The Battle of the Little Bighorn (Part I)
Battle of the Little Bighorn - also known as Custer's Last Stand, and, in
the parlance of the relevant American Indians, the Battle of Greasy Grass
Creek - was an armed engagement between a Lakota-Northern Cheyenne
combined force and the 7th Cavalry of the United States Army. It occurred
on June 25 and June 26, 1876, near the Little Bighorn River in the eastern
Montana Territory, near what is now Crow Agency, Montana.
Did you know about The Battle of the Little Bighorn?
1. What was Chief Sitting Bull vision during Sun Dance?
2. Military officials planned a summer campaign to force them back to
the reservations, using both infantry and cavalry in three expeditions.
Which force was Custer and the 7th Cavalry with?
3. What was the Army's assumptions (based on inaccurate information)
provided by the Indian Agents?
4. Who lead the first group of 7th Cavalry against the Lakota and
5. Why did Reno tell his men, "All those who wish to make their
escape follow me"?
6. What is believed to cause Reno to make a hasty retreat?
7. Who's detachment came to Reno's rescue?
1. After the 1875 Sun Dance alliance, made by Sitting Bull between the Lakota
and Cheyenne, thousands of Indians had slipped away from their reservations in
early 1876. Chief Sitting Bull during this Sun Dance had a vision of soldiers
falling from the sky meaning a victory was ahead.
2. Brig. Gen. Alfred Terry's command (the entire 7th Cavalry; Companies C and
G, 17th U.S. Infantry; and the Gatling gun detachment of the 20th Infantry)
departed westward from Fort Abraham Lincoln in the Dakota Territory on May 17.
They were accompanied by teamsters and packers with 150 wagons and a large
contingent of pack mules. Companies C, D, and I, 6th U.S. Infantry, moved up the
Yellowstone from Fort Buford on the Missouri River to set up a supply depot, and
joined Terry on May 29 at the mouth of the Powder River.
3. The Indian Agents based the 800 number in their assessment on the numbers
of Indians led by Sitting Bull and other leaders, off the Reservation in protest
of US Government policies. This was was a correct estimate until several weeks
before the battle, when the reservation Indians joined Sitting Bull's ranks for
the summer buffalo hunt. As one South African historian wrote, "The (US)
Army's strength estimate didn't change, because the civilian Indian agents on
the reservations didn't tell the Army that large numbers of Indians had
left." The agents nor take into account that many thousands of
"reservation Indians" that had "unofficially" left the
reservation to join their uncooperative non-reservation cousins led by Sitting
4. The first group the second detachment to attack was Major Marcus Reno's,
conducted after receiving orders from Custer issued by Lt. William W. Cooke, as
Custer's Crow scouts reported Sioux tribe members were alarming the village.
Reno was ordered to charge and began that phase of the battle. The orders, made
without accurate knowledge of the village's size, location, or propensity to
stand and fight, had been to pursue the Indians and "bring them to
battle." Reno's force crossed the Little Bighorn at the mouth of what is
today Reno Creek around 3:00 p.m. and immediately realized that the Lakota and
Northern Cheyenne were present "in force and not running away."
5. The Indians pinned Reno and his men down and even set fire to the brush in
an attempt to drive the soldiers out of their position. Reno told his men,
"All those who wish to make their escape follow me," and Reno led an
initially ordered column of fours move for the river that quickly degenerated
into a disorderly run for the river to reach the high ground of the bluffs on
the other side. The retreat was confused and immediately disrupted by Cheyenne
attacks at close quarters. Reno later reported that three officers and 29
troopers were killed during the retreat and subsequent fording of the river,
with another officer and 13-18 men missing. Most of these men were left behind
in the timber, although many eventually rejoined the detachment.
6. The hasty retreat was believed to have been inspired by the death of
Bloody Knife, a prominent Crow scout. While talking to Reno in the timber, he
was shot in the head, with witnesses claiming some of his brain matter having
actually splattered Reno. This shocking development is believed to have
sufficiently unnerved Reno and to have inspired his disorganized retreat across
7. Atop the bluffs, known today as Reno Hill, Reno's shaken troops soon
linked up with the detachment of Captain Frederick Benteen, arriving from the
south. This force had been on a lateral scouting mission when it had been
summoned by Custer's messenger, Italian bugler John Martin (Giovanni Martini)
with the hand-written message "Come on...big village, be quick...bring pacs"
("pacs" referring to ammunition, meaning that by this time Custer was
most likely aware of the large numbers of Indians they were having to face).
Benteen's coincidental arrival on the bluffs was just in time to save Reno's men
from possible annihilation. Their detachments were then reinforced by McDougall
and the pack train. The 14 officers and 340 troopers on the bluffs organized an
all-around defense and dug rifle pits using whatever implements they had among
them, including knives.
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