Monday, March 5, 2018

Notes from With Custer on the Little Bighorn







It seems to me a few teachers might find these notes on Custer’s Last Stand of value. I often wrote up stories in detail for my own classes if I thought I could interest my students (“Courage in the Cause of God,” the story of the Pilgrims, Valley Forge, “Remember the Ladies,” the tale of women who took part in the American Revolution, A Slave Child Remembers, and many more.

I have these notes; but I’m retired and don’t think I’ll ever put them to good use. If you can use them feel free.





 1876

William O. Taylor, from Troy, New York, is a four-year veteran with the 7th Cavalry when Custer marches out to do battle with Sitting Bull. Records show Taylor is five feet one-half inch tall. He will survive the campaign but be mustered out of the army on 1/17/77. He will complete his memoir on the Custer Massacre in 1917. (With Custer on the Little Bighorn)

Longfellow will later write:

Whose was the right and the wrong?
            Sing it, oh funeral song,
  with a voice that is full of tears.
  And say that our broken faith
Wrought all this ruin and scathe.
In the year of a Hundred Years.

Taylor would later talk about comrades who were “mustered out” on that fateful day. Two lines of a poem he penned:

No boots and spurs, not hat or gun, no uniform had they,
But bare as on their natal day the poor hacked bodies lay.

Taylor was sympathetic to the tribes—having, for example, signed a treaty in 1851, guaranteeing $50,000 per year for fifty years. The Senate, he quotes “amended the treaty by limiting appropriations to ten years” without notifying natives. He says conflicts “grew out of our bad faith.” He goes back to the Northwest Ordinance, which declares that the “utmost good faith shall always be observed toward the Indians, their lands and property shall never be taken from them without their consent, and in their property, rights, and liberty they shall never be invaded or disturbed, unless in just and lawful war authorized by Congress.” (Are those Taylor’s words?)

On March 17 the Crook expedition struck a village of Crazy Horse and destroyed 105 lodges, killing several, “capturing a large herd of horses. The horses were, however, soon retaken by the Indians.” Bitter weather sent the troops back to the forts.

He notes Custer’s motivation; Grant had tried to block him from participating; trouble over testimony vs. former Secretary of War Belknap:

…that General Custer had been deeply humiliated in his own eyes and those of his brother officers, is equally true. So that when he started on the expedition he was stung to the quick. And it can easily be imagined by anyone who knew the man that, if given the slightest opportunity he would not hesitate to take the greatest of risks to redeem himself. 11

Custer—with Terry’s approval—forwarded a letter to Grant, ending with a plea, “that while not allowed to go in command of the expedition I may be permitted to serve with my regiment in the field. I appeal to you as a Soldier to spare me the humiliation of seeing my regiment march to meet the enemy and I not to share its dangers.” Terry supported his request, saying, “Lieutenant Colonel Custer’s services would be very valuable with his regiment.” 13

Sherman to Terry: “Advise Custer to be prudent, not to take along any newspaper men, who always make mischief, and to abstain from personalities in the future.” 14

Taylor notes that Troops G, H and K had only recently “received a large number of recruits, fresh from civil life.” 17

The expedition carried large supplies of forage and rations, with 114 six-mule teams, 37 two-mule teams, and 35 pack mules, with 179 teamsters. At 5 a.m. on May 17 a trumpeter sounded, “General,” the signal to strike tents. Libby Custer and Mrs. James Calhoun went with the troops on the first day’s march, riding at the head of the regiment. Libby would later write that “my heart entirely failed me” as she passed wives and children of the men lined up to watch the troops depart, “Mothers, with streaming eyes held their little ones out at arms’ length for one last look at the departing father.” The regimental band struck up, “The Girl I left Behind Me.” 19

General Sully on first seeing the Badlands in 1864: “Gentlemen, it looks like the bottom of Hell, with the fires out.” 21

June 10, Reno with six troops, Gatling gun, went on scout. On June 17 the soldiers came across an abandoned village site; several “graves were despoiled by the soldiers. One body, that gave forth a very offensive odor, was taken down and pitched into the river.” (This is now the site of Miles City.) In another abandoned village site they “suddenly came upon a human skull lying under the remnants of an extinct fire.” Buttons and bits of blue uniform indicated the victim was a cavalryman; and the skull seemed to have been there for months. “All the circumstances went to show that the skull was that of some poor mortal who had been a prisoner in the hands of savages, and who doubtless had been tortured to death, probably burned.”

The editor of Taylor’s manuscript says the Sioux believed the human soul would be trapped if they buried their dead. 24

Taylor refuses to condemn Custer for ignoring orders to be careful, saying only, “that for his sake I wish he had not.”

Custer sent Libby a letter on June 22; he had found a village of 380 lodges. He was sorry his scouts had not followed up the trail but had turned back instead. “I fear their failure to follow up the Indians has imperiled our plans by giving the village an intimation of our presence. Think of the valuable time lost, but I feel hopeful of accomplishing great results.” His Crow scouts, however, “said they had heard that I never abandoned a trail; that when my food gave out I ate mule. That was the kind of man they wanted to fight under. They were willing to eat mule too.”



I used to take notes like these and write them up as in-depth stories for my own classes. (I never found textbooks to be all that useful in capturing student interest. I do sell my own materials if you are interested. You can get some idea of how my work looks by checking this blog post: “Who Were Those People Who Died on 9/11?” or this: “Women of the American Revolution.” (I have since updated the later selection for sale and renamed it, “Remember the Ladies.”)

I can say, truthfully, that I don’t sell anything that didn’t work with my own students over the course of my 33-year career.

I had plenty of ideas that flopped, of course.

My TpT store is Middle School History and Tips for Teachers. If nothing else, go to the site and download the free reading selection: “A Rebel Soldier’s War.”




At 3 a.m. on the 23rd the regiment was awakened by the stable guard—rather than by bugle call. The troops would move at 5 a.m. On the 24th, Taylor notes, “The trail was growing fresher every mile and the whole valley was scratched up by trailing lodgepoles. Our interest grew in proportion as the trail freshened and there was much speculation in the ranks as to how soon we should overtake the apparently fleeing enemy.” 26-27

The men ate a simple meal of hardtack and coffee; on the 24th they camped in a beautiful spot, with “wild rosebushes in full bloom.” Taylor’s Troop A was close to Custer’s tent. “I was lying on my side, facing him, and was it my fancy, or the gathering twilight that made his face take on an expression of sadness that was new to me.” He heard the officers singing: “Annie Laurie,” “Little Footsteps, Soft and Gentle,” and “The Good Bye at the Door.” Then they finished with the “Doxology: Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow.” That last, he said, was “a rather strange song for Cavalrymen to sing on an Indian trail.” Several young officers were fresh out of West Point. “But as the last words died away, as if to throw off their gloomy feelings they added ‘For He’s a Jolly Goodfellow, That Nobody Can Deny.’” At 10 that evening “we were awakened and ordered to saddle up for a night march.”

Not far from this spot, “the brave and unconquered” Lame Deer “would soon give up his life for the right to live and hunt along this rose-bordered steam.” 31

Greg Martin, who edited Taylor’s story, says Lame Deer was killed while trying to surrender in May 1877.

Taylor notes the “occasional bray of some mule in the pack train” punctuated the night. “You see something like a black shadow moving in advance.” He heard the jingle of carbines and sling-belts. Occasionally, some soldier struck a match to light a pipe. The flash would pierce the gloom “like a huge firefly.” Then darkness again. The regiment halted at 2 a.m. and saddles were removed. Many of the soldiers took the opportunity to nap. “Those who did not care to sleep sat around in little groups discussing the prospects of a fight and pulling away at the ever present pipe.” 32

As a teacher, it might be fun to have kids imagine what the troops were talking about that morning.

Their march took them past another abandoned teepee—which was set on fire by the scouts. Inside was the body of Old She Bear, killed fighting Crook. The Little Bighorn was “a stream some fifty to seventy five feet wide, and from two to four feet deep of clear, icy cold water.” Taylor let his horse drink. “I took off my hat and, shaping the brim into a scoop, leaned over, filled it and drank the last drop of water I was to have for twenty-four long hours.” The men dismounted and tightened their saddle girths. Looking back at one point, he saw Reno “just taking a bottle from his lips. He then passed it to Lieutenant Hodgson. It appeared to be a quart flask, and about one half or two thirds full of an amber colored liquid.”

On the morning of June 25 the men counted off, the fours being given the job of holding horses. Taylor tried to trade places with a trooper named Cornelius Crowley, who had lately shown signs of mental disorder.

Reno was ordered to charge the eastern end of the big Sioux and Cheyenne village. “Over sage and bullberry bushes, over prickly pears and through a prairie dog village without a thought we rode. A glance along the line shows a lot of set, determined faces.” “The Death Angel was very near.” “To most of us it was our first real battle at close range.” 36-37

Quickly, Reno’s troopers realized they were in a tough spot. Taylor had retreated to the woods; he saw large numbers of Sioux and Cheyenne cutting through the trees, apparently hoping to cut off retreat. One warrior “wore a magnificent war bonnet of great long feathers encircling his head and hanging down his back, the end trailing along the side of his pony. I did want to take a shot at him but the trees were close together, and I was not a very good marksman.” More and more warriors swarmed around Reno and his men. Taylor could see “a whooping, howling mass of the best horsemen, the most cruel and fiercest fighters in all our country, or any other.” They were “shouting and racing toward the soldiers, most of whom were seeing their first battle, and many, of whom I was one, had never fired a shot from a horse’s back.” Taylor’s right stirrup was nearly ripped off by a branch and he had trouble keeping his seat. “I can not say that I did much execution, but I tried to, firing at an Indian directly opposite who I thought was paying special attention to myself.” In trying to leap the river bank he lost his revolver. “I saw a struggling mass of men and horses from whom little stream of blood was coloring the water near them. Lieutenant Hodgson was one of the number and had just been wounded, so I heard him say.” Taylor’s mount was totally exhausted—a sorry horse to begin, nicknamed “Steamboat” because of the tired puffing he made when traveling.  38, 41-42


Reno lost his hat on the way to the bluff; he wrapped a red handkerchief round his head. McDougall and Troop B, with the pack train joined them around 2:30 p.m., having had a message delivered by Sgt. David C. Kanipe of Tom Custer’s Troop C. They can hear firing in the distance and many men wonder, “Why don’t we move?” “All of the officers must have known that Custer was engaged with the Indians and quite near for he had not time to go a great way.” Twelve more men managed to struggle up the bluffs around 4:30, having been hiding in the woods. A member of Troop A found Taylor’s horse and returned him. “Not an article of my equipment or belongings was missing although the horse had been for nearly three hours quite near, if not within the Indian line.” Later still, on the evening of June 26, four more men, Lt. De Rudio, Pvt. Tom O’Neill, Frank Girard and William Jackson, a scout, would escape from the woods, “after many narrow escapes and an absence of about thirty hours.” 49

All day, firing from the Indians continued, dying slowly at dusk, “ceasing altogether about nine o’clock.” A bugler was sent to a nearby hill to sound calls, Taps being played, normally “sounded over the grave of a soldier at the time of his burial.” 51

A defensive wall was built in one spot—made of boxes of hardtack, packsaddles and even sides of beef and dead horses and mules. Taylor and six men were posted on picket duty. Taylor took his two-hour turn, sitting in the sagebrush, rather than walking around, and making himself a target. “The shouting and sound of the drums in the camps of the Indians could still be heard.” He imagines: “In many a lodge lay a cold red form brought from the near by field of battle, the lifeless form of a husband and father who had rode out so bravely but a few hours before to defend all that he had in life, his wife and children, and a little skin covered lodge.” At some point that night the sound of a bugle could be heard in the distance, which brought the men to their feet, “But it was not an army call that I had ever heard or was familiar with at least.” Instead, the sound seemed to stir the Sioux and Cheyenne. The drums beat louder and Taylor could hear an “outburst of wolf-like yells.” When his time on guard was up he found “the soldier’s couch, the rough hard ground,” and was soon fast asleep. 53-54

At one point, Taylor was ordered to help build a defensive wall for Benteen’s position. He was carrying a box of hardtack on his shoulder “when a bullet crashed into the box.” “I had some doubts about every finishing the trip, short as it was. But I did and unharmed.” Resuming his own defensive position, he said a civilian packer named Frank Mann, just to his left, stuck up his head to see what was going on and took a bullet “right between the eyes.” “Life seemed very attractive throughout that eventful day…and I think most of the soldiers felt that unless a special providence interfered we were certainly doomed.” 58

A number of men volunteered to go down to the river for water. Michael Madden of Troop K was hit in the leg and had to have it amputated. The soldiers dug in, carving out rifle pits with room for six or eight men. “Our tools were tin cups and plate, knives, sharpened paddles made out of pieces of hardtack boxes, and a few shovels.” On the morning of the 27th, the natives having abandoned their village and fled, the soldiers could be seen “eating in peace our breakfast of bacon, hardtack and coffee. We watered our horses who acted as if they would never get enough, washed our faces and hands and straightened ourselves up generally.” 60-61

Taylor happened across the body of a dead warrior who had been scalped by a soldier, a finely built man, about thirty years old, who “looked like a bronze statue that had been thrown to the ground.” “I could not help a feeling of sorrow as I stood gazing upon him. He was within a few hundred rods of his home and family which we had attempted to destroy and he had died to defend.” Taylor brought away the man’s medicine bundle as “a souvenir of a very brave man in a memorable battle.” 63

He now turns to outlining what he believes happened to Custer. Among those with their commander was Mark Kellogg, a reporter. Dr. G.E. Lord was the regimental surgeon. Benteen would later explain why he made no effort to go to Custer. He said “there were 900 veteran Indians right there at that time, against which the large element of recruits in my battalion would stand no earthly chance as mounted men.” He did go straight for Reno, rather than search out the pack train—since he felt a fight was progressing and it “savored too much of coffee-cooling” not to advance. 69

Taylor and his comrades had been trapped for two and one half days, and “it looked as if we had reached the end of our earthly journey.” Now Terry and Gibbon’s force arrived and they were safe. The bodies of Custer’s men looked “like little mounds of snow.” The body of Sgt. Butler was found—several shell casings littering the ground, “evidence that he had made a gallant fight.” The smell of death was sickening; but Taylor saw soldiers sitting down close to mangled remains and “munching their bit of hardtack and bacon.” Taylor pulled two arrows from one body and carried them away—these to be sold in 1995 at auction. Cooke’s body could be identified by his long black side whiskers, “one of which had been taken off for a scalp, for if my recollection is correct the Lieutenant was a little bald.” Among the men, Taylor says, there was “a deep feeling of resentment against the General.” “Among the men it was felt then that their comrades had been needlessly sacrificed and their own lives put in jeopardy to further ambition.” 

The Indians, too, had fled in haste.

On every hand as we rode along was the evidence of a hasty flight, an immense number of lodge poles, robes, dressed skins, pots, kettles, cups, pans, axes and many other articles among which I saw several decorated box-like receptacles made of rawhide, a kind of traveling trunk I suppose. Also sleeping mats, made of small willow sticks that rolled up like a porch shade. Several war clubs were picked up with the sickening evidence on them of a recent use.

Taylor says several soldiers hidden in the woods had seen squaws mutilate the fallen soldiers from Reno’s attack. 73-78

James McLaughlin in a book, My Friend the Indian, talked to warriors who took part in the fight, having lived among the natives as an agent for 38 years. “As the men [of Custer’s detachment] rode down into the bottom, the Indians saw that they were apprehensive, but they did not falter and were well down to the river before the Sioux showed themselves on that shore.” Gall, Crow King, Bear Cap, No Neck and Kill Eagle could all see “the entire field covered by Custer’s force.” The Cheyenne were led by Crazy Horse. Lame Deer, Hump and Big Road led “a red tide of death.” So many warriors stormed across the ford “they made the water foam.” Riders let out “wild yelps which they had learned from the wolves.”

At least one soldier, well mounted, seemed likely to escape. He was drawing away from five or six pursuers, but turned to look over his shoulder, “fancied himself nearly overtaken” and killed himself with a shot to the head. Gall told McLaughlin “he would have gone at once to the attack of Reno when the fight on Custer Hill was over, if he could have controlled his warriors.” “Some scores of horses that had lately been ridden by the white man, the most valuable booty for an Indian, were galloping about the country.” After the fight, “Horses lay kicking and struggling, or sat on their haunches like dogs with blood flowing from their nostrils.” 85-91

John Gibbon was leading six companies of the 7th Infantry and four troops of the 2nd Cavalry. Gibbon’s men had now marched 178 miles “through the very heart of the Indian country and without seeing any signs of enemy. Yet the very next night the Sioux crept up to the camp and stole the ponies of the Crow scouts.” On the 25th Gibbon’s and Terry’s combined forces moved out at 5:30 a.m. Terry and the cavalry pushed ahead after the infantry stopped to go into camp.

It commenced to rain about nine o’clock and was as dark as a pocket, so much so that the men had to travel single file and were then scarcely able to see the second man in front of them. To add to their troubles the Gatling guns got stuck into a mud hole and were lost for some time but finally made their appearance. 95-97

Two Crow scouts, White Swan and Half Yellow Face, were killed with Custer. When news came that Custer was dead, “presently the voice of doubt was raised and the very story sneered at by some of the staff officers.” Lt. Bradley and his Crow Scouts had counted 194 bodies, one of which, based on photographs he had seen of the General, he took to be Custer. Riders were seen in blue ahead—but these were warriors dressed in the clothes of dead troopers. Lt. Bradley spoke of the warriors who covered the native retreat and the “terrific gallantry with which they can fight under such an incitement as the salvation of their all.” 99

“All doubt that a serious disaster had befallen General Custer’s command now vanished, and the march was continued under the uncertainty as to whether we were going to rescue the survivors or to battle with an enemy who had annihilated him.” Again, the soldiers found signs of hasty retreat: buffalo robes, dried meat, blankets and all kinds of camp utensils scattered about. Tom Custer’s heart had been cut out and a heart with a lariat attached was found in the abandoned camp. 104

News of disaster reached the Far West late on the morning of June 27. At that time the vessel was moored at the mouth of the Little Bighorn. The water “teemed with pike, salmon and catfish.” Several officers and the captain of the vessel were “engaged in the general pastime of fishing.”

Taylor quotes a story about Curley [a Crow scout who later claimed to be the only survivor of Custer’s force], coming aboard, giving way “to the most violent demonstrations of grief, groaning and crying.” He spoke no English; none of the whites spoke Crow. He took pencil and paper.

First a circle and then, outside of it, another. Between the inner and outer circle he made numerous dots, repeating as he did so, ‘Sioux! Sioux!’ Then he filled the inner circle with similar dots, which, from his words and actions they understood him to mean were soldiers. Then by pantomime he made his observers realize that they were receiving the first news of a great battle in which many soldiers had been surrounded, slain and scalped by the Sioux. 107

Taylor notes: “Captain Marsh had caused a portion of the deck to be thickly covered with grass, and over it had spread a lot of tent flies [canvas sheets], making the whole like an immense mattress and in a short time, the fifty-two stricken men were placed on board and with them Keogh’s horse, Comanche.” 116

“‘Rounding up the hostile,’ or in other words seeking to deprive a strange and brave people of their birthright and all they held dear, was not altogether a picnic.” 118

Taylor says a petition was circulated among the men, asking that Reno be given command. “By his bravery and skill he had saved the rest of the regiment from Custer’s fate,” it read. “It was a d----d humbug, but what’s the odds?” said Sgt. McDermott. “Terry and Crook took up the trails and followed them here and there for several weeks but fruitlessly, so far as the original plan of the campaign was concerned.” 119

Taylor wrote in a poem of his own, “On the Rosebud,

  And all who followed our Custer
  Knew well that a stranger to fear,
He would strike, be the odds ere so many
  As soon as their camps did appear. 122

W. H. H. Murray would later meet Sitting Bull. “His word once given was a true bond…He was a born diplomat.” Murray was dismissive of the “only good Indian” phrase. “We laugh at the saying now, but the cheeks of our descendants will redden with shame when they read the coarse brutality of our wit.” Sitting Bull

…was a valiant and brave leader, he was feared by his foes and loved and admired by his people. All white men were the enemies of the Indians, and Sitting Bull’s logic would permit no other conclusion. He believed that in transactions with them, the Indians would be cheated and swindled. He wanted nothing to do with them, he had no land to sell them at any time, and never gave an emissary of the Government the least encouragement.




Little Big Man was involved in the death of Crazy Horse, a warrior one white called “one of the greatest rascals unhung.” Lt. John G. Bourke (On the Border with Crook) says of Crazy Horse: “He had made hundreds of friends by his charity toward the poor, as it was a point of honor with him never to keep anything for himself, excepting weapons of war. I never heard an Indian mention his name save in terms of respect.

Gall died in 1896, leaving one daughter.

Rain-in-the-Face had been arrested and confined to the guard house at Fort Lincoln. He escaped in April 1875 and was said to have carried a grudge against Tom Custer. He spotted Tom during the fight, said Custer’s brother recognized him, and when he got near enough “he shot him…cut his heart… bit a piece out of it and spit it in his face.” This was a story he told in 1894. Rain-in-the-Face, twice wounded, rode off with Tom Custer’s heart in his hand. He died in 1905, age 62.

Revenge of Rain-in-the-Face by Longfellow

In that desolate land and lone,
Where the Big Horn and Yellowstone
  Roar down their mountain path,
By their fires the Sioux Chiefs
Muttered their woes and griefs
  And the menace of their wrath. 

"Revenge!" cried Rain-in-the-Face,
"Revenge upon all the race
  Of the White Chief with yellow hair!"
And the mountains dark and high
From their crags re-echoed the cry
  Of his anger and despair. 

In the meadow, spreading wide
By woodland and river-side
  The Indian village stood;
All was silent as a dream,
Save the rushing of the stream
  And the blue-jay in the wood. 

In his war paint and his beads,
Like a bison among the reeds,
  In ambush the Sitting Bull
Lay with three thousand braves
Crouched in the clefts and caves,
Savage, unmerciful! 

Into the fatal snare
The White Chief with yellow hair
  And his three hundred men
Dashed headlong, sword in hand;
But of that gallant band
  Not one returned again. 

The sudden darkness of death
Overwhelmed them like the breath
  And smoke of a furnace fire:
By the river's bank, and between
The rocks of the ravine,
  They lay in their bloody attire. 

But the foemen fled in the night,
And Rain-in-the-Face, in his flight,
  Uplifted high in air
As a ghastly trophy, bore
The brave heart, that beat no more,
  Of the White Chief with yellow hair. 

Whose was the right and the wrong?
Sing it, O funeral song,
  With a voice that is full of tears,
And say that our broken faith
Wrought all this ruin and scathe,
  In the Year of a Hundred Years.

Certainly, Taylor seems to believe Reno had been drinking before the fight. He cites a story written in 1904. Reno supposedly told Reverend Dr. Arthur Edwards, “that his strange actions at the battle of the Little Bighorn, were due to the fact that he was drunk.” Still, he does not fault Reno for his retreat. What Custer “could not do with five Companies, it is hard to believe that Reno could do with three.” The editor notes that natives spoke often of recovering canteens from the field that “contained copious amounts of liquor.”

Taylor writes: “I feel that overconfidence in himself [Custer], his officers and regiment, together with his underestimating the number of Indians until it was too late to change his plan of battle, were the two principle causes of his defeat.”

Taylor quotes one of Custer’s own officers, Cyrus T. Brady, a friend of the commander:

He was a born soldier, and specifically a born Cavalryman...If he had only added discretion to his valor he would have been a perfect soldier…He was impatient of control, and liked to act independently of others and to take all the risk and glory to himself:….A man of great energy and remarkable endurance, he could out ride almost any man in his regiment, and was sometimes too severe in forcing marches, but he never seemed to get tired himself, and he never expected his men to be so.

“Custer was more dependent than most on the kind approval of his fellows, he was vain and ambitious, and fond of display; but he had none of those great vices which are so common in the army. He never touched liquor in any form and did not smoke, chew or gamble. 139, 141-144

Taylor wrote again in a poem:

They all come back, those anxious hours,
            Spent on the barren hill
   The scattered dead with staring eyes,
            Are in my memory still.                   145

David Cooney, died of wounds July 21, Frank Braun on October 4.

The Little Bighorn rises in the Bighorn Mts. Sheridan described it in 1877: “the water of this little river is the clearest and coldest of any that we had met.” There were large cottonwood trees, box elder, and ash. Roses and dogwood added their perfume. Mulberries, cherries and black currants grew in the area “and it was easy to see why it was considered by the Indians a most desirable summer camp.” Grass was so high, Sheridan said a rider could almost tie the tops from each side over a horse’s back. The buffalo and Indian were all gone by the time he visited. In their place were “prospectors, immigrants and tramps.” 151-152

Three brave soldiers, traveling only by night, laying low in day, took messages to Crook.

Taylor describes the appearance of the regular fighting man, including his own:

A pair of pants that had once been blue, and made of as good a grade of shoddy as the patriotic contractor could afford, had become, through the hard usage given them by months of active service and several patches made from a grain-bag, rather dilapidated as well as dirty, used as they were to sleep in as well as ride in.

He topped it off with a black hat; but “the rain and wind gave it an appearance unlike anything I ever saw on the head of a man.” The brim was half off and so “I was sometimes looking over the brim and sometimes, under it. A cheap, coarse, outing shirt, the color of a dusty road, and shy of buttons, was garnished by a large handkerchief that had once been white, the sleeves of the shirt rolled up to the elbow. The blouse, a thin dark garment, was strapped to the pommel of the saddle for the day was quite warm.” “Around the waist a canvas belt full of cartridges, below it another belt carrying a Colt’s revolver, while from another broad leather belt passing over the left shoulder swung a Springfield carbine. Rolled up and strapped to the saddle, was carried a blanket, piece of shelter tent and an overcoat…The saddle pockets contained an extra horseshoe, nails, cartridges, currycomb and brush and sometimes a towel and piece of soap, as well as any little extras a soldier might fancy.”


After the fight, the Indians picked up letters written and never mailed from Custer’s men. A paymaster’s check, made out to Captain Yates, for $127.00, turned up in Indian hands at Fort Peck in November. Mrs. Calhoun was later returned her husband’s watch. A heavy gold ring with a bloodstone seal was recovered and sent to the mother of Lt. Van Reilly of the Seventh Cavalry.

Crook: “Greed and avarice on the part of the Whites in other words, the Almighty Dollar, is at the bottom of nine tenths of all our Indian troubles.”

Lt. Colonel Richard I. Dodge: “Next to the crime of slavery the foulest blot on the escutcheon of the Government of the United States is the treatment of the so called wards of the Nation.”

General Miles on the capture of Joseph [and the Nez Perce]: “the have been friends of the white race from the time their country was first explored—they have been, in my opinion, grossly wronged in years past.” 159

George Herendeen was born in Ohio in 1845 and came to Montana shortly after the end of the Civil War. He described the scene on the morning of June 25, as Custer’s scouts looked down from a high ridge:

From this point we could see into the Little Horn Valley, and observed heavy clouds of dust rising about five miles distant. Many thought the Indians were moving away, and I think General Custer thought so, for he sent word to Colonel Reno, who was ahead with three companies of the Seventh regiment, to push on the scouts rapidly and head for the dust.

Reno’s retreat “became a dead run for the ford. The Sioux, mounted on their swift ponies, dashed up by the side of the soldiers and fired at them, killing both men and horses. Little resistance was offered, and it was a complete rout to the ford.” Herendeen lost his own horse when it stumbled and fell. He saw several other soldiers who were dismounted and some soldiers on horseback who had been left behind. “I called on them to come into the timber and we would stand off the Indians. Three of the soldiers were wounded, and two of them so badly they could not use their arms.” Later, he saw men on the bluff using butcher knives to dig rifle pits. Several times warriors charged cavalry lines, throwing stones.

I think in desperate fighting Benteen is one of the bravest men I ever saw in a fight. All the time he was going about through the bullets, encouraging the soldiers to stand up to their work and not let the Indians whip them; he went among the horses and pack mules and drove out the men who were skulking there, compelling them to go into the line and to their duty.

Many men had not had water for 36 hours, “some had their tongues swollen and others could hardly speak. The men tried to eat hardtack, but could not raise enough saliva to moisten them…” One man sent out for water was killed, six or seven wounded “in this desperate attempt.” “We expected the Indians would renew the attack the next day, but in the morning not an Indian was to be seen.” “If Custer had struck the Little Horn one day later or deferred his attack twenty-four hours later, Terry could have cooperated with him, and, in all probability, have prevented the disaster.” 164-170

Indians at Carlisle [Indian School in in Pennsylvania] later shared their thoughts; one recalled “the women with crying babies on their backs left their teepees and retreated in a very disorderly manner toward a large hill about two miles distant.” The soldiers [of Reno] panicked, one said.

Men rode over each other and being frightened themselves and their horses also, the retreat was made in a very confused unmilitary order. Men running on foot and horses galloping madly, with the Indians in their rear and on their flanks was the scene caused by the blunder of a single man…

“I was 23 years old then,” said another, “so I was not afraid to face anything.” 171-172, 176

J. F. Finerty described Cheyenne scouts, riding with Miles in 1879 as men who “fight like lions…strange as it may seem to my readers, are of gentlemanly deportment.” 180

Roman Rutten, M Troop, saw Isaiah Dorman, his horse killed, firing into the Indians. “As I went by him he shouted, ‘goodbye Rutten.’”

Sgt. John Ryan remembered M Troop losing its guidon while crossing the river. One warrior later told a writer the Custer fight “lasted as long as it would take a hungry Indian to eat his dinner.”

James McLaughlin later wrote: “The generalship of Gall that kept the strength of the Indians concealed from the white soldiers…”

First Lt. William W. Cooke was from Hamilton, Canada; First Lt. Camillus De Rudio was born in Italy. During the Civil War he was an officer in the Second U.S. Colored Infantry; Captain Thomas B. Weir was born in Ohio. He died while on recruiting duty in New York City, December 9, 1876; Lt. Algernon E. Smith, F Troop, had been promoted for bravery at Fort Fisher [during the Civil War]. KIA on June 25. Lt. Donald McIntosh was a full blooded Indian, born in Canada. His G Troop, like F, was wiped out. Second Lt. George D. Wallace was killed at Wounded Knee in 1890. Benteen also led colored troops during the Civil War. Myles W. Keogh of I Troop was born in Ireland. Lt. James Calhoun was also born in Ohio; he and his L Troop were wiped out. Second Lt. John F. Crittenden was assigned to the infantry; but requested transfer to the Seventh. He was born in Kentucky, a son of General T. L. Crittenden. His father later requested that his remains be left where he fell. Lt Edward Gustave Mathey was born in France and served four years during the Civil War. Dr. J. M. DeWolf was killed on Reno Hill.

            Gibbon had a force of only 27 officers and 432 men.


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