The Battle of Little Bighorn (also called the Battle of the Greasy Grass by the Plains Indians) was the apex of the Great Sioux War of 1876; in fact, it was the most prominent encounter of the entire debacle between the U.S. authorities and the Sioux Nation. After the gold rush in the Sioux’s sacred Black Hills, neither party was willing to back down. The battle took place on the banks of the Little Bighorn River in what is now Montana. The Native American name for the river is Ets-pot-agie, which translates to Little Mountain Sheep, and eventually the name evolved to Little Bighorn. A few weeks before this particular confrontation, Sitting Bull, who was a prominent leader and holy man from the Hunkpapa Lakota tribe of the Sioux, had a gripping vision. The Lakota camp was under attack in his revelation, with a great number of soldiers in their midst, but the soldiers, who were “as thick as grasshoppers” at the height of summer, all fell upside down. This premonition of a great victory for their people bolstered them greatly and a few weeks later, Custer and the U.S. 7th Cavalry, which included the famed Custer Battalion, approached. And the ill-fated Battle of Little Bighorn took place.


There were twelve companies in the 7th Calvary, and of those, five entire companies were killed. They were wholly unprepared. Including the Lakota and Dakota, the Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes were ready to fight. I think that if the cavalry had scouted properly, their losses might not have been so great. As it was, the battle was devastating for the U.S. and Custer and his family, in particular, paid a heavy toll. General Custer was killed along with two of his brothers, his nephew, and his brother-in-law. The Custer family was a very close one, referred to by many of the other soldiers as ‘The Custer Gang’ and they enjoyed being together as much as possible.


Custer had sent some scouts out, of course, but the trip and the information attained were not thorough or very beneficial. The soldiers never imagined that the Sioux would have any reinforcements. The soldiers felt assured of themselves and really anticipated that the Sioux would turn and run at their own numbers—but they didn’t understand the Native American nation at all, and that is very apparent from this expectation of theirs. Many of the soldiers were veterans of the Civil War and had been in battle numerous times before. They weren’t unprepared as far as experience goes but in their regard for what lay ahead. They underestimated their opponent. In a single battle, in the space of only two hours, almost half of the cavalry was lost.


To break it down in numbers, reports say that the 7th Cavalry had 647 soldiers and the number for the Native Americans ranges from 900 to 2,500, which is quite a loose range and I am not sure which end of the spectrum is accurate. Two hundred sixty eight of Custer’s men, including himself, were killed in the battle, about 50 were wounded, and 6 more eventually died from the wounds that they sustained. The Lakota, Dakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho lost, reportedly, 31 warriors, but their losses also included six women and four children, which is really sad. By Lakota accounts, most of the cavalry’s soldiers were killed during the famed ‘Last Stand,’ which took place on what is now called Last Stand Hill. To be continued … .