Battle of Little Bighorn: 02 – The Years Before

"The Custer Fight" by Charles Marion Russell. Lithograph. Shows the Battle of Little Bighorn, from the Indian side.

On June 25, 1876, the Battle of the Little Bighorn raged in present-day Montana. This confrontation between the Seventh Cavalry, led by Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer, and various bands of the Sioux nation accompanied by numerous Cheyennes, did not come about by chance.

Little Bighorn Battle Field

Over a period of many years, contributing incidents, by both whites and Indians, occurred as the Great American Plains was subjected to civilization. It was a historical period of bloody depredations performed by white and Indian alike.

It was a time of broken promises, again by both parties involved, concerning treaties that the native inhabitants and many whites understood very little of, given the clever and complicated wording used in these documents.

For all of these years, the eastern white population was expanding and moving westward, and the Plains remained a simmering pot. Then, on July 25, 1876, the pot boiled over.

This course is primarily concerned with the years, beginning with 1872, leading up to and including the day of this great battle. However, this first lesson will deal briefly with some of the more noted developments that occurred in the years prior to 1872 that were a prelude to the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Among these circumstances are: the already established forts along the various trails west; the discovery of gold in California, Colorado, and Nevada; and the Treaty of 1851. Specific incidents discussed are: the Grattan Attack, 1854; the Colorado Gold Rush, 1858; the Minnesota Eastern Sioux Uprising, 1862; Massacre at Sand Creek, 1864; The Fetterman Massacre, 1866; and the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868.