Category Archives: Blood

The Fetterman Fight Explained: Turning Point In Red Cloud’s War

We explored Red Cloud’s War in a previous article, only briefly mentioning the skirmish called the Fetterman Fight, which occurred at Fort Phil Kearny and was fought between an aligned force of Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho Native Americans and the fort’s garrison of United States Army troops. Until the fabled Battle of the Little Bighorn nearly a decade later, the Fetterman Fight was the single greatest catastrophe experienced by U.S. forces in the region.

Fort Phil Kearny was one of three constructed to protect miners, settlers, and other troops who traveled the Bozeman Trail. Many of these travelers continued to encroach land inhabited by the Native American opposition — even though treaties guaranteed that the Native Americans had the right to that land.

By this point in history, it was well known that the Native American warrior Crazy Horse was one of the most lucrative targets still alive. Perhaps this was the reason that 82 men, including Captain William J. Fetterman, were lured from their station when Crazy Horse and ten other warriors appeared near the fort. 

In allowing his detachment to be lured into the dangerous trap, Fetterman was also disobeying a direct order from superior Carrington, who said that his party was not to pursue any Native Americans over Lodge Trail Ridge. Fetterman took that trail.

During this time, he was outflanked and engaged by at least 1,000 Native Americans from two fronts. His detachment was killed to the last man, each of whom were later found mutilated by scalping, dismemberment, and castration. The only person to escape this mutilation was a teenage bugler.

Before the engagement transpired, Red Cloud said to his troops: “Here ye, Dakotas! When the Great Father at Washington sent us his chief soldier [General Harney] to ask for a path through our hunting grounds, a way for his iron road to the mountains and the western sea, we were told that they wished merely to pass through our country, not to tary among us, but to seek for gold in the far west.”

It was these tensions that led to the tragedy.

What Was Red Cloud’s War?

Before the Great Sioux War of 1876, there was a long period of escalating tension between the Lakota, aligned with the Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho, and the United States Army. Like almost every conflict between the United States and Native American factions, Red Cloud’s War was fought over land  — and whether or not the U.S. and its allies had any right to control it. The conflict was sometimes called the Bozeman War or the Powder River War.

The fighting began in present-day Wyoming along the Powder River in 1866 and lasted for nearly two years. A treaty signed in Fort Laramie in 1851 had granted the Native Americans the right to control the land — but “which” Native Americans? The dispute was between the Crow, who believed they had the right to the land, and the Lakota, who had recently taken it for themselves. 

The Crow were aligned with the U.S., which provided the U.S. Army with the right incentive to protect the land, upon which they had already constructed several forts to aid in the transport of resources from one area to the next — and to protect the miners and settlers who used it on an almost daily basis.

The Native American opposition mounted many successful raids on these three forts, with the worst of them — dubbed the Fetterman Fight — amounting to the greatest military defeat by the U.S. military in the region until the Battle of the Little Bighorn, which was still a decade away. 

This was one of the few victories for the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne — and a temporary one at that — because the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868 effectively ended the conflict by providing the tribes with the legal control for the lands surrounding the Powder River. The three forts that had been constructed were torn down. It was said that “… the government had in effect betrayed the Crows, who had willingly helped the army to hold the posts for two years.”

We don’t know exactly how many Lakota warriors were involved in the aforementioned raids, but some historians believe Red Cloud deployed 4,000 men. During the aforementioned Fetterman Fight, 88 Americans were killed in action. Of course, this was before the families of the wounded or dead could reclaim compensation in any form, including disability insurance (see for information on the subject). 

The massacre occurred when the infamous Crazy Horse planted a decoy force near the fort, prompting some of the garrisoned soldiers to leave the safety of the fort in order to “moon” the Native American warriors. The entire force of 82 men were ambushed by at least 1,000 angry Lakota — and not one of them survived. 

Like the massacred at the Battle of the Little Bighorn a decade later, most of the dead were mutilated, by scalping, decapitation, disembowelment and castration. The only body untouched (except for the wounds that had killed him) was the body of a teenaged bugle boy. 

How Did the Battle of the Rosebud Affect The Great Sioux War of 1876?

We spend a great deal of time unpacking everything about the Battle of the Little Bighorn, which is the battle during which our website’s namesake was killed. But Little Bighorn wasn’t the only battle to have taken place during the Great Sioux War of 1876. There were several other important fights. Today, we’ll look at why the Battle of the Rosebuds happened and how it may have changed the war.

This battle was fought on June 17, 1876 in Montana. Anywhere from 1,000 to 1,800 men fought on both sides combined, but there were relatively few casualties. Reports suggest only a few dozen were killed. The U.S. Army joined with a group of Crow and Shoshone Native Americans to attack the Lakota and North Cheyenne on their home turf. 

Although the United States Army had launched this offensive with every intention of surprising the Native Americans, it was they who were surprised instead. Their own hunting gave away the element of surprise. In the middle of the night, at least 1,000 men — led by the infamous Crazy Horse —  left to engage the Americans. The two forces met at 8:30 AM on June 17, 1876.

Both sides were exhausted from the journey there, but the Sioux and Cheyenne attackers engaged the Crow and Shoshone on high ground, which gave General Crook ample time to boost his own defenses and deploy the troops for a counterattack. 

Hours of fighting proved fruitless, and eventually Crook gave the order to charge the Lakota, who were pushed back until the U.S. forces could form a better defensive perimeter. Crook eventually declared victory after several more hours of fighting (and an eventual retreat by the Lakota and Cheyenne), but there was little (or nothing) gained during the attack — and as already mentioned, some men lost their lives.

This did, however, set the stage for the Battle of the Little Bighorn only eight days later.

Overview Of The Great Sioux War Of 1876

The Great Sioux War of 1876 was the final nail in the coffin for President Ulysses S. Grant’s “Peace” policy toward Native Americans, which fell apart during his second term in office. It was also called the Black Hills War. Because the United States federal government wanted the Black Hills site for itself — because gold was found there — the Native Americans became fed up that the government and US settlers were once again breaking the terms of a treaty that had been previously signed, as they had done hundreds of times before.

The US government did not intend to begin a war against the Lakota tribe whose peoples inhabited the Black Hills region, so they told the Native Americans to vacate the area and go to the reservation by the end of January, 1876. They were threatened with violence should they fail to comply. This was a foolish decision to make in the middle of winter, because weather conditions made travel difficult or impossible. 

General Sheridan responded at the time, “The matter of notifying the Indians to come in is perhaps well to put on paper, but it will in all probability be regarded as a good joke by the Indians.”

A debate ensued here in Black Hills. One Lakota leader named Short Bull said, “About one hundred men went out from the agency to coax the hostels to come in under pretense that the trouble about the Black Hills was to be settled…All the hostiles agreed that since it was late [in the season]and they had to [hunt for buffalo] they would come in to the agency the following spring.”

But regardless of its fairness, the delay would breach the US government’s demands. Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Q. Smith said, “…without the receipt of any news of Sitting Bull’s submission, I see no reason why, in the discretion of the Hon. the Secretary of War, military operations against him should not commence at once.”

It was Smith, Secretary of Interior Zachariah Chandler, and General Sheridan who ultimately ordered their men to begin a winter campaign against “hostile” Native Americans, who in reality had done nothing to precipitate such action.

The resulting military action led the Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne tribes to align against the United States. During an initial attack, men commanded by Colonel Joseph J. Reynolds believed they had attacked Crazy Horse’s village, when in reality they had attacked a Northern Cheyenne village. 

The three most noteworthy battles of the Great Sioux War of 1876 were the Battle of the Rosebud, Battle of the Little Bighorn, and Battle of Slim Buttes. The war actually continued until early 1877, when the “Agreement of 1877” was established. The Black Hills land was taken from the Sioux. Another reservation was established for the survivors. 

One of the most controversial tactics employed by the United States military was its “Sell or Starve” addendum to the Indian Appropriations Act of 1876, which withheld Sioux rations until they ended their part of the violence and gave the US their territory.

What Was The Battle of Wolf Mountain?

The Battle of Wolf Mountain was fought with perhaps equal numbers on both sides, but the U.S. army is considered the victor in their engagement with the Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne Native American warriors they faced on January 8, 1877, when the facts are presented by most historians. There were few casualties on either side, but after the battle ended the Native Americans who remained would have had little hope of evading capture or death during the winter. They surrendered instead.

Had the campaign against the Native Americans been fought according to traditional standards of war from the century past (according to Albany historians), the engagement may have been avoided altogether. Historically, winter was a time to dig in and resupply. This usually helped reduce the number of dead due to disease, hypothermia or malnourishment in the harsh conditions. General Nelson A. Miles would not apply these same rules of war in his hunting of the Native American forces that remained and so the Great Sioux War finally ended as a result.

After Miles had defeated the forces of Sitting Bull and Ranald S. Mackenzie had won the Dull Knife Fight, the Sioux and Cheyenne were all but routed. At this point it was relatively impossible for the tribes to regroup or reunite in enough force to launch an effective counter-offensive. After these conflicts were lost by the Native Americans, it was simply a mopping up effort on the part of the U.S. army until the inevitable surrender was obtained.

The Battle of Wolf Mountain was an attempt to track down Sioux Chief Crazy Horse and around 500 Native Americans he led. With 436 men under his command, Miles marched along the Tongue River valley until he managed came upon the Native American forces. A series of attacks were launched every other day, starting on January 1, 1877 and continuing through January 7. On that night, a massive snowstorm pounded the area. On January 8, Miles launched a five-hour battle that would end the conflict once and for all, using the snow to his advantage.

The Native Americans were tactically outmatched during the battle. There was three feet of snow on the ground, and two pieces of heavy artillery pounded them from a ridgeline above the field of battle. Their horses were starving and unable to carry the warriors into battle, forcing them to march on foot. Unsurprisingly, their attempts to outmaneuver and outflank the U.S. soldiers proved completely unsuccessful.

For all purposes, though, the U.S. side wasn’t in a position to overwhelm the Native Americans either, and so they didn’t. Eventually, the Native Americans agreed to terms of surrender after being promised they would be treated fairly upon return to Fort Robinson. Crazy Horse led them there in the coming days.

Those that went there were not treated well, in reality, and another massacre would soon play out not far from Fort Robinson after some Native Americans who had gone there managed to escape.

The Battle of Wolf Mountain may not have led to significant loss of life for either side of the military engagement, but it was a strategic loss for the Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne who were already devastated by the Great Sioux War, and an obvious precursor to their surrender at Camp Robinson in May. The historical significance of the conflict hasn’t been forgotten over time, and the site of the battle was part of the National Register of Historic Places for a long time before the Wolf Mountains Battlefield was elevated to a National Historic Landmark in 2008.

What Was The Fort Robinson Massacre?

After a series of crushing defeats during the Great Sioux War, the Northern Cheyenne were forced to give up more and more territory in the years thereafter. Although the U.S. demanded most of them relocate to the Darlington Agency of the Southern Cheyenne Reservation, many could not tolerate the conditions of that relocation and so they fled back home, to the north. This September 1878 migration was the precursor to the Fort Robinson Massacre, a series of terrible events that would transpire during the coming winter months.

A number of Cheyenne were caught during this migration and 150 were sent to Fort Robinson in Nebraska.

The U.S. escalated its poor treatment of the Cheyenne that remained in the northern region in an effort to push them back south. They essentially imprisoned a large number without food or heat, the conditions that led them to attempt escape in January. In typical U.S. form, the Cheyenne were tracked by the army so they could be recaptured or killed. 65 Cheyenne Native Americans were caught and returned to Fort Robinson, while most of the remaining 32 were slaughtered by a much greater force of 150 men.

If that sounds bad, then know that the reality was even worse.

Those 32 Cheyenne were a group of 18 men and 14 women and children. On January 22, 1879, they were trapped among the Hat Creek Bluffs, 35 miles away from their escape at Fort Robinson. After they were surrounded, they decided to entrench themselves in an effort to survive the coming attack. They chose a dry creek bed which would thereafter be named “The Pit” by those who studied the battle.

Although the Cheyenne were apparently given the opportunity to surrender themselves, they chose instead to fight. They fired upon the U.S. soldiers who came at them from all directions, managing to kill several. All the Cheyenne warriors were casualties of the skirmish, while four women and two children also fell victim to the U.S. rush. Eight Cheyenne survived by hiding amongst the dead, but were soon captured.

Of all those who had fled Fort Robinson, only about 10 survived made their way to the Sioux reservation. Up to 64 wound up dead, 23 wounded, and dozens of others back in the hands of the U.S. military.

After the events at the Pit, General George Crook began an investigation into the Fort Robinson Massacre. Command of the garrison at Fort Robinson shifted to Major Andrew W. Evans. Eventually, the remaining prisoners were released so they could make the journey to a Montana reservation. The investigation did little to ease the suffering that had been endured over the long winter months by the Cheyenne.

Many of those who survived the ordeal were charged with murder, and the U.S. government later maintained that it was not liable for the loss of life incurred by the Native Americans. It wasn’t until 1994 that members of the Northern Cheyenne tribe were able to obtain the remains of those who died during the Fort Robinson Massacre. Today, they are now buried at the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Montana.

You might say remember the Alamo in Texas, and I say remember Fort Robinson!

What Was The Dull Knife Fight in Wyoming Territory?

Although the Great Sioux War began and ended as a series of skirmishes, the U.S. public was greatly attentive toward those battles, especially after the seemingly inconceivable disaster and defeat that was the Battle of Little Bighorn. After Custer and hundreds of his men were slaughtered, the people of the U.S. couldn’t get enough of the news related to the war, and everyone was on the lookout for a big U.S. victory.

As it turned out, the Battle of Slim Buttes would set the stage for a quick Sioux and Cheyenne rout, and the Dull Knife Fight would quickly end the war that had long been waged in the Black Hills region of South Dakota–a war that began with an obviously illegal expedition embarked upon by Custer after he was commissioned to do so by the U.S. army. It ended what were short-lived peace treaties and resulted in at least another decade of violence.

Slim Buttes allowed the U.S. to find its footing with the slaughter of the men, women and children of the Sioux, Minneconjou, Cheyenne, and Brules Native Americans. Not long after, on November 25, 1876, Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie, a rising star in the U.S. military after his service in the Civil War and earlier conflicts with the Native Americans, and the fourth cavalry under his command set upon yet another Native American village in what was to be known as the Dull Knife Fight.

This was the battle that would decimate any chance the Northern Cheyenne had of holding the U.S. military at bay for an extended period of time.

Mackenzie left Camp Robinson, Nebraska with a 1,000 men spread across eleven companies under his command. Complementing that force was a group of 400 Native American scouts who knew the basic lay of the land. A number of tribes were among them: Pawnee, Bannocks, Sioux, Shoshone, Arapaho, and Cheyenne.

While at first glance one might be surprised to notice Sioux and Cheyenne aiding the war effort against their own people, it is important to acknowledge that these tribes were greatly divided between those who acknowledged defeat and sought only peace, and those who wished to continue to fight back to keep their traditions and way of life intact after decades of being pushed farther and farther back.

When the force came upon the Cheyenne Dull Knife camp, it was in the midst of a celebration. That didn’t stop Mackenzie. At dawn on November 25, his force set upon the village and drove out the inhabitants.

As far as battles go, it was not a particularly gruesome one. On the U.S. side, only seven were confirmed dead. The Cheyenne lost at least forty, and many more were wounded. 200 lodges were torched, and Mackenzie’s forces recovered more U.S. property taken after the Battle of Little Bighorn.

More importantly, the battle left hundreds of Cheyenne Native Americans without clothing, food, or practical shelter as they were pushed north just before the onset of winter. This virtually guaranteed the end of any effective Cheyenne resistance, and propelled the sense of pride felt by the U.S. military and public.

Red Cloud’s War

The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 was a piece of legislation signed by representatives of several different Native American tribes in the Midwest and overseen by the lawyers of the United States government. Its purpose was to ensure a lasting peace between the disputing Native American nations as well as ensure safe passage for European American pioneers along the Oregon Trail into Montana, and it allowed the United States to build roads, forts and trading posts in Native American territory in exchange for annual recompense in the amount of $50,000 each year over the course of 50 years.

Due to a consistent unrest among Native American tribes, wars and conflicts shifted the positions and land claims of various peoples in the American Midwest. Apart from providing a dramatic theater for the Native American peoples themselves, it also made for a harrowing passageway by which European Americans would travel westward due to the California Gold Rush of 1848. In response to avoiding possible conflict between the United States and the Native American peoples, the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 was ratified to settle several land claims with many of the tribes agreeing to terms.

However, the treaty was broken almost immediately. Lakota and Cheyenne tribes attacked the Crow tribe over the course of the next two years. American emigrants settled Native American territory in the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush of 1858, causing further conflict as well as a strain of natural resources. Many tribes were displaced, most notably by the Lakota: the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes all were driven out of treaty-shared territory by 1862. Beyond all the intertribal fighting, the United States did little to intervene in any of the conflict, nor did they ever honor many their pledges of the money that was promised to the Native American people.

One of the conflicts that arose involved Lakota expansion while hunting for natural resources near the Powder River area in Crow territory as was dictated by the treaty. Hostilities waged between the Crow and the Lakota until the Crow were eventually displaced from their lands and the Lakota assumed control of Powder River in 1859.

Four years later, European Americans had blazed the Bozeman Trail as a shortcut from Fort Laramie to the gold fields of Montana. This trail cut through territory belonging to Cheyenne, Arapaho and Lakota, according to the Treaty of 1851. The emigration through the Bozeman Trail as well as the consistent competition of diminishing resources sparked what would become known as Red Cloud’s War, named so after an Oglala Lakota chief allied with both Arapaho and Cheyenne in an effort to drive the Europeans out.

Consisting mostly of skirmishes on US forts along the Powder River, Red Cloud’s War waged from 1866 to 1868 with the Lakota effectively claiming victory as well as the lands once appropriated to the Crow in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851. In 1868, a second treaty was ratified that established the Great Sioux Reservation and made official the inclusion of the western Powder River and Black Hills as Lakota lands, permanently displacing the Crow.
However, this peace would be short-lived, as the United States would impede on Sioux lands less than 10 years later in the prospect for gold within the Black Hills. The Lakota, along with their established allies in the Cheyenne and Arapaho, would see war with the United States military again by 1876 in the Great Sioux War, only this time with less than favorable results.

Participants of the Great Sioux War

Between 1876 and 1877, the United States waged war with a portion of the Native American population known as the Sioux, in a conflict aptly named the Great Sioux War. Some may also know it as the Black Hills War, given the precedence for conflict involved the claim over the Black Hills in South Dakota and Wyoming. Despite the name, however, the Great Sioux War also included other Native American tribes such as the Cheyenne and the Arapaho as well as the various factions within the Lakota Sioux tribe itself, most predominantly the Oglala and Hunkpapa.

Despite the unity of common purpose in the Great Sioux War, many of the tribes who participated wavered between friendly allies and bitter rivals before the conflict took place. In fact, the Lakota Sioux had crossed the Missouri River after a smallpox epidemic and claimed the Black Hills from the Cheyenne in 1776, several years after the Cheyenne had introduced horses into Lakota society.

Originally hailing from the Great Lakes region, the Arapaho tribes ventured southward from present-day Minnesota and Manitoba and established a strong presence in the Midwest from Montana and Wyoming into the western regions of Oklahoma and Kansas. By 1811, they had allied themselves with the Cheyenne to expand their hunting territories, and by 1826 the alliance had come to include Lakota Sioux in an effort to repel Kiowa and Comanche forces from the south. The Arapaho managed peaceful relations with the Cheyenne and the Lakota, and they even dealt frequently with immigrant trading posts hosted by European Americans up until conflict arose with the United States. Expanding in all directions, the Arapaho eventually came to peaceful relations with the Comanche as well, the very tribe they once fought to stop from entering their lands, and even grew so close that a portion of the population assimilated with them, adopting the Comanche language and even coming to be known as their own individual Comanche tribe in the Texas Panhandle.

The Cheyenne and the Lakota have the more storied past, venturing between war allies and bitter enemies at different points in time. Hailing from similar lands in the Great Lakes region, the Cheyenne had ventured westward into present-day Minnesota and North Dakota. While crossing the Missouri River, they associated with the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara and eventually Lakota, the latter to whom they introduced horses. However, due to rising conflict between Lakota and another tribe known as Ojibwe, the Cheyenne were forced to continue migrating westward, eventually entering into conflict with the Kiowa as a result. The warring Lakota eventually crossed the Missouri River and overtook the Cheyenne, claiming their territory in the Black Hills. Forced to continue west and south, the Cheyenne eventually came into an alliance with the Arapaho as well as the opportunity to expand upon their own territory, territory that would encompass southern Montana through Wyoming and Colorado, into the western reaches of Nebraska and Kansas.

Despite past territorial disputes between the Lakota and the Cheyenne, however, they would find a common enemy in the United States military with the advent of the Great Sioux War in an effort to keep American prospectors and traders from trespassing into the Black Hills, considered sacred land by both the Cheyenne and Lakota, in search of the promise of gold. Still strongly allied with the Cheyenne, the Arapaho joined in their effort to defend the Black Hills as well in the conflict that would later be known as the Great Sioux War.

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: