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The Chivington Massacre & Custer’s Last Stand Essay

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Updated: Aug 18th, 2021

Introduction

Between 1775 and 1890 there were 40 wars fought in the United States between the European/American settlers {‘whites’} and the Native Americans {‘Indians’}. These wars caused the death of approximately 19,000 whites and 45,000 Indians. Two prominent conflicts among the 40 wars were the Sand Creek Massacre and the Battle of the Little Bighorn (Crystalinks.com).

Main text

The Sand Creek Massacre took place on November 29, 1864 near Sand Creek in Colorado against a background of simmering hostility between white miners who were increasingly pouring into the area as a consequence of the gold rush of the 1850s, and the Indians belonging to the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes who had signed a treaty with the U.S in 1861 under which they gave up their lands and shifted to the Indian Reservation located to the south of Sand Creek.

The mushrooming number of violent confrontations between the white miners and Indians caused Colorado governor John Evans to dispatch Colonel John Chivington to quiet the Indians. The Indians responded by declaring their readiness to make peace, going to the extent of sending a group of 550 men, women and children under Chief Black Kettle to Fort Lyon to have peace talks with the whites.

During the last leg of their journey the group made camp at Sand Creek. Thinking that they had come to surrender, Chivington mustered a battalion of 700 Colorado militia troops and attacked the Indian camp in the early hours of November 29. The sleeping Indians were taken totally by surprise as Chivington’s men went on a rampage of killing. 150 Indians, mostly old men, women and children, lost their lives that day while Chivington’s forces suffered only 9 killed and 36 wounded (Crystalinks.com).

Although Chivington tried to hide the details of the conflict, reports of several eyewitnesses revealed the true facts that shocked the entire country. Although the U.S government ordered military as well as Congressional investigations into the incident (Crystalinks.com), it could not alleviate the deep mistrust, grief and anger among Indians at the death and mutilation of their relatives (Welch & Stekler, 193). The Sand Creek Massacre was the chief cause of the hostile stance of the Indians that led to the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

The Battle of the Little Bighorn took place on June 25 and 26, 1876 close to Montana’s Little Bighorn River. It was sparked off by the U.S desire to appropriate more Indian land (Cyrstalinks.com), and the Indian resistance towards this move as well as their bitter memories of the Sand Creek Massacre. They responded by mustering a force of 10,000 belonging to the Cheyenne, Lakota and Arapaho tribes in a camp along the Little Bighorn River (Crystalinks.com) under the leadership of Chief Crazy Horse and Chief Sitting Bull who both wanted the whites out of their lives and their lands for good (Welch et al. 85).

The U.S sent a large number of troops under General Alfred Terry to attack the Indian camp. Terry ordered one of his deputies, Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer, to lead the 7th Cavalry in an attack on the Indian camp, while he , moved on with the major part of the forces to the mouth of the river to cut off the enemy. Separating the 7th Cavalry into 4 battalions (Crystalinks.com), Custer ordered one of them to cross the river at Sundance Creek (Welch et al. 112) and attack the Indian camp.

That Custer greatly blundered by not obtaining accurate information about the Indians’ number and battle readiness was soon apparent to Reno when the vastly superior numbered enemy did not flee as anticipated but put up an awesome fight. Reno was forced to order a retreat first to the river and then to the bluffs on the far bank. Many of his troops were killed in the process. The troops were saved from total annihilation by the arrival of Captain Frederick Benteen’s battalion (Crystalinks.com).

Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull left a part of their forces to continue engaging the forces of Reno and Benteen while leading the major part of their warriors in an attack against Custer and his troops at a spot called Medicine Tail Coulee (Crystalinks.com) now called Battle Ridge (Welch et al. 85).

Ferocious fighting ensued during which Custer and all his 210 men were killed in less than 2 hours by the Indians who outnumbered them 3:1. The victorious Indians rushed back to rejoin their comrades battling Reno and Benteen’s men (Crystalinks.com). The U.S forces were held under siege for a day and a half by the Indian fighters (Welch et al. 101). They were saved when Terry and the main part of the forces arrived. Realizing their numerical advantage was lost, Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull prudently withdrew their forces to the south. The entire Battle of the Little Bighorn cost the Indians only 40 casualties, whereas the U.S forces lost 268 soldiers (Cystallinks.com).

Although Custer is widely blamed for the U.S defeat, he in fact became famous (Pbs.org) as a martyr who perished in the cause of righteousness (Welch et al. 46) due to the efforts of his wife Elizabeth {‘Libby’} Bacon Custer who published praiseworthy accounts of his life that depicted not only his outstanding military talents but also his stature as a promising statesman and a learned person who patronized art (Pbs.org).

Summary

The U.S was at fault in both the Sand Creek Massacre and the Battle of the Little Bighorn in their role as instigators. The Indians were victims in both cases; in the former they were brutally massacred without provocation, and in the latter they acted only in self defense; it was only the blunder by Custer that turned the Battle of the Little Bighorn into the Indians’ greatest battlefield triumph (Pbs.org).

References used

  • ” Crystallinks.com. (N.d). 2008. Web.
  • “George Armstrong Custer (1839 – 1876).” Pbs.org. 2001. Web.
  • Welch, James & Stekler, Paul. “Killing Custer: The Battle of Little Bighorn & the Fate of the Plains Indians.” New York: Penguin. 1995.
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IvyPanda. (2021) 'The Chivington Massacre & Custer’s Last Stand'. 18 August.

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