Traveler's Guide to the Great Sioux War: The Battlefields, Forts, and Related Sites of America's Greatest Indian War
Guide to Great Sioux War Takes People There
It was one of America's most prolonged and costly Indian wars, and tens of thousands of people a year still are drawn to Montana and its surrounding states in search of the legacy of Crook, Terry, Custer and Reno, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.
The Great Sioux War of 1876-1877 bloodied 22 fields in what is now Montana, South and North Dakota, Wyoming, and Nebraska.
Now, the Montana Historical Society Press has published a new book by historian Paul L. Hedren, Traveler's Guide to the Great Sioux War , that provides detailed descriptions of the war's significant sites and the context to understand them.
"With directions to 54 locations in five states and Canada, Hedren's guide leads the traveler to virtually every principle landmark associated with the war," Martha Kohl, former editor of the Montana Historical Society Press, said.
Hedren, superintendent of the Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site in Williston, N.D., has explored Sioux War country for three decades.
The result is this well-researched guide that covers the beginnings of the conflict in the 1850s to conflict over gold in the Black Hills of the Dakotas and Sitting Bull's surrender at Fort Buford in 1881.
In between it describes Red Cloud's War to stop the Bozeman Trail, cut from Fort Laramie to the Montana gold fields in the 1860s, and carries the story forward through Custer's famous battle at the Little Bighorn and the war's final skirmish, Lame Deer's suicidal last stand at the site of present-day Lame Deer, Mont.
"Those who can't travel to all the sites that Paul has explored will appreciate the nearly 100 historical and contemporary photographs that bring the sites to them," Kohl said.
The photographs and maps also are invaluable for those planning trips to the area, she said.
In his introduction, Hedren sets out the purpose of his work as "fashioned so that the modern-day motorist can access the battlefields, forts, and landscapes of one of the West's most enduring dramas."
The book is arranged to serve the needs of the casual vacationer or those interested in a more serious historical quest, Kohl said.
"This richly illustrated book is designed for both the active and the armchair traveler. Its lively prose makes it a joy to read," Kohl said.
It has drawn rave reviews from Sioux War scholars.
"Paul Hedren has succeeded in making the sites and geography of the Great Sioux War come alive. This book is a must for the serious scholar, a vocational traveler, or just plain history junkies," Jerome Greene, National Park Service historian, said.
According to University of New Mexico history professor Paul Hutton, the book "is essential reading for anyone interested in this epic moment from our past."
The guide book suggests a travel route over diverse country in five states plus Canada that can be joined or exited at points selected by the individual traveler.
"This was once Lakota and Cheyenne Indian country and the natural lair of millions of buffalo, deer and antelope," Hedren writes. "And for eighteen months in 1876 and 1877, this was the setting for the greatest Indian conflict ever to occur in America."
In his guide, Hedren makes the many sites of this epic clash of cultures come alive.
The last major battle of the war was fought in the Wolf Mountains of Montana on Jan. 8, 1877, when Gen. Nelson Miles led seven companies of the Fifth and Twenty-second infantry in search of Crazy Horse's winter village.
"Crazy Horse struck and the two forces fought with skill and determination until a blizzard halted the fray at midday," Hedren writes. The following spring Chiefs Spotted Tail and Red Cloud both visited Crazy Horse and convinced him to surrender.
Thereafter Sitting Bull took his followers to Canada and diplomatic maneuvering supplanted the battlefield as the Great Sioux War neared its end.
In his chapter on the aftermath of the Great Sioux War, Hedren dramatically paints its sad denouement.
"As the army proceeded to occupy the former Lakota and Cheyenne Indian country with its new or enlarged military posts, two last episodes, one extraordinarily tragic and the other deeply melancholic, finally concluded the Great Sioux War," he writes.
One was the 1877 surrender at Fort Robinson, in what is now Nebraska, of Crazy Horse, who was subsequently bayoneted and killed by soldiers attempting to lock him up.
"As the grave of Custer marked the high-water of Sioux supremacy in the trans-Missouri region, so the grave of Crazy Horse marked the ebb," Hedren quotes an account of the time.
The other was the surrender of Sitting Bull in 1881. He died in 1890 at the hands of Indian police on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota.
The guide is 128 pages with 96 illustrations and five maps. It is available through the Montana Historical Society Press by calling 1-800-243-9900 and also will be distributed by Falcon Press of Helena.
The book is paperback $10.95 and available at bookstores across the state, or can be ordered directly from the Montana Historical Society by calling toll free 1-800-243-9900 (shipping charges additional.)