140 years ago, on June 25th, 1876, the Battle at the Greasy Grass was fought. Lakota, Dakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho were camped at the Greasy Grass along side the Little Bighorn River. What was one of the few victories of Indians against the colonial military is historically described as a tragedy, the horrific slaughter of a noble man and great military leader. Poor Custer. Certainly, at the time, the battle at the Greasy Grass was depicted as a tragedy to be avenged, those animals (Indians) needing to be put down, and we were. It wasn’t long after Greasy Grass that much more effective arms were granted to the military, repeating rifles rather than single shot, etc. Crazy Horse was killed in captivity by soldiers. That was followed by the Massacre of Wounded Knee. The U.S. has held a grudge over the Greasy Grass for all these years. Everywhere, there are monuments littered of those who slaughtered countless Indians, including Custer, but there are no monuments to the valiant fighters of the Greasy Grass, of those who saved and protected so many lives, as there were six to eight thousand Indians gathered at the Greasy Grass.
Ruth Hopkins has an article at Last Real Indians, Fighting with Spirit, How Greasy Grass Was Won.
ICTMN has an article, The Battle of the Greasy Grass 140 Years Later: The Complete Story in 18 Drawings.
The Lakota Times (subscription only) notes that “The Battle of Greasy Grass/The Battle of Little Bighorn”will begin at 2 p.m. on June 25th. Admission for Learning Forums is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, $9 for students, & half off for members (includes museum admission). The Journey Museum is located in Rapid City at 222 New York St, 2 blocks east of the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center right across from the Club for Boys.
A 2010 article from Smithsonian Magazine highlights the Battle at the Greasy Grass from the point of view of the victors, a rare case when the victors are Indians.
Happy Victory Day.
When I was a child in school, learning history, I was taught that the evil horrible Indians were at fault for everything, and the poor, beleaguered white people were just victims of these terrible barbarians. This made no sense to me; it was kind of like all those really odd bible stories that were supposed to be really great and inspiring but involved killing people. When I finally learned the truth in my last year of high school I was FURIOUS. All I could think was, what a bunch of FUCKWADS to do all that killing and pretend to be a victim. All these years later, I’m still really angry.
I did not live that life so perhaps I can not truly understand but still I wish you Happy Victory Day.
I wish I could say your experience was unusual, but it wasn’t. That’s American (and often Canadian) History, thoroughly whitewashed.
PZ Myers says
When we visited the national monument several years ago, one of the pleasant surprises was that they had an Indian ranger give the talk and tour. It was an enlightening perspective.
As for Custer — he was a criminal idiot who was occasionally useful to a military that wanted mindless, aggressive murderers.
That’s nice. There’s not a lot of non-Indian people who know there are monuments to the fallen Indigenous warriors at Little Bighorn. Most people, unfortunately, just know what they were taught, if they even remember that much. I had the pro-Custer pov crammed into my head at Catholic school.
Custer was impulsive, and not a good military person, let alone a leader, but his death transformed him into one of the most brilliant strategists ever, who just had that one teensy fuck up.
Marcus Ranum says
Custer was a terrible commander, who ignored every bit of common sense about tactics because he had no respect at all for his target.
George MacDonald Fraser’s “Flashman” series has a volume that places Flashy in the middle of that battle, doing what he usually does (running away) and I always thought Fraser’s depiction of the battle was probably pretty fair. It also has one of the scariest characters I encountered as a kid, John Charity Spring -- a sort of wandering opportunist preacher who quotes latin and professes to be a christian, but who is actually a complete horrible nihilist. In true Flashman form, he’s on the “wrong” side in the battle, having helped goad Ulysses Grant into putting Custer in charge. Fraser’s histories are always interesting -- he takes very few liberties with the truth in service of fiction, because the truth is usually stranger, anyway. Custer’s maneuvers are portrayed like some kind of deranged hunting expedition -- basically, the Americans wanted their own colonial butcher-the-natives expeditions like the Brits were having over at Isandlwana and Roarke’s Drift. The sad thing is that if Custer hadn’t been a complete moron, the cavalry might have won and it would have been an even worse massacre. Anyone sensible would do what Flashy did: run fast and far.
The Zulu king Cetsewayo said that the victory at Isandlwana was the death of his people, because they lost so many warriors, and he knew that he was bringing down ruthless retaliation on his people. Which was pretty much right. Greasy Grass was the same thing -- a victory that cost far more than the price paid on the field. But if you look at the engagement under a microscope, there was bravery and skill shown and wasted. War is such a scam.
Exactly one person did that, the only survivor, a Crow cavalry scout, who grabbed a Lakota blanket, wrapped himself in it, and hightailed it the fuck out of there.
When I was a young Lt the officers of Lord Strathcona’s Horse -- a Canadian Army armour regiment -- did a battlefield tour of the Little Big Horn with an American History professor from West Point.
If I recall correctly it was stated that Custer violated 7 out of 10 of the principles of war. It was basically a lesson on how not to conduct a campaign.
Dalemacdougall @ 7:
That sounds like an interesting experience. I don’t suppose you got the native view at all, did you?
That was a looong time ago but I don’t remember anything from the native view. It was following Custer’s campaign and noting all the errors and their ramifications.
Marcus Ranum says
If I recall correctly it was stated that Custer violated 7 out of 10 of the principles of war.
Custer actually invented new principles on the spot, so he could violate them. One of them is: “those top notch native american scouts that everyone wants because they’re really good? ignore them. Especially, blow them off when they say ‘wow, there’s a fucktonne of guys on the other side of that hill, kinda circling around in an enveloping maneuver reminiscent of Cannae in 216BC!’ At which point Custer appears to have asked, ‘what would Tarentius Varro do?’ and took up a central position in a double envelopment. Napoleon III did pretty much the same maneuver at Sedan 6 years earlier and, oddly, didn’t manage to spindoctor his loss of the entire French army into a great story, like happened with Custer.
One of the things that always fascinates me about military history is that we are so immediately focused on the technologies in play that we forget that humans are pretty much exactly the same as they were thousands of years ago. Alexander of Macedon, in other words, would have assessed the situation at Greasy Grass and been /facepalming for all he was worth. Napoleon would have rolled his eyes at Custer so hard that he’d have done a backflip. Caesar would have won -- whichever side he was commanding. Custer was one of the great losers of all time. He had a technological advantage, an intelligence advantage, and the advantage of chosing his starting position. It takes amazing skill and perseverance to lose in those circumstances. I am not trying to belittle the accomplishments of the warriors that took him down -- that was no easy thing; it never is.
Custer was also an awful racist, even though he fought for the North. And he was Court Martialed several times, with only a slap on the wrist. Not a nice person, not much of a hero. (Custer’s Trials by T. J Stiles).
I saw some of the 18 drawings of the battle when they were on display at Stanford University. Very moving.
As someone who immigrated to the United States as a child and had no prior knowledge or resources on these topics, I bought every word of what was taught about Indians in history classes in middle and high school. And it was all only reinforced by things I encountered outside of school such as the racist ways they were portrayed in cartoons like Looney Toons. Now I realize how rotten the whole system is to the core. All those seemingly “nice” educators playing their parts in probably one of the most widespread conspiracies of all times.
Saad @ 12:
It’s still that way, too.