History ETDs

Publication Date



Indigenous groups that occupied the Black Hills for thousands of years established economic, spiritual, and political connections to the region. Through these relationships, many indigenous people formed their tribal identities in association to this land. Many of these connections with the Black Hills continue to persist in Native American tribes in the present-day. But decades of American western expansion changed indigenous relationships to the region. In 1868, the United States negotiated with the Lakota people the terms of the Fort Laramie Treaty, which established the Great Sioux Reservation and legally guaranteed the Black Hills to the Lakota tribe. When the lure of gold and lust for expansion came to full realization in the northern plains during the 1870s, the Black Hills was no longer isolated from outsiders. As the Lakotas fought to maintain control of their territory, new groups of people identified it as their rightful land. The massive influx of immigrant gold-seekers and settlers into the Black Hills ultimately led to the displacement of Lakotas from the region. Almost overnight, the Black Hills went from being a land promised to the Lakota Nation to a land of promise for Americans. Dreams and Dust in the Black Hills: Race, Place, and National Identity in America's 'Land of Promise,'' reveals new insights about this transformation. Previous scholarship on Black Hills history has interpreted how military and federal forces affected this region's indigenous populations during the decades of western expansion. The Lakota people, in particular, suffered through decades of despair and dispossession. This dissertation introduces a fresh approach to inform the familiar narrative of Black Hills history. 'Dreams and Dust' introduces another agent—the tourism industry—as another force that contributed to the struggles of the Lakotas. Beginning in the late 1800s, tourism sold a version of Black Hills history that manipulated Native people and their connections to this land. This successful industry continued to suppress Lakotas during the twentieth century. But the story of the Lakotas does not end in despair, dispossession, or annihilation. In the early 1900s, Lakota people began to defy the tourism industry. They participated in Black Hills pageants, parades, and other performances, but they used these opportunities to their advantage. Lakotas turned the region's tourist attractions into platforms for asserting their rights to the Black Hills. Lakotas had faced years of forced removal, colonization, disease, starvation, and the suppression of their cultural traditions and ceremonies. Despite all of this, they still found their voice through the venues of Black Hills tourism. Lakota participants in Black Hills tourism reshaped non-Indian opinions about the nature of their history, culture, and their relationship with the Black Hills. These actions remain crucial components of the story of the Lakota people, their enduring relationship with the Black Hills, and their struggle for self-determination.

Level of Degree


Degree Name


Department Name


First Advisor

Connell-Szasz, Margaret

First Committee Member (Chair)

Hutton, Paul Andrew

Second Committee Member

Cahill, Cathleen D.

Third Committee Member

Fixico, Donald L.



Project Sponsors

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Western History Association, Huntington Library, Newberry Consortium for American Indian Studies, Cody Institute for Western American Studies, Western Writers of America, Western Association of Women Historians, the University of New Mexico History Graduate Student Association, Organization of American Historians, Immigration and Ethnic History Society, UNM Feminist Research Institute, American Historical Association, American Heritage Center, Charles Redd Center for Western Studies, and the Phi Alpha Theta History Honorary Society.

Document Type


Included in

History Commons