While Grant was President there was much talk about the Indians. The greater part of them had, little by little, been removed to the Indian Territory, where the Choctaws, Creeks, Cherokees, and Seminoles had houses and schools, and were fast learning to be very good farmers.
But, besides the orderly and industrious Indians, there were others who were as wild as their ancestors. The food furnished to these tribes by the government agents was not fit to eat, for most of the money devoted to this purpose was stolen by dishonest men. But the President had no idea of this until a Yale professor went to a Sioux Reservation to get specimens for the college museum. The Indians there called him “The–Man–who–came–to–pick–up–Bones,” and their chief, Red Cloud, gave him samples of the food dealt out to the savages, making him promise to show them to the “Great Father” (the President).
The professor kept that promise; and when Grant saw the samples, and heard from some of the officers that the Indians had a right to complain in many cases, he decided that a change must be made.
Since then matters have gone on’a little better. Various improvements have been made, and in the government schools you can now see many Indian boys and girls learning to be teachers, so they can help their people to become good American citizens.
Among the worst of the savage Indians, there were the wild Apaches in Arizona, and the Modocs in Oregon, who, unable to agree with the settlers, and refusing to stay in their reservations, were finally forced to obey by the United States troops. This, however, was not accomplished until many Indians and a number of white men had been slain.
The worst Indian war at this time was with the Sioux in the Black Hills in Dakota. Gold having been found there, miners invaded the Indians’ reservation. As the miners and Indians both drank, quarrels and fights soon arose, and, hoping to save bloodshed, the government tried to make a treaty with the Sioux to sell their land and go elsewhere.
The principal chiefs were Sitting Bull and Rain–in–the–Face, who refused to stir. They were then told that they must obey or the troops would force them to do so. But the Indians retreated into the Big Horn valley, where they got ready to fight.
General George A. Custer, who had fought bravely all through the Civil War, set out in June, 1876, to attack them. But he divided his force, so as to strike them from two sides at once, and when he and his two hundred and sixty–two men came suddenly upon the Indians’ camp he found that the Sioux had been joined by many others of their tribe, and now, instead of a few hundred, were five thousand strong!
In a moment Custer’s cavalrymen saw they could not escape. Nevertheless, they dismounted calmly, resolved to die bravely at their post. The Indians came on, twenty to one, and stampeded the cavalry horses by fiendish yells and wildly waving blankets. Left thus, with nothing but the ammunition in their cartridge belts, Custer and his brave troopers fought until their last shots had been fired, and when the battle was over, every one of them lay there dead, but surrounded by many slain Indians.
Although badly wounded, Rain–in–the–Face boasted that he had kept a vow he had made, and had cut out and eaten Captain Tom Custer’s heart! The heroes who died in the Custer massacre were buried on the spot where they fell around their gallant general, and a massive monument was erected in their honor. Besides, a statue of Custer is to be seen at West Point, where he learned to be such a good soldier.