Old West - June 17 - 1876
- 1876 Indians hammer U.S. soldiers at the Battle of the Rosebud
Sioux and Cheyenne Indians score a tactical victory over General
Crook's forces at the Battle of the Rosebud, foreshadowing the
disaster of the Battle of Little Big Horn eight days later.
General George Crook was in command of one of three columns of
soldiers converging on the Big Horn country of southern Montana that
June. A large band of Sioux and Cheyenne Indians under the direction
of Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and several other chiefs had
congregated in the area in defiance of U.S. demands that the Indians
confine themselves to reservations. The army viewed the Indians'
refusal as an opportunity to dispatch a massive three-pronged attack
and win a decisive victory over the "hostile" Indians.
Crook's column, marching north from Fort Fetterman in Wyoming
Territory, was to join with two others: General Gibbon's column
coming east from Fort Ellis in Montana Territory, and General
Terry's force coming west from Fort Abraham Lincoln in Dakota
Territory. Terry's force included the soon-to-be-famous 7th Cavalry
under the command of George Custer. The vast distances and lack of
reliable communications made it difficult to coordinate, but the
three armies planned to converge on the valley of the Big Horn River
and stage an assault on an enemy whose location and size was only
The plan quickly ran into trouble. As Crook approached the Big Horn,
his Indian scouts informed him they had found signs of a major Sioux
force that must still be nearby. Crook was convinced that the Sioux
were encamped in a large village somewhere along the Rosebud Creek
just east of the Big Horn. Like most of his fellow officers, Crook
believed that Indians were more likely to flee than stand and fight,
and he was determined to find the village and attack before the
Sioux could escape into the wilderness. Crook's Indian allies--262
Crow and Shoshone warriors--were less certain. They suspected the
Sioux force was under the command of Crazy Horse, thee brilliant war
chief. Crazy Horse, they warned, was too shrewd to give Crook an
opportunity to attack a stationary village.
Crook soon learned that his allies were right. Around 8 a.m. on this
day in 1876, Crook halted his force of about 1,300 men in the bowl
of a small valley along the Rosebud Creek in order to allow the rear
of the column to catch up. Crook's soldiers unsaddled and let their
horses graze while they relaxed in the grass and enjoyed the cool
morning air. The American soldiers were out in the open, divided,
and unprepared. Suddenly, several Indian scouts rode into the camp
at a full gallop. "Sioux! Sioux!" they shouted. "Many Sioux!" Within
minutes, a mass of Sioux warriors began to converge on the army.
A force of at least 1,500 mounted Sioux warriors caught Crook's
soldiers by surprise. Crazy Horse had kept an additional 2,500
warriors in reserve to finish the attack. Fortunately for Crook, one
segment of his army was not caught unprepared. His 262 Crow and
Shoshone allies had taken up advanced positions about 500 yards from
the main body of soldiers. With astonishing courage, the Indian
warriors boldly countercharged the much larger invading force. They
managed to blunt the initial attack long enough for Crook to regroup
his men and send soldiers forward to support his Indian allies. The
fighting continued until noon, when the Sioux-perhaps hoping to draw
Crook's army into an ambush-retreated from the field.
The combined force of 4,000 Sioux warriors had outnumbered Crook's
divided and unprepared army by more than three to one. Had it not
been for the wisdom and courage of Crook's Indian allies, Americans
today might well remember the Battle of the Rosebud as they do the
subsequent Battle of the Little Big Horn. As it was, Crook's team
was badly bloodied--28 men were killed and 56 were seriously wounded.
Crook had no choice but to withdraw and regroup. Crazy Horse had
lost only 13 men and his warriors were emboldened by their
successful attack on the American soldiers. Eight days later, they
would join with their tribesmen in the Battle of the Little Big
Horn, which would wipe out George Custer and his 7th Cavalry.