Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Battle of the Little Bighorn, June 25 - 26, 1876

image: Sioux Sun Dance, 1874. Wikimedia commons (link).

June 25 is the anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, which took place from June 25-26 in 1876.  

The causes leading up to the battle were complex, but can be boiled down to the fact that the US Army was seeking to attack the Sioux and other Native Americans who refused to be confined to the reservations, and the larger issue that the US Government wanted to purchase the Black Hills (Paha Sapa) from the Sioux due to the discovery of gold there, and that the Sioux did not want to sell them.

In Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors (1975), historian Stephen E. Ambrose writes:
The United States Government was embarrassed, not at the way its citizens were violating the treaty but by its failure to obtain some legal excuse to take the Hills. It seemed to have little sense of the nation's honor and little morality of its own. On November 3, 1875, President Grant held a high-level Cabinet meeting, with General Sheridan in attendance. It was decided that the hostiles were the ones standing in the way of a Black Hills take-over, so the solution was to drive the hostiles out of the unceded Indian territory in Wyoming and Montana and force them onto the reservations. On December 6 Grant ordered all Indians in the unceded country to move onto the agencies by January 31, 1876. Otherwise, they would be certified as hostile and the Army would come after them. The unceded country would become a free-fire zone. It was a declaration of war, although it should be added that neither Grant nor his advisors thought that the hostiles would put up a fight; in their view, the Army would have an easy time of bullying Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, and the others onto a reservation. 396.
Sitting Bull was one of the leaders of the Hunkpapa Lakota warriors who refused to come in to the reservations and and who wanted to preserve their way of life; Crazy Horse was a leader of the Oglala Sioux who likewise disdained the idea of coming in. While the number of Indians who remained with Sitting Bull and the other leaders who wanted to live free had been dwindling, during the summer of 1876 their numbers began to swell dramatically, in large part because of the terrible conditions including food shortages found on the reservations, where corruption among the government agents commissioned to provide food to the reservation Indians was rampant.

Regarding the abominable conditions in the Indian agency camps, Ambrose writes:
The truth was that the agents were corrupt. They accepted diseased cattle, rotten flour, wormy corn, and so on from the white contractors, then took kickbacks when the United States Government paid the bill.  There was nothing for the Indians to do at the agencies; the people were undernourished at best, starving at worst. Red Cloud and Spotted Tail argued incessantly with their agents, demanding more and better food, to no avail. 389.
According to Ambrose, an opinion he backs up with evidence from newspaper accounts and the actions Custer took, Custer himself was disgusted at the corruption in the setup, which he suspected (and went on public saying) could be traced all the way up to the brother of US president Ulysses S. Grant (399). There is also some evidence that Custer thought he could become the Democrat candidate for the presidency and win an election against Grant (a Republican), particularly if he gained a big victory in time for the news to make it back east before the Democrat National Convention, scheduled to open on June 27(407).

In an interview in 1881 in which he spoke of the battle for the first time since it took place, Sitting Bull said to a reporter:
During the Summer previous to the one in which Custer attacked us, he sent a letter to me telling me that if I did not go to an agency he would fight me, and I sent word back to him by his messenger that I did not want to fight, but only to be left alone. I told him at the same time that if he wanted to fight that he should go and fight those Indians who wanted to fight him. Custer then sent me word again, (this was in the Winter.) * * * 'You would not take my former offer, now I am going to fight you this Winter.' I sent word back and said just what I had said before, that I did not want to fight, and only wanted to be left alone, and that my camp was the only one that had not fought against him. Custer again sent a message: 'I am fitting up my wagons and soldiers, and am determined to fight against you in the Spring.' I thought that I would try him again, and sent him a message saying I did not want to fight; that I wanted, first of all, to go to British Territory, and after I had been there and came back, if he still wanted to fight me, that I would fight then. Custer sent back word and said: 'I will fight you in eight days.' I then saw that it was no use, that I would have to fight, so I sent him word back, 'All right; get all your men mounted and I will get all my men mounted: we will have a fight; the Great Spirit will look on, and the side that is in the wrong will be defeated.'
Ambrose confirms the general outline of the above account, with the US Government making a deadline (as noted in the earlier block quotation) for all Sioux to be in to the agencies by January 31.   They sent out runners to inform all the "wild Sioux" of the impending deadline. Ambrose writes: "The runners found Sitting Bull camped at the mouth of the Powder River. He sent back a friendly message -- he couldn't come in just now, but he would consider the order and might come in later on, perhaps next summer, maybe later" (396).  Ambrose says that Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse both regarded the order as "a good joke" (396-397).

The Secretary of the Interior wrote to the Secretary of War: "Said Indians are hereby turned over to the War Department for such action on the part of the Army as you may deem proper under the circumstances" (397). In between the end of the deadline and the actual departure of the 7th Cavalry into Sioux territory in May, Custer was involved in political bickering with President Grant, and was almost relieved of command of the expedition.

As word of the impending army campaign spread amongst the Sioux in the Indian agencies, more and more began to join Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, Hunkpapas, Oglalas, Brul├ęs, and Blackfeet Sioux, Cheyennes, Sans Arcs, Assiniboines and Arapahoes. Some estimates put the number of lodges that had gathered around the great camp in the Powder River country at over a thousand -- in some estimates two thousand. Ambrose estimates that the number of warriors was probably between two thousand and four thousand. The camp had to move frequently because the enormous numbers of ponies would exhaust the grass for forage, and new grazing areas would need to be found. The mighty camp moved into the Rosebud Valley in early June of 1876, and prepared for a Sun Dance.

Ambrose explains:
All the people, Sioux and Cheyenne, went into one enormous circle. Everything was done in the old way, according to strict and elaborate ritual. Virgins cut the sacred tree; chiefs carried it into the camp circle; braves counted coup upon it. The buffalo skulls were set up, along with the sacred pipes and other paraphernalia. Many men pierced at that dance, undergoing the self-torture so that Wakan Tanka, the All, would smile upon his people. Sitting Bull, his breast already covered with scars from previous Sun Dances, was the sponsor and leader. He sat on the ground with his back to the sacred Sun Dance pole while his adopted brother, Jumping Bull, lifted a small piece of his, Sitting Bull's, skin with an awl and cut it with a sharp knife. Jumping Bull cut fifty pieces of flesh from Sitting Bull's right arm, then fifty more from the left arm.
With blood streaming down both his arms, Sitting Bull then danced around and around the pole, staring constantly at the sun. He danced after the sun had set, through the night and into the next day; for eighteen hours he danced. Then he fainted. When Black Moon revived him by throwing cold water on his face, Sitting Bull's eyes cleared and he spoke to Black Moon in a low voice. His offering had been accepted, his prayers had been heard. He had had a vision. 
Black Moon walked into the middle of the circle and called out, "Sitting Bull wishes to announce that he just heard a voice from above saying, 'I give you these because they have no ears.' He looked up and saw soldiers and some Indians on horseback coming down like grasshoppers, with their heads down and their hats falling off. They were falling right into our camp." 417.
This vision, which has become famous, had an effect on the gathered warriors that was electric. Later, during their reconnaissance on the two days prior to the battle itself, some of Custer's many Native American scouts (probably the "Indians on horseback" seen in the vision with the white soldiers) came across drawings in the sand along the Rosebud of Sitting Bull's vision and told the officers about it, warning them to turn back, but Custer only shrugged (428).

Crazy Horse was also known to possess very strong medicine through which it was believed that he could never be killed in battle by a bullet or by an enemy, something he had been told in his vision as a young adolescent boy of twelve or thirteen, 22 years before the Battle of the Little Bighorn (described by Ambrose on pages 68-69). After the Little Bighorn, an Arapaho who had ridden with Crazy Horse reported that, "Crazy Horse, the Sioux Chief, was the bravest man I ever saw. He rode closest to the soldiers, yelling to his warriors. All the soldiers were shooting at him, but he was never hit" (442).

Ambrose describes the decision undertaken by Crazy Horse during the actual attack, when Custer had split his twelve troops of cavalry into three maneuver elements, with three troops going with Captain Benteen, three troops with Major Reno, and five with Custer himself (one troop was left back to safeguard the supporting troops with the supplies and ammunition in the rear).  It was a breathtaking maneuver on the part of Crazy Horse.  Custer himself apparently planned to ride around in a large flanking maneuver to attack the rear of the Indian village (the north end as it was arrayed along the generally north-south direction of the Little Bighorn), planning to have Reno and Benteen coming up from the south. But, as Ambrose explains, Crazy Horse had ridden through the village, gathering a stream of warriors behind him, and set off to outflank Custer's maneuver:
Crazy Horse called to his men, "Ho-ka hey! It is a good day to fight! It is a good day to die! Strong hearts, brave hearts, to the front! Weak hearts and cowards to the rear!" He then led them, at a gallop, through the camp, planning to get beyond Custer, ford the Little Bighorn, and hit the 7th Cavalry in the right flank and rear. The Indian force picked up reinforcements as it tore through the camp, until there were as many as one thousand men following Crazy Horse, mainly Oglalas and Cheyennes. 440.
Meanwhile, the Hunkpapa war chief Gall had engaged Custer with as many as a thousand warriors of his own, crucially tying up Custer's maneuver force and setting them up for the flanking movement being led by Crazy Horse. Gall's two wives and children had been killed when Major Reno's troopers had launched the attack on the southern end of the village that morning. Ambrose speculates that when Gall's force lit into Custer's troops, Custer must have realized that he himself "was no longer on the offensive. Suddenly he was in a fight for survival" (440).

Custer may have tried to make his way towards the hilltop which is famous today for being the site of his "last stand." But at that moment, Ambrose believes, Crazy Horse with his thousand or so mounted warriors crested the intervisibility line created by the top of the hill Custer and his men were making for:
What a sight it must have been, especially for George Armstrong Custer, who was -- probably -- at that instant leading his men toward the spot on which Crazy Horse stood. Behind Crazy Horse, Custer would have seen the thousand warriors, all painted, many with war bonnets, some holding spears high in the air, their glistening points aimed right at Custer. Many braves, as many as one out of five, were brandishing Winchesters or other rifles. Half or more of the Indians held bows and fistfuls of arrows, often with shields in the other hand -- they guided their ponies with their knees. The ponies were painted too, with streaks and zigzags and other designs, and with their new coats, sleek sides, and plenty of fat from the spring grass, the animals looked magnificent. [. . .] 
Crazy Horse would have been in front, alone, standing out in that kaleidoscope of shifting color by his apparent plainness. He would have worn only his breechcloth and a single hawk's feather in his hair. Almost surely he had his pebble behind his ear, another under his arm, and had thrown some dust over himself and his pony after painting zigzag marks on his body and some lightning streaks on his pony. He carried his Winchester lightly. His eyes must have sparkled; certainly he must have been proud -- of himself, of his warriors, of all the Oglalas, all the Sioux and Cheyennes. Together they had achieved something never before accomplished -- an armed mass of Indians, a thousand or more strong, was about to descend from an unexpected direction upon less than 225 regular Army troopers. 441.
There are many deep lessons here to reflect upon, a hundred and thirty-eight years after that fateful day. First, in spite of the massive victory by the Native American tribes acting in concert against the invaders, a victory that sent shock waves throughout the world, the aftermath was ultimately not favorable for the Sioux and the Cheyenne and their allies. Their way of life would soon be destroyed, their people forced onto the reservations, the Black Hills appropriated by the US Government that same year -- and the faces of four US presidents carved into them during the 1920s and 1930s.

Sitting Bull would try to continue to live the old life with a band of followers, moving up into Canada, but the cold winters eventually caused his followers to abandon the dream, and eventually he turned himself in, as Crazy Horse did years earlier, his own followers facing starvation from lack of buffalo and several children having frozen to death from the cold. Both Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull were  killed by being stabbed in the back (Crazy Horse) and shot (Sitting Bull) under suspicious circumstances while in police custody in the agencies.

Clearly, the events described above show that the actions taken by the US Government were in egregious violation of natural universal law. To declare that men and women must place themselves on a reservation or be "certified as hostile" and subject to attack at any time by the army violates natural law. On the other hand, Sitting Bull not once but several times stated that he and his people did not want to fight, but would fight back if attacked. His testimony is that he and his people wanted to be left alone to live as they chose to live.

But, although they were perfectly within their rights to fight back when confronted with deadly force from the invading armies, their victory did not cause the people who were supporting the murderous policies in the first place -- that is to say, the people who elected and supported the US Government and gave their approval to the policies being enacted ostensibly in their name -- to change their minds and reconsider the fact that they were in the wrong and were guilty of violating natural universal law against their fellow human beings. In fact, the stunning defeat of Custer and the 7th Cavalry only hardened their resolve to continue their illegal seizure of the homelands of the Native Americans and to insist on the destruction of their way of life.

It is a certainty that, had enough people become outraged at the illegal and murderous actions that were taking place, those actions could have been ended. But in order to make that happen, the ideologies and mind control that enabled all those people to excuse and overlook the illegal policies had to be overcome. The use of force -- even when rightly employed to try to stop violence -- is rarely enough to overcome the ideologies and mind control that are blinding those who are excusing and enabling murder. However, as discussed in this previous post on Martin Luther King, Jr., nonviolent demonstrations which cause the perpetrators of these crimes to reveal the true nature of their heinous beliefs and activities can sometimes do so, by appealing to and awakening that innate knowledge of natural law which nearly all men and women possess, and which the enablers of violence and violation must "hypnotize" and "put to sleep" using ideology and mind control.

Had the Native Americans employed techniques designed to appeal to this aspect of the populace back east that was enabling the murderous policies in the west, and had they combined that with continued brilliant military actions such as that which delivered the crushing defeat to the 7th Cavalry in 1876, the results might well have been different. Military victories alone could not accomplish this.

Another important lesson from the events just described is the way they fit into a much larger pattern, a pattern that has been absolutely dominant throughout the history of the past seventeen centuries, but which has been camouflaged so well that most of us do not even realize it is going on. That pattern consists of the tactics of the enemies of what we might call "the shamanic." The goal of the US Government, stated in black and white ink in their treaties with the Sioux (treaties the US Government later shamelessly broke), was not simply control of the Black Hills and their gold, but also the requirement that the Native Americans turn over their children to be educated by the agents of the government from the ages of six through sixteen. These stipulations can be seen in the Treaty of 1868 in Article VII in this transcript, or in the images of the original handwritten treaty documents here.

The overt goal of the US Government was the eradication of the old ways. We can see from the historical events cited at the beginning of this post that the pattern included the registration of the formerly free Indians in an "agency," where they would be dependent upon government agents for their food. This situation naturally invited corruption, in which certain people who had "connections" (including, in this case, possibly the brother of the president of the US himself, along with others administrating the system) could make money for themselves through those connections.

In this particular example, the corruption involved the purchase of rotten or substandard food from suppliers, probably at a discount (the suppliers being happy to get any money for goods which would otherwise have to be thrown away) and then overstating the prices paid in order to skim the difference for themselves. But this is just one form such corruption can take. Note that the entire Middle Ages basically followed a similar pattern -- the Middle Ages that were set up in Europe, according to the theory I explore in The Undying Stars, by the experts in mind control who took over the Roman Empire using the twin mechanisms of Mithraism and literalist Christianity, and who then established for themselves fiefdoms across Europe.

During the Middle Ages, in other words, the bulk of the populace was reduced to a status similar to that of the Native Americans who were forced into the agencies: their freedoms were curtailed, they were dependent upon those who had declared themselves to be the owners of the lands, and they were reduced to conditions at or near poverty, while those well connected to the governing bodies could create lucrative schemes to enrich themselves in much the same way as did the corrupt agents who were procuring rotten food for the Indian agencies described above.

Put another way, we can see the pattern that was imposed on Europe during the time of feudalism being imposed upon the Native Americans during the nineteenth century.

Additionally and related to the foregoing, the incidents just described indicate the fact that the Native American cultures were clearly shamanic, and had access to knowledge and powers which cannot be explained within the general paradigm favored by those in charge of the conventional historical narrative today. Both Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse genuinely appear to have been able to cross over the boundaries between this world and the "other realm," with positive impact on their own lives and on the lives of those they led. Crazy Horse had at least one such boundary-crossing vision, at the age of twelve or thirteen, which guided him for the rest of his life.  He may have had others, but we can be sure he had one. Sitting Bull by all accounts had many others, and appears to have had a very clear vision prior to the Battle of the Little Bighorn, during which he was able to access information from another aspect of reality or another realm of experience.

I have suggested in The Undying Stars that part of the pattern of those people who created the conditions of the Middle Ages included the deliberate destruction of such shamanic knowledge, wherever it might be (beginning first within the Roman Empire itself, then expanding to other parts of Europe and Africa, and then across the oceans).

Finally, and this may be most crucial of all, we might want to ask ourselves to what degree we today are enabling and supporting the placing of other human beings "onto the reservation" -- to what degree we "look the other way" to violations of natural universal law, or by our ideologies excuse those violations and try to convince ourselves that they are not really violations at all. And, related to that question, we might also ask in what ways we ourselves are being told that we must give up on the idea of freedom and submit to life "on the agencies" (by accepting universal, ubiquitous surveillance, for example).

Custer himself, who was a very complex character, certainly with many flaws but in many ways not entirely unsympathetic, went on record as saying: "If I were an Indian, I would greatly prefer to cast my lot among those of my people who adhered to the free open plains rather than submit to the confined limits of a reservation" (cited in Ambrose, 387).

We may tell ourselves, in the comfort of our living room, reading about the events of 1876, that if given the choice, we too would have followed the path of Crazy Horse, or of Sitting Bull, and opted for freedom, politely declining the invitation to come in to the agencies, not seeking the way of war but unafraid of it if it came. But, given the fact that we may well be staring at impending changes which will be every bit as radical as those faced by the Sioux, we must ask ourselves whether we are casting our lot with those who "adhered to the free open plains" or those who have decided to "submit to the confined limits of a reservation," in Custer's words.  It is very interesting that the US company Google chose to host their annual I/O conference on the anniversary of this particular battle, with demonstrations related to new ways to add "input-output" devices and software to your television, your automobile, and just about everywhere else you go during the day, including devices to monitor you while you sleep, although of course it is probably only coincidence.

These issues show us that the Battle of the Little Bighorn and the examples set by Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Gall, and the others are not merely the "stuff of history," but that they continue to have tremendous relevance to the lives of every man and woman alive today.