This Day In History: General Harney Avenges the Grattan Massacre (1886)

On this day in history in 1885, the US army took revenge for an infamous Indian massacre in the Old West. General William Harney and his soldiers take revenge for the Grattan Massacre with a raid on a Sioux Village in Nebraska. The soldiers killed some 100 Sioux men, women, and children.

The raid was in retaliation for the death of some 30 soldiers the year before. A young lieutenant by the name of John Grattan and 30 of his men were ambushed and killed by Sioux warriors. The US media portrayed the attack on the men as an act of treachery and a cowardly act.

In fact, the real story was rather different. After some Sioux stole a white man’s cow Grattan adopted a hardline policy towards the Sioux. Grattan began to intimidate the tribe and warned them of dire consequences if they did not return the cow and make adequate reparations to the white settler. Grattan turned what was a minor squabble into a major confrontation. When the Sioux refused to comply with Grattan’s demands, the US officers decided to march his unit to a nearby Sioux village and to teach them a lesson and retrieve the stolen cow. On his way, he and his men are ambushed and they are all killed.

Americans demanded swift vengeance, and the newspapers in particular called for brutal retribution against the Indians. The army turned to the famous Indian fighter, General William Harney, to lead a punitive expedition against the Sioux.  Harney  targeted the village of Chief Little Thunder located in Nebraska. The Sioux saw the cavalry and they offered to surrender.  However, Harney refused to accept it, he was intent on killing Indians in order to avenge the Grattan massacre.

The Battle of the Little BigHorn

Harney ordered a full-scale attack that completely destroyed the village and killed more than 100 Sioux. He men attacked the village in the early hours of the morning and his men opened fire indiscriminately and killed not only warriors but women and children.

Later Harney discovered what actually happened at the Grattan Massacre. He softened his attitude to the Sioux and was less inclined to launch brutal raids on their villages.

He convened a  peace council that temporarily calmed the situation and both sides agreed that there should be a no more violence. However, Harney ‘s reputation was damaged and he was referred to as ‘squaw killer’ Harney until the end of his life.  The massacre in Nebraska initiated a cycle of revenge killings in the west, that led to many brutal massacres.

One Sioux boy that survived the brutal massacre would never forget or forgive and would take his own revenge at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. His name was Crazy Horse, one of the greatest war-chiefs of the Sioux nation and he was instrumental in the defeat of General Custer.