In January, 1876, the Sioux failed to report to the reservation at Standing Rock, Dakota Territory, after being driven off their homeland by the United States' attempt to accommodate the Black Hills gold rush. General George Crook's forces deployed from Fort Fetterman in May 1876 in pursuit of the Sioux and their Northern Cheyenne allies. The expedition consisted of over 1,000 soldiers and civilians. Among the latter were teamsters, packers, and five journalists. On June 17, 1876, Sioux and Northern Cheyenne warriors, led by Crazy Horse and Two Moon attacked Crook's first Yellowstone Expedition.
In response, Crook deployed his cavalry to control high ground to the North and East of Rosebud Creek. “They were from two or three miles distant, coming at full speed towards us, cheering,” Captain Anson Mills recounted. The infantry formed an inner defensive perimeter, while the packers remained in a fracas behind a rocky outcropping known today as 'Packers Rocks'. The following six hours consisted of a cacophony of gunfire, yelling, dust, smoke, stench, and screams. During the melee, a Cheyenne warrior, Comes In Sight, had his horse shot out from under him. A young Cheyenne woman rode out to his rescue. The Northern Cheyenne say she was Buffalo Calf Road Woman, the sister of Comes In Sight. The Cheyenne remember the conflict as 'Where the girl saved her brother'. At approximately 2pm, Crook ordered his men to disengage, fearing a greater ambush from the North.
The Army's official casualty report was ten killed in action with thirty wounded. The Department of Interior revised the number to include fifty seven wounded. Crazy Horse and Two Moon had reported their losses at twenty seven killed and sixty three wounded.. General Anson Mills recalled, “We then all realized for the first time that while we were lucky not to have been entirely vanquished, we had been most humiliatingly defeated.” After the battle, a dejected General Crook responded to counter attack orders from General Philip Sheridan, “I wish Sheridan would come here himself and show us how to do it. It is rather difficult to surround three Indians with one soldier.”
Eight days following the engagement at Rosebud Creek, the Sioux and Northern Cheyenne annihilated five companies of the 7th Cavalry under the command of Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer, less than fifty miles north at Little Big Horn Creek. This fact has led many historians to criticize Crook's decision to withdraw from the battle and return the Yellowstone Expedition to Fort Fetterman and Camp Cloud Peak to re-supply and rest. They have also critiqued Crook's reluctance to counter attack as being a contributing factor to the defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
The secluded 3,052 acres of Rosebud Battlefield State Park were in ranch lands until acquired by the state of Montana in 1978. Thirty years later, the National Park Service designated this scenic valley as a National Historic Landmark.