the battle of little bighorn is tThe Battle of the Little Big Horn ensured for General George Custer the fame he had always wanted. His death and the destruction of those men in the US Army's Seventh Cavalry who fought with him by the largest gathering of Native American warriors that the country had seen, immortalised Custer in films, books and in the psyche of Americans. Paintings by the likes of Edgar Paxson and Kurz and Allison portrayed Custer as the all-American hero fighting with his men to the death at the Big Horn Valley against vastly superior odds.
But was the real villain of the Battle of the Little Big Horn Custer himself? Did his arrogance and desire for fame lead to the unnecessary death of hundreds of men in the Seventh Cavalry?
Why did a battle between the US Army and tribes of the Western Sioux Nation take place at all?
The battle took place in 1876. For many years before this date, the Sioux and the American government had been in conflict. The Sioux nation was a powerful collection of tribes. Throughout the Nineteenth Century, they had been pushed further and further west as the white settlers expanded into the American heartland from the Thirteen Colonies on the eastern seaboard. By 1850, the Sioux nation had been cut in two by the expansion west of the white settlers. The eastern Sioux had remained in the area near the Great Lakes of America. The western Sioux had been in conflict with the government over land ownership and it was arguments with this group that lead to the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
By the 1840's the western Sioux had found good hunting grounds in the high plains of Dakota and in Montana and Wyoming. Here for a while, the Sioux were free from trouble with the white settlers. The worst problems occurred along the North Platte river when the Sioux were disturbed by wagon trains using the Oregon Trail. Then in 1862, gold was discovered in the Rocky Mountains in Montana. As with all gold rushes, such a find attracted many prospectors to the area. They needed to be supplied. A supply route was opened up by John Bozeman - the Bozeman Trail - which went from the Oregon Trail to Virginia City, running along the eastern edge of the Big Horn Mountains. The Bozeman Trail ran straight through the hunting grounds of the western Sioux nation. While the Oregon Train was an irritation to the Sioux, the Bozeman Trail was a serious threat to their way of life. For the gold miners, the Bozeman Trail was vital; to the Sioux it was yet another example of the whites affecting their lives in a negative manner.
The most important Sioux warrior at this time was Red Cloud. From 1862 to 1864, he led a campaign against those who used the Bozeman Trail. It was so successful that the government arranged for a peace meeting to be held in 1866 at Fort Laramie between the government and the western Sioux nation. The government wanted to persuade the Sioux to allow the gold miners to use the Bozeman Trail as long as the miners did not disturb the buffalo. During the talks, a detachment from the army turned up with orders to set up a series of forts along the Bozeman Trail so that the miners could use the Trail without the fear of being attacked by the Sioux - therefore, the preservation of the buffalo herds was not relevant any longer. When Red Cloud heard of this move, he immediately withdrew from the peace talks and left the meeting with these words:
"You are the White Eagle who has come to steal the road. The Great Father (the president) sends us presents and wants us to sell him the road, but the White Chief comes with the soldiers to steal it before the Indian says yes or no. I will talk with you no more. I will go now and fight you! As long as I live I will fight you for the last hunting grounds of my people."
Red Cloud's War
Red Cloud's War - against the miners and the army - proved to be successful. It also saw the rise of such warriors as...
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