June History Hits: The Battle of Little Bighorn

On June 25, 1876, a legendary clash between the United States 7th Calvary and Native American tribes led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse unfolded on the plains of Montana. Often romanticized and mythologized, the Battle of Little Bighorn, commonly known as Custer’s Last Stand, forever altered the course of relations between Native Americans and the US government.

The Battle of Little Bighorn occurred against the backdrop of rapid expansion of the United States into the western territories and the continued encroachment upon Native American lands. The discovery of gold in the Black Hills had ignited a gold rush, leading to a surge of settlers in the region who disregarded treaties made with the tribes already living there. This influx threatened the way of life for the tribes who relied on the buffalo herds that roamed the area.

Two iconic figures sit at the center of this conflict: General George Custer and Sitting Bull. Custer, an ambitious military leader, gained fame during the Civil War but sought to revive his tarnished reputation after a series of setbacks. Sitting Bull, a visionary Lakota leader, had earned the respect of his people for his resistance against settlers.

On June 25, Custer’s forces, about 700 men, encountered a gathering of Native American soldiers, about 2,500- 4,000 strong. Ignoring warnings and underestimating his adversaries, Custer divided his troops and attempted to surround the Native American encampment, but they were overwhelmed by the counterattack. Custer and all of his men were killed in what became known as Custer’s Last Stand. The exact sequence of events during the battle remain the subject of intense speculation and historical analysis.

News of Custer’s defeat sent shockwaves across the nation. Public opinion vilified the Native American tribes and demanded retribution. The US government responded with increased military campaigns, leading to the eventual confinement of the Plains Indians onto reservations. However, as time passed, the perception of Custer’s Last Stand began to change. Critics questioned Custer’s decision-making and his treatment of the tribes. The bravery displayed by the Native American warriors added a new perspective to the narrative, fostering a deeper understanding of their struggle against the relentless forces of “Manifest Destiny.”

The Battle of Little Bighorn serves as a reminder of the importance of understanding diverse perspectives, the consequences of unchecked expansion, and the necessity of honoring treaties and preserving cultural heritage.

Learn more here: