Jun 17, 2014

The Brave Squaw Battle

About this time of evening 138 years ago, Crazy Horse led his triumphant Sioux and Cheyenne light cavalry northward to the Great Camp on the Little Big Horn. Behind him, General George Crook retreated southward from the valley of Rosebud Creek.

The prelude to Little Big Horn was  over, final score Indians 53 kills, Blue Coats 8, a lopsided upset of the White Eyes and personal victory for the man who has come down to us as Crazy Horse (nee Curly and, later, Strange Man).

We remember it (if at all)  as the the Rosebud Battle. The Indians recall it as the Fight Where Buffalo Calf  Woman Saved Her Brother.

Warrior "chief" Comes-in Sight was shot from his horse. She batted her own mount into action, charged no-man's-land, and whisked him to safety as the Blue Coats lobbed big .45-70 bullets all around her.  Nine days later, Indian legend has it, she was fighting alongside her husband some 30 miles to the north and was perhaps the warrior queen who knocked Custer from his horse.

(So, a century before Ms. Magazine, women of the Horse Indians were welcome to combat  duty if they wished. It was no big deal. Certainly it was something other than a social experiment in gender politics.)


The airy, opinionated,  and semi-dependable Mari Sandoz wrote briefly of Rosebud in her biography,  Crazy Horse.* She credits him with the same decoy tactics he used in the 1868 Fetterman slaughter.  More interestingly, she somehow knows his private thoughts as he overlooked the creek valley where Crook's mule-mounted infantry rested  in marching order.  (Flop where you stop and don't get too worried about guards and pickets.)  Crazy Horse wished for better guns, she wrote, and for braves who would fight cooperatively and win rather than made mad rushes for coups and die.

It didn't matter much at Rosebud, nor later at the Custer fight. The Indian alliance mixed up some sound unit tactics with their traditional lust for individual glory and won. Both times.


Crook's order of battle is fairly clear, about 960 of the mule-riding infantry,  some 250 civilian employees and hangers-on, and up to 300 Shoshone and Crow "scouts." It may be telling that he ordered  an ammunition allowance of just 100 rounds per man for their 1873 Springfield single shots.

Crazy Horse didn't have an orderly to write up nice neat daily morning reports.  So the Indian TOE that day isn't clear, although the weaponry ranged from war clubs and bows to a few modern rifles and revolvers taken from the enemy dead in earlier battles. He appears to have been one of the leaders of something like 1,000 fighting men. And one valiant woman.


Travel note: It is a middling-hard slog into the actual battle site, and I was glad for high ground clearance. In wet weather the four-wheel-drive would have been a necessity rather than my macho manhood symbol. Still, it's an interesting and beautiful site, and if you're in the neighborhood I suggest you pop in. Carry a snake stick for sure, and a sidearm may make you feel a little more secure in the well-ravined isolation.


*ISBN 978-0803292116, pp. 317-322

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