There is Custer Hill and Custer Ridge along the Little Bighorn River, some of the landmarks of one of the more decisive U.S. military defeats. General George Custer made his last stand here, dying in battle against more than 2,000 warriors from Sioux, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes at the peak of the Great Sioux War of 1876-77.
The Battle at the Little Bighorn signifies the river around which this confrontation occurred, featuring warriors from a large Indian village and the 7th Calvary of about 700 men led by Gen. Custer. Custer and his scouts had underestimated the size of the village when the general decided to plan an attack where his five companies and more than 200 men would attack th camp from the north, while the other seven companies would split on the south, one group attacking from the south and the other stationed to the south to prevent Indians from escaping.
Custer had planned to cross the Little Bighorn River at Minneconjou Ford, which was a group of ravines, hills and bluffs just to the north of the river, but was considered advantageous high ground. But things got complicated when Major Reno and his detachment was working through the trees on its way to its southern attack position.
Reno wound up getting trapped in the trees, as he stopped his advance toward the village, thinking that he was leading his group into a trap. He kept his companies in among the trees as some warriors found their way into the woods to hold off Reno’s forces. With the soldiers pinched in, the warriors turned their attention to Custer on the ridge at Minneconjou Ford.
On his second attempt to cross the river, Custer was trapped on the ridge by warriors who were coming from the north, and those which had stalled Reno’s advance from the south and east. While Custer was at the high ground, his group of about 200 men was far outnumbered. Reno’s men who escaped the woods were able to scramble to the top of the ridge to provide some help to Custer’s forces, but it only took about 30 minutes for Custer’s Last Stand to be over. Custer was shot off his horse and died in the battle, and about 275 soldiers died – including Custer and three of his family members – and another 55 were wounded.
The actual details of the battle are still in dispute, as to whether Custer was launching an attack when he was killed, or whether he was trying to execute a retreat. Those who knew about Custer’s career suggest that he was attacking based on his aggressive nature, while some of the evidence and recollections from interviews seem to suggest that Custer was retreating because he was outnumbered and was hoping to get his men out of the area to fight another day.
In the end, Custer lost five of the 12 companies under his command, making it one of the more humiliating defeats on U.S. soil in U.S. military history. But it was the last significant win by American Indians over the next 10 years.