Grant, Sherman and Sheridan applied the same hard hand of war used on the American South to the Plains Indians. Sheridan endorsed the slaughter of western buffalo herds as a way to subjugate the Indians and break their will to fight – the same as he had done earlier in the Shenandoah Valley. Notably, one of the most successful western hunters was “New England Yankee Josiah W. Mooar, who killed nearly 21,000 buffalo in three years . . .”
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Sheridan Hastens the Indians’ Demise
“At the same time they were going hungry [on reservations], the Indians watched with impotent disgust as growing numbers of white hunters set up their forked rifle sticks on ancestral hunting grounds and slew the animals in staggering numbers with their .50 caliber Sharps buffalo guns.
In 1872-73 alone, 1,250,000 hides were shipped east to fashionable furriers. By the end of 1874, an estimated 4,373,730 buffalo had been slain, of which a grand total of 150,000 had been taken by the Indians.
The hunters’ intrusion on tribal lands was patently illegal, but the army did little to stop it. Despite the Medicine Lodge Treaty, which had outlawed white intrusion on Indian land, the unofficial attitude of the government toward the hunters was one of de facto cooperation.
Secretary Columbus Delano, whose department was charged with looking out for the Indian’s welfare, stated bluntly in his annual report, “I would not seriously regret the total disappearance of the buffalo from our western prairies, in its effects upon the Indians, regarding it as a means of hastening their sense of dependence upon the products of the soil.”
Sheridan, who had rather less confidence in the farming capabilities of the Indians, nevertheless looked upon the slaughter of the buffalo as an effective means of subjugating the tribes and breaking their wills.
When the Texas legislature briefly considered passing a bill outlawing buffalo poaching on native lands, Sheridan made a personal appearance before the lawmakers in Austin. Rather than penalize the hunters, he said, the legislature ought to give them each a medal, engraved with a dead buffalo on one side and a discouraged-looking Indian on the other.
In an attempt to keep closer watch on the wide-ranging Sioux, Sheridan received permission from Grant in late 1873 to mount an expedition into the Black Hills to scout locations for a new fort in the area. Custer and the Seventh Cavalry spent the better part of eight weeks exploring the sacred territory. As usual, Custer turned the expedition into a combination picnic, big-game hunt, and public relations extravaganza, sending back glowing reports of the region’s vast animal and mineral resources.
Injudiciously, he also fanned the flames of public greed by claiming, with some exaggeration, that pieces of gold could be plucked up from the very ground one walked on. At the first mention of gold, hundreds, then thousands, of ears pricked up. It was, after all, the Gilded Age, and fortune-making was the national sport.
[Though the 1868 treaty with the Sioux] “virtually deeds this portion of the Black Hills to the Sioux,” [Sheridan suggested] that miners and homesteaders try their luck further west in the unceded lands of Wyoming and Montana. The Sioux had hunting rights there, too, but Sheridan hoped to nullify these rights by encouraging the further depopulation of buffalo and other game. When there was nothing left to hunt, he reasoned, the Indians would have no more hunting rights to lose. Needless to say, the Sioux were unamused by this line of reasoning.”
(Sheridan: The Life and Times of General Phil Sheridan, Roy Morris, Jr., Crown Publishers, 1992, pp. 342-343; 348-349)