Published on March 19, 2012 by Amy
Gall (c. 1840–1894) Lakota Phizí, (gall bladder) was a battle leader of the Hunkpapa Lakota in the long war against the United States. He was one of the commanders in the Battle of Little Bighorn.
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Born in present-day South Dakota around 1840, Gall was said to receive his nickname after eating the gall of an animal killed by a neighbor. He grew to be a giant of a man weighing close to 300 pounds.
He was recognized as an accomplished warrior during his late teens and became a war chief in his twenties. Leading the Lakota in their long war against the United States, he served with Sitting Bull during several battles, including the famous Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876.
Since the early 1980s, archaeological researchers conducted battlefield excavations after a major grass fire. Historians have been studying accounts by participating Indians and tribal oral histories. Based on these elements, contemporary reassessment of the Battle of Little Bighorn has given Gall greater credit for several crucial tactical decisions that contributed to the Sioux and Cheyenne’s overpowering defeat of the five companies of cavalry led by
Custerof the 7th Cavalry.
Major Marcus Reno’s initial attack on the southeast end of the Indian village killed Gall’s two wives and several children. Gall described it: “My heart was very bad that day.” During the opening phase of the battle, the Lakota and Cheyenne repulsed Reno’s three companies of cavalry from the south-eastern end of their large village. Gall was one of the few Indians to suspect that the Custer’s strategy was probably a two-pronged attack. He believed that determining the location of the other half of Custer’s attacking force was critical to Indian defense.
Gall crossed the river and rode to the northeast, where he spied Custer’s chief scout, Mitch Bouyer, returning to Custer from an overwatch of the Indian village. After locating the main element of Custer’s five companies, Gall correctly determined that they probably intended to force a river crossing and an entrance into the northern end of the village. Riding back down from the bluffs, Gall told Sioux and Cheyenne forces returning from Reno’s repulse of his suspicions. With Crazy Horse, he led forces north across the river to drive Company E and F due north up present-day Calhoun Couley to present-day Finley Ridge. There they forced three of Custer’s companies to fight a largely defensive battle.
Within minutes, Gall and his forces took a position north east of Finley Ridge and poured a withering fire down on Companies C, I and L. When Crazy Horse charged through an opening between Lt Calhoun’s Company L and Company I in a sudden surprise right envelopment attack, Company L probably began to pull back off the ridge to try to link up with Company I. Companies C and L’s tried to redeploy from holding off Gall’s men to the east and others to the south. This probably looked like a panicked retreat to Gall and his forces.
Seeing that the two Cavalry companies no longer had the fire superiority that held the Indians at bay, Gall and his men attacked from the east as the other Indians attacked the cut-off elements of Company C from both the east and the south. They soon finished off Companies C and L, and forced survivors and some of Company I to flee towards Custer and his men north of the so-called “Last Stand Hill.” A few of the soldiers of Companies C, I and L also fled south toward the river. The places where they fell were later marked by white marble monuments, which still stand.
Soon the Indians finished off Custer and his men in the remaining companies C, E, and K. The last approximately 28 survivors made a dash south for the river. They were trapped in the box canyon called “Deep Ravine”. After killing them, the Indians had won the battle, having completely annihilated Custer’s five companies.
In later years, Gall recounted his role in the battle. He had mistakenly thought the survivors of Custer’s three southeastern companies fled northwest to Custer because they ran out of ammunition. Other evidence suggests the horse soldiers ran out of the will to fight and yielded to the flight instinct, with many men simply running, even abandoning loaded rifles. The Sioux and Cheyenne picked these up and fired the weapons to drive off the soldiers’ horses, thus depriving them of a key tactical mobility advantage. The native warriors’ attacking Greasy Grass Ridge from the southeast came mostly on foot. Gall kept up enfillading fire from the northeast.
In late 1876, many of the Hunkpapa bands crossed over the border into Canada where they struggled to survive for the next several years. Gall came to disagree with Sitting Bull and brought his band back to the United States in 1880 and surrendered. On May 26, 1881, he and his band were loaded unto steamers along with Crow King, Black Moon, Low Dog and Fools Heart and shipped downriver to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. The first complete census taken of the Lakota at Standing Rock in the fall of 1881 listed Gall with a band of 52 families, totaling 230 people.
Becoming a farmer, he encouraged his people to assimilate to reservation life. He became a Christian convert. He served as a judge of the Court of Indian Affairs on the reservation. He became friendly with the Indian Agent, James McLaughlin.
Eventually Gall turned against Sitting Bull, who had become involved with the Ghost Dance movement.
Gall lived on the Standing Rock Agency until his death on December 5, 1894. His interment was in Wakpala, South Dakota’s Saint Elizabeth Episcopal Cemetery.