The Battle of the Little Bighorn, 1876

In late 1875, the Hunkpapa, and other Lakota people left the reservation to secure food in the land that still considered their traditional hunting grounds in according to 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty. Sitting Bull and those who camped together gathered for the annual Sun Dance, during this ceremony, Sitting Bull had a vision in which he saw soldiers falling into the Lakota camp like grasshoppers falling from the sky. Inspired by this vision, the Oglala war chief, Crazy Horse, set out for battle with a band of 500 warriors and on June 17, 1876, he surprised Crook's troops and forced them to retreat at the Battle of the Rosebud.

The reservations were places of starvation and illness for the people. The continued trespassing of whites into the Black Hills of their sacred lands for gold and the violation of the treaty. The people of the Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapahoe and Dakota gathered in Montana with many of their great warriors for safety. The government demanded that the Lakota return to the reservations in the middle of a hard and harsh winter but the people did not return. The Indian agent issues an ultimatum declaring that if they did not return they would be labeled hostiles.

To force the large Indian group back to the reservations, the Army dispatched three columns to attack in coordinated fashion, one of which contained Lt. Colonel George Custer and the Seventh Cavalry. Spotting the Sioux village about fifteen miles away along the Rosebud River on June 25, Custer also found a nearby group of about forty warriors. Ignoring orders to wait, he decided to attack before they could alert the main party. He did not realize that the number of warriors in the village numbered three times his strength. Dividing his forces in three, Custer sent troops under Captain Frederick Benteen to prevent their escape through the upper valley of the Little Bighorn River. Major Marcus Reno was to pursue the group, cross the river, and charge the Indian village in a coordinated effort with the remaining troops under his command. He hoped to strike the Indian encampment at the northern and southern ends simultaneously, but made this decision without knowing what kind of terrain he would have to cross before making his assault. He belatedly discovered that he would have to negotiate a maze of bluffs and ravines to attack.

Reno's squadron of 175 soldiers attacked the northern end. Quickly finding themselves in a desperate battle with little hope of any relief, Reno halted his charging men before they could be trapped, fought for ten minutes in dismounted formation, and then withdrew into the timber and brush along the river.

When that position proved indefensible, they retreated uphill to the bluffs east of the river, pursued hotly by a mix of Cheyenne and Lakota. Just as they finished driving the soldiers out, the Indians found roughly 210 of Custer's men coming towards the other end of the village, taking the pressure off of Reno's men. Cheyenne and Hunkpapa together crossed the river and slammed into the advancing soldiers, forcing them back to a long high ridge to the north. Meanwhile, another force, largely Oglala under Crazy Horse's command, swiftly moved downstream and then doubled back in a sweeping arc, enveloping Custer and his men in a pincer move. They began pouring in gunfire and arrows. In less than an hour, Custer and his men were killed in the Greatest Lakota and Cheyenne Victory.
After the battle, the Indians women came through and stripped the bodies and mutilated some the uniformed soldiers, who they believed to be the same who attacked them at the Rosebud and killed many of their families. According to the dream of Sitting Bull the bodies were to remain untouched.

Little Bighorn was the pinnacle of the Indians' power. They had achieved their greatest victory yet, but soon the United States was determined to have their revenge on the Indian Nations.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe honors all those who fought in the great battle of the Little Big Horn and today is a tribal holiday to celebrate our victory on June 25.


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