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November 10: Alfred Howe Terry

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Alfred Howe Terry was born into a prosperous Connecticut family on this date in 1827. He graduated from Yale with a law degree and worked for a Connecticut Superior Court.

When the Civil War broke out, he raised a regiment of volunteers and led them at First Bull Run and other battles. He rapidly rose to the level of brigadier general.

After the war, Terry became a military commander in Dakota Territory and was a member of the peace commission that saw the close of Red Cloud’s campaign against American troops. Using his legal training and judicial experience, he negotiated the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868.

Terry then left the Dakotas for a post in Georgia, where he oversaw reconstruction efforts. He became a vigorous opponent of the emerging Ku Klux Klan, but by 1872, he was back in Dakota Territory providing military protection for the Hayden survey of the Yellowstone region.

The following year, he became commanding officer over Custer and the 7th Cavalry when it was posted to Ft. Lincoln. He soon found himself caught in the middle of a controversy triggered by Custer’s expedition into the Black Hills. When Custer let the world know of the gold found there, the resulting rush onto reservation lands broke the Laramie Treaty, which Terry himself negotiated.

Trying to repair the damage, Terry joined the Allison Committee in an attempt to buy the Black Hills from the Lakota. When his efforts failed, he directed the 1876 campaign to force the Lakota and their allies onto reservations.

Terry was still in command when Chief Joseph and the Nez Percé were defeated during their attempt to join Sitting Bull in Canada. Later in 1877, Terry himself traveled into Canada with a commission to negotiate a truce with Sitting Bull. The attempt was unsuccessful, but four years later, it was to General Terry that Sitting Bull surrendered at Fort Buford.

Terry was promoted to major general in 1886 and appointed commander of the Army’s Great Plains forces. However, he became disabled following a serious illness and had to retire in 1888. He died in Connecticut two years later – one day after Indian Police killed Sitting Bull while trying to arrest him at his home in South Dakota.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

Source: Alfred Howe Terry. New perspectives on THE WEST. PBS: 2001.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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