The frontier wars against the American Indians ended calmly with a couple of murder trials, according to National Wildlife magazine editor Di Silvestro (Reclaiming the Last Wild Places, 1993, etc.).
The West was just about tamed in the last years of the 19th century. Telegraph lines connected the territories, and the jingling of the cowboys’ fancy Mexican spurs faded as the rumble of the railroad grew louder. Buffalo, once plentiful, grew scarce, and the plains sprouted fences. Custer rode into the Black Hills, never to return. In the Dakota Territory, a Lakota Sioux cult, perhaps bent on revenge, alarmed whites; there was, after all, the massacre of Sioux women and children at Wounded Knee to be avenged. Chief Sitting Bull of Standing Rock Reservation, late of Canada and formerly a star attraction in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West extravaganza, was arrested and killed. While leaving a Lakota encampment, peaceable army lieutenant Ed Casey was shot in the back of the head by a young hothead named Plenty Horses. Was the killing an act of war, or simply murder? And was it war when some ranchers ambushed a few traveling Indian families soon thereafter? Di Silvestro examines the events surrounding those two incidents. Despite the exoneration of all defendants, ranchers and Indians alike, the fact that the trials took place at all was significant, he argues. The era of open warfare was over; the courtroom dramas signaled the closing of the campaign for the Western frontier.
A dispassionate encapsulation of the Wild West just before it devolved into myth.