New Special 'Battle of Little Bighorn' Reexamines the Legendary Event

Rick and Christina Gables
Courtesy of Smithsonian Channel

On June 25, 1876, Hunkpapa Lakota Chief Sitting Bull and thousands of American Indians were attacked by General George Custer’s 7th Cavalry as they camped on the banks of Montana’s Little Bighorn River. Vastly outnumbered, Custer’s entire regiment was wiped out.

What was to follow was a nationwide media storm, but what led to this deadly encounter, and how did history books get it so wrong?

Battle of Little Big Horn premieres Monday, January 13 on Smithsonian Channel.

The special revisits the legendary event that triggered the birth of tabloid headline and explores how the proliferation of the telegraph and burgeoning newspaper industry led to a simultaneous news break across the country.

The inaccurate and dramatized reporting resulted in an American public both outraged and captivated; with no white survivors left to tell the tale, a decisive 19th-century conspiracy theory was born.

Courtesy of Smithsonian Channel

Battle of Little Big Horn traces the events leading up to Bighorn – broken treaties, stolen lands and the threat of lost identity at the hands of government initiatives targeting assimilation of the Lakota Sioux and other American Indian tribes.

The special uncovers how tabloid news coverage of the battle turned the U.S. Cavalry’s bombshell loss at Bighorn into an unstoppable mythos, while fueling stereotyped depictions of the Native American – a Plains warrior wearing a feathered headdress – that persist to this day.

Battle of Little Bighorn,
Premiere, Monday, January 13, 8/7c, Smithsonian Channel