The Smithsonian Channel has a great series called Mystery Files which takes an investigative journalism approach to well-known events and offers a glimpse into what really happened. This particular episode, Sitting Bull and the Battle of Little Big Horn, digs deep into the events leading up to and during the battle and exposes the truth behind the legendary myth that Sitting Bull led his warriors to victory.
Sitting Bull was a member of the Lakota Nation who had been a respected warrior in his youth but had become a sun-dancer and spiritual leader in his forties. He performed the annual Sun Dance ceremony for his people and had visions or prophecies.
In 1868, the Lakota had agreed to a peace treaty with the United States and were moved to the Great Sioux Reservation with plenty of land to roam. However, in 1874, Colonel George Custer's expedition finds gold deposits in the Black Hills. Once news gets out, white settlers flood the land to mine the precious ore. The government decides to take this piece of the reservation back. The Bureau of Indian Affairs goes one step further and decrees the Indians can no longer roam on/off the reservation and must remain within the reservation boundaries. The Indian's way of life - to follow the herds as hunters - was now in jeopardy. Sitting Bull refuses to accept this new decree.
On June 25, 1876, General Custer charges into Sitting Bull's camp (next to Little Big Horn) but quickly realizes the camp is bigger than he expected. His men, who practiced Civil War-style line formations, are quickly surrounded by warriors who engage in guerrilla-type combat (like hit and run). Sitting Bull was not a combatant. For now, the tribesmen were victorious.
The native people were attacked and pursued for several years. In 1881, Sitting Bull finally surrenders and moves to a permanent reservation.
Learn more on the Smithsonian Channel
Learn more about the gold rush to the Black Hills