8 January, 1877: This was one of the last military actions of the Great Sioux War of 1876-1877. By late 1876 the village of Crazy Horse, estimated to contain some 3,500 individuals including the survivors of Dull Knife's Cheyenne village (destroyed by Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie in November), was located on the Tongue River in the Wolf Mountains near what is present-day Birney, Montana.
After efforts to peacefully resolve the year-old conflict had been undermined by some overaggressive Crow scouts of the U.S. Army, Sioux who had been inclined toward settlement lost credibility. As a consequence, the Sioux resumed hostile action, which included raids in the area around Cantonment Keogh, later Fort Keogh, and eventually, the sites of Miles City, Montana. Here the Sioux employed a favorite tactic-enticing troops out of the post and into a trap. Col. Nelson A. Miles, commanding the Fifty Infantry at Cantonment Keogh, obliged and in late December 1876 took the field with a force of some 350 men of the Fifth and Twenty-Second Infantry and two field pieces.
On 7 January 1877, anxious Indians inadvertently revealed their trap early, thereby alerting Miles, who took precautions to protect his camp. Three feet of snow blanketed the ground when Crazy Horse attacked with a war party of 500 on the overcast morning of 8 January. Miles was prepared, however, so that the attack was not as effective as it might have been. The fighting waged throughout the morning as snow continued to fall from leaden skies. The two field pieces kept the Indians from concentrating, but neither side was able to gain any real advantage, despite heavy firing on both sides.
By midday the weather worsened. As blizzard conditions set in, the forces withdrew from the field, recognizing the futility of continuing the fight. Although a great deal of ammunition had been expended, casualties were light. A victory there might have meant an end to the war; Miles would have to take the field again in the spring.
See also: Crazy Horse (Tashunca Utico, Tashunka
Witko); Kelly, Luther S. (Yellowstone); Miles, Col.
Nelson Appleton; Sioux War
Further Reading: Greene, Yellowstone Command; L. Kelly,
Yellowstone Kelly; Wooster, Nelson A. Miles