What Was the Fetterman Massacre?


Quick Answer

On Dec. 21,1866, some 2,000 American Indians ambushed Fort Phil Kearney in Wyoming, killing 81 soldiers. The massacre takes its name from fort commander Lieutenant Colonel William Fetterman.

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Full Answer

Led by Lakota warriors Red Cloud and Crazy Horse, the Fetterman Massacre followed the U.S. government’s violation of the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty, which provided hunting lands to the Cheyenne, Arapaho and Sioux. The government's disregard of the treaty subsequently led to the unprovoked killing of 200 peaceful Sandy Creek Cheyenne by Colorado militia in 1864.

The Sand Creek Cheyenne were caught in tensions resulting from the establishment of the John Bozeman Trail, which provided immigrants access to gold fields in Montana. The trail led directly through the lands granted to the Indians in the 1851 treaty. The Sand Creek Massacre sparked retaliation as American Indians began attacking whites throughout the Plains, as well as immigrants traveling along the newly established Bozeman Trail.

The U.S. Government responded to Native American aggression by establishing forts along the Bozeman Trail, and in 1866, Phil Kearney, the largest of the forts, was built in Wyoming. Size, however, could not protect the fort against the cunning Lakota attack. Lured away from the fort by a small contingent of warriors, the Phil Kearney soldiers were killed as 2,000 warriors converged upon the group and released 40,000 arrows.

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