Custer's Last Stand
Before Custer had his Last Stand, the tribes of the Sioux, Arapohoe, and
Northern Cheyenne tribes had been fighting and the US Military in this area of
the West for over a decade. These tribes had fought "Red Cloud's War" against
the bluecoats in 1866 along the Bozeman Trail (known also as Virginia City and
Bighorn Rd). The tribes were unhappy about the encroachment of the Military
build Forts on their tribal hunting grounds; as the U.S. Government felt
pressure to build these forts to protect the immigrants head west during and
after the Civil War. The Forts were under constant harassment and each
work party (for game, water, and wood) had to be vigilant not to be over ran.
Many of the tribes didn't not sign the Laramie Treaty of 1866, and refused to
allow the white man passage to their native hunting grounds. December 21, 1866
changed many things; Red Cloud and his war party had been running off livestock
and attacking every wagon train in the area. CPT. Fetterman, a Civil War
Veteran, stationed at Fort Phil Kearney (18 miles south of present day Sheridan,
WY) had said that with 80 men he could ride straight through the heart of Sioux
Country. Fetterman lead a relief force of 81 men of the 2nd Cavalry, 18th
Infantry, and two civilians. They were drawn away from the wood party in
pursuing decays to an ambush city. One of the Braves that performed this stunt
was a man named, Crazy Horse. Fetterman disobeyed his commanding officer and
took his command out of sight of the fort and over Lodge Tail Ridge. The
Government abandoned the Forts along the Bozeman trail, and the tribes were free
of intrusion of whites for a time.
The discovery of Gold in the Black Hills of the Dakota Territory changed
the course of history for the region. There had been rumors for a time, in 1874
the Government commissioned an expidition into the Black Hills to confirm the
stories. It was lead by Bvt. Major General Custer of the 7th Cavarly; he took
almost a thousand men on his march through the heart of Souix Territory. Gold
was discovered, and soon the secret was out. The land was owned by the Sioux as
per the Laramie Treaty, so the US Government was required to charge the Military
and mainly the Cavalry with keeping the white man from plundering their sacred
Black hills. This proved to be impossible for a small force to secure an area of
thousands of square miles. After conflicts arose with the flood of treasure
hunters, the civilian population pressured the government to control the threat.
Hence, an order from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs went out in December of
1875, that all Indians must return to their reservations by January of 1876 or
be deemed hostiles to the US Government. Runners were sent out from the
reservations, those that received the message laughed at the craziness of the
demand. Even if they wanted to they could never return in the dead of winter.
The War Department had planned for a winter campaign, as had been
successful in previous conflicts with the Plains tribes. Due to heavy snow fall,
COL. Gibbons 2nd Cavalry from Ft Ellis, MT (Bozeman) and Gen. Terry/Bvt. Gen.
Custer's command from Ft. Abraham Lincoln, Dakota Territory could not take to
the field till spring. General Crook's force did take to the field under Col.
J.J. Reynolds and engaged a Cheyenne village in March of 1876. But victory
slipped from this commander, and General Crook's men were forced to return to
Fort Fetterman. General Sherman then planned to have a three prong attack on the
Sioux. This provided all the nations of the Sioux and their allies that the US
Government was serious and the military were going to attack if they found them
off the reservation.
The Last Stand
On June 25, 1876, General Custer and more than 600 of his 7th Cavalry Troopers fought
2-3,000 warriors on the Banks of the Little Bighorn. They had been in the saddle
for over 5 weeks since living Ft Abraham Lincoln on May 17, 1876. General Custer
was called to atop the ridge at the Crow's Nest at mid morning to see what his chief of scouts,
Lt. Varnum and his scouts had seen of a signs of a big Village that morning.
After weeks on the trail and dust and the rising temperature of the day, General
Custer could not see of what he was been told of a large village that is nearly
20 miles in the distance. He breaks his command into three Battalions. Then
further separates his first two from the third Battalion commanded by Cpt.
Benteen, who he sends to the Southwest and clearly away from the Village. CPT.
Benteen and General Custer have been at odds for quite some time. Custer
attacks! Reno to the south end of the village, while Custer skirts the cliffs
moving north. His men fight a running battle from the middle of the village at
Minniconjou Ford to Last Stand Hill and all are wiped out, Reno who he promised
help barely escapes with half his men from his attack on the southern end of the
village. He is supported and saved by the return of Benteen. The braves are led
by warriors of great courage - such as Crazy Horse, Gall, Sitting Bull and
others carry the day. They hold Benteen and Reno for two days as the village
escapes before Col. Gibbon and Gen Terry arrive from the north.
QUESTIONS OF THE BATTLE
1. Did General Custer disobey his orders?
2. Did a lost pack on the Custer's trail discovered by the Sioux alert
them to Custer's presence and push Custer to attack early?
3. Was Custer's decisions any different to what other
West Point officers would have done?
4. Was the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia convening in the next few
days going to nominate Custer for President if he had produced a victory?
5. Did the Indians all have superior weapons with repeaters or were there
just a few?
6. Why did the Cavalry use the one shot Springfield Trapdoor Carbine and did it jam as
often as reported?
7. Who was the last to perish or who could have survived and why?
8. What changed for the winners of the battle that day?
9. What was the biggest failure: decision making, teamwork/unity, pride,
communication, intelligence, logistics?
Come and see the land and ask these questions of experts
at the Museums, the re-enactors, and descendants of the participants.
Little Bighorn Reenactment June 21-23, 2013 at 1 pm between Crow Agency, MT and Garryowen, MT.
See the Reenactment that is on the Banks of the Little Bighorn!!
For more info contact webmaster via email at: