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!