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General Alfred Terry


General Alfred Howe Terry was an experienced army officer, with extensive service during the Civil War. He was the military commander of Dakota Territory from 1866 to 1869 and again from 1872 to 1886. He became George Armstrong Custer’s commanding officer in 1873. The 7th Cavalry had been posted to the Dakota Territory and was stationed at Fort Abraham Lincoln near Bismarck. Custer was already a celebrity, known as “the boy general” of the Civil War. In 1874, Custer led an expedition into the Black Hills. They confirmed the presence of gold, triggering a gold rush, but the land had been set aside for the Lakota. General Terry himself had helped negotiate the Fort Laramie Treaty that designated the Black Hills as Dakota land. He was reluctant to violate the treaty, but events overwhelmed him. He knew it would be impossible to stand up to the determined prospectors who came to the Black Hills seeking their fortunes.

After Custer’s adventure, Terry became a member of the Allison Committee, which tried to buy the Black Hills from the Lakota in 1875. The Lakota responded that the Black Hills were not for sale. In December, 1875 the Lakota were ordered to leave the Black Hills and return to reservations by the end of the following month. But they were in winter quarters, and it was not a realistic order. It would have been very difficult for them to make the move in December.

When the deadline passed without the submission of the Lakota, Terry knew he would have to authorize a campaign to force them out. On this date in 1876, General Terry moved against the Lakota. The lengthy campaign eventually ended in disaster with the massacre of the 7th Cavalry at Little Big Horn.

Dakota Territory was still under Terry’s command during the Nez Perce War in 1877. He sent General John Gibbon and Colonel Nelson Miles to intercept Chief Joseph before he and his band could cross into Canada. Terry himself went to Canada to negotiate Sitting Bull’s surrender, but was unsuccessful. It was four years before Sitting Bull finally relented, surrendering to Terry.

Terry was promoted to major general in 1886 and took command of Army forces on the Great Plains. He retired from service in 1888.

Dakota Datebook Written by Carole Butcher


Today in Old West History. "http://www.knology.net/~lonesomedove/tiowhfeb.html" http://www.knology.net/~lonesomedove/tiowhfeb.html Accessed 4 January, 2016.

PBS. “New Perspectives on the Old West.” "http://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/people/s_z/terry.htm" http://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/people/s_z/terry.htm Accessed 4 January, 2016.