This day in history is a new series which looks at various events in history which have shaped the world we live in today, and also looks at watches of the era.
It was this day in 1881 that Chief Sitting Bull made his return from hiding in Saskatchewan Canada and three days later on July 19th, he surrendered to American forces. Hungry and desperate, with just 186 of his followers remaining, it was some five years after his dramatic victory at the Battle of Little Bighorn, famously known as Custer’s Last Stand, it was undoubtedly considered the 911 of its day, and thousands of troops were rallied to capture him.
Battle of Little Bighorn, July 1876
This battle came about because many Plains Indians had refused to make peace and move to reservations. They were gathering with Sitting Bull, the great Sioux leader, to hunt and to take a stand against enforced reservation life.
The camp was estimated to be three miles long with about 7,000 Native Americans. The Indians resented reservation life and left the Great Sioux Reservation in protest.
A couple of weeks prior to the Battle of Little Bighorn, Sitting Bull had a vision during the Sun Dance, a summer tribal ritual. He saw U.S. Soldiers and horses, upside down, falling from the sky. He saw a great victory in store for the Indian people. He shared the news with his followers and it inspired them and gave them hope.
General Alfred H. Terry, Colonel John Gibbon, and General George Crook were placed in command of the campaign to locate the immense gathering of Plains Indians, mainly Sioux and Cheyenne. Lt. Colonel Custer, Major Reno, and Captain Benteen were part of Terry’s column.
After locating the Indian gathering near the Rosebud River, they planned an attack. However General Crook and his entire command were ambushed by Lakota and Cheyenne Indians. Crook was forced to withdraw from the campaign.
General Terry put Custer in charge of the 7th Cavalry and was given the option of taking Gibbon’s 2nd Cavalry with the 7th, but he refused. Arrogantly, Custer believed the 7th could handle it all alone. He traded his Gatling guns for six Crow scouts, including Gibbon’s best scout Mitch Boyer, a half-breed Sioux. Custer claimed the Gatling guns would only slow him down. Besides, he expected the Indians to run.
This was a huge mistake. Custer’s scouts reported more than 1000 warriors had gathered. Custer had greatly under estimated their numbers as his force was only 600. The Crow Scouts informed Custer that the village knew of his arrival and battle, brutal, bloody and gory, commenced.
After the dust settled, Custer and his men were dead. Custer’s last stand to control the Indians was a failure. Terry and Gibbon arrived a day later to find the 210 dead and mutilated men and the Indians long gone. It had been a great Indian Victory, but little did the Northern and Southern Cheyenne, Sioux, Oglala, Brule, Minniconjou, Sans Arc, Uncapa, and some Santee know, this would be the last victory for them and their way of life, so it was essentially the last stand not only of General Custer but of the native Indians as well.
Pocket watches of the era
America, Britain and of course Switzerland were producing excellent pocket watches by this time. Two of America’s most respected brands, Elgin and Waltham were back to full capacity following the Civil War, and in that year, Waltham won a precision watch contest at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, which greatly disturbed Swiss watchmakers who believed themselves to be the world leaders in precision watch making.
Waltham was already famous for its railroad chronometers, as the ‘iron horse’ as the Indians termed it, carved its way across America, through Indian hunting lands.
Chief Sitting Bull pocket watch
Chief Sitting Bull was killed in 1890 after plans were made to arrest him on his reservation. Whether or not Chief Sitting Bull ever owned a pocket watch, we don’t know, but his legend lives on in the shape of this quartz pocket watch available on Ebay for just £14.99. It’s a full hunter chrome pocket watch with a 35mm full colour, soft enamel image and comes on a chain. It’s safe to assume this is probably not how Chief Sitting Bull would wish to be remembered.
Battle of Little Bighorn history courtesy of littlebighornproject