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The Battle at Little Big Horn


Sitting Bull and President Grant
Being a Lakota Indian, I grew up hearing stories about how the Lakota defeated General Custer and the Seventh Cavalry at the Battle of Little Big Horn. It was a great victory for the Lakota against the United States government. Every year, Indian people from the Lakota and Cheyenne reservations still go back to the battlefield and re-enact the victory.

But let's begin at the beginning of the story. In the mid-1900s, the Lakota people were struggling. White settlers had killed almost all the buffalo on which the Plains Indians depended for food, clothing and everything else. The U.S. government made treaties that left Native Americans some of their land, but then the government broke its own treaties, taking the land anyway.

Nick at Little Big Horn National Battlefield
One thing the Lakota and the Cheyenne still had was the Black Hills of South Dakota. The Black Hills were a sacred place where people prayed and hunted. They weren't just scenery or a natural resource; they were a place of worship and connection with nature, like a church.

Two Lakota chiefs who fought at the Battle Of The Little Big Horn
In 1868, the United States made the Fort Laramie Treaty, leaving certain pieces of land to the Sioux -- the tribe of which the Lakota are a part. The Black Hills were included in this treaty, so the Lakota thought their spiritual land was safe. They had to give up a lot of other land, but they were tired of fighting, and they signed the treaty.

An Oglala War Party
Then white settlers discovered gold in the Black Hills. Soon, people poured into the Black Hills, hoping to get rich. Of course, these people were breaking the Fort Laramie Treaty, which said the land belonged to the Sioux. The Indians fought back, defending their land. The Lakota, the Cheyenne, and the Arapaho came together to fight.

The U.S. government sent in the cavalry. U.S. troops were ordered to shoot any Indian they saw who was under the leadership of the two great chiefs, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.

Chief Sitting Bull, the main leader of the Lakota
At dawn on a hot June day, U.S. General George Armstrong Custer and his cavalry, about 600 men, found Sitting Bull's encampment near the Big Horn River, and the two forces fought. At the battle's end, Custer and all of his cavalry lay dead. Only 100 Indians had been killed. It was a great victory for Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and their warriors.

I wish the victory at the Battle of Little Big Horn meant that the Lakota, the Cheyenne and the Arapaho won all their land back and became strong and prosperous again. But it was just a temporary victory. White settlers and the U.S. government kept taking Indian land and killing Indian people, and the Lakota and other tribes continued to struggle. In fact, many Lakota people like me still hope to get the Black Hills back. I'll never give up the fight.


Please email me at: nick@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Nick - A ghost dance for hope
Irene - We don't need no thought control