Sunday, 19 December 2010

The American West Part 7b: Concerning Native Americans

Battle of the Little Big Horn

(Sorry about the gaps in this posting. There is nothing missing. I do not know how to stop them occuring)
Far from any glamorised depiction of the event, the site of the clash of cultures between the Northern Plains Indians and the U.S. Army on June 25th and 26th, 1876, is a silent, sobering and emotional spot amidst an undulating, unforgiving, grassland landscape.

The 7th Cavalry, numbering about 600 men, located the Indian camp at dawn on June 25. Custer divided his regiment into 3 battalions. Benteen was ordered to scout the bluffs to the south, while Custer and Reno headed towards the Indian camp in the valley of the Little Big Horn. Reno was ordered to attack the nearest end of the camp.

25 June 1876 3.00pm
Reno’s battalion of 175 soldiers, civilian personel, Crow and Arikara scouts halt in the valley and form a thin skirmish line. Warriors rush out from the village to oppose him. After 10 minutes Lakota and Cheyenne warriors outflank Reno forcing him into the woods.

3.15 – 3.55pm

After fighting for 30 minutes Reno has no alternative but to retreat across the Little Big Horn river. Crazy Horse, Wooden Leg, Black Elk and some 600 warriors chased the soldiers across the Little Big Horn River and ride among the troopers, killing about 40 as they attempt to reach the bluff from where the picture is taken.


Lakota and Cheyenne casualties were few. Reno is entrenched on the hill and . Benteen manages to join him. The surrounded troops make a determined stand until the Indians withdraw the next afternoon.


Indian scouts and guides working for the U.S. Army also fell to the onslaught.

Without informing Reno or Benteen, Custer took his command along Sharpshooter Ridge (here from right to left) to attack the Indian Camp from the north.

Wooden Leg Hill was occupied by Lakota and Cheyenne during the fight on Last Stand Hill. An unknown Sioux warrior spotted by Wooden Leg was killed here while firing at soldiers positioned behind a horse barricade on the ridge behind.

Detail from an information board at Wooden Leg Hill.

Meanwhile the remains of the 7th Cavalry under Custer were attempting to defend their hopeless position on Last Stand Hill. Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors surround  them. Custer and about 41 men shoot their horses to use as breastworks and fight until they run out of ammunition.

Eric von Schmidt's painting entitled "Here Fell Custer" is considered by historians to be the most accurate portrayal on canvas of the battle on Last Stand Hill.

Custer and several soldiers were found near the crest of the hill and others down the slope.

The Indian Memorial “Peace Through Unity”

At least 100 American Indian men, women, and children diedas they fought in defence of their families, land, and traditional way of life.
On December 10, 1991, President George Bush signed legislation to change the battlefield’s name from “Custer” to “Little Bighorn” Battlefield National Monument and to create the Indian Memorial. Members of the Indian tribes involved in the battle, historians, artists, and landscape architects have overseen the process. The theme “Peace Through Unity” was adopted in accordance with the advice of Elders Austin Two Moons (Northern Cheyenne) and Enos Poor bear, Sr. (Oglala Lakota).

Visitors inside the memorial see a view of the Cavalry obelisk through a “spirit gate” window. The spirit gate welcomes the Cavalry dead symbolically into the memorial’s circle.

For many tribes, a circle is sacred, and it remains open for ceremonial events. The surrounding walls carry the names of those who fell here as well as the words of some who fought in the battle.

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