Law and the Great Plains: Essays on the Legal History of the Heartland

By John R. Wunder | Go to book overview

Part II
Landmark Cases of the Great Plains

Through the years the Great Plains has spawned a number of landmark cases in American law. It is not yet clear whether the region itself offers a favorable climate for testing American law, but it cannot be denied that important legal distinctions have been discovered as a result of Great Plains disputes.

One of the most important legal areas, perhaps unique to the Great Plains, where significant litigation has occurred is in Indian law. Numerous landmark opinions have been written about disputes involving Native Americans of the Great Plains. Topics have ranged from water law, termination policy, family law, and Bill of Rights designations to federal jurisdiction and Indian self-determination. Two of the most important decisions involved a murder and the taking of lands from a reservation.

Spotted Tail, a respected Brulé Sioux, was murdered by Crow Dog on the Rosebud Reservation in 1881. Spotted Tail's assassination marked the beginning of a series of murders, such as that of Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, which drained the Sioux of their leadership. A United States attorney in Dakota Territory tried Crow Dog for the murder. Upon reaching a guilty verdict, the decision was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In Ex parte Crow Dog ( 1883)1 the Supreme Court found that there was no federal jurisdiction involved when one Indian committed a crime against another

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