This Day in #History: Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer makes his last stand in the Battle of Little Bighorn! Native American forces led by Chiefs Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull achieved an overwhelming victory for the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes with five of the twelve companies of American soldiers being completely annihilated.
Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, leaders of the Sioux, had been strongly resisting the efforts of the United States government to confine their people to reservations. After gold was discovered in South Dakota’s Black Hills in 1875, the US Army began actively ignoring treaties with the Native American tribes while invading the region. In anger, many tribesman began leaving their reservations and gathering with Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse in Montana in direct defiance to a US War Department order to return to their reservations. By the summer of 1876 more than 10,000 Native Americans had gathered in a camp alongside the Little Bighorn River.
In mid-June, three columns of US soldiers lined up against the camp in preparation to march. A force of 1,200 Native Americans turned back the first column on 17 June. Five days later, General Alfred Terry ordered Custer’s 7th Cavalry to scout ahead for further Native American forces. On the morning of the 25th, Custer drew near the camp and decided to press on ahead instead of waiting for reinforcements.
Custer’s 600 men entered the Little Bighorn Valley at mid-day – and word quickly spread among the Native Americans. Sitting Bull rallied the warriors and saw to the safety of the women and children while Crazy Horse set off with a large force of as many as 3,000 to meet the 7th Cavalry head on. Custer’s men were quickly overwhelmed. The 7th Cavalry in general suffered a 52 percent casualty rate, while every single soldier in the five companies that Custer had with him were killed. A total of approximately 268 men were killed in the battle, with the Native Americans suffering an estimated casualty rate of half that.
The Battle of Little Bighorn, now known as Custer’s Last Stand (or Lakota Victory Day by the Lakota tribes) marked the most decisive Native American victory over the United States Army in the Plains Indian War. The fate suffered by Custer and his him outraged many white Americans and led to the United States increasing their efforts to subdue the tribes. Within five years, almost all of the Sioux and Cheyenne would be confined to reservations.