After the disaster of the Battle of Little Bighorn where George Armstrong Custer’s 7th Cavalry was nearly wiped out and Custer was killed, the U.S. Army tried desperately to get the Indians back onto the reservations and secure concessions. The Army Indian fighters of the upper American plains went hell for leather in harrying American Indian leaders Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. However, the harsh winter of 1876-1877 made it hard for the US Army to conduct the pursuit. General George Crook called an end to the campaigning season until the weather eased. However, the aggressive, but vain General Nelson “Bear Coat” Miles wanted none of Crook’s waiting and launched new offensives over Christmas 1876 and into early 1877 in search of Crazy Horse’s Oglala Sioux. The Indians had felt they were secure for the winter, because the Army did not normally pursue them in the think of the northern plains’ winter.
Sioux and Cheyenne Join Forces
The Sioux were in decent shape, but some of their Cheyenne allies who joined them were ragged from lack of provisions and the weather. Most of the Cheyenne wanted to re-enter the reservation to secure provisions. However, others, including most of the Sioux, did not want to concede the Black Hills in return for the provisions. These fractures in the coalition caused many discussions amongst the Indians in search of consensus throughout December 1876. In the mean time, Miles was wading through the deep snow in search of Crazy Horse’s trail. The situation for the Sioux was growing tense with Miles stalking them. On 7 January 1877, Crazy Horse found and attacked Miles’ column on the Tongue River, but the Indians were rebuffed and Miles took a Cheyenne contingent prisoner. Thereafter, Miles encountered repeated raids to free the prisoners, so he decided to set up a defensive position near Wolf Mountain. Simultaneously, the Sioux and Cheyenne moved their villages further north along the Tongue River to get away from Miles.
The Battle of Wolf Mountain
On the morning of 8 January 1877 the battle commenced in a blizzard with Crazy Horse attacking from various angles, but he did not find a crease to exploit. As the weather cleared a bit, Miles was able to get range with his artillery which prompted an advance on Crazy Horse. Crazy Horse had no choice, but to retreat to save his force. The numbers lost by both sides were small and the battle may have gone down as a draw. However, the larger point was made on the Indians by the Battle of Wolf Mountain, also known as the Battle of the Butte. They were not safe from US forces in their own areas, even in the dead of winter. Total capitulation was to follow shortly. Miles was not liked by much of anyone, but his successes were rewarded and he eventually became the Commanding General of the US Army in 1895.
Battle of Wolf Mountain Motorcycle Ride
For a good long run all around the area of Miles’ and Crazy Horse’s actions in the Tongue River area, try this ride from Sheridan, WY to Decker, MT to Birney, MT to Ashland, MT to Busby, MT, and finishing at the Battle of Little Bighorn Battlefield, which I highly recommend. This is a long run for bikes with smaller gas tanks with few fuel points. Make sure you top up in Sheridan, WY before making this run. Some of it is gravel road too, so be careful out there. The Battle of Wolf Mountain Battlefield is approximately 4 miles southwest of Birney, MT. It is under the private ownership of the Quarter Circle U Ranch. The Battlefield Biker’s fellow riders are a polite and respectful bunch, so please ask for permission before entering private lands.
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