The Importance of Dull Knife

In a kitchen or in survival training, a dull knife is not very useful.

In American history, specifically during the various Indian Wars, Dull Knife was an indispensable tool in keeping the Cheyenne from extinction.

The Sharpness of Dull Knife

Dull Knife, as he is known to the Lakota Sioux, was a prominent Northern Cheyenne chief who went by the Cheyenne name of Morning Star, and was a prominent figure in many of the Indian wars during his lifetime, including the important Great Sioux War of the late 1870s.

Dull Knife was one of the leaders of the Battle at Little Bighorn, along with Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, helping the Indians to their greatest triumph and “Custer’s Last Stand.” He was a strong advocate for the Cheyenne territory in Montana, and had long advocated and fought for his tribe’s rights to live in their ancestral lands despite all of the settlement by whites from the east.

The Warrior

Dull Knife was born in Montana (not Colorado) in 1810, but once he got to adulthood he was almost constantly on the run, either being moved to another part of the country or he was leading the charge in attacks and defense of the homeland, or resisting placement on a reservation a thousand miles away.

Dull Knife was very active in fighting against the federal government, having participated in the Cheyenne-Arapahoe War in the mid-1860s in Colorado, the war of 1866-67 and the War of the Black Hills (also called the Great Sioux War)  in 1876-77 (which included the Battle at Little Bighorn).  He led his small band of Cheyenne warriors into battle after battle before finally surrendering in 1877 and being forced to the Southern Cheyenne Reservation in Oklahoma.

But even in surrender, Dull Knife didn’t go down without a fight.

The Advocate

After surrendering, Dull Knife didn’t sit back and just accept his fate nor the fate of his people. After a few months on the reservation in Oklahoma, realizing that the land was harsh and there were hardly any animals to hunt and eat, Dull Knife decided to combat starvation by leading a group of Cheyenne out of Oklahoma and on a trek back across the West toward the ancestral home of Montana.

The Cheyenne fought valiantly and traveled great distances, with many of them perishing on the way. But his continued work and advocacy for his people and their homeland led to some changes in U.S. policy toward the Indians. This resulted in some additional reservation land, which included a Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana, which the remaining Dull Knife Cheyenne moved to just after the great chief’s death in 1883.

Dull Knife was essentially an ambassador to the United States from the Northern Cheyenne tribes in the Rocky Mountain area, spending much of his early life in and around Cheyenne territory in Montana. He was one of the signatories to the important 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, which was created to maintain tribes into their ancestral lands and maintain peace with settlers who were coming into the area.

But while he was one who wanted peaceful co-existence, he was also one of the first to stand up and seek to defend and protect the lands of his people when the settlers came, and he was unrelenting in his passion for his people and its history in the area. He is always remembered as one of the great warriors and leaders of the American Indians in the 19th century.

Indian Appropriation Of 1876

To say that the U.S. government and the various Indian tribes on the continent have had a contentious relationship might be one of the great understatements of American history.

That’s akin to saying the American Civil War was a “skirmish.”

As the doctrine of “Manifest Destiny” was taking hold on the country, expansion plans to the west were already taking place. In the wake of Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase and the California Gold Rush, the fledgling United States was growing as a rapid pace. Settlers were packing up their safe, city lives in the United States and moving west to grab more land for their families and to be the first pioneers in the new frontier.

We Were Here First

American Indians populated much of the western frontier, and there were conflicts over land and resources as white settlers moved into the areas. Indian warriors often defended their lands by attacking white settlements. After forced “removals” of Indians under President Andrew Jackson in the 1830s, even more bad blood ensured, making the pioneer spirit in the West an even more dangerous and risky proposition than dreamed of before.

It came to a head with the passage of the Indian Appropriations Act of 1851, which was the first official act that established Indian reservations in the United States, with the first one to be located in Oklahoma. During this entire time until this Act, the federal government had entered treaties with the various Indian tribes, respecting each as their own sovereign nation with self-determination. But establishing reservations and relocating tribes was the first time that the previously recognized sovereignty was being compromised, though at first the Indians were not forced to the reservations but were encouraged or asked to relocate.

So Much for Sovereignty

The reservation system that was established was causing more problems than they were meant to solve, as the goal was to “save” the tribes from having to assimilate or surrender to white settlement. For various reasons, tensions continued to flare, and finally in 1871 a new Indian Appropriations Act was passed that officially eliminated tribal sovereignty and essentially put all tribes under the auspices of government agencies. Reservations were now considered lands of the federal government which were “allotted” to the Native Americans – often, land that the settlers were not using because it was considered uninhabitable.

An Update to 1871

As Indian sovereignty was taken away and reservation borders were being drawn, a gold rush happened in the Dakota Territory, which impacted the sacred lands of the Sioux and Cheyenne tribes of the area. The settlers’ stress on the land and mining of natural resources led to the start of the Great Sioux War when the federal government tried to forcibly restrain the Sioux and Cheyenne to the Black Hills area of the Dakota Territory to work out a sale of the Black Hills themselves so gold mining can resume.

In 1876, just after General Custer’s defeat at Little Bighorn – the Indians’ greatest triumph of the Sioux War, though it lasted about 18 months longer – the federal government extended its authority powers over the tribes by re-drawing the lines for the Sioux and Cheyenne people, taking the Black Hills away from their designated lands and leaving them open for settlement and mining without negotiation with the tribes. The sacred mountains of the Great Plains Indians were ripped away without any compensation.

Needless to say, that further engendered animus from the Indians toward the federal government, and conflicts continued in various forms until the 1890s. Two more Indiana Appropriations Acts were passed, in 1885 and 1889, to finally put at least a legislative end on the conflicts and to bring the tribes to heel while America kept adding states.

In the end, a 1990 Supreme Court decision established that the Black Hills did rightfully belong to the Sioux and Cheyenne people, but three generations of culture were compromised in the meantime and has not been fully repaired.

The Battle of Powder River

It is said the love of money is the root of all evil.

When it comes to the Great Sioux War between Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne and the U.S. military, this could reasonably be seen as the cause for all of the harm that an 18-month war brought to bear on both sides.

All over a bunch of gold rocks.

Negotiations Gone South

As the Black Hills Gold Rush was on in 1875, white settlers from the East were flowing into the area to find their piece of prosperity, but they were broaching Sioux and Cheyenne lands around the Black Hills. The U.S. government had negotiated land for the Sioux people with the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868, which included the Black Hills, considered highly sacred ground to the American Indians in the area.

Settlers and prospectors were not part of the original deal, and the Sioux were not real happy. The government wanted to buy the Black Hills from the Sioux in order to mine the gold. The government asked the tribes to meet at their local agencies by January 31, 1876, to negotiate sales terms. Several bands of Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne did not comply with the request, and the order was given to the military to “enforce” an order that would drive the “hostile” American Indians away from the Black Hills and onto reservations.

The Powder (River) Keg

By March of that year, events were coming to a head with the first major confrontation of the Great Sioux War. Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne were in a village near the Powder River, where U.S. military scouts spotted them. After a long trek through winter blizzards and chilling cold, the U.S. military had finally caught up to a camp of these “hostiles.”

The attack plan of the U.S. forces was to split up into two groups, one to attack the village and the other to secure about 1,000 horses belonging to those in the village. The group that attacked the village was split up, with part of the group going into the village itself and the other meant to stay on the ridge to prevent escape.

Poor Execution

But at the time that attack was commenced, fewer than 50 soldiers (out of about 300) made it to the camp; the rest were delayed by terrain and weather as the village was a full mile farther than initially reported. The key group delayed was the one meant to be on the ridge; the ridge was captured by the Indians. The village and all the supplies were burned while the Indians had a raid party take back most of its animals.

No Winner?

The U.S. military had twice as many men in the battle as the Lakota and Cheyenne did but one could argue that the battle was a draw, if not a win by the Indians. Despite losing the entire village, the Indians had one killed and one wounded in the battle, while the military had four deaths and six wounded, and ultimately gained only about 100 horses – and ended up killing them anyway. The military withdrew to base rather than chasing the Indians to where Crazy Horse was located – one of the military’s primary targets, along with Sitting Bull.

Having that attack executed poorly essentially prolonged the Great Sioux War, as the Sioux and Cheyenne warriors were able to survive and keep fighting for 18 months, when most of the “resistance” could have been subdued by that one encounter along the banks of the Powder River. The Powder River, in effect, caused Custer’s Last Stand three months later.

You can watch a famous movie about it here or view various websites:

The Story of Grant Short Bull

Among the players during the Great Sioux War of the mid 1870s in the Dakota Territory was a Oglala Lakota scout named Grant Short Bull, or often called Short Bull. Short Bull was a key participant in the legendary Battle of Little Big Horn, where Lt. Col. George Custer had his famous “Last Stand.”

Because Grant Short Bull was an American Indian, much about his life was based on an oral history. Over the years, as his family died away and history was being put to paper, there was some confusion about his life. Let’s look a little deeper.

Some Short Bull Confusion

For a while, two prominent Short Bulls had merged into the same man and the same life, which did a disservice to both of them.

Grant Short Bull was a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe and spent much of his life on the Great Sioux Reservation and was a lifelong member of the Soreback band of the Lakotas, affiliated with the Sioux. He was a prominent scout for the Sioux during the Great Sioux War and was known to be a compatriot of legendary warrior and chief Crazy Horse.

Albert Short Bull, who lived during the same time, was a well-known religious leader and medicine man on the Rosebud Reservation. He is most known for the Brule Ghost Dance of American Indian tradition. Now that you know we are talking about Grant, let’s cover his life as an Oglala Lakota.

Early Life

Grant Short Bull was born around 1851 near Fort Laramie. He was born to Black Rock and Scatter the Feather and had an older brother, He Dog. Grant Shot Bull lived a traditional American Indian life as much as he could, deliberately staying away from the federal-government-run agencies that were scattered throughout the reservations. In 1875, he married Good Hawk, who was known as Nellie Short Bull, and they had two children, Charlie and Katie.

Great Sioux War

Grant Short Bull became involved in the Great Sioux War, but his nonparticipation in an early raid was a key moment in starting the war. He was part of a raiding party in January and February 1876, while his northern bands received an “eviction” notice from the U.S. government. While Short Bull and his tribesmen were on the raid, the village where his people were residing (with Cheyenne along the Powder River) was attacked by U.S. troops who were looking to enforce the “eviction” order. Short Bull and his men got back in time to reclaim many of the village’s horses, but mutany of the villagers were killed or forced out by the troops.

Short Bull later said, “If it had not been for that attack by Crook on Powder River … there would have been no Sioux war.”

Wounded Knee

Just less than 15 years later, Grant Short Bull played an important role in trying to avert the tragedy that occurred at Wounded Knee in 1890. As a scout and mediator, Short Bull was involved in talks with U.S. General Nelson Miles that ws meant to avoid a conflict in the wake of the Treaty of 1889, of which Short Bull’s Oglala Lakota Tribe did not participate.

However, despite Short Bull’s best efforts to find common ground, Wounded Knee was a devastating event for the Lakota and it was painted in such a way as to make the U.S. government and the American people look like conquering foreigners – a reputation that has been hard to break in the century-plus since.

Tragic Ending

Though Wounded Knee was bad for his people, Grant Short Bull survived that battle and wound up being a well-known and respected headman on the Pine Ridge Reservation. He lived until 1935, when he and his son, Charlie, were killed in a car accident.

The Standing Rock Agency: Fort Laramie To Dakota Access

When environmentalists wanted to take a stand in the Dakotas, they had no better representative than the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

It has always taken a stand and still does to this day, in national headlines. The Sioux have always been a very proud people, and their veterans fight hard for all they believe in and especially the lands of their ancestors.

The Standing Rock Reservation

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is based on the Standing Rock Reservation, which is one part of six Sioux reservations in the northern Great Plains. The original Great Sioux Reservation was created by the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868, which gave specific land boundaries for the Sioux Indians. This included the Black Hills area of South Dakota and the Missouri River, both of which were deemed vital and sacred topographical assets for the Sioux people.

The Standing Rock Reservation as it’s known now was established by Congress in 1889, when the Great Sioux reservation was split six ways, and Standing Rock is one of the pie pieces.

The Standing Rock Agency

As a result of the 1868 Fort Laramie treaty, the U.S. government established the Grand River Agency, to be based in Grand River, South Dakota, and serve as the field office for the fledgling Bureau of Indian Affairs within the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The agency was moved to Fort Yates, North Dakota in 1873 and became known as the Standing Rock Agency and has served the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe ever since the reservation was established in 1889. The Agency serves as liaison between the federal government and the Standing Rock Sioux, providing health, government, and other services to the people living on the reservation. These services include real estate, probate and estate, wildland and structural fire management, and social services including tribal enrollment.

Standing Rock in the News

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Standing Rock Agency were in the headlines a lot over the last couple years, as hundreds and thousands of protestors invaded the Standing Rock Reservation to protest the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The pipeline was to be built across Standing Rock land, and the Standing Rock Agency originally worked with the Sioux tribe to secure rights on behalf of the developer of the pipeline, and a deal was struck after there were assurances that the pipeline would not traverse over sacred lands (such as gravesites) and would not generate a significant environmental impact on the land.

However, despite the deal, environmentalists came to the area to protest the pipeline on “behalf” of the Standing Rock Tribe, which was in the headlines.  There was reportedly very little participation in protests by members of the Standing Rock Tribe, but with recent developments of the Dakota Access Pipeline already spilling nearly 100 gallons of oil on reservation land, protests may just get even more animated.

Needless to say, the battle is not over. But Standing Rock will continue to stand up and fight for its people and its land. History bears it out, and there is no reason to think that it will change.

The Black Hills Gold Rush: Adding Insult To Injury

Let’s just say that after the first Thanksgiving, relations between European whites and American Indians were not always so congenial. And as “Manifest Destiny” was taking hold across the Great Plains and the West, things progressively got worse, until there was an olive branch. Only to see that get snapped in two.

The Treaty of Fort Laramie

For a couple of decades in the middle of the 19th century, settlers coming from the burgeoning United States into frontier areas of the West encountered resistance from American Indians who had claimed land in the West as its own and even as sacred ground. A number of skirmishes and small battles broke out across the West, and things finally got to a point that the U.S. government, trying to protect its people, entered into an agreement with local tribes of the Sioux and Cheyenne called the Treaty of Fort Laramie that was supposed to bring some peace. The settlers were to leave the prized Indiana lands alone, and the Indians would not attack settlers without provocation.

Eureka!

In 1874, there were rumors floating around about a key precious metal being found in the Daokta Territory. The same mineral that led to California statehood 25 years earlier, was rumored to be found among the Black Hills in the territory. At first, it was just rumor or very small discoveries, but rumors grew like a conflagration and within weeks thousands of people from the East raveled to the Black Hills area to try to find their future. There were some finds in the area, but two men paired up and found a motherlode along a river, and that vein of gold produced for more than a century.

However, the Black Hills were much like the Yellowstone area of Montana – it is considered sacred and vitally important land for the Sioux and Cheyenne Indian peoples. The settlers and prospsectors who came to the rea were not as aware of the “boundaries” of Indian lands nor of the Treaty of Fort Laramie, so they poured into the area. That further angered the Indians, and by 1875 some settlements were being attacked due to their “invasion” of the land.

Enough is Enough

At the start of the rush, a military detachment was sent to the Dakota Territory to assess the gold mining opportunities and the yield of gold. Upon this work, the government gave the local tribes a deadline of January 31, 1876, to move into reservation land in the Dakota Territory or the government would force them. The government began forcible movement of the Indians off their ancestral lands to make room for the gold-rush settlers, but by the fall of 1876, the Indians were not going to go quietly – having already been “invaded” by the Northern Pacific Railroad earlier in the decade – and an 18-month campaign called the Great Sioux War went on, involving at least 10 major battles between military and Indian forces. And yes, Custer’s Last Stand at the Little Big Horn River effectively ended the conflict.

Who Was Ranald S. Mackenzie And What Was His Part in The Great Sioux War?

Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie, sometimes known as Bad Hand or No-Finger Chief depending on which one of the elders you asked, would survive the Civil War as part of the Union Army and go on to serve during the Great Sioux War, where his career flourished. Although his command during these wars was noteworthy for a number of reasons, he temporarily held control over the 41st, a regiment of African-American soldiers. Many officers during this time veered away from such assignments, but Mackenzie seemed to work well with the men.

On November 25, 1876, soon after the U.S. victory against a couple hundred Sioux, Cheyenne, Minneconjou, and Brules (mostly women and children) at the Battle of Slim Buttes, Colonel Mackenzie and the fourth cavalry under his command were able to annihilate another village in the Dull Knife Fight. While the Battle of Slim Buttes was the beginning of the end of the war, the Dull Knife Fight crushed the Northern Cheyenne tribe’s battle capability in the future.

The Dull Knife Fight ended the war in the Black Hills, and quashed U.S. fear that had arisen from the catastrophe at the Battle of Little Bighorn.

Before his success during the Great Sioux War, he served in a number of notable Civil War conflicts: Antietam, Second Bull Run, Gettysburg, Petersburg, Fort Stevens, Cedar Creek, Five Forks, and Appomattox Courthouse among them. During these campaigns he was injured at least six times in the line of duty, but survived to see the end of the war and the northern victory.

This service granted him the praise of Ulysses S. Grant, who wrote that Mackenzie was “the most promising young officer in the army.” This praise was not shared by the men he led into battle, who knew him as the “Perpetual Punisher.” They thought him cold and callous, but he was still successful leading them. He was well-known for his obvious ability to lead in combat.

From the period that began with the end of the Civil War until he left military service altogether, he mostly participated in the Indian Wars, of which the Great Sioux War was a part, and was injured at least once more in service.

Because of his victory at the Dull Knife Fight, he was granted a series of promotions that led to a general sense of good fortune in life. He first became commander of District of New Mexico, then brigadier general at the Department of Texas. It was there he bought a ranch and married. Unfortunately, the good luck ended in an unfortunate accident that was eventually blamed for Mackenzie’s sudden mental instability that led to an early and forced retirement from the U.S. army.

He died only five years later, the event going somewhat unnoticed at the time. It wasn’t until years and decades later that his name resurfaced and his long service in the military was acknowledged and studied at length by Ernest Wallace, a Texas historian, in 1964.

You can even watch an entire televsion show about him here:

The Battle of Slim Buttes And Its Aftermath

 

After the embarrassing massacre that occurred at the Battle of Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876, the U.S. army was on the prowl for a quick and decisive victory against the Native American tribes that had successfully gained a momentary upper hand. That victory was finally found during the Battle of Slim Buttes on September 9 and 10 of the same year, after months of searching for the opposing forces of the Sioux.

An expedition led by Brigadier General George Crook and Captain Anson Mills was at the breaking point, running low on food and supplies and exhausted from a months-long march that many historians count as one of toughest ever ventured. It was to be called the “Horsemeat March.”

When Crook couldn’t push his 2,200 men any further, he decided to stop for rest and resupply. He sent 150 of his soldiers riding on horseback to the Black Hills mining camps. Completely by accident, a group of Native Americans were spotted hunting. This group turned out to be part of a village comprised of 37 lodges and 260 people from a number of tribes–Lakota Sioux, Minneconjou, Cheyenne, and Brules. Only 30 or 40 of those were warriors.

Captain Mills was the man who decided to fight that day, although Crook would later become infuriated that he had.

After Mills sent one of his scouts to conduct a survey of the village, it was determined that the U.S. forces could flood the area and make quick work of the Native Americans who resided there. Their enemy would be quickly surrounded, and their warriors slain as soon as they exited their homes.

The plan was not a complete success.

Just before they could complete positioning their men for the assault, the Native Americans were alerted to their presence. A U.S. attack was carried out immediately, albeit hastily put together with fewer numbers than originally planned. It came from north and south, and many accounts suggest that women and children were slaughtered along with the men. The Native Americans fought back as fiercely as they could, managing to wound a U.S. army lieutenant in the process.

The army was unable to set up an effective perimeter around the village because of the poor timing, and many Native Americans managed to scatter and escape, eventually informing surrounding villages of the threat.

Afterward, a small team of men went into the village to find what spoils of war it had to offer. Immediately after a pack mule was discovered, it was shot–the men were being fired upon by a group of Native Americans hidden along the bluffs surrounding most of the village. The men were able to hide while more riflemen slowly trickled into the village, finding dried meat, furs, horses, weapons, ammunition, letters, jewelry, and blankets. What they found most rewarding, though, were the many items from the Battle of Little Bighorn. They found gauntlets, saddles, officers’ clothing and other equipment. Supposedly, someone was lucky enough to find 11,000 dollars in a teepee. 

They took what they could, and torched the rest.

After a long night of skirmishing, General Crook arrived on September 9 with his much larger force. Eventually, Chief American Horse was able to help the remaining Native Americans surrender–but only after he was fatally wounded. With only three men dead and a phenomenal bounty, the battle was considered a great success for the U.S. forces, marking the beginning of the end of the Great Sioux War.

The Slaughter at The Battle of Little Bighorn

At the time, no one saw the massacre coming. Yet all the signs were there right from the beginning, and the seemingly unusual tactical incompetence of Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer really brought the Battle of Little Bighorn to the forefront of history. Who suffered the most at the Battle of Little Bighorn? How many died, and how many were injured? What went wrong for the U.S. military? Most importantly, could the Battle of Little Bighorn been avoided?

The battle could never have been anything but a slaughter based on the size comparison alone; estimates of Native American numbers vary wildly, but most believe they ranged anywhere from 900 to 2,500. Even at the low end, they vastly outnumbered the just under 700 men under Custer.

Some historians argue that Custer was ordered to do one thing, but arrogantly defied commands given. Some argue he fell into a trap he probably should have seen coming. Some argue that the Native Americans had superior weapons that day. Others argue that perhaps the greatest blunder of the day was his own decision to divide his troops. When a military force is too small, every tactical regulation guarantees that it should never be divided. In war, this rule is fundamental. Custer was perhaps foolhardy enough to break it.

Although these might all be reasons that the massacre could have perhaps been avoided altogether, historians still can’t agree on most of them. The reality is simpler: whether few or many, it seems that mistakes were indeed made. Each mistake then or in fights past added a layer that made the U.S. force weaker, and more prone to debilitating attack. When the Native Americans forced the U.S. army to retreat at the Battle of Rosebud Creek a week prior in order to gain rest and replenish supplies, the Native American forces greatly increased in size. They pushed forward, and they found advantage after advantage. There were too many factors deciding the outcome at Bighorn, and so the battle was probably never salvageable.

0During the Battle of Little Bighorn, twelve companies were in play by the U.S. 7th Cavalry. Of those, five were completely wiped out. 268 men were dead including Carter, with dozens more wounded. Of those, six died after the battle when they succumbed to injuries sustained. The forces were complemented by members of the Crow and Pawnee tribes, of which four and two died, respectively.

What made the battle particularly embarrassing wasn’t necessarily the defeat, but the extent to which the U.S. forces suffered compared to those of the force of Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne Native American forces out for blood. Although we’re less sure of the exact figures, low estimates suggest as many as 31 warriors died, while high estimates indicate as many as 300 (a figure that most believe extremely exaggerated).

When a vastly superior (at this point) military machine falls prey to such an unusual defeat, there usually isn’t a single reason. The slaughter at the Battle of Little Bighorn was a cascading failure. When the first part of that machine failed at the Battle of Rosebud Creek, the Native Americans were granted the time to reinforce themselves. Everything else is history.

The Great Importance of The Battle of Rosebud Creek, 1876

The Great Sioux War of 1876 was short, but it was destined to provide a bitter aftertaste to Native American and U.S. relations for decades to come. Even after the war was ended, skirmishes broke out for years. The conflict itself was less of a war set between two massive forces, and more of a long-lasting series of short engagements between adversaries competing for control over lands that had previously been held by the Native American tribes.

Although the war would eventually be won by the United States military, the Native American tribes would fight to the bitter end and held their own throughout the contest. During one such engagement, called the Battle of Rosebud Creek, the Sioux and Cheyenne would rally their forces to a miraculous win in the face of what were likely superior numbers and a better-armed force of trained U.S. soldiers.

Were it not for the persistence of younger tribe members, this victory–and subsequent ones–may never have come to pass. The Sioux and Cheyenne chiefs had a policy by which they would neither seek out nor engage the U.S. forces preemptively. Instead, they would muster their fighters and prepare for battles that might take place at a moment’s notice. Were a surprise attack to occur, then, they were ready.

Younger members of both tribes disagreed, and actively disobeyed the wishes of their chiefs. They periodically stole horses and other supplies from the U.S. army and shuttled important information about enemy position and movement back to their tribes.

This was why policy shifted toward more aggressive action on the part of the Native Americans. When those young warriors learned of the likelihood of a surprise attack on their village, they were able to use that knowledge to convince their respective tribe chiefs to launch an attack of their own.

On June 17, 1876, the two tribes successfully halted the advance of the U.S. army at the Battle of Rosebud Creek. Even though the battle would hardly be decisive, it would temporarily shift the outcome in crucial battles during the coming weeks.

General George Crook, who was in charge of the U.S. military might that day, would claim he had won. Historians dismiss his odd claim for an obvious reason. He commanded around a thousand troops during the six hour engagement and, while fewer of his men were killed or wounded than those on the opposing side, he was compelled to retreat so his force could seek required medical care and nourishment.

Meanwhile, the Sioux and Cheyenne warriors were provided a brief period of respite before another attack could be mounted against them. During this time, a fighting force of nearly two thousand warriors gathered to defend the region from further encroachment. The reinforcements paved the way for Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer’s blunder at the Battle of Little Bighorn only a week later on June 25. Although Custer made tactical error after tactical error, effectively giving up every strategic advantage held, his defeat–and the slaughter of he and his men–was made possible by the Native American victory at the Battle of Rosebud Creek.