Rain-in-the-Face: Lakota Leader Who Defeated Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn
Rain-in-the-Face, a prominent leader of the Lakota tribe, played a significant role in the defeat of George Armstrong Custer and the US 7th Cavalry Regiment at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. Born around 1835 in the Dakota Territory, near the forks of the Cheyenne River, Rain-in-the-Face was a member of the Hunkpapa band of the Lakota nation. His name was attributed to a fight he had with a Cheyenne boy, resulting in his face being splattered with his adversary’s blood.
Later in his life, Rain-in-the-Face recounted an incident that further solidified his name. As a young man, he participated in a battle against a group of Gros Ventres during a heavy rainstorm. At the end of the prolonged combat, his face was streaked with war paint, reinforcing his moniker.
Rain-in-the-Face’s early clashes with the white settlers and the US Army began in 1866 with a raid on Fort Totten in present-day North Dakota. That same year, he fought in the Fetterman massacre near Fort Phil Kearny in Montana. During the Black Hills War, he led a raid at the Tongue River, resulting in the death of two white civilians who were accompanying Custer’s cavalry. Following this, Rain-in-the-Face returned to the Standing Rock Reservation but was captured by Custer’s forces after being betrayed by reservation Indians. He was imprisoned at Fort Abraham Lincoln but managed to escape with the help of a sympathetic soldier. He then returned to the reservation briefly before fleeing to the Powder River region. In the spring of 1876, he joined the Sioux under Sitting Bull and traveled with them to the Little Bighorn River in early June.
During the fierce fighting at Custer Hill on June 26, Rain-in-the-Face is believed to have cut out the heart of Thomas Custer, a claim popularized by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his work “The Revenge of Rain in the Face.” According to legend, Rain-in-the-Face had a personal vendetta against Tom Custer, whom he believed had unjustly imprisoned him. Some contemporary accounts even attribute the death of George Custer to Rain-in-the-Face, although the chaotic nature of the battle has led to similar claims being made by other warriors.
Rain-in-the-Face eventually passed away after a prolonged illness at his home in Bullhead Station on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. His legacy endures as a prominent figure in Lakota history, known for his role in the Battle of Little Bighorn and his fierce resistance against the encroachment of white settlers and the US Army.