Kickass Women in History: Buffalo Calf Road Woman

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The Battle of the Greasy Grass, also known as The Battle of the Little Bighorn, or as Custer’s Last Stand, took place on June 25, 1876 in what is now Montana. It was fought between U.S. troops, led by George Custer, against Lakota Sioux, Arapaho, and Northern Cheyenne warriors led by Sitting Bull, Chief Gall, and Crazy Horse. The Lakota Sioux, Arapaho, and Cheyenne won the battle. While most fighters on both sides were men, several women fought on the side of the Native Americans, including Buffalo Calf Road Woman.

Buffalo Calf Road Woman was born around 1850. She was a member of the Northern Cheyenne Nation. She lived during a time when the United States military was committing genocide against Indigenous people through a campaign of murder, harassment, and forced relocation.

A Northern Cheyenne woman, thought to be Buffalo Calf Road Woman

On June 17, 1876, Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne fighters fought against U.S. soldiers in the Battle of the Rosebud. During the battle, Buffalo Calf Road Woman’s brother was injured. She rode onto the battlefield and carried her brother to safety. This rescue was so daring that it rallied the Cheyenne, who had been retreating, to victory. The Cheyenne called the battle The Battle Where the Girl Saved her Brother.

Buffalo Calf Road Woman was married to a man named Black Coyote. They fought side by side in the Battle of the Greasy Grass. She was an excellent shot and witnesses reported her firing her gun and staying in the thick of the fight on horseback for the duration of the battle. According to Northern Cheyenne oral tradition, it was Buffalo Calf Road Woman who unhorsed General Custer and according to some stories she is the one who killed him.

Other women also fought in the Battle of the Greasy Grass. Pretty Nose was an Arapaho woman who fought in the battle and survived. She lived to be 101 years old. One Who Walks With the Stars rounded up stray horses and killed two soldiers who were fleeing from the battlefield. Minnie Hollow Wood’s courage in the battle made her the first Lakota woman to be given a war bonnet. Moving Robe was an experienced warrior at the start of the battle, having previously fought against the Crow Nation. She participated in the Battle of the Greasy Grass in part to avenge her fallen brother. Years later, she told an interviewer:

My Heart was bad. Revenge! Revenge! For my brother’s death. I thought of the death of my young brother, One Hawk. I ran to a nearby thicket and got my black horse. I painted my face with crimson and braided my black hair. I was mourning. I was a woman, but I was not afraid.

Many women were involved in the battle in other ways. Kate Bighead was a Northern

Minne Hollow Wood, wearing her war bonnet, taken around 1925

Cheyenne woman who followed her nephew, Noisy Walking, to the battlefield since he “expected me to watch and sing songs to give him courage.” When he was wounded, she removed him from the battlefield. Women nursed the wounded and guarded the children and the elderly from the nearby camp. When the battle was over, women enacted revenge for their dead by mutilating the fallen bodies of the enemy troops, an act that was performed within a cultural context in which damaging the bodies of the enemy symbolized victory and the attainment of justice.

Despite their successful battles, Buffalo Calf Road Woman and Black Coyote and their two children were forced to move to the Southern Cheyenne Reservation in what is now Oklahoma, where they faced starvation and an outbreak of measles. Many Northern Cheyenne, including Buffalo Calf Road Woman’s family, attempted to return to the north in 1878 during the Northern Cheyenne Exodus. Buffalo Calf Road Woman is thought to have fought at the Battle of Punished Woman’s Fork along the way. The survivors were eventually allowed to stay in Montana, in the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation.

During the Exodus, Black Coyote became violent and unpredictable. In 1879, he shot and killed a tribal elder and was banished from the core group. Then he was arrested for killing two U.S. soldiers. While he was in jail, Buffalo Calf Road Woman died of diptheria or malaria in 1879. Black Coyote, who was already facing execution, hung himself. They are thought to be buried near Miles City, Montana. Their story left a legacy of courage and tenacity against great odds.

I went down a lot of Internet Rabbit Holes for this one, but my main sources were:

Cheyenne and Lakota Women and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

“Kate Bighead and the Little BigHorn” from Astonisher.com

“Buffalo Calf Road Woman: Custer’s Final Foe” from Mental Floss

“How the Battle of Little Bighorn Was Won” from Smithsonian Magazine

Wikipedia’s page on Buffalo Calf Road Woman

I also used Wikipedia for articles about other women in the battle, as well as entries about The Battle of Rosebud, the Battle of the Greasy Grass, and the Northern Exodus.

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