Thursday, August 30, 2018

Visiting The Little Big Horn National Battlefield - Crow Agency, Montana

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Little Big Horn National Battlefield - Crow Agency, Montana

Little Big Horn National Battlefield

Little Big Horn National Battlefield is a place that I have heard about off and on throughout my lifetime. If you're like me you won't expect to be emotionally affected by the actual battlefield because you were taught about it, you read about it you saw movies about it and feel you know almost everything about the battle and its cast of historic figures . However, going to the actual battlefield you're left with a somber feeling. Looking out over the rolling hills of arid prairie brings to life to the battle.  Reading the signs at significant spots in the battle field created vivid pictures and movies in my mind. 

When visiting here one thing is quite clear, the Native American dominance of this fight was impressive and Custer's mismanagement of his troops cost he and his soldiers lives.

A History Lesson

The Battle of the Little Bighorn, fought on June 25, 1876, near the Little Bighorn River in Montana Territory, pitted federal troops led by Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer (1839-76) against a band of Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. Tensions between the two groups had been rising since the discovery of gold on Native American lands. When a number of tribes missed a federal deadline to move to reservations, the U.S. Army, including Custer and his 7th Calvary, was dispatched to confront them. Custer was unaware of the number of Indians fighting under the command of Sitting Bull (c.1831-90) at Little Bighorn, and his forces were outnumbered and quickly overwhelmed in what became known as Custer’s Last Stand.

Battle of the Little Bighorn: Mounting Tensions

Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse (c.1840-77), leaders of the Sioux on the Great Plains, strongly resisted the mid-19th-century efforts of the U.S. government to confine their people to reservations. In 1875, after gold was discovered in South Dakota’s Black Hills, the U.S. Army ignored previous treaty agreements and invaded the region. This betrayal led many Sioux and Cheyenne tribesmen to leave their reservations and join Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse in Montana.. By the late spring of 1876, more than 10,000 Native Americans had gathered in a camp along the Little Bighorn River–which they called the Greasy Grass–in defiance of a U.S. War Department order to return to their reservations or risk being attacked. Several members of George Armstrong Custer's family were also killed at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, including two of his brothers, his brother-in-law and a nephew. Accounts of the battle from survivors and the oral history of the Sioux place a Native American Warrior named "White Cow Bull" as Custer's assailant.  He was also the nephew of Sitting Bull.  Although this story of White Cow Bull has been authenticated there is no solid proof.

The Worst US Army Defeat In The Long Running Plains War

In mid-June, three columns of U.S. soldiers lined up against the camp and prepared to march. A force of 1,200 Native Americans turned back the first column on June 17. Five days later, General Alfred Terry ordered George Custer’s 7th Cavalry to scout ahead for enemy troops. On the morning of June 25, Custer drew near the camp and decided to press on ahead rather than wait for reinforcements.
The Native Americans Warriors were led by (left to right) Crazy Horse, Chief Gail and Sitting Bull
(source: Google Images)

Battle Of The Little Bighorn: Custer's Last Stand

At mid-day on June 25, Custer’s 600 men entered the Little Bighorn Valley. Among the Native Americans, word quickly spread of the impending attack. The older Sitting Bull rallied the warriors and saw to the safety of the women and children, while Crazy Horse set off with a large force to meet the attackers head on. Despite Custer’s desperate attempts to regroup his men, they were quickly overwhelmed. Custer and some 200 men in his battalion were attacked by as many as 3,000 Native Americans; within an hour, Custer and all of his soldiers were dead.

The Battle of the Little Bighorn, also called Custer’s Last Stand, marked the most decisive Native American victory and the worst U.S. Army defeat in the long Plains Indian War. The demise of Custer and his men outraged many white Americans and confirmed their image of the Indians as wild and bloodthirsty. Meanwhile, the U.S. government increased its efforts to subdue the tribes. Within five years, almost all of the Sioux and Cheyenne would be confined to reservations.


(Source  Painted by Edgar Samuel Paxson, 1899. (Credit: GraphicaArtis/Getty Images)

Mass Suicide On The Battle Field?

Rumors persisted for years after the battle that many of Custer's men committed suicide rather than be taken at the hand of the superior force of Native American Warrior's. 

Native American oral histories often assert that Custer and his men committed suicide when they realized they had lost. One account from Wooden Leg, a Northern Cheyenne Indian, describes a chaotic scene up on the ridge: “Right away, all of the white men went crazy. Instead of footing us, they turned their guns upon themselves. Almost before we could get to them, every one of them was dead. They killed themselves.” 

But archaeologists have often wondered at a lack of physical evidence to support the story. Though 14 of the 30 written battle accounts from Native American fighters tell tales of Custer’s men killing themselves with revolvers, this doesn’t bear out in the scant evidence available. During digs in the 1980's only three soldier suicides were discovered from self inflicted shots to their heads.

If you are near Crow Agency, Montana take the time to visit the battlefield. It is of great historical significance and worth the entry fee. 

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