Battle of Rosebud Creek

In 1875 General George Crook was appointed commander of the Department of Platte and over the next couple of years was involved in massive operations against the Sioux and Cheyenne. On 17th June 1876, Crook and about 1,000 troops, supported by 300 Crow and Shoshone, fought against 1,500 members of the Sioux and Cheyenne tribes. The battle at Rosebud Creek lasted for over six hours. This was the first time that Native Americans had united together to fight in such large numbers.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) General George Crook, report to General E. D. Townsend (23rd June, 1876)

When about forty miles from here on Rosebud Creek, Montana, on the morning of the 17th instance, the scouts reported Indians in the vicinity and within a few moments we were attacked in force, the fight lasting several hours. We were near the mouth of a deep canon, through which the creek ran. The sides were very steep, covered with pine and apparently impregnable. The village was supposed to be at the other end, about eight miles off. They displayed a strong force at all points, occupying so many and such covered places that it is impossible to correctly estimate their numbers. The attack, however, showed that they anticipated that they were strong enough to thoroughly defeat the command.

During the engagement I tried to throw a strong force through the canon, but I was obliged to use it elsewhere before it had gotten to the supposed location of the village. The command finally drove the Indians back in great confusion, following them several miles, the scouts killing a good many during the retreat. Our casualties were nine men killed and fifteen wounded of the Third Cavalry; two wounded of the Second Cavalry; three men wounded of the Fourth Infantry, and Captain Henry, of the Third Cavalry, severely wounded in the face. It is impossible to correctly estimate the loss of the Indians, many being killed in the rocks and others being gotten off before we got possession of that part of the field, thirteen dead bodies being left.

We remained on the field that night, and having nothing but what each man carried himself we were obliged to retire to the train to properly care for our wounded, who were transported here on mule-litters. They are now comfortable and all doing well.

I expect to find those Indians in rough places all the time and so have ordered five companies of infantry, and shall not probably make any extended movement until they arrive.

(2) John F. Finerty, Warpath and Bivouac (1890)

The skull of one poor squaw was blown, literally, to atoms, revealing the ridge of the palate and presenting a most ghastly and revolting spectacle. Another of the dead females, a middle-aged woman, was so riddled by bullets that there appeared to be no unwounded part of her person left. The third victim was young, plump, and, comparatively speaking, light of color. She had a magnificent physique, and, for an Indian, a most attractive set of features. She had been shot through the left breast just over the heart and was not in the least disfigured.

Ute John, the solitary friendly Indian who did not desert the column, scalped all the dead, unknown to the General or any of the officers, and I regret to be compelled to state a few - a very few - brutalized soldiers followed his savage example. Each took only a portion of the scalp, but the exhibition of human depravity was nauseating. The unfortunates should have been respected, even in the coldness and nothingness of death. In that affair, surely, the army were the assailants and the savages acted purely in self defense. I must add in justice to all concerned that neither General Crook nor any of his officers or men suspected that any women or children were in the gully until their cries were heard above the volume of fire poured upon the fatal spot.