On this day, Indian Inspector E.C. Watkins submits a report to Washington, D.C., stating that hundreds of Sioux and Cheyenne Indians associated with Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse are hostile to the United States. In so doing, Watkins set into motion a series of events that led to the Battle of the Little Big Horn in Montana the following year.
Seven years before the Watkins report, a portion of the Teton Sioux, who lived with Chief Red Cloud, made peace with the U.S. in exchange for a large reservation in the Black Hills of the Dakotas. However, some Sioux refused the offer of confinement on a reservation, and instead united around Chief Sitting Bull and his leading warrior, Crazy Horse. The wisdom of their resistance seemed confirmed in 1874 when the discovery of gold in the Black Hills set off an invasion of Anglo miners into the Sioux reservation. When the U.S. did nothing to stop this illegal violation of lands promised to the Sioux by treaty, more Indians left the reservation in disgust and joined Sitting Bull to hunt buffalo on the plains of Wyoming and Montana.
In November 1875, Watkins reported that the free-roaming Indians were hostile. The government responded by ordering that the Indians “be informed that they must remove to a reservation before the 31st of January, 1876,” and promised that if they refused, “they would be turned over to the War Department for punishment.” However, by the time couriers carried the message to the Sioux it was already winter, and traveling 200 miles to the reservation across frozen ground with no grass for their ponies or food for themselves was an impossible request.
When, as expected, the Sioux missed the deadline, the matter was turned over to the War Department. In March 1876, the former Civil War hero General Phillip Sheridan ordered a large force of soldiers to trap the Sioux and force them back to the reservations. Among the officers leading the force was George Armstrong Custer, who later that year lead his famous “last stand” against Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse at the Battle of Little Big Horn.