Battle of Little Bighorn: 52 – General Crook and the Battle of the Rosebud

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

General George Crook

General Terry’s Dakota Column consisted of 12 companies of the 7th Cavalry Regiment along with two companies of the 17th Infantry. There was also one company from the 6th to guard a train of 150 supply wagons, and a detachment of the 20th Infantry who would serve the three rapid-fire Gatling guns. There were also about 40 Arikara Indian scouts. The Dakota Column contained about 925 officers and men.

While Major Reno looked for hostiles in the Powder and Tongue valleys, Custer led the rest of his regiment up the Yellowstone to the mouth of the Tongue where he was to wait for Reno’s return. Terry had advanced to the mouth of the Powder and established a supply depot. At this place he met the river steamer Far West, captained by Grant Marsh. While his troops moved overland, Terry utilized the comfort of the Far West for travel purposes.

Lt. Col. George Custer

On June 16, Custer prepared his troops to march. Major Reno, finding no fresh sign of Indians in either valley crossed over to the Rosebud, in violation of his instructions, where he saw indications of recent campsites. Sitting Bull and his people had moved up the Rosebud to the southwest. Reno continued far enough to ensure that the Indians had left the area, then turned back to report to Terry instead of seeking out the Indians and engaging them in combat.

Also on this date, Cheyenne scouts reported to Crazy Horse that General Crook was coming with one thousand men and 260 Crow and Shoshonis scouts. That afternoon Crazy Horse and 1,500 warriors set off to attack Crook before he could attack the Indians’ camp where the women and children were.

On the morning of June 17, Crook halted his column to have coffee. They were on upper Rosebud Creek. Without warning, hundreds of Sioux and Cheyenne warriors rushed upon them. Fortunately for Crook, his Indian allies rushed to the attack. They were able to hold the hostiles back until Crook and his troops could organize. What came to be called the Battle of the Rosebud lasted for six hours, with both sides fighting bravely.

About mid-afternoon the Sioux and Cheyenne withdrew from the battle. Even though Crook’s forces suffered twenty-eight men killed and fifty-six wounded, he claimed the victory since he still held the battlefield. In later years one of the Indians in this battle was asked who the victor was. The Indian claimed that they were, and that they only discontinued fighting because they were tired and did not feel like fighting any longer—that day. Crazy Horse and his warriors returned to the Little Bighorn after the Battle of the Rosebud.

Though Crook claimed a victory, he considered that he was too burdened by his wounded and decided to fall back to the base camp. No one heard from him again until mid-July, nor knew where he was. Crook later claimed that he was unable to get word past the hostiles, therefore Terry, Gibbon, and Custer had no idea of the greatly swelled number of hostile warriors they were soon to come up against.