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The legend of General Custer at the Little Big Horn

Posted in America, Famous battles, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History on Saturday, 5 January 2013

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This edited article about General Custer originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 807 published on 2nd July 1977.

Custer's last stand, picture, image, illustration

Custer’s last stand

In 1874, General George Custer was sent to make an official military survey of the Powder River area, bounded by the Black Hills of Dakota. This move was in deliberate violation of a peace treaty between the Sioux leader, Chief Sitting Bull and the U.S. Government. The Sioux had agreed to live peacefully in this area in return for Government assurances that they would be left alone by the white men.

Unofficially Custer found gold and a gold rush followed. Miners invaded the Sioux territory and by the next year the new mining town of Custer City had 11,000 inhabitants.

Understandably the Sioux resented the taking of their land and, to prevent trouble, the U.S. Government decided to remove the Sioux to distant reservations.

In December 1875, the Indians were told that by 1st January 1876, they had to move to reservations or soldiers would be sent to fetch them.

Sitting Bull sent the reply: “Come if you wish. I am here. I shall not run away.”

Soldiers were sent into Indian territory and fighting started. In June, Sitting Bull led his people to the valley of the Little Big Horn River in Montana. Here they set up a great summer camp.

The American Army planned to raid Sitting Bull’s people, and General Custer, in charge of the 7th Cavalry, was sent ahead to locate them.

Unfortunately for Custer, Sioux scouts spotted his force and he decided it would be best to attack the Indians before they had time to organise an attack on him.

On 24th June he reached the Sioux encampment almost as soon as the scouts’ news of his coming. He split his force so he could attack the Indian village from two sides.

The first party, under Major Reno, was beaten back and almost defeated when the Sioux got the news that Custer was approaching the opposite end of the village.

Before Custer could attack it he had to cross a ford. Here four Sioux warriors fired on the mounted men from behind rocks. The General ordered his men to dismount. He had no idea there were only four men defending the ford against 400. This delay was to prove fatal for the white men, as it gave the Sioux time to return from fighting Major Reno.

By the time Custer’s men were remounting, an army of braves was galloping towards them through the village and splashing across the river.

Soon the white men were hemmed in by Sioux on two sides and by the river on the third. The only line of retreat was up a hill on the fourth side.

The soldiers were only a short distance from the summit when a wave of warriors appeared over the top and swept down on them. Surrounded on all sides, the men of the 7th Cavalry made a desperate stand. They formed a triangle, each man firing outwards as the Sioux whirled about them. But there was no escape and within an hour every soldier lay dead.

His story has branded Custer as a military careerist whose reckless wish to get to grips with Sitting Bull at all costs led to the destruction of the 7th Cavalry. Although this is undoubtedly true enough, the battle made his name a legend, which historic fact has not destroyed.

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