontenac's administration mission work languished owing to his bitter hostility to missionaries, especially the Jesuits.

About the year 1698, through injudiciously assisting the Sioux against the Foxes, the French became involved in a tedious forty-years' war with the latter tribe which completely paralyzed trade on the upper Mississippi and ultimately ruined the Foxes. Before its end the Sioux themselves turned against the French and gave refuge to the defeated Foxes. In 1700 LeSueur had built Fort L'Huillier on the Blue Earth River near the present Mankato, Minnesota. In 1727, an ineffective peace having been made, the Jesuit Fathers, Ignatius Guignas and Nicolas de Gonnor, again took up work among the Sioux at the new Fort Beauharnais on Lake Pepin. Although driven out for a time by the Foxes, they returned and continued with the work some ten years, until the Sioux themselves became hostile. In 1736 the Sioux massacred an entire exploring party of twenty-one persons under command of the younger Verendrye at the Lake of the Woods, just beyond the northern (international) Minnesota boundary. Among those killed was the Jesuit father, Jean-Pierre Aulneau. In 1745-6, the Foxes having been finally crushed, De Lusignan again arranged peace with the Sioux, and between them and the Ojibwa, and four Sioux chiefs returned with him to Montreal. On the fall of Canada the Sioux, in 1763, sent delegates to the English post at Green Bay with proffers of friendship and a request for traders. They were described as "certainly the greatest nation of Indians ever yet found", holding all other Indians as "their slaves or dogs". Two thousand of their warriors now had guns, while the other and larger portion still depended upon the bow, in the use of which, and in dancing, they excelled the other tribes.

In the winter of 1766-7 the American traveller, Jonathan Carver, spent several months with the Santee visiting their burial-ground and sacred cave near the present St. Paul, and witnessing men and women gashing themselves in frenzied grief at their bereavement. Soon after this period the eastern Sioux definitively abandoned the Mille Lac and Leech Lake country to their enemies the Ojibwa, with whom the hereditary war still kept up. The final engagement in this upper region occurred in 1768 when a great canoe fleet of Sioux, numbering perhaps five hundred warriors, while descending the Mississippi from a successful raid upon the Ojibwa, was ambushed near the junction of Crow Wing River and entirely defeated by a much smaller force of the latter tribe. In 1775 peace was again made between the two tribes through the efforts of the English officials in order to secure their alliance in the coming Revolutionary struggle. The peace lasted until the close of the Revolutionary War, in which both tribes furnished contingents against the American frontier, after which the warriors returned to their homes, and the old feud was resumed. In the meantime the Teton Sioux, pressing westward, were gradually pushing the Arikara (Ree) up the Missouri, and by acquiring horses from the plains tribes had become metamorphosed from canoe men and gatherers of wild rice into an equestrian race of nomad buffalo hunters.

Some years after the close of the Revolution, perhaps about 1796, French traders in the American interest ascended the Missouri from St. Louis and established posts among the Yankton and Teton. In 1804 the first American exploring expedition, under Captains Lewis and Clark, ascended the river, holding councils and securing the allegiance of the Sioux and other tribes, and then crossing the mountains and descending the Columbia to the Pacific, returning over nearly the same route in 1806. As a result of this acquaintance the first Sioux (Yankton) delegation visited Washington in the latter year. At the same time, 1805-6, Lieutenant Zebulon Pike ascended the Mississippi on a similar errand to the Santee Sioux and other tribes of that region. In this he was successful and on 23 September, 1805, negotiated the first treaty of the Sioux with the United States, by which they ceded lands in the vicinity of the present St. Paul for the establishment of military posts, at the same time giving up their English flags and medals and accepting American ones. Up to this period and for some years later the rapidly diverging bands of the east and west still held an annual renunion east of the lower James River in eastern South Dakota. In 1807 Manuel Lisa, founder of the American Fur Company, "the most active and indefatigable trader that St. Louis ever produced" (Chittenden), established headquarters among the Sioux, at Cedar Island, below the present Pierre, S.D., later moving down to about the present Chamberlain. Lisa was a Spaniard, and like his French associates, Chouteau, Ménard, and Trudeau, was a Catholic. At his several trading posts among the Teton and Yankton Sioux, and the Omaha lower down the river, he showed the Indians how to plant gardens and care for cattle and hogs, besides setting up blacksmith shops for their benefit, without charge, and caring for their aged and helpless, so that it was said that he was better loved by the Sioux than any other white man of his time. Being intensely American in feeling, he was appointed first government agent for the upper Missouri River tribes, and by his great influence with them held them steady for the United States throughout the War of 1812, notwithstanding that most of the eastern, or Santee, Sioux, through the efforts of Tecumtha and a resident British trader, Robert Dickson, declared for England and furnished a contingent against Fort Meigs. Lisa died in 1820. At the close of the war, by a series of five similar treaties made 15 July, 1815, at Portage des Sioux, above St. Louis, the various Sioux bands made their peace with the United States and finally acknowledged its sovereignty. Other late hostile tribes made peace at the same time. this great treaty gathering, the most important ever held with the tribes of the Middle West, marks the beginning of their modern history. In 1820 Fort Snelling was built at the present Minneapolis to control the Santee Sioux and Ojibwa, an agency being also established at the same time. In 1825 another great treaty gathering was convened at Prairie du Chien for the delimitation of tribal boundaries to put an end to inter-tribal wars, and clear the way for future land cessions. At this period, and for years after, the Sioux led all other tribes in the volume of their fur trade, consisting chiefly of buffalo robes and beaver skins.

With the establishment of permanent government relations regular mission work began. In 1834 the brothers Samuel and Gideon Pond for the Congregationalists, located among the Santee at Lake Calhoun, near the present St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1835 the same denomination established other missions at Lake Harriet and Lac-qui-Parle, Minnesota, under Rev. J.D. Stevens and Thomas Williamson respectively. In 1837 Williamson was joined by Rev. Stephen Riggs and his son Alfred. In 1852 the two last-named missions were removed to the upper Minnesota in consequence of a treaty cession. All of these workers are known for their linguistic contributions as well as for their missionary service. In 1837 a Lutheran mission was established at Red Wing and continued for some years. The successful establishment of these missions was due chiefly to the encouragement and active aid afforded by Joseph Renville, a remarkable half-breed, who stood high in the respect and affection of the eastern Sioux. Born in the wilderness in 1779 of an Indian mother, he had been taken to Canada, when a small boy, by his French father, a noted trader, and placed under the care of a Catholic priest, from whom he acquired some knowledge of French and of the Christian religion. The death of his father a few years later and his consequent return to the Sioux country put an end to his educational opportunity, but the early impression thus made was never effaced. On coming to manhood and succeeding to his father's business he sent across the ocean, probably through Dickson, the British trader, for a French Bible (which, when it came, was Protestant) and then hired a clerk who could read it to him. On the establishment of the post at Prairie du Chien he brought down his Indian wife and had her regularly married to him by a Catholic priest, he himself having previously instructed her in religion as well as he could. When the Congregationalists arrived he welcomed them as bringing Christianity, even though not of the form of his childhood teacher. He died in 1846.

In 1841 Father Augustine Ravoux began work among the Santee in the neighbourhood of Fort Snelling, near which Father Galtier had just built a log chapel of St. Paul, around which grew the modern city. Applying himself to the study of the language, in which he soon became proficient, Father Ravoux in 1843 repaired to Prairie du Chien, and there with his own hands printed a small devotional work, "Katolik Wocekiye Wowapi Kin", which is still used as a mission manual. He continued with the tribe for several years, extending his ministrations also to the Yankton, until recalled to parish work. As early at least as 1840 the great Jesuit apostle of the North-West, Father P.J. De Smet, had visited the bands along the Missouri River, where Father Christian Hoecken had preceded him in 1837, instructing adults and baptizing children. Father De Smet made several other brief stops later on his way to and from the Rocky Mountain missions, and in the summer of 1848 spent several months in the camps of the Bruleé and Ogalala, whom he found well disposed to Christianity. In 1850 Father Hoecken was again with the Yankton and Teton, but the design to establish a permanent mission was frustrated by his untimely death from cholera, 19 June, 1851. In the same summer Father De Smet attended the great inter-tribal gathering at Fort Laramie, where for several weeks he preached daily to the Sioux and other tribes, baptizing over fifteen hundred children. From that period until his death in 1872 a large portion of his time was given to the western Sioux, among whom his influence was so great that he was several times called in by the Government to assist in treaty negotiations, notably in the great peace treaty of 1868.

In 1837 the Sioux sold all of their remaining territory east of the Mississippi. In the winter of 1837-8 smallpox, introduced from a passing steamer, swept over all the tribes of the upper Missouri River, killing perhaps 30,000 Indians, of whom a large proportion were Sioux. About the same time the war with the Ojibwa on the eastern frontier broke out again with greater fury than ever. In a battle near the present Stillwater, Minnesota, in June, 1839, some 50 Ojibwa were slain and shortly afterward a Sioux raiding party surprised an Ojibwa camp in the absence of the warriors and brought away 91 scalps. In 1851 the various Santee bands sold all their remaining lands in Minnesota and Iowa, excepting a twenty-mile strip along the upper Minnesota River, Although there were then four missions among the Santee, the majority of the Indians were reported to have "an inveterate hatred" of Christianity. In March, 1857, on some trifling provocation, a small band of renegade Santee, under an outlawed chief, Inkpaduta, "Scarlet Point," attacked the scattered settlements about Spirit Lake, on the Iowa-Minnesota border, burning houses, massacring about fifty persons, and carrying off several women, two of whom were killed later, the others being rescued by the Christian Indians. Inkpaduta escaped to take an active part in all the Sioux troubles for twenty years thereafter. In 1858 the Yankton Sioux sold all their lands in South Dakota, excepting the present Yankton reservation. The famous pipestone quarry in southwestern Minnesota, whence the Sioux for ages had procured the red stone from which their pipes were carved, was also permanently reserved to this Indian purpose. In 1860 the first Episcopalian work was begun among the (Santee) Sioux by Rev. Samuel D. Hinman.

In 1862 occurred the great "Minnesota outbreak" and massacre, involving nearly all the Santee bands, brought about by dissatisfaction at the confiscation of a large proportion of the treaty funds to satisfy traders' claims, and aggravated by a long delay in the annuity issue. The weakening of the local garrisons and the general unrest consequent upon the Civil War also encouraged to revolt. The trouble began 2 August with an attack upon the agency store-house at Redwood, where five thousand Indians were awaiting the distribution of the delayed annuity supplies. The troops were overpowered and the commissary goods seized, but no other damage attempted. On 17 August a small party of hunters, being refused food at a settler's cabin, massacred the family and fled with the news to the camp of Little Crow, where a general massacre of all the whites and Christian Indians was at once resolved upon. Within a week almost every farm cabin and small settlement in Southern Minnesota and along the adjoining border was wiped out of existence and most of the inhabitants massacred, in many cases with devilish barbarities, excepting such as could escape to Fort Ridgely at the lower end of the reservation. The missionaries were saved by the faithful heroism of the Christian Indians, who, as in 1857, stood loyally by the Government. Determined attacks were made under Little Crow upon Fort Ridgely (20-21 August) and New Ulm (22 August), the latter defended by a strong volunteer force under Judge Charles Flandrau. Both attacks were finally repulsed. On 2 Sept. a force of 1500 regulars and volunteers under Colonel (afterwards General) H. H. Sibley defeated the hostiles at Birch Coulee and again on 23 September at Wood Lake. Most of the hostiles now surrendered, the rest fleeing in small bands beyond the reach of pursuit. Three hundred prisoners were condemned to death by court martial, but the number was cut down by President Lincoln to thirty-eight, who were hanged at Mankato, 26 December, 1862. They were attended by Revs. Riggs and Williamson and by Father Ravoux, but although the other missionaries had been twenty-five years stationed with the tribe and spoke the language fluently, thirty-tree of the whole number elected to die in the Catholic Church, two of the remaining five rejecting all Christian ministration. Three years later Father Ravoux again stood on the scaffold with two condemned warriors of the tribe.

Two months after the outbreak Congress declared the Santee treaties abrogated and the Minnesota reservations forfeited. One part of the fugitives trying to escape to the Yanktonai was overtaken and defeated with great loss by Sibley near Big Mound, North Dakota, 24 July, 1863. The survivors fled to the Teton beyond the Missouri or took refuge in Canada, where they are still domiciled. On 3 Sept. General Sully struck the main hostile camp under Inkpaduta at Whitestone Hill, west of Ellendale, N.D., killing 300 and capturing nearly as many more. On 28 July, 1864, General Sully delivered the final blow to the combined hostile force, consisting of Santee, Yanktonai, and some northern Teton, at Kildeer Mountain on the Little Missouri. The prisoners and others of the late hostile bands were finally settled on two reservations established for the purpose, viz. the (Lower) Yanktonai at Crow Creek, S.D., and the Santee at Santee, northeastern Nebraska. Here they still remain, being now well advanced in civilization and Christianity, and fairly properous. The outbreak had cost the lives of nearly 1000 whites, of whom nearly 700 perished in the first few days of the massacre. The Indian loss was about double, falling almost entirely upon the Santee. Pananapapi (Strike-the-Ree), head chief of the 3000 Yankton, and a Catholic, had steadily held his people loyal and the great Brulé and Ogalala bands of the Teton, 13,000 strong, had remained neutral. In October, 1865, at old Fort Sully (near Pierre), S.D., a general treaty of peace was made with the Sioux, and one Teton band, the Lower Brulé, agreed to come upon a reservation. The majority of the great Teton division, however, comprising the whole strength of the nation west of the Missouri, refused to take part.

In the meantime serious trouble had been brewing in the West. With the discovery of gold in California in 1849 and the consequent opening of an emigrant trail along the North Platte and across the Rocky Mountains, the Indians became alarmed at the disturbance to their buffalo herds, upon which they depended for their entire subsistence. The principal complainants were the Brulé and Ogalala Sioux. For the protection of the emigrants in 1849 the Government bought and garrisoned the American Fur Company post of Fort Laramie on the upper North Platte, in Wyoming, later making it also an agency headquarters. In September, 1851, a great gathering of nearly all the tribes and bands of the Northern Plains was held at Fort Laramie, and a treaty was negotiated by which they came to an agreement in regard to their rival territorial claims, pledged peace among themselves and with the whites, and promised not to disturb the trail on consideration of a certain annual payment. Father De Smet attended throughout the council, teaching and baptizing, and gives an interesting account of the gathering, the largest ever held with the Plains Indians. The treaty was not ratified and had no permanent effect. On 17 August, 1854, while the Indians were camped about the post awaiting the distribution of the annuity goods, occurred the "Fort Laramie Massacre", by which Lieutenant Grattan and an entire detachment of 29 soldiers lost their lives while trying to arrest some Brulés who had killed and eaten an emigrant's cow. From all the evidence the conflict was provoked by the officer's own indiscretion. The Indians then took forcible possession of the annuity goods and left without making any attempt upon the fort or garrison. The Brulé Sioux were now declared hostile, and Gen. W.S. Harney was sent against them. On 3 September, with 1200 men, he came upon their camp at Ash Hollow, Western Nebraska, and while pretending to parley on their proffer of surrender, suddenly attacked them, killing 136 Indians and destroying the entire camp outfit.

Late in 1863 the Ogalala and Brulé under their chiefs, Red Cloud (Makhpiya-luta) and Spotted Tail (Shinté-galeshka) respectively, became actively hostile, inflamed by reports of the Santee outbreak and the Civil War in the South. They were joined by the Cheyenne and for two years all travel across the plains was virtually suspended. In March, 1865, they were roused to desperation by the proclamation of two new roads to be opened through their best hunting rounds to reach the new gold fields of Montana. Under Red Cloud's leadership they notified the Government that they would allow no new roads or garrison posts to be established in their country, and carried on the war on this basis with such determination that by treaty at Fort Laramie through a peace commission in April-May, 1868, the Government actually agreed to close the "Montana road" that had been opened north from Laramie, and to abandon the three posts that had been established to protect it. Red Cloud himself refused to sign until after the troops had been withdrawn. The treaty left the territory south of the North Platte open to road building, recognized all north of the North Platte and east of the Bighorn Mountains as unceded Indian territory, and established the "Great Sioux Reservation", nearly equivalent to all of South Dakota west of the Missouri. Provision was made for an agency on the Missouri River and the inauguration of regular governmental civilizing work. In consideration of thus giving up their old freedom the Indians were promised, besides the free aid of blacksmiths, doctors, a saw mill, etc., a complete suit of clothing yearly for thirty years to every individual of the bands concerned, based on the actual yearly census. Among the official witnesses were Rev. Hinman, The Episcopalian missionary, and Father De Smet. This treaty brought the whole of the Sioux nation under agency restriction, and with its ratification in February, 1869, the five years' war came to a close.

In this war Red Cloud had been the principal leader, Spotted Tail having been won to friendship earlier through the kindness extended by the officers at Fort Laramie on the occasion of the death of his daughter, who was buried there with Christian rites at her own request. The Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho also acted with the Sioux. The chief fighting centered around Fort Kearney, Wyoming, which Red Cloud himself held under repeated siege, and near which on 21 December, 1866, occurred the "Fetterman Massacre", when an entire detachment of 80 men under Captain Fetterman was exterminated by an overwhelming force of Indians. By treaties in 1867 reservations had been established at Lake Traverse, S.D. and at Fort Totten, N.D., for the Sisseton and Wahpeton Santee and the Cuthead Yanktonai, most of whom had been concerned in the Minnesota outbreak. In 1870 a part of the Christian Santee separated from their kinsmen in Nebraska and removed to Flandreau, S.D., and became citizens. In 1871, despite the protest of Red Cloud and other leading chiefs, the Northern Pacific railway was constructed along the south bank of the Yellowstone and several new posts built for its protection, and war was on again with the Teton Sioux, Cheyenne, and part of the Arapaho. Several skirmishes occurred, and in 1873 General G.A. Custer was ordered to Dakota. In the next year, while hostilities were still in progress, Custer made an exploration of the Black Hills, South Dakota, and reported gold. Despite the treaty and the military, there was at once a great rush of miners and others into the Hills. The Indians refusing to sell on any terms offered, the military patrol was withdrawn, and mining towns at once sprang up all through the mountains. Indian hunting by agents' permission in the disputed territory were ordered to report at their agencies by 31 January, 1876, or be considered hostile, but even the runners who carried the message were unable to return, by reason of the severity of the winter, until after war had been actually declared. This is commonly known as the "Custer War" from its central event, 25 June, 1876, the massacre of General Custer and every man of a detachment of the Seventh Cavalry, numbering 204 in all, in an attack upon the main camp of the hostile Sioux and Cheyenne, on the Little Bighorn River in southeastern Montana. On that day and the next, in the same vicinity, other detachments under Reno and Benteen sustained desperate conflicts with the Indians, with the loss of some sixty more killed. The Indians, probably numbering at least 2500 warriors with their families, finally withdrew on the approach of Generals Terry and Gibbons from the north. The principal Sioux commanders were Crazy Horse and Gall, although Sitting Bull was also present. Red Cloud and Spotted Tail had remained at their agencies.

Several minor engagements later in the year resulted in the surrender and return of most of the hostiles to the reservation, while Sitting Bull and Gall and their immediate following escaped into Canada (June, 1877). by a series of treaties negotiated 23 September-27 October, 1876, the Sioux surrendered the whole of the Black Hills country and the western outlet. On 7 September, 1877, Crazy Horse, who had come in with his band some months before, was killed in a conflict with the guard at Fort Robinson, Nebraska. In the same month the last hostiles surrendered. Soon after the treaty a large delegation visited Washington, following which event the Red Cloud (Ogalala) and Spotted Tail (Brulé) agencies were permanently established in 1878 at Pine Ridge and Rosebud, S.D., respectively. This date may be considered to mark the beginning of civilization in these two powerful bands. In 1881 all the late hostiles in Canada came in and surrendered. Sitting Bull and his immediate followers, after being held in confinement for two years, were allowed to return to their homes on Standing Rock reservation. On 5 August, 1881, Spotted Tail was killed by a rival chief. On 29 July, 1888, Strike-the-Ree, the famous Catholic chief of the Yankton, died at the age of 84.

In the allotment of Indian agencies to the management of the various religious denominations, in accord with President Grant's "peace policy" in 1870, only two of the eleven Sioux agencies were assigned to the Catholics, namely, Standing Rock and Devil's Lake, notwithstanding that, with the exception of a portion of the Santee and a few of the Yankton, the only missionaries the tribe had ever known from Allouez to De Smet had been Catholic, and most of the resident whites and mixed-bloods were of Catholic ancestry. Santee, Flandreau, and Sisseton (Lake Traverse) agencies of the Santee division were assigned to the Presbyterians, who had already been continuously at work among them for more than a generation. Yankton reservation had been occupied jointly by Presbyterians and Episcopalians in 1869, as was Cheyenne River reservation in 1873. Pine Ridge, Rosebud, Lower Brulé and Crow Creek reservations, comprising nearly one-half the tribe, were given to the Episcopalians, who erected buildings between 1872 (Crow Creek) and 1877 (Pine Ridge). At Devil's Lake an industrial boarding school was completed and opened in 1874 in charge of Benedictine Fathers and Grey Nun Sisters of Charity. At Standing Rock a similar school was opened in 1877 in charge of Benedictine priests and Sisters. Thus by 1878 regular mission plants were in operation on every Sioux reservation. Other Catholic foundations were begun at Crow Creek and Rosebud in 1886, at Pine Ridge in 1887, and at Cheyenne River in 1892. In 1887 the noted secular missionary priest, Father Francis M.J. Craft, opened school at Standing Rock and later succeeded in organizing in the tribe an Indian sisterhood which, however, was refused full ecclesiastical recognition. In 1891 he removed with his community to the Fort Berthold reservation, N.D., where for some years the Sioux Indian Sisters proved valuable auxiliaries, particularly in instructing the women and nursing the sick of the confederated Grosventres, Arikara, and Mandan. Later on several of them won commendation as volunteer nurses in Cuba during the Spanish War. This zealous sisterhood is no longer in existence. In 1889, after long and persistent opposition by the older chiefs, the "Great Sioux Reservation" was cut in two and reduced by about one half by a treaty cession which included almost all territory between White and Cheyenne Rivers, S.D., and all north of Cheyenne river west of 102°. The ceded lands were thrown open to settlement by proclamation in the next spring, and were at once occupied by the whites. In the meantime payment for the lands was delayed, the annuity goods failed to arrive until the winter was nearly over, the crops had failed through attendance of the Indians at the treaty councils in the preceding spring, epidemic diseases were raging in the camps, and as the final straw Congress, despite previous promise, cut down the beef ration by over four million pounds on the ground of the stipulated money payment, which, however, had not arrived.

A year before rumours had come to the Sioux of a new Indian Messiah arisen beyond the mountains to restore the old-time Indian life, together with their departed friends, in a new earth from which the whites should be excluded. Several tribes, including the Sioux, sent delegates to the home of the Messiah, in Western Nevada, to investigate the rumour. The first delegation, as well as a second, confirmed the truth of the report, and in the spring of 1890 the ceremonial "Ghost Dance", intended to hasten the fulfillment of the prophecy, was inaugurated at Pine Ridge. Because of its strong appeal to the Indians under the existing conditions, the Dance soon spread among other Teton reservations until the Indians were in a frenzy of religious excitement. The newly-appointed agent at Pine Ridge became frightened and called for troops, thus precipitating the outbreak of 1890. By 1 December 3000 troops were disposed in the neighbourhood of the western Sioux reservations then under orders of General Nelson Miles. Leading events of the outbreak were:

On 16 January, 1891, the hostiles surrendered to General Miles at Pine Ridge, and the outbreak was at an end. With the restoration of peace, grievances were adjusted and the work of civilization resumed. Under provision of the general allotment law of 1887 negotiations were concluded from time to time with the various bands by which the size of the reservations was still further curtailed, and lands allotted in severalty, until now almost all of the Sioux Indians are individual owners and well on the way to full citizenship. Indian dress and adornment are nearly obsolete, together with the tipi and aboriginal ceremonial, and the great majority are clothed in citizen's dress, living in comfortable small houses with modern furniture, and engaged in farming and stock raising. The death of the old chief, Red Cloud, at Pine Ridge in 1909, removed almost the last link binding the Sioux to their Indian past.

Religious status

In 1909 nearly 10,000 of the 25,000 Sioux within the United States were officially reported as Christians. The proportion is now probably at least one-half, of whom about half are Catholic, the others being chiefly Episcopalian and Presbyterian. The Catholic missions are:

The two Jesuit missions maintain boarding-schools, and are assisted by Franciscan Sisters. The Immaculate Conception mission also maintains a boarding-school, with Benedictine Sisters. At the Fort Totten mission a monthly paper, "Sina Sapa Wocekiye Taeyanpaha" (Black-gown Prayer Herald), entirely in the Sioux language, is published under the editorship of Father Jerome Hunt, who has been with the mission from its foundation. Notable events in the religious life of the tribe are the Catholic Sioux congresses held in the summer of each year, one in North and one in South Dakota, which are attended by many high church dignitaries and mission workers and several thousands of Catholic Indians. Of some 470 Christian Sioux in Canada about one-fourth are Catholic, chiefly at Standing Buffalo Reservation, Sask., where they are served from the Oblate mission school at Qu'Appelle.

Organization and culture

The Sioux were not a compact nation with centralized government and supreme head chief, but were a confederacy of seven allied sub-tribes speaking a common language, each with a recognized head chief and each subdivided into bands or villages governed by subordinate chiefs. The seven sub-tribes, from east to west, were: (1) Mdewakantonwan (Mde-wakanton) Village (people) of the Spirit Lake (i.e. Mille Lac); (2) Wakhpekute "Leaf Shooters"; (3) Wakhpetonwan (Wahpeton), "Village in the Leaves"; (4) Sisitonwan (Sisseton), "Village of the Marsh"; (5) Ihanktonwan (Yankton), "Village at the End"; (6) Ihanktonwanna (Yanktonai), "Little Yankton"; (7) Titonwan (Teton), "Village of the Prairie".

Of these, the first four, originally holding the heads of the Mississippi, constitute the Isanti (Santee) or eastern, dialectic group. The Yankton and Yanktonai, about the lower and upper courses of the James River respectively, together with the Assiniboin tribe constitute the central dialectic group. The great Teton division, west of the Missouri and comprising three-fifths of the whole nation, constitutes a third dialectic group. The Teton are divided into seven principal bands, commonly known as Ogalala (at Pine Ridge); Brulé (at Rosebud and Lower Brulé); Hunkpapa (at Standing Rock); Miniconju, Sans-Arc; and Two Kettle (Cheyenne River). Among the more sedentary eastern bands chiefship seems to have been hereditary in the male line, but with the roving western bands it depended usually upon pre-eminent ability. In their original home about the heads of the Mississippi the Sioux subsisted chiefly upon wild rice, fish, and small game, and were expert canoe men, but as they drifted west into the plains and obtained possession of the horse their whole manner of life was changed, and they became a race of equestrian nomads, subsisting almost entirely upon the buffalo. They seem never to have been agricultural to any great extent. Their dwelling was the birch-bark lodge in the east and the buffalo-skin tipi on the plain. Their dead were sometimes deposited in a coffin upon the surface of the ground, but more often laid upon a scaffolding or in the tree-tops. Food and valuables were left with the corpse, and relatives gashed their bodies with knives and cut off their hair in token of grief. Besides the knife, bow, and hatchet of the forest warrior, they carried also on the plains the lance and shield of the horseman. Polygamy was recognized. There was no clan system.

To the Sioux the earth was a great island plain surrounded by an ocean far to the west of which was the spirit world. There were two souls — some said four — one of which remained near the grave after death, while the other traveled on to the spirit world, or in certain cases became a wandering and dangerous ghost. In the west also, in a magic house upon the top of a high mountain and guarded by four sentinel animals at the four doorways, lived the Wakinyan, or thunders, the greatest of the gods, and mortal enemies of the subterranean earth spirits and the water spirits. the sun also was a great god. There was no supreme "Great Spirit", as supposed by the whites, no ethical code to their supernaturalism, and no heaven or hell in their spirit world. Among animals the buffalo was naturally held in highest veneration. Fairies and strange monsters, both good and bad, were everywhere, usually invisible, but sometimes revealing themselves in warning portent. Dreams were held as direct revelations of the supernatural. Taboos, fasting, and sacrifices, including voluntary torture, were frequent. Among the great ceremonials the annual sun dance was the most important, on which occasion the principal performers danced at short intervals for four days and nights, without food, drink, or sleep, undergoing at the same time painful bodily laceration, either as a propitiation or in fulfillment of a thanksgiving vow. The several warrior orders and various secret societies each had their special dance, and for young girls there was a puberty ceremony. (For cults and home life see works of Dorsey and Eastman quoted in bibliography below.) In physique, intellect, morality, and general manliness the Sioux rated among the finest of the Plains tribes. Under the newer conditions the majority are now fairly industrious and successful farmers and stock-raisers.

Language and literature

The Sioux language is euphonious, sonorous, and flexible, and possesses a more abundant native literature than that of any other tribe within the United States, with the possible exception of the Cherokee. By means of an alphabet system devised by the early Presbyterian missionaries, nearly all of the men can read and write their own language. The printed literature includes religious works, school textbooks, grammars, and dictionaries, miscellaneous publications, and three current mission journals, Catholic, as already noted, Presbyterian, and Episcopal, all three entirely in Sioux. The earliest publication was a spelling-book by Rev. J.D. Stevens in 1836. In linguistics the principal is the "Grammar and Dictionary of the Dakota Language", by Rev. S. R. Riggs, published by the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, in 1852, and republished in part, with editing by Dorsey, by the Bureau of Am. Ethnology, Washington, in 1892-4.


Contrary to the usual rule with Indian tribes, the Sioux have not only held their own since the advent of the whites, but have apparently slightly increased. This increase, however, is due largely to incorporation of captives and intermarriage of whites. We have no reliable estimates for the whole tribe before 1849, when Governor Ramsey gave them "not over 20,000", while admitting that some resident authorities gave them 40,000 or more. Riggs in 1851 gives them about 25,000, but under-estimates the western (Teton) bands. By official census of 1910 they number altogether 28,618 souls, including all mixed-bloods, distributed as follows: Minnesota, scattered, about 929; Nebraska, Santee agency, 1155; North Dakota, Devil's Lake (Fort Totten) agency, 986; Standing Rock agency, 3454; South Dakota, Flandreau agency, 275, Lower Brulé, 469, Crow Creek, 997, Yankton, 1753, Sisseton, 1994, Cheyenne River, 2590, Rosebud, 5096, Pine Ridge, 6758. Canada: Birdtail, Oak Lake, Oak River, Turtle Mountain, Portage La Prairie (Manitoba), 613; Wahspaton, Standing Buffalo, Moosejaw, Moose Woods (Sask.), 455. Those in Canada are chiefly descendants of refugees from the United States in 1862 and 1876.


BRYANT AND MURCH, Hist. of the Great Massacre by the Sioux Indians (St. Peter, 1872); BUREAU CATH. IND. MISSIONS, Annual Reports of the Director (Washington); Annual Reports of the Dept. of Ind. Affairs (Ottawa, Canada); CARVER, Travels through in Interior Parts of N. Am. (1766-8); (London, 1778, and later editions); CATLIN, Manners, Customs and Condition of the N. Am. Inds. (London, 1841, and later editions); CHITTENDEN, Am. Fur Trade (New York, 1902); CHITTENDEN AND RICHARDSON, Life, Letters and Travels of Fr. Pierre-Jean De Smet, (New York, 1905); COMMISSIONER OF IND. AFFAIRS, Annual Reports (Washington); Condition of the Indian Tribes, Report of Joint Special Committee (Washington, 1867); DORSEY, Study of Siouan Cults, in 11th Rept. Bur. Am. Eth. (Washington, 1894); EASTMAN, Indian Boyhood (New York, 1902); IDEM, Wigwam Evenings (Boston, 1909); FINERTY, Warpath and Bivouac (Chicago, 1890); HAYDEN, Conts. to the Ethnography and Philology of the Ind. Tribes of the Missouri Valley in Trans. Am. Philos. Soc., n. s., XII (Philadelphia, 1862); HENNEPIN, Déscription de la Louisiane (Paris, 1683), tr. SHEA (New York, 1880); HINMAN AND WELSH, Journal of the Rev. S.D. Hinman (Philadelphia, 1869); Jesuit Relations, ed. Thwaites, 73 vols., especially Ottawa and Illinois, L-LXXI (Cleveland, 1896-1901); Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, ed. KAPPLER, (Washington, 1903 - 4); KEATING, Expedition (Long's) to the Sources of St. Peter's River (Philadelphia, 1824 and later editions); LEWIS AND CLARK, Original Journals of the Expedition of 1804-6, ed. THWAITES, 8 vols. (New York, 1904-5. numerous other editions more or less complete, the first offical report being contained in the Message from the President, Washington, 1806); MCGEE, Siouan Indians in 15th Rept. Bur. Am. Ethnology (Washington, 1897); MCKENNEY AND HALL, Hist. Ind. Tribes of North Am. (Philadelphia, 1854, and other editions); MCLAUGHLIN, My Friend the Indian (Boston, 1910); MALLERY, Pictographs of the N. Am. Indians in 4th Rept. Bur. Am. Ethnology (Washington, 1886); IDEM, Picture Writing of the Am. Inds. in 10th Rept. Bur. Am. Ethnology (Washington, 1893); MARGRY, Découvertes et établissements des Francais (6 vols., Paris, 1879-86); MAXIMILIAN, PRINCE OF WIED, Travels in the Interior of N. Am. (London, 1843; original German ed. 2 vols., Coblenz, 1839-41); MILES, Personal Recollections (Chicago, 1896); Minnesota Hist. Soc. Colls. (1872-1905); MOONEY, Siouan Tribes of the East, bull. 22, Bureau Am. Ethnology (Washington, 1895); IDEM, The Ghost Dance Religion and Sioux Outbreak of 1890 in 14th Rept. Bur. Am. Ethnology, (Washington, 1896); NEILL, Hist. of Minnesota (Philadelphia, 1858); New York, Documents Relating to the Colonial Hist. of (15 vols., Albany, 1853-87); NICOLLET, Report on . . . Upper Mississippi (Senate Doc.) (Washington, 1843); North Dakota Hist. Soc. Colls. (2 vols., Bismarck, 1906-8); PARKMAN, Oregon Trail (New York, 1849, and later editions); PERRIN DU LAC, Voyages dans les deux Louisianes, 1801-3 (Paris and Lyons, 1805); PIKE, Expedition to the Sources of the Mississippi (Philadelphia, 1810); PILLING, Bibl. of the Siouan Languages, Bull. 5, Bur. Am. Ethnology (Washington, 1887); POOLE, Among the Sioux of Dakota (New York, 1881); RAMSEY, Report on Sioux in Rept. Comsner. Ind. Affairs for 1849 II (Washington, 1850); RAVOUX, Reminiscences, memoris and Lectures (St. Paul, 1890); RIGGS, The Dakota Language in Colls. Minn. Hist. Soc., I (St. Paul, 1851, reprint St. Paul, 1872); IDEM, Grammar and Dict. of the Dakota Language: Smithsonian Contributions, IV (Washington, 1852); IDEM, Tahkoo Wahkan, or the Gospel among the Dakotas (Boston, 1869); IDEM, Mary and I: Forty Years with the Sioux (Chicago, 1880); ROBINSON, Hist. of the Sioux Indians in Colls. South Dakota Hist. Soc., II (Aberdeen, S.D., 1904); ROYCE AND THOMAS, Indian Land Cessions in 18th Rept. Bur. Am. Ethnology, II (Washington, 1899); SCHOOLCRAFT, Travels . . . to the Sources of the Mississippi (Albany, 1821); IDEM, Hist. Condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the U. S. (6 vols., Philadelphia, 1851-7); Sheridan (in charge), Record of Engagements with Hostile Indians, etc., 1868-1882 (Washington, 1882); SHEA, Hist. of the Catholic Missions among the Indian Tribes of the U.S. (New York, 1855); IDEM, Disc. and Expl. of the Mississippi Valley (New York, 1852); and Albany, 1903); DE SMET, Oregon Missions (New York, 1847); Fr. edition, Ghent, 1848); IDEM, Western Missions and Missionaries (New York, 1863); (see also CHITTENDEN AND RICHARDSON), South Dakota Hist. Soc. Colls. (3 vols., Aberdeen, S.D., 1902-6); WALL, Recollections of the Sioux Massacre (1862) (Lake City, Minn., 1909); WARREN, Explorations in the Dakota Country, 1855, Senate Doc. (Washington, 1856); WARREN, Hist. of the Ojibways in Minn. Hist. Soc. Colls., V (St. Paul, 1885); WHIPPLE, Lights and Shadows of a Long Episcopate (New York, 1899); Wisconsin Hist. Soc. Colls. (16 vols., Madison, 1855-1902).

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APA citation. Mooney, J. (1912). Sioux Indians. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Mooney, James. "Sioux Indians." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Calvin H. Marousch. Dedicated to my sister Barbara Anna Marousch.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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