Crook's forced were outnumbered three to one. Find out how they survived
the Battle of the Rosebud
1876 was the centennial year for the United States. It was to be celebrated
with a great worlds fair in Philadelphia. Yet, while preparations
for this event were taking place, to the west more sinister preparations
were underway. The Sioux and Cheyenne Indians were grouping together for
one final last ditch attempt to stave off the inevitable their
own destruction. On January 1st, 1876 all Indians who had not come into
the reservations were declared as hostile. The War Department in Washington
now organized a campaign to round up these hostiles and bring them into
At the head of the campaign was General George Crook. Crook had 10 companies
of cavalry and two companies of infantry. As his field commanders he had
two very different men George Armstrong Custer and Alfred H. Terry.
On March 1st 1876 the Expedition set forth from Fort Lincoln. Immediately
howling winds and freezing temperatures struck the troops. Before long
Crooks scouts spotted some Sioux and Cheyenne on the banks of the
Powder River. Colonel Joseph Reynolds engaged the Indians at a village
along the bluffs of the Powder River. Under constant fire from Sioux snipers,
Reynolds was forced to retreat. When he returned to Crook and the rest
of the command, Reynolds found out that his commander was furious with
him. The advance was abandoned as the men returned to base and charges
were brought against Reynolds.
The victory at Powder River humiliated the army. It had, however, the
opposite effect on the Indians. Recruitments from the reservations escalated
at the news. At the end of May, Crook set forth once more. This time he
had more than 1000 cavalry and infantrymen and over 50 officers, as well
as 262 Crow and Shoshone scouts. Crooks force was just one of three
that made up a pincer movement intended to split the Indian band and then
Crook entered hostile territory in mid-June. He halted his massive forces
and encamped at Tongue River. At that point a courier from Sitting Bull
rode into camp with a message warning Crook not to cross a symbolic line
scratched in the dirt. If he did, he would have a fight on their hands.
This, however, was just what Crook was after.
Ignoring the ultimatum Crook pushed on. On the morning of the 17th of
June, his troops were enjoying a coffee break on the Rosebud Creek. Suddenly
an attack was under way. Cheyenne and Sioux warriors rained in upon them.
The first wave of Sioux were stopped in their tracks by the Shoshone and
Crow scouts who fearlessly defended their Soldier bosses. The scouts counter
charged to halt the advancing enemy. Crook however was not yet aware of
the superiority of the numbers against him. He sent Captain Anson Mills
to take his Cavalry companies up Rosebud Creek and attack the Indian camp
that Crook believed lay just ahead. The theory was that this would detract
the hostiles from their original attack.
But Crook figured wrongly. The attacking warriors did not pull away but
rather, attacked the weak point created by Ansons removal. Crook
then sent out a courier to order Mills to come back. As he swung back
around Mills completely surprised a large force of warriors from behind.
The Indians were now caught in a pincer movement. They broke into a gallop
around Crooks line and made a clean getaway. Crook was left in control
of the battlefield, able to claim the victory. In truth it was only the
fierce fighting of the Crow and Shoshone scouts that had saved him from
disaster. Strategically the battle was actually a defeat for Crook. His
troops were in disarray, unable to pursue the Indians and prevent further
attacks. They had expended some 25,000 rounds of ammunition and killed
just 13 of the enemy. Meanwhile 28 of Crooks men were dead, with
56 wounded. Crook was forced to return to his base camp on Goose Creek.
Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, however, having had the taste of blood,
were free on the plains, all set to fight on another day. That day would
come just eight days later on the banks of the Greasy Grass the
Little Big Horn.
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