Lakota History: Fetterman Massacre, Dec 21, 1866

During the Western Indian Wars, Red Cloud orchestrated a series of conflicts throughout the Wyoming and Montana territories in defense of Lakota territory or the Powder River Country in north central Wyoming.

Lasting from 1866 - 1867, these armed conflicts were waged between the American Indian Plains tribes - Northern Cheyenne, Lakota, and Arapaho bands - and the United States Army.

The battles that took place during this period are often referred to as Red Cloud's War.

December 21, 1866 marked the most successful battle of this War (and ever fought by an Indian nation against the United States) - history remembers it as Fetterman's Massacre or the Battle of the Hundred Slain.

Cause: Bozeman Trail
Although the army had no real interest in the Powder River region itself, they found it useful as a shorter route to the newly discovered Montana gold fields. To make it more convenient to get to the gold fields from the South Platte River in Colorado, they cut a trail through the middle of Lakota territory...and traditional tribal hunting grounds.

Effect: Tribal Alliances
As caravans of miners and settlers began to make their way across the land, they not only encroached on the Lakota hunting grounds and buffalo herds, but also disturbed an already strained relationship between feuding Plains Indian Tribes. This invasion of tribal lands forged an alliance between rival Plains Indian tribes, resulting in a formidable adversary for the Army troops.

Result: Massacre
After an initial attack by the now unified Indian tribes, Captain William Fetterman eagerly volunteered for the chance to lead the retaliation.

In what is still known today as a brilliant military maneuver, the Indian leaders lured the cavalry out of Fort Phil Kerney and enticed them to give pursuit - little did the cavalry know that this was simply a decoy maneuver and that the forces of the unified tribes lay just out of sight.

In the end, Fetterman and his soldiers fought valiantly, but underestimated the fighting power and sheer numbers of their Indian adversaries...within twenty minutes all 80 men were dead.