Year
1876

U.S. Army retaliates for the Little Bighorn massacre

U.S. troops under the leadership of General Ranald Mackenzie destroy the village of Cheyenne living with Chief Dull Knife on the headwaters of the Powder River. The attack was in retaliation against some of the Indians who had participated in the massacre of Custer and his men at Little Bighorn.

Although the Sioux and Cheyenne won one of their greatest victories at Little Bighorn, the battle actually marked the beginning of the end of their ability to resist the U.S. government. News of the massacre of Custer and his men reached the East Coast in the midst of nationwide centennial celebrations on July 4, 1876. Outraged at the killing of one of their most popular Civil War heroes, many Americans demanded an intensified military campaign against the offending Indians.

The government responded by sending one of its most successful Indian fighters to the region, General Ranald Mackenzie, who had previously been the scourge of Commanche and Kiowa Indians in Texas. Mackenzie led an expeditionary force up the Powder River in central Wyoming, where he located a village of Cheyenne living with Chief Dull Knife. Although Dull Knife himself does not appear to have been involved in the battle at Little Bighorn, there is no question that many of his people were, including one of his sons.

At dawn, Mackenzie and over 1,000 soldiers and 400 Indian scouts opened fire on the sleeping village, killing many Indians within the first few minutes. Some of the Cheyenne, though, managed to run into the surrounding hills. They watched as the soldiers burned more than 200 lodges-containing all their winter food and clothing-and then cut the throats of their ponies. When the soldiers found souvenirs taken by the Cheyenne from soldiers they had killed at Little Bighorn, the assailants felt justified in their attack.

The surviving Cheyenne, many of them half-naked, began an 11-day walk north to the Tongue River where Crazy Horse’s camp of Oglalas took them in. However, many of the small children and old people did not survive the frigid journey. Devastated by his losses, the next spring Dull Knife convinced the remaining Cheyenne to surrender. The army sent them South to Indian Territory, where other defeated survivors of the final years of the Plains Indian wars soon joined them.

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