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.