Native History: Custer Has First Battle in His War With Lakota
This Date in Native History: On August 4, 1873, Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer and his 7th Cavalry met the Sioux Indians in battle for the first time—three years before their defeat at Little Big Horn.
Custer and the cavalry had been tasked with protecting a party of surveyors laying out the route for the proposed new Northern Pacific Railroad, which happened to cut right through Sioux homeland in what is now Montana.
With the coming of the railroad, the Lakota feared the destruction of their hunting ground, so fought the building of the railroad as they fought colonization.
But the railroad reached Montana on May 9, 1880. The day the Lakota attacked, Custer was ahead of the rest of his men camping along the Tongue River. The Indians, led by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, withdrew after a brief fight in which just one life was lost on each side.
Withdrawing on August 4, 1873 may have been their best decision because three years later when Custer met Crazy Horse again he expected him to withdraw so he rushed in. This time the Indians stayed and fought leaving Custer and more than 200 of his men dead.
The Lakota weren’t able to stop the railroad. The final “golden spike” was driven into the ground by former president Ulysses S. Grant in Montana on September 8, 1883. It ran from Minnesota to the Pacific Coast, boasting stops at Yellowstone National Park and the Black Hills.