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Crook Fails Custer At The Rosebud Image Credit: True West
Crook Fails Custer At The Rosebud Image Credit: True West

Crook Fails Custer At The Rosebud

The general declared it a victory, but history—and historians—still debate the fateful prequel to Little Big Horn and its consequences.

Paul L. Hedren

On a blisteringly hot Saturday in mid-June 1876, Brig. Gen. George Crook fought to the draw Sioux and Northern Cheyenne warriors led spiritually by Sitting Bull and passionately by Crazy Horse. It was a big fight on a sprawling field. Heroics scored action on both sides. Casualties were pronounced. At battle’s end, Crook held the field and proclaimed a victory. Warriors in Sitting Bull’s camp on Reno Creek, 20 miles away, conceded the Army’s victory, momentarily anyway, until watching Crook’s soldiers ride away. At that moment they knew that victory, in fact, was theirs.

History tells us more. Eight days later George Armstrong Custer, commanding all 12 companies of the Seventh Cavalry, struck this same village, enlarged now and having relocated to the Little Big Horn River. There, Custer and five companies of the Seventh plus nearly three score soldiers more perished. Crook, meanwhile, blithely fished and hunted in the Big Horn Mountains awaiting reinforcements and resupply. He learned of the Custer disaster on July 10, the news delivered by courier from Fort Fetterman. Captain Anson Mills in turn carried the news from the camp to Crook in the mountains, and recalled his look of mortification, “a feeling that the country would realize that there were others who had underrated the valor and numbers of the Sioux.”

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