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The Battle of Little Big Horn


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Prelude to Disaster

Dakota was their traditional tribal name, but as they crossed this Northwestern Rubicon they became known by the name the Chippewas had given them years ago:  "Sioux". It was by that  moniker they became known as the most numerous and powerful nation of Native Americans -- warriors, women, and children -- to be found in the Northern Hemisphere. They were proud warriors when they launched

out on their expedition of conquest west of the Missouri. The Yellowstone river belonged to the Crows; the grassy prairie of Nebraska was the home of the Pawnees; the Black Hills were stomping grounds of the Cheyennes and Arrapahoes; the western side of the Big Horn range and the broad valleys between them and the Rocky Mountains were controlled by the Snakes; while roving parties of Crees rode down along the north shore of the Missouri river itself.

With the Chippewas behind them, and with the white settlers and soldiers in front, the Sioux waged relentless war. They drove the Pawnees across the Platte all the way to Kansas; they pushed both the Cheyennes and Arrapahoes out of the Black Hills, and down to the head waters of the Kaw and the Arkansas rivers; they fought the Snakes back into the Wind River Valley, with demands never to cross the boundary of the Big Horn River; and they sent the Crows running up the Yellowstone valley.

Brother against Brother: The Outbreak of the American Civil War

When the Civil War broke out in 1861 the Sioux aided the rebels considerably by raiding Northern settlements in Minnesota, massacring hundreds of women and children, families which had encroached on Sioux lands. General Sully was sent to punish them for these attacks.  He marched far into their territory, and would fight them wherever he could find them, but it did no real good. The attempts to keep the Sioux in check during the Civil War did consume precious military resources. When the Civil War ended, and settlers began to move west, further encroaching into Sioux territory, they found the Sioux more aggressive than ever. The army was called on to protect these pioneers, and to escort the surveyors and railroad workers. In the years between 1866 and 1876, the cavalry had no rest; they fought year round; and during those ten years of "peace" more army officers were killed  in combat with the American Indians than the British army lost in the entire Crimean war. The Indians had always been brave and skilled warriors, but in 1874 and 1875 the Sioux succeeded in arming themselves with modern rifles, becoming a foe more dreaded than any European cavalry. This combination of modern arms, incredible bravery, and superb horsemanship created a formidable fighting force.

Treaties were made and broken with the Sioux. A road had been built through the heart of the Big Horn and Yellowstone. Wooden forts were built, and manned by small groups of cavalry and infantry. From Ft. Laramie on the Platte up to the  Gallatin Valley only those little forts: Reno, Phil Kearny, and C. F. Smith, guarded the way. Naturally the Sioux were concerned about these settlements on their lands. One day vast hordes of Sioux gathered in the ravines around Fort Phil Kearny.

Red Cloud was the fearless Sioux leader. He sent a small raiding party to attack the wood cutters from the fort, who were working with only minimal military protection. Two companies of infantry and one of cavalry went out to the rescue. They were quickly surrounded and then massacred. After that the Sioux had undisputed dominion over their territory for ten years. The US government's forts were burned and abandoned. The allies of the Sioux joined with them, and a powerful nation of nearly 60,000 people ruled the country from the Big Horn River to the Union Pacific Railway. The Sioux would not go south of the Union Pacific Railroad.

Taking Cheyennes and Arrapahoes, who they had intermarried with, the Sioux went back to the North Platte and the territory beyond. From there they routinely raided in all directions. Attempts were made by the Government to bribe them, but with no lasting success. The U.S. established Indian Agencies and reservations at convenient points. Here the old men, the sick, and the women and children made their homes. Here the young warriors, laughing at the White Man, filled up their bags with ammunition and supplies. They then went on the war path, attacking any white settlers they could find.  They would return to the reservation when they needed more supplies.

Two large reservations were created southeast of the Black Hills in the White River Valley. Red Cloud, the hero of the attack at Phil Kearny, made his home here. Many of his chiefs also gathered here: some "good", like Old-Man-Afraid-of-his-Horses and his worthy son, but most of them crafty and combative, like Red Dog, Little-Big-Man, and American Horse. Further downstream, some twenty miles away, were the headquarters of the Brules. Their chief, Old Spot, was loyal to the U.S., but he had no control over the actions of the  young warriors. Other reservations there were along the Missouri, and the Interior Department wanted to gather all of the Sioux Nation into these reservations, in order to help keep them out of trouble, or so it was thought.

The Sioux tradition, however, called for deeds of bravery in battle in order to win distinction. The vacillating policy of the US government allowed the Sioux warriors to make raids against white settlers, and to then return to the sanctuary of the reservation.

The warrior had won his spurs according to Sioux tradition, and was therefore a "brave".

But there were those Great Chiefs who never came in and never made peace.  One of those who refused, and whose stand was a rallying point for the disaffected of every tribe, was a shrewd "medicine chief", the now celebrated Sitting Bull.

Sitting Bull and his followers were living happily and peaceably in the Valley of the Little Big Horn.  Though the winters were cold and hard, they enjoyed life, as they hunted abundant game.  But because of the US government's new policy, all the renegades from other tribes flocked to this location.

The wild and angry Ogalalla, Brule, Blackfoot, and Sans Arc warriors all made a home here, and then set about to attack pioneers, settlers, surveyors and prospectors.

At this time, more white settlers were entering the Sioux lands in the Black Hills, most looking for gold. The Ogalallas and Brules killed the settlers, claiming them to be invaders.

Sitting Bull's followers quickly grew. The Interior Department found it useless to delay any longer. The army received orders to either bring in Sitting Bull, or Snuff Him Out. Early in March of 1876 General George Crook  was sent into Sioux country with a strong force of cavalry and infantry. Crook's forces struck a big Indian Village on the snowy shores of the Powder River. It was thirty degrees below zero; the troops were poorly led by the officer entrusted with the duty, and the Sioux had recently developed impressive new fighting tactics under a new and daring leader, "Choonka-Witko" -- known as Crazy Horse.

Crook's advance retreated, being defeated by the renegades from the Red Cloud and Spotted Tail tribes. Early in May three expeditions moved into the territory, where by this time over 6,000 braves had joined Sitting Bull. From the south came Gen. Crook, with nearly 2,500 soldiers. From the east marched General Terry, with almost as many infantry and cavalry as had Crook, and a few light pieces of artillery. From the west General Gibbon led a group of frontier soldiers, scouting, and definitely finding the Indians on the Rosebud before forming his rendezvous with Terry near the mouth of the Tongue. If Sitting Bull had been aware of the situation, Gibbon's small force could never have finished that movement.

The Approaching Clouds of War

Early in June Crook's company was on the northeast slope of the Big Horn, and General Sheridan, planning the entire operation, saw with fear that large numbers of Indians were daily leaving the reservations south of the Black Hills and going around General Crook to join Sitting Bull. The Fifth Regiment of Cavalry was sent from Kansas to Cheyenne, and marched rapidly to the Black Hills to cut off these reinforcements. The great mass of the Indians lay between Crook at the head waters of Tongue River and Terry and Gibbon near its mouth, completely stopping  all communications between the commanders. They harassed Crook's outposts and supply trains, and by June Crook decided to engage them and see the strength of their force. On June 17th Crook skirmished with the Sioux on the bluffs of the Rosebud. He had several hundred Crow allies. The combat lasted much of the day; but long before it was half over Crook was on the defensive and was actually withdrawing his men. He had found a hornets' nest, and knew it was too much for his small command. Pulling out as best he could, he fell back to the Tongue, sent for the entire Fifth Cavalry and all available infantry, and rested until they could reach him. Crook had not managed to even get within site of Sitting Bull's Great Indian Village.

Meantime Terry and Gibbon sent their scouts up stream. Major Reno, with a strong battalion of the Seventh Cavalry, left camp to scout up the Wolf Mountains. Sitting Bull and his people decided it was time to move.  Their camp stretched for six miles, and their thousands of horses had eaten all the grass.  While they had been victorious, they decided it was time to move to the valley of the Little Big Horn. Marching up the Rosebud, Major Reno was confronted by the sight of an immense trail turning suddenly west and crossing the great divide over toward the west Experienced Indian fighters in his command told him that thousands of Indians had crossed that way within the last few days. Reno wisely turned back, and reported what he had seen to Terry.

Enter George Armstrong Custer

At the head of Terry's cavalry was  Brevet Major-General George Armstrong Custer,  a daring, dashing, impetuous soldier, who had won high honors as a division commander during the Civil War, and who had developed a reputation as an Indian Fighter when he led his gallant regiment against the Kiowas and the Cheyennes on the Southern plains.  Custer had entered the Sioux country two times in recent campaigns.  While Custer no doubt had experience, there were those who were superiors and subordinates who feared that Custer lacked the judgment needed to face a man like Sitting Bull on the Battlefield.

Custer had experienced conflict with both his commanders in the Dakota Department, and within his regiment.  It is clear, however, that everyone honored his bravery and daring. 

Some have speculated that the flamboyant Custer was considering a bid for the presidency, and that he sought one more bold and dramatic victory to secure his future.

When General Terry decided to send his cavalry to "scout the trail" reported by Reno, Custer was given command of the expedition.

Terry concluded that the Sioux had moved their camp across the Little Big Horn Valley, and he planned to send Custer to hold them from the east, while he and Gibbon's troops pushed up the Yellowstone in boats.  He would then march southward until he reached Sitting Bull's flank.

Terry's orders to Custer showed an unusual combination of anxiety and tolerance. He seems to have feared that Custer would be impetuous, but he resisted issuing an order that might wound the high spirited commander of the 7th Cavalry. Terry warned Custer to keep watch well out toward his left as he rode westward from the Rosebud, in order to prevent the Sioux from moving southeastward between the column and the Big Horn Mountains. He would not impede him with distinct orders as to what he must or must not do when he came in contact with the warriors, but he named the 26th of June as the day on which he and Gibbon would reach the valley of the Little Big Horn, and it was his hope and expectation that Custer would come up from the east about the same time, and between them they would be able to soundly whip the assembled Indians.

Custer let him down in an unexpected way. He got there a day ahead of time, and had ridden night and day to do it. Men and horses were  exhausted when the Seventh Cavalry rode into sight of the Indian Village on the Little Big Horn that cloudless Sunday morning of the 25th. When Terry came up on the 26th, it was all over for Custer and his regiment.

Custer started on the trail with the 7th Cavalry, and nothing else. A battalion of the 2nd was with Gibbon's column; but, luckily for the Second, Custer wanted none of them. Two field guns were with Terry, but Custer wanted only his own people. He rode 60 miles in 24 hours. He pushed ahead with focus and without hesitation. He created an impression that he wanted to have one dramatic battle with the Indians, in which he and the Seventh would be the only participants, and hence the heroes. The idea that he could be defeated apparently never crossed his mind. Custer sought glory, but in the end, found only infamy.

Crook had over 2,000 men only 30 miles to Custer's left. If Custer had been scouting as instructed, he would have run into Crook's outposts, and Crook could have reinforced him. Custer wanted nothing of the sort, and was savoring the chance to have all the Glory to himself. At daybreak his scouts had come across two or three warriors killed in the fight of the 17th, and they sent back word that the valley of the Little Horn was in sight ahead, and there were "signs" of the Indian Camp.

Custer then decided to divide his column.  He kept 5 companies, commanded by close friends, with himself.  He left Captain McDougal with some troops to guard the rear. He divided the remaining companies between Benteen and Reno.  Benteen was sent two miles to the left, and Reno remained between Benteen and Custer.  This formed three small columns of 7th cavalry, which moved quickly westward over the divide.

Custer's troops went into battle with the pomp and parade of war that distinguished them around their camps. Bright guidons flew in the breeze; many of the officers and soldiers wore the casual uniform of the cavalry. George Custer, his brother Tom Custer, Cook and Keogh were all dressed alike in buckskin jackets and broad rimmed scouting hats, with long leather riding boots. Captain Yates seemed to prefer his undress uniform, as did most of the lieutenants in Custer's column.

The brothers Custer and Captain Keogh rode Kentucky Sorrels. The trumpeters were at the heads of columns, but the band of the Seventh Cavalry had been left behind. Custer's last charge was started in the absence of the Irish fighting tunes he loved so dearly.

Following Custer's trail, you will come in sight of the Little Big Horn, snaking northward to its intersection with the broader stream. Looking southward you will see the cliffs and canyons of the mountains. To your North, the prairie reaches the horizon. To your West you see a broad valley on the other side of the stream.  The fatal Greasy Grass is not seen below the steep bluffs that contain it. The stream comes into sight far to the left front, and comes toward you bordered by cottonwood and willow trees. It is lost behind the bluffs.  For nearly six miles of its winding course, it can not be seen from where Custer got his first view of the village. Hundreds of "lodges" that lined its western bank could not be seen. Custer eagerly scanned the distant tepees that lay far to the North, and shouted "Custer's luck! The biggest Indian Village on the Continent!" At this point he could not have seen even 1/3 of the village!

But what he could see was enough to fire the blood of a man like Custer. Huge clouds of dust, nervous horses, frantic horsemen making a run for it, and down along the village, lively turmoil an confusion. Tepees were being taken down quickly, and the women and children were fleeing the carnage that was about to come. We know now that the men he saw running westward were the young men going out to round up the horses. We know now that behind those sheltering bluffs were still thousands of fierce warriors eager and ready to meet George Custer. We know that the indications of the Indians panicking and retreating was due mainly to simply trying to get the families away from the fight that was to come.  The warriors were by no means running from the fight, the brave warriors were making ready for battle!

Custer interpreted this confused scene as the Warring Indians being in full and speedy retreat. Custer determined that Reno should attack straight ahead, get to the valley and cross the stream. Reno could then attack the southern end of the camp. This would leave Custer and his companies to go into the long winding ravine that ran northwestward to the stream, and then attack aggressively from the east.

Custer sent a dispatch to Benteen and MacDougall, notifying them of his actions, and ordering them to hurry back with the pack trains, supplies, and extra ammunition. Custer placed himself at the head of his column, and charged down the slope, with his troops close behind. The last that Reno and his people saw of Custer was the tail of the column disappearing in a cloud of dust.  Then only the cloud of dust could be seen hanging over the trail.

Moving forward, Reno came quickly to a gully that led down through the bluff to the stream. A quick run brought him to the ford; his soldiers plunged through, and began to climb the bank on the western shore. He expected from his orders to find an unobstructed valley, and five miles away the lodges of the Indian village. It was with surprise and grave concern that he suddenly rode into full view of a huge camp, whose southern border was less than two miles away. As far as he could see, the dust cloud rose above an excited Indian Camp.  Herds of war horses were being run in from the west.  Old men, women, children, and ponies were hurrying off toward the Big Horn.  Reno realized that he was in front of the congregated warriors of the entire Sioux Nation in preparation for battle.

Most people think that Custer expected Reno to lead a dashing charge into the heart of the Indian Camp, just as Custer had done at Washita.  Reno did not dash as Custer had expected.  The sight of the Assembled Sioux Nation removed any desire Reno had ever had to dash into the camp. Reno attacked, but the attack was tentative and half-hearted. He dismounted his men, and advanced them across a mile or so of the prairie.  He fired as he got within range of the village. He did not meet any resistance.  The appearance of Reno's command apparently came as a surprise to the Uncapapa and Blackfeet, who were on the South side of the camp. The scouts had given sign of Custer's troops coming down the ravine.  Those who had not run for cover were apparently running toward the Brule village, anticipating that Custer would strike there first.

Reno could have charged into the south end of the village before his approach could have been recognized. Instead, he approached slowly on foot.  Reno  had had no experience in fighting Indians. He simply concluded that his small column would not drive the mass of warriors from the valley.  In much trepidation, he sounded a halt, rally, and mount. He then paused, as if he did not know what to do.

The Indians correctly sensed his hesitation, fear, and indecision.  He lost the element of surprise, he lost his momentum, and he lost the confidence of his own troops. He emboldened his enemy;  "The White Chief was scared"; and now was their opportunity. Warriors, men and boys, came tearing to the location. A few well-aimed shots knocked some men off of their horses. Reno quickly ordered a movement by the flank toward the bluffs across the stream to his right rear. He never thought to dismount a few cool guns to turn around and cover the enemy. He placed himself at the new head of column, and led the retreating movement. Out came the Indians, with shots and triumphant yells. The rear of the column began to overtake the head; Reno was walking while the rear was running. The Indians came dashing up on both flanks and the rear. At this point the poorly led and helpless troops had no choice.  Military discipline and order were abandoned.  In one mad rush they ran for the river, jumped in, splashed through, and climbed up the steep bluff on the eastern shore -- an inexcusable panic, due mainly to the incompetent conduct of a cowardly commander.

In vain several of the best officers of the column (Donald McIntosh and Benny Hodgson) tried to rally and protect the rear of the column. The Indians were not in overpowering numbers at that point, and a bold stand could have saved the day. But with the Major on the run, the Lieutenants could do nothing, but die bravely, and in vain. Donald McIntosh was surrounded, knocked from his horse and butchered. Hodgson, shot off his horse, was rescued by a friend, who dove into the river with him, but close to the farther shore the Indians killed him, a bullet tore through his body, the gallant and brave man rolled dead into the muddy waters.

Once well up the bluffs, Reno's command turned around and considered the situation. The Indians had stopped their pursuit, and even now were retreating from range. Reno fired his pistol at the distant warriors in useless defiance of the men who had stampeded him. He was now up some two hundred feet above them, and it was as safe as it was harmless. Two of his best men lay dead down on the banks of the river, and so did more than ten other of his soldiers.  The Indians had swarmed all around his troops, and butchered them as they ran. Many more had been wounded, but things appeared safe for the moment. The Indians had mysteriously retreated from their front. Reno did not know what it meant, did not know what had happened to Custer, and did not know where the commands of Benteen and MacDougal were.

Over toward the villages, which they could now see stretching for five miles down the stream, all was total pandemonium and confusion; but northward the bluffs rose still higher to a point nearly opposite the middle of the villages -- a point some two miles from them -- and beyond that they could see nothing. But that is where Custer had gone, and suddenly, splitting through the moist morning air, came the sound of loud and rapid gunfire; complete volleys followed by continuous rattle and roar. The sounds of war grew more intense for the next ten minutes. Some thought they could hear the victory yells of their friends, and they were ready to yell in reply. Others thought they heard the sound of "charge" being blown on the trumpets.  Many wanted to mount their horses, and join the fight, which sounded to be just over the bluffs.

But, almost as suddenly as it had started, the sound of gunfire faded away. The continuous peals of musketry settled into sporadic skirmishing fire.  Reno's men looked at each other in confusion. They could not figure out what had just happened.

Reno's men were soon encouraged as they heard the reports of scouts that Benteen and MacDougal were approaching from the east. When they arrived the first thing they asked was, "Have you seen anything of Custer?"

Benteen and Weir scouted up to  a mile or more to the north, had seen swarms of Indians in the valley below, but not a sign of Custer and his cavalry.

They concluded that there would be no help from Custer, and they did the only thing they could under these circumstances; they dug in and would try and hold out until Terry and Gibbon got there. Reno did not have the pack train, which gave him ample ammunition and supplies.

The question remained, what had happened to George Custer and his men? The question can only be answered by the Indians who were victorious that day, and one Indian who had been working for Custer.  There was one Crow scout in Custer's command who managed to escape the carnage of that day in a Sioux blanket. Between the lone survivor of Custer's command, and the victorious Indian warriors, a fairly consistent story emerges. From all these sources it was not hard to trace Custer's every move during that fateful battle.


Custer's Last Stand

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Never comprehending the overwhelming odds against him, believing that the Indians were "on the run", and thinking that between himself and Reno he could "double them up" in short order, Custer had sealed his fate. It was about five miles from where Custer first saw the northern end of the village and where he attacked the center of the village.  During this 5 mile ride, Custer never saw the complete magnitude of the Indian Camp.  As he attacked, and rounded the bluff, he found himself confronted with thousands skilled and well equipped warriors, all ready for the fight. He had hoped to attack the center of the village unmolested, and to meet Reno's men there, coming from the other direction. Instead he faced an intense attack from the thickets and trees.  He could not ignore the attack, and had to deal with the threat at hand. He had his men dismount, and begin engaging the fire coming from the thickets.  This was a perilous move, as he was outnumbered ten to one at this point. Worse than that, hundreds of young braves had mounted their horses and dashed across the river below him, hundreds more were following and circling all about him. It is likely that this is the point that Custer realized that he was in trouble, and that he must cut his way out and escape the overwhelming enemy surrounding him.

His trumpeters sounded "Mount!", and leaving many injured companions on the ground, the men ran for their mounts. With skill and daring, the Ogalallas and Brulés recognized the opportunity, and sprang to their horses, and gave chase. "Make for the heights!" must have been Custer's order, for the first dash was eastward, and then more to the left as their progress was blocked.

Then, as Custer and the remainder of his regiments of 7th cavalry reached higher ground, they must have fully realized the gravity of their situation.  For from this vantage point, all they would have been able to see would be throngs of skilled Sioux warrior on horseback, circling and laying down a furious fire. Custer and his command was fully hemmed in, cut off, and losing men quickly.  Custer must have realized that at this point retreat was impossible.  Some of the Indian victors later reported that at this point Custer ordered that the horses be turned loose, after losing about half of his men.

A skirmish line was then formed down the slope, and there the men fell at 25 feet intervals (It was here that their fellow soldiers found them two days later).  At last, on a mound that stands at the northern end of a little ridge, Custer, Cook, Yates, Tom Custer, and some dozen other soldiers, (the only white men left alive at this point), gathered for the last stand. They undoubtedly fought fiercely, but lost their lives to the superior numbers, and superior leadership and strategy of the Indian Nation. 

Keogh, Calhoun, Crittenden, had all been killed along the skirmish line. Smith, Porter, and Reily were found dead with the rest of their men. So were the surgeons, Lord and De Wolf; and, also, were Custer's other brother, "Boston" Custer and the Herald correspondent.

Two men were not found among the dead. Lieutenants Harrington and Jack Sturgis. About 30 men had made a run for their lives down a little gully. The banks of the gully were teamed with Indians, who managed to shoot down the escaping soldiers as they ran.  One officer was reported by the Sioux to have managed to break through the deadly circle of Indians, the only white man to do so that day. Five warriors gave chase.  It is reported that as the pursuing band was worn down, and giving up the chase, the officer concluded that all was lost, and took his pistol, and shot himself in the head.  This soldiers skeleton was pointed out to the officers of the Fifth Cavalry the following year by one of the pursuers. It had not been found before then. Was it Harrington or could it have been Sturgis? Some years later yet another skeleton was found even further from the battle scene. Remnants found at the scene indicated that it was a cavalry officer.  If so, all the missing would be accounted for. 

The Sole U.S. Army Survivor

Of the twelve troops of the Seventh Cavalry, Custer led five that hot Sunday into eternity and infamy at the battle of the Little Big Horn, and of his part of the regiment only one living thing escaped the deadly skill of the Sioux warriors. Bleeding from many arrow wounds, weak, thirsty and tired,  there came straggling into the lines some days after the fight Keogh's splendid horse "Comanche". Who can ever even imagine the scene as the soldiers thronged around the gallant steed?

Comanche- The only US Army Survivor at the Battle of Little Big Horn

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As a tribute to his service and bravery, the war horse Comanche was never ridden again. He was stabled at Fort Riley, and would periodically be paraded by the US Army. He lived to the age of 29, and when he died his body was mounted and put on display at the University of Kansas, where it stands to this day.

The Aftermath

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With Custer's men all dead, the triumphant Indians left their bodies to be plundered by their women. The warriors once more focused on  Reno's front. There were two nights of celebration and rejoicing in the Indian Camp, though not one instant was the watch on Reno eased. All day of the 26th they kept him penned down in his rifle pits. Early on the morning of the 27th, with great excitement, the lodges were suddenly taken down, and tribe after tribe, village after village, family after family, six thousand Indians passed before his eyes, moving towards the mountains.

Terry and Gibbon had arrived. Reno's small remnant of the 7th cavalry had been saved. Together they reconnoitered the battlefield, and hastily buried their fallen comrades. They then hurried back to the Yellowstone while the Sioux were hiding in around the Big Horn.  The Indians were shrewd enough to realize that Crook and Terry would be reinforced.  They also realized that their victory would result in the US Army relentlessly pursuing them. As they heard that great numbers of troops were assembling near the Yellowstone and Platte, they took the only reasonable strategy that they could; the great Alliance of Indian Nations quietly dissolved. 

Sitting Bull, with many close associates, made for the Yellowstone, and was driven northward by General Miles. Others took refuge across the Little Missouri, where Crook pursued. With much hard pursuit, and even harder fighting, many bands and many famous chiefs were forced into submission that fall and winter.  Among these, bravest, most skilled, most victorious of all, was the hero of the Powder River battle, the famed warrior Crazy Horse.

The fame of Crazy Horse, and his exploits had become the stuff of legends among the Indian camps along the Rosebud, even before he joined Sitting Bull.  He was a key part of the battle with General Crook on June 17. No chief was as honored or trusted as Crazy Horse.

Up to the time of Little Big Horn,  Sitting Bull had no real claims as a warrior, or as a war chief. Eleven days before the fight Sitting Bull had a "sun dance." His own people report that while he was in a trance, he had a vision of his people being attacked by a large force of white men, and that the Sioux would enjoy a great victory over them.  The battle of the 17th of June was a partial fulfillment of this vision.

Scouts in the Indian Camp had seen Reno's column approaching, but it was decided that nothing would come of that.  Sitting Bull believed that the army was waiting for reinforcements, and he had no expectations that an attack was imminent. Then on the morning of the 25th, two Cheyenne Scouts came running into camp, indicating that a large group of soldiers was approaching.  Undoubtedly, this led to the commotion that Custer misread as a panic retreat.

Of course, such a report would mean that the women and children had to be hurried away, the great herds of horses brought in, and the warriors assembled to meet the coming adversary. Even as the great chiefs were running to the council lodge there came the report of gunfire from the south. This was Reno's attack, which the Indians were not expecting.  It is reported that the unexpected attack of Reno, and the report that "Long Hair" was dashing up the ravine was too much for Sitting Bull. He is reported to have gathered his family and made his escape to safety. Several miles from the battle, he realized that he was missing one of his children. As he began to return for the missing child, he was surprised to hear the battle waning, and everything becoming quiet.  He returned to camp in about 30 minutes, where he found his child.  He also found that the battle had been won in his absence.

Without him the Blackfeet and Uncapapas had pushed Reno back and penned him on the bluffs. Without him the Ogalallas, Brulés, and Cheyennes had repulsed Custer's daring assault, then rushed forth and completed a circle of death that consumed Custer, and all the men with him. Again, it was Crazy Horse who was foremost in the fray, riding in and clubbing the bewildered soldiers with his immense club of war.

On this day, Sitting Bull's vision was fully realized, but he was not there. Some loyal followers claimed that he had directed the battle from the lodge.  The truth lay in the names given to Sitting Bull's twins- "The one that was Taken", and "The one that was Left".

In the years after the conflict, many warriors would tell of their great exploits in the great battle. Rain in the Face would even brag that he had killed Custer with his own hand. In the midst of all the bravado and story telling one man emerged as the man most respected by his comrades on that glorious day. The man most respected by the Indians on that day, for his bravery and leadership, was Crazy Horse.  Crazy Horse was killed not long after the battle as he tried to escape Crook's guard.

Crow Scouts

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Photograph of Custer's Crow Scouts

Crow Scouts

This is a photograph by Edward Curtis of General George Custer's Crow Scouts.  The photograph shows three crow warriors on horseback, dressed for battle, and carrying rifles. 

Sitting Bull

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SITTING BULL (1837—1890), was a beloved  medicine man and chief of the  Sioux Indian Tribe.  Chief Sitting Bull was born in about 1837 in what is now North Dakota. He was the son of Sioux chief Jumping Bull. He gained significant  influence among the restless and dissatisfied young Indians. During the Civil War he orchestrated raids on white settlers in Iowa and Minnesota. Though he had agreed to peace in 1866, from 1869 to 1876 he frequently attacked whites that had encroached on the traditional territories of the Sioux Nation. His refusal to return to the reservation in 1876 led to the campaign in which General George Armstrong Custer, and his 7th Cavalry, were wiped out at the Battle of Little Big Horn, also knows as "Custer's Last Stand".  Fearing retribution for his participation in the stunning victory of the Sioux Nation, and Allied Indian tribes, Sitting Bull with a large band moved into Canada. He returned to the US in 1881, and after 1883 lived at the Standing Rock Agency. In 1889 a treaty was made reducing Sioux territory. Difficulties in the working of this, and religious excitement in connection with the Ghost Dance craze, led to an outbreak in 1890. Rumors of a coming Indian Messiah who would defeat the whites, and Indian dissatisfaction at the disposition of their territory, created such great turmoil in 1889—1890 that the US Army decided to arrest Sitting Bull as a precaution.   Sitting Bull and three hundred Indians were killed at Wounded Knee Creek, and the Sioux were finally subdued.

Chief Red Cloud

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Red Cloud was born around 1822, and died on December 10, 1909. He was the celebrated Chief of the Oglala Sioux Indian Tribe. One of the fiercest enemies the U.S. Army ever fought, he led the successful Indian Campaign known as Red Cloud's War between 1866 and 1868. He fought the army for control of parts of Montana and Wyoming.

He was born close to the present city of North Platte, Nebraska. He was the son of an Oglala mother and Brule Father. Red Cloud's Uncle, Chief Smoke, helped raise him.  As a young man, he warred against both the Pawnee and Sioux, and became a skilled warrior.

He started Red Cloud's war in 1866, which was the most successful war an Indian nation ever waged against the US Army. The military was building forts along the Bozeman Trail straight through the Lakota Territory of Wyoming and Montana. As miners and pioneers started encroaching on Lakota Land, Red Cloud feared the demise of the Indian way of life there.

Red Cloud's military success forced the United States to make treaties.  The US abandoned its forts on the Bozeman Trail, and gave the Lakota possession of much of South Dakota.  In particular, the Lakotas were given the Black Hills of Montana and Wyoming.

Peace was short-lived. In 1874, General Custer attacked Red Cloud. Red Cloud did not take part in the Lakota war of 1876%u201377 with Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and other war leaders.

Red Cloud continued to fight for the freedom of his people. At Pine Ridge, he fought corrupt Indian agents who stole from the natives.


Red Cloud continued fighting for his people, even after being forced onto the reservation. In 1889 he opposed a treaty to sell more of the Sioux land; his steadfastness and that of Sitting Bull required the government agents to obtain the necessary signatures through subterfuges such as obtaining the signatures of children. He negotiated strongly with Indian agents such as Dr. Valentine McGillycuddy, and opposed the Dawes Act.

Red Cloud became an important leader of the Lakota as they transitioned from the freedom of the plains to the confinement of the reservation system. He outlived the other major Sioux leaders of the Indian wars and died in 1909 on the Pine Ridge Reservation, where he is buried.

He was never part of the Ghost Dance movement.

Custer's Last Words

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Custer's Last Words

Of course, Custer's very last words are lost, as all who were around him at that fateful last stand at the Little Big Horn perished with him.  The best we can do is study the last recorded words that he spoke before splitting away from Reno's command on the day of the battle.  As his command came into view of the Sioux Nation and the allied Indian Tribes, Custer exclaimed with great excitement:

"Custer's luck! The biggest Indian Village on the Continent!"

These were his last recorded words before splitting off some hand selected troops to attack the enemy. He spoke these words within hours of his death at the hands of the Sioux warriors.

Custer in the Civil War

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General George Armstrong Custer was one of the Union's most celebrated Generals in the Civil War. He fought bravely, aggressively and with distinction.  During the Civil War, he never lost a battle or a color.

Harper's Weekly Newspaper Articles

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A Pile of Bones

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"Scene of Gen. Custer's last stand, looking in the direction of the ford and the Indian village." A pile of bones on the Little Big Horn battlefield is all that remains, ca. 1877.
  • Big Horn Battlefield
  • 1877

Newspaper Correspondent Killed at the Battle of Little Big Horn

By R. J. Brown

The newspaper offices were dull and unexciting on that hot and sultry July night. The eyes of the nation were centered on the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia where the Republic celebrated one hundred years of existence as an independent nation dedicated to the immutable principles of freedom and justice for all. The Democratic and Republican conventions had passed into history with the nomination of two almost equally obscure personalities.

General George Armstrong Custer, reputed the greatest Indian fighter in the army, together with several less glamorous commanders, was campaigning in the Sioux country against a band of hostile Indians led by the notorious Sitting Bull, whose unusual name furnished the newspapermen with considerable amusement since they had often referred to him as the "Slightly Recumbent Gentleman Cow."

The Bismarck Tribune had scheduled its editor, C. A. Lounsbury, to be an official correspondent and ride with Custer on his expedition. At the last moment -- for reasons unknown -- Lounsbury declined and instead sent one of its reporters by the name of Mark Kellogg.

On June 21, Kellogg sent the following telegraph message to the Tribune:

. . . tomorrow, June 22, General Custer with twelve Cavalry companies will scout from its mouth up the valley of the Rosebud until he reaches the fresh trail discovered by Major Reno, and move on that trail with all the rapidity possible in order to overhaul the Indians whom it has been ascertained are hunting buffalo and making daily leisurely short marches. Gibbon's part of the command will march up the Big Horn Valley in order to intercept the Indians if they should attempt to escape from General Custer down that avenue. It was the last telegraph that Kellogg sent.

After that wire, there were in circulation a few vague and unconfirmed stories originating from frontier posts in the West to the effect that the Custer expedition had met with disaster. On the sixth of July, the New York Herald had published two accounts, both based on dispatches from Salt Lake City dated the fifth of July. One of the accounts originated at Stillwater, Montana Territory and the other quoted the special correspondent of the Helena Montana Herald who described the arrival of "Muggins" Taylor with the news of the battle. The second dispatch had originated at Bozeman at 7:00 P.M. on the third and was also based on the Taylor message. The same edition of the Herald carried a sketch of General Custer in which it spoke of him as having met his fate in one of those characteristic dashes which gave him his reputation as the most reckless Cavalry leader of the war.

Although the Herald seems to have accepted the accounts at their face value, the general tendency was to accept them with reluctance mixed with anxiety. Possibly, because the wish is father to the thought, the War Department was inclined to discredit the information since no official dispatches had been received. The Adjutant General's Office felt that the entire story appeared to be improbable.

General Sherman was of the opinion that it must have been exaggerated since it seemed to terrible to be entirely true. Sheridan called attention to the fact that the report did not seem to come from any accredited source. Rather than coming from headquarters or a special correspondent with the expedition, they came from two far western newspapers. It was argued that since a special correspondent was on the expedition and hadn't sent any word of such a highly newsworthy event, the accounts from other sources must be false. .

(Although it was unknown at the time, Kellogg had also been killed in the massacre and, thus, didn't send any further accounts.) Moreover, it was based on the account of a frontier scout and this, in his opinion, entitled it to be regarded with the greatest suspicion. To this another officer added that the reputation of the scout who brought the news was not such as to justify the acceptance of the story without considerable reserve.

Then suddenly the telegraph from Bismarck, Dakota Territory, began tapping out the message:

General Custer attacked the Indians June 25, and he, with every officer and man in five companies were killed. Reno with seven companies fought in intrenched [sic] positions three days. The Bismarck Tribune's special correspondent was with the expedition and killed.

This message was all that was needed to confirm the disaster. Since the source of the information was the Tribune itself, this report was deemed accurate and true.

Then followed column after column of notes, comments, interviews with members of Reno's command and, finally, the list of the dead and wounded. In all, more than fifteen thousand words were transmitted at a cost of upwards of three thousand dollars to the New York Herald, which, for an eastern paper, scored one of the greatest "scoops" of newspaper history. The Herald proceeded to adopt Mark Kellogg as their own correspondent although in reality this was not the case. From the accounts printed in the Herald, the news spread quickly throughout the United States.

Coming as it did like a thunderclap out of a clear sky, the authentic account of the disaster left the American people stunned and bewildered. The humiliation felt by both the army and nation was as great as the shock of the massacre, if not greater. The effect was heightened by the fact that the country was celebrating the completion of its first hundred years of independence and admiring, with pardonable pride, the progress that had been made in a century.


Chief Crazy Horse

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Chief Crazy Horse was a proud leader of his people in the Lakota-Sioux Indian tribes.  A courageous warrior dedicated to preserving and protecting the Native American's way of life against the white man, he died at the hands of an American soldier.  He was stabbed in the back.

Crazy Horse, a Sioux Indian that led in the Sioux wars during the 1860's to the 1870's, was a respected member and leader of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Born around 1840, his name was first Light Hair. It is a common practice among these Native Americans to change the name of a child as they grow up. At the age of 10, Crazy Horse was known as His Horse On Sight. His father went by the name Crazy Horse until he passed his name down to his son at the age of 18. Once passing the name down, his father took the name of Worm. His mother was known as Rattling Blanket Woman. Worm was from the Oglala Lakota tribe while Rattling Blanket Woman was from the Miniconjou Lakota tribe and was a member of the One Horn family.

(Tashunka Witco, Tashunca-Uitco, "his horse is crazy").

TRIBE: Oglala-Brule Sioux.

BIRTH-DEATH: (ca. 1842-1877).

Leader in the Sioux Wars of the 1860s-70s. Nephew of SPOTTED TAIL .



Crazy Horse was born along Rapid Creek near present-day Rapid City, South Dakota, to the east of Paha Sapa, the Black Hills. He was the son of an Oglala medicine man of the same name and his Brule wife, the sister of Spotted Tail. His mother died when he was young, and his father took her sister as a wife and she helped raise Crazy Horse.

He spent time in both Oglala and Brule camps. His childhood name was Curly. Before he was 12, Curly had killed a buffalo and received his own horse. About that age, on August 19, 1854, he was in CONQUERING BEAR's camp in northern Wyoming when the Brule leader was killed in the GRATTAN Fight.

Although he was away from camp during the Battle of Ash Hollow the following year, he witnessed the destruction of Sioux tepees and possessions by the soldiers during General WILLIAM S. HARNEY's punitive expedition through Sioux territory along the Oregon Trail, experiences that helped shape his militant attitude toward whites.

After the Grattan Fight, Curly underwent a Vision Quest in which he had a vivid dream of a rider in a storm on horseback, with long unbraided hair, a small stone in his ear, zigzag lightning decorating his cheek, and hail dotting his body. Although a warrior, he bore no scalps. People clutched at the rider, but could not hold him.

The storm faded and a red-backed hawk flew over the rider's head. When Curly later related the dream to his father, the medicine man interpreted it as a sign of his son's future greatness in battle.

At about the age of 16, now bearing his father's name, Crazy Horse rode for the first time as an adult warrior in a raid on Crows. Like the rider in his dream, he wore his hair free, a stone earring, and a headdress with a red hawk feather in it. His face was painted with a lightning bolt and his body with hail-like dots. The raid was successful, but Crazy Horse received a wound in the leg, because, his father interpreted, unlike the rider in the vision, he had taken two scalps.

For the remainder of his career as a warrior, it is said that Crazy Horse never again took a scalp.

Crazy Horse became further known to many of the Sioux bands for his courage in the War for the BOZEMAN Trail of 1866-68 under the Oglala RED CLOUD , when the army began building a road in Powder River country from the Oregon Trail to the goldfields of Montana. He was one of the young chiefs, along with the Miniconjou HUMP and the Hunkpapas GALL and RAIN-IN-THE-FACE , who used decoy tactics against the soldiers. Near Fort Phil Kearny, Wyoming, Crazy Horse participated in the Indian victories known as the FETTERMAN Fight of December 21, 1866, and the Wagon Box Fight of August 2, 1867.

With the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, in which the army agreed to abandon the posts along the Bozeman Trail, Red Cloud and Spotted Tail settled on reservation lands. Crazy Horse became war chief of the Oglalas, with some Brule followers as well. Moreover, he made friends and followers among the Northern Cheyennes through his first marriage to a Cheyenne woman. He later married an Oglala woman too.Crazy Horse again waged war in the early 1870s, leading his warriors in raids on Northern Pacific Railway surveyors.

The Black Hills Gold Rush, which brought more whites to the region, increased tensions. When the nomadic hunting bands ignored the order to report to their reservations by January 31, 1876, the military organized a campaign against them. Crazy Horse's band fought in the opening engagement of the War for the Black Hills of 1876-77, the Battle of Powder River.

In March 1876, when his scouts discovered an Indian trail, General GEORGE CROOK sent a detachment under Colonel Joseph Reynolds to locate the Indian camp along the Powder in southeastern Montana. At dawn on March 17, Reynolds ordered a charge. The Indians retreated to surrounding bluffs and fired at the troops who burned the village and rounded up the Indian horses. Crazy Horse regrouped his warriors and, during a snowstorm that night, recaptured the herd.

Meanwhile, SITTING BULL of the Hunkpapas, who, during the 1860s, had been active in raids in northern Montana and North Dakota along the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers, came into prominence as the spiritual leader of the allied Northern Plains tribes. Gall acted as his leading war chief. Crazy Horse joined the Hunkpapas on the upper Rosebud. On June 17, 1876, at the Battle of the Rosebud, Crazy Horse, Gall, and other war chiefs led their warriors in repeated assaults that forced Crook's troops to retreat. The Indians then moved their camp to the Bighorn River. On June 25, at the Battle of Little Bighorn, Crazy Horse led the victorious assault on GEORGE ARMSTRONG CUSTER's men from the north and west, while Gall's warriors attacked from the south and west.

Following Little Bighorn, the Indian bands split up, and Crazy Horse led his people back to the Rosebud. The next autumn and winter, Colonel NELSON A. MILES led the 5th Infantry from a base at the confluence of the Tongue and Yellowstone rivers in a relentless pursuit of the militants, wearing them down and making it difficult for them to obtain food.

When the Indians attempted hit-and-run strikes, the soldiers responded with heavy artillery to repel them. On January 8, 1877, at Wolf Mountain on the Tongue River in southern Montana, Crazy Horse led 800 braves in a surprise attack. Miles had disguised his howitzers as wagons and opened fire with them. The Indians withdrew to bluffs and, when the soldiers counterattacked, retreated under the cover of a snowstorm.

More and more of the fugitive bands were surrendering. Crazy Horse received a promise from Crook through Red Cloud that if he surrendered, his people would have a reservation of their own in the Powder River country. His people weary and starving, Crazy Horse led some 800 followers to Fort Robinson on the Red Cloud Agency in northwestern Nebraska on May 5, 1877. But the promise of a reservation fell through.

Crazy Horse remained at the Red Cloud Agency, and his presence caused unrest among the Indians and suspicion among the whites. Older chiefs resented the adulation he received from young braves. He remained aloof from whites and refused Crook's request to send him to Washington, D.C., for a meeting with President Rutherford Hayes.

Crazy Horse's wife became sick. On hearing unfounded rumors that Crazy Horse was planning a rebellion, Crook ordered his arrest. Taking his family with him, Crazy Horse headed for the Spotted Tail Agency to the northwest. In a parley with troops sent to capture him, Crazy Horse agreed to return, and the next day, September 5, 1877, he was led back to Fort Robinson.

What exactly happened at the Red Cloud Agency is unknown. It is thought Crazy Horse had not expected to be imprisoned. On realizing he was being taken to the stockade, he resisted and, while the Indian police attempted to regain control, he was bayoneted in the abdomen by a soldier.

Crazy Horse died that night.

His father and stepmother were given his body and, following their son's request, buried him in his homeland%u2014somewhere near Wounded Knee, according to legend.

Crazy Horse Speaks:

I was hostile to the white man...We preferred hunting to a life of idleness on our reservations. At times we did not get enough to eat and we were not allowed to hunt. All we wanted was peace and to be let alone. Soldiers the winter..and destroyed our villages. Then Long Hair (Custer) came...They said we massacred him, but he would have done the same to us. Our first impulse was to escape...but we were so hemmed in we had to fight. After that I lived in peace, but the government would not let me alone. I was not allowed to remain quiet. I was tired of fighting...They tried to confine me.. and a soldier ran his bayonet into me. I have spoken.

"We did not ask you white men to come here. The Great Spirit gave us this country as a home. You had yours. We did not interfere with you. The Great Spirit gave us plenty of land to live on, and buffalo, deer, antelope and other game. But you have come here, you are taking my land from me, you are killing off our game, so it is hard for us to live.

Now, you tell us to work for a living, but the Great Spirit did not make us to work, but to live by hunting. You white men can work if you want to. We do not interfere with you, and again you say why do you not become civilized? We do not want your civilization! We would live as our fathers did, and their fathers before them."

Crazy Horse - Sioux

Bloody Knife

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Bloody Knife was described by Mrs. Custer in her 1885 Boots and Saddles: Or Life in Dakota with General Custer as her husband's favorite scout. Bloody Knife acted as a guide and scout in Gen. Stanley's 1873 Yellowstone Expedition as well as Custer's 1874 expedition into the Black Hills. Mrs. Custer recalled in her book:

Bloody Knife was naturally mournful; his face still looked sad when he put on the presents given him. He was a perfect child about gifts, and the general studied to bring him something from the East that no other Indian had. He had proved himself such an invaluable scout to the general that they often had long interviews. Seated on the grass, the dogs lying about them, they talked over portions of the country that the general had never seen, the scout drawing excellent maps in the sand with a pointed stick. He was sometimes petulant, often moody, and it required the utmost patience on my husband's part to submit to his humors; but his fidelity and cleverness made it worth while to yield to his tempers.

American Indian Scout. Born in or around 1840 near the present day Standing Rock Reservation, North Dakota Territory, his father was Hunkpapa and his mother was Arikara. Ridiculed in his childhood by other Indians because of his mixed blood, after the Civil War he served as an Indian Scout for General Alfred Sully's 4th United States Cavalry. In 1868 he enlisted as an Indian scout at Fort Stevenson, and in 1872, after the establishment of Fort Lincoln, and the arrival of the 7th United States Cavalry under Lieutenant Colonel George Custer, he was made chief of the Indian scouts. On June 25, 1876, during the Battle of Little Big Horn, Custer assigned Bloody Knife to Major Marcus Reno's detachment and ordered them to circle around the Indian Camp they had found at the Little Bighorn River in Montana Territory. Reno attacked the camp on the western side of the River and was overwhelmed by the Indians and retreated to what is known as Reno Hill. Sometime during the retreat Bloody knife was killed by a gunshot to the head while standing next to Major Reno. (bio by: Maverick1862)

Birth:   1840
North Dakota, USA Death:   Jun. 25, 1876
Montana, USABuried: Red Cloud Cemetery
Pine Ridge
Shannon County
South Dakota, USA


Grave of Lt. James Garland Sturgis, 1877

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Second Lieutenant, Company E, 7th US Cavalry. Killed in action at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. His body was not identified, and is believed buried with the enlisted soldiers in the mass grave at the Battlefield Monument.

The son of Colonel Samuel Davis Sturgis, Commander of the 7th US Cavalry (Colonel Sturgis was on recruiting duty at the time of the Battle of the Little Big Horn and did not rejoin his command until after the battle), and Jerusha Wilcox Sturgis, he entered the US Military Academy in 1871 by appointment at large. The 2578th Graduate, he ranked 29th of 43 graduates, in the class of 1875. Appointed 2nd Lt, 7th US Cavalry, on 16 June 1875. Arrived at his duty station of Fort Abraham Lincoln, Dakota Territory, on 29 Oct 1875. During the Sioux Campaign of 1876, he was with Company E, 7th Cavalry, and accompanied Custer's column. His body was never positively identified, as the bodies of the dead soldiers were mutilated by the Indians, and he is presumed buried with the enlisted soldiers in the mass grave at the Battle Monument on Last Stand Hill. In 1877, when the bodies of the enlisted soldiers were being reinterred into a mass grave on top of Last Stand Hill, his mother, Jerusha Wilcox Sturgis, insisted on seeing the spot where her son died, and the soldiers created a fake stone grave on the battlefield for her to look at.

Birth:   Jan. 24, 1854
Bernalillo County
New Mexico, USA Death:   Jun. 25, 1876
Little Big Horn Battle Site
Big Horn County
Montana, USA

Buried: Custer National Cemetery
Crow Agency
Big Horn County
Montana, USA
Plot: Body not recovered



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Rain-in-the-face (Itonagaju)


Even after denials by Rain-in-the-Face, the belief grew. One retired Civil War Union general, Delevan Bates, later wrote:

One hundred and sixty-three dead Indians were found in front of where Tom and the General fell. Tom fell first and then his brother was pierced with a dozen bullets, the last survivor of the bloody field. Rain-in-the-Face, an Indian chief, whom Tom had arrested for some misdemeanor on the reservation a year before was among the Indian forces, and when Tom fell he sprang for the body, and, with scalping knife, opened the bosom of the dying hero, tore the heart, yet quivering, from its resting place, licked the dripping blood from the vital organ, and then crushed it under his heel to the earth.

There is but one problem. It simply was not true. G. A. Custer's body bore only two bullet wounds, either of which whould have been fatal. Although Tom Custer's body was brutishly mutulated, his chest cavity was not opened. The stripping of the bodies, the unspeakable mutulations, and theft of the mortal possessions of the dead was done by others after the battle was over. Rain-in-the-Face shortly before his death in 1905 explained to physician Charles A Eastman:

Many lies have been told of me. Some say that I killed the Chief, and others that I cut out the heart of his brother, because he had caused me to be imprisoned. Why, in that fight the excitement was so great that we scarcely recognized our nearest friends! Everything was done like lightning. After the battle we young men were chasing horses all over the prairie, while the old men and women plundered the bodies; and if any mutilating was done, it was by the old men.

Dr. Eastman (1858-1939) was a Santee Sioux whose original name was Ohiyese. The name Charles Alexander Eastman was adopted when as a youth he converted to Christianity. He was educated at Beloit College, Knox College, and Dartmouth. He received a medical degree at Boston University Medical School. As a physician he practiced at, among other places, Pine Ridge and provided care to the survivors at Wounded Knee.

Hunkpapa Lakota

as Remembered by Ohiyesa (Charles A. Eastman)

The noted Sioux warrior, Rain-in-the-Face, whose name once carried terror to every part of the frontier, died at his home on the Standing Rock reserve in North Dakota on September 14, 1905. About two months before his death I went to see him for the last time, where he lay upon the bed of sickness from which he never rose again, and drew from him his life-history.

It had been my experience that you cannot induce an Indian to tell a story, or even his own name, by asking him directly.

"Friend," I said, "even if a man is on a hot trail, he stops for a smoke! In the good old days, before the charge there was a smoke. At home, by the fireside, when the old men were asked to tell their brave deeds, again the pipe was passed. So come, let us smoke now to the memory of the old days!"

He took of my tobacco and filled his long pipe, and we smoked. Then I told an old mirthful story to get him in the humor of relating his own history.

The old man lay upon an iron bedstead, covered by a red blanket, in a corner of the little log cabin. He was all alone that day; only an old dog lay silent and watchful at his master's feet.

Finally he looked up and said with a pleasant smile:

"True, friend; it is the old custom to retrace one's trail before leaving it forever! I know that I am at the door of the spirit home.

"I was born near the forks of the Cheyenne River, about seventy years ago. My father was not a chief; my grandfather was not a chief, but a good hunter and a feast-maker. On my mother's side I had some noted ancestors, but they left me no chieftainship. I had to work for my reputation.

"When I was a boy, I loved to fight," he continued. "In all our boyish games I had the name of being hard to handle, and I took much pride in the fact.

"I was about ten years old when we encountered a band of Cheyennes. They were on friendly terms with us, but we boys always indulged in sham fights on such occasions, and this time I got in an honest fight with a Cheyenne boy older than I. I got the best of the boy, but he hit me hard in the face several times, and my face was all spattered with blood and streaked where the paint had been washed away. The Sioux boys whooped and yelled:

"'His enemy is down, and his face is spattered as if with rain! Rain-in-the-Face! His name shall be Rain-in-the-Face!'

"Afterwards, when I was a young man, we went on a warpath against the Gros Ventres. We stole some of their horses, but were overtaken and had to abandon the horses and fight for our lives. I had wished my face to represent the sun when partly covered with darkness, so I painted it half black, half red. We fought all day in the rain, and my face was partly washed and streaked with red and black: so again I was christened Rain-in-the-Face. We considered it an honorable name.

"I had been on many warpaths, but was not especially successful until about the time the Sioux began to fight with the white man. One of the most daring attacks that we ever made was at Fort Totten, North Dakota, in the summer of 1866.

"Hohay, the Assiniboine captive of Sitting Bull, was the leader in this raid. Wapaypay, the Fearless Bear, who was afterward hanged at Yankton, was the bravest man among us. He dared Hohay to make the charge. Hohay accepted the challenge, and in turn dared the other to ride with him through the agency and right under the walls of the fort, which was well garrisoned and strong.

"Wapaypay and I in those days called each other 'brother-friend.' It was a life-and-death vow. What one does the other must do; and that meant that I must be in the forefront of the charge, and if he is killed, I must fight until I die also!

"I prepared for death. I painted as usual like an eclipse of the sun, half black and half red."

His eyes gleamed and his face lighted up remarkably as he talked, pushing his black hair back from his forehead with a nervous gesture.

"Now the signal for the charge was given! I started even with Wapaypay, but his horse was faster than mine, so he left me a little behind as we neared the fort. This was bad for me, for by that time the soldiers had somewhat recovered from the surprise and were aiming better.

"Their big gun talked very loud, but my Wapaypay was leading on, leaning forward on his fleet pony like a flying squirrel on a smooth log! He held his rawhide shield on the right side, a little to the front, and so did I. Our warwhoop was like the coyotes singing in the evening, when they smell blood!

"The soldiers' guns talked fast, but few were hurt. Their big gun was like a toothless old dog, who only makes himself hotter the more noise he makes," he remarked with some humor.

"How much harm we did I do not know, but we made things lively for a time; and the white men acted as people do when a swarm of angry bees get into camp. We made a successful retreat, but some of the reservation Indians followed us yelling, until Hohay told them that he did not wish to fight with the captives of the white man, for there would be no honor in that. There was blood running down my leg, and I found that both my horse and I were slightly wounded.

"Some two years later we attacked a fort west of the Black Hills [Fort Phil Kearny, Wyoming]. It was there we killed one hundred soldiers." [The military reports say eighty men, under the command of Captain Fetterman -- not one left alive to tell the tale!] "Nearly every band of the Sioux nation was represented in that fight -- Red Cloud, Spotted Tail, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Big Foot, and all our great chiefs were there. Of course such men as I were then comparatively unknown. However, there were many noted young warriors, among them Sword, the younger Young-Man-Afraid, American Horse [afterward chief], Crow King, and others.

"This was the plan decided upon after many councils. The main war party lay in ambush, and a few of the bravest young men were appointed to attack the woodchoppers who were cutting logs to complete the building of the fort. We were told not to kill these men, but to chase them into the fort and retreat slowly, defying the white men; and if the soldiers should follow, we were to lead them into the ambush. They took our bait exactly as we had hoped! It was a matter of a very few minutes, for every soldier lay dead in a shorter time than it takes to annihilate a small herd of buffalo.

"This attack was hastened because most of the Sioux on the Missouri River and eastward had begun to talk of suing for peace. But even this did not stop the peace movement. The very next year a treaty was signed at Fort Rice, Dakota Territory, by nearly all the Sioux chiefs, in which it was agreed on the part of the Great Father in Washington that all the country north of the Republican River in Nebraska, including the Black Hills and the Big Horn Mountains, was to be always Sioux country, and no white man should intrude upon it without our permission. Even with this agreement Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse were not satisfied, and they would not sign.

"Up to this time I had fought in some important battles, but had achieved no great deed. I was ambitious to make a name for myself. I joined war parties against the Crows, Mandans, Gros Ventres, and Pawnees, and gained some little distinction.

"It was when the white men found the yellow metal in our country, and came in great numbers, driving away our game, that we took up arms against them for the last time. I must say here that the chiefs who were loudest for war were among the first to submit and accept reservation life. Spotted Tail was a great warrior, yet he was one of the first to yield, because he was promised by the Chief Soldiers that they would make him chief of all the Sioux. Ugh! he would have stayed with Sitting Bull to the last had it not been for his ambition.

"About this time we young warriors began to watch the trails of the white men into the Black Hills, and when we saw a wagon coming we would hide at the crossing and kill them all without much trouble. We did this to discourage the whites from coming into our country without our permission. It was the duty of our Great Father at Washington, by the agreement of 1868, to keep his white children away.

"During the troublesome time after this treaty, which no one seemed to respect, either white or Indian [but the whites broke it first], I was like many other young men -- much on the warpath, but with little honor. I had not yet become noted for any great deed. Finally, Wapaypay and I waylaid and killed a white soldier on his way from the fort to his home in the east.

"There were a few Indians who were liars, and never on the warpath, playing 'good Indian' with the Indian agents and the war chiefs at the forts. Some of this faithless set betrayed me, and told more than I ever did. I was seized and taken to the fort near Bismarck, North Dakota [Fort Abraham Lincoln], by a brother [Tom Custer] of the Long-Haired War Chief, and imprisoned there. These same lying Indians, who were selling their services as scouts to the white man, told me that I was to be shot to death, or else hanged upon a tree. I answered that I was not afraid to die.

"However, there was an old soldier who used to bring my food and stand guard over me -- he was a white man, it is true, but he had an Indian heart! He came to me one day and unfastened the iron chain and ball with which they had locked my leg, saying by signs and what little Sioux he could muster:

"'Go, friend! take the chain and ball with you. I shall shoot, but the voice of the gun will lie.'

"When he had made me understand, you may guess that I ran my best! I was almost over the bank when he fired his piece at me several times, but I had already gained cover and was safe. I have never told this before, and would not, lest it should do him an injury, but he was an old man then, and I am sure he must be dead long since. That old soldier taught me that some of the white people have hearts," he added, quite seriously.

"I went back to Standing Rock in the night, and I had to hide for several days in the woods, where food was brought to me by my relatives. The Indian police were ordered to retake me, and they pretended to hunt for me, but really they did not, for if they had found me I would have died with one or two of them, and they knew it! In a few days I departed with several others, and we rejoined the hostile camp on the Powder River and made some trouble for the men who were building the great iron track north of us [Northern Pacific].

"In the spring the hostile Sioux got together again upon the Tongue River. It was one of the greatest camps of the Sioux that I ever saw. There were some Northern Cheyennes with us, under Two Moon, and a few Santee Sioux, renegades from Canada, under Inkpaduta, who had killed white people in Iowa long before. We had decided to fight the white soldiers until no warrior should be left."

At this point Rain-in-the-Face took up his tobacco pouch and began again to fill his pipe.

"Of course the younger warriors were delighted with the prospect of a great fight! Our scouts had discovered piles of oats for horses and other supplies near the Missouri River. They had been brought by the white man's fire-boats. Presently they reported a great army about a day's travel to the south, with Shoshone and Crow scouts.

"There was excitement among the people, and a great council was held. Many spoke. I was asked the condition of those Indians who had gone upon the reservation, and I told them truly that they were nothing more than prisoners. It was decided to go out and meet Three Stars [General Crook] at a safe distance from our camp.

"We met him on the Little Rosebud. I believe that if we had waited and allowed him to make the attack, he would have fared no better than Custer. He was too strongly fortified where he was, and I think, too, that he was saved partly by his Indian allies, for the scouts discovered us first and fought us first, thus giving him time to make his preparations. I think he was more wise than brave! After we had left that neighborhood he might have pushed on and connected with the Long-Haired Chief. That would have saved Custer and perhaps won the day.

"When we crossed from Tongue River to the Little Big Horn, on account of the scarcity of game, we did not anticipate any more trouble. Our runners had discovered that Crook had retraced his trail to Goose Creek, and we did not suppose that the white men would care to follow us farther into the rough country.

"Suddenly the Long-Haired Chief appeared with his men! It was a surprise."

"What part of the camp were you in when the soldiers attacked the lower end?" I asked.

"I had been invited to a feast at one of the young men's lodges [a sort of club]. There was a certain warrior who was making preparations to go against the Crows, and I had decided to go also," he said.

"While I was eating my meat we heard the war cry! We all rushed out, and saw a warrior riding at top speed from the lower camp, giving the warning as he came. Then we heard the reports of the soldiers' guns, which sounded differently from the guns fired by our people in battle.

"I ran to my teepee and seized my gun, a bow, and a quiver full of arrows. I already had my stone war club, for you know we usually carry those by way of ornament. Just as I was about to set out to meet Reno, a body of soldiers appeared nearly opposite us, at the edge of a long line of cliffs across the river.

"All of us who were mounted and ready immediately started down the stream toward the ford. There were Ogallalas, Minneconjous, Cheyennes, and some Unkpapas, and those around me seemed to be nearly all very young men.

"'Behold, there is among us a young woman!' I shouted. 'Let no young man hide behind her garment!' I knew that would make those young men brave.

"The woman was Tashenamani, or Moving Robe, whose brother had just been killed in the fight with Three Stars. Holding her brother's war staff over her head, and leaning forward upon her charger, she looked as pretty as a bird. Always when there is a woman in the charge, it causes the warriors to vie with one another in displaying their valor," he added.

"The foremost warriors had almost surrounded the white men, and more were continually crossing the stream. The soldiers had dismounted, and were firing into the camp from the top of the cliff."

"My friend, was Sitting Bull in this fight?" I inquired.

"I did not see him there, but I learned afterward that he was among those who met Reno, and that was three or four of the white man's miles from Custer's position. Later he joined the attack upon Custer, but was not among the foremost.

"When the troops were surrounded on two sides, with the river on the third, the order came to charge! There were many very young men, some of whom had only a war staff or a stone war club in hand, who plunged into the column, knocking the men over and stampeding their horses.

"The soldiers had mounted and started back, but when the onset came they dismounted again and separated into several divisions, facing different ways. They fired as fast as they could load their guns, while we used chiefly arrows and war clubs. There seemed to be two distinct movements among the Indians. One body moved continually in a circle, while the other rode directly into and through the troops.

"Presently some of the soldiers remounted and fled along the ridge toward Reno's position; but they were followed by our warriors, like hundreds of blackbirds after a hawk. A larger body remained together at the upper end of a little ravine, and fought bravely until they were cut to pieces. I had always thought that white men were cowards, but I had a great respect for them after this day.

"It is generally said that a young man with nothing but a war staff in his hand broke through the column and knocked down the leader very early in the fight. We supposed him to be the leader, because he stood up in full view, swinging his big knife [sword] over his head, and talking loud. Some one unknown afterwards shot the chief, and he was probably killed also; for if not, he would have told of the deed, and called others to witness it. So it is that no one knows who killed the Long-Haired Chief [General Custer].

"After the first rush was over, coups were counted as usual on the bodies of the slain. You know four coups [or blows] can be counted on the body of an enemy, and whoever counts the first one [touches it for the first time] is entitled to the 'first feather.'

"There was an Indian here called Appearing Elk, who died a short time ago. He was slightly wounded in the charge. He had some of the weapons of the Long-Haired Chief, and the Indians used to say jokingly after we came upon the reservation that Appearing Elk must have killed the Chief, because he had his sword! However, the scramble for plunder did not begin until all were dead. I do not think he killed Custer, and if he had, the time to claim the honor was immediately after the fight.

"Many lies have been told of me. Some say that I killed the Chief, and others that I cut out the heart of his brother [Tom Custer], because he had caused me to be imprisoned. Why, in that fight the excitement was so great that we scarcely recognized our nearest friends! Everything was done like lightning. After the battle we young men were chasing horses all over the prairie, while the old men and women plundered the bodies; and if any mutilating was done, it was by the old men.

"I have lived peaceably ever since we came upon the reservation. No one can say that Rain-in-the-Face has broken the rules of the Great Father. I fought for my people and my country. When we were conquered I remained silent, as a warrior should. Rain-in-the-Face was killed when he put down his weapons before the Great Father. His spirit was gone then; only his poor body lived on, but now it is almost ready to lie down for the last time. Ho, hechetu! [It is well.]"


Battle of the Little Big Horn, painting by Kicking Bear, 1898.

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Kicking Bear, Mato Wanahkaka (c. 1846-1904), painted the above at the request of Frederic Remmington. To the left, in buckskin is Custer. The very faint, ghost-like figures in the upper left, behind the figures of dead soldiers, are the spirits of the dead. In the center are the figures of Sitting Bull, Rain-in-the-Face, Crazy Horse, and Kicking Bear.

In 1890, Kicking Bear preached the cause of the Ghost-Dance religion and was imprisoned. He was released in order to perform in Wm. F. Cody's Wild West show. After traveling with the show to the United Kingdom, he returned to Pine Ridge. As indicated in the following, Kicking Bear's painting was not the only Native American rendition of the battle.

Accounts of the Battle

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By July 24, the army had learned from Sioux who had participated in the battle the Indian version. On July 24, Capt. J. L. Poland wrote a report outlining the events from the Indian perspective. Poland describes Reno's attack on the village:
The Indian account follows: The hostile were celebrating their greatest of religious festivals - the Sun dance - when rumors brought news of the approach of cavalry. The dance was suspended and a general rush, mistaken by Custer, perhaps, for a retreat - for horses equipment and arrows followed. Major Reno first attacked the village at the south end and across the Little BigHorn. Their narrative of Reno's operations coincide with the published accounts how his men were quickly confronted, surrounded, how he dismounted, rallied on the timber, remounted and cut his way back over the ford and up the bluffs suffering considerable loss, and the continuation of the fight for some little time, when runners arrived from the north of the village, or camp with the news that the cavalry had attacked the north end of the river, three or four miles distance. The Indians about Reno had not before this shown the slightest integration of fighting at any other point. A force large enough to prevent Reno from assuming the offensive was left and the remaining available force flew to the other end of the camp where finding the Indians there successfully driving Custer before them * * * *

Captain Poland continues with his report and describes the battle with Custer:


[I]nstead of uniting with them they separated into ten parties and moved around the flanks of his cavalry. They report that he crossed the river but only succeeded in reaching the edge of the Indian camp. After he was driven to the bluffs the fight lasted perhaps an hour. Indians have no hours of the day, and the time cannot be given approximately.

They report that a small number of cavalry broke through the line of Indians in their rear escaped, but was overtaken, within a distance of five or six miles and killed. I infer from this that this body of retreating cavalry was probably led by the missing officers and that they tried to escape only after Custer fell. The last man that was killed by two sons of a Santee Indian "Red Top" whom was a leader in the Minnesota massacre of '62 and '63. After the battle the squaws entered the field to plunder and mutilate the dead.


The Attack upon Reno and Benteen's position on the bluffs is renewed:

A general rejoicing was indulged in and a distribution of arms and ammunition hurriedly made. Then the attack on Major Reno was vigorously renewed. Up to this attack the Indians had lost comparatively few men, but now they say their most serious loss took place. They give no ideal of numbers but say there was a great great many. Sitting Bull was neither killed nor personally engaged in the fight. He remained in the counsel tent directing operations. Crazy Horse (with a large band) and Black Moon were the principal leaders on the 20th June. Kill Eagle, Chief of the Blackfeet at the head of some twenty lodges left the agency about the last of May. He was prominently engaged in the battle of June 25 and afterwards upbraided Sitting Bull for not taking an active personal part in the engagement.


* * * *

The Indians were not all engaged at one time, he says reserves were held to replace loses and renew attacks unsuccessfully. The fight continued until the end of day when runners, kept on the look out for other units reported a great body of troops (General Terry's column) advancing up the river.



Captain Poland continues his report:


Lodges having been previously prepared for a move retreated in a southerly direction followed towards and along the base of the mountains. They marched about fifty miles, went into camp and held a consultation where it was determined to send to all the agencies reports of this success and to call upon them to come out and share the glories that were expected in the future. Therefore we may expect an influx of overbearing and imprudent Indians to wage by force perhaps, a succession to Sitting Bulls demands.

At first Custer's men were buried where they fell, graves marked with wooden stakes. The following year the officers were exumed and reburied at military installations with markers where the men fell. Custer was returned to West Point. Most enlisted men were reburied in a mass grave.

Marcus Reno

Questions have been raised as to whether circumstances might have been different had Benteen, Reno, or Crook promptly acted. Thus, Fred A. Hunt in a 1905 article in the Pacific Monthly, A Purposeful Picnic -- A Review of Reno's Recalcitrance and the Resumption of the Route," suggested that had Crook believed Grouard and promply moved northward he might have saved the day. The suggestion, on reflection, does not work. A military force cannot move as rapidly as a single rider. Grouard arrived after the battle was long over.

Hunt also suggested that Reno could have massed his men and, thus, attacked one end of the Indian village as Custer was attacking the other end. This ignores that Reno had already been repulsed and placed on the defensive by the Sioux and Lakota. Reno, of course, makes a good scapegoat. He was later court martialed for cowardice, but found not guilty, in retreating from the trees. Later he was court martialed for making improper advances to, and then denigrating, the wife of an officer. Found guilty, the finding was suspended by the Secretary of War. He military career ended at a third court martial for being involved in a drunken brawl and being a peeping tom. It should also be noted that Benteen's career ended on accusations of alcoholism.

Had Reno stayed in the trees or had he continued on the attack in the village, assuredly, we would remember Reno as a hero. We would probably admire a marble column erected in his and his men's memory. We would then debate as to whether Custer could have saved Reno. Did Reno panic as some writers have contended? Was he derelict in retreating? The testimony of Lieut. Winfield S. Edgerley at Reno's Court Martial is instructive:

When he first got up on the hill he was excited, but not enough to impair his efficiency or discourage the men; there was no need of many orders, and he did all that was necessary; it was plain to the officers what aught to be done; afterwards he was cool, and the position selected was the best possible within a radius of many miles.


Was Reno drunk as charged at the court martial by two of his packers? Benteen, no great admirer of Reno, testified that Reno was not drunk nor was he under the influence of liquor at any time.

Frederick William Benteen

Although Benteen (1834-1898), upon his retirement from the Service, was breveted as a Brigadier General, his career is almost as tragic as that of Reno. Benteen was from the South. At the beginning of the Civil War his family was living in St. Louis. As a result of the War, he was estranged from his father. At the beginning of the War, he announced his intention to enlist in Union forces. His father declared that he hoped his son would be killed by a Confederate bullet, preferable fired by a Benteen. Nevertheless, he enlisted. During the war he was responsible for the capture of a Confederate steamboat upon which his father was serving as an engineer. While other members of the crew were paroled, the elder Benteen remained imprisoned.

Of Benteen's children, only one survived to adulthood. His army career effectively ended upon a court martial for alleged drunkedness in which he was found guilty of three counts. Benteen, himself, felt himself a failure. Benteen biographer, Charles H. Mills, (Harvest of Barren Regrets: The Army Career of Frederick William Benteen, 1834-1898. Glendale, CA: A. H. Clark Co., 1985) took a line from Edward Robert, Baron of Lytton's Lucile for the title of the biography:

Thus, Mills summed up Benteen's life:


There are no monuments to Frederick William Benteen today. He remains as he lived: a rather obscure supporting actor who appeared briefly on center stage in a well-known American history drama and then quietly faded away. It was his misfortune to live largely unknown and to die largely misunderstood.


The fault for the debacle lay with Custer.

First, at best there was miscommunication with Reno. Reno had been assured that Custer's units would be in support. They were not. Custer went off on his own, out of communication with either Reno or Benteen. Since the time of Caesar it has been recognized that in a coordinated attack, forces must be in communication with each other

Second, He attacked after being warned that there were overwhelming forces against him, probably thinking that he would gain the same victory as he had on Nov. 27, 1868, when he decimated superior forces at the "Battle" of Washita. There, Custer divided his forces when he attacked the peaceful Cheyenne village of Black Kettle. Next to Black Kettle's tent flew the stars and stripes. Black Kettle and his wife were killed. Custer ignored his scouts as to the numbers of Indians present. The night before he camped at a site which itself indicated the total numbers against him. Godfrey wrote:

June 24th we passed a great many camping places, all appearing to be of nearly the same strength. One would naturally suppose these were the successive camping-places of the same village, when in fact they were the continuous camps of several bands. The fact that they appeared to be of nearly the same age, that is, having been made at the same time, did not impress us then. We passed through one much larger than any of the others. The grass for a considerable distance around it had been cropped close, indicating that large herds had been grazed there.

An estimate of the total number of Indians who had left reservations had been prepared and was forwarded by Gen. Sherman. It arrived several days after the battle.

Third, The division of forces. Had all forces attacked as one, Custer would probably have prevailed. Other secondary reasons have also been assigned. Thus, Godfrey placed part of the blame on the weaponry. In many instances the Indians had more modern repeating rifles. Godfrey noted from his own experience that cartridges when corroded or dirty would not always extract and the cartiriges would have to removed with a knife. Godfrey, who was with Benteen and thus not present, based on an 1886 conversation with Chief Gall, blames Reno's retreat from the trees. Benteen was of the opinion that had Reno not retreated, the Indians would have retired in the face of having to fight both Reno and Custer at the same time.

Ultimately, however, blame lay with not waiting until Gibbon's men were to arrive. In a supplemental report to Gen. Sherman, Terry made the same point:

Camp on the Yellowstone River, near the mouth of Big Horn, July 2. I think I owe to myself to put you in more full possession of the facts of the late operations while at the mouth of the Rosebud. I submitted my plan to General Gibbon and to General Custer. They approved it heartily. It was that Custer with his whole regiment should move to the Rosebud till he should meet a trail which Reno had discovered a few days before, but that he should not follow it directly to the Little Big Horn; that he should send scouts over it and keep the main force further to the south so as to prevent the Indians fromn slipping between himself and the mountains. He was also to examine the headwater of Talloska Creek as he passed it and send me word of what he found there. A scout was furnished him for the purpose of crossing the country to me. We calculated that it would take Gibbon's column until the 6th to reach the mouth of the Little Big Horn and that the wide sweep which I had proposed Custer should make would require so much time that Gibbon would be able to co-operate with him in attacking the Indians that might be found on that stream. I asked Custer how long his marches would be. He said they would be first about 30 miles a day. Measurements were made and calculated based on that rate of progress. I talked with him about his strength, and at one time that perhaps it would be well for me to take Gibbon's cavalry and go with him. To this suggestion he replied that without reference to the command he would prefer his own regiment alone as a homogenous body, for as much could be done with it as with the two combined, and expressed the utmost confidence that he had all the force he could need, and I shared his confidence. The plan adopted was the only one which promised to bring the infantry into action, and I desired to make sure of things by getting up every available man. I offered Custer the battery of Gatling guns, but he declined it, saying that it might embarrass him, that he was strong enough without it. The movements proposed by Gen. Gibbon's coumn were carried out to the letter, and had the attack been deferred until it was up, I cannot doubt that we should have been sucessful. The Indians had evidently nerved themselves for a stand, but as I learn from Captain Benton, on the 22d, the cavalry march 12 miles, on the 23d, 25 miles, from 5 A.M. till 8 P.M., and on the 24th, 45 miles, and then, after night, 10 miles further. Then, after resting, but without unsaddling, 23 miles to the battlefield. The proposed route was not taken, but as soon as the trail was struck it was followed. I cannot learn that any examination of Talloska Creek was made. (Signed) A. H. Terry Major-General Commanding.


Godfrey was of the opinion that had Custer waited, the Indians would have escaped and Custer would have been blamed.

It is true that Custer was permitted flexibility, nevertheless, he knew the plan was for Gibbon and his forces to join up. Custer simply did not wait. Was it a direct violation of orders? Probably not. Incompetent? Yes.

General Frederick William Benteen

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Although Benteen (1834-1898), upon his retirement from the Service, was breveted as a Brigadier General, his career is almost as tragic as that of Reno. Benteen was from the South. At the beginning of the Civil War his family was living in St. Louis. As a result of the War, he was estranged from his father. At the beginning of the War, he announced his intention to enlist in Union forces. His father declared that he hoped his son would be killed by a Confederate bullet, preferable fired by a Benteen. Nevertheless, he enlisted. During the war he was responsible for the capture of a Confederate steamboat upon which his father was serving as an engineer. While other members of the crew were paroled, the elder Benteen remained imprisoned.

Birth:   Aug. 24, 1834
Virginia Death:   Jun. 22, 1898

Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington County
Virginia, USA
Plot: Section 3, Grave 1375

During the Little Bighorn ("Sioux") expedition in 1876, under Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, Benteen commanded Company H. Approximately 12 miles from the Little Bighorn River, he was assigned command of a battalion comprising Company H, Company D, and Company K. Although Custer was uncertain of the exact location of the Indians, he assigned Benteen the task of containing the left flank. Benteen searched fruitlessly through rough ground for some two hours before returning to the trail of the main column. As he advanced toward the river, he was met by first one messenger from Custer, and then another, indicating that a big village had been found, and that he should "come on. Big village. Be quick. Bring packs".

When Benteen reached a point overlooking the river, he found the battalion commanded by Major Marcus Reno. It had been severely routed from its attack on the Sioux village, with the tattered remains of the battalion struggling to get across the river and up the bluffs. Because Reno's units were still under fire from the Sioux and low on ammunition, and since Reno technically was Benteen's superior officer, Benteen was ordered by Reno to share his battalion's ammunition. Reno was visibly shaken, and his ability to effectually command was diminished. Within a few minutes, loud firing to the north was heard by almost all the men on the bluffs, and the Sioux began to turn away from the Reno/Benteen units and head towards the firing. These volleys signified that Custer was engaged, but to what extent was uncertain to Reno and Benteen. They didn't act, spreading controversy about a military betrayal (US general in chief Nelson A Miles accused them so).

The Lakota and Cheyenne who had destroyed Custer's battalion then turned their attention to Reno and Benteen, driving them back to a defensive position now called the "Reno-Benteen defense site", a horseshoe-shaped perimeter on the bluffs near where Reno and Benteen had met. Over the next 24 hours, Benteen assumed functional command. He led two charges which drove the Indians back just as it seemed the perimeter would be overrun. Benteen was wounded in the thumb, and the heel was shot off one of his boots.

Benteen was later criticized for his slow travel between the time he was sent off to the left and the time he reached the bluffs overlooking the river. However, when the route Benteen was told to scout is examined in detail, it is clear that it is much rougher terrain than the gently descending North Fork of Reno Creek that Custer's command had ridden down at full gallop.

His decision to join Reno, rather than continuing on toward Custer, has also been questioned by some critics.

General Marcus Reno

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Civil War Union Brevet Brigadier General. As Major of the 7th United States Cavalry, he was the senior surviving officer from the Battle of the Little Big Horn, in which General George A. Custer and most of the 7th Cavalry were killed. Born in Carrollton, Illinois, the 4th of 7 children, where his father managed a hotel inn, he attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 1857. During the Civil War, he served first as a Captain in the 1st United States Regular Cavalry before being assigned to staff positions. After serving as Chief of Staff to Brig, General William F "Baldy" Smith, as acting Assistant Inspector General on the staff of Brig. General Alfred T.A. Torbert, and as Chief of Staff of the Army of the Shenandoah Cavalry Corps, he was promoted to Colonel and commander of the 12th Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry. On March 13, 1865 he was brevetted Brigadier general, US Volunteers for "meritorious services during the war". Following the Civil War, he returned to his rank of Major, and was assigned to the 7th Cavalry in 1871. In the summer of 1876, he took part in a 3 column attack on the Sioux Indians, camped in Montana, in which Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer was killed, along with almost 60 percent of the 7th Cavalry in the Battle of the Little Big Horn, June 25, 1876. Major Reno became the senior surviving officer, and is credited with saving what was left of the 7th Cavalry from destruction. Following the battle, he assumed acting command and participated in the remaining campaign, until returning to Fort Lincoln in September 1876. In 1879, a Court of Inquiry cleared him of any charges of dereliction of duty, although many people believed him to be guilty of cowardice, and his career suffered for it. In 1880, he was court-martialed for conduct unbecoming an officer, and dishonorably dismissed from the service. He died in 1889, after many attempts to be reinstated. In 1967, an Army Board of Review reexamined the Court Martial and reversed the dishonorable discharge to honorable. His remains, which has been interred in an unmarked grave in Washington, DC's Oak Hill Cemetery, was re-interred into the Little Bighorn National Cemetery, to be with the men of the 7th Cavalry. (additional info by Russ Dodge) (bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson)

Birth:   Nov. 15, 1834
Greene County
Illinois, USA Death:   Mar. 30, 1889
District of Columbia
District Of Columbia, USA     Burial:
Custer National Cemetery
Crow Agency
Big Horn County
Montana, USA
Plot: Section C, Grave 675

Thomas Custer

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Singled out for especially brutal mutilation was Tom Custer who was mutulated to such an extent that he was identified only through a tatoo of the Goddess of Liberty and an initialed American flag on his arm. During the Civil War, Tom Custer received two Medals of Honor. Suspicion as to who killed Tom Custer fell on Rain-in-the-Face , a Hunkpapa Lakota. Rain-in-the-Face allegedly received his name as a result of smallpox scars on his face. However, Rain-in-the-Face contended that the name was received when war paint washed off his face during a rain storm. Rain-in-the-Face had been humiliated by Tom Custer a year before when Tom Custer arrested the Indian for murder. Although Rain-in-the-Face was discharged by the federal court, he had threated to tear out Tom Custer's heart and eat it. Thus, it was believed that Rain-in-the-Face had his revenge.

Birth:   Mar. 15, 1845 Death:   Jun. 25, 1876

Buried: Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery
Fort Leavenworth
Leavenworth County
Kansas, USA
Plot: Section A, Grave 1488

General George Crook

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Civil War Union Major General. Noted for his valor during the Civil War, and for twice capturing the Chiricahua Apache chief, Geronimo, in 1883 and in 1886, during the Indian Wars. Appointed from Ohio to the US Military Academy, and graduated in the Class of 1852, 38th in his class of 43. He fought against the Indians in California, where in 1857 he was wounded. In 1861, he was made Colonel and commander of the 36th Ohio Volunteer Infantry regiment, and was wounded at Louisburg. In September 1862, he was promoted to Brigadier General, US Volunteers, taking command of the Kanawha District, and in July 1864, promoted to Major General, US Volunteers, taking command of the Cavalry Division of the Army of the Cumberland. He was brevetted six times to Major General, United States Regular Army. He fought at Chickamauga, and helped to drive Confederate General Joseph Wheeler out of Tennessee. In July 1864, he was put in command of the Army of West Virginia, and took part in operations in the Shenandoah Valley. In late February 1865, he was captured, along with Brigadier General Benjamin F. Kelley, by Confederate guerrillas, and exchanged the next month. Following the Civil War, he fought in the Indian Wars, during the period from 1866 to 1888. He distinguished himself in several campaigns against the Indians, particularly in the Battles of Powder River, Tongue River, and the Rosebud River. Twice he captured Geronimo, the chief of the Chiricahua Apaches, with a minimum of soldiers (the first time he used only 50 soldiers and took six months; the second time he used only 24 soldiers and three months). He obtained the surrender of Geronimo twice by promising to address their grievances, a promise he kept both times. In many opinions, he was the fairest soldier in dealings with the Indians, and often obtained from the Indians by agreement that which other Generals would have to use force to obtain. Others viewed him as too soft on the Indians, and he was often criticized by the newspapers for being too lenient with the Indians. General Crook was extremely honest in his dealings with others. When Geronimo surrendered in 1883, he brought with him a herd of cattle that the Apaches had stolen from the Mexicans. Crook impounded the cattle, sold them for $ 1,762.50, and had the money returned to the Mexican ranchers. After Geronimo escaped the second time (Crook had allowed him minimum guard, and trusted him to turn himself in), Crook resigned from his position as Commander of the Department of Arizona, after the War Department reprimanded him for allowing Geronimo's escape. He was replaced by General Nelson Miles, who used 10,000 soldiers and civilian volunteers, and three years, to force Geronimo to surrender. Later, he was given the command of the Department of the West, headquartered in Chicago, and was still in command there when he died at age 61. His wife, Mary Tapscott Dailey Crook, died at Oakland, Maryland in 1895, is buried with him at Arlington National Cemetery.  (Bio by Morgan Benson) (bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson)

Birth: Sep. 8, 1830
OhioDeath: Mar. 21, 1890
IllinoisBuried: Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington County
Virginia, USA
Plot: Section 2, Lot 974

Major General John Gibbon

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Civil War Union Major General. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, when he was a small boy his family moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. It was from this state that he entered the United States Military Academy at West Point, graduating 20th in the class of 1847 that included future Union General Ambrose E. Burnside and future Confederate General Ambrose P. Hill. After service in the Mexican and Seminole wars and 5 years at West Point as artillery instructor, he was sent to Fort Leavenworth as Captain of the 4th United States Regular Artillery. Though 3 of his brothers enlisted in the Confederate Army when the war began, he remained with the Union. He had written the basic “Artillerist's Manual”, published by the War Department in 1860, and because of his qualifications Brigadier General Irvin McDowell made him chief of artillery in October 1861. However, when he became a Brigadier General of Volunteers himself, on May 2, 1862, he was given a brigade of 1 Indiana and 3 Wisconsin regiments. To bolster their morale he had them distinctively outfitted with tall black felt hats and white gaiters, and they became known as the Black Hat Brigade. A few months later, at South Mountain, thanks to a compliment from Major General Joseph Hooker, it became known as the Iron Brigade. He went on to divisional command in Major General John F. Reynolds' I Corps. He was wounded at the December 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg, and returned to lead the 2nd Division of Major General Winfield S. Hancock's II Corps. Wounded again at Gettysburg, he commanded briefly the draft depots at Philadelphia and Cleveland. He returned to his division in time to fight through all the battles of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant's 1864 Overland Campaign against Petersburg, Virginia. He was promoted to Major General, US Volunteers on June 7, 1864. By January 1865 he was commanding the XXIV Corps and at Appomattox was one of the commissioners who received the surrender of General Robert E. Lee's army. Having received brevets in the Regular Army up to Major General, he was mustered out of the volunteer establishment on January 15, 1866. Remaining on active duty after the war, he fought Indians in the West. He participated in the Little Big Horn Campaign, where he commanded the troops that discovered and buried George A. Custer's troops after the battle. He was wounded once more the next year at Big Hole Basin, Montana. He was promoted to Brigadier General in the Regular Army on July 10, 1885. He later wrote a book, “Personal Recollections of the Civil War”, and was commander in chief of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States when he died in Baltimore. (bio by: Ugaalltheway)

Birth: Apr. 20, 1827Death: Feb. 6, 1896Buried: Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington County
Virginia, USA
Plot: Section 2, Lot 986

Dr. McGillycuddy

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Crazy Horse, Tasunka Witko, was killed at Fort Robinson, a matter which even this day is subject of dispute. Dr. McGillycuddy was the assistant post surgeon at Fort Robinson at the time of the death of Crazy Horse. Later, he described the death of Crazy Horse:


He was but thirty-six. In him everything was made secondary to patriotism and love of his people. Modest, fearless, a mystic, a believer in destiny, and much of a recluse, he was held in veneration and admiration by the youngest warriors, who would follow him anywhere. These qualities made him a danger to the government and he become persona non grata to evolution and to the progress of the white man's civilization, Hence his early death was preordained. At about eleven p.m. that night in the gloomy old adjutant's office, as his life was fast ebbing, the bugler on the parade ground wailed out the lonesome call for Taps, "Lights out, go to sleep!" It brought back to him the old battles; he struggled to arise, and there came from his lips his old rallying cry, "A good day to fight, a good day to die! Brave hearts...." and his voice ceased, the lights went out and the last sleep came. It was a scene never to be forgotten, an Indian epic.

Black Kettle

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Native American Chief. He was a famed Cheyenne Chief and repected, great leader of the Cheyenne Indian Tribe out of Oklahoma on the banks of the Washita River. His birth date and birth place is unknown, but most likely was born 1801-1807. Early in his life was known to live in and travel through Colorado and western Kansas. The territory in Kansas and Colorado was promised to the Cheyenne under the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1859. However, the 1859 Gold Rush at Pikes Peak sparked a boom of white settlers in Colorado. The government tried to amend the treaty and give the Indians a smaller parcel of land in a barren area, the Sand Creek Reservation. The new area was a breeding ground for epidemic diseases. He and his tribe signed a new Treaty with the Government in 1867, called the Medicine Lodge Treaty and was relocated to the Washita Reservation in Oklahoma. Though not supplied with all the provisions as promised by the government. So his tribe joined up with a band of Indians led by Roman Nose, they invaded a series of raids on Kansas Farms. Which provoked a quick military response from Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer's forces. Over 100 Cheyenne women, men, and children were slaughtered on their reservation in Oklahoma, which Custer boasted about. Chief Black Kettle and his wife, Maiyuna (Medicine Woman), tried fleeing on horseback, but the soldiers caught up with them and riddled them both with bullets, as they fell to the ground on the banks of the Washita River. As they lay dead on the ground, their bodies were splashed with mud by charging soldiers and stomped on by stampeding horses. Custer later reported that an Osage Indian Guide took Black Kettle's scalp. His burial site was supposedly made into a historial mound on the banks where he fell. (bio by: Bonnie Knapp- Wichita, Kansas)

Death: Nov. 27, 1868Buried: Colony Indian Cemetery
Washita County
Oklahoma, USA

Donald McIntosh

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First Lieutenant, Commanding Company G, 7th US Cavalry.

Killed at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

Born at Jasper House, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, the son of James and Charlotte Robinson McIntosh. His father, a Scotch descendent of Sir James McIntosh, was a factor with the Hudson Bay Company, and was killed by Indians when Donald was 14.

Charlotte was a direct descendent of Red Jacket, a Chief of the Six Nations. Resided at a variety of Hudson Bay Co posts, Vancouver from 1846 to 1851, Fort Dalles from 1854 to 1860, and Fort Steilacoom in 1861.

During the Civil War he was chief clerk for Colonel Daniel Rucker. He married Mary "Molly" Garrett on 13 Oct 1866 in Baltimore, MD. Appointed 2nd Lieutenant, 7th Cavalry, on 17 Aug 1867, and joined the regiment at Fort Harker, KS. Appointed 1st Lieutenant on 22 March 1870. While at Fort Leavenworth, his commander, COL Samuel Sturgis, considered him to be "inefficient, ...indifferent to his official duties, ...a malingerer." Reassigned to Company G, 7th Cavalry, where he became its Commander as the senior officer. Assigned to Major Reno's Battalion, he was killed in the valley fight while trying to rally his men.

Originally buried on the battlefield, then moved to Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery in July 1877, and reinterred October 1909 at Arlington National Cemtery by his widow, Molly, who died 12 May 1910, and is now buried with him. (bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson)

Birth:   Sep. 4, 1838, Canada

Death:   Jun. 25, 1876
Big Horn County, USA

Burial: Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington County
Virginia, USA
Plot: Section 1, Grave 107D

Contributor: bgill
Created: June 11, 2007 · Modified: June 18, 2007

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