Battle of Wolf Mountain

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Battle of Wolf Mountain
Part of the Great Sioux War of 1876
Battle of Wolf Mountain.jpg
A photoprint of an illustration of the Battle of Wolf Mountain that appeared in the May 5, 1877 edition of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper
Date January 8, 1877
Location Tongue River Valley, Montana Territory (near present day Birney, Montana)
45°17.152′N 106°34.836′W / 45.285867°N 106.580600°W / 45.285867; -106.580600Coordinates: 45°17.152′N 106°34.836′W / 45.285867°N 106.580600°W / 45.285867; -106.580600
Result Strategic United States victory[1]
 United States Sioux
Commanders and leaders
United States Nelson A. Miles Crazy Horse
Two Moon
436 ~500
Casualties and losses
5 killed
8 wounded
3 killed
unknown wounded

The Battle of Wolf Mountain, also known the Battle of the Wolf Mountains, Miles's Battle on the Tongue River, and the Battle of the Butte, occurred January 8, 1877, in the Montana Territory between the United States Army and a force of Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne during the Great Sioux War of 1876. The Northern Cheyenne called it the Battle of Belly Butte. It was fought about four miles southwest of modern-day Birney, along the Tongue River.[2] In 2001, the Wolf Mountains Battlefield was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[3] It was raised to the status of National Historic Landmark in 2008.[4]


Following the defeat of George Armstrong Custer in the 1876, Battle of Little Bighorn, by autumn, only a few bands of the warring Sioux and Cheyenne tribes had begun filtering back into their reservations and agencies to acquire food and annuity goods in preparation for winter. The United States Congress had angered many Indians by demanding that they cede the Black Hills to the government in exchange for these promised goods. The army had replaced civilian contractors in charge of the agencies, further convincing many war bands to stay away from them. General Nelson Miles led a mixed force of infantry, artillery and cavalry after Sitting Bull's band, and had effectively defeated them by December. Ranald S. Mackenzie had similarly defeated Dull Knife's Cheyennes, who trekked through snow and icy conditions to join the camp of Crazy Horse in the Tongue River Valley. Concerned with the approaching winter and the destitute condition of Dull Knife's band, Crazy Horse decided to negotiate peace with the army. However, when a group of United States Army Crow scouts murdered Crazy Horse's delegation, the war chief demanded revenge. He led a series of small raids in an effort to draw out Miles from his post.[5]


Miles marched out to the foothills of the Wolf Mountains, then set up a defensive perimeter on a ridge line. At 7:00 a.m., on January 8, Crazy Horse and Two Moon began a series of attacks on the U.S. soldiers. Frustrated by army firepower, they regrouped several times and tried again. Attempts to flank Miles' line also proved to be futile when Miles shifted his reserves to fill critical positions. Finally, Miles ordered an advance, which secured a vital ridge as artillery shells rained among the Indian positions. Crazy Horse withdrew as weather conditions deteriorated.[6]


Although a draw in many aspects, in effect the battle was a strategic victory for the U.S. Army, as it demonstrated that the Indians were not safe from the army even in winter and harsh conditions. Many individuals began slipping away and returning to their reservations. By May, Crazy Horse had led his surviving band into Camp Robinson to surrender.

Order of battle[edit]

United States Army (Col. Nelson A. Miles in command)

Lakota and Cheyenne (Crazy Horse and Two Moon)

  • war bands with approximately 500 warriors


  1. ^ Pearson, Jeffrey V. (Winter 2001). Pearson "Nelson A. Miles, Crazy Horse, and the Battle of Wolf Mountains". Montana The Magazine of Western History (Helena, MT: Montana Historical Society Press) 51 (1): 53–67. 
  2. ^ Jeffrey V. Pearson (July 28, 2005), National Historic Landmark Nomination: Wolf Mountains Battlefield/Where Big Crow Walked Back and Forth / Battle of the Butte; Battle of Belly Buttes; Battle at Belly Butte; Mile's Fight on the Tongue; 24N787 (pdf), National Park Service  and Accompanying map PDF (32 KB)
  3. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13. 
  4. ^ "Wolf Mountains Battlefield / Where Big Crow Walked Back and Forth". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2009-04-06. 
  5. ^ Bray, Kingsley M. (1998). "Crazy Horse and the End of the Great Sioux War" (PDF). Nebraska History (Nebraska State History Society) 79: 94–115. 
  6. ^ "Battle of Wolf Mountains 135th Anniversary This Month". U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management. January 13, 2012. Retrieved 2014-01-24. 
  7. ^ U.S. 5th Infantry Regiment