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August 3: A Fruitless Mission

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Five thousand Indians of the Sioux nation gathered in 1888 for discussions on a treaty that would open up land in the Standing Rock reservation for non-native settlement. The government was represented by three commissioners who needed three-quarters of all adult Lakota males to approve the treaty. Today marked the eleventh day of discussions, and the commissioners had yet to gather a single signature.

Five leaders represented the tribe. They were Chiefs Gaul, John Grass, Mad Bear, Big Head, and Running Antelope. The treaty would open up half the reservation for settlement – eleven million acres. The land would be purchased for one million dollars, and sold for 50 cents per acre, with five percent credited to the tribe.

Mad Bear said “if you sign this paper giving away your lands, you can never get it back again. No matter how much you pray, it will be gone forever.”

Official proceedings had begun July 24th, and the entire day was spent taking role. Many Native Americans refused to even view the circulars explaining the treaty, and on the 27th, a formal expression of disapproval was given.

Chief Grass stated: “You tell us 11 million of acres of our land is to be given to the whites and we are to get 50 cents for every acre sold; one million dollars is to be advanced to us and we are to get five per cent of that for ourselves. One-half of this is to be used for industrial schools and we are to get the other half. This would give us about one dollar each,” -- a line which brought laughter. “We do not think this would make us very rich.”

The frustrated commissioners continued to try and convince the tribes to sign, but to no avail. On August 3rd, the commissioners began threatening to condemn the land, but the Sioux stood their ground. They argued that the government had failed to live up to past treaties, and the price was not enough.

On August 7th, John Grass told the commissioners that they would sign no paper for or against the treaty and would leave. The tribe left peacefully and victorious. The commissioners had failed in this first attempt to open the Standing Rock reservation for settlement.

Dakota Datebook by Tessa Sandstrom

Sources:
“The Sioux object,” The Bismarck Daily Tribune. July 24, 1888: 1.
“Suspicious Sioux,” The Bismarck Daily Tribune. July 25, 1888: 1.
“Not Encouraging,” The Bismarck Daily Tribune. July 28, 1888: 1.
“Will not sign,” The Bismarck Daily Tribune. July 29, 1888: 1.
“Still uncertain,” The Bismarck Daily Tribune. July 31, 1888: 1.
“By the Great Spirit,” The Bismarck Daily Tribune. August 1, 1888:1.
“Unchanged,” The Bismarck Daily Tribune. August 2, 1888:1.
“It is freeze-out,” The Bismarck Daily Tribune. August 3, 1888:1.
“Obstinate chiefs,” The Bismarck Daily Tribune. August 4, 1888:1.
“Ration Day,” The Bismarck Daily Tribune. August 5, 1888:1.
“The climax,” The Bismarck Daily Tribune. August 8, 1888:1.
“A fruitless mission,” The Bismarck Daily Tribune. August 9, 1888:1.

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