Indians massacre Fetterman and eighty soldiers - HISTORY
Year
1866

Indians massacre Fetterman and eighty soldiers

Determined to challenge the growing American military presence in their territory, Indians in northern Wyoming lure Lieutenant Colonel William Fetterman and his soldiers into a deadly ambush on this day in 1866.

Tensions in the region started rising in 1863, when John Bozeman blazed the Bozeman Trail, a new route for emigrants traveling to the Montana gold fields. Bozeman’s trail was of questionable legality since it passed directly through hunting grounds that the government had promised to the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851. Thus when Colorado militiamen murdered more than two hundred peaceful Cheyenne during the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864, the Indians began to take revenge by attacking whites all across the Plains, including the emigrants traveling the Bozeman Trail. The U.S. government responded by building a series of protective forts along the trail; the largest and most important of these was Fort Phil Kearney, erected in 1866 in north-central Wyoming.

Indians under the leadership of Red Cloud and Crazy Horse began to focus their attacks on Fort Phil Kearney, constantly harassing the soldiers and raiding their wood and supply parties. On December 6, 1866, Crazy Horse discovered to his surprise that he could lead a small detachment of soldiers into a fatal ambush by dismounting from his horse and fleeing as if he were defenseless. Struck by the foolish impulsiveness of the soldiers, Crazy Horse and Red Cloud reasoned that perhaps a much larger force could be lured into a similar deadly trap.

On the bitterly cold morning of December 21, about 2,000 Indians concealed themselves along the road just north of Fort Phil Kearney. A small band made a diversionary attack on a party of woodcutters from the fort, and commandant Colonel Henry Carrington quickly ordered Colonel Fetterman to go to their aid with a company of 80 troopers. Crazy Horse and 10 decoy warriors then rode into view of the fort. When Carrington fired an artillery round at them, the decoys ran away as if frightened. The party of woodcutters made it safely back to the fort, but Colonel Fetterman and his men chased after the fleeing Crazy Horse and his decoys, just as planned. The soldiers rode straight into the ambush and were wiped out in a massive attack during which some 40,000 arrows rained down on the hapless troopers. None of them survived.

With 81 fatalities, the Fetterman Massacre was the army’s worst defeat in the West until the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. Further Indian attacks eventually forced the army to reconsider its commitment to protecting the Bozeman Trail, and in 1868 the military abandoned the forts and pulled out. It was one of only a handful of clear Indian victories in the Plains Indian Wars.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Curious George co-creator Margret Rey dies

On this day in 1996, Margret Rey, who with her husband Hans created the popular “Curious George” children’s books about a mischievous monkey, dies at age 90 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Reys, both German Jews, escaped wartime Europe in 1940 and fled to America. The following ...read more

De Gaulle elected

Three months after a new French constitution was approved, Charles de Gaulle is elected the first president of the Fifth Republic by a sweeping majority of French voters. The previous June, France’s World War II hero was called out of retirement to lead the country when a ...read more

Apollo 8 departs for moon’s orbit

Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the moon, is successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, with astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell, Jr., and William Anders aboard.On Christmas Eve, the astronauts entered into orbit around the moon, the first manned spacecraft ever ...read more

Pan Am Flight 103 explodes over Scotland

On this day in 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 from London to New York explodes in midair over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew members aboard, as well as 11 Lockerbie residents on the ground. A bomb hidden inside an audio cassette player detonated in the cargo ...read more

“Old Blood and Guts” dies

On this day, General George S. Patton, commander of the U.S. 3rd Army, dies from injuries suffered not in battle but in a freak car accident. He was 60 years old.Descended from a long line of military men, Patton graduated from the West Point Military Academy in 1909. He ...read more

Hobey Baker killed in plane crash

On this day in 1918, the 26-year-old collegiate and amateur ice hockey star Hobey Baker is killed in a plane crash in Toul, France, just after the end of World War I.After beginning his hockey career at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, Baker played four seasons of ...read more

Nixon meets Elvis Presley

On this day in 1970, rock star Elvis Presley is greeted at the White House by President Richard M. Nixon. Presley’s visit was not just a social call: He wanted to meet Nixon in order to offer his services in the government’s war on drugs.Three weeks earlier, Presley, who wanted ...read more

William Wordsworth moves into Dove Cottage

On this day in 1799, William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy move into Dove Cottage in Westmoreland, England, not far from the home of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Wordsworth and Coleridge had been good friends and colleagues since they met, in 1795. Their collaboration flourished, ...read more

Russell Crowe stars in A Beautiful Mind

On this day in 2001, A Beautiful Mind, starring the actor Russell Crowe as John Forbes Nash, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and mathematician who develops schizophrenia, opens in limited release in the U.S. Directed by Ron Howard and co-starring Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris and ...read more

Earthquake sends tsunami toward Japan

An undersea earthquake on this day in 1946 sets off a powerful tsunami that devastates Honshu, Japan. About 2,000 people perished and half a million were left homeless. This was particularly devastating to a community that was already reeling from the horrors of World War ...read more

Sunny von Bulow is found comatose

Wealthy socialite Martha “Sunny” Crawford von Bulow is found in a coma—the result of what appeared to be an insulin overdose—on the marble bathroom floor of her Newport, Rhode Island, mansion. Following a long investigation, Sunny’s husband, Claus von Bulow, was charged with two ...read more