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 were 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.