Battle Of The Rosebud

General Crook's forces were outnumbered three to one. Find out how they survived the Battle of the Rosebud

1876 was the centennial year for the United States. It was to be celebrated with a great world's fair in Philadelphia. Yet, while preparations for this event were taking place, to the west more sinister preparations were underway. The Sioux and Cheyenne Indians were grouping together for one final last ditch attempt to stave off the inevitable - their own destruction. On January 1st, 1876 all Indians who had not come into the reservations were declared as hostile. The War Department in Washington now organized a campaign to round up these hostiles and bring them into the reservations.

At the head of the campaign was General George Crook. Crook had 10 companies of cavalry and two companies of infantry. As his field commanders he had two very different men - George Armstrong Custer and Alfred H. Terry. On March 1st 1876 the Expedition set forth from Fort Lincoln. Immediately howling winds and freezing temperatures struck the troops. Before long Crook's scouts spotted some Sioux and Cheyenne on the banks of the Powder River. Colonel Joseph Reynolds engaged the Indians at a village along the bluffs of the Powder River. Under constant fire from Sioux snipers, Reynolds was forced to retreat. When he returned to Crook and the rest of the command, Reynolds found out that his commander was furious with him. The advance was abandoned as the men returned to base and charges were brought against Reynolds.

The victory at Powder River humiliated the army. It had, however, the opposite effect on the Indians. Recruitments from the reservations escalated at the news. At the end of May, Crook set forth once more. This time he had more than 1000 cavalry and infantrymen and over 50 officers, as well as 262 Crow and Shoshone scouts. Crook's force was just one of three that made up a pincer movement intended to split the Indian band and then destroy it.

Crook entered hostile territory in mid-June. He halted his massive forces and encamped at Tongue River. At that point a courier from Sitting Bull rode into camp with a message warning Crook not to cross a symbolic line scratched in the dirt. If he did, he would have a fight on their hands. This, however, was just what Crook was after.

Ignoring the ultimatum Crook pushed on. On the morning of the 17th of June, his troops were enjoying a coffee break on the Rosebud Creek. Suddenly an attack was under way. Cheyenne and Sioux warriors rained in upon them. The first wave of Sioux were stopped in their tracks by the Shoshone and Crow scouts who fearlessly defended their Soldier bosses. The scouts counter charged to halt the advancing enemy. Crook however was not yet aware of the superiority of the numbers against him. He sent Captain Anson Mills to take his Cavalry companies up Rosebud Creek and attack the Indian camp that Crook believed lay just ahead. The theory was that this would detract the hostiles from their original attack.

But Crook figured wrongly. The attacking warriors did not pull away but rather, attacked the weak point created by Anson's removal. Crook then sent out a courier to order Mills to come back. As he swung back around Mills completely surprised a large force of warriors from behind. The Indians were now caught in a pincer movement. They broke into a gallop around Crook's line and made a clean getaway. Crook was left in control of the battlefield, able to claim the victory. In truth it was only the fierce fighting of the Crow and Shoshone scouts that had saved him from disaster. Strategically the battle was actually a defeat for Crook. His troops were in disarray, unable to pursue the Indians and prevent further attacks. They had expended some 25,000 rounds of ammunition and killed just 13 of the enemy. Meanwhile 28 of Crook's men were dead, with 56 wounded. Crook was forced to return to his base camp on Goose Creek. Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, however, having had the taste of blood, were free on the plains, all set to fight on another day. That day would come just eight days later on the banks of the Greasy Grass - the Little Big Horn.

© High Speed Ventures 2011