Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Battle of Little Big Horn

It's one of the most crushing defeats in American history:  'Custer's Last Stand.'  On June 25, 1876, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and over 600 soldiers of the 7th U.S. Cavalry arrive in the Little Big Horn Valley of southern Montana.  The Blue Coats have come to subdue a group of defiant Indians.  
At the same time, thousands of Sioux and Cheyanne under the leadership of the great Indian holy man, Sitting Bull, were also assembling to fight back.  For over a century, the western frontier had been encroaching on Native American land and thousands of dislocated refugees were sent away onto designated reservations.  The Sioux and the Cheyanne refused to give up more lands and came together in one massive village to rebel.  
The Indian villages were always on the move, and Custer followed Sitting Bull across the Wolf Mountains toward a valley of bluffs along a river the Indians called 'The Greasy Grass.'  The army called it, 'The Little Big Horn.'  On the morning of June 25, Custer arrives  into this valley filled with low hills and rolling channels, perfect for hiding native soldiers who knew the contours of the land.  
Around noon, Custer makes what historians collectively agree is his greatest tactical mistake.  He divides his troops into three columns to attack the Indian village without actually surveying the scene or knowing how many warriors he would be facing.  It is a disastrous blunder.  Custer himself takes the north bluff and when he finally sets eyes on the massive village he realizes his mistake.  Overmatched, he quickly sends a rider south for help: More men.  More ammo.  
At the same time the Sioux and Cheyanne, led by Sitting Bull and a fierce young warrior known as Crazy Horse, are surrounding Custer and moving in fast.  U.S. soldiers are scattered and trying to regroup, picked off one by one from advancing braves who have created an enclosing circle of death.  Volleys of arrows are raining down.  A barrage of bullets are dropping the men one after the other.  Custer retreats to a bluff overlooking the valley, what is now known as 'Last Stand Hill.'  In a desperate effort at survival, Custer and his men shoot their own horses for cover.  Later, Indian warriors said, 'When we saw them kill their own horses, we knew the battle was over.'  Their arrows arched down and when the shooting was over, the Indians raced in and the slaughter was complete.  
News of the Little Big Horn Battle, of the death of George Custer and 200 of his men,  shocked America.  It was the Plains Indian's greatest victory, but also caused the U.S. military to send more forces and less than a year after the battle, Sitting Bull flees to Canada, and Crazy Horse surrenders in Nebraska.  Custer's Last Stand has been studied more than almost any other battle in American history.    Today, the battlefield lies silent as a National Park along the cottonwood trees of the Little Big Horn River.  

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