Battle of Ash Creek

By Emily Goodling Guldborg

A lonely monument sits atop a remote hill to the southeast of Brockway to mark the spot where the history of our region was significantly impacted in the late 1800s. While many people have no doubt heard of the Battle of the Little Big Horn that occurred in June of 1876, the skirmishes that occurred later that year are much less known. One of those was the Battle for Ash Creek which occurred on December 18, 1876.

The Great Sioux War was initiated in February 1876 after a failed series of negotiations to have the Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne cede their land in the Black Hills back to the federal government. They had been allotted the land but with the discovery of gold and railroad interests in the region, the federal government wanted to relocate the tribal members to Indian Territory in what is now present day Oklahoma. The Sioux and Cheyenne, headed by Sitting Bull, Spotted Tail, Crazy Horse and Red Cloud among others revolted against the idea and dispersed to areas in southeast Montana.

When the tribes refused the order to return to their reservation lands, the United States Army engaged in a campaign with the Sioux and Cheyenne. The Battle that is most widely known amongst the general public is that of the Little Big Horn in which General Custer and his troops suffered major casualty losses. However, the campaign continued through the fall and winter of 1876 with Colonel Nelson Miles and his troops engaging in various skirmishes in the Lower Yellowstone Valley. The war came to McCone County on Ash Creek, a tributary of the Redwater River which runs the length of the county. 122 lodges were known to be encamped there and Lieutenant Frank Baldwin was given the order to engage his troops.

The attack came on December 18, 1876 but did not result in major losses on either side as most of the tribal warriors were hunting. The Sioux did suffer heavy losses of their horses and supplies. All of the lodges were reported to be destroyed.

By the spring of 1877, with the continued campaign of Miles and other campaigns in Lakota Sioux territory, most of the tribal people who were being pursued had surrendered or slipped north across the border in to Canada. Ultimately, most of those people who took part in the Great Sioux war were placed on tribal ground in the Standing Rock Agency in the Dakotas.

The monument for the Ash Creek Battlefield is simple and unassuming. It is just below the divide of the Big Sheep Mountains, surrounded by ash trees and native rangeland. The ground is much like it would have been in the 19th century and it is easy to imagine what the scene would have been like in December of 1876. The Indian Wars were a pivotal time in the history of the northern plains and places like the Ash Creek battlefield provide important locales for quiet reflection.

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