The Tragic Battle Of Little Big Horn

The Battle of Little Big Horn is a piece of american history. The bloody clash of forces between the Seventh Cavalry and the proud Plains Indians of eastern Montana.

On Sunday, June 25, 1876 General George Armstrong Custer led five companies of The Seventh Cavalry into the valley of unspeakable death and one of the most tragic historical dramas of our time. More than two hundred and sixty soldiers were killed and even though four thousand brave Sioux and Cheyenne warriors experienced a glorious victory, the Battle of The Little Bighorn marked a tragic last stand for them as well. It is hoped that the passage of one hundred and twenty five years will grant the author a fair perspective of this battle as told from both points of view.

By 1876 most of the Plains Indians had been forced into government Reservations due to the discovery of gold in the Black Hills. The resulting flood of miners and settlers expanded settlement into this sacred region which, in 1868, The Treaty of Fort Laramie had designated exclusively for the Indians. Many Sioux and Cheyenne, too tired to fight for their rights, had already begun the transition to the white man's world. Still, some rebel bands resisted, unable to relinquish the traditions of their proud ancestors.

The "Indian matter" was to be settled permanently by three columns of federal troops led by experienced Civil War veterans. These included General George Crook, General Alfred Terry and Colonel John Gibbon whose instructions were to consider all Indians roaming across the countryside, which had been theirs in the first place, hostile. The bloody clash of forces at The Little Bighorn River in eastern Montana marked the culmination of the 400 year long Indian wars.

At the age of 25, Custer became the youngest Brigadier General in American history. Brash, brave and bound for glory, he had made a spectacular name for himself during the Civil War. In 1863 he led the cavalry in Gettysburg and fought in General Sheridan's Shenandoah Valley campaign. For more than ten years afterwards he fought in the ongoing war against the Indians, earning even their respect as the brave soldier they called "yellowhair." But at the Little Bighorn River on that fateful Sunday in June, Custer faced a formidable adversary in the renowned head of the Lakota nation, Chief Crazy Horse.

The legendary warrior was determined to preserve his people's traditional way of life. It was he who organized the first eight hundred warriors in a camp near the Rosebud River, just east of the Little Bighorn. Here his war cries were answered as warriors grabbed their horses and their weapons to defend their homes and their families against the encroaching soldiers. In a war bonnet so full that it swept the ground in its majesty, he charged valiantly against the blue coats, screaming to his men above the blaring bugle and thunderous roar of horse's hooves that "today was a good day to die."

The numbers grew to an overwhelming four thousand. They included the Northern Cheyenne, allied to Crazy Horse through his first marriage to a Cheyenne woman, the eastern Hunkpapa Sioux nation and the spiritual guidance of its holy leader, Sitting Bull, who at the time was 40 years old and too old for battle. During a Sun Dance, a few nights before the final bloody clash, Sitting Bull offered prayers to The Great Spirit and slashed his arms one hundred times as a sign of sacrifice. He had a vision of many blue-coats "falling like grasshoppers" into the Indian camp. It was a prophesy that would soon fulfill itself.

Unbeknownst to Custer, on the 17th of June, General George Crook had barely escaped with his life after a bloody skirmish with Chief Crazy Horse at the mouth of the nearby Rosebud River. Although outnumbered, Crazy Horse ferociously defended his land for six hours and Crook and his regiment were forced to retreat. Had Custer known about this, he would have at least had an idea of how desperate the Plains Indians were. He might have saved his own life and those of his men as well as altered the course of history.

On the afternoon of the 25th, Custer's scouts reported an immense Indian camp some 15 miles away. The haze from the heat of the day and the dust from the hooves of thousands of war ponies obscured the village from view. Custer could see nothing from the high point of the divide that separated the Rosebud and Little Bighorn rivers, known as the Crow's Nest. Familiar with the terrain, many Indians lay hidden from view in the deep ravines scattered across the valley. Custer might have expected to be outnumbered, but it is unlikely that he could have calculated the overwhelming numerical superiority of the Indians. He divided his regiment of 647 men into three battalions, one under Major Reno, one under Captain Frederick Benteen and he led the third himself in a direct charge.

Custer first rushed the Indian encampment and then made a stand on a nearby ridge where his entire batallion was annihilated. Many of the survivors of the other two battalions, including Reno and Benteen who never reinforced Custer's charge, never recovered from the devastating trauma of that day. The Indians' victory was the beginning of their end for soon they would be forced to comply completely to the white man's ways. Chief Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull remained defiant towards American military power to the end of their lives and both men died violently; Crazy Horse by a soldier's bayonet and Sitting Bull by a bullet in the head fired by one of his own people. Neither chief lived to see the ultimate humiliation at Wounded Knee and the devastating loss of their rich heritage forever.

The staggering losses still linger in the memory of The Seventh Cavalry to this day. A taste for revenge and an unwillingness to consider the Indians' position forbade a fair appraisal of what had happened on that Sunday in 1876 so close to America's centennial celebration. It is said that ghosts still linger, as if trapped in the ether of the air, at the site of the battlefield in southeastern Montana where white markers denote the spot where each dead soldier was found. For the Indian dead there are no such markers, but the spirit of their battle cries resounds forever across the stark and lonely countryside. There remains to this day the bitter dreams of a proud, forgotten people and an antagonism towards the government that at the very least betrayed them with lies and false promises.

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