The War for the Black Hills

1875May 1, indictments brought against 238 members of Whiskey Ring; charged with defrauding Treasury of Internal Revenue taxes; high government officials involved. December 6, 44th Congress convenes; Democrats control House of Representatives for first time since 1859.

1876February 7, President Grant’s private secretary, Orville Babcock, acquitted for complicity in Whiskey Ring frauds, but Grant dismisses him from office. March 4, U.S. Congress resolves to impeach Secretary of War Belknap for complicity in Indian Ring frauds. May 10, Centennial Exhibition opens in Philadelphia. June 11, Republicans nominate Rutherford B. Hayes for President. June 27, Democrats nominate Samuel J. Tilden for President. July 9, massacre of Negro militiamen in Hamburg, South Carolina. August 1, Colorado admitted to Union as thirty-eighth state. September, Thomas Edison establishes laboratory at Menlo Park, New Jersey. September 17, race war breaks out in South Carolina. November 7, both political parties claim victory in presidential election; Tilden is winner in popular vote. December 6, Electoral College meets and gives Hayes 185 electoral votes, Tilden 184.

No white person or persons shall be permitted to settle upon or occupy any portion of the territory, or without the consent of the Indians to pass through the same.


We want no white men here. The Black Hills belong to me. If the whites try to take them, I will fight.


One does not sell the earth upon which the people walk.


The white man is in the Black Hills just like maggots, and I want you to get them out just as quick as you can. The chief of all thieves [General Custer] made a road into the Black Hills last summer, and I want the Great Father to pay the damages for what Custer has done.


The land known as the Black Hills is considered by the Indians as the center of their land. The ten nations of Sioux are looking toward that as the center of their land.


The Great Father’s young men are going to carry gold away from the hills. I expect they will fill a number of houses with it. In consideration of this I want my people to be provided for as long as they shall live.


The Great Father told the commissioners that all the Indians had rights in the Black Hills, and that whatever conclusion the Indians themselves should come to would be respected. … I am an Indian and am looked on by the whites as a foolish man; but it must be because I follow the advice of the white man.


Our Great Father has a big safe, and so have we. The hill is our safe. … We want seventy million dollars for the Black Hills. Put the money away some place at interest so we can buy livestock. That is the way the white people do.


You have put all our heads together and covered them with a blanket. That hill there is our wealth, but you have been asking it from us. … You white people, you have all come in our reservation and helped yourselves to our property, and you are not satisfied, you went beyond to take the whole of our safe.


I never want to leave this country; all my relatives are lying here in the ground, and when I fall to pieces I am going to fall to pieces here.


We have sat and watched them pass here to get gold out and have said nothing. … My friends, when I went to Washington I went into your money-house and I had some young men with me, but none of them took any money out of that house while I was with them. At the same time, when your Great Father’s people come into my country, they go into my money-house [the Black Hills] and take money out.


My friends, for many years we have been in this country; we never go to the Great Father’s country and bother him about anything. It is his people who come to our country and bother us, do many bad things and teach our people to be bad. … Before you people ever crossed the ocean to come to this country, and from that time to this, you have never proposed to buy a country that was equal to this in riches. My friends, this country that you have come to buy is the best country that we have … this country is mine, I was raised in it; my forefathers lived and died in it; and I wish to remain in it.


You have driven away our game and our means of livelihood out of the country, until now we have nothing left that is valuable except the hills that you ask us to give up. … The earth is full of minerals of all kinds, and on the earth the ground is covered with forests of heavy pine, and when we give these up to the Great Father we know that we give up the last thing that is valuable either to us or the white people.


When the prairie is on fire you see animals surrounded by the fire; you see them run and try to hide themselves so that they will not burn. That is the way we are here.


NOT LONG AFTER RED Cloud and Spotted Tail and their Teton peoples settled down on their reservations in northwestern Nebraska, rumors began to fly among the white settlements that immense amounts of gold were hidden in the Black Hills. Paha Sapa, the Black Hills, was the center of the world, the place of gods and holy mountains, where warriors went to speak with the Great Spirit and await visions. In 1868 the Great Father considered the hills worthless and gave them to the Indians forever by treaty. Four years later white miners were violating the treaty. They invaded Paha Sapa, searching the rocky passes and clear-running streams for the yellow metal which drove white men crazy. When Indians found these crazy white men in their sacred hills, they killed them or chased them out. By 1874 there was such a mad clamor from gold-hungry Americans that the Army was ordered to make a reconnaissance into the Black Hills. The United States government did not bother to obtain consent from the Indians before starting on this armed invasion, although the treaty of 1868 prohibited entry of white men without the Indians’ permission.

During the Moon of Red Cherries, more than a thousand pony soldiers marched across the Plains from Fort Abraham Lincoln to the Black Hills. They were the Seventh Cavalry, and at their head rode General George Armstrong Custer, the same Star Chief who in 1868 had slaughtered Black Kettle’s Southern Cheyennes on the Washita. The Sioux called him Pahuska, the Long Hair, and because they had no warning of his coming, they could only watch from afar as the long columns of blue-uniformed cavalrymen and canvas-covered supply wagons invaded their sacred country.

When Red Cloud heard about the Long Hair’s expedition, he protested: “I do not like General Custer and all his soldiers going into the Black Hills, as that is the country of the Oglala Sioux.” It was also the country of the Cheyennes, Arapahos, and other Sioux tribes. The anger of the Indians was strong enough that the Great Father, Ulysses Grant, announced his determination “to prevent all invasion of this country by intruders so long as by law and treaty it is secured to the Indians.” 1

But when Custer reported that the hills were filled with gold “from the grass roots down,” parties of white men began forming like summer locusts, crazy to begin panning and digging. The trail that Custer’s supply wagons had cut into the heart of Paha Sapasoon became the Thieves’ Road.

Red Cloud was having trouble that summer with his reservation agent, J. J. Saville, over the poor quality of rations and supplies being issued to the Oglalas. Preoccupied as he was, Red Cloud failed to assess the full impact upon the Sioux of Custer’s intrusion into the Black Hills, especially upon those who left the reservations every spring to hunt and camp near the hills. Like many other aging leaders, Red Cloud was too much involved with petty details, and he was losing touch with the younger tribesmen.

In the autumn following Custer’s expedition, the Sioux who had been hunting in the north began returning to the Red Cloud agency. They were angry as hornets over the invasion of Paha Sapa, and some talked of forming a war party to go back after the miners who were pouring into the hills. Red Cloud listened to the talk, but advised the young men to be patient; he was sure the Great Father would keep his promise and send soldiers to drive out the miners. In the Moon of Falling Leaves, however, something happened that made Red Cloud realize just how angry his young men were at the Long Hair’s soldiers. On October 22 agent Saville sent some of his white workmen to cut a tall pine and bring the trunk back to the stockade. When the Indians saw the pine pole lying on the ground they asked Saville what it was to be used for. A flagpole, the agent told them; he was going to fly a flag over the stockade. The Indians protested. Long Hair Custer had flown flags in his camps across the Black Hills; they wanted no flags or anything else in their agency to remind them of soldiers.

Saville paid no attention to the protests, and next morning he put his men to work digging a hole for the flagpole. In a few minutes a band of young warriors came with axes and began chopping the pole to pieces. Saville ordered them to stop, but they paid no attention to him, and the agent strode across to Red Cloud’s office and begged him to stop the warriors. Red Cloud refused; he knew the warriors were only expressing their rancor over the Long Hair’s invasion of the Black Hills.

Infuriated, Saville now ordered one of his workmen to ride to the Soldiers’ Town (Fort Robinson) and request a company of cavalrymen to come to his aid. When the demonstrating warriors saw the man riding toward the fort, they guessed his mission. They rushed for their tepee camps, armed and painted themselves for battle, and went to intercept the cavalrymen. There were only twenty-six Bluecoats led by a lieutenant; the warriors encircled them, fired their guns into the air, and yelled a few war cries. The lieutenant (Emmet Crawford) betrayed no fear. Through the great cloud of dust thrown up by the milling warriors, he kept his men moving steadily toward the agency. Some of the younger warriors began riding in close, colliding their ponies with the troopers’ mounts, determined to precipitate a fight.

This time it was not another troop of cavalry which came galloping to Lieutenant Crawford’s rescue, but a band of agency Sioux led by Young-Man-Afraid-of-His-Horses, son of Old-Man-Afraid. The agency Indians broke through the ring of warriors, formed a protective wall around the Bluecoats, and escorted them on to the stockade. The belligerent warriors were still so angry, however, that they tried to burn down the stockade, and only the persuasive oratory of Red Dog and Old-Man-Afraid-of-His-Horses stopped the demonstration.

Again Red Cloud refused to interfere. He was not surprised when many of the protesters packed up, dismantled their tepees, and started back north to spend the winter off the reservation. They had proved to him that there were still Sioux warriors who would never take lightly any invasion ofPaha Sapa, yet apparently Red Cloud did not realize that he was losing these young men forever. They had rejected his leadership for that of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, neither of whom had ever lived on a reservation or taken the white man’s handouts.

By the spring of 1875, tales of Black Hills gold had brought hundreds of miners up the Missouri River and out upon the Thieves’ Road. The Army sent soldiers to stop the flow of prospectors. A few were removed from the hills, but no legal action was taken against them, and they soon returned to prospect their claims. General Crook (the Plains Indians called him Three Stars instead of Gray Wolf) made a reconnaissance of the Black Hills, and found more than a thousand miners in the area. Three Stars politely informed them that they were violating the law and ordered them to leave, but he made no effort to enforce his orders.

Alarmed by the white men’s gold craze and the Army’s failure to protect their territory, Red Cloud and Spotted Tail made strong protests to Washington officials. The Great Father’s response was to send out a commission “to treat with the Sioux Indians for the relinquishment of the Black Hills.” In other words, the time had come to take away one more piece of territory that had been assigned to the Indians in perpetuity. As usual, the commission was made up of politicians, missionaries, traders, and military officers. Senator William B. Allison of Iowa was the chairman. Reverend Samuel D. Hinman, who had long endeavored to replace the Santees’ religion and culture with Christianity, was the principal missionary. General Alfred Terry represented the military. John Collins, post trader at Fort Laramie, represented the commercial interests.

To ensure representation of nonagency as well as agency Indians, runners were sent to invite Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and other “wild” chiefs to the council. Half-breed Louis Richard took the government letter to Sitting Bull and read it to him. “I want you to go and tell the Great Father,” Sitting Bull responded, “that I do not want to sell any land to the government.” He picked up a pinch of dust and added: “Not even as much as this.” 2 Crazy Horse was also opposed to the selling of Sioux land, especially the Black Hills. He refused to attend the council, but Little Big Man would go as an observer for the free Oglalas.

If the commissioners expected to meet quietly with a few compliant chiefs and arrange an inexpensive trade, they were in for a rude surprise. When they arrived at the meeting place—on White River between the Red Cloud and Spotted Tail agencies—the Plains for miles around were covered with Sioux camps and immense herds of grazing ponies. From the Missouri River on the east to the Bighorn country on the west, all the nations of the Sioux and many of their Cheyenne and Arapaho friends had gathered there—more than twenty thousand Indians.

Few of them had ever seen a copy of the treaty of 1868, but a goodly number knew the meaning of a certain clause in that sacred document: “No treaty for the cession of any part of the reservation herein described … shall be of any validity or force … unless executed and signed by at leastthree-fourths of all the adult male Indians, occupying or interested in the same.” 3 Even if the commissioners had been able to intimidate or buy off every chief present, they could not have obtained more than a few dozen signatures from those thousands of angry, well-armed warriors who were determined to keep every pinch of dust and blade of grass within their territory.

On September 20, 1875, the commission assembled under the shade of a large tarpaulin which had been strung beside a lone cottonwood on the rolling plain. The commissioners seated themselves on chairs facing the thousands of Indians who were moving restlessly about in the distance. A troop of 120 cavalrymen on white horses filed in from Fort Robinson and drew up in a line behind the canvas shelter. Spotted Tail arrived in a wagon from his agency, but Red Cloud had announced that he would not be there. A few other chiefs drifted in, and then suddenly a cloud of dust boiled up from the crest of a distant rise. A band of Indians came galloping down upon the council shelter. The warriors were dressed for battle, and as they came nearer they swerved to encircle the commissioners, fired their rifles skyward, and gave out a few whoops before trotting off to form a line immediately in the rear of the cavalrymen. By this time a second band of Indians was approaching, and thus tribe by tribe the Sioux warriors came in, making their demonstrations of power, until a great circle of several thousand Indians enclosed the council. Now the chiefs came forward, well satisfied that they had given the commissioners something strong to think about. They sat in a semicircle facing the nervous white men, eager to hear what they would have to say about the Black Hills.

During the few days that the commissioners had been at Fort Robinson observing the mood of the Indians, they recognized the futility of trying to buy the hills and had decided instead to negotiate for the mineral rights. “We have now to ask you if you are willing to give our people the right to mine in the Black Hills,” Senator Allison began, “as long as gold or other valuable minerals are found, for a fair and just sum. If you are so willing, we will make a bargain with you for this right. When the gold or other valuable minerals are taken away, the country will again be yours to dispose of in any manner you may wish.”

24. Sitting Bull. Photo from the U.S. Signal Corps.

Spotted Tail took this proposal as a ludicrous joke. Was the commissioner asking the Indians to lend the Black Hills to the white men for a while? His rejoinder was to ask Senator Allison if he would lend him a team of mules on such terms.

“It will be hard for our government to keep the whites out of the hills,” Allison continued. “To try to do so will give you and our government great trouble, because the whites that may wish to go there are very numerous.” The senator’s ignorance of the Plains Indians’ feeling for the Powder River country was displayed in his next proposal: “There is another country lying far toward the setting sun, over which you roam and hunt, and which territory is yet unceded, extending to the summit of the Bighorn Mountains. … It does not seem to be of very great value or use to you, and our people think they would like to have the portion of it I have described.” 4

While Senator Allison’s incredible demands were being translated, Red Dog rode up on a pony and announced that he had a message from Red Cloud. The absent Oglala chief, probably anticipating the greed of the commissioners, requested a week’s recess to give the tribes time to hold councils of their own in which to consider all proposals concerning their lands. The commissioners considered the matter and agreed to give the Indians three days for holding tribal councils. On September 23 they would expect definite replies from the chiefs.

The idea of giving up their last great hunting ground was so preposterous that none of the chiefs even discussed it during their councils. They did debate very earnestly the question of the Black Hills. Some reasoned that if the United States government had no intention of enforcing the treaty and keeping the white miners out, then perhaps the Indians should demand payment—a great deal of money—for the yellow metal taken from the hills. Others were determined not to sell at any price. The Black Hills belonged to the Indians, they argued; if the Bluecoat soldiers would not drive out the miners, then the warriors must.

On September 23 the commissioners, riding in Army ambulances from Fort Robinson and escorted by a somewhat enlarged cavalry troop, again arrived at the council shelter. Red Cloud was there early, and he protested vigorously about the large number of soldiers. Just as he was preparing to give his preliminary speech to the commissioners, a sudden commotion broke out among the warriors far in the distance. About three hundred Oglalas who had come in from the Powder River country trotted their ponies down a slope, occasionally firing off rifles. Some were chanting a song in Sioux:

The Black Hills is my land and I love it

And whoever interferes

Will hear this gun. 5

An Indian mounted on a gray horse forced his way through the ranks of warriors gathered around the canvas shelter. He was Crazy Horse’s envoy, Little Big Man, stripped for battle and wearing two revolvers belted to his waist. “I will kill the first chief who speaks for selling the Black Hills!” he shouted. He danced his horse across the open space between the commissioners and the chiefs. 6

Young-Man-Afraid-of-His-Horses and a group of unofficial Sioux policemen immediately swarmed around Little Big Man and moved him away. The chiefs and the commissioners, however, must have guessed that Little Big Man voiced the feelings of most of the warriors present. General Terry suggested to his fellow commissioners that they board the Army ambulances and return to the safety of Fort Robinson.

After giving the Indians a few days to calm down, the commissioners quietly arranged a meeting with twenty chiefs in the headquarters building of the Red Cloud agency. During three days of speech making, the chiefs made it quite clear to the Great Father’s representatives that the Black Hills could not be bought cheaply, if at any price. Spotted Tail finally grew impatient with the commissioners and asked them to submit a definite proposal in writing.

The offer was four hundred thousand dollars a year for the mineral rights; or if the Sioux wished to sell the hills outright the price would be six million dollars payable in fifteen annual installments. (This was a markdown price indeed, considering that one Black Hills mine alone yielded more than five hundred million dollars in gold.)

Red Cloud did not even appear for the final meeting, letting Spotted Tail speak for all the Sioux. Spotted Tail rejected both offers, firmly. The Black Hills were not for lease or for sale.

The commissioners packed up, returned to Washington, reported their failure to persuade the Sioux to relinquish the Black Hills, and recommended that Congress disregard the wishes of the Indians and appropriate a sum fixed “as a fair equivalent of the value of the hills.” This forced purchase of the Black Hills should be “presented to the Indians as a finality,” they said. 7

Thus was set in motion a chain of actions which would bring the greatest defeat ever suffered by the United States Army in its wars with the Indians, and ultimately would destroy forever the freedom of the northern Plains Indians:

November 9, 1875: E. C. Watkins, special inspector for the Indian Bureau, reported to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs that Plains Indians living outside reservations were fed and well armed, were lofty and independent in their attitudes, and were therefore a threat to the reservation system. Inspector Watkins recommended that troops be sent against these uncivilized Indians “in the winter, the sooner the better, and whip them into subjection.” 8

November 22, 1875: Secretary of War W. W. Belknap warned of trouble in the Black Hills “unless something is done to obtain possession of that section for the white miners who have been strongly attracted there by reports of rich deposits of the precious metal.” 9

December 3, 1875: Commissioner of Indian Affairs Edward P. Smith ordered Sioux and Cheyenne agents to notify all Indians off reservations to come in and report to their agencies by January 31, 1876, or a “military force would be sent to compel them.”

February 1, 1876: The Secretary of the Interior notified the Secretary of War that the time given the “hostile Indians” to come in to their reservations had expired, and that he was turning them over to the military authorities for such action as the Army might deem proper under the circumstances. 10

February 7, 1876: The War Department authorized General Sheridan, commanding the Military Division of the Missouri, to commence operations against the “hostile Sioux,” including the bands under Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.

February 8, 1876: General Sheridan ordered generals Crook and Terry to begin preparations for military operations in the direction of the headwaters of the Powder, Tongue, Rosebud, and Bighorn rivers, “where Crazy Horse and his allies frequented.” 11

Once this machinery of government began moving, it became an inexorable force, mindless and uncontrollable. When runners went out from the agencies late in December to warn the non-agency chiefs to come in, heavy snows blanketed the northern Plains. Blizzards and severe cold made it impossible for some couriers to return until weeks after the January 31 deadline; it would have been impossible to move women and children by ponies and travois. Had a few thousand “hostiles” somehow managed to reach the agencies, they would have starved there. On the reservations during the late winter, food supplies were so short that hundreds of Indians left in March to go north in search of game to supplement their meager government rations.

In January a courier found Sitting Bull camped near the mouth of the Powder. The Hunkpapa chief sent the messenger back to the agent, informing him that he would consider the order to come in, but could not do so until the Moon When the Green Grass Is Up.

Crazy Horse’s Oglalas were in winter camp near Bear Butte, where the Thieves’ Road came into the Black Hills from the north. During the spring it would be a good place to make up raiding parties to go against the miners violating Paha Sapa. When agency couriers made their way through the snow to Crazy Horse, he told them politely that he could not come until the cold went away. “It was very cold,” a young Oglala remembered afterward, “and many of our people and ponies would have died in the snow. Also, we were in our own country and were doing no harm.” 12

The January 31 ultimatum was little short of a declaration of war against the independent Indians, and many of them accepted it as that. But they did not expect the Bluecoats to strike so soon. In the Moon of the Snowblind, Three Stars Crook came marching north from Fort Fetterman along the old Bozeman Road, where ten years before Red Cloud had begun his stubborn fight to keep the Powder River country inviolate.

About this same time, a mixed band of Northern Cheyennes and Oglala Sioux left Red Cloud agency to go to the Powder River country, where they hoped to find a few buffalo and antelope. About the middle of March they joined some nonagency Indians camped a few miles from where the Little Powder runs into the Powder. Two Moon, Little Wolf, Old Bear, Maple Tree, and White Bull were the Cheyenne leaders. Low Dog was the Oglala chief, and some of the warriors with him were from Crazy Horse’s village farther north.

Without warning, at dawn on March 17, Crook’s advance column under Colonel Joseph J. Reynolds attacked this peaceful camp. Fearing nothing in their own country, the Indians were asleep when Captain James Egan’s white-horse troop, formed in a company front, dashed into the tepee village, firing pistols and carbines. At the same time, a second troop of cavalry came in on the left flank, and a third swept away the Indians’ horse herd.

The first reaction from the warriors was to get as many women and children as possible out of the way of the soldiers, who were firing recklessly in all directions. “Old people tottered and hobbled away to get out of reach of the bullets singing among the lodges,” Wooden Leg said afterward. “Braves seized whatever weapons they had and tried to meet the attack.” As soon as the noncombatants were started up a rugged mountain slope, the warriors took positions on ledges or behind huge rocks. From these places they held the soldiers at bay until the women and children could escape across the Powder.

“From a distance we saw the destruction of our village,” Wooden Leg said. “Our tepees were burned with everything in them. … I had nothing left but the clothing I had on.” The Bluecoats destroyed all the pemmican and saddles in the camp, and drove away almost every pony the Indians owned, “between twelve and fifteen hundred head.” 13 As soon as darkness fell, the warriors went back to where the Bluecoats were camped, determined to recover their stolen horses. Two Moon succinctly described what happened: “That night the soldiers slept, leaving the horses to one side; so we crept up and stole them back again, and then we went away.” 14

Three Stars Crook was so angry at Colonel Reynolds for allowing the Indians to escape from their village and recover their horses that he ordered him court-martialed. The Army reported this foray as “the attack on Crazy Horse’s village,” but Crazy Horse was camped miles away to the northeast. That was where Two Moon and the other chiefs led their homeless people in hopes of finding food and shelter. They were more than three days making the journey; the temperature was below zero at night; only a few had buffalo robes; and there was very little food.

Crazy Horse received the fugitives hospitably, gave them food and robes, and found room for them in the Oglala tepees. “I’m glad you are come,” he said to Two Moon after listening to accounts of the Bluecoats plundering the village. “We are going to fight the white man again.”

“All right,” Two Moon replied. “I am ready to fight. I have fought already. My people have been killed, my horses stolen; I am satisfied to fight.” 15

In the Geese Laying Moon, when the grass was tall and the horses strong, Crazy Horse broke camp and led the Oglalas and Cheyennes north to the mouth of Tongue River, where Sitting Bull and the Hunkpapas had been living through the winter. Not long after that, Lame Deer arrived with a band of Minneconjous and asked permission to camp nearby. They had heard about all the Bluecoats marching through the Sioux hunting grounds and wanted to be near Sitting Bull’s powerful band of Hunkpapas should there be any trouble.

As the weather warmed, the tribes began moving northward in search of wild game and fresh grass. Along the way they were joined by bands of Brulés, Sans Arcs, Blackfoot Sioux, and additional Cheyennes. Most of these Indians had left their reservations in accordance with their treaty rights as hunters, and those who had heard of the January 31 ultimatum either considered it as only another idle threat of the Great Father’s agents or did not believe it applied to peaceful Indians. “Many young men were anxious to go for fighting the soldiers,” said the Cheyenne warrior Wooden Leg. “But the chiefs and old men all urged us to keep away from the white men.” 16

While these several thousand Indians were camped on the Rosebud, many young warriors joined them from the reservations. They brought rumors of great forces of Bluecoats marching from three directions. Three Stars Crook was coming from the south. The One Who Limps (Colonel John Gibbon) was coming from the west. One Star Terry and Long Hair Custer were coming from the east.

Early in the Moon of Making Fat, the Hunkpapas had their annual sun dance. For three days Sitting Bull danced, bled himself, and stared at the sun until he fell into a trance. When he rose again, he spoke to his people. In his vision he had heard a voice crying: “I give you these because they have no ears.” When he looked into the sky he saw soldiers falling like grasshoppers, with their heads down and their hats falling off. They were falling right into the Indian camp. Because the white men had no ears and would not listen, Wakantanka the Great Spirit was giving these soldiers to the Indians to be killed. 17

A few days later a hunting party of Cheyennes sighted a column of Bluecoats camped for the night in the valley of the Rosebud. The hunters rode back to camp, sounding the wolf howl of danger. Three Stars was coming, and he had employed mercenary Crows and Shoshones to scout ahead of his troops.

The different chiefs sent criers through their villages and then held hasty councils. It was decided to leave about half the warriors to protect the villages while the others would travel through the night and attack Three Stars’s soldiers the next morning. About a thousand Sioux and Cheyennes formed the party. A few women went along to help with the spare horses. Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and Two Moon were among the leaders. Just before daylight they unsaddled and rested for a while; then they turned away from the river and rode across the hills.

Three Stars’s Crow scouts had told him of a great Sioux village down the Rosebud, and the general started these mercenaries out early that morning. As the Crows rode over the crest of a hill and started down, they ran into the Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. At first the Sioux and Cheyennes chased the Crows in all directions, but Bluecoats began coming up fast, and the warriors pulled back.

For a long time Crazy Horse had been waiting for a chance to test himself in battle with the Bluecoats. In all the years since the Fetterman fight at Fort Phil Kearny, he had studied the soldiers and their ways of fighting. Each time he went into the Black Hills to seek visions, he had asked Wakantanka to give him secret powers so that he would know how to lead the Oglalas to victory if the white men ever came again to make war upon his people. Since the time of his youth, Crazy Horse had known that the world men lived in was only a shadow of the real world. To get into the real world, he had to dream, and when he was in the real world everything seemed to float or dance. In this real world his horse danced as if it were wild or crazy, and this was why he called himself Crazy Horse. He had learned that if he dreamed himself into the real world before going into a fight, he could endure anything.

On this day, June 17, 1876, Crazy Horse dreamed himself into the real world, and he showed the Sioux how to do many things they had never done before while fighting the white man’s soldiers. When Crook sent his pony soldiers in mounted charges, instead of rushing forward into the fire of their carbines, the Sioux faded off to their flanks and struck weak places in their lines. Crazy Horse kept his warriors mounted and always moving from one place to another. By the time the sun was in the top of the sky he had the soldiers all mixed up in three separate fights. The Bluecoats were accustomed to forming skirmish lines and strong fronts, and when Crazy Horse prevented them from fighting like that they were thrown into confusion. By making many darting charges on their swift ponies, the Sioux kept the soldiers apart and always on the defensive. When the Bluecoats’ fire grew too hot, the Sioux would draw away, tantalize a few soldiers into pursuit, and then turn on them with a fury.

The Cheyennes also distinguished themselves that day, especially in the dangerous charges. Chief-Comes-in-Sight was the bravest of all, but as he was swinging his horse about after a charge into the soldiers’ flank the animal was shot down in front of a Bluecoat infantry line. Suddenly another horse and rider galloped out from the Cheyennes’ position and swerved to shield Chief-Comes-in-Sight from the soldiers’ fire. In a moment Chief-Comes-in-Sight was up behind the rider. The rescuer was his sister Buffalo-Calf-Road-Woman, who had come along to help with the horse herds. That was why the Cheyennes always remembered this fight as the Battle Where the Girl Saved Her Brother. The white men called it the Battle of the Rosebud.

When the sun went down, the fighting ended. The Indians knew they had given Three Stars a good fight, but they did not know until the next morning that they had whipped him. At first daylight, Sioux and Cheyenne scouts went out along the ridges, and they could see the Bluecoat column retreating far away to the south. General Crook was returning to his base camp on Goose Creek to await reinforcements or a message from Gibbon, Terry, or Custer. The Indians on the Rosebud were too strong for one column of soldiers.

After the fight on the Rosebud, the chiefs decided to move west to the valley of the Greasy Grass (Little Bighorn). Scouts had come in with reports of great herds of antelope west of there, and they said grass for the horses was plentiful on the nearby benchlands. Soon the camp circles were spread along the west bank of the twisting Greasy Grass for almost three miles. No one knew for certain how many Indians were there, but the number could not have been smaller than ten thousand people, including three or four thousand warriors. “It was a very big village and you could hardly count the tepees,” Black Elk said. 18

Farthest upstream toward the south was the Hunkpapa camp, with the Blackfoot Sioux nearby. The Hunkpapas always camped at the entrance, or at the head end of the circle, which was the meaning of their name. Below them were the Sans Arcs,Minneconjous, Oglalas, and Brulés. At the north end were the Cheyennes.

The time was early in the Moon When the Chokecherries Are Ripe, with days hot enough for boys to swim in the melted snowwater of the Greasy Grass. Hunting parties were coming and going in the direction of the Bighorns, where they had found a few buffalo as well as antelope. The women were digging wild turnips out on the prairies. Every night one or more of the tribal circles held dances, and some nights the chiefs met in councils. “The chiefs of the different tribes met together as equals,” Wooden Leg said. “There was only one who was considered as being above all the others. This was Sitting Bull. He was recognized as the one old man chief of all the camps combined.” 19

Sitting Bull did not believe the victory on the Rosebud had fulfilled his prophecy of soldiers falling into the Indian camp. Since the retreat of Three Stars, however, no hunting parties had sighted any Bluecoats between the Powder and the Bighorn.

They did not know until the morning of June 24 that Long Hair Custer was prowling along the Rosebud. Next morning scouts reported that the soldiers had crossed the last high ridge between the Rosebud and the Indian camp and were marching toward the Little Bighorn.

The news of Custer’s approach came to the Indians in various ways :

“I and four women were a short distance from the camp digging wild turnips,” said Red Horse, one of the Sioux council chiefs. “Suddenly one of the women attracted my attention to a cloud of dust rising a short distance from camp. I soon saw that the soldiers were charging the camp. To the camp I and the women ran. When I arrived a person told me to hurry to the council lodge. The soldiers charged so quickly that we could not talk. We came out of the council lodge and talked in all directions. The Sioux mount horses, take guns, and go fight the soldiers. Women and children mount horses and go, meaning to get out of the way.” 20

Pte-San-Waste-Win, a cousin of Sitting Bull, was one of the young women digging turnips that morning. She said the soldiers were six to eight miles distant when first sighted. “We could see the flashing of their sabers and saw that there were very many soldiers in the party.” The soldiers first seen by Pte-San-Waste-Win and other Indians in the middle of the camp were those in Custer’s battalion. These Indians were not aware of Major Marcus Reno’s surprise attack against the south end of camp until they heard rifle fire from the direction of the Blackfoot Sioux lodges. “Like that the soldiers were upon us. Through the tepee poles their bullets rattled. … The women and children cried, fearing they would be killed, but the men, the Hunkpapa and Blackfeet, the Oglala and Minneconjou, mounted their horses and raced to the Blackfoot tepees. We could still see the soldiers of Long Hair marching along in the distance, and our men, taken by surprise, and from a point whence they had not expected to be attacked, went singing the song of battle into the fight behind the Blackfoot village.” 21

Black Elk, a thirteen-year-old Oglala boy, was swimming with his companions in the Little Bighorn. The sun was straight above and was getting very hot when he heard a crier shouting in the Hunkpapa camp: “The chargers are coming! They are charging! The chargers are coming!” The warning was repeated by an Oglala crier, and Black Elk could hear the cry going from camp to camp northward to the Cheyennes. 22

Low Dog, an Oglala chief, heard this same warning cry. “I did not believe it. I thought it was a false alarm. I did not think it possible that any white man would attack us, so strong as we were. … Although I did not believe it was a true alarm, I lost no time getting ready. When I got my gun and came out of my lodge the attack had begun at the end of the camp where Sitting Bull and the Hunkpapas were.”

Iron Thunder was in the Minneconjou camp. “I did not know anything about Reno’s attack until his men were so close that the bullets went through the camp, and everything was in confusion. The horses were so frightened we could not catch them.”

Crow King, who was in the Hunkpapa camp, said that Reno’s pony soldiers commenced firing at about four hundred yards’ distance. The Hunkpapas and Blackfoot Sioux retreated slowly on foot to give the women and children time to go to a place of safety. “Other Indians got our horses. By that time we had warriors enough to turn upon the whites.” 23

Near the Cheyenne camp, three miles to the north, Two Moon was watering his horses. “I washed them off with cool water, then took a swim myself. I came back to the camp afoot. When I got near my lodge, I looked up the Little Bighorn toward Sitting Bull’s camp. I saw a great dust rising. It looked like a whirlwind. Soon a Sioux horseman came rushing into camp shouting: ‘Soldiers come! Plenty white soldiers!’”

Two Moon ordered the Cheyenne warriors to get their horses, and then told the women to take cover away from the tepee village. “I rode swiftly toward Sitting Bull’s camp. Then I saw the white soldiers fighting in a line [Reno’s men]. Indians covered the flat. They began to drive the soldiers all mixed up—Sioux, then soldiers, then more Sioux, and all shooting. The air was full of smoke and dust. I saw the soldiers fall back and drop into the riverbed like buffalo fleeing.” 24

The war chief who rallied the Indians and turned back Reno’s attack was a muscular, full-chested, thirty-six-year-old Hunkpapa named Pizi, or Gall. Gall had grown up in the tribe as an orphan. While still a young man he distinguished himself as a hunter and warrior, and Sitting Bull adopted him as a younger brother. Some years before, while the commissioners were attempting to persuade the Sioux to take up farming as a part of the treaty of 1868, Gall went to Fort Rice to speak for the Hunkpapas. “We were born naked,” he said, “and have been taught to hunt and live on the game. You tell us that we must learn to farm, live in one house, and take on your ways. Suppose the people living beyond the great sea should come and tell you that you must stop farming and kill your cattle, and take your houses and lands, what would you do? Would you not fight them?” 25In the decade following that speech, nothing changed Gall’s opinion of the white man’s self-righteous arrogance, and by the summer of 1876 he was generally accepted by the Hunkpapas as Sitting Bull’s lieutenant, the war chief of the tribe.

Reno’s first onrush caught several women and children in the open, and the cavalry’s flying bullets virtually wiped out Gall’s family. “It made my heart bad,” he told a newspaperman some years later. “After that I killed all my enemies with the hatchet.” His description of the tactics used to block Reno was equally terse: “Sitting Bull and I were at the point where Reno attacked. Sitting Bull was big medicine. The women and children were hastily moved downstream. … The women and children caught the horses for the bucks to mount them; the bucks mounted and charged back Reno and checked him, and drove him into the timber.” 26

In military terms, Gall turned Reno’s flank and forced him into the woods. He then frightened Reno into making a hasty retreat which the Indians quickly turned into a rout. The result made it possible for Gall to divert hundreds of warriors for a frontal attack against Custer’s column, while Crazy Horse and Two Moon struck the flank and rear.

Meanwhile Pte-San-Waste-Win and the other women had been anxiously watching the Long Hair’s soldiers across the river. “I could hear the music of the bugle and could see the column of soldiers turn to the left to march down to the river where the attack was to be made. … Soon I saw a number of Cheyennes ride into the river, then some young men of my band, then others, until there were hundreds of warriors in the river and running up into the ravine. When some hundreds had passed the river and gone into the ravine, the others who were left, still a very great number, moved back from the river and waited for the attack. And I knew that the fighting men of the Sioux, many hundreds in number, were hidden in the ravine behind the hill upon which Long Hair was marching, and he would be attacked from both sides.” 27

Kill Eagle, a Blackfoot Sioux chief, later said that the movement of Indians toward Custer’s column was “like a hurricane … like bees swarming out of a hive.” Hump, the Minneconjou comrade of Gall and Crazy Horse during the old Powder River days, said the first massive charge by the Indians caused the long-haired chief and his men to become confused. “The first dash the Indians made my horse was shot from under me and I was wounded—shot above the knee, and the ball came out at the hip, and I fell and lay right there.” Crow King, who was with the Hunkpapas, said: “The greater portion of our warriors came together in their front and we rushed our horses on them. At the same time warriors rode out on each side of them and circled around them until they were surrounded.” 28 Thirteen-year-old Black Elk, watching from across the river, could see a big dust whirling on the hill, and then horses began coming out of it with empty saddles.

25. Gall. Photo from the U.S. Signal Corps.

26. Two Moon, chief of the Cheyennes. Courtesy of Denver Public Library.

27. Hump, photographed at Fort Bennett, South Dakota, in 1890. Photo from the National Archives.

28. Crow King of the Sioux. Courtesy of Denver Public Library.

“The smoke of the shooting and the dust of the horses shut out the hill,” Pte-San-Waste-Win said, “and the soldiers fired many shots, but the Sioux shot straight and the soldiers fell dead. The women crossed the river after the men of our village, and when we came to the hill there were no soldiers living and Long Hair lay dead among the rest. … The blood of the people was hot and their hearts bad, and they took no prisoners that day.” 29

Crow King said that all the soldiers dismounted when the Indians surrounded them. “They tried to hold on to their horses, but as we pressed closer they let go their horses. We crowded them toward our main camp and killed them all. They kept in order and fought like brave warriors as long as they had a man left.” 30

According to Red Horse, toward the end of the fighting with Custer, “these soldiers became foolish, many throwing away their guns and raising their hands, saying, ‘Sioux, pity us; take us prisoners.’ The Sioux did not take a single soldier prisoner, but killed all of them; none were alive for even a few minutes.” 31

Long after the battle, White Bull of the Minneconjous drew four pictographs showing himself grappling with and killing a soldier identified as Custer. Among others who claimed to have killed Custer were Rain-in-the-Face, Flat Hip, and Brave Bear. Red Horse said that an unidentified Santee warrior killed Custer. Most Indians who told of the battle said they never saw Custer and did not know who killed him. “We did not know till the fight was over that he was the white chief,” Low Dog said. 32

In an interview given in Canada a year after the battle, Sitting Bull said that he never saw Custer, but that other Indians had seen and recognized him just before he was killed. “He did not wear his long hair as he used to wear it,” Sitting Bull said. “It was short, but it was the color of the grass when the frost comes. … Where the last stand was made, the Long Hair stood like a sheaf of corn with all the ears fallen around him.” 33 But Sitting Bull did not say who killed Custer.

An Arapaho warrior who was riding with the Cheyennes said that Custer was killed by several Indians. “He was dressed in buckskin, coat and pants, and was on his hands and knees. He had been shot through the side, and there was blood coming from his mouth. He seemed to be watching the Indians moving around him. Four soldiers were sitting up around him, but they were all badly wounded. All the other soldiers were down. Then the Indians closed in around him, and I did not see any more.” 34

Regardless of who had killed him, the Long Hair who made the Thieves’ Road into the Black Hills was dead with all his men. Reno’s soldiers, however, reinforced by those of Major Frederick Benteen, were dug in on a hill farther down the river. The Indians surrounded the hill completely and watched the soldiers through the night, and next morning started fighting them again. During the day, scouts sent out by the chiefs came back with warnings of many more soldiers marching in the direction of the Little Bighorn.

After a council it was decided to break camp. The warriors had expended most of their ammunition, and they knew it would be foolish to try to fight so many soldiers with bows and arrows. The women were told to begin packing, and before sunset they started up the valley toward the Bighorn Mountains, the tribes separating along the way and taking different directions.

When the white men in the East heard of the Long Hair’s defeat, they called it a massacre and went crazy with anger. They wanted to punish all the Indians in the West. Because they could not punish Sitting Bull and the war chiefs, the Great Council in Washington decided to punish the Indians they could find—those who remained on the reservations and had taken no part in the fighting.

On July 22 the Great Warrior Sherman received authority to assume military control of all reservations in the Sioux country and to treat the Indians there as prisoners of war. On August 15 the Great Council made a new law requiring the Indians to give up all rights to the Powder River country and the Black Hills. They did this without regard to the treaty of 1868, maintaining that the Indians had violated the treaty by going to war with the United States. This was difficult for the reservation Indians to understand, because they had not attacked United States soldiers, nor had Sitting Bull’s followers attacked them until Custer sent Reno charging through the Sioux villages.

To keep the reservation Indians peaceful, the Great Father sent out a new commission in September to cajole and threaten the chiefs and secure their signatures to legal documents transferring the immeasurable wealth of the Black Hills to white ownership. Several members of this commission were old hands at stealing Indian lands, notably Newton Edmunds, Bishop Henry Whipple, and the Reverend Samuel D. Hinman. At the Red Cloud agency, Bishop Whipple opened the proceedings with a prayer, and then Chairman George Manypenny read the conditions laid down by Congress. Because these conditions were stated in the usual obfuscated language of lawmakers, Bishop Whipple attempted to explain them in phrases which could be used by the interpreters.

“My heart has for many years been very warm toward the red man. We came here to bring a message to you from your Great Father, and there are certain things we have given to you in his exact words. We cannot alter them even to the scratch of a pen. … When the Great Council made the appropriation this year to continue your supplies they made certain provisions, three in number, and unless they were complied with no more appropriations would be made by Congress. Those three provisions are: First, that you shall give up the Black Hills country and the country to the north; second, that you shall receive your rations on the Missouri River; and third, that the Great Father shall be permitted to locate three roads from the Missouri River across the reservation to that new country where the Black Hills are. … The Great Father said that his heart was full of tenderness for his red children, and he selected this commission of friends of the Indians that they might devise a plan, as he directed them, in order that the Indian nations might be saved, and that instead of growing smaller and smaller until the last Indian looks upon his own grave, they might become as the white man has become, a great and powerful people.” 35

To Bishop Whipple’s listeners, this seemed a strange way indeed to save the Indian nations, taking away their Black Hills and hunting grounds, and moving them far away to the Missouri River. Most of the chiefs knew that it was already too late to save the Black Hills, but they protested strongly against having their reservations moved to the Missouri. “I think if my people should move there,” Red Cloud said, “they would all be destroyed. There are a great many bad men there and bad whiskey; therefore I don’t want to go there.” 36

No Heart said that white men had already ruined the Missouri River country so that Indians could not live there. “You travel up and down the Missouri River and you do not see any timber,” he declared. “You have probably seen where lots of it has been, and the Great Father’s people have destroyed it.”

“It is only six years since we came to live on this stream where we are living now,” Red Dog said, “and nothing that has been promised us has been done.” Another chief remembered that since the Great Father promised them that they would never be moved they had been moved five times. “I think you had better put the Indians on wheels,” he said sardonically, “and you can run them about whenever you wish.”

Spotted Tail accused the government and the commissioners of betraying the Indians, of broken promises and false words. “This war did not spring up here in our land; this war was brought upon us by the children of the Great Father who came to take our land from us without price, and who, in our land, do a great many evil things. … This war has come from robbery—from the stealing of our land.” 37 As for moving to the Missouri, Spotted Tail was utterly opposed, and he told the commissioners he would not sign away the Black Hills until he could go to Washington and talk to the Great Father.

The commissioners gave the Indians a week to discuss the terms among themselves, and it soon became evident that they were not going to sign anything. The chiefs pointed out that the treaty of 1868 required the signatures of three-fourths of the male adults of the Sioux tribes to change anything in it, and more than half of the warriors were in the north with Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. In reply to this the commissioners explained that the Indians off the reservations were hostiles; only friendly Indians were covered by the treaty. Most of the chiefs did not accept this. To break down their opposition, the commissioners dropped strong hints that unless they signed, the Great Council in its anger would cut off all rations immediately, would remove them to the Indian Territory in the south, and the Army would take all their guns and horses.

There was no way out. The Black Hills were stolen; the Powder River country and its herds of wild game were gone. Without wild game or rations, the people would starve. The thought of moving far away to a strange country in the south was unbearable, and if the Army took their guns and ponies they would no longer be men.

Red Cloud and his subchiefs signed first, and then Spotted Tail and his people signed. After that the commissioners went to agencies at Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, Crow Creek, Lower Brulé, and Santee, and badgered the other Sioux tribes into signing. Thus did Paha Sapa, its spirits and its mysteries, its vast pine forests, and its billion dollars in gold pass forever from the hands of the Indians into the domain of the United States.

Four weeks after Red Cloud and Spotted Tail touched pens to the paper, eight companies of United States cavalry under Three Fingers Mackenzie (the Eagle Chief who destroyed the Kiowas and Comanches in Palo Duro Canyon) marched out of Fort Robinson into the agency camps. Under orders of the War Department, Mackenzie had come to take the reservation Indians’ ponies and guns. All males were placed under arrest, tepees were searched and dismantled, guns collected, and all ponies were rounded up by the soldiers. Mackenzie gave the women permission to use horses to haul their goods into Fort Robinson. The males, including Red Cloud and the other chiefs, were forced to walk to the fort. The tribe would have to live henceforth at Fort Robinson under the guns of the soldiers.

Next morning, to degrade his beaten prisoners even further, Mackenzie presented a company of mercenary Pawnee scouts (the same Pawnees the Sioux had once driven out of their Powder River country) with the horses the soldiers had taken from the Sioux.

29. Young-Man-Afraid-of-His-Horses. Courtesy of the Nebraska State Historical Society.

Meanwhile, the United States Army, thirsting for revenge, was prowling the country north and west of the Black Hills, killing Indians wherever they could be found. In late summer of 1876, Three Stars Crook’s reinforced column ran out of rations in the Heart River country of Dakota, and started a forced march southward to obtain supplies in the Black Hills mining camps. On September 9, near Slim Buttes, a forward detachment under Captain Anson Mills stumbled upon American Horse’s village of Oglalas and Minneconjous. These Indians had left Crazy Horse’s camp on Grand River a few days before and were moving south to spend the winter on their reservation. Captain Mills attacked, but the Sioux drove him back, and while he was waiting for Three Stars to arrive, all the Indians escaped except American Horse, four warriors, and fifteen women and children, who were trapped in a cave at the end of a small canyon.

When Crook came up with the main column, he ordered soldiers to positions from which they could fire volleys into the mouth of the cave. American Horse and his four warriors returned the fire, and after some hours of continuous dueling, two Bluecoats were dead and nine wounded. Crook then sent a scout, Frank Grouard, to ask the Indians to surrender. Grouard, who had lived with the Sioux, spoke to them in their language. “They told me they would come out if we would not kill them, and upon receiving this promise, they came out.” American Horse, two warriors, five women, and several children crawled out of the cave; the others were dead or too badly wounded to move. American Horse’s groin had been ripped open by buckshot. “He was holding his entrails in his hands as he came out,” Grouard said. “Holding out one of his bloodstained hands, he shook hands with me.” 38

Captain Mills had found a little girl, three or four years old, hiding in the village. “She sprang up and ran away like a young partridge,” he said. “The soldiers caught her and brought her to me.” Mills comforted her and gave her some food, and then he asked his orderly to bring her along when he went down to the cave where the soldiers were dragging out the Indian casualties. Two of the dead were women, bloody with many wounds. “The little girl began to scream and fought the orderly until he placed her on the ground, when she ran and embraced one of these squaws, who was her mother. I told Adjutant Lemly I intended to adopt this little girl, as I had slain her mother.”

A surgeon came to examine American Horse’s wound. He pronounced it fatal, and the chief sat down before a fire, holding a blanket over his bullet-torn abdomen, until he lost consciousness and died.

Crook ordered Captain Mills to ready his men for a resumption of the march to the Black Hills. “Before starting,” Mills said, “Adjutant Lemly asked me if I really intended to take the little girl. I told him I did, when he remarked, ‘Well, how do you think Mrs. Mills will like it?’ It was the first time I had given that side of the matter a thought, and I decided to leave the child where I found her.” 39

While Three Stars was destroying American Horse’s village, some of the Sioux who had escaped made their way to Sitting Bull’s camp and told him about the attack. Sitting Bull and Gall, with about six hundred warriors, immediately went to help American Horse, but they arrived too late. Although Sitting Bull launched an attack on Crook’s soldiers, his warriors had so little ammunition that the Bluecoats held them off with rearguard actions while the main column marched on to the Black Hills.

When the soldiers were all gone, Sitting Bull and his warriors went into American Horse’s devastated village, rescued the helpless survivors, and buried the dead. “What have we done that the white people want us to stop?” Sitting Bull asked. “We have been running up and down this country, but they follow us from one place to another.” 40

In an effort to get as far away from the soldiers as possible, Sitting Bull took his people north along the Yellowstone, where buffalo could be found. In the Moon of Falling Leaves, Gall went out with a hunting party and came upon an Army wagon train traveling through the Yellowstone country. The soldiers were taking supplies to a new fort they were building where Tongue River flowed into the Yellowstone (Fort Keogh, named for Captain Myles Keogh, who was killed at the Little Bighorn).

Gall’s warriors ambushed the train near Glendive Creek and captured sixty mules. As soon as Sitting Bull heard about the wagon train and the new fort, he sent for Johnny Brughiere, a half-breed who had joined his camp. Brughiere knew how to write, and Sitting Bull told him to put down on a piece of paper some words he had to say to the commander of the soldiers:

I want to know what you are doing on this road. You scare all the buffalo away. I want to hunt in this place. I want you to turn back from here. If you don’t, I will fight you again. I want you to leave what you have got here, and turn back from here. I am your friend.


When Lieutenant Colonel Elwell Otis, commanding the wagon train, received the message, he sent a scout with a reply to Sitting Bull. The soldiers were going to Fort Keogh, Otis said, and many more soldiers were coming to join them. If Sitting Bull wanted a fight, the soldiers would give him one.

Sitting Bull did not want a fight; he wanted only to be left alone to hunt buffalo. He sent a warrior out with a white flag, asking for a talk with the soldier chief. By this time Colonel Nelson Miles and more soldiers had overtaken the train. As Miles had been searching for Sitting Bull since the end of summer, he immediately agreed to a parley.

They met on October 22 between a line of soldiers and a line of warriors. Miles was escorted by an officer and five men, Sitting Bull by a subchief and five warriors. The day was very cold, and Miles was wearing a long coat trimmed with bear fur. From the first moment of his appearance, he was Bear Coat to the Indians.

There were no preliminary speeches, no friendly smokes of the pipe. With Johnny Brughiere interpreting, Bear Coat began the parley by accusing Sitting Bull of always being against the white man and his ways. Sitting Bull admitted that he was not for the whites, but neither was he an enemy to them as long as they left him alone. Bear Coat wanted to know what Sitting Bull was doing in the Yellowstone country. The question was a foolish one, but the Hunkpapa answered it politely; he was hunting buffalo to feed and clothe his people. Bear Coat then made passing mention of a reservation for the Hunkpapas, but Sitting Bull brushed it aside. He would spend the winter in the Black Hills, he said. The parley ended with nothing resolved, but the two men agreed to meet again the next day.

The second meeting quickly became a succession of disagreements. Sitting Bull began by saying that he had not fought the soldiers until they came to fight him, and promised that there would be no more fighting if the white men would take their soldiers and forts out of the Indians’ country. Bear Coat replied that there could be no peace for the Sioux until they were all on reservations. At this, Sitting Bull became angry. He declared that the Great Spirit had made him an Indian but not an agency Indian, and he did not intend to become one. He ended the conference abruptly, and returned to his warriors, ordering them to scatter because he suspected that Bear Coat’s soldiers would try to attack them. The soldiers did open fire, and once again the Hunkpapas had to start running up and down the country.

By springtime of 1877 Sitting Bull was tired of running. He decided there was no longer room enough for white men and the Sioux to live together in the Great Father’s country. He would take his people to Canada, to the land of the Grandmother, Queen Victoria. Before he started, he searched for Crazy Horse, hoping to persuade him to bring the Oglalas to the Grandmother’s land. But Crazy Horse’s people were running up and down the country trying to escape the soldiers, and Sitting Bull could not find them.

In those same cold moons, General Crook was also looking for Crazy Horse. This time Crook had assembled an enormous army of infantry, cavalry, and artillery. This time he took along enough rations to fill 168 wagons and enough powder and ammunition to burden the backs of 400 pack mules. Three Stars’s mighty column swept through the Powder River country like a swarm of grizzly bears, mauling and crushing all Indians in its path.

The soldiers were looking for Crazy Horse, but they found a Cheyenne village first, Dull Knife’s village. Most of these Cheyennes had not been in the Little Bighorn battle, but had slipped away from Red Cloud agency in search of food after the Army took possession there and stopped their rations. General Crook sent Three Fingers Mackenzie against this village of 150 lodges.

It was in the Deer Rutting Moon, and very cold, with deep snow in the shaded places and ice-crusted snow in the open places. Mackenzie brought his troopers up to attacking positions during the night, and struck the Cheyennes at first daylight. The Pawnee mercenaries went in first, charging on the fast ponies Mackenzie had taken from the reservation Sioux. They caught the Cheyennes in their lodges, killing many of them as they came awake. Others ran out naked into the biting cold, the warriors trying to fight off the Pawnees and the onrushing soldiers long enough for their women and children to escape.

Some of the best warriors of the Northern Cheyennes sacrificed their lives in those first furious moments of fighting; one of them was Dull Knife’s oldest son. Dull Knife and Little Wolf finally managed to form a rear guard along the upper ledges of a canyon, but their scanty supply of ammunition was soon exhausted. Little Wolf was shot seven times before he and Dull Knife broke away to join their women and children in full flight toward the Bighorns. Behind them Mackenzie was burning their lodges, and after that was done he herded their captured ponies against the canyon wall and ordered his men to shoot them down, just as he had done to the ponies of the Comanches and Kiowas in Palo Duro Canyon.

For Dull Knife’s Cheyennes, their flight was a repetition of the flight of Two Moon’s Cheyennes after the surprise attack in March by the Eagle Chief, Reynolds. But the weather was colder; they had only a few horses, and scarcely any blankets, robes, or even moccasins. Like Two Moon’s people, they knew only one sanctuary—Crazy Horse’s village on Box Elder Creek.

During the first night of flight, twelve infants and several old people froze to death. The next night, the men killed some of the ponies, disemboweled them, and thrust small children inside to keep them from freezing. The old people put their hands and feet in beside the children. For three days they tramped across the frozen snow, their bare feet leaving a trail of blood, and then they reached Crazy Horse’s camp.

Crazy Horse shared food, blankets, and shelter with Dull Knife’s people, but warned them to be ready to run. The Oglalas did not have enough ammunition left to stand and fight. Bear Coat Miles was looking for them in the north, and now Three Stars Crook was coming from the south. To survive, they would have to keep running up and down the country.

In the Moon of Popping Trees, Crazy Horse moved the camp north along the Tongue to a hiding place not far from the new Fort Keogh, where Bear Coat was wintering his soldiers. Cold and hunger became so unbearable for the children and old people that some of the chiefs told Crazy Horse it was time to go and parley with Bear Coat and find out what he wanted them to do. Their women and children were crying for food, and they needed warm shelters they would not have to run away from. Crazy Horse knew that Bear Coat wanted to make prisoners of them on a reservation, but he agreed that the chiefs should go if they wished to do so. He went with the party, about thirty chiefs and warriors, to a hill not far from the fort. Eight chiefs and warriors volunteered to ride down to the fort, one of them carrying a large white cloth on a lance. As they neared the fort, some of Bear Coat’s mercenary Crows came charging out. Ignoring the truce flag, the Crows fired point-blank into the Sioux. Only three of the eight escaped alive. Some of the Sioux watching from the hill wanted to ride out and seek revenge on the Crows, but Crazy Horse insisted that they hurry back to camp. They would have to pack up and run again. Now that Bear Coat knew there were Sioux nearby, he would come searching through the snow for them.

Bear Coat caught up with them on the morning of January 8 (1877) at Battle Butte, and sent his soldiers charging through foot-deep snow. Crazy Horse had but little ammunition left to defend his people, but he had some good warrior chiefs who knew enough tricks to mislead and punish the soldiers while the main body of Indians escaped through the Wolf Mountains toward the Bighorns. Working in concert, Little Big Man, Two Moon, and Hump decoyed the troops into a canyon. For four hours they kept the soldiers—who were encumbered with bulky winter uniforms—stumbling and falling over ice-covered cliffs. Snow began sifting down during the engagement, and by early afternoon a blizzard was raging. This was enough for Bear Coat. He took his men back to the warmth of Fort Keogh.

Through the screen of sleety snow, Crazy Horse and his people made their way to the familiar country of the Little Powder. They were camped there in February, living off what game they could find, when runners brought news that Spotted Tail and a party of Brulés were coming from the south. Some of the Indians in the camp thought that perhaps Spotted Tail at last had tired of being told what to do on his reservation and was running away from the soldiers, but Crazy Horse knew better.

During the cold moons, Three Stars Crook had taken his men out of the snow into Fort Fetterman. While he was waiting for spring, he paid a visit to Spotted Tail and promised him that the reservation Sioux would not have to move to the Missouri River if the Brulé chief would go as a peace emissary to Crazy Horse and persuade him to surrender. That was the purpose of Spotted Tail’s visit to Crazy Horse’s camp.

Just before Spotted Tail arrived, Crazy Horse told his father that he was going away. He asked his father to shake hands with Spotted Tail and tell him the Oglalas would come in as soon as the weather made it possible for women and children to travel. Then he went off to the Bighorns alone. Crazy Horse had not made up his mind yet whether he would surrender; perhaps he would let his people go while he stayed in the Powder River country alone—like an old buffalo bull cast out of the herd.

When Spotted Tail arrived, he guessed that Crazy Horse was avoiding him. He sent messengers out to find the Oglala leader, but Crazy Horse had vanished in the deep snows. Before Spotted Tail returned to Nebraska, however, he convinced Big Foot that he should surrender his Minneconjous, and he received promises from Touch-the-Clouds and three other chiefs that they would bring their people to the agency early in the spring.

On April 14 Touch-the-Clouds, with a large number of Minneconjous and Sans Arcs from Crazy Horse’s village, arrived at the Spotted Tail agency and surrendered. A few days before this happened, Three Stars Crook had sent Red Cloud out to find Crazy Horse and promise him that if he surrendered he could have a reservation in the Powder River country. On April 27 Red Cloud met Crazy Horse and told him of Three Stars’s promise. Crazy Horse’s nine hundred Oglalas were starving, the warriors had no ammunition, and their horses were thin and bony. The promise of a reservation in the Powder River country was all that Crazy Horse needed to bring him in to Fort Robinson to surrender.

30. Little Big Man. Photo from the U.S. Signal Corps.

The last of the Sioux war chiefs now became a reservation Indian, disarmed, dismounted, with no authority over his people, a prisoner of the Army, which had never defeated him in battle. Yet he was still a hero to the young men, and their adulation caused jealousies to arise among the older agency chiefs. Crazy Horse remained aloof, he and his followers living only for the day when Three Stars would make good his promise of a reservation for them in the Powder River country.

Late in the summer, Crazy Horse heard that Three Stars wanted him to go to Washington for a council with the Great Father. Crazy Horse refused to go. He could see no point in talking about the promised reservation. He had seen what happened to chiefs who went to the Great Father’s house in Washington; they came back fat from the white man’s way of living and with all the hardness gone out of them. He could see the changes in Red Cloud and Spotted Tail, and they knew he saw and they did not like him for it.

In August news came that the Nez Percés, who lived beyond the Shining Mountains, were at war with the Bluecoats. At the agencies, soldier chiefs began enlisting warriors to do their scouting for them against the Nez Percés. Crazy Horse told the young men not to go against those other Indians far away, but some would not listen, and allowed themselves to be bought by the soldiers. On August 31, the day these former Sioux warriors put on their Bluecoat uniforms to march away, Crazy Horse was so sick with disgust that he said he was going to take his people and go back north to the Powder River country.

When Three Stars heard of this from his spies, he ordered eight companies of pony soldiers to march to Crazy Horse’s camp outside Fort Robinson and arrest him. Before the soldiers arrived, however, Crazy Horse’s friends warned him they were coming. Not knowing what the soldiers’ purpose was, Crazy Horse told his people to scatter, and then he set out alone to Spotted Tail agency to seek refuge with his old friend Touch-the-Clouds.

The soldiers found him there, placed him under arrest, and informed him they were taking him back to Fort Robinson to see Three Stars. Upon arrival at the fort, Crazy Horse was told that it was too late to talk with Three Stars that day. He was turned over to Captain James Kennington and one of the agency policemen. Crazy Horse stared hard at the agency policeman. He was Little Big Man, who not so long ago had defied the commissioners who came to steal Paha Sapa, the same Little Big Man who had threatened to kill the first chief who spoke for selling the Black Hills, the brave Little Big Man who had last fought beside Crazy Horse on the icy slopes of the Wolf Mountains against Bear Coat Miles. Now the white men had bought Little Big Man and made him into an agency policeman.

31. No photograph of Crazy Horse has ever been authenticated, but Amos Bad Heart Bull made this pictograph of his murder at Fort Robinson. From The Pictographic History of the Oglala Sioux, University of Nebraska Press, Copyright © 1967. Used by special permission.

As Crazy Horse walked between them, letting the soldier chief and Little Big Man lead him to wherever they were taking him, he must have tried to dream himself into the real world, to escape the darkness of the shadow world in which all was madness. They walked past a soldier with a bayoneted rifle on his shoulder, and then they were standing in the doorway of a building. The windows were barred with iron, and he could see men behind the bars with chains on their legs. It was a trap for an animal, and Crazy Horse lunged away like a trapped animal, with Little Big Man holding on to his arm. The scuffling went on for only a few seconds. Someone shouted a command, and then the soldier guard, Private William Gentles, thrust his bayonet deep into Crazy Horse’s abdomen.

Crazy Horse died that night, September 5, 1877, at the age of thirty-five. At dawn the next day the soldiers presented the dead chief to his father and mother. They put the body of Crazy Horse into a wooden box, fastened it to a pony-drawn travois, and carried it to Spotted Tail agency, where they mounted it on a scaffold. All through the Drying Grass Moon, mourners watched beside the burial place. And then in the Moon of Falling Leaves came the heartbreaking news: the reservation Sioux must leave Nebraska and go to a new reservation on the Missouri River.

Through the crisp dry autumn of 1877, long lines of exiled Indians driven by soldiers marched northeastward toward the barren land. Along the way, several bands slipped away from the column and turned northwestward, determined to escape to Canada and join Sitting Bull. With them went the father and mother of Crazy Horse, carrying the heart and bones of their son. At a place known only to them they buried Crazy Horse somewhere near Chankpe Opi Wakpala, the creek called Wounded Knee.

A warrior

I have been.

Now it is all over.

A hard time

I have.

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