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In the summer of 1876, the Sioux and Cheyenne Indian tribes won one of their greatest victories against the US cavalry, led by Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer, which soon became known as the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The battle is also known as Custer's Last Stand. The Battle of the Little Bighorn was the result of growing anger at the increasing amount of white settlements in the sacred Black Hills of Indian territory. Sioux and Cheyenne Indians formed an alliance and left their designated reservation. The Civil War hero Lieutenant Colonel Custer and his army, the Seventh Cavalry, were sent to make the Native Americans return to their reservations.
The US cavalry lost the Battle of the Little Bighorn mostly due to their underestimation of the number of Native Americans that they would fight and the terrain of the land in which the battle took place, which was around the Little Bighorn river in Montana. Lieutenant Colonel Custer divided his troops into three columns. One column was led by Captain Frederick Benet, who was given the task of preventing the Native Americans from escaping uphill along the river.
Major Marcus Reno was supposed to pursue the enemies across the river and attack their encampments. His mission proved difficult due to his unit's unfamiliarity with the territory of the Native American encampment and the sheer force of the Sioux and Cheyenne Indian soldiers. Reno and his troops eventually had to retreat while the Native American soldiers were hot on their heels.
Meanwhile, other Sioux and Cheyenne soldiers battled Lt. Colonel Custer and over 200 of his men, the third column. The US cavalry unit was faced with a mixture of gunfire and brilliant war strategies. Just as Custer and his men were forced to retreat by both the Cheyenne and Hunkpapa Sioux forces, they were enveloped with a pincer move by the Oglala Sioux forces, commanded by the Native American leader Crazy Horse. This strategy enabled the Native Americans to completely eliminate Custer and his men.
Reno’s and Benet’s columns continued fighting long after Custer was defeated. They, however, were able to escape, as reinforcement arrived and forced the Native American troops to retreat. After the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the bodies of the dead American soldiers were scalped and mutilated by the Native Americans, since, according to their beliefs, the souls of the soldiers would then wander the earth for eternity without ever ascending to heaven.
The body Lt. Colonel Custer was not touched, and to this day, there are many questions as to why this was the case. One theory is that his hair was too short to be properly scalped. Another theory is that he was left alone due to respect, but this idea is far-fetched, since many of the Native American soldiers would not have known who he was.
The Battle of the Little Bighorn proved to be one of the worst disasters in American military history, while it was the pinnacle of Native American power. The latter, however, proved to be ephemeral. The reservation plans surrounding the Black Hills were rewritten to exclude the sacred area in order to enable more white settlements, and battles between Native Americans and the US cavalry intensified as Americans were angered by the results of the Battle of the Little Bighorn and the death of Lt. Colonel Custer. Whatever power Native American tribes had was slowly eroded after the Battle of the Little Bighorn.