Category Archives: Blood

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 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 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.

Common War Injuries During The 1800s

Whereas the modern battlefield is marked by high explosives, whether manufactured in an industrialized factory or crudely built out of whatever is at hand, a mere century and a half ago, the most common war injury in the 1800s was bullet wounds. However, the nineteenth century was a major historical development period in the history of firearms, as well as a major period in the development of battlefield surgery, both of which would prove pivotal in the history of that century’s battlefields.

The 1800s started off with the then advanced musket rifle as a standard battlefield weapon. Though these rifles were fast evolving for the time (particularly since the Napoleonic wars and the beginning of modern colonialism made improvements in firearm technology a very in demand feat of engineering), these devices were still quite simple. They fired a small ball of lead, slow-moving by today’s standards, but still more than fast enough to shred flesh and shatter bone.

Later advancements in the century saw the birth repeating firearms that fired more bullets in less time than ever before, though the speed these bullets flew at and the rate at which they were still slow compared to today’s guns. Still, it was more than fast enough to create an upsurge in the number of war injuries and casualties of the wars of the era.

Explosion injuries, typically those of the cannons of the era, were common as well, but the bulk of war injuries of the era came from bullet wounds of faster and more powerful firearms. For those soldiers who didn’t die of their bullet injuries, treatments of the day were risky. Amputation was common, though it is unfair to describe the surgeons of the era as butchers. It was the best they had and many injured soldiers who survived the initial survived what would have been fatal a century earlier.