General Custer's last battle, or the Battle of the Little Big Horn, took place June 25th, 1876, on the bluffs and ridges immediately north of the Little Big Horn River, about three miles west of where the agency of the Crow Reservation is now located, and about ten miles west of Fort Custer. Neither of these stations existed at that time, and the country thereabouts was almost wholly unknown to the white man.
For several months restless bands of Sioux Indians had been committing depredations along the frontier, killing many of the settlers, and stealing their cattle and horses. To put a stop to these outrages, early in the spring of 1876, Generals Terry, Crook and Gibbon were instructed to prepare their several commands for a lengthy campaign against these hostiles, with orders to break up their camps and drive them back into the reservations, if possible. The command of the first mentioned force was assigned to General Custer, but by subsequent orders it was transferred to General Terry, and General Custer assumed command of his own regiment.
Leaving the headquarters of their several departments, they were to search the country for marauders, and ultimately join their forces on the Yellowstone, near the mouth of the Tongue River.
On May 17th the troops under General Terry, General Custer commanding the 7th Cavalry, bade good-bye to their families and friends at Fort Lincoln, and pushed rapidly forward towards the Yellowstone, which they reached about the first of June. Here, shortly after, they were joined by the forces of General Gibbon. A scouting party, under Major M. A. Reno, was then sent out to look for signs of Indians, who were believed to be camping in the vicinity of the Powder or Little Big Horn rivers.
After an absence of several days, Major Reno returned and reported he had found a large trail making off towards the Little Big Horn, which he had followed for some distance, but fearing he might be seen by the Indians, and so alarm them, he deemed it best to return at once and report.
On receiving Major Reno's statement, General Terry requested Generals Custer and Gibbon to report at his headquarters, and consult with him as to the best action to take in the matter. It was finally decided that General Custer should take the 7th Cavalry and advance up the Powder River, bearing off to the south of the big trail, and keep between the Indians and the Big Horn mountains, to cut off their retreat should they endeavor to escape in that direction, thus to force them towards the Yellowstone, where they would be met by General Gibbon and the infantry, who were to move at the same time up the valley of the Big Horn. In accordance with this decision the following order was issued:
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF DAKOTA, (IN THEFIELD)
Camp at Mouth of Rosebud River, Montana, June 22, 1876.
COLONEL: The brigadier-general commanding directs that as soon as your regiment can be made ready for the march, you proceed up the Rosebud in pursuit of the Indians whose trail was discovered by Major Reno, a few days since. It is, of course, impossible to give you any definite instructions in regard to this movement; and were it not impossible to do so, the department commander places too much confidence in your zeal, energy and ability to wish to impose upon you precise orders, which might hamper your action when nearly in contact with the enemy. He will, however, indicate to you his own views of what your action should be, and he desires that you should conform to them unless you shall see sufficient reason for departing from them. He thinks that you should proceed up the Rosebud until you ascertain definitely the direction in which the trail above spoken of leads. Should it be found (as it appears to be almost certain that it will be found) to turn toward the Little Horn, he thinks that you should still proceed southward, perhaps as far as the headwaters of the Tongue, and then turn toward the Little Horn, feeling constantly, however, to your left, so as to preclude the possibility of the escape of the Indians to the south or south-east by passing around your left flank.
The column of Colonel Gibbon is now in motion for the mouth of the Big Horn. As soon as it reaches that point it will cross the Yellowstone and move up at least as far as the forks of the Little and Big Horns. Of course its future movements must be controlled by circumstances as they arise; but it is hoped that the Indians, if upon the Little Horn, may be so nearly enclosed by the two columns that their escape will be impossible. The department commander desires that on your way up the Rosebud you should thoroughly examine the upper part of Tullock's Creek; and that you should endeavor to send a scout through to Colonel Gibbon's column with information of the result of your examination. The lower part of this creek will be examined by a detachment from Colonel Gibbon's command.
The supply steamer will be pushed up the Big Horn as far as the forks, if the river is found to be navigable for that distance; and the department commander (who will accompany the column of Colonel Gibbon) desires you to report to him there not later than the expiration of the time for which your troops are rationed, unless in the meantime you receive further orders.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
ED. W. SMITH, Captain, Eighteenth Infantry, A. A. A. 6"
Lieutenant-Colonel G. A. Custer, Seventh Cavalry
Immediately on receipt of these orders, General Custer, with twelve companies of the Seventh cavalry, broke camp on the Rosebud, and by forced marches, advanced toward the trail discovered by Reno.
About ten o'clock on the morning of the 25th, they suddenly came in sight of the camp of the combined forces of "Crazy Horse," "Gall" and "Sitting Bull." From reports brought in by scouts the day before, General Custer believed there were in front of him 1,200 or 1,500 Indians, whom he expected to scatter easily with his 600 troopers, From previous experience he knew them to be cowards, unless they had every advantage, and he doubtless would have had an easy victory but for a combination of circumstances for which he knew nothing.
A few days previous, General Crook had found a large band of hostiles on the Powder River from whom he had been obliged to retreat, and the Indians, elated at their success, had gone over and joined the village on the Little Big Horn, reaching there only the day before General Custer and the Seventh cavalry arrived on the bluffs across the river; consequently, instead of a few hundred whom they could easily route, when too late the gallant troopers found themselves surrounded by more than 4,000 wild and blood-thirsty savages. From the, ridge where first observed only a small portion of the village could be seen. This seemed to verify the reports of the scouts as to the number of the Indians.
Just previous to the finding of the camp, General Custer had instructed Captain Benteen to take three companies and feel off to the left for Indians. In his report of the battle Captain Benteen says he pushed on over a rough and broken country for fully ten miles, but finding no indications of those for whom he was searching, he returned to the trail. In the meanwhile Custer and Reno had discovered the village, and General Custer dispatched an aid to Benteen, with the order, "Benteen, come on. Big village. Be quick. Bring packs." At the same time he ordered Reno to attack the upper end, while he pushed on and struck them at the lower extremity of the village; by thus attacking them at two points at the same time, to demoralize and break up their camp.
Major Reno, with his three companies, forded the river, dismounted his men, and opened fire on the upper end of the village, but he was soon convinced of the overwhelming force about him, and as the Indians were surrounding and cutting off his retreat, he gave orders to re-mount and cut their way back across the river to a better place of defense. In this retreat several brave officers and men were shot, or pulled off their horses and killed by the Indians, Lieutenants McIntosh and Hodgson being of that number. At last they were successful in reaching higher ground, where with their knives and tin dippers they hastily threw up rifle pits, many of their wounded horses being killed and used for purposes of defense.
Captain Benteen, failing to find any signs of Indians in the direction that he had taken, and receiving the order from Custer to "come on," returned to the trail, which he followed until he reached Reno, arriving there none too soon to save him and his battalion from a fate like that of Custer's. Captain Benteen then pushed on in the direction taken by Custer, but after proceeding about a mile he found the red-skins gathering around him in alarming numbers. Here he was soon joined by Reno, and together they stood the Indians off, but their position being a poor one for defense, they retreated to Reno's original position on the bluffs. It was claimed by those with Reno and Benteen that they believed General Custer had found more Indians than he could handle, and had withdrawn his troops, and being unable to return to them, had pushed on to meet the command of General Gibbon, that was expected next day, and not until the arrival of the infantry did they imagine the fate of their comrades.
General Custer's advance to the ford where he hoped to cross the river and attack the camp was much longer than Reno's, consequently Reno had probably retreated before Custer had made his assault. Custer's intention was to sandwich the Indians between the two forces, and hoped, by pressing them on two sides, to demoralize and crush them. His plan is seen to be that of a General. It relieves him from the aspersion of rashness. It must be remembered that Custer had fought Indians many times, and had never been beaten by them, although on several occasions he had encountered more than three times the number of his own troops. He trusted, in this instance, to the fealty of his own officers, the bravery of his soldiers, and his own genius to overcome the mere weight of numbers, as he had so often done before Please refer to the map of the battle field, in the front of the Guide Book, and note the position of the different companies. A shows the point at which Reno crossed, near the upper end of the village. His skirmish line and line of retreat, by the dotted lines, and his entrenchments on the ridges are also marked. The dotted lines on the north-westerly side of the river show Custer's trail after he separated from Reno; the point B, the nearest point he succeeded in coming to the river, and the place where he first met Indians. It is not believed that General Custer ever crossed the Little Big Horn, but that he was attacked at the point B, and retreated towards higher ground by the two lines B H E and B D E. Just why his command was divided in this retreat is not known; possibly by accident, probably to separate the attacking force of the Indians. By retreating away from, instead of back towards Reno, seems to indicate General Custer's design to draw the fighting force of the Indians away from their village, thus giving Reno an opportunity to push on through their camp and strike the Indians in the rear, cutting off their retreat and so demoralizing them. Had Reno done this, and had Benteen reached them with his three companies, the fate of gallant Custer and his brave battalion would, no doubt, have been different. On reaching B, General Custer must have been surprised at the magnitude of the village before him; instead of a camp of 1200 or 1500, he saw one of 4000 or 5000. It was indeed a magnificent scene that spread itself before him. For a distance of three or four miles up and down the river, and for at least a mile back, lay the many circles of white tepees reflecting the hot rays of the noonday sun. When hostile, the Indians place their tepees in circles, for the protection of their stock, and to prevent a stampede in case of a sudden attack.
The village was alive with howling bucks, squaws and children. The former, hastily mounting their ponies, had many of them already crossed the river, and were lying in wait for the troopers in the coulies about the ford, ready to spring out at them as they endeavored to cross. As the troopers reached this ford they had no time for preparation; wearied by their long march they hastily dismounted, and met the on-coming savages or charged then on horseback. Many of their horses became unmanageable, caused by the Indians yelling and shaking their blankets in front of them. Referring to the diagram again, please notice Captain Benteen claims he was first on the ground on the morning of the 27th, and took means to identify the officers and soldiers. From B to H, and from B to D the loss seemed to have been comparatively small, but near the point D were found Lieutenants Calhoun and Crittenden, and around them the whole of their command, while at the spot marked I, Captain Keogh and thirty-eight soldiers were found, laying in close order, showing that they stood together to a man, not one showing cowardice or a disposition to escape.
In the ravine at H, a large number of troopers were found who had probably sought shelter there only to be surrounded and shot down in cold blood by the pitiless foe. From H to E the line of retreat was marked by whole companies of the dead. Not far from H, Lieutenant Smith and his company were found in perfect skirmish line, as though thrown out a rear guard to protect the retreat of the balance of the command; but what could they do against such a surging mass of howling demons? Every man soon falls before the rapid firing of the red foe, and with a yell they rush madly up the hill, where they are again held temporarily in check by Captain Tom Custer's men. Finding them fast falling about him, Captain Tom falls back with the few remaining, and Captain Yates guards the rear, only to meet the same fate as his brother officers and their troopers, further down the slope.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Indians on their fleet ponies had ridden rapidly around and up the coulies on the further side of the ridge. The top of this ridge is very narrow, with steep ascent on either side, frequently broken, and offering the best of rifle pits for the Indians. Out of these ravines they rushed at the exhausted and disheartened soldiers, firing rapidly and retreating to a safe distance to re-load, while hundreds of others took their places. Here fell fearlessly, and fighting to the last, the noble Custer, surrounded by brothers and friends. Close beside him lay the bodies of his brothers, Captain Tom, and Boston Custer, his nephew, Arthur Reed, Colonel W. W. Cook, Lieutenants J. C. Sturgis and W. Van W. Riley, Mr. Kellogg, a correspondent of the New York Herald, and others. This was Lieutenant Crittenden's first campaign, having just reported for duty from West Point. His remains were buried on the spot where found, be being the only officer whose body was not removed at some later day. A marble slab marks the spot.
The body of Lieutenant H. M. Harrington was never found, and it is thought by many that he was captured by the Indians. From reports obtained from the Indians in later years, it is thought the battle did not last over two hours. Not a man was left to tell the story of the terrible struggle. A Crow scout, Curley, escaped at the commencement of the fight, and knew nothing of the fate of the command until discovered by General Gibbon.
The only horse not captured or killed was Comanche," rode by Captain Keogh, found many miles away, several days after the battle, with seven bullet holes in his body. He was taken to the fort, his wounds dressed, and a soldier detailed to care for him. His photograph may be seen in the Museum connected with the Cyclorama. All the clothing, arms and horses of the dead were appropriated by the Indians, and their bodies horribly mutilated, but the body of the "Long Haired Chief " was left untouched, the highest compliment possible for an Indian to show a foe, General Custer being held in the highest respect by them for his bravery.
A deplorable fact in connection with this battle was the superior manner in which the Indians were equipped, as compared with the troops. The Indians were allowed by the United States Government to arm themselves with the most improved magazine guns, and Springfield repeating rifles, ostensibly for hunting purposes, while the cavalry were armed with short range breech-loading carbines. Knowing their power, the Indians would rush up and discharge a dozen shots in rapid succession from the backs of their well-trained ponies, and then retreat to a safe distance, re-load, and return to the attack. The Indians are noted for being the best cavalrymen in the world. Stripped of all extra clothing, they can cling to the sides of their ponies and fire under their necks, and save themselves from the bullets of their opponents. To make matters worse for the soldiers, after so much rapid firing the metallic shells would stick in the breech of their guns, and could only be removed with the greatest difficulty. Major Reno, in his report to the chief of ordinance, says he saw many of his men under fire, sitting with their carbines between their knees and digging out the shells with their knives. An Indian scout who was with that portion of the regiment which Custer took into the battle, says he could see, from his hiding-place, the men sitting under fire and working at their guns. This story is confirmed by the discoveries made by officers, who afterwards examined the battle field and assisted in burying the dead, who found knives with broken blades lying near the bodies, showing with what desperation they pulled at the heated shells. It is claimed by some that "Rain in the Face" killed General Custer; but this statement is disputed by others, "Sitting Bull" claiming they did not know until after the battle that they were fighting the "Long Haired Chief," General Custer's hair being short at that time; but it is known that "Rain in the Face" hated Tom Custer, and mutilated his body in a horrible manner. At the present time the Chiefs "Gall," "Sitting Bull," and "Rain in the Face," with their followers, have become good Indians, and are fed and petted by the Government at the Sioux Agency, at Standing Rock. "Crazy Horse" has gone to the traditional "happy hunting grounds."
George Armstrong Custer was born in New Rumley, Ohio, December 6, 1839. He was graduated as West Point in June, 1861, and reached the Army of the Potomac just in time to participate in the battle of Bull Run. General McClellan's attention was called to a daring attempt to find a necessary ford, which Lieutenant Custer succeeded in accomplishing by wading the Chickahominy alone. He was rewarded by an appointment as aide-de-camp on General McClellan's staff. He captured the first colors from the Confederate Army. While serving on General Pleasanton's staff he was made, in June, 1863, Brigadier-General for conspicuous gallantry at Aldie, Brandy-station, and the closing operations of the Rappahannock campaign. He was at twenty-three years of age the youngest General in the army. He commanded the Michigan Cavalry Brigade, and when brevetted Major-General was assigned to the Third Cavalry Division, with which he served till the close of the war, receiving his promotion as Major-General, April 15th, 1865.
In his farewell order to his Division, he reminds his soldiers that in six months they had captured in open battle 111 pieces of field artillery, 65 battle-flags, and upward of ten thousand prisoners of war, including seven general officers, adding: "You have never lost a gun, never lost a color, never been defeated, and you have captured every piece of artillery which the enemy has dared to open upon you."
General Custer was in all but one of the battles of the Army of the Potomac; eleven horses were shot under him, and he was the first to receive the flag of truce sent to our lines at Appomattox. After the close of the war, he served as Major-General in Texas for a year. In November, 1866, he reported for duty at Fort Riley, Kansas, as Lieutenant-Colonel of the Seventh Cavalry. On November 27th, 1868, he fought the battle of the Washita in the Indian Territory, inflicting such a punishment on the Cheyennes that the entire tribe were obliged to return to their reservation. In 1873 he was ordered to Dakota, where on the 4th and 11th of August he fought the Sioux on the Yellowstone near Tongue River. In 1874 he commanded the expedition that first opened up the Black Hills to the miner and frontiersman.
On May 17th, General Custer, in command of his regiment, accompanied an expedition in a campaign against all the Sioux tribes. After the command reached the Yellowstone country, an Indian trail was discovered, which General Custer was directed to follow. He reached what he supposed was one village on June 26th, but encountered instead three thousand Indians, whose villages were scattered all along the Little Big Horn. A portion of the regiment, numbering 200, made an attack which was quickly repulsed, while General Custer, with 277 troopers, fought at a distance further on. He was overwhelmed with numbers and his entire command were slain.
LETTER FROM MRS. CUSTER
41 East 10th St., New York, January 25, 1889.
Proprietors of the Boston Cyclorama Co.
Gentlemen:—I cannot summon the courage to visit the Cyclorama of the battle of the Little Big Horn as you request me to do, and consequently can give you no opinion as to the correctness of details; but I am extremely grateful that you have chosen a subject which commemorates in pictorial history my husband's career. It has been impossible for me to write an account of the battle of the Little Big Horn; but I have taken extracts from the newspaper accounts, published two years since at the 10th anniversary of the battle, when Chief Gall gave his story of the 25th of June. Criticism of the battle has often been offered by men who have never had experience in Indian warfare, but the most distinguished Indian fighter we now have, reminds those who question General Custer's dividing his troops in the attack, that in the battle of Washita he followed the same course with great success. The same officer has told me that in fighting all the other tribes he found none to compare with the Sioux as warriors; but adds that he would rather fight the whole Sioux nation than the critics and enemies in his rear.
The friends of the Indians have questioned the right of our Government to organize an expedition like that of the spring of 1876; but Bishop Whipple, whose philanthropic work among the tribes has been so indefatigable, sent me a message after the battle that assured me he felt Chief Gall's band needed punishing. He said that, in spite of every effort made to induce the Indians to come on to a reservation, they had refused, and meanwhile committed depredations not only on white settlers, but on neighboring tribes.
The following extracts, from official sources and newspapers, give a fairly correct account of the battle of the Little Big Horn, which was fought on the 25th and 26th of June, 1876, on the Little Big Horn River, Montana Territory:
"It was the most disastrous battle since the old colonial days—one of the few battles in the world's history in which not one of the vanquished survived to tell the story of the fight. The red victors since captured have been taciturn and unwilling to give information about the battle, and most of the reports have been based on conjecture, founded mainly upon the positions of the dead after the engagement. The battle was a part of the memorable Sioux Campaign of 1876. In November previous year, the Indian inspector reported that certain wild and hostile Indians in Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming, composed of a small band of thirty or forty under Sitting Bull and now under Crazy Horse, had never accepted the reservation policy of the Government, but were constantly making war upon friendly tribes and settlers. These Indians were informed that, unless they came into the Agency by the first of the year, they would be turned over to the War Department for punishment. In accordance with this determination, General Terry at St. Paul, and General Crook at Omaha, commanding the Department at Dakota and the Platte were ordered, in February, to proceed against the hostiles. General Crook was to operate from the South, and set out from Fort Fetterman and conquered Crazy Horse on Powder River, March 17th. The weather was too severe, however, for further operations, and the command was forced to retire to winter quarters. In May he set out again, and on the 17th of June was attacked by Indians near Goose Creek, and repulsed them.
Between the time of Crook's battles on March 17th and June 17th, the hostile forces had collected, including Crazy Horse's band and large numbers of young warriors from the Missouri River and other Agencies.
General Terry had at Fort Lincoln, Dakota, the Seventh Cavalry, three companies of infantry and two gaffing guns, and on May 17th he marched for the mouth of the Powder River, where he arrived and established a fort, June 15th. Major Reno scouted up the Powder, across to the Rosebud, and down to the mouth, when he was met by Terry, who had been reinforced by Colonel John Gibbon with four companies of the Second Cavalry and six companies of infantry. During the Reno scout he discovered a trail leading up the Rosebud, and in the direction of the Little Big Horn. This information decided General Terry to attack, and he directed General Custer to move up the Rosebud with the Seventh Cavalry on the expedition which had so disastrous a termination."
The following were General Custer's orders:
“Mouth of Rosebud, M. T., June 22d, 1876.
Lieutenant Colonel Custer, Seventh Cavalry:
Colonel: —The Brigadier-General commanding directs that as soon as your regiment can be made ready for the march, you proceed up the Rosebud in pursuit of the Indians whose trail was discovered by Major Reno a few days since. It is, of course, impossible to give any definite instruction in regard to this movement, and were it not impossible to do so, the department commander places too much confidence in your seal, energy, and ability, to wish to impose upon you precise orders which might hamper your action when nearly in contact with the enemy. He will, however, indicate to you his own views of what your action should be, and he desires that you should conform to them, unless you shall see sufficient reason for departing from them. He thinks that you should proceed up the Rosebud until you ascertain definitely the direction in which the trail spoken of leads. Should it be found, as it appears almost certain it will be found, to turn towards the Little Big Horn, he thinks that you should proceed southward, perhaps as far as the head-waters of the Tongue, and then towards the Little Big Horn, feeling constantly, however, to your left, so as to preclude the possibility of the escape of the Indians to the South or Southeast, by passing around your left flank. The column of Colonel Gibbon is now in motion for the mouth of the Big Horn. As soon as it reaches that point it will cross the Yellowstone, and move up at least as far as the forks of the Big and Little Big Horn. Of course its future movements must be controlled by circumstances as they arise; but it is hoped that the Indians, if upon the Little Big Horn, may be so nearly enclosed by two columns that their escape will be impossible. The department commander desires that on your way up the Rosebud you should thoroughly examine the upper part of Tullock's Creek, and that you should endeavor to send a scout through to Colonel Gibbon's column with information of the result of your examination. The lower part of this will be examined by a detachment from Colonel Gibbon's command. The supply steamer will be pushed up the Big Horn as far as the forks of the river are found to be navigable for that space; and the department commander, who will accompany the column of Colonel Gibbon, desires you to report to him there not later than the expiration of the time for which your troops are rationed, unless in the meantime you receive further orders.
Respectfully, etc., (Signed) E. W. Sierra,
Captain 18th Infantry, A. A. A. General."
"Custer moved, with those instructions, June 22d, and as soon as he struck the trail followed it up the Rosebud until June 24th, when he received information from the scouts that the Indians were encamped on the opposite side of the Little Big Horn, which was thirty-five or forty miles to the mouth. In the evening, while still on the banks of the Rosebud, Custer determined to move his force immediately across the divide, under cover of the night. The start was made at 11 o'clock, and at 8 A. M. [about 12 noon —Ed.] the command had reached the valley of one of the branches of the Little Big Horn, on the opposite side of which was the enemy. At this time the command was in three divisions, Major Reno and Captain Benteen each taking three companies and Custer retaining five. Benteen was ordered to move to the left in search of hostiles, and if none were found, to return. In carrying out those orders he was absent from the main scene of action until the disaster of the day had culminated. The Little Big Horn is an exceedingly tortuous stream, but easily fordable, and with heavily wooded banks. On the north side, where Custer's forces were, the bluffs come quite close to the stream, but on the other side there is a comparatively level plateau between the river and the hills for a third of a mile wide, on which the Indians were encamped. Custer approached the river by the Sundance Creek, and, after sending Benteen off to the left, according to Reno's report, the Custer and Reno columns moved down the river to the right. When within two miles of the village, Custer ordered Reno to cross with his three companies and attack, and told him that he would be supported."
MAJOR RENO'S STORY of his engagement is as follows: — 1 at once took a fast trot, and moved down about two miles when I came to the ford in the river. I crossed immediately, and halted about ten minutes, more or less, to gather the battalion, sending word to Custer that I had everything in front of me, and that they were strong. I deployed, with the Ree scouts on my left charged down the valley, driving the Indians with great ease for about two and a half miles. I, however, soon saw that I was being drawn into a trap, or they certainly would fight harder, and especially as we were nearing the village, which was still standing. Besides, I could not see Custer or any support, and at the same time the very earth seemed to grow Indians, and as they were running toward me in swarms and from all directions, I saw I must defend myself and give up the attack mounted. This I did. Taking possession of a front of woods, and which furnished near its edge a shelter for horses, I dismounted and fought them on foot, making headway through the woods. 1 soon found myself in the near vicinity of the village, saw that 1 was fighting odds of at least five to one, and that my only hope was to get out of the woods, where I would have been soon surrounded, and gain some high ground. I accomplished this by mounting and charging the Indians between me and the bluffs on the opposite side of the river." Here Reno was joined by Benteen, who had returned from his unsuccessful expedition. He was attacked in the evening, the engagement lasting from 6 until 9. He barricaded and entrenched as best he could, and about 2.30 A. M. another heavy attack was made from all sides of the hill; every, rifle was handled by an expert and skilled marksman, and with a range that exceeded the army carbines. It seemed as though he was fighting the whole Sioux nation of at least 2,500 warriors. The fire did not slacken until about 9.30 A. M., when the last desperate attack was made by the Indians. In this charge the Indians came close enough to use their bows and arrows. Captain Benteen gallantly repulsed this charge. Finally the Indians withdrew, and about 2 P. M. struck their camp and filed away [about 7 P. M.—Editor.] in the direction of the Big Horn mountains, moving in perfect military order. At about 10 A. M., the 27th, General Terry arrived with Gibbon's command."
The question has never been satisfactorily answered why Custer was not more prompt with his support of Reno. According to the report of the latter, he was ordered to cross the river and attack immediately, and was told that Custer would support him with the whole outfit. But Custer moved at once three or four miles down the river, before making an attempt to cross. A possible explanation of this is that he believed the stream could not be forded. This gave the Indians time to lead Reno on, nearly annihilate him and drive him back, before concentrating on Custer. It has been questioned whether Reno made the bravest possible stand after crossing the river. According to his own statement, the attack upon him was very furious and his losses were very severe, the Indian's being so impetuous even as to drag the men from their horses. [This severe loss occurred during the retreat, not before.—Editor.] At Major Reno's request, his conduct was referred to a Court of Inquiry, which found that, while subordinates in some instances did more for the safety of the command by brilliant displays of courage, than did Major Reno, there was nothing which required animadversion from the Court. The fact is, that, had Custer known the numbers and equipment of the enemy, he would net have ordered the charge. He supposed they were but a few hundred, while estimates after the battle placed them as high 2,500 or 3,000, armed with the best rifles, with much longer range than the cavalry carbines; and they fought with all the precision and bravery of drilled soldiers firing at the command Ready, aim, fire!' They were the best irregular cavalry in the world, and superior, both in horsemanship and marksmanship, to the Union soldiers."
June 26th, 1886.
Camp Crittenden, Custer Battle Ground, June 25, 1886
To-day, for the first time, the story of the fight has been told by eye witnesses, and witnesses who enjoyed exceptional facilities. Chief Gall, war Chief of the Sioux, who had direction of the battle so far as Indian fights are ever directed, has not told the story of the manner of Custer's death, which is still a mystery. Gall does not know who killed the long-haired chief. He says no one knew which was Custer. All they knew was, that the soldiers were those of the long-haired chief, and that he, was somewhere among them. Much that was new regarding the fight was learned. It was a novel appearance which the Custer battle-ground vicinity presented this morning. It was a sight vividly reminiscent in anecdote and story, land strongly illustrative of the changes ten years have wrought. Yesterday Gen. Dudley, commanding at Fort Custer fifteen miles away, sent Company 11, 5th Infantry, to camp on the battle-ground. Last evening the guests of Capt. Baldwin, the officer in command, arrived,— Capt. Godfrey, one of the survivors of the Reno fight, and Lieut. Slocum, 7th Cavalry, from Fort Yates, Dak., having in charge Chief Gall from the Standing Rock Agency, Dak. Gall had finally announced his readiness, after ten years' reticence, to tell the tale. This morning a cavalcade of two hundred horsemen, officers and men, from Fort Custer, and a handful of visitors from Helena, Billings, Bismarck, and St. Paul, started over the blood-stained field. The contrast was marked, as the gay throng moved across the beautiful bottom-land which stretches a couple of miles across from the low lying hills where Custer and his men met death. Over the fair lying valley of the Little Big Horn the lively procession moved, until the timber, which covered several acres, was reached. Here Reno had taken up his position. It was from this position he made, instead of a charge, his precipitate, and some officers claim, his disgraceful retreat. Five thousand Indians were in front of him, but he had lost but one man up to that time. Then Chief Gall was met, and, slowly travelling back over the rolling battle-ground to the promontory where the Custer monument now stands, pointed out the different positions taken by the Indians and soldiers, and related his story by means of an interpreter. With one exception, he corroborated the accepted version of the battle. He told how one afternoon, June 24th, his scouts descried on the south-western horizon a cloud of dust. This he recognized as being made by Custer's advancing troops. They would not arrive until the following morning. He accordingly had ample time to provide for them. The theory was that the Indians were surprised. Instead, it was Custer who was led into a cul de sac. Gall then told how, while the whites were advancing towards his camp, along a side bill of a wide ravine, the Indians poured in on him from the side ravines and neighboring highlands where they were concealed. Finding himself pressed by overwhelming numbers, Custer assumed the defensive from the start, and pushed up to the top of the ridge overlooking the Little Big Horn Valley, and 100 steps beneath there his men, who had before dismounted in the ravine below, began to drop beneath the murderous fire from hundreds of Indian rifles. Within an hour they were completely surrounded, and as they were without time to entrench or otherwise fortify their position, they were soon all lying dead upon the field where the granite monument now stands. Not exactly all, for a very few who had retained their horses broke away down the ridge to the southeast, with the intention, presumably, of forcing their way back to Reno. Before they had gone one-half mile, not a man was left alive. These latter bodies having been found between Custer's position and Reno's, it had been supposed they were the first killed. Instead, it was shown that they were the last to fall. Gall's description of the snake-like way in which the hordes of savages crept up the slopes until the troops were within range of their rifles was exceedingly graphic. He was able to point out the exact positions of the contending forces. The battle began, he said, about noon, and in an hour all was over. Reno's position in the bottom, he explained, was first attacked. While engaging him, a scout reported that more soldiers were coming, pointing to the side of the hill four miles away. By this time Reno had begun to retreat to the hill several hundred yards in his rear and, as Gall said, ‘We knew we had him safe. We moved off down where the other soldiers were, intending to settle them and then come back after him.' It has always been thought that Custer made an attempt to ford the river about three miles below Reno's hill position, to strike the Indians on the flank, but Chief Gall most emphatically denies this. He went with the officers along the side hill along which Custer had moved. He said that Custer never went nearer the ford than this side hill, and that the men and horses found dead near the ford (river) were some who had attempted to join Reno; that they died after Custer's party on Monument hill, and that they died very hard, killing many Sioux. Gall showed where Custer had first dismounted to fight on foot. He said that they never mounted again, but kept falling gradually back. He further said that the Sioux killed the men holding the horses first. When the horses ran away, the young bucks would drive them with their blankets down across the river, and the women caught them. He fully explained that, at the time Custer was first seen, Reno was still in the bottom, and that, on seeing Custer, the order was given to get ready to move off, as they were alarmed. Just at this time Reno began to stampede to the hill, and the Indians, seeing this, revoked the order for moving, as this gave them heart to fight. After driving Reno to the hill, the Sioux massed on Custer and stayed with him till all were killed, when they got fresh ponies and vent to tight Reno."
General Custer's column numbered thirteen officers, about three hundred then and four civilians. GENERAL SHERIDAN'S opinion as to why and how the attack was made is abridged as follows:
“I believe the Indians were not aware of the proximity of Custer until he had arrived within nine miles of their village. Custer, seeing the Indians preparing to move away, feared they would escape if he waited. Only about seventy-five or one hundred lodges or tepees could be seen from the summit of the divide, and this probably deceived him as to the extent of the village. Had the Seventh Cavalry kept together, it is my belief it would have been able to handle the Indians, and under any circumstances it would have, at least, defended itself; but, separated as it was into three distinct detachments, they had largely the advantage, in addition to their overwhelming numbers. If Custer had not come upon the village so suddenly, the warriors would have gone out to meet him, in order to give time for the escape of the women and children, and there would have been a rear-guard fight."
On this same subject an officer of the regiment present at the battle, and at the reunion ten years later, expressed his opinion in the Winona Times as follows:
It was the feeling of the whole command, in the regiment and out of it, that the 7th Cavalry was going out to fight Indians; every officer and man expected a battle. General Custer did not intend to make the attack until the next day after locating the village; but, as soon as he became satisfied that the Indians had discovered the presence of the troops on the trail, he determined on the attack. I doubt if there was a man in the command who did not approve his judgment at the time his decision was made, as being the more practical way of striking the Indians. It was expected that the village would scatter, or at all events be on the move, and the warriors would attack the troops to prevent or delay pursuit. It is probable that the fear of ‘scatteration’ induced General Custer to make the division of the troops into three battalions, with the hope that one of the columns would strike the moving village and detain it until the other columns could come to its assistance. It was fatal, but was it rash? Suppose, after the village had been located and the presence of troops had been discovered by the Indians, that the troops had passed by and gone to the head-waters of the Tongue, and the Indians had made their escape from the country: as they certainly would have done? The campaign would have been a failure: What then would have been the charge against General Custer?"
The photograph that I send, to exhibit in the Museum, is one taken by Brady in Washington, at the close of the War. He sent for General Custer, who, not having access to his uniform went in the rough campaigning dress that he wore in the field. He liked the wide sombrero for all kinds of weather. The blouse was the undress uniform of the officers at that time. The shirt was of blue flannel, with a broad collar, in which were embroidered white stars. Very soon after he bought some of these shirts from a government gunboat lying in the James River, and the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac began to adopt them. The Philadelphia troop boots came to the knee. The necktie was of red merino; and very soon after General Custer tied the loose collar of his sailor shirt with this flowing cravat, the entire third division of cavalry of the Army of the Potomac followed, of their own accord, the fashion accidentally set by their commander. Some verses were written by a chaplain regarding this scarlet necktie, one of which copy:
"Our record's made — the victory won,
And soon the world will know
The Third ne'er lost a flag or gun,
Nor quailed before the foe.
In battles oft by night and day
Each man was ever nigh,
For they were willing, brave, and gay
That wore the red necktie.
Huzza! huzza! For the gallant Third, huzza!
Our battle-cry was Custer's sword,
Our badge, the red necktie."
The sword that I send for the Museum is one that my husband had during the War and on the frontier. It was captured from a Confederate officer, and is a Toledo blade, with the Spanish inscription:
"Do not draw me without cause,
Do not sheathe me without honor."
It is so heavy that I remember hearing one of the officers in the Army of the Potomac say that scarcely one arm in a thousand was able to wield it, but General Custer swung it about as if it bad been a walking-stick.
General Custer rode a sorrel horse, a Kentucky thoroughbred, on the day of the battle of the Little Big Horn, and "Vic" was found dead beside his devoted master. With the led horses that were following in the rear was another animal that my husband loved. He had selected him from five hundred horses the government sent down to the Indian Territory during the winter campaign of his on the Washita, and called him "Dandy," because he was forever prancing and curveting. The arched neck and spirited air were not only seen upon parade, but, even after a long march or a tiresome buffalo hunt, my husband used to call my attention to the irrepressible fire of the horse. Dandy was wounded on the 25th of June, but not seriously. When he was sent home to me in Michigan, I gave him to my father Custer, and for over twelve years he has either ridden or driven him. The friendship between these two is strongly welded. The horse knows his old master's step as he approaches the stable, and whinnies his welcome before he can see him. Though my father Custer has passed his eightieth birthday, and although Dandy is twenty-five years old, they both appear at the public parades of the town, my father sitting quite erect in the saddle, while Dandy ambles on, occasionally breaking into a little frisk as the music reminds him of old parade days.
I have received many letters in the past twelve years, describing articles that were reported to have come from the Indians who captured them on the 25th of June; but investigation has proved that none of the supposed trophies were what they bad been represented to those purchasing them. The only memento I have ever received is the map-case which my husband carried on that day. General Nelson Miles obtained this from the Indians, and gave it to me on the fifth anniversary of the battle. My husband's sister, Mrs. Margaret Calhoun, had the good fortune to obtain possession of her husband's watch. Lieutenant Calhoun, her brother-in-law, serving in the Department of the Platte, hearing that a band of Indians near his station had in their possession a valuable watch, sent to them, negotiated for its purchase, and sent it home to Mrs. Calhoun. Though years bind elapsed, they had not as is their custom, broken the watch into pieces in order to string the gold as ornaments about their necks having just reported for duty from West Point. His remains were buried on the spot where found, be being the only officer whose body was not removed at some later day. A marble slab marks the spot.
Few of those who enjoy the comforts of civilization realize anything of the sacrifice and hardships experienced by the soldiers on the frontier. Many even think the maintenance of a standing army an unnecessary expense, and that the Indians would have been peaceable had they been left unmolested by the troops.
A recent letter from General William T. Sherman to Mrs. Custer on this subject will be read with interest. It is given below in full.
GENERAL SHERMAN'S LETTER
No. 75 West 71st Street,
Mrs. General Custer, NEW YORK, January 24, 1889.
41 East l0th Street.
Dear Mrs. Custer: In compliance with my promise to you yesterday, I have looked over some newspaper reports of responses I have made to compliments paid the "Army and Navy" at banquets for expressions of opinion which you know I entertain. I always speak on such occasions "extempore," and therefore am often imperfectly reported; still I will have my clerk, Mr. Barrett, copy some extracts that may be of use to you.
My opinion is that when the great Civil War was ended, toward which your husband largely contributed, though as yet a mere stripling; by his enthusiastic devotion to the National cause, his eminent courage and vehemence of action, he had become the commander of a division of cavalry When peace was assured he gracefully subsided to the grade and duties of lieutenant-colonel of the Seventh cavalry. In that capacity he fell under my command and observation.
After the close of the Civil War, 1865, two great consequences resulted,—the expulsion of the French from Mexico, committed to General Sheridan, and the building the two great Pacific railroads, (Union Pacific and Kansas Pacific) across the great plains, infested by the most warlike Indians of the continent, Sioux, Cheyennes, Arapahoes and Kiowas, committed to me. Each of them military problems, involving as much hardship, danger and death as any of our campaigns at the south. We, the soldiers, had to guard and escort all railroad surveying parties, grading parties, escort their trains, without tents or the ordinary comforts of life, no meat save the buffalo and antelope killed by our hunters, often without bread, or vegetables, sleeping on the ground with both ears and eyes open to catch the first notice of the approach of the wily Indian, who was determined these roads should not be built without a bitter struggle. From Grand Island to the Laramie plains full five hundred miles was a battle field, of which the people of this country know and care but little. Two regiments of infantry and two of cavalry were kept out on the flanks to protect the workmen of the railroad. Your husband commanded the Seventh Cavalry, and I honestly believe that his services in 1866-7-8 in the valley of the Platte were more valuable in the great cause of civilization than his more appreciated and brilliant actions in and around Richmond in 1864-5. The object of war is not to kill, but to produce results. The Pacific Railroad is of more value to mankind than a hundred Richmonds.
In 1867 the railroad had reached "North Platte." I was then with Custer, and ordered him to go over to the Smoky Hill to assist the "Kansas Pacific," and shortly after an order of mine was given to Lieutenant Kidder, with ten men to follow. Every one of them was murdered by the Cheyennes. Alas! All these things are now forgotten, while the slightest skirmish of the great Civil War is exaggerated into a battle.
Soon followed the winter campaign to the Washita, when Custer cleaned out "Black Kettle," well described in Sheridan's Memoirs, and after innumerable conflicts, often with pistol and sabre at close quarters, the Seventh cavalry, under Custer, formed one of several columns converging on the outlawed Sioux in the valley of the Little Big Horn, when, without waiting for the co-operating forces, his natural impetuosity led him to divide his command, and repeat the tactics which had proved so successful at the Washita; but instead of eight hundred Indians he found twenty-two hundred, and was himself overwhelmed. He sacrificed his own precious life, and every man in his detachment; but I tell you it was not in vain. The battle of the Little Big Horn was the end of the Sioux nation, then numbering sixty-five thousand souls —at least five thousand as bold and skillful warriors as ever existed. They are now corralled; the buffalo and large game have disappeared, and the Sioux must work, or sell their diminished reservation to the emigrants, who are pressing them from every quarter.
The period I merely sketch, I term the "Battle of Civilization." - In this General Custer bore a large and honorable part, gave his precious life, and the nation owes a debt of gratitude to him.
Congress may enact, people may ignore, but I say that Indian wars are as much wars as conflicts with foreigners or our own people; and the Regular Army of the United States should claim what is true and susceptible of demonstration, that it has been for an hundred years ever the picket line at the front of the great wave of civilization, resulting in the peace which now happily prevails from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
In achieving this beneficent result many causes have combined, the trappers, gold seekers, emigrants and railroads, but always the little regular army, whose officers and men have been the advance guard in this battle of civilization. Their victory is now as complete as that of Yorktown, and far more rich in its results.
The following extract A taken from General W. T. Sherman's letter of declination to the New England Society in the matter of their invitation to the seventy-first Anniversary Celebration at New York City, December, 1876:
"The army which I have the honor to command, and which you always remember at your festive meetings, is now so placed that I ought to remain here at my post. A large part of it is now exposed to all the dangers of war with savage enemies, and to even a greater danger from exposure to the rigors of a polar winter, in a region devoid of food, and even firewood. You cannot help them now, but you can remember their devotion to a duty as holy as ever inspired soldiers in the most patriotic war, for they are laboring to prepare the way for the growth of our Empire, and to protect emigrants against the rifle and scalping knife of the treacherous Sioux."
SITTING BULL'S ACCOUNT OF THE BATTLE
Interviewed through an Interpreter by a Reporter of a leading Newspaper. Taken from "Wild Life on the Plains."
The testimony of Sitting Bull, which I am about to give, is the more convincing and important from the very fact of the one erroneous impression he derived as to the identity of the officer in command of the forces which assailed his camp. He confounds Reno with Custer. He supposes that one and the same general crossed the Little Big Horn when Reno crossed, charged as Reno charged, retreated as Reno retreated back over the river, and then pursued the line of Custer's march, attacked as Custer attacked, and fell as Custer fell.
"Did you know the Long Haired Chief?" I asked Sitting Bull.
"What! Had you never seen him?" "No. Many of the chiefs knew him."
"What do they think of him?"
"He was a great warrior."
"Was he brave?"
"He was a mighty chief."
"Now, tell me. Here is something that I wish to know. Big lies are told about the fight in which the Long Haired Chief was killed. He was my friend. No one has come back to tell the truth about him, or about that fight. You were there; you know. Your chiefs know. I want to hear something that forked tongues do not tell—the truth."
"It is well."
Here I drew forth a map of the battle field and spread it out across Sitting Bull's knees, and explained to him the names and situations as represented on it, and he smiled.
“We thought we were whipped," he said.
"Ah! Did you think the soldiers were too many for you?"
"Not at first; but by-and-by, yes. Afterwards, no."
"Tell me about the battle. Where was the Indian camp first attacked?"
"Here" (pointing to Reno's crossing on the map).
"About what time in the day was that?"
"It was some two hours past the time when the sun is in the center of the sky."
"What white chief was it who came over there against your warriors?"
"The Long Hair."
"Are you sure?"
"The Long Hair commanded."
"But you did not see him?"
"I have said that I never saw him."
"Did any of the chiefs see him?”
"Not here, but there," pointing to the place where Custer charged and was repulsed, on the north bank to the Little Big Horn.
"Why do you think it was the Long Hair who crossed first and charged you here at the right side of the map?"
"A chief leads his warriors."
"Was there a good fight here, on the right side of the map? Explain it to me."
"It was so," said Sitting Bull, raising his hands. "I was lying in my lodge. Some young men ran in to me and said: 'The Long Hair is in the camp. Get up. They are firing in the camp.' I said, all right, and jumped up and stepped out of my lodge."
"Where was your lodge?"
"Here, with my people," answered Sitting Bull, pointing to the group of Uncpapa lodges designated as "abandoned lodges" on the map.
"So the first attack was made, then, on the right side of the map, and upon the lodges of the Uncpapas?"
"Here the lodges are said to have been deserted?"
"The old men, the squaws and the children were hurried away toward the other end of the camp?"
"Yes. Some of the Minneconjou women and children also left their lodges when the attack began."
"Did you retreat at first?"
"Do you mean the warriors?"
"Yes, the fighting men."
"Oh, we fell back; but it was not what warriors call a retreat; it was to gain time. It was the Long Hair who retreated. My people fought him here in the brush (designating the timber behind which the Indians pressed Reno) and he fell back across here (placing his finger on the line of Reno's retreat to the northern bluffs).
"So you think that was the Long Hair whom your people fought in that, timber and who fell back afterwards to those heights?"
"What occurred afterward? Was there any heavy fighting after the retreat of the soldiers to the bluffs?"
"Not then; not there."
"Why, down here;" and Sitting Bull indicated with his finger the place where Custer approached and touched the river. "That," said he, "was where the big fight was fought a little later. After the Long Hair was driven back to the bluffs he took this road (tracing with his finger the line of Custer's march on the map), and went down to see if he could not beat us there."
[Here the reader should pause to discern the extent of Sitting Bull's error, and to anticipate what will presently appear to be Reno's misconception or mistake. Sitting Bull, not identifying Reno in the whole of this engagement, makes it seem that it was Custer who attacked, when Reno attacked in the first place, and afterward moved down to resume the assault from a new position. He thus involuntarily testifies to the fact that Reno's assault was a brief, ineffectual one before his retreat to the bluffs, and that Reno, after his retreat, ceased on the bluffs from aggressive fighting].
"When the fight commenced here," I asked, pointing to the spot where Custer advanced behind the Little Big Horn, "what happened?"
"You mean, I suppose, a fierce battle?"
"I mean a thousand devils."
"The village was by this time thoroughly aroused?"
"The squaws were like flying birds; the bullets were like humming bees."
“You say that when the first attack was made off here on the right of the map, the old men and squaws and children ran down the valley toward the left. What did they do when this second attack came from up here toward the left?"
"They ran back again to the right, here and there," answered Sitting Bull, placing his swarthy fingers on the words "Abandoned Lodges."
"And where did the warriors run?"
"They ran to the fight—the big fight."
"So that in the afternoon, after the first fight, on the, right hand side of the map, was over, and after the big fight on the left hand side began, you say the squaws and children all returned to the right hand side, and that the warriors, the fighting men of all the Indian camps, ran to the place where the big fight was going on?"
"Why was that? Were not some of the warriors left in front of these entrenchments on the bluffs, near the right side of the map? Did not you think it necessary, —did not your war chiefs think it necessary,—to keep some of your young men there to fight the troops who had retreated to these entrenchments?”
"You have forgotten."
"You forget that only a few soldiers were left by the Long Hair on those bluffs. He took the main body of his soldiers with him to make the big fight down here on the left."
"So there were no soldiers to make a fight left in the entrenchments on the right hand bluff."
"I have spoken. It is enough. The squaws could deal with them. There were none but squaws and papooses in front of them that afternoon."
This startling assertion of Sitting Bull involves the most terrible charge which has been brought against Reno. It amounts to an assertion, that Reno, having made his assault, been beaten and retreated, stayed there on the bluffs without renewing the attack for which General Custer, who had by this time come down with his horsemen on the rear of the Sioux camp from the north, vainly awaited—how hopelessly!
"Well, then," I inquired of Sitting Bull, "did the cavalry, who came down and made the big fight, fight?"
Again Sitting Bull smiled.
"They fought. Many young men are missing from our lodges. But is there an American squaw who has her husband left? Were there any Americans left to tell the story of that day?"
"How did they come on to the attack?"
"I have heard that there are trees which tremble."
"Do you mean the trees with trembling leaves?"
"They call them in some parts of the Western country Quaking Asps; in the eastern part of the country they call them Silver Aspens."
"Hah? A great white chief, whom I met once, spoke these words, 'Silver Aspens,' trees that shake; these were the Long Hair's soldiers."
"You do not mean that they trembled before your people because they were afraid?"
"They were brave men. They were tired. They were too tired."
"How did they act? How did they behave themselves?"
At this Sitting Bull again arose. I also arose from my seat, as did the other persons in the room, except the stenographer.
"Your people," said Sitting Bull, extending his right hand, "were killed. I tell no lies about dead men. These men who came with the Long Hair were as good men as ever fought. When they rode up their horses were tired and they were tired. When they got off from their horses they could not stand firmly on their feet. They swayed to and fro—so my young men have told me—like the limbs of cypresses in a great wind. Some of them staggered under the weight of their guns. But they began to fight at once; but by this time, as I have said, our camps were aroused, and there were plenty of warriors to meet them. They fired with needle guns. We replied with magazine guns - repeating rifles. It was so (and here Sitting Bull illustrated by patting his palms together with the rapidity of a fusillade). Our young men rained lead across the river and drove the white braves back."
"And then they rushed across themselves.”
"And then they found that they had a good deal to do."
"Was there at that time some doubt about the issue of the battle, whether you would whip the Long Hair or not?"
"There was so much doubt about it that I started down there (here again, pointing to the map) to tell the squaws to pack up the lodges and get ready to move away." "You were on that expedition, then, after the big fight had fairly begun?”
"You did not personally witness the rest of the big fight? You were not engaged in it?"
"No; I have heard of it from the warriors."
"When the great crowd of young men crossed the river in front of the Long Hair, what did they do? Did they attempt to assault him directly in his front?"
"At first they did, but afterward they found it better to try and get around him. They formed themselves on all sides of him, except just at his back."
. "How long did it take them to put themselves around his flanks?"
"As long as it takes the sun to travel from here to here" (indicating some marks upon his arm, with which, apparently, he is used to gauge the progress of the shadow of his lodge across his arm, and probably measuring half an hour. An Indian has no more definite way than this to express the lapse of time).
"The trouble was with the soldiers," he continued; "they were so exhausted, and their horses bothered them so much, that they could not take good aim. Some of their horses broke away from them and left them to stand and drop and die. When the Long Hair, the General, found that he was so outnumbered and threatened on his flanks, he took the best course he could have taken. The bugle blew. It was an order to fall back. All the men fell back fighting and dropping. They could not fire fast enough, though. But from our side it was so," said Sitting Bull, and here he clapped his hands rapidly, twice a second, to express with what quickness and continuance the balls flew from the Henry and Winchester rifles wielded by the Indians. "They could not stand up under such a fire," he added.
"Were any military tactics shown? Did the Long Haired Chief make any disposition of his soldiers, or did it seem as though they retreated altogether, helter-skelter, fighting for their lives?"
"They kept in pretty good order. Some great chief must have commanded them all the while. They would fall back across a caulk, and make a fresh stand beyond, on higher ground. The map is pretty nearly right. It shows where the white men stopped and fought before they were all killed. I think that is right—down there to the left, just above the Little Big Horn. There was one party driven out there, away from the rest, and there a great many men were killed. The places marked on the map are pretty nearly the places where all were killed."
"Did the whole command keep on fighting until the last?"
"Every man, so far as my people could see. There were no cowards on either side."
Cowards! One would think not. The best testimony, from one who has examined the battle field and the line of Custer's retreat, is as follows:
"From this point [the north bank of the Little Big Horn, where Custer was forced back by overpowering numbers] he was driven back to make successive stands on the ground. His line of retreat stretches from the river to the spot indicated on the higher map as that where he fell. On the line of retreat, Calhoun's company seems to have been thrown across it to check the Indians. At a distance of about three-quarters of a mile from the river, the whole of Calhoun's company lay dead in an irregular line, Calhoun and Crittenden in place in the rear. About a mile beyond this, on the ridge parallel to the stream, still following the line of retreat indicated on the map; Keogh's company was slaughtered in position, his right resting on the hill where Custer fell, and which seems to have been held by Yates' company. On the most prominent part of the ridge Custer made his last desperate stand. Here, with Captain Yates, Colonel Cook, Captain Custer, Lieutenant Riley, and others, and thirty-two men of Yates' command, he went down, fighting heroically to the last, against the tremendous odds which assailed them on all sides. It is believed by some that, finding the situation a desperate one, they killed their horses for a barricade. From the point where Custer fell, the line of retreat again doubles back toward the river through a ravine, and along this line in the ravine twenty-three bodies of Smith's company were found. Where this terminates, near the river, are found the dead men and horses of Captain Custer's company, commingled with Smith's, and the situation of the dead indicates that some desperate attempt was made to make a stand near the river, or to gain the woods."
I inquired of Sitting Bull: "How long did this big fight continue?”
"The sun was there," he answered, pointing to within two hours of from the western horizon.
"You cannot certainly depend," here observed Major Walsh "upon Sitting Bull's or any other Indian's statement in regard to time or numbers. But his answer—indeed, all his answers—exactly correspond with the replies to similar questions of my own. If you will proceed you will obtain from him in a few moments some important testimony."
I went on to interrogate Sitting Bull:
"This big fight, then, extended through three hours?" "Through most of the going forward of the sun."
"Where was the Long Hair the most of the time?"
"I have talked with my people; I cannot find one who saw the Long Hair until just before he died. He did not wear his hair long as he used to wear it. His hair was like yours," said Sitting Bull, playfully touching my forehead with his fingers. "It was short, but it was of the color of the grass when the frost comes."
"Did you hear from your people how he died? Did he die on horseback?
"No; none of them died on horseback."
"All were dismounted?"
"And Custer, the Long Hair?"
"Well, I have understood that there were a great many brave men in that fight, and that from time to time, while it was going on, they were shot down like pigs. They could not help themselves. One by one the officers fell. I believe the Long Hair rode across once from this place down here (meaning the place where Tom Custer's and Smith's companies were killed), to this place up here (indicating the spot on the map where Custer fell), but I am not sure about this. Any way it was said that up there where the last fight took place, where the last stand was made, the Long Hair stood like a sheaf of corn with all the ears fallen around him."
"How many stood by him?"
"When did he fall?"
"He killed a man when he fell. He laughed."
"You mean he cried out?"
"No, he laughed; he had fired his last shot."
"From a carbine?"
"No, a pistol."
"Did he stand up after he first fell?"
"He rose up on his hands and tried another shot, but his pistol would not go off."
"Was anyone else standing up when he fell down?"
"One man was kneeling, that was all. But he died before the Long Hair. All this was far up on the bluffs, far away from the Sioux encampment. I did not see it. It was told to me. But it is true."
"The Long Hair was not scalped?"
"No; my people did not want his scalp?"
"I have said he was a great chief."
"Did you at any time," I persisted, "during the progress of the fight, believe that your people would get the worst of it?"
"At one time, as I have told you, I started down to tell the squaws to strike the lodges. I was then on my way up to the right end of the camp, where the first attack was made upon us. But before I reached that end of the camp, where the Minneconjou and Uncpapa squaws and children were, and where some of the other squaws—Cheyennes and Ogallalas—had gone, I was overtaken by one of the young warriors, who had just come from the fight. He called out to me. He said: No use to leave camp; every white man is killed.' So I stopped and went no further. I turned back, and by-and-by I met the warriors returning."
"But in the meantime," I asked, "were there no warriors occupied up here at the right end of the camp? Was nobody left except the squaws and the children and the old men to take care of that end of the camp? Was nobody ready to defend it against the soldiers in those entrenchments up there?"
"Oh," replied Sitting Bull again, "there was no need to waste warriors in that direction. There were only a few soldiers in those entrenchments, and we knew they wouldn't dare to come out."
This finished the interview, and with a few more How! Hows, the wily chieftain withdrew.
Chief Gall the Principal Warrior
When twenty-five years old he was noted for his daring and bravery. He was so subtle, crafty and daring that the military authorities about 1866, offered a reward for his body, dead or alive. About that time an outrage had been committed, which for daring and craftiness it was thought no other Indian was gifted. But he was innocent. Gall knew of the price laid on his carcass, and kept away from the military authorities. He, however, went to Fort Berthold, Dakota, the Ree and Mandan Indian Agency, to visit some of his friends. His visit was made known to the commander of a detachment of United States troops stationed near, then protecting the building of Fort Stevenson, who sent a detail to the Indian tepee to arrest him. A part of the detail entered the tepee, while the balance of it remained outside to guard against his escape. Gall dropped on his belly and pushed himself backward under the bottom of the tepee, but kept his eyes on the detail inside. Just as his shoulders were slipping from under the canvass, a soldier outside of the tepee run his bayonet through his body between the shoulder-blades and pinned him to the ground, and held him there till Gall fainted. The soldiers supposed him dead. They returned to camp and so reported to the commanding officer. The commander inquired why they did not bring the body; to which answer was made that they had no stretcher with them on which to carry the body. The detail, with transportation, was ordered to return and bring the body to camp. Upon their arrival in the Indian village they were astonished to learn that Gall had recovered consciousness and crawled away. The detail searched the woods in which Gall had concealed himself, but were unable to discover him. Gall then got back to his people, fully recovered from his wound, and vowed vengeance with a big V. And he has had his revenge in many a foray and in a number of battles. He lurked about military posts and pounced upon luckless promenaders, even at the very gates of the stockade that enclosed the barracks and quarters. He raided the settlers; he attacked the freighters and stage-coaches on the Black Hill trails. In 1872 he led his braves in a midnight attack on the camp of four troops of the Second United States Cavalry, which, by reason of its surprise, came near proving a disaster. The presence of the Indians was not suspected, as they very rarely make a night attack.
In 1873 General Custer had gone into bivouac on the Yellowstone, several miles in advance of the troops marching with the supply train. The command was resting, with horses unsaddled, in the supposed security offered by the absence of "fresh Indian signs." Gall made his dispositions for an attack. His warriors crawled through woods, down "ravines, and along the river bank to within two or three hundred yards of the sleeping command, when, by a timely discovery, the command was called to arms and a lively battle was going on, which terminated upon the hasty arrival of other troops which had seen and heard the attack. A week later Gall made an attack on the Seventh United States Cavalry, near the mouth of the Big Horn, on the Yellowstone. In this battle Gall, dressed in brilliant scarlet leggings and blanket, rode along in front of the troops, not distant probably more than three hundred yards, waving his blanket, and was a target for hundreds of shots, but he escaped unharmed. He was the great Warrior Chief of all the Sioux in the battle of the Little Big Horn, better known as "Custer's Massacre," June 25, 1876. He surrendered in 1881.
Gall is forty-eight years old, of medium stature, and weighs two hundred and sixty pounds. His features are massive, and are said to bear a remarkable resemblance to those of the "Great Expounder," Daniel Webster. Gall, since going on the Reservation has been a good Indian. He has given every assistance in carrying out the plans of the agent and Government for the advancement and civilization of his people. From his previous life it would be supposed that he would be a disturbing element among the Indians, but it is not so. His councils have always been wise and conservative.
Sitting Bull is probably the most notorious of the chiefs, because he wears honors to which he is not entitled. He is not a Warrior Chief, but what is known as a "Medicine Man" — a prophet. He is known as a coward, one who will not go into battle. He has a restless, discontented disposition that continually leads him into opposition to his agent. Sitting Ball is a heavy-set, muscular man, five feet eight inches in stature, and is fifty-four years old. He is not an intellectual man. He is very vain of his notoriety, and is flattered by the attentions which the public affect for him.
By the Indians he is regarded as a demagogue, and they generally laugh at him especially if he comes in opposition to Gall — which generally happens.
Located on the spot where the bodies of General Custer and many of his men were found, June 27th, 1876.
from the Cyclorama of General Custer's Last Fight, by The Boston Museum - 1892