What was the outcome of the Battle of Little Big Horn?
Native American Victory and eventual defeat.
Both US Army and Native dead (such as these) are now shown on the battlefield. Photo credit aielliot.
The Battle is still controversial. Native American evidence was anecdotal and so open to interpretation. The actions and evidence of Major Reno and Captain Benteen have caused much discussion as well.
Colonel Custer was in actual command of the operation regardless of the presence of General Terry. Custer's aim was to disperse and send back to reservations a large camp of Native Americans led by Sitting Bull that was making threatening actions. The Custer/Terry column were part of a co-ordinated action by 3 columns: General Crook from the South, Colonel Gibbon from the west and Custer from the East.
Crook was checked at the Battle of Rosebud. Gibbon was late arriving. Custer split his command twice before the battle and the element under his personal command was destroyed. Reno and Benteen managed to survive in a 2 day long siege of their position before being relived by Terry. It was possible that Custer underestimated the size and fighting capabilities of this group of Natives. Custer was known for his bold attacks during the Civil War.
The Native Americans wanted the flood of white miners and settlers to stop. The native leaders understood the difficult position they were in and would have negotiated if it could have made an enforceable agreement.
The Native American way of life became impossible after the destruction of the Bison herds. Sitting Bull led a group to Canada where they stayed sometime before they returned. The survival situation in Canada was no better. On the Native American side the result of the battle was negligible in the long term.
The Native Americans were celebrating the Battle of Rosebud, a day long battle with few casualties as a significant victory when Custer attacked. Little Bighorn was wild, scattered fight over in about an hour, with high casualties on both sides. The Native Americans left their camp and there was little cause for celebration. Morale fell among the various tribes rather than was raised by the victory because of the Native casualties.
The Sioux War of 1876 (that the Battle was part of) resulted in the overall defeat of the Native Americans (The Sioux and Cheyenne) through continued attacks by an invigorated US Army through the Northern plains area. Politically divided, impoverished and hungry because the destruction of the bison, the Native Americans surrendered the Black Hills area and went to reservations.
It’s worth going to see the Battle site and hear both Native and Park Rangers give their views on the Battle. Our tour guide was a member of the Crow tribe who’s grandfather was at the Battle as a Government Scout.
Last Stand Hill. Photo credit aielliot.
One outcome was to make General George Custer famous
The Battle of Little Big Horn is most famous not for the deceive victory of the Dakota and Cheyene forces against a well armed and equipped US Calvary force, or for the devasting revenge extracted by the US military, but for the death of an overly ambitious and overly aggressive Calvary officer.
The Battle of the Little Big Horn is enshrine forever in American mythology as Custer's Last Stand. It seems that history has made Custer a hero for foolishly leading his troops into a massacre where his entire force was wiped out to a man. This was perhaps the worse defeat suffered by American military forces in their campaign to "subdue " the native tribal forces.
The Battle of the Little Big Horn resulted in General George Custer become a legend of the American West.