September 3

This Day in History

Old West

Sep 3, 1855:

U.S. Army avenges the Grattan Massacre

On this day in 1885, General William Harney and 700 soldiers take revenge for the Grattan Massacre with a brutal attack on a Sioux village in Nebraska that left 100 men, women, and children dead.

The path to Harney's bloody revenge began a year before near Fort Laramie, Wyoming, when a brash young lieutenant named John Grattan and 30 of his men were killed while attempting to arrest a Teton Sioux brave accused of shooting a white man's cow. Despite the many eyewitness reports that Lieutenant Grattan had foolishly threatened the Sioux and practically forced them to attack, the incident quickly gained infamy around the nation as the "Grattan Massacre." Americans demanded swift vengeance, and the army turned to the celebrated Indian fighter, General William Harney, to lead a punitive attack against the Sioux. Harney decided an appropriate target for retribution was a village of 250 Sioux led by Chief Little Thunder encamped near Ash Hollow, Nebraska. Refusing to accept Little Thunder's offer of immediate surrender, Harney ordered a full-scale attack that completely destroyed the village and killed more than 100 Sioux.

After later learning more about what had really happened at the Grattan Massacre, Harney softened his attitude toward the Sioux and eventually convened a successful peace council that temporarily calmed tensions. But for the rest of his life the general was plagued with the nickname of "Squaw Killer Harney," while the unfortunate pattern of revenge and punishment his attack began would only grow more vicious on both sides of the conflict. One Sioux boy who witnessed the brutal massacre would never forget or forgive and would take his own revenge 21 years later at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. His name was Crazy Horse.

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