Battle of Little Bighorn: 31 – Oh, Those Dishonest Agents!

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

Throughout the period of 1874-75 there was not only considerable contention among different Sioux fractions, but also with the Sioux, namely Red Cloud and Spotted Tail, locking horns with the Indian Agents.

“The truth was that the agents were corrupt. They accepted diseased cattle, rotten flour, wormy corn, and so on from the white contractors, then took kickbacks when the United States Government paid the bill. “ It did not help matters that there was nothing for the Indians to do on the reservations and that they were “undernourished at best, starving at worst.”

Spotted Tail

Red Cloud and Spotted Tail argued constantly with the agents for more food as well as a better quality of food. Their heated words did no good. The government believed that Red Cloud was quoting a higher number of persons on the reservation requiring food than there actually was. To prove their point, the government wanted to make a census. Red Cloud forbade them to do it. He, too, thought he was quoting a higher number than there actually were, but doing so in order to get more food for his people. Red Cloud insisted that there were at least six thousand Indians on the reservation. The agent said this figure was far too high.

In 1875, using military force, the whites did make a census of the reservation Indians. There were “9,339 Sioux at Red Cloud Agency, plus 1,202 Cheyennes and 1,092 Arapahoes.” No wonder the Indians were starving on what they got.

Touch the Clouds

One warrior who became discontent with chasing the white man’s cows and pretending they were buffalo, and tired of the bickering between the Sioux leaders and the agents, was Touch-the-Clouds, the leading Miniconjou warrior. His discontent was so strong that he returned to the Powder River country and joined Crazy Horse. Others would follow in time.

Crazy Horse was now the leader of his own band. Even still, he was not a chief though the whites had started to refer to him as such. His band consisted mainly of Oglalas but other Sioux bands were also represented. These people lived with and followed Crazy Horse because they had come to respect him as a warrior leader and one who wished to see the Sioux live in the old ways.

By the summer of 1875, these people were referred to as “Crazy Horse’s People.” Their loyalty was not only to Crazy Horse but also to freedom. Unlike the agency Indians, Crazy Horse’s people did not allow feuds among themselves. A strong example of this kinship was the situation between Crazy Horse and Black Twin. In years past Crazy Horse had attempted to steal No Water’s wife. Black Twin and No Water were brothers. Black Twin was one of Crazy Horse’s followers.

Within Crazy Horse’s band there was unity. This unity would prove to be invaluable in the near future.