Monthly Archives: June 2008
The battle is perhaps the most famous of the so-called “Indian Wars”, along with the “battle” of Wounded Knee (which marked the symbolic end of large-scale Indian resistance to White settlement) and was most definitely the most resounding victory for the resisting Indians during the period.
Over the course of the battle, which lasted from June 25th to June 26th in 1876, the U.S. Seventh Cavalry, of which a column of seven-hundred men led by George Armstrong Custer, was defeated; five of the Seventh’s companies were annihilated and Custer himself was killed in the engagement along with two of his brothers and a brother-in-law.
In 1875, the Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux leader Tatanka Iyotaka (Sitting Bull) formed the Sun Dance Alliance between the Lakota and the Cheyenne, which by 1876 had lead to thousands of Indians from not only the Lakota and the Cheyenne, but also the Arapaho and others, slipping away from their reservations to fight under the leadership of Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and others in resisting the continued encroachment of American settlers, who were in search of land and gold.
To force the large Indian army 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 southern 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 Sioux.
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 Sioux 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 Sioux 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.
As the Indians closed in, Custer ordered his men to shoot their horses and stack the carcasses to form a wall, but they provided little protection against bullets. In less than an hour, Custer and his men were killed in the worst American military disaster ever. After another day’s fighting, Reno and Benteen’s now united forces escaped when the Indians broke off the fight. They had learned that the other two columns of soldiers were coming towards them, so they fled.
Little Bighorn was the pinnacle of Indian power on the plains. They had achieved their greatest victory yet, but soon their tenuous union fell apart in the face of the white onslaught. Outraged over the death of a popular Civil War hero on the eve of the Centennial, the nation demanded and received harsh retribution. The Black Hills dispute was quickly settled by redrawing the boundary lines, placing the Black Hills outside the reservation and open to white settlement. Within a year, the Sioux nation was defeated and broken. “Custer’s Last Stand” was their last stand as well.
I don’t have much time to type right now, but having had a heads up that there is likely to be public sentiment towards the re-installation of the death penalty in Bermuda, including hanging, I just wanted to post something quick. Penn and Teller, the magicians/comedians do a skeptical show on Showtime about various topics, and while I do disagree with many of their generally libertarian stances, but I really liked their episode on the death penalty. I will post my own, more well put together opinions later.