THE BATTLE OF THE LITTLE BIG HORN
GENERAL CUSTER CHIEF SITTING BULL
In March 1875 at the request of the United States government, Walter P. Jenney conducted a geological reconnaissance of the Black Hills, the survey would discover substantial gold deposits in the region. A commission was immediately appointed by W. B. Allison to negotiate with the Indians for the possession of these lands.
The Indian chiefs stubbornly refused and the negotiations ended in complete failure. As word spread of the discovery of gold, thousands of venturesome prospectors now began pouring into the Black Hills. The Indians now believed that the only way by which they could preserve their rights, was to make war and drive the white man from their lands.
In February 1876, the Secretary of War was notified that the Indians were refusing to return to their agencies and were attacking homesteader’s in the black hills region. It was decided that the hostile Indians were to be dealt with by the military and reduced to subjugation.
General Sheridan assumed overall command of the operation and planned to converge on the black hills with three attack columns, one under Crook from Fort Fetterman, another under Terry from Fort Abraham Lincoln and the third under Gibbon from Fort Ellis. Along Crook's march, his force numbering eight hundred men came across and destroyed Crazy Horse's camp, but the chief and the bulk of his warriors escaped into the hills.
Crook immediately perused the fleeing Indians but on June 17th, his force was caught by surprise and defeated by Crazy Horse at the battle of Rosebud. Crook now fell back with the remnants of his shattered command to await reinforcements while Crazy Horse, failing to follow up on his advantage over Crook, left the field to rejoin Sitting Bull on the plains of the Little Bighorn.
On May 17th, Terry moved out of Fort Abraham Lincoln with a force of six hundred cavalry and four hundred infantry. On June 9th, He met with steamboats on the Powder river carrying supplies for the attack. His force then preceded up the mouth of the Rosebud, where on June 21, he linked up with Gibbon's four hundred and fifty men and was also informed of Crook's defeat.
Terry then dispatched General Custer on a scouting mission up the Rosebud, while he used the steamboats to ferry Gibbon's force across the river, which were then to advance on the bighorn to effect a link up with Custer's command.
Custer, with eight hundred and fifty men started up the Rosebud on June 22nd, early in the morning of the twenty fourth, they made their first contact with the enemy, as Sioux warriors were seen observing their positions. Custer then instructed his scouts to search out and find the Indian's main camp.
The scouts rode out into the endless plain to the top of the highest point dominating the entire area, far below them spread the massive bighorn valley upon which stood the largest Indian encampment they had ever seen.
Upon hearing the scouts report, Custer road out to the top of the summit from which he viewed the encampment in the valley below with great amazement at its sheer size. Custer now contemplated his next move as he studied the nature of the ground and the best attack route to follow. Custer then ordered his men to move down the western slope of Wolf mountain and out onto the open plains.
Custer's command marched out of the mountains and into a rising plain, off to the left Reno's force was in full sight and moving parallel. The two column's rode in unison for some time until Reno veered off then forded across the river thus separating the two forces. Reno's men now continued forward along the river toward the Sioux camp.
Custer then turned down a dry creek bed which he used as cover until reaching the river. Custer planned to ford at this point and attack the Sioux in conjunction with Reno, but the Indians had now discovered him and were gathering in large numbers on the opposite bank. Custer instead turned and led his command back into the valley.
The Indians were now crossing at different points along the river while other groups were slowly creeping up on Custer's front. Slow to react to the situation before him, Custer was also unaware that Reno's forces had been severely mauled and with those of Benteen, had retreated to the bluffs and were in no position to come to his aid. With Reno's defeat, the Indian's entire force of 3,000 warriors were now free to attack Custer.
CHIEF CRAZY HORSE CHIEF GALL
Believing that Reno was in position to commence with his attack, Custer prepared his men to once again cross the river and assault the Indian encampment. Custer however would not get that chance, as hundred's of warriors under Chief Crazy Horse suddenly began fording the river directly to his front.
Custer now ordered his men to dismount and form a firing line to deal with the oncoming charge. Custer's men got off only a few volleys in unison when suddenly large numbers of warriors now appeared on both flanks and quickly bore down on their position.
Faced with fierce attacks on three sides, Custer had no choice but to order his men to mount their horse’s and fall back into the valley, but the order had come to late, the speed of Crazy Horse's assault had quickly reached Custer's shrinking firing line and many soldier's were forced into hand to hand combat against overwhelming numbers.
Those cavalrymen fortunate enough to remount their charger's were now being attacked from all sides, the attempt at an organized withdrawal was fast becoming a bloody retreat.
As Custer's surviving troops were being picked apart on the run, Custer spotted what he believed to be an escape rout on some unoccupied high ground and gave the order to head in that direction. When the remnant’s of Custer's shattered command reached the summit, their hopes for escape and survival were dashed as another large force of Indian warriors led by Chief Gall appeared, closing the pocket and completing the trap.
Now completely surrounded, Custer had no choice but to make a final stand and gave the fateful order for his men to dismount and fire at will. The Indian assault numbering nearly one thousand braves, rapidly converged on and penetrated Custer's shrinking defensive perimeter.
Unable to resist the endless waves of continuous warriors, the slaughter inflicted upon Custer's men resembled a Sioux buffalo hunt. The resulting Indian massacre of the trapped seventh cavalry was over in roughly thirty minutes and Custer along with his entire command were to a man wiped out.
CUSTER'S LAST STAND
Two days after the massacre, Terry arrived with Gibbon's men along with the remnants of Reno's force, they marched out to the Little Big Horn and buried what was left of their comrades. In all the American’s lost some 263 men and 55 seriously wounded. Large American forces were now rushed to the big horn area, but not a single Indian could be found.
Sitting Bull was quite satisfied with their complete victory and ordered the tribes to scatter, with many going back to their reservations. The American government now adopted a strict policy of disarming all Indians. American cavalry in pursuit of the fleeing Sioux could not capture the elusive Sitting Bull and his follower's who eventually crossed the border and escaped into Canada.
When Sitting Bull fled to Canada, Crazy Horse remained hidden with his followers in the Bighorn mountains. During that winter, General Cook learned that he was ready to surrender and sent his uncle Spotted Tail to bring him into camp. The emissary returned from the hills with two thousand Indians but Crazy Horse remained at large until May 6th 1877, when the great Chief himself finally came in and surrendered with eight hundred more warriors including two thousand horses.
For this successful mission, Spotted Tail was recognized by the authorities as head chief of all the Lakota. Crazy Horse now remained interned at Fort Robinson under heavy military guard. Uneasy with his situation and fearing for his life, Crazy Horse Resisted arrest during a prisoner transfer and was bayoneted by a sentry and died on September 5th 1877.
In 1881, Sitting Bull crossed the Canadian border back into the United States with most of the Lakota that also fled and surrendered at Fort Buford. After serving two years as a prisoner of war at Fort Randall, he was released and taken to the Standing Rock agency, were he lived peacefully. It was also in the year of Sitting Bull's surrender that Spotted Tail was murdered by Crow Dog, a sub chief who wanted to become chief of all the Lakota.
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