Friday, April 26, 2019

Booknotes: Rosebud, June 17, 1876

New Arrival:
Rosebud, June 17, 1876: Prelude to the Little Big Horn by Paul L. Hedren (OU Press, 2019).

With a large host of scholarly publications already to his credit, it's probably an understatement to say that Paul Hedren is one of our leading experts on the Sioux Wars fought during the latter half of the nineteenth century. In terms of getting a dream matchup with an author and a subject in need of a definitive-scale treatment, it doesn't get much better than Hedren and the Rosebud battle.

Some topical background from the description: "The Battle of the Rosebud may well be the largest Indian battle ever fought in the American West. The monumental clash on June 17, 1876, along Rosebud Creek in southeastern Montana pitted George Crook and his Shoshone and Crow allies against Sioux and Northern Cheyennes under Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. It set the stage for the battle that occurred eight days later when, just twenty-five miles away, George Armstrong Custer blundered into the very same village that had outmatched Crook. Historian Paul L. Hedren presents the definitive account of this critical battle, from its antecedents in the Sioux campaign to its historic consequences."

I'm not sure what is currently considered the standard history of the battle. My admittedly light search didn't reveal many full-length contenders. I would imagine that Neal Mangum's similarly titled Battle of the Rosebud: Prelude to the Little Big Horn is highly regarded, but it appears to be less than half the length of this one. 

More from the description: Hedren's Rosebud, June 17, 1876: Prelude to the Little Big Horn "explores in unprecedented detail the events of the spring and early summer of 1876. Drawing on an extensive array of sources, including government reports, diaries, reminiscences, and a previously untapped trove of newspaper stories, the book traces the movements of both Indian forces and U.S. troops and their Indian allies as Brigadier General Crook commenced his second great campaign against the northern Indians for the year. Both Indian and army paths led to Rosebud Creek, where warriors surprised Crook and then parried with his soldiers for the better part of a day on an enormous field. Describing the battle from multiple viewpoints, Hedren narrates the action moment by moment, capturing the ebb and flow of the fighting. Throughout he weighs the decisions and events that contributed to Crook’s tactical victory, and to his fateful decision thereafter not to pursue his adversary. The result is a uniquely comprehensive view of an engagement that made history and then changed its course."

Six maps accompany the text, with three covering the June 17 fighting at the tactical scale. Orders of battle and casualty assessments can be found in the appendix section.


  1. Drew: This looks interesting. Hedren's Powder River book is very good and he accessed a lot of primary sources. Mangum's book is good but as you note it's less than half the length. It has the advantage that the author knows the ground inside out in connection with his former NPS role at the Little Bighorn Battlefield. He also came at the study from a completely objective angle, as shown by the heat he took (and ignored) in his work adding Native Americans to the staff and "de-Custering" the battlefield.

  2. Drew,

    I visited Rosebud last year and had searched a while for a decent treatment of the subject. I think you are correct with Mangum's text, but the most helpful publication was the Blue & Gray issue covering the battle.


    1. The LBH and Rosebud issues from B&G are good. I believe they are the only non-CW issues they ever did.


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