Crazy Horse and Gall among Lakota Leaders in Fight
Sitting Bull Saw “Soldiers Falling into Camp” in Vision Before Battle
Little Bighorn, Montana Territory, June 1876
One of the major spiritual leaders of the Lakota, the Hunkpapa Sitting Bull, stayed close to the camp during the battle to pray and reassure his warriors. Described by one of his followers as the “old man chief of all the camps combined,” Sitting Bull is in his mid-forties.
On his way to the Little Bighorn, Custer’s scouts found evidence of a Lakota camp where a Sun Dance took place. The Arikara and Crow warriors with Custer told Long-Hair that there was evidence that someone had a vision of the soldiers coming.
The scouts found a sand pictograph which showed many dead soldiers and other symbols of the Lakota expecting victory, including three red stones in a row and a pile of rocks with the skull of a buffalo bull on one side and the skull of a cow on the other. Arikara scouts told Custer that to the Lakota, the sign meant that they would fight like bulls and that the white troops would run like women.
A Hunkpapa woman at the Sun Dance says that Sitting Bull participated in the Sun Dance at the site and that he danced continuously for two days. When he awoke from a trance on the third day, he said that he had a vision of “soldiers falling downward into the Lakota camp.” What the Arikara scouts found at the site in a picture on the sand was a scene of bluecoats falling like grasshoppers into an Indian village. Kicking Bear, a Minniconjou Oglala of the Lakota, created a pictograph of what happened at the Little Bighorn, a scene which shows soldiers fallen next to the camp.
The famous Lakota fighter Crazy Horse went into battle against Custer with his face painted with a lighting bolt and his body dotted with hail stones. Lakota sources say that he led the final attack along with Gall, the Hunkpapa whose two wives and three children were killed by Arikara scouts early in the fight.
According to warriors at the battle, Crazy Horse started the final assault by blowing hard on his eagle-wing-bone whistle. Gall says that “We took no prisoners. Our hearts were bad, and we cut and shot them all to pieces.”
The Lakota leaders say that war was inevitable after Custer opened their sacred Black Hills to the whites. While they were able to defeat the white soldiers at the Little Bighorn, they see little hope of keeping settlers out of their territory. After taking clothes, weapons and ammunition from the fallen solders, the Lakota and their allies left and headed north to an uncertain future.
Contrary to many reports coming from the Little Bighorn, Sitting Bull had no direct role in the death of Colonel Custer. Says the Lakota leader, “They tell me I murdered Custer. It is a lie. He was a fool and rode to his death.”
By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton
Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council