On June 25, 1876 Native American forces led by Sioux Chiefs Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull defeated the U.S. Army led by George Armstrong Custer in a bloody battle close at Little Bighorn River in southern Montana. Those brave leaders of the Great Plains Sioux tribe strongly resisted the mid-19th-century efforts of the U.S. government to confine their people to reservations.
In 1875, after gold was discovered in South Dakota’s Black Hills, the U.S. Army ignored previous treaty agreements and invaded the region. This betrayal motivated many Sioux and Cheyenne tribesmen to leave their reservations to join Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse in Montana.
By the late spring of 1876, more than 10,000 Native Americans had gathered in a camp along the Little Bighorn River in defiance of a U.S. War Department order to return to their reservations or risk being attacked.
By mid-June, three columns of U.S. soldiers lined up against the camp and made preparations to march. Twelve hundred Native Americans turned back the first column on June 17. Five days later Custer’s 7th Cavalry was sent to scout ahead for enemy troops and on the morning of June 25, Custer approached the camp and made the decision to go forward rather than wait for reinforcements.
By mid-day on June 25, Custer’s 600 men entered the Little Bighorn Valley. 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. Custer made desperate attempts to regroup his men who were quickly overwhelmed. Two hundred cavalrymen were attacked by as many as 3,000 Native Americans and, within an hour, Custer and every last one of his soldiers were dead.
TheBattle of Little Bighorn, called Custer’s Last Stand, marked the most significant Native American victory and the worst U.S. Army defeat in the long Plains Indian War. This defeat confirmed the image of the Indians as wild and bloodthirsty—historical analysis has, of course, proved that this label was incorrect. Within five years, almost all of the Sioux and Cheyenne were confined to reservations.