Battle of Little Bighorn: 32 – 1874: A Bloody Year on the Plains

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

By 1874, the Cheyenne living on the reservation in Oklahoma were starving. They could have helped provide for themselves by hunting but the Army had been directed to stop them from leaving their reservation. The following year they did manage to escape the reservation. Once away from their hated confines, they proceeded to pillage and murder.

General Pope

To his credit, General Pope declared “It is inhuman to compel Indians to remain at the agencies on their reservations slowly starving to death . . . . In other words, the military forces are required to compel these Indians to starve to death quietly or be killed if they are not willing to do it.”

Also that year, Tall Bull and his Cheyenne warriors, disregarding the Treaty of 1868, raided the Pawnee, killing 15 men and raping five women.

Texas got its share of bloodletting when some 700 Comanche and Cheyenne warriors attacked 27 buffalo hunters at Adobe Walls. The fight lasted for a full day, but since the hunters were using their long-range rifles used to bring down the thousands of buffalo, the Indians lost that skirmish. When the buffalo hunters did leave Adobe Walls, they decorated the place with twelve Indian heads placed on posts.

These Indians then took the war on over to Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico where some 80 settlers, men, women, and children, were tortured, slain, or taken captive.

Dull Knife

The score was further put into, or out of, balance (depending on the point of view), when troops attacked and destroyed the village of Dull Knife, a Cheyenne Chief. When the smoke cleared, a warrior was found with a necklace of human forefingers around his neck. Whether they were white or Indian fingers was uncertain.

Along with the finger bone necklace, there was also found a bag containing the right hands of twelve, presumed Shoshoni babies and children. The Shoshoni were enemies of the Cheyenne.

General George Crook

Colonel George Crook also got into the action around the San Carlos Reservation when there was an outbreak of atrocities by the Tonto Apaches. To quell things, Crook demanded the heads of the three leaders of the outbreak and even offered a bounty for the head of Western Apache Chief Delshay. In total, twelve heads were brought in. Crook generously paid up all around ,then displayed one head at Camp Verde and another on the San Carlos Reservation.

As this bloody year came to a close, Catherine German, a 17-year-old spent the better part of 1874 as a captive of the Cheyenne. It had all started when, with her parents and six siblings, she had started west. Somewhere along the way they were attacked by Indians. Catherine received an arrow in her thigh. Her parents, as well as two sisters and a brother were killed, while another sister with long hair was scalped. Miss German was forced to become the tribe prostitute, often being raped as many as six times for every trip for water or wood she was forced to make.