PIERRE, S.D. -- One hundred years ago homesteaders began buying land that
was formerly part of American Indian reservations.
The Rosebud Reservation was opened in 1904 after many years of negotiations
with the federal government. The asking price was $2.50 per acre for land
that was worth an estimated $5 -- $7 per acre.
Many tribal members never saw the money, but lost the land.
The South Dakota Historical Society used that centennial anniversary as the
focal point of its annual meeting held May 21 and 22. Members of the
Sicangu Lakota, historians, writers, educators and poets brought the Lakota
culture and the stories of the homesteaders into focus.
The Sicangu on Rosebud spent many years fighting assimilation with mission
and boarding schools, destruction of the language and failed or ignored
The state of South Dakota, in 1889, decided that Gregory County, on the
eastern edge of the Rosebud Reservation should be a county and worked
toward the opening of settlement to increase the tax base until 1904.
All of this occurred after the treaty of 1868, which protected Lakota
rights to million of acres of land west of the Missouri was broken and by
the turn of the century the reservations were the only land left, a
fraction of what the Lakota called home.
As it turned out, many homesteaders became disillusioned and moved on
because of harsh winters, drought, locusts, poor farm land and isolation.
What they read and saw in art and photography was not what many experienced
when they arrived.
The Lakota were left with a disaster, a checker-boarded reservation and
land issues that still plague them today. Most reservations in South Dakota
were opened to homesteading, all are checker-boarded within the boundaries
with land owned by non-Indians, tribal members, the tribes and much lease
and fee land.
The allotment designation has left many families with such fractionated
land ownership that some individuals own only a small portion of an acre.
This has become a major problem today with trust issues within the
Department of Interior that holds the lease contracts with ranchers and
farmers and many Lakota land owners have received very little in the form
of lease payments. Trust reform within the DOI is a major political issue
with tribes today.
"Today we will not let historical reality fade into the background," said
Dr. Richmond Clow, University of Montana, Missoula.
He said there were negative historical realities which need to be
considered. What is seen is the positive of the history. "Historical truth
must be examined," Clow said.
The town of Bonesteel in Gregory County experienced a period of raucous
behavior with outlaws, brothels and saloons while it centered as the
location for the homesteaders. Today more American Indian people are moving
back, the children are attending Bonesteel schools and the days of driving
out the hard-livers and the outlaws are over, yet romantically remembered.
For the Lakota, who lost the land, the historical facts are less romantic.
Lakota ranchers, with hundreds of horses each and large land acres were
pushed from the landscape into small tracts with the intention of becoming
farmers on land that did not yield well to the plow.
From 1887 until the opening of the Rosebud Reservation, Hollow Horn Bear,
designated as the Sicangu spokesperson, negotiated with the federal
government. He rejected three plans because they did not provide money up
front. Under those plans tribal members were not to receive the money until
the land was sold. Each year it sat idle the price of $2.50 an acre would
But in 1904 Congress approved the opening of Rosebud against the wishes of
Hollow Horn Bear and the tribe. Today the Rosebud Sioux Tribe is buying
back some of the land lost in 1904 and through the 1887 Allotment Act.
While the land was lost to homesteading the culture was also being ravaged
by the government -- the language was not allowed to be spoken in the
religious schools. Schools that were supported by government sanction for
the purpose of assimilating the Lakota.
"The language is very powerful. It's the most important ingredient you
have. The Lakota language was very progressive and peaceful. Within the 100
years we were made to be dependent to authority and especially to
religion," said Albert White Hat, instructor at Sinte Gleska University.
"History in the past 100 years is very painful. I'm tired of crying and
want to move on. A ride from Bridger [on the Cheyenne River Reservation] to
Wounded Knee was held to wipe the tears," White Hat said.
"I survived and made a decision 20 years ago to forgive. I went through the
grieving process with my people. I wanted to smile and laugh and enjoy
life, but first I had to forgive."
White Hat said the Lakota had lost physically, emotionally and spiritually.
In 1963, he added, the attempt to bring back traditions and a way of life
began and in 1973 the American Indian Movement brought attention to the
culture. Wounded Knee II as it is referred to occurred, and the takeover
was all about sovereignty and traditions.
"To the American public some didn't know we still existed," White Hat said.
It wasn't until 1978 that Congress passed the American Indian Freedom of
THE LEGAL PROBLEMS
When the homesteaders arrived they found Lakota people working on ranches
and farms and shopping in reservation stores mostly owned by non-Indian
business people. Non-Indians then took over much of the work and ultimately
the industrial revolution brought in new technology for farming and
ranching and workers were replaced with machinery, historians said.
Larry Long, South Dakota Attorney General, told historians that in 1904
Congress was going to mix the races and speed up the assimilation process.
That's why he said, that in the years following other areas were opened up.
Long said the story about the opening of the land to homesteaders is two
sided. A long-used lawsuit: Lone Wolf in 1902, he said, had broken the
treaties. He said the homesteaders were made promises by the government for
a piece of land and that would be given a fee patent. Many of the promises
were not kept. In 1934 the government stopped issuances of fee patents with
the inception of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act.
"The Indians were lied to with broken promises. The homesteaders were also
lied to by the federal government that couldn't figure out how to fix the
problem," Long said.
The 1904 act was a quest for more land. The 1889 Allotment Act opened the
reservations, but it wasn't enough, attorney Terry Pechota said.
He said the 1904 Act passed with ambivalent language, and that led to
Rosebud vs. Kneip in 1972, against the state over jurisdiction. The U.S.
Supreme Court finally ruled the reservations were diminished because of the
large number of acres occupied by non-Indian farmers and ranchers.
"They took the 1904 Act. Justice Rehnquist said it was a clear sale of the
reservation," Pechota said.
Historical records, on the other hand, supported the state, said Tom Tobin,
attorney. There were three acts that dealt with land issues on reservations
and they answered the intent of Congress, Tobin said. He said that if the
first Act of 1901, which did not pass, didn't diminish the reservations,
the other acts did.
Lands on the Pine Ridge Reservation were illegally allotted because the
Secretary of Interior arbitrarily said the allotments would begin, said
Mario Gonzales, attorney for the Oglala Sioux Tribe.
He added that the 1889 Act was never agreed to by three-fourths of the male
members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, something that was required by the 1868
THE MESSAGE FROM THE WEST
Potential homesteaders from the eastern United States were treated to
romantic and mostly contrived images and stories of the west. American
Indians were pictured in period clothing and stories of valor and courage
about cowboys and farmers were sent with the images of photographers and
One of the famous illustrators, Remington Schuyler, lived on Rosebud for
10-months became an expert on the west. His illustrations for many western
magazines were a compilation of his memories with images of the scenery.
He worked in a trading post in Okreek on Rosebud, where he encountered many
Lakota who came in to spend their weekly earnings. He said in his letters
that most Lakota worked on roads and dams, earned $7.50 per week and spent
most of that at the trading post.
He wrote about the mosquitoes and winged ants and 105 degree days. "I work
at cutting hay, if my health hold out. And I get to handle some cattle," he
Schuyler worked for the E Bar Ranch and drew images of the ranch owner that
appeared in many of his illustrations.
He once wrote: "there are no more cowboys and Indians they have been
extinct since the 1880s."
Schuyler wrote of the sheer boredom -- living the same life day after day.
"The prairie wind seldom ceased, it is monotonous."
Yet homesteaders came and bought land and pushed the Lakota off the land
and changed their culture.
That was not what Schuyler painted, said noted historian Brian W. Bippie,
Department of History, University of Victoria, BC.
"Schuyler took his memory of the west to high drama. Reality did not play
part of the art or of content of the stories," Bippie said.
"Schuyler said editors wanted action, blood and gore. And so he relied on
The women were painted Lakota maidens and Anglo in appearance, because it
was a story that would sell and attract readers. Schuyler and other artists
showed images of cow-boys rescuing damsels in distress, Bippie said.
"He saw and knew the Sioux life on the reservation, but always showed it in
feathers and leather," Bippie said. At the time, the Lakota wore the
contemporary clothing worn by most of the homesteaders, ranchers and
Bippie told the historians that a typical image of the vanishing race of
American Indian was depicted by the still famous and popular image of the
"end of the trail."
"Schuyler knew the difference, but he didn't tell the story like it ought
to be," Bippie said.
Bippie added that even today tourists from foreign countries and other
areas come to the region to see American Indians and leave disappointed
that their stereotypical image is not reality.
THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES
When the homesteaders were settling on Indian land, the Lakota people were
not allowed by law to practice their religion, speak their language in,
schools or show any signs of the "old ways."
"The ceremonies went underground. I'm thankful today that the storytellers
continued, that's how I learned," Albert White Hat, instructor at Sinte
Gleska University said.
Terms, definitions and words changed. The Episcopal church had one version,
the Catholic church another, neither one interpreted the language properly.
"They spoke Lakota, but didn't get along."
The term Mitakoye Oyasin means that all things are related, "All my
The churches forced the Lakota to worship the Christian God, one being,
when they were accustomed to worshiping everything.
"Tonkashila, to us means everything, it was changed to mean one being. It's
a term of respect," White Hat said. White Hat has written a Lakota language
"When the missionaries came they talked about a God from the Bible. As they
described this, the elders said it must be Wakan. They described the God as
Wakan Tanka, the Christians then translated that to mean Great Spirit."
White Hat said that was the description of the Christian God. "We were
taught to look above you and kneel to that power.
"The Episcopalians were the elite with privilege. They looked to material
things, a nice home and cars. If you were raised as a Catholic you were
totally beaten into submission," White Hat said.
In 1953 what had been a prohibition to American Indians became available,
alcohol. President Dwight Eisenhower signed the bill that allowed the
"I grew up to be a work horse with little academic training. We knew how to
work, but technology took labor away. This country has a feeling we don't
have it up here," White Hat said.
Education and language, according to White Hat are the ways to ensure a
future for the Lakota. In 1949 his older brother took a petition across the
reservation to start public schools. The tribe adopted a resolution. The
state tested potential teachers and only one person on the reservation
could be certified.
"We had integration."
Even then, some bus drivers refused to pick up American Indian children he
said. Integration was forced in the public schools when the tribal council
ordered all leases canceled, the BIA approved and integration was under
Still today there is resistance, and a lack of education. White Hat said
that 83 percent of all students have to go back to the basics when they
attend the university.
"We know if our kids have the opportunity our kids can learn. The language
plays a major part. But the way the language is interpreted can take away
our culture and Lakota belief and make us into a total dependent nation. A
very affective tool," he said.
"Names and words give reality. Words are changed to change a culture. The
oral tradition is a base. It has a hallowed place in Indian culture.
Language and words about the land, whether ownership or stewardship or a
sense of place is a fundamental concern to the Lakota. The Lakota have a
respect for everything," said Dr. Ron Theisz, professor at Black Hills