Crazy Horse Battles Fetterman

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A 1934 sketch of Crazy Horse made by a Mormon missionary after interviewing Crazy Horse's sister, who claimed the depiction was accurate.

The Sioux, lead by Crazy Horse and other leaders, annihilates the command of Capt. William Fetterman.

According to the book “The Journey of Crazy Horse” by Joseph Marshall, III, the situation at Fort Phil Kearney could at best be called a standoff. Until the Native Americans took a bold step in turning the battle in their favor.

During the last years of the American Civil War, and the first years after the conflict, the Bozeman Trail was a point of contention between the Sioux and Cheyenne of the area and the American Army. The trail served as a passage from the Oregon Trail near Fort Laramie and the gold fields of western Montana and Idaho.

The trail was protected by three forts, Fort Reno, near present day Kaycee, WY, Fort Phil Kearny, near present day Buffalo, WY and Fort C.F. Smith, near present day Fort Smith, MT. Fort Phil Kearney became the principle point of combat between the Indians and the Army.

The Indian Plan

Indians attacked a party cutting firewood on Dec. 21, 1866. This was the opening act of a complicated plan involving deception and brute military strength.

Army Response

Colonel Henry Carrington, commander of Fort Phil Kearney, ordered Captain William Fetterman with about 80 men to the rescue of the woodcutters. The commander had given strict orders that the soldiers not go past the Lodge Trail Ridge, a high point of land within sight of the fort.

Fetterman, who had once boasted he could “ride through the whole Sioux nation” if he had 80 soldiers with him, ignored the order and pursued a group of Indians, led by Crazy Horse, beyond the ridge for several miles.

The Trap is Sprung

Once Fetterman was lured beyond the point where he could be supported by the fort the Indians attacked in force. An estimated 3,000 warriors quickly annihilated Fetterman and the 80 soldiers with him.

Legends and Lore

Legend has alleged that Fetterman and his sergeant shot each other to avoid capture. Autopsies done at the time, and reports of the officers who lead the recovery efforts, dispute this.

And according to lore only one soldier’s body was not mutilated by the Indians in the aftermath of the battle. According to legend Adolph Metzler, a young bugler, reportedly killed several Indians with just his bugle. For his bravery the Indians reportedly left his body untouched and actually covered it with a buffalo robe as a tribute to his bravery.

The battle was one of the early, and most complete victories, for the Sioux over the United States Army.