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Crushing Defeat: Lessons Learned from the Fetterman Fight A full decade before Colonel George Armstrong Custer and 267 soldiers of the Seventh Cavalry rode to their well-deserved deaths in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Captain William J. Fetterman led an unsuccessful mission against three Plains Indians tribes that culminated in the ambush and killings of the commander and his seventy-nine soldiers on December 21, 1866. Countless factors contributed to the overall fight, as the resulting battle was merely a by-product of the all-too-familiar hostility between the United States government and every indigenous culture inhabiting the Americas—specifically however, this particular military action arose from white soldiers’ possessiveness of an area referred to as the Bozeman Trail (Axelrod 138). From Wyoming, the path linked the Oregon Trail to gold rush terrain in western Montana, and encroached on lands which of course rightfully belonged to Native Americans. The efforts to gain (or re-gain from the native perspective) control of said land took place during a struggle known historically as “Red Cloud’s War” (Brown, “Bury My Heart” 103). Over the two-year period between 1866 and 1888, the Oglala Sioux Chief Red Cloud sought to reclaim authority over the Powder River Basin, an area in northern Wyoming of great traditional importance to the Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes. The Bozeman Trail, used as a travel route by Native Americans since time immemorial (so, long before it was referred to as “Bozeman”) was one of the most significant parts of the Powder River Country. The three cultures considered it a sacred place, and it provided them with expansive grounds in which to hunt game (Drury and Clavin, 60). Needless to say, th... ... middle of paper ... ...turn of the century approached, it was instances such as these that restored the dignity and pride of the native cultures. Brown spends a great deal of time in “Fort Phil Kearny” arguing about the varying accounts of the incident and who was to blame for the whites’ losses, while unfortunately mostly overlooking what the outcome meant for the Indians. While it fostered the Americans’ desire for revenge, it also for the time being convinced the same people to withdraw from Red Cloud’s War, and albeit in a minor way to reconsider the U.S. government’s approach toward Indian affairs (Brown, “Fort Phil Kearny” 224). In conclusion, the world of academia would best be served by incorporating this glossed-over chapter of history in to its curriculum, as a means to study the lessons learned from it and how it affects the issues at hand of native cultures in the present day.

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