Is Whiteclay in Nebraska or part of the Pine Ridge Reservation?

Published Sunday January 29, 2006

The area of northern Nebraska now known as Sheridan County, and in fact a much larger area, was once largely populated by the Oglala and Brule Sioux.

The Civil War and its great demand for Union troops took much of the military’s attention away from Nebraska. At the end of the war the Second Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868 allowed settlers, gold seekers and travelers to venture through Indian Territory but reserved for their use “all land lying north of the North Platte River and east of the Big Horn Mountains.” The following year President U.S. Grant termed the Lakota “renegades” and initiated the “fixed reservation plan.”

In 1871 the Brule Sioux were moved, first to Wyoming then in 1874 were relocated to the northwest corner of what would become Sheridan County. At the same time gold was discovered in the Black Hills and gold hunters demanded access through and to previously Indian lands. the Oglala Sioux under Red Cloud, were moved to the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1877 about the same time the first settlers arrived. As there had been no federal survey, these settlers could have no true title to the land and were in fact squatters.

About 1880 legal settlement began and with the U.S. Land Office opening at Valentine in 1883 the village of Dewing, named for Thomas Dewing, was established on White Clay Creek in the northern area of the county. Valentine McGillicuddy, the Indian Agent at the Pine Ridge Agency in neighboring South Dakota, approached the Commissioner of Indian Affairs and the Secretary of the Interior warning that “undesirable…white squatters” and “whiskey ranches” would soon follow on White Clay Creek. To prevent this he requested a 50 square mile buffer zone be established south of the reservation in Nebraska. Although intense lobbying delayed the action, President Chester A. Arthur established the 10 mile by five mile strip by Executive Order, to be in effect “so long as needed” to protect the Sioux at Pine Ridge. The order was then extended by a similar order in 1889.

The 1885 Official Atlas of Nebraska clearly shows the “Sioux Reserve” on White Clay Creek in Sheridan County as an attachment to the Pine Ridge Reservation. In 1890 the Sioux from Pine Ridge Reservation gathered for a Ghost Dance designed to bring back the buffalo and rid the area of white settlers. The U.S. Army was called into play and all of the participants were slaughtered. In 1892 the last and perhaps smallest cession of Indian land occurred in Nebraska, in Sheridan County.

In January of 1904 a new Executive Order was signed by President Theodore Roosevelt which allowed the buffer zone to revert to public domain but later held back by reinstating a small parcel east of Whiteclay which contained an Indian boarding school. Interestingly Roosevelt failed to provide evidence that the buffer was no longer necessary to protect the reservation. On December 22, 1904 a post office was established about 1 ½ miles southwest of the present Whiteclay on White Clay Creek. In the late 1930s the Whiteclay post office was moved to the village of Dewing and the town name was changed to Whiteclay. The peak population of 112 for the unincorporated village of Whiteclay was reach in 1940.

A spokesman for the Sioux, Tom Poor Bear, has charged that the Nebraska Liquor Commission “is in contempt and violation of the Executive Orders of 1882 and 1904.” Another faction charges that because Roosevelt did not show the buffer was no longer needed, his Executive Order was invalid and the land is still attached to the reservation. This group has asked that a new Executive Order be signed, transferring the land back to the federal government, as the Oglala Sioux Tribe specifically outlaws the sale of alcohol on the reservation thus the need to protect the Indians is still valid.

The Nebraska Instructional Materials Council’s textbook Journey Through Nebraska states “Most of [the Pine Ridge Reservation] is in South Dakota, but a piece of which is in Sheridan County” and “Whiteclay, just south of the South Dakota border, is part of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.”

All of this would probably not arise except that the village of Whiteclay, whose present population is about 24, sits virtually on the south edge of the Pine Ridge Reservation. This too would not be in question except that there are currently three active and one unassigned liquor licenses in Whiteclay. In 2004 those three outlets managed to sell 4,629,259 cans of beer or an average of 12,500 cans a day!

The ball is now in the hands of the Nebraska Legislature…or maybe the President’s.

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