Thursday, June 25, 2015

Custer & Crazy Horse

Manifest Destiny was a term used primarily by Democrats in the 1800s to describe the concept of expansion of white European settlers in North America, based on the premise that expansion was not only good, but that it was also obvious (manifest) and certain (destiny).

As a result of the belief of the superiority of the White race, Manifest Destiny was used as justification for westward expansion and the adverse consequences perpetrated on those outside of the White race.

George Armstrong Custer (1839-1876) graduated last in his class at West Point and became an officer in the United States Army. He fought in the American Civil War, established a reputation as an aggressive cavalry commander willing to take risks and became a brigadier general by age 23.

After the Civil War, Custer eventually became commander of the 7th Cavalry and participated in the so-called Indian Wars, which were a series of conflicts between the federal government and the native people of North America. Apparently, the pesky natives didn't exactly buy into Manifest Destiny. Custer was nicknamed "hard ass" and "iron butt" by the troopers because of his stamina and persistence in the saddle.

Crazy Horse (1840-1877) was an Oglala Sioux who fought against the federal government in order remain free from the white man's utopian dream of conquest through Manifest Destiny. He had fought in many battles between the Lakota and their enemies, including the Arikara, Blackfeet, Crow, Pawnee, and Shoshone. But after the Sand Creek Massacre of the Cheyenne, the Lakota joined forces with the Cheyenne against the U.S. military.

In order to take possession of the Black Hills (gold deposits), the federal government set a deadline of January 31, 1876, for the plains Indians (Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho) who had been wintering in the free plains to report to their designated reservations or be considered to be hostile.

On May 17, 1876, the 7th Cavalry headed into the plains, as part of a larger army force, to round up the remaining free Indians.

In the spring of 1876, Sitting Bull, the Hunkpapa Lakota holy man, had formed a large gathering of plains Indians to discuss what to do about the advances of the white man. This temporary village along the Little Bighorn River had about 10,000 Indians, with as many as 3,500 warriors.

On June 17, 1876, Crazy Horse led a group of 1,500 Lakota and Cheyenne against General Crook's force of 1,000 soldiers and 300 Crow & Shoshone warriors in the Battle of the Rosebud. This battle prevented Crook's forces from joining up with Custer's forces headed for the Little Big Horn.

On June 25, 1976, Custer's 7th Cavalry attacked the Indian village along the Little Big Horn River. He had assumed the Indians would run when attacked. Consequently, he deployed a battalion led by Captain Benteen to the left to prevent the Indians from escaping and ordered three companies led by Major Reno to attack the lower end of the village whereby the remaining forces led by Custer would provide support.

Just prior to the attack, Custer's Crow Indian scouts told him it was the largest Indian village they had ever seen. The scouts then changed out of their army garb and into their native dress whereupon Custer released them from his command.

"There are not enough Indians in the world to defeat the Seventh Cavalry." Gen. George Armstrong Custer

The first group to attack was Major Reno's three companies. They crossed the Little Bighorn and soon realized that the Lakota and Cheyenne were not running away. Soon warriors attacked Reno's men and forced them to retreat.

During this prolonged bloody confrontation, Crazy Horse led various assaults against Custer's main forces.

An Arapahoe who fought in the battle claimed Crazy Horse was "the bravest man I ever saw. He rode closest to the soldiers, yelling to his warriors. All the soldiers were shooting at him, but he was never hit."

A Sioux warrior said, "The greatest fighter in the whole battle was Crazy Horse."

When the dust cleared, the Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho had won an overwhelming victory over the 7th Cavalry. The Custer Battalion, a force of 700 men, suffered a severe defeat. Five of the 7th Cavalry's 12 companies were annihilated. The total U.S. casualty count was 268 dead, including Gen. Custer, and 55 injured.

Manifest Destiny was neither obvious nor certain. It was a choice, made by those who assumed they were superior to others, based on the color of their skin.

Perhaps they were mistaken -- perhaps they were simply self-centered, greedy people abusing their power.

Quote for the Day – "All we wanted was peace and to be left alone... If I ever pass away, the white man will take you under their custody as their wards." Crazy Horse

Bret Burquest is the author of 11 books. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a few dogs and where destiny is a work in progress.

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