In the spring and summer of 1876 the United States Government launched a military campaign upon a portion of the Sioux and Cheyenne Indians, who refused to live within the boundaries of the Great Sioux Reservation. They chose to continue their traditional nomadic way of life. The campaign was initiated when a Government ultimatum to return to the Great Sioux Reservation, in South Dakota, by January 31st, 1876 was ignored.
Gen. Philip Sheridan responded by ordering three military expeditions to approach the gathering Indians from the East, West and South. The Army anticipated the off reservation Sioux and Cheyenne would be found in Eastern or South Central Montana Territory.
As the military threat to these nomadic Sioux and Cheyenne developed, they began to gather for protection. Sitting Bull became the spiritual and political headman for the gathering village and remained so while it was together. A few weeks before the Battle, Sitting Bull conducted a Sun Dance during which he experienced a vision of a great victory over soldiers.
Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer and 647 men of the 7th Cavalry, part of the eastern column, were ordered by General Terry, south along Rosebud Creek. Ahead of the main column, Custer's 6 Crow and 39 Arikara Indian Scouts found the massive village. In the Valley of the Little Bighorn River, the Seventh Cavalry and their Indian allies attacked the village of 6,000 to 7,000 people, on June 25th,1876. After the battle was over, 263 7th Cavalrymen lay dead, including George Custer. 350 7th Cavalrymen survived.
An accurate count of the Sioux and Cheyenne dead was not possible, but at least 60 are known to have died. The Great Sioux War was an inevitable conflict similar to other 17th, 18th, and 19th century conflicts between indians and non-indians. All of the participants saw themselves as perhaps patriots-fighting for their country, land, or way of life.