“Hold your horses in, boys; there are plenty of them down there for all of us.” ~ supposedly one of the last orders given by General George Custer
On this day in 1876, Native American forces led by Chiefs Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull defeated the US Army troops of Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer in a bloody battle near southern Montana’s Little Bighorn River.
Leaders of the Sioux tribe, Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, resisted the efforts of the US government to confine their people to reservations. In 1875, after gold was discovered in South Dakota’s Black Hills, the US Army ignored previous treaty agreements and invaded the region. Many Sioux and Cheyenne tribesmen left their reservations and joined Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse in Montana. By the spring of 1876, more than 10,000 Native Americans were in a camp along the Little Bighorn River. This was in defiance of a US War Dept. order to return to their reservations or risk being attacked.
A group of 1,200 Native Americans turned back the first US soldiers to arrive. General Alfred Terry ordered Custer’s 7th Cavalry to scout ahead for enemy troops. On the morning of June 25, Custer decided to move ahead with his soldiers rather than wait for reinforcements. Custer entered the Little Bighorn Valley.
Among the Native Americans, word spread of the impending attack. 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 best attempts, his men were quickly overwhelmed. Custer and about 200 men in his battalion were attacked by as many as 3,000 Native Americans. Custer and all of his soldiers were dead in what became known as The Battle of Little Bighorn, or Custer’s Last Stand.
This was the most decisive Native American victory and the worst US Army defeat in the long Plains Indian War. Still, within five years of the battle, almost all of the Sioux and Cheyenne would be confined to reservations.