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Custer Lost but No One Really Won at the Little Big Horn


On June 25, 1876, a village of about 5,000 Lakotas and Cheyennes encamped on the Greasy Grass River (today Little Big Horn) was famously attacked by George Armstrong Custer and the 7th Cavalry Cavalry. his praise. Indians are followers of the powerful saint Húnkpapa sits Bull, and, like their leader, most of them wanted nothing to do with white men. They simply wanted to be left alone, separate from the European-Americans, who had been slowly encroaching and encroaching on Lakota land over the decades.

With screams”Hoka hehe! ” (Fighting!) and “Earth is all that exists!” War leader Oglala Crazy Horse and other Indian chiefs quickly gathered their warriors and galloped to protect their families. And because Custer had carelessly divided his regiment into three battalions, more than a thousand Lakota and Cheyenne combat men were able to attack these detachments individually. On a grassy ridge overlooking Greasy Grass, the warriors had completely overwhelmed Custer and about two hundred of the Seventh’s soldiers. The incredible Indian victory was soon dubbed “Custer’s Last Stand”.

“The people in the United States blamed me for killing Custer and his army,” Sit Bull said in 1878. “He came to attack me, and in enough numbers to show me that they wanted to spend it. destroy me and my children.”

The Army’s disaster on Greasy Grass was only meant to strengthen the US government’s efforts to force the men of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse to book—or be exterminated. Less than a year later, and facing famine, Crazy Horse and his party surrendered near Camp Robinson, Nebraska. But the transition to a reserved life was difficult, especially for the great war chief Crazy Horse. So he became so embroiled in the land trade of his peoples that he initially refused to accept his band’s annuities. Too many chiefs have “touched the pen”, with the Lakota homeland gradually diminishing.

Just four months after his surrender, a false rumor that Crazy Horse was plotting to assassinate General George Crook at an upcoming council meeting led to an unsuccessful arrest attempt. On September 5, 1877, the 34-year-old war commander was bayoneted during a struggle outside Camp Robinson’s watchtower. The saint of Crazy Horse told him that a bullet would never kill him, and a bullet never did.

Sit Bull fled with his people to Canada in early 1877 and remained there for 4 years, until the prospect of starvation also forced him to return to the United States with his followers and surrender. . After twenty months as “prisoners of war”, they were placed at the Standing Rock reserve, where Sit Bull soon became an enemy of the Indian agent, James McLaughlin, by resisting many of his efforts. to “civilize” them. Sitting Bull is not against educating his people, but he wants the kids to be taught to read and write in Lakota. However, Bureau of India policy prohibited the government and mission schools from teaching students to read and write in their native languages. The Bureau wants these “barbarian dialects”, along with all that remains of their traditional culture, to be eliminated.

Wooden cabin studio next to the post office shop in Camp Robinson, Nebraska

Nebraska State Historical Association

When Sitting Bull accepted an offer to be part of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West exhibit for the 1885 season, his main reason for coming was the opportunity to speak with “The Great Father,” President Grover Cleveland. Sitting Bull told a reporter he has “nothing but justice to claim” about Cleveland. He hoped the Great Father would give him a large piece of grassland, where his village would be safe and the whites wouldn’t disturb them, where he could die in peace. Instead, what he received was a simple handshake.

In the winter of 1890, the mighty Ghost Dance religion swept through the Sioux country. The followers believe that by performing the specific dance, the buffalo will return, along with their dead family and friends, and the whites will be driven from the land of India. Sitting Bull once again challenged the Indian Bureau by refusing to order his men to stop dancing. In a letter written to Agent McLaughlin, Sitting Bull said he did not disdain the way the agent prayed, so why would the agent question the way his people pray? For McLaughlin, however, Ghost Dance is a step back from the cult and Sitting Bull is nothing more than a “no offense” trouble.

When McLaughlin reported that Sit Bull was about to leave Standing Rock to visit the Ghost Dancers at Pine Ridge, he ordered the “Metal Breasts” (Indian police) to arrest the saint and leader. Tragically, the December 15 arrest attempt turned into a melee between Sitting Bull’s followers and police, with Sitting Bull being fatally shot outside his cabin. McLaughlin later wrote to his superiors in Washington that ending Sit Bull’s career was “most gratifying.”

But the deaths of Lakota’s great leaders Crazy Horse and sit Bull were not the end of Lakota resistance, not by any means. And in the decades since, Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull have often been an inspiration to those fighting for change and justice for the Lakotas and other indigenous peoples, from Phong’s takeover of Wound Knee American Movement (AIM) in 1973 to the Dakota Access Pipeline rally a few years ago.

The Supreme Court ruled that Black Hills had been wrongly appropriated and awarded a settlement to Lakotas, with a profit amounting to nearly $2 billion.

And a long-needed survey and reset of the way most Americans (and many historians and authors) have viewed the past from anything but the Native’s point of view, has lead to some positive, if mostly symbolic, changes. In 1991, the former Custer Battlefield National Monument was renamed the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, and the India Memorial, recognizing all the Indians who participated in the iconic war icon, was dedicated at the park 12 years later. In the Black Hills, the highest peak has gone to the name of an army general famous for his brutal attack on a Lakota village in 1855. The name was changed to Black Elk Peak in 2016 in honor of the Lakota saint. famous, Nicholas Black Elk (1863-1950). Today, under the direction of Interior Minister Deb Haaland, the first Indigenous person to serve in a cabinet position, a process is underway to replace derogatory names of geographical features on federal lands, many of which, sadly, are unfortunate mentions of Indians.

Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski with model for his proposed Thunderhead Mountain Crazy Horse carving, June 1948

Mark Lee Gardner

Yet perhaps the Lakotas’ biggest win since the Little Big Horn occurred in the chambers of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1980. In United States v. Sioux Nation of Indiansthe The court found the Black Hills had been improperly appropriated and awarded a settlement to Lakotas, with a profit amounting to nearly $2 billion. It reached that number because the Lakotas refused to accept payment and thus renounced their claim to the Hill and its resources, which they hold sacred. That position, the forerunner of the present Land Back movement, echoes the policies of Crazy Horse and sit Bull, who vehemently opposed ceding any of their homelands to the US government.

What the final outcome will be is anyone’s guess, but the spirit of Crazy Horse and sit Bull is still present. As one Lakota man said a few years ago of his attempt to return the Black Hills to his people, “We won the battle against Custer, but the war continues.”

Mark Lee Gardner is the author of The Earth Is All That Remains: The Mad Horse, the Bull, and the Last Stand of the Great Sioux Nation, Tough drivers, To hell on a fast horse and Shoot them all to hell, has received numerous awards, including the Spur Award from the Western Writers of America. An authority in the American West, Gardner appeared on PBS’s American experience, as well as on the History Channel, AMC, the Travel Channel, and on NPR. He wrote to National Geographic History, American Heritagethe LA time, True Westand American cowboy. He holds a Master’s degree in American Studies from the University of Wyoming and lives with his family at the foot of Pikes Peak.



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