Railroads and Conflict in the West

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What is the importance of the battle of the Little Big Horn and the key historical figures of the battle?

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The Native Americans fought European settlers for hundreds of years, but most of those battles have been largely forgotten. The Battle of the Little Big Horn (June 25, 1876) is remembered because it was the climactic confrontation of a centuries-long struggle. It was a victory for the Native Americans. But...

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The Native Americans fought European settlers for hundreds of years, but most of those battles have been largely forgotten. The Battle of the Little Big Horn (June 25, 1876) is remembered because it was the climactic confrontation of a centuries-long struggle. It was a victory for the Native Americans. But the destruction of George Custer's force gave impetus to Washington's efforts to crush the Native Americans once and for all. Eager to avenge Custer's defeat, large columns of US cavalry hunted down hostile Indians, killing them or confining them to reservations. Custer, a flamboyant commander in the Civil War, had been known as the nation's top Native American fighter.

The Battle of the Little Bighorn occurred because Sioux and Cheyenne Native Americans had not gone to a reservation. There was a great deal of tension because white miners were moving onto Native American lands in the Black Hills in search of gold. Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse led a large band of Native Americans, and there was a Native American victory at the Battle at the Rosebud. Eight days later, Custer's force found the Native American camp and he attacked. Custer's Native American scouts had warned him not to move against Sitting Bull's camp, but he plunged ahead. Custer lost 267 men in battle, including all 200 under his immediate command. He had been overconfident and reckless.

The Native Americans' victory was short lived. In 1877, Sitting Bull led his band into Canada and Crazy Horse was captured and killed. Their way of life was gone forever.

Custer's former status as a "hero" in the Native American Wars, like that of Confederate commanders in the Civil War, is being reexamined by historians. Native American leaders are still greatly admired, though. The unfinished Crazy Horse Memorial is a tourist attraction.

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