The battle of the Little Big horn has become a legend, but the Indian side of the story has never been aired.
Western Movement (01:24)
The U.S. government supported pioneer migration but native tribes contested the takeover of their lands in a guerilla war.
Frontier Setting (01:40)
Native American villages were encroached upon by white newcomers hunting their buffalo. The U.S. stationed forts to protect settlers and railroads. A series of broken treaties pushed tribes westward and onto shrinking reservations.
First Uprising (01:15)
Hungry and angry at whites for taking their food, Indians killed several hundred Minnesota settlers in 1862. The U.S. army crushed the Indians, setting a precedent of injustice towards the natives.
Sand Creek Massacre (01:58)
Whites were brutal against Indians, attacking peaceful villages as well as warriors. We hear accounts of a Colorado company’s merciless behavior. Constant native retaliation proved that war was ineffective; the U.S. decided on treaties. .
Treaty Negotiation (03:53)
In 1866, U.S. officials and Indian chiefs engaged in a number of treaties. Finally a Sioux reservation was agreed upon: many chiefs signed but a handful refused, continuing to fight for their land and freedom.
Indian Scouts (02:05)
The army formed alliances with tribes who were receptive to intermarriage with whites—and enemies of the Sioux and Cheyenne. Scouts provided insight to Indian behavior, but failed to convey the spiritual world as a guiding force.
General Custer (03:25)
A Civil War veteran, he was courageous in battle—but also ruthless and ambitious.
Washita River Massacre (02:30)
Custer's only victory against the plains Indians was a village ambush in 1868 where 103 inhabitants were killed—mostly women and children. We hear accounts of soldiers involved in the attack, including a scalping anecdote.
Peace Negotiations (01:12)
Custer met with Cheyenne Chiefs Medicine Arrow and Little Rogue, attempting peace. They agreed to a ceasefire, with a stern warning: if he ever double crossed them, they would destroy him completely.
Worthy Adversaries (03:02)
By 1873 Custer had forgotten the promise of peace he had made to the Cheyenne tribe. Chief Sitting Bull's courage and charisma enabled him to form powerful alliances with other plains tribes.
A 1868 treaty had promised land west of the Missouri to the natives. Custer discovered gold in the Black Hills and the U.S. tried to buy the area from the Sioux, but they refused—this was sacred land. All Indians in the region were ordered to report to a reservation, or be considered hostiles.
U.S. Army Preparations (04:02)
Cheyenne, Sioux and other plains tribes ignored the government's ultimatum to retreat to reservations. We learn details of the military's strategy and battle preparations. In 1876 they began moving toward their goal: the Black Hills Territory.
March Into Enemy Territory (02:16)
On May 17 1876, Custer's 7th Cavalry left Ft. Lincoln and headed west towards the Black Hills to battle hostile plains tribes.
Chief Sitting Bull Recruitments (02:24)
The U.S. army approached what seemed to be the largest Indian village ever seen on the valley of the Little Big Horn River. The Cheyenne and Sioux had joined forces, creating a force of over 2,000 men.
Spirit World Blessing (02:49)
Chief Sitting Bull engaged in a sun dance prior to the battle. The Great Spirit showed him a vision in which many white soldiers were approaching, but the tribes needn't worry: they would all be dead.
Early Set Back (03:33)
On June 17, 1876 General Crook's column, the first to reach Sioux territory, was taken in a surprise attack by hundreds of Indians. They were forced to turn back, reducing the campaign to two remaining columns—unbeknownst to the other commanders.
A Fatal Decision (03:12)
Custer set out on June 22, 1876 with under 1,000 troops. Scouts estimated there were nearly 5,000 warriors in the Indian camp. Believing he had been spotted, Custer decided to attack before the tribes could scatter—without back up.
Warning Signs (02:00)
Custer's Sioux scouts believed his decision to attack the Indian camp at Little Big Horn was fatal, and they informed him. He was angered by their negativity and released them from his command.
Into the Lion's Mouth (03:44)
Custer prepared to attack the Indian camp at the Little Big Horn river. We learn details of his ambush plan. Several family members were accompanying him on the mission.
A Fresh Perspective (00:37)
The Battle of Little Big Horn has always been told from the U.S. Army's point of view. For the first time we hear Indian accounts of what happened.
Custer's Scouts: In Their Own Words (01:51)
In 1905 photographer Curtis visited the Crow tribe in Montana. He met three scouts that had ridden with Custer. They revealed a very different version of the events at Little Big Horn.
First Attack (02:05)
Custer ordered Reno to attack the Indian village at Little Big Horn from the south to create a diversion for Custer’s attack from the north. The tribes were surprised, and warriors hastily prepared to fight.
Changing Tactics (01:33)
As Reno approached the Indian village, he was unprepared for its size. He ordered a skirmish rather than charging ahead and scattering the enemy—losing his chance to create a diversion for Custer's attack on the opposite side of the river.
Battle Stories (02:15)
The warriors at Little Big Horn had everything to lose: they fought to defend their village, families and way of life. We hear accounts from both Indians and cavalrymen.
Reno Loses His Composure (06:15)
Believing the escape route blocked and overwhelmed by enemy numbers, he fled for high ground above the Little Big Horn River where he and his men dug in for a siege.
Diverging Accounts (03:09)
The established story of Little Big Horn is that General Custer's company were out of sight of Reno and his men the entire time. Native accounts reveal that Custer actually observed Reno's plight from afar—and insisted on staying out of it.
Custer's Last Stand (02:57)
Crow scout White Man Runs Him provides details of the general's final hour. His company was cut off by Indian warriors as they rode towards the river. They were surrounded and Chief Crazy Horse and his men closed in.
Sioux Victory (03:36)
Reno's company, under siege, was unable to ride to Custer's aid. We hear Sioux warriors expressing relief at winning the battle: the white soldiers would have destroyed their village and taken their land.
No Mercy (03:11)
The Sioux spared no lives; to do so was considered cowardly. Chief Sitting Bull warned his people to leave the dead soldiers' belongings; they looted anyway, bringing a curse on his nation.
Army Reinforcements (01:43)
After defeating Custer, Sioux warriors planned to finish Reno and his men. However, the next day another cavalry column was sighted approaching and the Indians decided to break camp and move on. The besieged company was saved.
Aftermath of Little Big Horn (01:38)
The Sioux killed an estimated six soldiers to every one of their warriors. Few bodies were identifiable, and the dead were buried in shallow graves.
Outcome of Little Big Home for Plains Tribes (01:24)
General Sheridan rounded up frontier companies and contracted Indian scouts to track the fleeing Sioux. Soon all plains tribes were gathered in reservations.
Custer's Legacy (01:39)
His wife Libby dedicated her life to preserving his memory, publishing biographies and lecturing throughout the nation—and contributing to Custer's legendary status in history.
Tribal Displacement (01:20)
The Little Big Horn warrior chiefs faced persecution. The government relocated northern tribes to Oklahoma, where they were crowded onto a small area of land.
Curtis' Role in History (02:14)
The photographer worked to bring the Indian version of the Little Big Horn to light. He wrote to Roosevelt about the scouts' account that Custer saw Reno in trouble and failed to go to his aid—but the president urged him not to publish his findings.
New Perspective on Battle of Little Big Horn (02:22)
With new research, including Curtis' work and interviews with descendents of the Little Big Horn's Indian warriors, we learn a new perspective on the famous battle.
Credits: Little Big Horn: The Untold Story (00:60)
Credits: Little Big Horn: The Untold Story
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