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Eastern Montana/Dakotas District Office
Release Date: 01/13/12
Contacts: Mark Jacobsen 406-233-2831    

Battle of Wolf Mountains 135th Anniversary This Month

The Battle of Wolf Mountains –or, as the Northern Cheyenne term it—“Where Big Crow Walked Back and Forth” recently had its 135th anniversary on Jan. 8. Portions of the battle site are administered by the BLM Miles City Field Office.

What follows is a brief overview of this fight between the allied Northern Cheyenne and Sioux versus U.S. troops stationed at the army cantonment situated at what is now Miles City:

In the winter of 1876, approximately 2,000 Northern Cheyenne and Sioux were frequenting the southern regions of the Yellowstone River; likely including some of the non-agency people who scattered after the Cedar Creek fight earlier on Oct. 21.  

After a fruitless scout in the Musselshell region, Colonel Miles and the 5th Infantry had returned to the Tongue River Cantonment when on Dec. 16, five Sioux headsman of the Crazy Horse camp approached the cantonment in effort to assess a potential settlement of the conflict. 

The Sioux were immediately attacked without provocation by Miles’ Crow Scouts.  A concerted effort by the U.S. troops was unable to stop the killing before the Crow had finished off the entire Sioux contingent.  Following this encounter and with fresh reports of active raiding to the south of the cantonment, Miles determined to move troops into the field on Dec. 31.

Just after the New Year on Jan. 7, the thermometer had dropped to 0°F and three inches of fresh snow had fallen. Maneuvering troops encountered a small of group of Indian women and infants who were immediately captured.  An intense engagement ensued between a few warriors and four companies of soldiers. 

Sometime during the fight Big Crow, a Northern Cheyenne, paced in front of the soldiers on a ridgeline in a demonstration of his strong medicine and immunity to bullets.  He was subsequently struck by gun fire and was carried away by the other warriors present.

It was noted in accounts that in the extreme cold the warriors kept fires burning to keep warm from their lack of clothing while the soldiers stamped the ground to maintain circulation throughout the sporadic fight.  

The morning of Jan. 8 saw a group of warriors from Crazy Horse’s command moving down the valley toward the soldier camp and more shooting commenced.  The temperature that morning was 12°F, snowing and getting colder. 

After about five hours the number of warriors was seen to be declining on the field. Both sides tended to their wounded and in the afternoon the Indian camp broke and withdrew completely.  The warrior’s withdrawal route later showed considerable blood and drag marks in the snow. 

On Jan. 9 Miles’ troops continued to attempt to determine the whereabouts of the Indians.  Later, Miles began the withdrawal to the cantonment while severe weather continued to tax the troops. 

The temperature ranged from -28°F to 44°F and the contingent had to cross and re-cross the Tongue River --up to 11 times one day-- soaking soldiers repeatedly in the frigid ice-choked waters. The column crossed the river 125 times throughout the entire expedition of the Battle of Wolf Mountains.

This is only a brief account of the events at The Battle of Wolf Mountains.  The BLM-MCFO has the privilege of managing lands that encompass portions of the battle location.  The Wolf Mountains Battlefield was designated a National Historic Landmark on Oct 6, 2008 by the Secretary of the Interior.  The BLM portions (185 acres) of the Battle were designated an ACEC on March 10, 1999. 

For further information regarding BLM Miles City Field Office cultural resources programs contact C.J. Truesdale at 406.233.2800.

The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land, the most of any Federal agency. This land, known as the National System of Public Lands, is primarily located in 12 Western states, including Alaska. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM's mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. In Fiscal Year 2015, the BLM generated $4.1 billion in receipts from activities occurring on public lands.

Eastern Montana/Dakotas District Office   111 Garryowen Road      Miles City, MT 59301  

Last updated: 06-28-2012