Beginning at Highways 85 and 212 intersections in Belle Fourche, the Warrior Trail weaves westward from The Center of the Nation at the Tri State Museum in Belle Fourche, SD, into a corner of Wyoming and into Montana, two hundred miles, ending at the intersection of Interstate 90 which is adjacent to The Little Bighorn Battlefield, commonly known as Custer’s Last Stand.
The Battle at Little Bighorn is just part of the story…
Although the Little Big Horn battle may have been the apex of this historic trail, the battles won and lost are just a part of the history of all those who came before us. Let’s take a look at some of the other conflicts that came before.
The struggles began centuries ago with the native people and their intra-tribal and territorial battles. Early in the 1800s, the Crow were chased out of western South Dakota by the Sioux who left Minnesota and eastern South Dakota because of the encroachment of the white man from the east.
One such notable battle happened in what is now called “Crow Buttes” located in Harding County, South Dakota, about 40 miles north of Belle Fourche, SD along US Highway 85.
In the summer of 1822, the Sioux ravaged a Crow Camp near Crow Buttes and warfare soon ensued. Wanting revenge against the Sioux after the attack, a Crow war party hastily left their women and children and old folks at Sand Creek north of the Buttes, looking for a better vantage point on top of the Crow Buttes. Because of their hasty departure, the Crow had no water with them and there was no chance of rain in sight in the arid high plains of South Dakota. The Sioux encircled the Crow war party atop the Crow Buttes and waited patiently until the trapped warriors died from thirst.
Powder River Expedition
In 1865 the Cole expedition of the U.S. Government set out to coordinate with two other columns in Montana. They entered South Dakota in the area of the Badlands but entered the northern hills through the Whitewood Valley Road over to St. Onge and upward over the hill and down into the Redwater River valley. They actually camped in the location of the bridge on highway 85 south of Belle Fourche. Afterward they traveled west and north following the Little Missouri River and then over towards the Powder River and back south where they engaged in the longest running battle of the Indian wars.
On September 8, 1865, the over 2,000 United States soldiers and civilians of Colonel Cole’s and Walker’s column’s were marching South, up Powder River in Montana Territory. Unbeknownst to them, a village of Over 2,500 Cheyenne, Sioux, and Arapaho including the Cheyenne chief Roman Nose, were camped less than ten miles away.
When discovering this, the Cheyenne, Sioux, and Arapaho warriors, not wanting the soldiers to attack their village, attacked the soldiers first. The soldiers’ lead guard, was marching about one quarter of a mile ahead of the column. This command was hit first. Out of the 25 men of the lead guard, two men became casualties. After seeing this first confrontation, Lieutenant Colonel Walker sent a courier back to inform Colonel Cole of the attack.
Battle of Powder River / Reynold’s Battle
In 1874 George Armstrong Custer led the 7th Cavalry from Ft. Lincoln near Bismarck, N.D. over to the Little Missouri River and down to the Black Hills where they discovered gold. They crossed what would be Highway 212 just east of Colony, Wyoming as they traveled near current Aladdin, Wyoming. There are still wagon tracks just west of Aladdin marked with a historical marker.
Reynold’s Battlefield Monument is located about 28 miles southwest of Broadus on the Powder River down County Road 391 towards Moorhead Road. The battle on March 17, 1876 was a forerunner to the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The original purpose of the expedition was to force the Sioux Indians to return to the reservation.
On March 16, scout Frank Grouard saw two Indian warriors observing the soldiers. He identified them as Oglala Lakota and believed that the camp of Crazy Horse might be nearby. This was reported to General George Crook, and at 5 p.m. he divided his command and sent Colonel Joseph J. Reynolds (a West Point classmate of President Ulysses S. Grant, and a combat veteran of both the Mexican–American War, and Civil War) on a night march with about 383 men, with rations for one day, following the trail of the two Oglalas southeast toward Powder River. Crook kept with him about 300 men. That night Frank Grouard and the other scouts followed the two Oglala Sioux’s trail in the snow. It led right to what they were looking for, an Indian village, which they described as containing more than 100 lodges on the west bank of Powder River. The scouts immediately reported this information back to Colonel Reynolds.
Battle of Rosebud Creek
A week before the Little Bighorn battle, (June 17) in one of the great overnight marches in military history, Crazy Horse led a contingent to do battle with General Crook at the battle of Rosebud Creek.
On June 17, 1876, Crook’s column marched northward along the south fork of Rosebud Creek. The holiday atmosphere that prevailed since the arrival of the Indian scouts on June 15 was suddenly absent. The soldiers, particularly the mule-riding infantry, were fatigued from the previous day’s 35 miles (56 km) march and the early morning reveille at 3:00 am.
At 8 am, Crook stopped to rest his men and animals. Although deep in hostile territory, Crook made no special dispositions for defense. His troops halted in their marching order. The Crow and Shoshoni scouts remained alert while the soldiers rested. Soldiers in camp began to hear gunfire coming from the bluffs to the north, where the Crow and Shoshoni were positioned, but initially thought it was the Crow shooting buffalo. As the intensity of fire increased, two Crows rushed into the army’s resting place shouting, “Lakota, Lakota!” By 8:30 am, the Sioux and Cheyenne had hotly engaged Crook’s Indian allies on the high ground north of the main body. Heavily outnumbered, the Crow and Shoshoni fell back toward the camp, but their fighting withdrawal gave Crook time to deploy his forces.
The battle which ensued would last for six hours and consist of disconnected actions and charges and counter-charges by Crook and Crazy Horse, the two forces spread out over a fluid front three miles wide. The Lakota and Cheyenne were divided into several groups as were the soldiers as the battle progressed. The soldiers could fend off assaults by the Indians and force them to retreat but could not catch and destroy them.
Battle of Little Bighorn
The Battle of the Little Bighorn, known to the Lakota and other Plains Indians as the Battle of the Greasy Grass and also commonly referred to as Custer’s Last Stand, was an armed engagement between combined forces of the Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes and the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army. The battle, which resulted in the defeat of U.S. forces, was the most significant action of the Great Sioux War of 1876. It took place on June 25–26, 1876, along the Little Bighorn River in the Crow Indian Reservation in southeastern Montana Territory.
The Army’s coordination and planning began to go awry on June 17, 1876, when Crook’s column retreated after the Battle of the Rosebud, just 30 miles (48 km) to the southeast of the eventual Little Bighorn battlefield. Surprised and according to some accounts astonished by the unusually large numbers of Native Americans, Crook held the field at the end of the battle but felt compelled by his losses to pull back, regroup, and wait for reinforcements. Unaware of Crook’s battle, Gibbon and Terry proceeded, joining forces in early June near the mouth of Rosebud Creek. They reviewed Terry’s plan calling for Custer’s regiment to proceed south along the Rosebud while Terry and Gibbon’s united forces would move in a westerly direction toward the Bighorn and Little Bighorn rivers. As this was the likely location of Native encampments, all army elements had been instructed to converge there around June 26 or 27 in an attempt to engulf the Native Americans. On June 22, Terry ordered the 7th Cavalry, composed of 31 officers and 566 enlisted men under Custer, to begin a reconnaissance in force and pursuit along the Rosebud, with the prerogative to “depart” from orders if Custer saw “sufficient reason”. Custer had been offered the use of Gatling guns but declined, believing they would slow his rate of march.
Towns & Attractions Along the Route
Belle Fourche, SD
Tri-State Museum & Visitors Center
Reynold Battlefield National Monument
St Labre Indian School & Museum
Lame Deer, MT
Chief Dull Knife College
Northern Cheyenne Tribal Headquarters
Chief Two Moons Monument
Rosebud Battlefield State Park
Crow Agency, MT
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
Annual Events Along the Route
Black Hills Roundup
Northern Cheyenne Annual Fourth of July Celebration & Powwow
Battle of Little Bighorn Reenactment
Crow Fair & Rodeo