The Little Big Horn and Sitting Bull

Officer George Custer in a beige uniform at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
The present-day state of Montana, where Little Bighorn is located.
Officer George Custer.
Sitting Bull.
Fierce fighting at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
The type of equipment used by the U.S. cavalry in the late 1800s during the Indian Wars.
National cemetary at Little Bighorn Battlefield.
Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill.

At the Little Bighorn in present-day Montana in 1876, U.S. cavalry officer George Custer and hundreds of other American soldiers were on a mission. On horseback and with the Indian Wars nearing an end, the troops were pursuing some of the last Indians to not yet establish themselves on their assigned government-controlled reservations. When Custer’s personal contingent of about two hundred men eventually came upon a group of Lakota and Cheyenne Indians, they had found what they were looking for.

A remarkable victory

Preparing to apprehend the Lakota and Cheyenne Indians, Custer’s cavalry contingent faced the prospect of having to restrain thousands of men, women and children. However, before they got around to apprehend anyone, Native American warriors led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse violently attacked them, determined not to be taken captive. As no one would have believed, Custer’s men were then overwhelmed, apparently surprised by the strength of the attack, and everybody in the group was killed. What the natives had now achieved amounted to one of the greatest ever Native American victories over the U.S. army — but the Indians weren’t done. When the Battle of Little Bighorn was over, incensed Indians, who may have included women, mutilated their enemies. The mutilation had been against the will of leader Sitting Bull, but it nevertheless outraged the American public, who now called for revenge on Sitting Bull and other Indians whom they held responsible for the brutal acts.

Touring with Buffalo Bill

Placed on the American military’s most wanted list, after the victory, Sitting Bull and his followers fled to Canada. Here, they held out for four years before they gave in to starvation, turned in their weapons, and registered at a United States’ Indian reserve. Later, to make money and to escape a dull existence on the reservation, for a while, Sitting Bull toured the United States with famous bison hunter William Cody, known as Buffalo Bill. White Americans, as the Indian chief well knew, wanted to see their mythical nemesis with their own eyes, and as a consequence, Sitting Bull now made money from doing little more than showing his face in various American cities.

When the tour was over, Sitting Bull joined his fellow Native Americans back on the Indian reservation, a place where people had begun to intensely yearn for their old way of life. Fear now gripped the directors at the reservation, since they believed that Sitting Bull’s presence would embolden resistance to government authority, and as Indian frustrations reached a crescendo in 1890, orders came down to arrest the Lakota chief. Upon the carrying out of the order, Sitting Bull supporters resisted the arrest, and in the scuffle that followed, the famous chief was shot dead. The person firing the deadly shot was one of the Lakota Indians entrusted with handling security at the reservation, which meant that Sitting Bull’s own tragic prediction had come true. He had been killed by a fellow tribesman.