Custer's Last Stand

By the 1860s, Native AMericans had been pushed into the heart of the country. But after Reconstruction, their presence on unsettled territory presented an increasing problem for railroad companies, expansionist politicians, and cattlemen fighting for control of land. Territorial disputes frequently descended into armed violence between Native Americans and the US Army, but this escalated after a Dakota Sioux uprising led to a month of bloody fighting in 1862. Similar battles were waged across the Great Plains for the next thirty years.

In 1874, General George Armstrong Custer as sent into the Black Hills, South Dakota, to chart the area and investigate gold-mining potential. His much-publicized discovery of gold prompted a rush of prospectors into Native American sacred lands, resulting in increased hostility with the Sioux, and ultimately the Great Sioux War of 1876-77.

The war’s most notorious encounter was the Battle of the Little Bighorn. On June 25, 1876, Custer led a 650-strong regiment through South Dakota goldfields and confronted 4,000 Cheyenne and Sioux warriors led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, who had congregated along the Bighorn RIver. Underestimating the number of warriors and acting against orders, Custer divided his regiment and ordered an attack, in which he and over 250 of his men were killed.

The press glorified Custer’s “Last Stand,” and the battle proved a hollow victory for the Native Americans, whose resistance to the United States was growing increasingly futile. The army forced the Sioux onto reservations and killed Crazy Horse when he resisted capture.