Until 1877 the Dakota Territory portion of the Black Hills lay within the bounds of the Great Sioux Reservation (Established by the second Fort Laramie Treaty (1868), the Great Sioux Reservation originally encompassed some 60 million acres, including all of what is now western South Dakota and small portions of eastern South Dakota, southern North Dakota and Nebraska. The Wyoming Territory portion of the Black Hills was part of a large region west of Dakota left open for the Cheyenne and Sioux to use as hunting grounds.
After George Armstrong Custer’s 1874 Black Hills Expedition demonstrated the presence of gold in the region, thousands of white fortune hunters flocked to Reservation land, prompting the uprising known as the Great Sioux War in 1876. The war ended with the gradual surrender of the Cheyenne and Sioux bands in early 1877. The gave the Federal Government the pretext it needed to pass “The Agreement of 1877” (aka “The Act of February 28, 1877”). This act forced the Sioux to cede a 50-mile wide strip of reservation land along the western border of Dakota, including the Black Hills, thus legalizing the white settlement of the region, which was already a fait accompli.
As with other 19th-century gold rushes, that in the Black Hills catalyzed a frenzy of publication. Publishers nationwide, and particularly in the upper Midwest, rushed to issue guide books, ephemera, and maps to satisfy the great demand from would-be investors and fortune seekers. “Butler’s Map of the Black Hills” is one of the largest and rarest maps to appear during the Gold Rush.
The map depicts a roughly 30-by-24-mile region of territorial South Dakota and Wyoming, bounded by the North and South Forks of the Cheyenne River. Waterways are delineated; elevations are indicated somewhat sketchily by hachuring and some major peaks named; and scattered notes describe the character of the landscape—“timber”, “prairie”, “oak in clumps”, “springs”, &c. Deadwood, Leadville, Spearfish, and other recently-settled Gold Rush towns are indicated, connected with each other and larger towns to the east by a very few roads and trails. The long, counterclockwise loop of the 1874 Custer Expedition is also shown.
The map was presumably issued some time after the end of the Great Sioux War and the passage of The Agreement of 1877, as it makes absolutely no mention whatsoever of the Great Reservation or the Cheyenne or Sioux presence in the region.
The map is extremely rare. We find but a single institutional holding (Minnesota Historical Society) and no record of its having been offered on the antiquarian market.
The mysterious Butler
The map’s origins are shrouded in mystery. We find no advertisements for it in the contemporary press, and thus the identity and abode of the “Butler” named in the title remain unknown. As to Butler’s sources, we can only speculate: His map doesn’t particularly resemble other major maps of the period, such as Custer’s Map of a Reconnaissance of the Black Hills (1874?), the Topographical Engineers map of the Dakota Territory (1875), or Thayer’s Map of the Black Hills & Big Horn Country (1877).
There are at least two tantalizing “Butlers” connected with the Black Hills in 1876-77: In 1877, George Harris Butler (1840-1886) was appointed Special Postal Agent for the Black Hills; however, while on his way to Deadwood, he became drunk, attacked a Methodist pastor, and was fired before assuming the position. That said, circumstantial evidence does suggest that he continued out West. And while nothing indicates he spent significant time in the Black Hills, his biography is too fascinating and louche not to mention him here.
An even longer-shot is James Butler (a.k.a. “Wild Bill”) Hickok (1837–1876). Hickok was a legendary American frontiersman, scout, and gunslinger. Wild Bill was shot dead in Deadwood in 1876, just close enough to the map’s publication to allow us to mention him! There were also a number of lesser-known Butlers in the Black Hills around this time; for instance, Squire Butler started a jewelry store in Deadwood in 1877. But for now, the question of the man (or woman?) behind the map remains open.
In all, an extraordinarily rare and informative cartographic artifact, with great immediacy to the events of the Black Hills Gold Rush and the tragic conclusion of the Great Sioux War.
OCLC 871182381 (Minnesota Historical Society only). Not in Phillips, Maps of America or Karrow, Checklist of Printed Maps of the Middle West.