The Black Hills War (also known as the Great Sioux War or Little Big Horn Campaign) was a series of conflicts between the Lakota (Sioux), their allies, and the United States from 1876 until 1877.
The Lakota considered the Black Hills
a sacred land, which they claimed as theirs since they had defeated the Cheyenne
in 1776. The Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868)
, following Red Cloud's War
, excluded non-Indians from the Black Hills and established the area within the Great Sioux reservation
. The United States had little interest in the area until the Custer
Expedition of 1874, confirmed rumors of gold deposits.
Prospectors motivated by the economic panic of 1873, began the Black Hills Gold Rush, in violation of the treaty and Federal law. Further tension resulted from the United States Army's inability to keep intruders out. Eventually, the Lakota, inspired by Sitting Bull and led by Crazy Horse attacked the intruders and fought the US Army. Some historians have speculated that the Ulysses S. Grant Administration deliberately provoked the war in order to open the gold fields, possibly to mitigate the economic panic.
Following demands for Lakota families and hunters to report to the various agencies in the middle of the winter of 1875-76, Grant approved orders for the Army to round up the bands by force. In the spring of 1876, the Army launched a coordinated campaign, involving three columns of troops operating in what is today a five-state region. It resulted in the Battle of Rosebud
, where the Lakota, under Tašunka Witko, defeated one of the three Army columns moving to find and force the tribes home. Days later, Lt. Col.
George Armstrong Custer's 7th Cavalry
attacked a camp of the Lakota and their Cheyenne allies on the banks of Greasy Grass Creek Little Big Horn River
. The resulting Battle of the Little Bighorn
saw the Sioux and Cheyenne, under the leadership of Tatanka Iyotake and Tašunka Witko, defeat the 7th Cavalry, killing 258 soldiers (43% of the regiment present) in one of the worst defeats of the Indian Wars
for the Army.
In later battles in the summer and fall of 1876, including the Dull Knife Fight and the Battle of Slim Buttes, cavalry and infantry units defeated the Lakota war parties and forced the Lakota people to return to the agencies.
The war was finally ended with another treaty, in which the Lakota ceded a 50-mile (80 km) strip along the western border of their reservation, and some additional lands. This gave the U.S. legal title to the Black Hills and legalized the previously-illegal gold hunters and camp followers in Custer City, Deadwood, and other boom towns in the Black Hills.
- Named Campaigns — Indian Wars