Military map of Sioux reservations in North and South Dakota, issued just weeks before Wounded Knee

Compiled and drawn under the direction of Lieut. Haydn S. Cole 3rd Infy. Actg. Engineer Officer By Topgl. Asst. H.F. Strebe, MAP of Country Comprising the SIOUX INDIAN RESERVATIONS IN NORTH AND SOUTH DAKOTA Prepared in the Engineer Office Headquarters Dept. of Dakota By Authority of Brig. Gen. T.H.Ruger Commanding. [St. Paul, Minn.], Nov. 1890.
Cyanotype on muslin, 21 5/8”h x 19 ½”w at neat line plus margins. Old folds and creases, some minor fraying at edges, but with none of the fading usually associated with cyanotype maps. A superb example.

An extremely rare map of North and South Dakota lands reserved to the Sioux, printed on muslin and likely rushed into print for use by officers in the field just weeks before the Wounded Knee Massacre of December 29, 1890.

The map was drafted in November 1890, almost precisely a year after the Dakotas were admitted to the Union. It depicts western South Dakota up to but not including the Black Hills, along with a sliver of southwestern North Dakota. The map is dominated by the Missouri River and its tributaries, with little topographical data other than buttes indicated by hachuring. Superimposed on this background are roads and trails indicated by dashed lines; a few railroads, the farthest west stopping at Pierre on the east bank of the Missouri; settlements and towns; and the boundaries of six Sioux reservations (more on which below), each managed by a Federal Government “Agency” and all watched over by a network of U.S. Army forts and outposts indicated by flags. The Pine Ridge Reservation, site of the Wounded Knee massacre, is visible at the far lower left.

This map was above all about movement, for the use of U.S. Army officers as they sought to locate, track, and ultimately extinguish the remnants of Sioux resistance to white settlement. Thus it is worth noting what is not shown, most notably county boundaries and the ever-advancing grid of General Land Office surveys, made in preparation for the sale and settlement of public lands.

The map was printed on muslin for durability and portability, using the cyanotype process. Cyanotypes were much used by the American military in the mid-late 19th century, being valued for their simplicity, speed and cost effectiveness. To produce them, paper or linen was first rendered photo-sensitive by application of a solution such as ferric ammonium citrate. Printing was achieved simply by laying the original map—drafted on semi-transparent tracing paper—on top of the treated surface and exposing it to sunlight. The major drawback is that cyanotypes fade relatively quickly with exposure to light. The use of the process for the present map, produced as it was in reaction to government fears of an incipient Sioux uprising, suggests great urgency to get the information out to officers in the field.

As with many military maps of the West, this map appears highly original and up to date, offering more detail than other major maps of the region, such as the Topographical Engineers map of the “Dakota Territory” (1875), Thayer’s “Map of the Black Hills & Big Horn Country” (1877), the GLO’s “Territory of Dakota” (1885), or even the official “Post Route Map of the Territory of Dakota” (1885). The mapmakers presumably used some or all of these sources to compile this map, but updated with the latest information from military reconnaissance parties, railroad surveys and other sources.

Until 1889 most of the area shown on the map—specifically, the territory west of the Missouri River–had been occupied by the Great Sioux Reservation. Established by the second Fort Laramie Treaty (1868), the 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. Following George Armstrong Custer’s 1874 Black Hills Expedition, thousands of white fortune hunters and settlers on to Reservation land, prompting the uprising known as the Great Sioux War (1876-77). After the War, the Sioux ceded to the Federal Government more than two thirds of the Reservation, formally opening the area for settlement.

Finally, the Sioux Agreement of 1889—reached as North and South Dakota were applying for statehood—reduced the remains of the Great Sioux Reservation by half and separated it into non-contiguous parcels. This rump was divided into the Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, Lower Brule, Crow Creek, Rosebud and Pine Ridge Reservations, each overseen onsite by a Federal Government “agency” and the whole watched over by a network U.S. Army forts and outposts. Under the terms of the 1887 General Allotment Act (aka the Dawes Act), communally-owned reservation lands were to be subdivided into 160-acre farmland parcels and 320-acre grazing parcels. These were then to be “allotted” to individual tribe members who enrolled with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, with the unallotted lands sold to the Federal Government (invariably at below-market rates).

Inflaming matters further—if that’s possible—in early 1890 the Sioux took up the “Ghost Dance” ritual, which had first emerged among the Northern Paiute in Nevada. The Sioux gave the ritual both a millenarian and militarist cast, believing it would catalyze natural cataclysms that would yield a new, purified world and the rolling back of white western expansion. The latter was reified by warriors’ adoption of “ghost shirts”, garments which if properly worn would repel bullets.

Against this background of dispossession and ritual, Federal leaders became convinced—incorrectly, it turns out–that another Sioux uprising was in the offing. The Army was dispatched to round up Sioux leaders and bring the Ghost Dance practice to an end. Most famously, this resulting in the death of Sitting Bull on December 15, 1890 and the subsequent Wounded Knee Massacre of December 29. Wounded Knee is generally seen as the end of the Indian Wars in the West.

The mapmakers
The map was drafted by Herman F. Strebe (1859-1948), working under the supervision of Lieutenant Hayden S. Cole (1861-1939) at Fort Snelling, headquarters of the U.S. Army’s Department of Dakota. Commanded from 1886-1891 by Major General Thomas Ruger, the Department had responsibility for Minnesota, the Dakotas and Montana.

A native of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Strebe did two stints in the Army, in 1880-1885 and 1890-1894, both apparently in the engineering section of the Department of Dakota. His first enlistment record describes him as a “laborer”, the second as a “draughtsman”, but it is not known how he came by his mapmaking skills. Cole was born in upstate New York, graduated from West Point near the top of his class in 1885, and served roughly seven years in the Department of Dakota, retiring as a full lieutenant due to “disability incurred in the line of duty”. He went on to become a successful lawyer and businessman in St. Paul, then briefly returned to service during the First World War.

Cole oversaw Strebe’s work on at least three other Dakota Territory maps, “Map of Country Comprising Forts Meade, Custer, Keogh, and McKinney (1890); a magisterial, three-sheet “Map of the Department of Dakota” (1891), and Transportation Route Map of the Department of Dakota” (1892). It is not known how deeply Cole was involved in compiling and drafting these maps, but at least three of the four feature Cole’s name prominently in large type, with Strebe’s in small type below.

In all, an extraordinarily rare and informative cartographic artifact, with great immediacy to the events of the tragic final year of the four-decade Sioux Wars. 

OCLC 1016013092 (Yale only). Not in Phillips, Maps of America. OCLC 987965851 lists a map of the same title at UCLA, dated “1890-1940”, with additional features showing troop positions, but this is possibly a reproduction. Another is held in the Frazier Boutelle (1840-1924) Papers at the University of Oregon and is reproduced on the Digital Public Library of America. Background from:

  • Herbert T. Hoover, “The Sioux Agreement of 1889 and Its Aftermath”, South Dakota History, 19 no. 1 (Spring 1989), pp. 56-94 (accessed online May 2023)
  • Todd M. Kerstetter, “Ghost Dance”, in the on line Encyclopedia of the Great Plains, accessed May 2023
  • “History of the Ghost Dance”, on Second Thought (Spring 2012), pp. 10-15 (accessed online May 2023)
  • and (for service history and other biographical information on Cole and Strebe)
  • M.C., “Haydn S. Cole”, Assembly, vol. 1 no. 2 (July 1942), pp. 8-10 (accessed online May 2023)