Writing a balanced narrative involving two peoples with two widely different worldviews is an obvious challenge, especially when it comes to the nature of the evidence. As I discuss in detail in chapter 12 and in the notes to chapter 15, I have looked not only to written and oral testimony but also to visual evidence, including photographs, pictographs, and maps.
When I describe the actions of Sitting Bull and other Native participants, I have relied primarily on the testimony left by Lakota and Cheyenne informants. That is not to say, however, that my account purports to be an “insider’s” view of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. “[J]ust as we are outsiders to other cultures,” writes the ethnographer Raymond DeMallie, “we are also outsiders to the past. To restrict our narratives to the participants’ points of view would be to negate the value of historical study as a moral enterprise, the purpose of which is to learn from the past,” in “ ‘These Have No Ears’: Narrative and Ethnohistorical Method,” p. 525. Throughout the book I remain a curious outsider doing my best to make sense of it all.
It is also my firm belief that the spiritual and visionary aspects of experience are essential to understanding not only Sitting Bull but also Custer and his wife, Libbie, who, after all, saw a troubling vision of her husband’s fate as the Seventh marched through the mist at Fort Lincoln. According to Lee Irwin in Visionary Worlds: The Making and Unmaking of Reality: “No . . . history can capture the inner reality of outward change based only on physical or biological evidence. There must be an awakening to the psychic and spiritual dimensions which also motivate outward change and developments and which, for the sensitive and aware, are primary sources of motivation and conception,” p. 19.
When it comes to our understanding of Sitting Bull, there is the underappreciated problem of evidence. During the painful transition to reservation life in the 1880s, there was a tendency—encouraged by the agency head James McLZughlin at the Standing Rock Reservation (Sitting Bull’s home during the final years of his life)—to view the Lakota chief as both a coward and a bully and to deny his role in effecting the victory at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. In the 1930s, the writer Walter Campbell, who wrote under the pen name of Stanley Vestal, set out to write a revisionist biography of the Lakota leader, relying primarily on Sitting Bull’s two nephews, One Bull and White Bull. Not surprisingly, the two relatives had nothing but positive things to say about their uncle, and Vestal’s portrait is of an infallible, always fair-minded leader. Robert Utley’s more recent biography, which applies a higher degree of historical rigor to the notes left by Walter Campbell (who as the writer Stanley Vestal sometimes took considerable artistic license), is a more balanced portrait on the whole. However, since it also relies, for the most part, on the information provided by White Bull and One Bull, his opinion of Sitting Bull is in basic agreement with Vestal’s.
Although Sitting Bull lived and died at the Standing Rock Agency, almost all his family members (with the notable exception of his nephew One Bull) relocated to the Pine Ridge Agency about two hundred miles to the south. While Campbell’s investigations remained based at Standing Rock, the noted Little Bighorn researcher Walter Mason Camp interviewed several Sitting Bull descendants at Pine Ridge. Recently a new Native voice has emerged in regards to Sitting Bull: that of his great-grandson Ernie LaPointe, who grew up at Pine Ridge. In two film documentaries and the book Sitting Bull: His Life and Legacy (2009), LaPointe relates the oral traditions passed down to him from his grandmother Standing Holy (Sitting Bull’s daughter) to his mother, Angelique.
I cite the many sources I’ve depended on below, but there are a handful of titles that were of particular importance in shaping my overall view of the battle and its participants. Evan Connell’s Son of the Morning Star is the book that introduced me to the fascinating nooks and crannies of this story and stands in a class by itself as a lyrical exploration of the evidence. Robert Utley’s Cavalier in Buckskin: George Armstrong Custer and the Western Military Frontier is a model of crisp, accessible, and economical writing combined with impeccable scholarship. Richard Slotkin’s The Fatal Environment is another fundamental work that examines the intersection between history and myth, while Michael Elliott’s Custerology traces how that intersection has manifested itself in modern-day responses to the battle. Louise Barnett’s Touched by Fire is a provocative examination not only of the Custer marriage but of Libbie Custer’s subsequent role as spin doctor to her husband’s posthumous reputation. Other works that I found indispensable were Richard Fox’s Archaeology, History, and Custer’s Last Battle, John Gray’s Centennial Campaign and Custer’s Last Campaign, James Willert’s Little Big Horn Diary, Edgar Stewart’s Custer’s Luck, Roger Darling’s A Sad and Terrible Blunder, Larry Sklenar’s To Hell with Honor, and James Donovan’s A Terrible Glory. When it comes to the Native side of the battle, I have looked to Joseph Marshall’s The Day the World Ended at Little Bighorn, James Welch’s Killing Custer, and Gregory Michno’s Lakota Noon. In combining the many strands of Native testimony into a rich and coherent narrative, the relevant portions of Peter Powell’s chronicle of the Cheyenne, People of the Sacred Mountain,are a tour de force.
Anyone writing about the battle owes a huge debt to the indefatigable researchers who interviewed many of the participants: Walter Mason Camp, Eli Ricker, W. A. Graham, E. A. Brininstool, Orin Libby, and others. Researchers John Carroll, Kenneth Hammer, Jerome Greene, and Richard Hardorff have been instrumental in making vast amounts of this previously unpublished material accessible as well as bringing other important sources to light.
When it comes to my use of previously unpublished material relating to Private Peter Thompson, I am indebted to the Thompson family, especially Thompson’s granddaughter June Helvie, and to Rocky Boyd, who made available his unparalleled collection of Thompson material, as well as the edition of Thompson’s narrative edited by himself and Michael Wyman.
The proceedings of the Reno Court of Inquiry (RCI) appear in several different forms. The most accessible is W. A. Graham’s The Reno Court of Inquiry: Abstract of the Official Record of Proceedings. The most comprehensive single volume is that compiled and edited by Ronald Nichols. Perhaps the most useful account, however, is that contained in The Reno Court of Inquiry: The Chicago Times Account, with an introduction by Robert Utley, which contains testimony and context that never made it into the official transcript. In the notes that follow, I refer at different times to all three versions of the RCI testimony.
A brief word on the testimony of Private John Burkman found in Glendolin Damon Wagner’s Old Neutriment: Wagner made the unfortunate decision to translate Burkman’s memories (as recorded by Burkman’s friend I. D. O’Donnell) into a stilted vernacular. In comparing Wagner’s text with the notes on which they are based (which are scattered between the archives at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument and Montana State University), it seems clear that Wagner did little, if anything, to alter the essence of what Burkman said. I’ve nevertheless chosen to return Burkman’s statements to a pre-Wagner, vernacularless state; see Brian Dippie’s excellent introduction to Wagner’s book, especially pp. xiii–xiv. In other instances, I’ve taken the liberty of adjusting the spelling and punctuation of participants’ accounts to bring them in line with modern usage.
Preface: Custer’s Smile
Custer describes the incident with the buffalo in My Life on the Plains, pp. 49–53. Of interest is that instead of portraying himself as a levelheaded hero, Custer (who is the only source for this story) admits to being “rashly imprudent”—indeed, he seems to revel in the inappropriateness of his behavior.
Elsewhere in My Life Custer talks of the similarities between the plains and the ocean and the temptation “to picture these successive undulations as gigantic waves, not wildly chasing each other to or from the shore, but standing silent and immovable, and by their silent immobility adding to the impressive grandeur of the scene. . . . The constant recurrence of these waves, if they may be so termed, is quite puzzling to the inexperienced plainsman. He imagines, and very naturally too, judging from appearances, that when he ascends to the crest he can overlook all the surrounding country. After a weary walk or ride of perhaps several miles . . . he finds himself at the desired point, but discovers that directly beyond, in the direction he desires to go, rises a second wave, but slightly higher than the first,” p. 5. Francis Parkman also had trouble navigating the plains; in The Oregon Trail, he wrote, “I might as well have looked for landmarks in the midst of the ocean,” p. 57. Custer once stated that “nothing so nearly approaches a cavalry charge and pursuit as a buffalo chase,” in Frost’s General Custer’s Libbie, p. 162.
I’m by no means the first to compare Custer’s Last Stand to the Titanic disaster. See, for example, Steven Schlesser’s The Soldier, the Builder, and the Diplomat: Custer, the Titanic, and World War One. For a probing analysis of how the Battle of the Little Bighorn fits into the mythic tradition of the Last Stand, see Bruce Rosenberg’s Custer and the Epic of Defeat, particularly the chapter titled “The Martyred Heroes,” pp. 155–216, and Richard Slotkin’s The Fatal Environment, especially “To the Last Man: Assembling the Last Stand Myth, 1876,” pp. 437–76. Sitting Bull’s words upon his surrender in 1881 were recorded in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, July 21 and 30, Aug. 3, 1881; cited in Robert Utley’s The Lance and the Shield, p. 232. Michael Elliott discusses Custer’s calculated association with the past in Custerology: “Custer . . . drew upon a model that emphasized theatricality and performance . . . and that derived its cultural status from its conscious evocation of the past. In a sense it was deliberately anachronistic,” p. 98.
For the demographics of the Seventh Cavalry, see Thomas O’Neil, “Profiles of the 7th by S. Caniglia,” in Custer Chronicles, p. 36. In “Custer’s Last Battle,” Edward Godfrey wrote, “In 1876, there was not a ranch west of Bismarck, Dakota, nor east of Bozeman, Montana,” in W. A. Graham’sThe Custer Myth: A Source Book of Custeriana, p. 129. On the inadequacy of the term “frontier” (“an unsubtle concept in a subtle world”), see Patricia Limerick’s groundbreaking study The Legacy of Conquest, p. 25. For a comparison of the Battle of the Little Bighorn and Isandlwana, see James Gump’s The Dust Rose Like Smoke and Paul Williams’s Little Bighorn and Isandlwana: Kindred Fights, Kindred Follies.
Sitting Bull’s reference to an “island of Indians” appeared in Stanley Vestal’s Sitting Bull, p. 141. Benteen compared serving in the cavalry to shipboard life in a Feb. 22, 1896, letter to Theodore Goldin in The Benteen-Goldin Letters, edited by John Carroll, p. 278.
In Mayflower I also strove to view the historical participants as idiosyncratic individuals instead of cogs in a “clash of cultures”: “the real-life Indians and English of the seventeenth century were too smart, too generous, too greedy, too brave—in short, too human—to behave so predictably,” p. xvi. In “Clash of Cultures as Euphemism: Avoiding History at the Little Bighorn,” Timothy Braatz writes, “Cultures do not clash; cultures do not even act—people do,” p. 109; see also Elliott, Custerology, pp. 138–39. Edward Godfrey described the “sickening, ghastly horror,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 346. Thomas Coleman’s description of Custer is in I Buried Custer, edited by Bruce Liddic, p. 21.
Chapter 1: At the Flood
For information on riverboats and the Missouri River, I’ve looked to Louis Hunter’s Steamboats on the Western Rivers: An Economic and Technological History, pp. 217–30; William Lass, A History of Steamboating on the Upper Missouri River, pp. 1–3; and Arthur C. Benke and Colbert E. Cushing, Rivers of North America, pp. 431–32. Hunter speaks of how deadly a snag could be in Steamboats, p. 236, and lists the average age of a Missouri riverboat as just five years, p. 100; after a trip up the Missouri in 1849, Francis Parkman wrote in The Oregon Trail: “It was frightful to see the dead and broken trees, each set as a military abatis, firmly imbedded in the sand and all pointing downstream, ready to impale any unhappy steamboat,” p. 2.
Hunter writes of a Missouri riverboat’s “amphibian role, literally crawling along the river bottom,” p. 251; he also writes of how “the western steamboat, like the American ax, the revolver, and barbed wire, was a typical mechanical expression of a fluid and expanding frontier society,” p. 65. Joseph Mills Hanson in The Conquest of the Missouri (subsequently referred to as Hanson) provides the specifications of the Far West, p. 238. Hiram Chittenden in History of Early Steamboat Navigation on the Missouri Rivernotes that the invention of the balanced rudder, with part of the blade forward of the rudder post, allowed for the replacement of two side wheels with a single stern wheel, p. 112. Hunter describes a Missouri riverboat as an “engine on a raft, with $11,000 worth of jig-saw work,” p. 62; he also writes of the “explosive exhaust of the high pressure engine,” p. 141, and of how the lightness of a riverboat’s construction meant that “every distinct motion of the propulsive power was vibrated through the entire frame,” p. 81. My description of “grasshoppering” is based on Hunter, p. 254, and Lass, who compares a riverboat perched on its two forward spars to a “squatting grasshopper,” in A History of Steamboating on the Upper Missouri River, p. 12.
Hanson writes of Grant Marsh’s experiences in the 1860s, p. 80; Lass claims that $24 million worth of gold was taken down the Missouri during the Montana gold rush in the 1860s, A History of Steamboating, pp. 67–68. The town of Bismarck was named for the chancellor of Germany in the unrequited hope that he would invest in the Dakota Territory; see Lass, A History of Steamboating, p. 80. According to Lass, the Dakotas in the mid-1870s were “one of the last lucrative steamboat frontiers in the nation,” p. 89. Edward Lazarus in Black Hills White Justice: The Sioux Nation Versus the United States, 1775 to the Present puts the national debt in 1874 at $2 billion, p. 78. My description of Custer’s Black Hills Expedition is based on Sven Froiland’s Natural History of the Black Hills and Badlands and Ernest Grafe and Paul Horsted’s Exploring with Custer. Charles Windolph in I Fought with Custer, edited by Frazier and Robert Hunt, wrote of the incredible profitability of the Homestake Mine in Lead, South Dakota, p. 40. On Custer’s testimony before Congress in the spring of 1876, see Robert Utley’s Cavalier in Buckskin, pp. 152–54. Hanson reported that Marsh and the Far West were paid $360 a day by the U.S. Army, p. 239.
My account of the Centennial Exhibition is based largely on Dorothy G. Beersin’s “The Centennial City,” pp. 461–68, in Philadelphia: A 300-Year History, edited by Russell F. Weigley. The opening ceremony of the exhibition is described in Robert Rydell’s All the World’s a Fair: Visions of Empire at American International Expositions, 1876–1916, pp. 14–17. Custer’s troubles with his horse during the Grand Review at the conclusion of the Civil War are described in Jeffrey Wert’s Custer: The Controversial Life of George Armstrong Custer, p. 228; Jay Monaghan’s Custer: The Life of General George Armstrong Custer, pp. 248–51; Frederick Whittaker’s A Life of Major General George A. Custer, pp. 311–14; and Lawrence Frost’s General Custer’s Libbie, p. 47. The New York Herald’s reference to Grant as the “modern Caesar” is in James Wengert’s The Custer Despatches, p. 5. William Dean Howells referred to the “silent indifference” of the crowd’s response to Grant and added, “Ten years ago earth and sky would have shaken with the thunder of his welcome. What a sublime possession to have thrown away, the confidence and gratitude of a nation!” in William Randel’s Centennial: American Life in 1876, p. 291. Robert Utley in The Indian Frontier of the American West, 1846–1890writes of Grant’s Indian policy, pp. 129–31.
General Terry described the logistics of the campaign in a May 17, 1876, letter to his sister Polly Jane in The Terry Letters, edited by James Willert, p. 1. Mark Kellogg wrote of the scouting report placing Sitting Bull’s village on the Little Missouri River in the May 18, 1876, Bismarck Tribune; see also Terry’s May 15, 1876, letter to General Sheridan, cited in Gray, Centennial Campaign, p. 89; Gray puts the total size of the column, including both the Seventh Cavalry and the infantry columns at 879, p. 97. Custer’s boast that the Seventh “could whip and defeat all the Indians on the plains” appeared in J. R. Perkins, Trails, Rails and War: The Life of General G. M. Dodge, who added that Custer “went not only to fight the Indians but determined to wipe out the disgrace of his arrest,” p. 193. Frost in General Custer’s Libbie referred to the two canaries for Libbie; the reference to Custer being as “happy as a boy with a new red sled” is in Windolph, I Fought with Custer, p. 50. In Boots and Saddles, Libbie Custer wrote that prior to the departure of the Seventh in May 1876 Custer’s “buoyant spirits made him like a boy,” p. 219.
Custer’s 150-mile sprint to Libbie in 1867 is described by Frost, General Custer’s Libbie, p. 169. Libbie Custer referred to that “one long perfect day” in Tenting on the Plains, p. 403. When the legendary scout Jim Bridger heard about Sheridan’s plan for a winter campaign against the Cheyenne, he felt compelled to travel to Fort Hays to dissuade the general: “You can’t hunt Indians on the plains in winter,” he said, “for blizzards don’t respect man or beast,” in Carl Rister, Border Command, p. 92. As Perry Jamieson inCrossing the Deadly Ground: United States Army Tactics, 1865–1899 points out, the concept of a winter campaign was nothing new, pp. 37–38. Although Jamieson cites examples as far back as the eighteenth century, there are even earlier precedents. During the winter of 1675, New England colonial forces launched a winter campaign against the Narragansett Indians; see my Mayflower, pp. 265–80. Benteen described his confrontation with Custer concerning his article about the Washita in a Feb. 22, 1896, letter to Goldin in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 280.
In a March 24, 1869, letter to Libbie, Custer wrote of his deliberate plan to answer the critics of his Washita campaign with diplomacy: “[M]y command, from highest to lowest, desired bloodshed. . . . I paid no heed but followed the dictates of my own judgment upon which my beloved commander [General Sheridan] said he relied for the attainment of the best results. . . . And now my most bitter enemies cannot say that I am either blood-thirsty or possessed of an unworthy ambition,” in Elizabeth Custer’s Following the Guidon, pp. 56–57. Utley in Cavalier in Buckskinquotes Custer’s letter to Libbie concerning “Custer luck,” pp. 104–5. Libbie wrote of the “aimlessness” of Custer’s time in Kentucky in Boots and Saddles, p. 123; she also wrote of how smashing chairs was typical of how he “celebrated every order to move with wild demonstrations of joy,” p. 5. The officer’s reference to how Custer was “making himself utterly detested” during the march up the Missouri in 1873 is cited in Roger Darling’s Custer’s Seventh Cavalry Comes to Dakota: New Discoveries Reveal Custer’s Tribulations Enroute to the Yellowstone Expedition, p. 177.
Benteen’s account of his conversation with Custer concerning his cousin Lawrence Gobright is in his Feb. 22, 1896, letter to Goldin in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, pp. 281–82. The surgeon James DeWolf wrote of Benteen in his diary, edited by Edward Luce: “He has silver gray hair and is very easy spoken,” “Diary and Letters of Dr. James M. DeWolf,” p. 67. In a Mar. 10, 1897, letter to the photographer D. F. Barry, Benteen wrote, “Mrs. Custer knows that I am one of the few men who thoroughly understood her husband,” D. F. Barry Correspondence, edited by John Carroll, p. 44. Benteen wrote of his “happy facility of making enemies” in a Mar. 23, 1896, letter to Goldin in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 293. In a Nov. 17, 1891, letter Benteen wrote, “I’ve been a loser in a way, all my life by rubbing a bit against the angles—or hair—of folks, instead of going with their whims; but I couldn’t go otherwise—’twould be against the grain of myself,” in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 206. In a Nov. 10, 1891, letter to Goldin, he wrote of how Custer “wanted me badly as a friend,” in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 199; he wrote of Libbie as “cold-blooded” in a Feb. 17, 1896, letter, p. 262; the reference to “wheels within wheels” is from Benteen’s Feb. 22, 1896, letter to Goldin, p. 282.
Marguerite Merington in her collection of correspondence titled The Custer Story (subsequently referred to as Merington) wrote of Custer reading The Anatomy of Melancholy, p. 204; Libbie described Custer as a “self-appointed hermit” in Boots and Saddles, p. 118. Glenwood Swanson’s G. A. Custer has a picture of Custer’s “THIS IS MY BUSY DAY” card, p. 59. Libbie described Custer’s study in Boots and Saddles, p. 149. Libbie recounted Custer’s words during his meeting with Terry on May 16, 1876, in a letter to Custer’s friend Jacob Greene; quoted by Greene in a Sept. 1, 1904, Greene letter reprinted in Cyrus Townsend Brady’s Indian Fights and Fighters, p. 393. Custer’s Mar. 29, 1876, testimony before Congress on the “Sale of Post Traderships” is in House of Representatives, 44th Cong., 1st Sess., Report 799. For an account of these hearings that is sympathetic to Custer, see John Hart’s “Custer’s First Stand: The Washington Fight.” But as even Hart admits, Custer did recant the only substantive part of his testimony.
In the article “Campaign Against the Sioux in 1876,” General Terry’s aide and brother-in-law Robert Hughes claimed that Terry told him how Custer “with tears in his eyes, begged my aid. How could I resist it?” p. 12; Hughes also wrote of Custer’s encounter with Terry’s good friend William Ludlow and his intention to “swing clear of Terry.”
In describing the regiment’s departure from Fort Lincoln on May 17, I’ve looked to James Willert’s Little Big Horn Diary, pp. 2–8, and L. J. Chorne’s Following the Custer Trail, pp. 10–27. Several research trips to North Dakota during the wet spring months have given me a firsthand knowledge of what Don Rickey in Forty Miles a Day on Beans and Hay describes as “a semi-liquid gumbo quagmire,” p. 259. The account of the “weird something” felt by Lieutenant Gibson’s wife is recounted in Katherine Gibson Fougera’s With Custer’s Cavalry, p. 252. Annie Yates’s account of Custer’s statement that he “cannot die before my time comes” is in A Summer on the Plains with Custer’s 7th Cavalry, edited by Brian Pohanka, p. 154. John Burkman’s description of Libbie telling Custer “I wish Grant hadn’t let you go” is in Glendolin Damon Wagner’s Old Neutriment (subsequently referred to as Wagner), p. 119. Libbie wrote of the regiment’s tearful departure in Boots and Saddles, pp. 217–18. My discussion of the phenomenon of the superior image is based in part on W. J. Humphreys’s Physics of the Air, pp. 470–71.
Libbie’s description of Custer’s first extended kiss is in Frost, General Custer’s Libbie, p. 80. In a letter written early in their marriage, Libbie wrote, “He brushes his teeth after every meal. I always laugh at him for it, also for washing hands so frequently,” Merington, p. 109. She wrote of Custer’s sensitive stomach in Boots and Saddles, p. 76. Another one of Custer’s idiosyncratic traits was his love of raw onions, which he bit into like apples. In Boots and Saddles, Libbie wrote, “[O]nions were permitted at our table, but after indulging in them, [Custer and Tom] found themselves severely let alone, and that they did not enjoy,” p. 267. Concerning Custer’s silences, Annie Yates wrote that “like all unusual and original men, he had moods of silence when he seemed too full of earnest serious thoughts for words,” Pohanka, A Summer on the Plains, p. 154. Rebecca Richmond also wrote of Custer’s silences in Frost, General Custer’s Libbie, p. 233. John Burkman told of Custer’s gambling, in Wagner, p. 93. At one point Custer wrote Libbie: “Am I not right darling to tell of my faults and tell you I have discarded them forever,” Frost, General Custer’s Libbie, p. 85. Benteen made repeated references to Custer’s relationship with the Cheyenne captive Monahsetah and his African American cook in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, pp. 30, 258, 262, 271, 276; see also Jeffrey Wert’s Custer, p. 291. In an 1868 letter to Vinnie Ream, Custer wrote, “Please have your servant examine the floor of your studio to see if my wallet (not my pistol) was not [left] there last night,” in the Vinnie Ream Hoxie Collection, LOC. See Edward Cooper’s Vinnie Ream on her affair with Sherman, pp. 178–80.
The letter fragment in which Custer refers to his “erratic, wild, or unseemly” conduct is at the Beinecke Library at Yale; see Barnett’s Touched by Fire, pp. 198–200, for an excellent discussion of this letter. Libbie’s possible relationship with Thomas Weir in 1867 is discussed by Robert Utley in Cavalier in Buckskin, pp. 106–8; by Shirley Leckie in Elizabeth Bacon Custer and the Making of a Myth, pp. 102–3; and by Louise Barnett in Touched by Fire, p. 139. Frost discusses Libbie’s potential interest in Myles Keogh,General Custer’s Libbie, p. 192. In his fascinating biography of Custer, Glory-Hunter, Frederic Van de Water quotes extensively from Custer’s letter about his ambition “not to be wealthy, not to be learned, but to be great.” As Van de Water quite rightly comments, “This is not a march-worn husband writing to his wife. This is adolescence engaged in autobiography,” p. 161. Libbie’s comments about “making history” are recorded in Katherine Fougera’s With Custer’s Cavalry, p. 137. Frost cites the letters from Libbie about her ambitions for Custer in General Custer’s Libbie, p. 205.
In My Life on the Plains, Custer unflinchingly lingered on Monahsetah’s considerable physical charms. She was, Custer wrote, “an exceedingly comely squaw, possessing a bright, cheery face, a countenance beaming with intelligence, and a disposition more inclined to be merry than one usually finds among the Indians. She was probably rather under than over twenty years of age. Added to the bright, laughing eyes, a set of pearly teeth, and a rich complexion, her well-shaped head was crowned with a luxuriant growth of the most beautiful silken tresses, rivaling in color the blackness of the raven and extending, when allowed to fall loosely over her shoulders, to below her waist,” p. 282. In 1890, fourteen years after her husband’s death, Libbie published Following the Guidon, in which she described her first meeting with Monahsetah at Fort Hays, Kansas, in 1869. “How could I help feeling,” she wrote, “that with a swift movement she would produce a weapon, and by stabbing the wife, hurt the white chief who had captured her, in what she believed would be the most cruel way,” p. 95. In this passage Libbie somehow manages to acknowledge the threat Monahsetah posed to her marriage without betraying the truth of her husband’s infidelity.
Libbie wrote of Custer’s relationship with the actor Lawrence Barrett in Tenting on the Plains, p. 220; she also referred to how Barrett typically greeted her husband: “Well, old fellow; hard at work making history, are you?” Libbie wrote of how Custer sat spellbound, performance after performance, watching Barrett perform as Cassius in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “There were forty nights that these friends sat side by side, until the call boy summoned the actor to the footlights. The General listened every evening with unflagging interest to the acting of his friend,” inBoots and Saddles, p. 208. Early in their marriage, Libbie was taken with how thoroughly Custer immersed himself in a play, remarking that he “laughed at the fun and cried at the pathos in the theatres with all the abandon of a boy unconscious of surroundings,” in Frost, p. 94.
My account of Grant Marsh’s encounter with Libbie and the other officers’ wives is based on Hanson, pp. 237–40. John Burkman’s description of Libbie and Custer’s farewell is in Wagner, pp. 123–24. Libbie wrote of her mistaken impression that Custer had “made every plan” to have her join him by steamboat in Boots and Saddles, p. 219. John Neihardt’s description of Marsh as a “born commander” is from The River and I, p. 250. Libbie wrote of how terrible it was “to be left behind” in Boots and Saddles, p. 60. Thomas Marquis in “Pioneer Woman Describes Ft. Abraham Lincoln Scenes When Word Came of the Custer Disaster,” Billings Gazette, Nov. 13, 1932, quotes a Mrs. J. C. Chappell (who was eleven years old in 1876) as saying that Libbie told her mother, Mrs. Manley, that “she never had seen her husband depart on active service with so heavy a heart. . . . She was grievously disappointed that Captain Marsh was not willing she should be a passenger in the Far West.”
My description of Marsh’s two exploring expeditions up the Yellowstone, in 1873 and 1875, are based on Hanson, pp. 197–225. According to an article in the Sept. 23, 1873, New York Tribune: “It seems not a little singular . . . that one of our largest and most beautiful rivers . . . should remain entirely unexplored by large steamers until the year 1873.”
Chapter 2: The Dream
My description of a butte is largely based on the description by Ellen Meloy in Home Ground, edited by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney, p. 57. My description of Sitting Bull’s actions in this chapter are based on the “Prophecy of Sitting Bull As Told to One Bull,” box 110, folder 8, WCC. Interestingly, Campbell/Vestal chose not to include any mention of this particular vision in his biography of Sitting Bull. As Raymond DeMallie writes in “ ‘These Have No Ears’: Narrative and Ethnohistorical Method,” the vision of two clouds colliding was “redundant in a narrative sense” when paired with Sitting Bull’s more well-known sun dance vision described in chapter 4. “To Campbell,” DeMallie writes, “the second prophecy apparently seemed unnecessary—a kind of afterthought,” p. 523. DeMallie refers to an account interpreted by Robert Higheagle, box 104, WCC, that places this prophecy after Sitting Bull’s sun dance vision. I’ve chosen to follow Robert Utley in The Lance and the Shield, who places this vision prior to the sun dance, sometime between May 21 and May 24, p. 136. This chronology is corroborated by Ernie LaPointe, the great-grandson of Sitting Bull, in “Thank You Grandfather, We Are Still Alive,” part 2 of his film The Authorized Biography of Sitting Bull. Although several details of the vision vary in LaPointe’s account, he also places Sitting Bull’s vision of the collision of what he describes as “two whirl-winds” prior to the sun dance.
In describing Sitting Bull’s village, I have relied on Wooden Leg, interpreted by Thomas Marquis, who mentions the number of buffalo skins required to make a tepee, p. 77. According to the scout Ben Clark, a “tepee of freshly-skinned buffalo skins was always white as snow. Always made of cow skins tanned as soft as buckskin and very pliable. If bull hide tanned had to split where hump and sew up with sinews,” in James Foley, “Walter Camp and Ben Clark,” p. 26. My thanks to Jeremy Guinn and Rick Delougharie, who conducted a Buffalo Brain Tanning Workshop at Porcupine, North Dakota, while I was visiting the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in June 2007.
Charles Eastman in Indian Heroes and Great Chieftains wrote that Sitting Bull’s “legs were bowed like the ribs of the ponies that he rode constantly from childhood,” p. 108. Even though Sitting Bull walked with a noticeable limp, he managed to win a running race against a white cowboy at the Standing Rock Agency when he was a relatively old man, proclaiming, “A white man has no business to challenge a deer,” in Vestal’s New Sources of Indian History, p. 345. My description of Sitting Bull’s killing of the Crow chief is based on several accounts at WCC: Circling Hawk, box 105, notebook 13; One Bull, “Information in Sioux and English with Regard to Sitting Bull,” MS box 104, folder 11; Little Soldier, c. 1932, box 104, folder 6; One Bull, MS 127, box 104, One Bull folder, no. 11. The incident is also described by Vestal, Sitting Bull pp. 27–30, and in Robert Utley’s The Lance and the Shield, p. 21.
Vestal describes Sitting Bull’s high singing voice in Sitting Bull, p. 21, and adds, “[T]here was a theme-song appropriate to every occasion,” p. 22. See also Frances Densmore’s Teton Sioux Music and Culture, p. 458. The song Sitting Bull sang while charging the Crow chief is in “25 Songs by Sitting Bull,” by Robert Higheagle, box 104, folder 18, WCC. On the early history of the plains tribes, see William Swagerty’s “History of the United States Plains Until 1850” in Plains, edited by Raymond DeMallie, vol. 13 of theHandbook of North American Indians, pp. 256–79, and DeMallie’s “Sioux Until 1850,” also in the Handbook, pp. 718–27, in which he decribes Radisson’s impressions of the Sioux. My thanks to Professor DeMallie in pointing out this passage as well as for his guidance in spelling the Lakota words hokahe, tiyoshpaye, and washichus for a general audience. I’ve also relied on George Hyde’s Red Cloud’s Folk: A History of the Oglala Sioux Indians, pp. 5–42, and Michael Clodfelter’s The Dakota War, p. 18. Richard White in “The Winning of the West” writes of the role of disease in devastating the sedentary tribes along the Missouri, p. 325. Dan Flores in The Natural West: Environmental History in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains mentions the term “hyper-Indians,” p. 56. John Ewers discusses the evolution from the use of dogs to the use of horses in The Horse in Blackfoot Indian Culture, p. 308. Colin Calloway in “The Intertribal Balance of Power on the Great Plains, 1760–1850” writes, “What the United States did to the Sioux was what the Sioux themselves had been doing to weaker peoples for years,” p. 46. The Oglala Black Hawk’s comparison of the Lakota’s expansion to that of the white man is cited by Richard White in “It’s Your Misfortune and None of My Own”: A New History of the American West, p. 95. Royal Hassrick in The Sioux: Life and Times of a Warrior Society writes of the Sioux’s “unswerving faith in themselves,” p. 69, and how for a warrior it was “good to die in battle,” p. 92. Jeffrey Ostler in The Plains Sioux and U.S. Colonialism from Lewis and Clark to Wounded Knee writes of the “universal process by which those moving into a new country come to see themselves as a chosen people,” p. 27. Vestal describes plains warfare as “a gorgeous mounted game of tag,” in Sitting Bull,p. 11. My references to winter counts are based on Candace Greene and Russell Thornton’s The Year the Stars Fell: Lakota Winter Counts at the Smithsonian, pp. 77, 87, 151–52, 230, 249, 254–55. Dan Flores in The Natural West writes of the decline of the buffalo among the Cheyenne to the south, p. 67.
Sitting Bull spoke of his interest in the world while still in his mother’s womb in an article by Jerome Stillson in the Nov. 16, 1877, New York Herald, cited by Utley in The Lance and the Shield, pp. 27–28. On Native spirituality I have consulted Raymond DeMallie and Douglas Parks’s Sioux Indian Religion, pp. 25–43, and Lee Irwin’s The Dream Seekers: Native American Visionary Traditions on the Great Plains; according to Irwin, the “most common place for seeking a vision is a hill, butte, or mountain. . . . To be up above the middle realm of normal habitation meant making oneself more visible to all the powers,” p. 106. Sitting Bull’s vision of the eagle at Sylvan Lake is told by One Bull, box 104, folder 6, and ww box 110, folder 8, WCC.
Irwin in The Dream Seekers cites the quotes from Sword, p. 122, and John Fire, p. 127. Billy Garnett’s account of Crazy Horse’s vision of the man in the lake is in The Indian Interviews of Eli S. Ricker, edited by Richard Jensen, p. 117. Kingsley Bray provides an excellent account of this vision in Crazy Horse, pp. 65–66, in which he cites Garnett’s account as well as that of Flying Hawk, p. 66.
My rendering of the myth of the White Buffalo Calf Woman is based largely on Black Elk’s account in The Sacred Pipe, edited by Joseph Epes Brown, pp. 3–9. I’ve also consulted James Walker’s Lakota Belief and Ritual, especially pp. 109–12 and 148–50, and William Powers’s Oglala Religion, pp. 81–83. Raymond DeMallie in “Lakota Belief and Ritual” in Sioux Indian Religion writes of the buffalo having once been at war with the ancestors of the Lakota, p. 31. White Bull’s claim that Sitting Bull could “foretell anything” is in ww box 105, notebook 24, WCC. Raymond DeMallie in “ ‘These Have No Ears’ ” writes of “Sitting Bull’s well-documented reputation for prophecy,” p. 527.
Chapter 3: Hard Ass
Throughout this chapter I have relied on James Willert’s Little Big Horn Diary and Laudie Chorne’s Following the Custer Trail of 1876 (subsequently referred to as Chorne). In a May 29, 1876, letter, the surgeon James DeWolf wrote, “The bridges are just logs & brush put in the bed of the stream . . . and dirt & sods piled on and the banks graded so the teams can drive in & out,” Edward Luce, ed., “The Diary and Letters of Dr. James M. DeWolf,” p. 77. The regiment’s engineer, Lieutenant Edward Maguire, wrote in detail about the difficulties encountered during the march inGeneral Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn: The Federal View, edited by John Carroll, pp. 38–39. As Chorne rightly says of the alkaline mud of North Dakota, it “sticks to whatever it comes in contact with,” p. 33. Custer wrote of how “everybody is more or less disgusted except me” in a May 20 letter to Libbie in Boots and Saddles, p. 266.
Maguire refers to the wild rose in John Carroll’s General Custer . . . The Federal View, p. 38, which as Chorne points out, is now the state flower of North Dakota, p. 63. In a May 19, 1876, letter, DeWolf wrote, “I should like you to see us all after we get in camp, the tents and wagons and animals all lariated out completely cover the ground for about ½ mile square,” in Luce, “Diary and Letters,” p. 73. Chorne refers to the practice of wearing wet boots at night, p. 25. Jacob Horner spoke of raw sowbelly dipped in vinegar, as well as “hardtack fried in fat and covered with sugar” for dessert, in Barry Johnson’s “Jacob Horner of the Seventh Cavalry,” p. 81. A. F. Mulford’s Fighting Indians in the U.S. 7th Cavalry is a wonderful source of information about being a trooper in the 1870s; Mulford described how the aroma of the horse “creeps up out of the blanket,” cited by Chorne, p. 43. For a description of a military tent of the time, see Douglas McChristian and John P. Langellier’s The U.S. Army in the West, 1870–1880: Uniforms, Weapons, and Equipment, pp. 102–3. Terry’s description of the badlands is in a May 30 letter, Terry Letters, p. 9. John Gray inCentennial Campaign goes so far as to describe the scout up the Little Missouri as a “diversionary exercise” and a “skit,” p. 100.
According to Charles Francis Bates (a member of the extended Custer family), “Custer mounted was an inspiration,” Custer’s Indian Battles, p. 29. James Kidd, who served with Custer during the Civil War, described him “as if ‘to the manor born’ ” in At Custer’s Side: The Civil War Writings,p. 79. Frost in General Custer’s Libbie quotes a letter in which Custer says his weight had dropped to 143 pounds, p. 187. Custer’s jacket and boot size come from Thomas O’Neil’s Passing into Legend, pp. 14–15. According to the Custer living-historian Steve Alexander, Custer wore 9½B shoes, not 9C, in Michael Elliott’s Custerology, p. 94. Custer’s Irish tailor was Jeremiah Finley of Tipperary, in Ronald Nichols’s Men with Custer, p. 100. Richard Slotkin writes about how Buffalo Bill Cody and Custer copycatted each other’s clothing styles in The Fatal Environment, p. 407. Varnum’s account of how he and Custer had “the clippers run over their heads” is in Coughlan’s Varnum: The Last of Custer’s Lieutenants, p. 35. John Burkman’s statement that Custer looked “so unnatural” after cutting his hair is in Wagner, p. 117. The reporter John Finerty, who was with Crook’s Wyoming Column, wrote that “after the [Custer] tragedy some of the officers who survived likened the dead hero to Samson. Both were invincible while their locks remained unshorn,” War-Path and Bivouac, p. 208.
Custer’s ability to leap to a stand from a lying-down position is referred to in Frost, General Custer’s Libbie, p. 47. Custer’s letter to Libbie describing Bloody Knife’s comments about his endurance is in Boots and Saddles, p. 267. Charles Francis Bates wrote about Custer’s napping habit inCuster’s Indian Battles, pp. 12, 34. According to Katherine Gibson Fougera, Custer “had a habit of throwing himself prone on the grass for a few minutes’ rest and resembled a human island, entirely surrounded by crowding, panting dogs,” With Custer’s Cavalry, p. 110. Chorne writes of the seventy-eight unmounted troopers having to march in their high-heeled cavalry boots, p. 40. According to Private William Slaper, Custer was “a hard leader to follow. He always had several good horses whereby he could change mounts every three hours if necessary, carrying nothing but man and saddle, while our poor horses carried man, saddle, blankets, carbine, revolver, haversack, canteen, ” in Troopers with Custer by E. A. Brininstool (subsequently referred to as Brininstool), p. 63. The reporter Mark Kellogg wrote of Custer’s “hell-whooping over the prairie” in the June 14New York Herald. Don Rickey in Forty Miles a Day on Beans and Hay wrote about Custer’s nickname of “Hard Ass,” p. 90.
Kellogg wrote in his diary on May 21, 1876, “General Custer visits scouts; much at home amongst them,” in “Notes, May 17 to June 9, 1876 of the Little Big Horn Expedition” (subsequently referred to as diary), p. 215. Red Star’s account of Custer’s interactions with the scouts is in The Arikara Narrative of Custer’s Campaign and the Battle of the Little Bighorn, edited by Orin Libby (subsequently referred to as Libby), p. 61. Custer’s remarks about becoming “the Great Father” appear in Libby, pp. 62, 82. Emanuel Custer’s Sept. 22, 1864, letter to his son is part of the Bacon-Custer Correspondence, Monroe County Museum Library. For an account of the political scene in 1876, see Roy Morris Jr.’s Fraud of the Century: Rutherford B. Hayes, Samuel Tilden, and the Stolen Election of 1876. Utley has an excellent discussion of Custer’s presidential ambitions inCavalier in Buckskin: “That Custer fantasized such an absurdity cannot be disproved, of course, but that presidential aspirations governed his tactical decisions demands more weighty evidence than supplied by the Arikara scout,” p. 164. Utley believes that Custer was actually referring to his hopes of being promoted to brigadier general.
The anecdote about Custer telling his father “you and me can whip all the Whigs in Ohio” is in Jay Monaghan’s Custer, p. 13; see also Emanuel Custer’s Feb. 3, 1887, letter to Libbie Custer in Tenting on the Plains, p. 182. For the organization of a cavalry regiment, see Jay Smith’s “A Hundred Years Later,” p. 125, and Robert Utley’s Frontier Regulars, in which he states that the company, not the regiment, “commanded loyalties and fostered solidarity,” p. 25. Benteen’s reference to when “war was red hot” is in a Feb. 12, 1896, letter to Goldin in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 248. Perry Jamieson in Crossing the Deadly Ground describes the army’s mission in the West as a “long-running police action . . . broadly understood but never precisely defined,” p. 36. Don Rickey writes of the lack of target practice in the army at the time in Forty Miles, p. 101. In his diary, the surgeon James DeWolf describes when he and Dr. Porter went “pistol shooting” with Lieutenants Harrington and Hodgson: “Porter was best,” he wrote, “so you see, some of the cavalry cannot shoot well,” in Luce, “Diary and Letters,” p. 81. Peter Thompson’s daughter Susan recorded her father’s comment about being scared “spitless” of his Springfield carbine in her unpublished manuscript about her father’s account of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. She also had some additional comments about the training standards of the Seventh Cavalry: “Thompson said . . . that he scarcely knew how to shoot a gun, he was scared ‘spitless’ of one. He had gotten to shoot his gun a little on the way from Ft. Lincoln when hunting was permitted, briefly, but that was about all the experience he had and he was simply not at ease with his gun loaded. Target practice had been neglected the winter of 1875–76. Of course, Thompson had been in the cavalry for nine months and he was considered to be a ‘trained veteran.’ He was; of horse grooming, stable cleaning, wood cutting, water hauling, policing barracks, saluting smartly and keeping a low profile around officers, listening to jokes and barracks rumors. Apparently, the recruits were supposed to get on-the-job training, if they lived long enough,” pp. 252–53. My reference to the kick of a Springfield carbine and its reloading difficulties comes from personal experience; my thanks to Dr. Timothy Lepore for letting me fire his replicas of a Springfield and a Colt revolver.
Charles Windolph mentioned the ironies of a German immigrant joining the army in I Fought with Custer, p. 4. The demographics of the Seventh are in Thomas O’Neil’s Custer Chronicles, “Profiles of the 7th by S. Caniglia,” p. 36. The statistics concerning the size of the army and the territory it was responsible for are in Jay Smith’s “A Hundred Years Later” in Custer and His Times, edited by Paul Andrew Hutton, p. 125. According to Windolph, the “Old Timers” told the new recruits “we must save our last cartridge to blow out our own brains,” p. 6. John Keegan in Fields of Battlewrites of the various levels of experience among the soldiers of the Seventh and adds, “[T]here were too many unfamiliar faces for it to be reckoned by European officers an effective fighting force,” p. 285. Don Rickey in Forty Miles writes of the high rate of suicide in the U.S. Army, p. 165, and claims that alcoholism was three times that of the British army, p. 159. James O’Kelly’s account of the hapless charge of Captain Weir’s company is in the Aug. 24, 1876, New York Herald. Charles King’s words of praise regarding the “snap and style” of the Seventh are in Campaigning with Crook, p. 72. Windolph described being “part of a proud outfit that had a fighting reputation” in I Fought with Custer, p. 53.
Terry’s censure of Custer for having left the column “without any authority whatever” is from his May 31, 1876, diary entry, p. 19. Custer described his, Tom’s, and Boston’s antics in a May 31, 1876, letter to Libbie in Boots and Saddles, p. 270. Custer’s May 31 letter to Terry is in the Letters Received 1876 Record Group 98, NA. DeWolf wrote to his wife on June 1, 1876: “The men in their dog tents have it worst. They have been standing around the fire most of the day,” in Luce, “Diary and Letters,” p. 78. Terry wrote of his fears the Indians had scattered on May 30, 1876, inTerry Letters, p. 9. Terry described his quarters during the snowstorm on June 2, 1876, in Terry Letters, p. 13. Mark Kellogg wrote of the meeting between Terry and messengers from Gibbon in the June 12, 1876, New York Herald. In his diary, edited by Edgar Stewart, Godfrey wrote in a June 4, 1876, entry, “Genl Terry had Sun stroke today,” p. 5. Terry described his tactical thinking in great detail on June 12, 1876, in Terry Letters, p. 15. Edward Maguire described the alkaline bottomlands encountered by the column during its march toward the Powder River, in John Carroll’sGeneral Custer . . . The Federal View, p. 41. The phrase “the sky fitting close down all around” is quoted by Libbie Custer in Following the Guidon, p. 196. DeWolf described his terrible sunburn in his diary, in Luce, “Diary and Letters,” pp. 79–80. As Chorne observes, “[I]f [a soldier] had a mustache, his upper lip . . . was protected,” p. 122.
Terry told of his conversation with Custer about getting the column to the Powder River on June 6, 1876, in Terry Letters, pp. 16–17. Boston Custer described the march to the Powder River in a June 8, 1876, letter to his mother in Merington, p. 300. Lieutenant Winfield Edgerly also described the march in an Oct. 10, 1877, letter to Libbie Custer in Merington, pp. 301–2. Peter Thompson’s description of Custer’s erratic riding habits is in Peter Thompson’s Account of the Battle of the Little Bighorn: The Waddington Typescript, edited by Michael L. Wyman and Rocky L. Boyd (subsequently referred to as Account), p. 6. The description of a cavalry charge is from Frederick Whittaker’s Life of Custer, p. 158. In the July 29, 1876, Army and Navy Journal, General A. B. Nettleton wrote of Custer’s “instantaneous quickness of eye—that is lightning-like formation and execution of successive correct judgments in a rapidly-shifting situation.” Wert provides a good account of Custer’s activities prior to attending West Point, pp. 22–25. Custer wrote of his wish “to see a battle every day during my life” in an Oct. 9, 1862, letter cited in Thom Hatch’s Custer Companion, p. 20. Thom Hatch provides an excellent account of Custer’s role in the Battle of Gettysburg in Clashes of Cavalry, p. 118, to which I am indebted; for a recent, more detailed account of Custer’s pivotal role at that battle, see Thom Carhart’s Lost Triumph, pp. 213–40. Sheridan’s note to Libbie is quoted by Frost in General Custer’s Libbie, p. 130. Custer’s tongue-lashing of Corporal French is described in Account, p. 7. Red Star told of Custer’s abuse of Isaiah Dorman in Libby, p. 195, and of Custer’s firing at Bloody Knife during the Black Hills Expedition, p. 194. Custer’s claim that they were “the first white men to see the Powder River at this point of its course” is related by Edgerly in Merington, p. 302, as is Terry’s claim that “nobody but General Custer could have brought us through such a country,” in Merington, p. 302. Boston Custer wrote of Terry and his staff’s “exalted opinion of themselves” in a June 8, 1876, letter to his mother in Merington, p. 301.
In a June 8, 1876, letter, Terry wrote, “The steamer was waiting for us & a welcome sight she was,” Terry Letters, p. 17. Mark Kellogg wrote of how “the sharp quick march of the cavalry kept pace with the steamer which was running up the Yellowstone,” in the July 11, 1876, New York Herald. Hanson writes of Terry’s trip up and down the Yellowstone with Marsh and the Far West on June 9, 1876, pp. 241–44. Lieutenant James Bradley’s journal provides an excellent account of the Montana Column’s movements prior to joining up with Terry in “Journal of the Sioux Campaign of 1876 Under the Command of General John Gibbon,” pp. 204–12.
Hanson describes Marsh and Terry’s encounter with a herd of buffalo crossing the Missouri River in 1867, pp. 96–98. Yet another example of Marsh’s coolness in a crisis came in 1894, when his steamboat the Little Eagle was hit by a tornado. Only after he was sure that his crew had made it to the relative safety of the barge at the riverboat’s bow did Marsh, still at the wheel in the pilothouse, begin to look out for himself. But by then the Little Eagle was in the tornado’s grip. The vessel lurched suddenly to the side, and Marsh watched helplessly as the boilers broke loose from the tipping deck and exploded on contact with the cold river water. Before the now heavily damaged boat completely capsized, Marsh, then sixty years old, managed to climb out of the pilothouse through an open window. As the riverboat turned completely upside down, Marsh scrambled over the side and onto the bottom of the turtled hull while his crew watched in amazement from the barge, in Hanson, pp. 422–25. Terry wrote of what he hoped to accomplish with Reno’s Scout on June 8, 1876, in, Terry Letters, p. 19.
Chapter 4: The Dance
For information on Sitting Bull’s sun dance and sun dances in general, I have consulted Peter Powell’s “Sacrifice Transformed into Victory: Standing Bear Portrays Sitting Bull’s Sun Dance and the Final Summer of Lakota Freedom” in Visions of the People, edited by Evan Maurer, pp. 81–108; Standing Bear’s account in The Sixth Grandfather, edited by Raymond DeMallie, pp. 173–74; Black Elk’s in The Sacred Pipe, edited by Joseph Epes Brown, pp. 67–100; Ella Deloria’s excellent description of the ceremony inWaterlily, pp. 113–39; and numerous references in WCC.
One Bull describes how Sitting Bull “pierced the heart” on the Little Missouri in One Bull Interview, box 105, notebook 19, WCC. White Bull spoke about the pain of being pierced to Walter Campbell: “[T]here was a strong pain for the first jerks then the nerves seem to be killed and no pain thereafter. Even jerking out. Some bleeding but put stuff on that stopped it,” box 105, notebook 8, WCC.
For two quirky, sometimes winningly irascible accounts of Red Cloud and Spotted Tail, see the two books by George Hyde: Red Cloud’s Folk: A History of the Oglala Sioux Indians and Spotted Tail’s Folk: A History of the Brulé Sioux. On Sitting Bull’s selection as the leader who has “authority over all decisions of war and peace,” see Utley, Lance and Shield, pp. 85–87. According to Robert Higheagle, Sitting Bull sang the following song after being “coronated by Running Antelope and Gall”: “Ye Tribes behold me / The chiefs [of old] are no more [are gone] / Myself [as substitute or successor] shall take courage [pledge],” in “25 Songs by Sitting Bull,” box 104, folder 18, WCC. One Bull’s description of the ceremony with which Sitting Bull became war chief is in box 104, folder 11, WCC. My account of Sitting Bull’s role as leader owes much to Jeffrey Ostler’s The Plains Sioux and U.S. Colonialism, especially pp. 52–53.
Sitting Bull’s famous words about being “fools to make yourself slaves to a piece of fat bacon” are in Charles Larpenteur’s Forty Years a Fur Trader on the Upper Missouri, 1833–1872, p. 360. White Bull told of Four Horns’ advice about being “a little against fighting,” as well as Crazy Horse’s statements about attacking the soldiers only if they attack first, in ww box 105, notebook 8, WCC. White Bull also spoke of the cautionary words of Sitting Bull’s mother, ww box 105, notebook 24, WCC. Utley writes of the state of relative peace after 1870 in Lance and Shield, p. 90. Kingsley Bray in Crazy Horse: A Lakota Life writes of the iwashtela movement among the Lakota, p. 132; according to Bray, “in October 1870, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse agreed to a policy that for the present complemented iwestela . . . a gradual transition to reservation life. Sitting Bull even declared an end to his own band’s four-year war against the military posts on the upper Missouri,” p. 154. John Gray in Centennial Campaign estimates that the total population of the Lakota and Cheyenne tribes that had participants in the Battle of the Little Bighorn was 21,870, and that only 8,000, or 37 percent of that population, were not at the agencies during the battle and could have possibly taken part in it, pp. 318–20. My account of Sitting Bull and Crow King’s encounter with a group of agency Indians on the Yellowstone River in 1870 is from Stanley Vestal’s New Sources of Indian History, pp. 329–32. Sitting Bull’s statement that Red Cloud “saw too much” comes from William Quintin’s report of a conference with the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre at Fort Shaw in which it was said that Sitting Bull had broken with Red Cloud; cited by James Olson inRed Cloud and the Sioux Problem, p. 131. Vestal writes of Sitting Bull’s difficulty sleeping with his two jealous wives in Sitting Bull, pp. 39–40.
According to John Gray in “Frank Grouard: Kanaka Scout or Mulatto Renegade?” Grouard’s mother was from the Tuamotu Islands; according to Richard Hardorff in “The Frank Grouard Genealogy,” she was from an island off Tahiti. White Bull speaks of Sitting Bull’s relationship with Grouard in ww box 105, notebook 8, WCC. On “Yellow Hair,” the supposed child of Custer and Monahsetah, see “My Heritage, My Search” by Gail Kelly-Custer (who claims to be descended from Yellow Hair, also known as Josiah Custer) in Custer and His Times, book 5, edited by John Hart, pp. 268–81. On the phenomenon of the “squaw man,” see Stanley Vestal’s New Sources, pp. 312–13, as well as Walter Boyes’s “White Renegades Living with the Hostiles Go Up Against Custer,” pp. 11–19, 31.
The 1872 description of a “Sandwich Islander, called Frank” is cited by John Gray in “Frank Grouard,” p. 64. Grouard’s comments about Sitting Bull are in Joe DeBarthe’s Life and Adventures of Frank Grouard (subsequently referred to as DeBarthe), pp. 159, 387, 386. On Sitting Bull’s use of warrior societies to create “channels of influence both to the chiefs and elders and to the key brokers of warrior opinion,” see Bray, Crazy Horse, p. 177.
Utley writes of how the opening of the Milk River Agency represented a conscious attempt to undercut Sitting Bull’s influence; Utley also discusses the small number of lodges remaining with the Hunkpapa leader during the winter of 1872–73 in Lance and Shield, p. 97. According to Catherine Price in The Oglala People, 1841–1879, “The tiyospaye was commonly composed of ten or more bilaterally extended families,” p. 2. Grouard describes his falling out with Sitting Bull in DeBarthe, pp. 109–13. White Bull describes Sitting Bull’s courageous pipe-smoking demonstration in 1872, ww box 105, notebook 24; WCC. Grouard was with the Lakota along the Yellowstone during their encounter with the Seventh Cavalry in 1873 and remarked on the playing of the regimental band, DeBarthe, p. 114. Barrows’s description of the “stirring Irish air” was in the Sept. 9, 1873, New York Tribune.
Standing Bear’s memory of Sitting Bull’s comparison of the Black Hills to a food pack is in DeMallie’s The Sixth Grandfather, p. 164. Bray has an excellent account of the U.S. government’s “general uncertainty about the region’s significance in a time of unprecedented crisis,” Crazy Horse,p. 187. Grouard speaks of his difficulties readjusting to a white diet in DeBarthe, p. 88; he also tells of his troubles relearning the English language, p. 175, and the varying reactions of Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull to his return with a peace delegation, pp. 173–74. Hyde in Red Cloud’s Folkwrites of Little Big Man’s confrontation with the peace commissioners, pp. 243–44.
John Gray in Centennial Campaign cites the Watkins letter recommending military force, as well as Sheridan’s description of the Jan. 31, 1876, deadline as a “good joke,” pp. 28–33. Grouard tells of his role as government scout during the winter and spring of 1876 in DeBarthe, pp. 181–88; he also speaks of carrying “a map of the country in my mind,” p. 154. Wooden Leg described the army’s attack on his village in Marquis, Wooden Leg, pp. 161–67. John Gray has created a useful chronology of the village’s movements that winter and spring (largely based on Wooden Leg’s account) in Centennial Campaign, pp. 321–34. Wooden Leg describes Sitting Bull’s reception of the Cheyenne refugees in Marquis, Wooden Leg, pp. 170–72, as well as how Sitting Bull had “come now into admiration by all Indians,” p. 178. Vestal relates Crazy Horse’s explanation of the soldiers’ behavior in Warpath, p. 182; Vestal also discusses the dangers of staying on the reservation, writing, “it was so convenient to kill friendlies,” in Sitting Bull, p. 69. Wooden Leg speaks of Sitting Bull’s insistence that the warriors hunt instead of fight in Marquis, Wooden Leg, pp. 179, 185. Kill Eagle’s account of being forced to join Sitting Bull’s village is in W. A. Graham’s The Custer Myth, p. 49.
One Bull describes Sitting Bull’s activities during the 1876 sun dance in box 104, folder 6, and box 110, folder 8, WCC. Grouard’s description of the “scarlet blanket” is in DeBarthe, p. 120. Raymond DeMallie in “ ‘These Have No Ears’: Narrative and Ethnohistorical Method” provides a probing analysis of how Vestal/Campbell interpreted and inevitably adjusted the accounts of Sitting Bull’s sun dance he received from both One Bull and White Bull, pp. 518–20. For a reference to the Rock Writing Bluff, see DeMallie’s The Sixth Grandfather, p. 198. Concerning the consequences of not following Sitting Bull’s injunction about the spoils, Ernie LaPointe, Sitting Bull’s great-grandson, says, “When you don’t follow a vision to the end, you will suffer,” in The Authorized Biography of Sitting Bull, part 2.
Chapter 5: The Scout
Judge Bacon’s deathbed words about Custer having been “born a soldier” are in Frost, General Custer’s Libbie, p. 150, as is Libbie’s plea to Custer that “we must die together,” p. 126. Custer tells of his encounter with the psychic in an Apr. 17, 1866, letter to Libbie in the Merington Papers at the New York Public Library, cited by Barnett in Touched by Fire, pp. 59–60. Custer’s letter to Libbie about how “troublesome and embarrassing babies would be to us” is in Frost, General Custer’s Libbie, p. 178. Custer’s Jan. 31, 1876, telegram to General Terry about his impending bankruptcy is in the Custer Papers, NA. Custer told of how he spent the night writing his article for Galaxy magazine in a June 9, 1876, letter to Libbie in Boots and Saddles, p. 270. Edgerly wrote of Custer’s dinner of bread drenched in syrup in an Oct. 10, 1877, letter to Libbie in Merington, p. 302. Terry described his wet return to the Powder River encampment in his Diary, p. 21. Godfrey wrote of how the officers speculated about why Custer was not given the scout in his Field Diary, edited by Stewart, p. 6. Kellogg claimed that Custer had declined the scout in an article in the June 21, 1876, New York Herald. Godfrey described the difficulties of training the pack mules in his diary, Stewart, p. 5. My description of the Gatling gun is based largely on Julia Keller’s Mr. Gatling’s Terrible Marvel, pp. 173–206.
The scouts’ description of Reno as “the man with the dark face” is in Libby, p. 73. Benteen describes his confrontation with Reno in a Jan. 16, 1892, letter to Goldin in John Carroll’s Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 209. My descriptions of Reno’s service on the munitions board and his actions upon learning of his wife’s death, as well as his run-in with Thomas Weir, are based primarily on Ronald Nichols’s In Custer’s Shadow, pp. 116–20, 133–35, 136, 148. Custer told of how Terry requested that he lead the column to the Yellowstone in a June 11, 1876, letter to Libbie in Merington, p. 302. The engineer Edward Maguire calculated that the column had covered a total of 318.5 miles, averaging 15.9 miles per day, in John Carroll’s General Custer . . . The Federal View, p. 42. Hanson describes how the appearance of the column transformed the once-placid banks of the Yellowstone, p. 245. In a June 21, 1876, article in the New York Herald, Kellogg wrote about the temporary trading post at the Powder River encampment; the Arikara scouts also described the post, in Libby, pp. 71–72; the scouts also recounted how the interpreter Fred Gerard told them they could each have a single drink of whiskey, Libby, p. 207, and how much they enjoyed the playing of the regimental band, Libby, p. 73.
John Gray quotes Terry’s Feb. 21, 1876, letter to Sheridan in Centennial Campaign, p. 40. Custer’s June 12, 1876, letter to Libbie describing how the dogs slept with him in his tent is in Boots and Saddles, p. 271. Dr. Paulding’s remarks concerning Gibbon’s lack of initiative are in “A Surgeon at the Little Big Horn: The Letters of Dr. Holmes O. Paulding,” edited by Thomas Buecker, p. 139. Benteen’s June 12–13, 1876, letter to his wife, Frabbie, describing the languid scene inside his tent along the Yellowstone is in Camp Talk, edited by John Carroll, p. 14; along with Custer, Benteen feared that Reno’s scout might unnecessarily “precipitate things” and ruin an otherwise excellent opportunity to attack the Indians. Reno’s note to Terry in which he says he can tell him “where the Indians are not” is quoted in Gray’s Centennial Campaign, p. 136.
On the Crows’ decision to align themselves with the American government, see Frederick Hoxie’s Parading Through History, pp. 60–125, as well as Jonathan Lear’s provocative Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation . John Gray writes extensively of Mitch Boyer’s background in Custer’s Last Campaign, pp. 3–123; he also cites Boyer’s comments about how the Lakota “can’t get even now,” p. 396. My thanks to Neal Smith for identifying the binds on Boyer’s headgear as blue jays, specifically Steller’s jays. On Reno’s scout, see James Willert’s Little Big Horn Diary, pp. 130–31, and Gray’s Custer’s Last Campaign, p. 132. Terry described his strategy prior to the Reno scout in a June 12, 1876, letter: “a double movement, one part of the force going up the Tongue to near its head waters then crossing to the head waters of the Rosebud, & descending that stream; the other portion joining Gibbon’s troops & proceeding up the last named river,” Terry Letters, p. 19. On Reno’s previous experience fighting Indians, see Nichols, In Custer’s Shadow, p. 37.
Mark Kellogg wrote of his voyage down the Yellowstone on the Far West in the June 21, 1876, New York Herald. For a useful biography of Kellogg, see Sandy Barnard’s I Go with Custer. Custer wrote to Libbie about the drowning of Sergeant Fox and the temporary loss of the letter bag in a June 17, 1876, letter in Boots and Saddles, p. 273. See also Willert’s account of Fox’s drowning in Little Big Horn Diary, pp. 128–29. Benteen also wrote about the incident in a June 14, 1876, letter to his wife, Frabbie, in John Carroll’s Camp Talk, p. 15. Libbie’s letter to Custer in which she says, “All your letters are scorched,” is in Merington, p. 303. John Gray details who was left at the Powder River supply depot in Centennial Campaign, p. 129. In his Field Diary Terry wrote, “Band of 7th to remain at depot,” p. 22. According to James Wilber, “Custer wanted to take the band beyond Powder River, but Terry would not consent to it,” in Custer in ’76, edited by Kenneth Hammer, p. 149. Stanley Hoig in The Battle of the Washita describes how the band’s instruments froze at the onset of the attack, p. 128. According to James Henley, “Custer’s orders to have the band play ‘Garry Owen’ when about to charge [at the Washita] was ever a subject of ridicule in the regiment,” in Camp on Custer, edited by Bruce Liddic and Paul Harbaugh, pp. 36–37.
According to Godfrey, “No one carried the saber,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 346. On DeRudio’s decision to bring his saber, see Hammer, Custer in ’76: “DeRudio says he was the only man in the regiment who carried a saber,” p. 87. Kellogg wrote of the abandoned Indian village on the Tongue in the June 21, 1876, New York Herald. Custer’s letter to Libbie about finding the trooper’s charred skull is in Boots and Saddles, p. 274. Red Star described Custer’s examination of the skull in Libby, in which he also recounted Isaiah Dorman’s involvement in the desecration of the Lakota graves, pp. 75–76. Maguire provided a detailed description of the embalmed Lakota warrior, in John Carroll’s General Custer . . . The Federal View, p. 43. Stanislaw Roy told of how the soldiers of McIntosh’s G Company were warned that they “might be sorry” for the desecration in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 111. Boston Custer’s letter detailing the pillage is in Merington, p. 306. Godfrey’s description of the same is in “Custer’s Last Battle,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 129. Peter Thompson related Gerard’s pronouncement that “the vengeance of God . . . had overtaken” the Custer clan for despoiling the Lakota graves, in his Account, p. 46. Custer’s letter to Libbie describing the scene at night around the fire is in Boots and Saddles, p. 274. John Gray describes Reno’s activities along the Rosebud on June 17, 1876, in Centennial Campaign, pp. 133–34. Peter Thompson’s description of how the Indians’ travois tore up the ground is in his Account, p. 8. In a June 21, 1876, letter to Libbie, Custer wrote, “The scouts reported that they could have overtaken the village in one day and a half,” in Boots and Saddles, pp. 274–75. Forked Horn’s words of warning to Reno are in Libby, p. 70.
Chapter 6: The Blue Pencil Line
George Bird Grinnell details Little Hawk’s scout up the Rosebud in The Fighting Cheyennes, pp. 282–84; he writes of Little Hawk’s reputation as a practical joker in The Cheyenne Indians: Their History and Ways of Life, p. 124. On the movements of Sitting Bull’s village, see John Gray’sCentennial Campaign, p. 327. Wooden Leg told of how the heralds warned “young men, leave the soldiers alone” in Marquis, Wooden Leg, pp. 198–99. Grinnell wrote of how Little Hawk and his scouts “howl like wolves, to notify the people that something had been seen,” in The Fighting Cheyennes, p. 284. White Bull spoke of how approximately a thousand young warriors slipped away at night for the Rosebud and how Sitting Bull was with him at the beginning of the battle, box 105, notebook 24, WCC.
In writing about Crook and the Battle of the Rosebud, I have consulted John Finerty’s War-Path and Bivouac; John Bourke’s On the Border with Crook; Crook’s Autobiography, edited by Martin F. Schmitt; Charles King’s Campaigning with Crook; J. W. Vaughn’s With Crook on the Rosebud; Neil Mangum’s Battle of the Rosebud; and Charles Robinson’s General Crook and the Western Frontier. Perry Jamieson writes of Crook’s groundbreaking techniques with the mule train in Crossing the Deadly Ground, pp. 39–40. Crook’s observation “Nothing breaks [the Indians] up like turning their own people against them” appeared in a series of articles published in the Los Angeles Times in 1886; cited by Robert Utley in Frontier Regulars, p. 54. This was the same technique pioneered by Benjamin Church during King Philip’s War; see my Mayflower, pp. 311–44. Red Cloud’s defiant words appeared in the June 9, 1876, New York Herald, cited by James Olson in Red Cloud and the Sioux Problem, p. 218. John Bourke in On the Bordersaid that Crook’s belief that the Lakota “would never stand punishment as the Apaches had done” was based on the fact that they had “accumulated much property in ponies and other things, and the loss would be felt most deeply,” p. 286.
Grouard described the “Sioux war-cry” and the confrontation between the Lakota and Crows and Shoshone in DeBarthe, pp. 224–25. Anson Mills judged the Lakota “the best cavalry soldiers on earth” in My Story, p. 406. In his Autobiography, Crook claimed the Indians “outnumbered the soldiers three to one and were armed with the latest model repeating rifles,” p. 196. John Finerty in War-Path and Bivouac wrote that an incredible twenty-five thousand cartridges were expended during the battle, adding, “It often takes an immense amount of lead to send even one Indian to the happy hunting grounds,” p. 141. Mills described the Lakota and Cheyenne’s intimidating appearance in My Story, p. 406. Crook remembered how the war whoop “caused the hair to raise on end” in hisAutobiography, p. 194. Bourke in On the Border details the column’s activities after the battle, p. 322. Libbie’s letter mentioning Crook’s battle is in Merington, p. 303. Bates in Custer’s Indian Battles quoted a bit of soldier’s doggerel describing Crook after the Battle of the Rosebud: “I’d braid my beard in two long tails / And idle all the day / In whittling sticks and wondering / What the New York papers say,” p. 30.
Terry’s June 21, 1876, letter in which he describes his anger over Reno’s actions no longer exists; before its disappearance it was quoted in Hughes’s “Campaign Against the Sioux in 1876” and is reprinted in Willert’s edition of Terry’s letters, p. 47. Hughes in “Campaign Against the Sioux in 1876” approvingly quotes Terry’s personal motto: “Zeal without discretion only does harm,” p. 43. Custer’s criticisms of Reno appeared in the July 11, 1876, New York Herald. Terry’s movements on June 20, 1876, are outlined in his Field Diary, p. 23. Peter Thompson tells of how Custer “upbraided” Reno in his Account, p. 9; he also states that “Custer and some other of the officers were anxious to witness the opening of the Centennial Exposition,” p. 10.
Mark Kellogg’s description of Terry strategizing aboard the Far West appeared in the July 1, 1876, New York Herald. John Bailey writes of Terry’s background in his biography of the general, Pacifying the Plains, p. 5. Roger Darling writes insightfully about Terry’s mind-set in A Sad and Terrible Blunder, commenting that “he was proud of his plan,” p. 60. According to S. L. A. Marshall in The Crimsoned Prairie, it was “not a very bright plan; the synchronization of such movement over great distance being next to impossible,” p. 113. Robert Hughes in “Campaign Against the Sioux in 1876” writes of the inadequacy of the available maps: “A copy of the map then extant . . . [shows] that the Rosebud was an unexplored and unmapped region,” p. 35; Hughes also states that Terry’s belief that the Lakota and Cheyenne were in the vicinity of the Little Bighorn was based on the Crow scouts’ reports of “many smokes” in that region, p. 36. In a Jan. 1, 1892, letter to Godfrey, Brisbin described the scene in the cabin of the Far West, in Brininstool, p. 276.
In his biography of Custer, Jay Monaghan wrote of Custer’s neglect of orders at the Battle of Gettysburg: “[H]e had successfully evaded a superior’s order and by doing so become a gallant—perhaps a key—figure in winning the greatest battle of the war,” p. 149. Or as John Gray comments inCentennial Campaign, “When perceptive disobedience snatches victory from defeat, who complains?” p. 148. Even Terry’s biographer, John Bailey, questioned Terry’s decision not to accompany Custer: “Terry might be faulted because he did not go in command of the Seventh Cavalry himself. He had experienced problems with both Colonel Custer and Major Reno and he might have kept them in the harness by his presence,” in Pacifying the Plains, p. 156. Terry’s comments about wishing “to give [Custer] a chance to do something” are in Brisbin’s Jan. 1, 1892, letter to Godfrey in Brininstool, p. 278. As Marshall comments in Crimsoned Plain, “Such deference to subordinates may be highly Christian but it is hardly military,” p. 118. Godfrey’s remark that “something must be wrong about Genl Terry” was recorded in The Field Diary of Lt. Edward Settle Godfrey, on Aug. 14, 1876, in Stewart, pp. 35–36.
According to John Gray, “[W ]e must be wary . . . of statements made after the tragedy, not merely because of the vagaries of human memory, but because of the partisan interests and hindsight revisions,” Centennial Campaign, p. 141. According to Terry’s brother-in-law and aide Robert Hughes, if Custer had obeyed his orders, they would have won “one of the most brilliant victories over the Indians,” in “Campaign Against the Sioux in 1876,” p. 42. A good example of how the passage of time can change a person’s perception of a past event is the difference between Brisbin’s 1892 account of the meeting aboard the Far West (in which he claimed Custer was to postpone his attack until Gibbon and Terry had arrived) with what he claimed on June 28, 1876, as published in theNew York Herald: “It was announced by General Terry that General Custer’s column would strike the blow and General Gibbon and his men received the decision without a murmur. . . . The Montana Column felt disappointed when they learned that they were not to be present at the final capture of the great village,” cited by Gray in Centennial Campaign, p. 145. Lieutenant James Bradley’s statement that “we have little hope of being in at the death, as Custer will undoubtedly exert himself to the utmost” was made in his Wednesday, June 21, 1876, journal entry, p. 215.
Frances Holley in Once Their Home recounted Fred Gerard’s impressions of Terry’s verbal instructions to Custer: “with what he heard General Terry say . . . [Gerard thinks] General Custer did not disobey any instructions nor bring on the fight unnecessarily,” p. 266. Lawrence Barrett’s Oct. 3, 1876, letter in which he reported that Custer “was told to act according to his own judgment” is in Sandy Barnard’s “The Widow Custer: Consolation Comes from Custer’s Best Friend,” p. 4. There is also an affidavit in which Custer’s African American cook Mary Adams recorded her memory of Terry’s last words to Custer: “[U]se your own judgment and do what you think best if you strike the trail,” in John Manion’s fascinating analysis of this controversial document, General Terry’s Last Statement to Custer, p. 62. Mark Kellogg’s dispatch in the July 11, 1876, New York Heraldrecords that Terry and the other officers estimated that fifteen hundred warriors were with Sitting Bull. Gibbon’s letter to Terry in which he says “perhaps we were expecting too much to anticipate a forbearance on [Custer’s] part” is in Brady’s Indian Fights, p. 223. Brisbin’s reference to how Terry “turned his wild man loose” is in his letter to Godfrey in Brininstool, p. 280. S. L. A. Marshall in Crimsoned Plain describes Custer as “the main sacrifice,” p. 121.
Charles Hofling in Custer and the Little Big Horn: A Psychobiographical Inquiry comments on Custer’s “subdued, almost depressed state of mind in which he left the conference,” p. 96. Roger Darling in A Sad and Terrible Blunder writes that Custer’s “depression” may have “stemmed from the rejection of criticisms and proposals he may have presented,” p. 76. In a June 2, 1876, letter, Terry wrote, “I am becoming like ‘I.B. tough.’ I hope, however, that means [I] shall become like him not only ‘tough’ but ‘day-velish sly,’” p. 19. Bailey in Pacifying the Plains writes of Terry’s role in drafting the Treaty of 1868 and his assurance to Sheridan that an expedition into the Black Hills was legal, pp. 96, 108. Terry’s orders to Custer are reprinted in Hammer, Custer in ’76, pp. 257–58. According to Hughes, the language of Terry’s written orders meant that “Custer had no business to be at that time [afternoon of June 25] ‘in the presence of the Indians,’ ” “Campaign Against the Sioux in 1876,” p. 39. According to Walter Camp, “Terry was a lawyer as well as a soldier, and this order was so drawn that Custer, in case Indians did escape, would have been charged with responsibility whether he attacked or not,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 263.
Darling in A Sad and Terrible Blunder cites James DeWolf’s May 23 letter describing Terry’s sympathies for the Indians, p. 77; the letter is in Luce, “Diary and Letters of Dr. James M. DeWolf,” p. 75. Kellogg wrote of Terry’s insistence “that there was to be no child’s play as regards the Indians” in the May 17, 1876, New York Herald. John Burkman’s account of Custer’s words with Terry and Gibbon in front of his tent are in Wagner, p. 133. Grant Marsh also noticed that “the general seemed in an irritable frame of mind that night,” in Hanson, p. 260. Godfrey described Custer as “unusually emphatic” in his meeting with his officers in “Custer’s Last Battle,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 130. Custer wrote of how the Crows had heard “that I never abandoned a trail” in a June 21, 1876, letter to Libbie in Boots and Saddles, p. 275. Edgerly’s account of his playful interchange with Custer about stepping high is in Merington, p. 309. Richard Thompson reported on Benteen and Custer’s argumentative exchange to Walter Camp in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 247. Burkman’s comments about Custer being “worked up over something” are in Wagner, p. 134. Sheridan’s vote of confidence prior to the Battle of the Washita is in Merington, p. 217. Charles DeLand writes that Custer’s fear of happening upon Crook “may well have increased his desire to refrain from marching southward,” in The Sioux Wars, p. 427. Custer’s disparaging words about Reno appeared in the July 11, 1876, New York Herald. Burkman’s description of the drinking that night is in Wagner, p. 135.
Godfrey writes of how several officers “seemed to have a presentiment of their fate” in “Custer’s Last Battle” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 130. Custer described Cooke’s heroics against the Cheyenne in My Life on the Plains, pp. 90–97. Cooke and Gibson’s exchange is in Fougera’sWith Custer’s Cavalry, p. 277. Brisbin’s letter describing how “we fixed poor Mark up for his ride to death” appeared in the Nov. 15, 1890, Sturgeon Bay, Wisc., Advocate, cited by Sandy Barnard in I Go with Custer, p. 133. Hanson describes Charley Reynolds’s conversation with Grant Marsh, p. 264, as well as the late-night poker game played in the cabin of the Far West, p. 263; according to Hanson, “Custer’s tent was pitched on the riverbank but a few feet away from the Far West,” p. 247. On Reno’s actions that night see Willis Carland’s Feb. 2, 1934, letter to William Ghent, in Edward Settle Godfrey Papers, LOC; Carland was the son of Lieutenant John Carland of the Sixth Infantry and wrote, “I remember . . . seeing Reno with his arm about father’s shoulder, both of them singing ‘larboard watch.’ ” John Burkman’s description of standing guard in front of Custer’s tent and finding Custer asleep with the pen in his hand are in Wagner, pp. 137, 138. John Gibbon wrote of Custer’s departure in “Last Summer’s Expedition Against the Sioux and Its Great Catastrophe,” p. 293; he also wrote of the scene in a letter to Terry in Brady’s Indian Fights, p. 223.
Chapter 7: The Approach
Arthur Brandt, in his introduction to Francis Parkman’s The Oregon Trail, suggests that Parkman’s illness, known as “mountain fever,” may have been linked to the alkaline in the drinking water, p. xiv. Once in the Black Hills, Parkman felt “a spirit of energy in the mountains,” p. 116; his descriptions of a buffalo hunt, pemmican, and the elders in their “white buffalo-robes” are all in The Oregon Trail, pp. 162–63, 160, 150. Gray tells of how the government’s attempts to buy the Black Hills “had thrown the rationing machinery of the government into chaos”; he also describes the effects of the embargo on selling arms and ammunition to the agency Indians in Centennial Campaign, pp. 33–34; he estimates the size of Sitting Bull’s village by June 18 to have been approximately four thousand people, p. 333.
Dan Flores in “The Great Contraction” writes that the northern plains were “the scene of the nineteenth-century endgame for both bison and Plains Indians” and that it was “almost inevitable that the country just north of the Little Bighorn . . . should feature the final acts of almost 90 centuries of Indian/bison interactions in western America,” pp. 7–8. The Lakota who hugged the buffalo were Broken Arrow and He Dog; a herd of seventeen bison had been collected in a corral and put on display to local residents at Pine Ridge, many of whom had never even seen a buffalo; in the Apr. 26, 1891, New York World, cited by Robert Utley in The Indian Frontier, p. 227. Dan Flores calculates that the average Lakota ate about six buffalo per year in “Bison Ecology,” p. 64.
John Gray describes how the size of Sitting Bull’s village doubled in just a week in Centennial Campaign, pp. 336–37. Kill Eagle noted that the camp’s large council lodge was yellow in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 55. Parkman wrote of the Lakota’s “characteristic indecision” in The Oregon Trail, p. 107. White Bull described the interior of Sitting Bull’s tepee and told of how a guest was typically welcomed in box 104, folder 22, WCC; according to White Bull, “Sitting Bull could take a joke on himself. I have been in Sitting Bull’s lodge many times and listened to the people cracking jokes. . . . It is true of Indians there are some who cannot take a joke.” Richard Hardorff reprints another White Bull account (box 105, notebook 24, WCC) in Indian Views of the Custer Fight, p. 150. Parkman described a typical evening in a Lakota lodge in The Oregon Trail,p. 145; he compared the light-filled tepee to a “gigantic lantern,” p. 169, “glowing through the half-transparent covering of raw hides,” p. 101. John Keegan writes of nomadism in Fields of Battle: “The nomad regards himself as a superior being, because he enjoys the greatest of all human endowments, personal freedom and detachment from material borders. Nomadism, anthropologists have concluded, is the happiest of human ways of life; and because of the happiness it brings, those who enjoy it react with ruthless violence against outsiders who seek to limit or redirect it,” pp. 277–78. Wooden Leg talked of the pleasures of “when every man had to be brave” in Marquis, Wooden Leg, pp. 383–84.
Godfrey wrote of officer’s call on June 22, 1876, in “Custer’s Last Battle,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 135. Gibson’s letter describing Custer’s “queer sort of depression” is in Fougera, With Custer’s Cavalry, pp. 266–67. Edgerly also wrote about the scene in his letter to Libbie in Merington, p. 310. In a July 2, 1876, letter to Sheridan, Terry wrote, “I . . . at one time suggested [to Custer] that perhaps it would be well for me to take Gibbon’s cavalry and go with him. To this suggestion he replied that he would . . . prefer his own regiment alone . . . that he had all the force that he could need, and I shared his confidence,” in The Little Big Horn 1876: The Official Communications, Documents, and Reports, edited by Lloyd Overfield, pp. 36–37. According to James Willert, “The apparent undermining of his person before Terry angered him in no small degree,”Little Big Horn Diary, p. 219. Burkman spoke of Custer’s tendency to overreact in Wagner, p. 143. Benteen described his pointed interchange with Custer in his “Little Big Horn Narrative” in John Carroll’s Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 162. Godfrey wrote of Wallace’s prediction that Custer would be killed in his Field Diary, edited by Stewart, p. 9.
On the Seventh Cavalry’s difficulties with the pack train, see John Gray’s “The Pack Train on General George A. Custer’s Last Campaign,” pp. 53–68, and Richard Hardorff’s “Packs, Packers, and Pack Details: Logistics and Custer’s Pack Train,” pp. 225–48. According to Hardorff, “this new mode of transportation was totally ineffective. . . . [T]he implementation of this system could not have come at a more inopportune time,” p. 237. John McGuire told Walter Camp that it was “a great misfortune Gatling guns weren’t taken . . . as the ground was not nearly so rough as had been on Reno’s scout,” folder 73, Camp Papers, BYU. Vern Smalley discusses the pluses and minuses of buckskin clothing in More Little Bighorn Mysteries, section 18, pp. 1–3. Kill Eagle attested to the fact that Sitting Bull wore cloth clothing, testifying that “the last time I saw him he was wearing a very dirty cotton shirt,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 55. Charley Reynolds’s description of Custer as “George of the quill and leather breeches” is in a letter from George Bird Grinnell to Walter Camp, reel 1, Camp Papers, BYU. Richard Hardorff in a note in Lakota Recollections claims that in addition to the three Custer brothers and brother-in-law James Calhoun, five other officers wore buckskin, p. 67.
Charles Mills in Harvest of Barren Regrets writes of the rift between Benteen and his father during the Civil War, p. 19, as well the ongoing feud between Benteen’s two commanding officers during much of the war, p. 65. For a reproduction of an erotic drawing by Benteen, see Camp Talk,edited by John Carroll, p. 103. In an Oct. 20, 1891, letter to Goldin, Benteen wrote, “I lost four children in following that brazen trumpet around,” John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 197. Benteen described himself as a “Nihilist sure” in a Mar. 23, 1896, letter to Goldin, John Carroll’sBenteen-Goldin Letters, p. 294. Benteen wrote of the pride that kept him from leaving the regiment and of his curious decision to request Custer’s return prior to the Washita campaign in a Feb. 12, 1896, letter to Goldin, John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, pp. 259, 252. Corroborating Benteen’s claim that he had encouraged Sheridan to bring Custer back is Custer’s letter to Libbie: “even my enemies ask to have me return,” in Frost, General Custer’s Libbie, p. 174. Benteen described his struggles with the pack train in his narrative of the battle in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, pp. 162–63.
The scouts’ description of Varnum as “Peaked Face” is in Libby, p. 197. Varnum recounted Custer’s words of praise during the Yellowstone campaign of 1873 to T. M. Coughlan in Varnum: The Last of Custer’s Lieutenants; Coughlan also wrote that Custer “and some of his young officers had their heads shingled with clippers shortly before leaving Fort Lincoln,” p. 4. Custer’s insistence that Reno had “made the mistake of his life” by not following the Indian trail is also in Coughlan, p. 9. Custer’s letter to Libbie referring to “the valuable time lost” by Reno’s failure to pursue the Indians is in Merington, p. 305. Custer’s claim that a victory over just five lodges of Lakota was sufficient to claim success is in Libby, p. 58. According to Peter Thompson, “all men knew that General Custer, if left to his own devices, would soon end the campaign one way or another. Custer and some of his officers were anxious to witness the opening of the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in July 1876,” Account, p. 9.
Benteen described how he reorganized the pack train in his narrative in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 163. Thompson described the fall of Barnum the mule in his Account, pp. 11–12. In a Feb. 19, 1896, letter to Goldin, Benteen wrote: “The anti-Custer faction—if there was such a faction—were the people in the regiment that had all of the hard duty to perform and who did it nobly, because they loved their country and the ‘Service,’ ” John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 273. Cooke’s Arikara name of “the Handsome Man” was listed in Mark Kellogg’s notebook in Sandy Barnard’s I Go with Custer, p. 207. Benteen told of Cooke’s defection to the Custer faction in a Feb. 17, 1896, letter to Goldin, in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 269. Benteen describes his interactions with Cooke and Custer about the pack train in his narrative in John Carroll,Benteen-Goldin Letters, pp. 177–78.
My description of the regiment’s march up the Rosebud Valley is based in part on my own observations while following Custer’s trail in June 2007. Varnum’s description of the valley as “one continuous village” is from a May 5, 1909, letter from Varnum to Walter Camp in Richard Hardorff’sOn the Little Bighorn with Walter Camp, p. 71. Burkman describes his interchange with Custer while riding along the Rosebud in Wagner, pp. 144–45. According to John Gray in Centennial Campaign, “Custer seems to have misinterpreted the signs to mean that the village was breaking up and fleeing,” p. 338. Varnum told of Custer’s order “to see that no trail led out of the one we were following” in Custer’s Chief of Scouts, edited by John Carroll, p. 60.
Godfrey wrote of the regiment’s activities at the location of Sitting Bull’s sun dance in his Field Diary, edited by Stewart, pp. 9–10, and in “Custer’s Last Battle,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, pp. 135–36. The article in which Daniel Kanipe described the wickiups as “brush sheds” as well as how Sergeant Finley placed the scalp in his saddle-bag is in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 248. Wooden Leg told of how the young warriors stayed in wickiups instead of lodges in Marquis, Wooden Leg, p. 210. The various signs left by the Lakota and Cheyenne are described in Libby, pp. 78–79. According to the Arikara scout Soldier, they found “a stone with two bulls drawn on it. On one bull was drawn a bullet and on the other a lance. The two bulls were charging toward each other. Custer asked Bloody Knife to translate it and Bloody Knife said it meant a hard battle would occur if an enemy came that way,” Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 187. Red Star’s comment that Custer had “a heart like an Indian” is in Libby, p. 77. Custer’s participation in the ceremony in Medicine Arrow’s lodge is described by Grinnell in The Fighting Cheyennes, p. 264; by John Stands in Timber in Cheyenne Memories, p. 82; and by Custer himself in My Life on the Plains, pp. 357–58. Charles Windolph in I Fought with Custer writes, “[S]eems to me that Indians must have put some curse . . . on the white men who first touched their sacred Black Hills. . . . Custer got a lot of notoriety from his Black Hills Expedition. . . . But he never had any luck after that,” p. 43. In a note inIndian Views of the Custer Fight, Richard Hardorff describes Custer’s flag as “a large, swallow-tailed guidon, divided into a red and blue field, with white crossed sabers in the center,” p. 55. Godfrey told how the wind repeatedly knocked down Custer’s flag in hisField Diary, edited by Stewart, pp. 8–9, and in “Custer’s Last Battle,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, pp. 135–36.
Wooden Leg speaks of the how the report of large numbers of antelope caused the village to move down the Little Bighorn in Marquis, Wooden Leg, p. 204. General Scott recorded that some Crow Indians had told him that the term Greasy Grass came from “a kind of grass growing up near the headwaters of [the river] that bore a kind of greasy pod or berry. After a horse had eaten a little while his jaws and nuzzle would be thickly smeared with a greasy substance,” in folder 52, Camp Papers, BYU. According to Ernie LaPointe in part 2 of The Authorized Biography of Sitting Bull,the term relates to the muddy slickness of the grass after a rain. Wooden Leg described the formation of Sitting Bull’s village on the Little Bighorn in Marquis, Wooden Leg, p. 206; see also Richard Fox’s “West River History: The Indian Village on the Little Bighorn River,” pp. 139–65. One Bull described how he and his uncle climbed to the top of the hills overlooking the river in box 104, folder 18, WCC. Robert Utley wrote of the Battle of Killdeer Mountain in The Lance and the Shield, pp. 55–57. White Bull described the battle in box 105, notebook 24, WCC.
The interpreter Billy Garnett’s account of how the Lakota believed “that the first white man came out of the water” and their use of the warning “Wamunitu!” are recorded in the typescript of the Walter Camp Papers, BYU, p. 652. In The Oregon Trail, Parkman wrote how after they’d wiped out a Dakota war party, the Snakes “became alarmed, dreading the resentment of the Dakota,” p. 85. Sitting Bull’s “Dream Cry” is in “25 Songs by Sitting Bull,” box 104, folder 18, WCC. One Bull also told of Sitting Bull’s “Dream Cry” on the night before the Little Bighorn, box 104, folder 18, WCC. Utley described Sitting Bull’s appeal to Wakan Tanka in The Lance and the Shield, p. 144. Wooden Leg told of the dance on the night of June 24, 1876, in Marquis, Wooden Leg, p. 215.
Chapter 8: The Crow’s Nest
Benteen wrote two narratives of the battle, both in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, where he speaks of his greeting by Keogh, pp. 165, 179. Brian Pohanka writes of Keogh’s life in Italy and the Civil War in “Myles Keogh from the Vatican to the Little Big Horn,” pp. 15–24; Pohanka cites Captain Theo Allen’s remark about Keogh’s spotless and tight-fitting uniform, p. 20; Pohanka also cites Keogh’s comments to his sister about the need for “a certain lack of sensitiveness,” p. 22, and Libbie’s description of Keogh as “hopelessly boozy,” p. 22. Edgerly’s letter to his wife in which he mentions Custer’s handling of Keogh prior to the battle is in E. C. Bailly’s “Echoes from Custer’s Last Fight,” p. 172. Benteen’s July 25, 1876, letter to his wife in which he relates his “queer dream of Col. Keogh” is in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 150. Ronald Nichols provides a synopsis of DeRudio’s career prior to joining the U.S. cavalry in Men with Custer, p. 83. Benteen’s account of the conversation prior to officer’s call is in his narrative, in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 165. Godfrey in “Custer’s Last Battle” describes officer’s call in the dark as well as Custer’s original battle plan, in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 136. Varnum in Custer’s Chief of Scouts wrote of the Crows’ hope of seeing the village as the morning “camp fires started,” p. 61. John Finerty wrote of a night march in War-Path and Bivouac, pp. 241–42. Godfrey described losing his bearings when the dust cloud wafted away in “Custer’s Last Battle,” p. 136. Lee Irwin writes of the “below powers” and how “outstanding topographical features” provided the setting for Native visions in The Dream Seekers, p. 37.
My account of the Battle of the Washita is based on the following sources: Richard Hardorff’s excellent compilation of primary source material in Washita Memories; Custer’s My Life on the Plains; Godfrey’s “Some Reminiscences, Including the Washita Battle, November 27, 1868”; Jerome Greene’s Washita: The U.S. Army and the Southern Cheyennes, 1876–9; Stan Hoig’s The Battle of the Washita; and Charles Brill’s Conquest of the Southern Plains. Greene in Washita refers to the campaign as “experimental,” p. 86; Custer’s description of setting out in the blizzard is from My Life on the Plains, pp. 215–16. Hardorff in Washita Memories has a useful note describing the “coloring of the horses,” p. 177, a process Custer describes in My Life, p. 208; Benteen’s complaints about Custer’s actions are in the annotations he left on his own copy of Custer’s book, cited by Hardorff in a note, Washita Memories, p. 177. Benteen wrote of how Elliott had been “peppering” Custer in a Feb. 12, 1896, letter to Goldin, in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 253. The doctor who examined Benteen in 1888 wrote that he “has had attacks of neuralgia of the head (beginning in the eyes) ever since his eyes were affected in 1868—a campaign on the snow . . . he blackened the eyelids above and below, with powder moistened with saliva. The glare affected the vision of the horses and men,” in John Carroll’s introduction to Karol Asay’s Gray Head and Long Hair: The Benteen-Custer Relationship, p. v.
John Ryan wrote of the crunch of the horses’ hooves and how the men warmed the horses’ bits at night, in Ten Years with Custer, edited by Sandy Barnard, pp. 75, 72. Brewster’s comparison of the regiment to a snake winding up the valley is in Hardorff,Washita Memories, p. 159. Dennis Lynch told Walter Camp how Custer and Tom strangled one of Custer’s dogs with a lariat; William Stair claimed Custer tied a dog’s head up in a woman’s apron in an attempt to quiet it; in Walter Camp’s Field Notes, folder 75, BYU. Ryan described the black dog getting a picket pin through the skull in Barnard, Ten Years, p. 74. Ben Clark related how Custer summarily dismissed an officer’s fears that there might be too many Indians, in James Foley’s “Walter Camp and Ben Clark,” p. 20. Custer described the “rollicking notes” of “Garry Owen” in My Life, p. 240. Ben Clark was beside Custer as he charged into the village; see his interview with Walter Camp, cited in Hardorff, Washita Memories, p. 225. Custer described Benteen’s encounter with the young Cheyenne warrior in My Life, pp. 241–42. Benteen wrote of how he “broke up the village” in a Feb. 12, 1896, letter to Goldin, in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 252; he wrote of how he taught Custer to respect him at the Washita in a Jan. 11, 1896, letter, p. 238.
Godfrey told of discovering the much larger village to the east and his conversation with Custer about Elliott in “Some Reminiscences,” pp. 493, 495–96. The Cheyenne Moving Behind, who was a young girl during the battle, remembered how the injured ponies “would moan loudly, just like human beings,” in Theodore Ediger and Vinnie Hoffman’s “Some Reminiscences of the Battle of the Washita,” p. 139. Dennis Lynch told of how the wounded ponies ate all the grass within their reach in Walter Camp Field Notes, folder 75, BYU. Benteen described the “steam-like volume of smoke” that rolled up from the burning tepees in the letter that was published in a St. Louis newspaper, in Hardorff, Washita Memories, p. 178. Charles Brill interviewed the scout Ben Clark, who claimed that after taking Black Kettle’s village, Custer planned on attacking the much larger village to the east. Clark’s account of convincing Custer that this “would be little less than suicide” is in Brill’s Conquest of the Southern Plains, pp. 174–79. Custer recounted how he attempted to do what the enemy neither “expects nor desires you to do” in his feint toward the larger village inMy Life, p. 249; Godfrey wrote that the band played “Ain’t I Glad to Get Out of the Wilderness” as the regiment marched toward the village, in “Some Reminiscences,” p. 497. Ryan described the use of captives as human shields in Barnard, Ten Years, p. 77. On Clark’s and Custer’s versions of events, see Elmo Watson’s “Sidelights on the Washita Fight,” especially p. 59, in which he speaks of Custer’s “delirium of victory.”
Godfrey described Elliott’s determination to go “for a brevet or a coffin,” in “Some Reminiscences,” p. 493; Benteen admitted that Elliott had ventured from the regiment on “his own hook” in a Feb. 12, 1896, letter to Goldin, in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 252. Benteen wrote to Barry of his certainty that Custer would one day be “scooped,” in The D. F. Barry Correspondence at the Custer Battlefield, edited by John Carroll, p. 48. According to Walter Camp, “Custer’s tactics for charging an Indian camp Benteen did not approve of,” in Hardorff, On the Little Bighorn with Walter Camp, pp. 232–33; Camp also wrote of how Indians “had to be grabbed,” p. 188. Godfrey wrote of the need for surprise when attacking Indians in “Custer’s Last Battle,” in W. A. Graham,The Custer Myth, p. 137. Benteen’s obsession with the Major Elliott affair is made clear in his Oct. 11, 1894, letter to Goldin: “Now, as ever, I want to get at who was to blame for not finding it out then,” in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 229. The description of the “sixteen naked corpses” was in the Jan. 4, 1869, New York Herald, in Hardorff, Washita Memories, p. 259. Benteen’s letter to William DeGresse about the Washita appeared in the Dec. 22, 1868, St. Louis Democrat and the Feb. 14, 1869, New York Times and is reprinted in Hardorff, Washita Memories, p. 176. For a synopsis of the evidence concerning the abuse of the Cheyenne captives, including the adage “Indian women rape easy,” see the note in Hardorff, Washita Memories, p. 231. See also Jerome Greene’s discussion in Washita, p. 169. Benteen makes the claims about Custer and Monahsetah in a Feb. 12, 1896, letter to Goldin, in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 258. Custer employed Monahsetah as a scout from Dec. 7, 1868, to Apr. 17, 1869; sometime in January of 1869 she gave birth to a son. According to Cheyenne oral tradition, she later gave birth to another son who was the product of her relationship with Custer. However, Monahsetah, who was known as Sally Ann among the officers of the Seventh, may also have had relations with Custer’s brother Tom. The son she gave birth to in January was jokingly known as Tom among the officers of the Seventh. For a more sympathetic view of the Custer-Monahsetah relationship, see “My Heritage, My Search” by Gail Kelly-Custer, who claims to be a descendant of Yellow Hair, also known as Josiah Custer, the child of Monahsetah and Custer. According to Kate Bighead, the southern Cheyenne women “talked of [Custer] as a fine-looking man.” Bighead added that Monahsetah (also known as Meotzi) “said that Long Hair was her husband, that he promised to come back to her, and that she would wait for him,” in The Custer Reader, edited by Paul Hutton, p. 364.
Varnum compared the “peculiar hollow” near the lookout in the Wolf Mountains to the “old Crow Nest at West Point,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 60. Thomas Heski writes of how the original Crow’s Nest at West Point was named for the lookout on the masthead of a ship in “ ‘Don’t Let Anything Get Away’—The March of the Seventh Cavalry, June 24–25, 1876: The Sundance Site to the Divide,” p. 23. See also Richard Hardorff’s “Custer’s Trail to the Wolf Mountains.” My descriptions of the two Crow’s Nests—one in southern Montana, the other in New York—are based on my own visits to these areas. My thanks to Major Ray Dillman for his directions to Storm King Mountain (the closest peak in the Hudson River valley to the Crow’s Nest, which as part of a former firing range is now off-limits) and to Jim Court for taking me to the Wolf Mountains at first light of June 25, 2007. The Crow scouts’ description of how “the hills would seem to go down flat” is in Libby, p. 87. Varnum wrote of how the Crows claimed the village was “behind a line of bluffs” and how they described the pony herd as “worms on the grass” in Custer’s Chief of Scouts, p. 87. Varnum’s mention of his inflamed eyes is in Hammer, Custer in ’76, as is his description of “a tremendous village,” p. 60.
Burkman spoke of using buffalo chips as a fire source on the Wolf Mountains in Wagner, p. 147. Theodore Goldin described the exhaustion of the regiment that morning in a Nov. 8, 1932, letter to Albert Johnson: “[H]ardly had we halted when men threw themselves to the ground and slept, while horses with heaving sides and drooping heads, stood just where their riders left the saddles,” in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 39. Benteen described his breakfast of “hardtack and trimmings” in his narrative of the battle, in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 166. Burkman told of how Custer lay down under a bush and immediately fell asleep in Wagner, p. 148. Peter Thompson wrote of “how poor and gaunt” the horses were becoming in his Account, p. 13. William Carter in The U.S. Cavalry Horse writes of how much a horse was typically fed, p. 377. Godfrey described the use of a carbine socket, in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 346.
Red Star told of how he turned his horse “zig-zag” to indicate that he’d seen the enemy; he also recounted how Custer told Bloody Knife about Tom’s supposed fear, in Libby, pp. 89–90. My account of how Tom Custer won two Medals of Honor is based on Jeffrey Wert’s Custer, pp. 219–20, and Thom Hatch’s Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn, pp. 56–58. Custer’s immense respect for Tom is reflected in his comment to some friends while on the East Coast in the spring of 1876: “To prove to you how I value and admire my brother as a soldier, I think he should be the general and I the captain,” in Libbie Custer’s Boots and Saddles, p. 193. Fred Gerard witnessed Custer and Bloody Knife’s testy exchange the night after leaving the Far West, when Custer ordered Gerard to tell the scout, “I shall fight the Indians wherever I find them!” in Frances Holley’sOnce Their Home, p. 263. William Jackson recounted Bloody Knife’s prediction that he would not “see the set of tomorrow’s sun” in James Schultz’s William Jackson Indian Scout, pp. 129–30. William Taylor in With Custer on the Little Big Horn wrote of how Custer rode bareback through the column after receiving Varnum’s message, p. 33; the bugler John Martin also described the scene in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 289, as did Benteen in his narrative, in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 180. Godfrey in “Custer’s Last Battle” recounted Custer’s insistence that instead of two or three days, “we’ll get through with them in one day,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 136. Thomas Heski offers a detailed description of the ravine in which the regiment temporarily hid in “ ‘Don’t Let Anything Get Away,’ ” p. 25. Edgerly recounted Cooke’s remarks about how “I would have a chance to bathe my maiden saber” in a letter to his wife, in Bailly’s “Echoes from Custer’s Last Fight,” p. 172.
My account of Crawler and Deeds’ brush with the Seventh in the Wolf Mountains is based on the testimony of Low Dog and Little Soldier, both in Richard Hardorff’s Indian Views of the Custer Fight: A Source Book, pp. 63–64, 174. Utley writes of Sitting Bull’s leadership role in the Silent Eaters Society, Lance and Shield, p. 101. Varnum in Custer’s Chief of Scouts describes the “long lariat” with which Crawler held Deeds’ pony, p. 63. My account of DeSmet’s 1868 peace mission to the Hunkpapa is based on Louis Pfaller’s “The Galpin Journal: Dramatic Record of an Odyssey of Peace,” pp. 4–23, and Utley, The Lance and the Shield, pp. 76–81; Pfaller mentions the fact that Sitting Bull continued to wear the crucifix given to him by DeSmet, p. 21. Holy Face Bear recounted Crawler’s statement, “We thought they were Holy Men,” in Hardorff’s Indian Views, p. 182. Hugh Scott wrote of the Lakota’s interest in peace instead of war, in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 113; see also the statement of Pretty Voice Eagle, who claimed that he and a delegation of Lakota spoke with Custer prior to the Seventh’s departure from Fort Lincoln in May 1876 and “asked him not to fight the Sioux Indians, but to go to them in a friendly way. . . . We begged him to promise us that he would not fight the Sioux. He promised us, and we asked him to raise his hand to God that he would not fight the Sioux, and he raised his hand. . . . After we got through talking, he soon left the agency, and we soon heard that he was fighting the Indians and that he and all his men were killed,” Joseph Dixon, The Vanishing Race, pp. 76–77.
In a note, Hardorff writes, “Evidence suggests . . . that [Black Bear and his party] were treated with contempt by the camp police of the Northern bands,” in Indian Views, p. 45. Black Bear’s account, in which he refers to how they attempted to camouflage themselves with grass, is in Hammer,Custer in ’76, p. 203; see also Standing Bear’s account in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 214, and He Dog’s account, in which he says Black Bear “took a look at the soldiers and went toward the agencies,” Camp Papers typescript, p. 291, BYU. White Bull, Brave Wolf, and Hump claimed that Black Bear returned to the camp after seeing the soldiers, in Hardorff, Indian Views, pp. 50–51. Varnum described how he and some others went off in pursuit of Crawler and Deeds in Custer’s Chief of Scouts, p. 63; he described Black Bear’s party on the ridge as looking “as large as elephants,” p. 88.
Custer’s argument with the Crow scouts about whether or not the regiment had been discovered is in Libby, p. 92. John Finerty quoted Crook’s complaint that “it is rather difficult to surround three Indians with one soldier,” in War-Path and Bivouac, p. 198. InTo Hell with Honor, Larry Sklenar writes, “Custer won at the Washita not by annihilating all of the Indians in a small village . . . but by taking as many prisoners as possible and then using them to make good his escape through a force of warriors that might have done the Seventh great damage,” p. 112. Varnum said he saw only two tepees at the intermediate village location, in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 60. Fred Gerard spoke of seeing “a large black mass,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 250. Godfrey in “Custer’s Last Battle” wrote, “The scouts saw the smoke . . . and the pony herds . . . when the vision was at the best, through a clear, calm atmosphere, with early morning sun at their backs; Custer’s observations at the same place were made at near midday, with a high overhead sun; he had a hazy atmosphere from the heated earth,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 295. Varnum described the Crows’ telescope as “a mere toy,” in Richard Hardorff’s On the Little Bighorn with Walter Camp, p. 103. On the optics of field glasses, then and now, see Vern Smalley’s More Little Bighorn Mysteries, p. 4-4. My description of Custer’s Civil War experience with a hot-air balloon is based on Tom Crouch’s The Eagle Aloft: Two Centuries of the Balloon in America, pp. 383–86. Varnum told of Custer’s interchange with Mitch Boyer at the Crow’s Nest in Custer’s Chief of Scouts, p. 88. Gerard described Custer’s displeasure with discovering that the regiment had left the ravine in Frances Holley’s Once Their Home, p. 264.
Vern Smalley discusses the quality of DeRudio’s field glasses in More Little Bighorn Mysteries, p. 4-4. Although Varnum claimed Custer did not return to the Crow’s Nest a second time, in Custer’s Chief of Scouts, p. 102, DeRudio, who gave Custer his binoculars, claimed otherwise; see Richard Hardorff’s On the Little Bighorn with Walter Camp, pp. 100–101, as well as DeRudio’s testimony in Hammer, Custer in ’76, in which he spoke of Custer seeing “cloudlike objects,” p. 83. Luther Hare also claimed, “During this halt, Custer again went to the Crow’s Nest to look at Indians,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 64. According to Willert in Little Big Horn Diary, Custer’s second look from the divide may not have been from the Crow’s Nest proper; according to Curley’s nephew, Custer “took his view from the top of the slope north of Davis Creek,” p. 444. Gerard claimed that “the camp we had found was the smaller camp,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 250. According to Lieutenant Charles Woodruff, the intermediate village contained “about sixty lodges . . . and . . . in the early morning, when Custer’s proximity was discovered . . . , this small village, knowing that they were but a mouthful for Custer’s command, hurriedly packed up and dashed down the valley,” in Brady’sIndian Fights and Fighters, p. 383. Newell quoted Custer as saying, “It will be all over in a couple of hours” in The Sunshine Magazine Articles by John P. Everett, edited by John Carroll, p. 8. According to Larry Sklenar in To Hell with Honor, “Varnum recalled seeing only two lodges while at the lookout . . . [but] Custer must have seen many more tepees during his second visit to high ground,” p. 111; Sklenar adds, “A little village would do as well as—even better than—a large one,” p. 113.
Given the conflicting nature of the evidence, it is difficult to develop an exact chronology of events on the Wolf Mountains on the morning of June 25. For example, the timing of when Custer and Herendeen discussed a possible scout of Tullock’s Creek is ambiguous at best, as is when Custer learned of the Cheyenne warriors finding the box of hardtack. I have described the sequence that makes the most sense to me given the evidence. Godfrey told of how Tom informed Custer of the Indians’ discovering the hardtack, in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 283. William Jackson related Charley Reynolds’s wry comment about the Indian scouts picking up “stuff dropped by our careless packers,” in Schultz, p. 132. For an account of Sergeant Curtiss’s detail, see Richard Hardorff’s Hokahey! A Good Day to Die: The Indian Casualties of the Custer Fight, p. 27. Herendeen spoke of his exchange with Custer on the divide in Hammer, Custer in ’76, pp. 221–22. Edgerly agreed with Custer’s decision not to send Herendeen down Tullock’s Creek: “It would have been useless to scout the creek. . . . [I] do not believe any good officer would have obeyed [Terry’s orders] under the circumstances,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 336. John Martin recounted how Custer ordered him to sound the bugle, in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 289.
John Donahue told of how Custer was lying on the ground during the final officer’s call; he also remembered him saying that he’d rather “attack than be attacked,” in That Fatal Day, edited by James Wengert and E. Elden Davis, p. 21. Godfrey recounted how Custer claimed that the regiment’s discovery “made it imperative to act at once” and that the order of march would be determined by “the order in which reports of readiness were received,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 283. Benteen wrote of how he came to lead the column in his narrative, claiming, “I am really of the opinion that Custer neither expected nor desired that I should have the advance,” in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 181. Benteen recounted how Custer stammered, “you have the advance, sir,” in a July 4, 1876, letter to his wife, in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 153.
Chapter 9: Into the Valley
The interchange among the soldiers of C Company about catching Sitting Bull and taking him to the Centennial is from Peter Thompson’s Account, p. 14. According to Private John Bailey, McDougall “was asleep when Custer had officer’s call and Custer hearing of this, told him he would have to take the rear guard that day.” Bailey added that “some of the company wept when they learned this,” in Liddic and Harbaugh’s Camp on Custer, p. 83. Gerard’s account of how Kellogg borrowed his spurs so that his tiring mule could keep up with the scouts is in Hammer, Custer in ’76,p. 231. Young Hawk told how Stabbed and the other scouts “spat on the clay and then rubbed it on their chests,” in Libby, p. 85. Burkman described Custer’s poignant leave-taking in Wagner, pp. 151–52.
Benteen wrote of how Custer informed him that he was “setting the pace too fast” in his narrative; he also told of how Custer halted the command after a few miles at a place “between hills on every side,” in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 167. Benteen wrote of his temporary banishment to Fort Dodge and how he told Lieutenant Cooke, “I can’t keep out of blood” in a Feb. 17, 1896, letter to Goldin, in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, pp. 268–69. Benteen wrote of how Cooke and Custer “were diligently engaged in talking and making notes on a scratch pad,” as well as his orders to “proceed to a line of bluffs about two miles off, at about an angle of 45 degrees” in his second narrative of the battle, in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 182. According to Charles Roe, “Custer’s object in sending Benteen to [the] left from [the] divide was to keep Benteen out of the fight. . . . [T]his is the opinion of Benteen’s friends.” Camp added in his transcript of his interview with Roe, “I think their view will bear criticism,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 249. Camp also thought that Custer’s decision to send Benteen left was influenced by Terry’s written orders to stay to the left of the Indian trail by remaining on the Rosebud: “In my way of thinking this suggestion of Terry’s was what, more than anything else, was the cause of Custer’s fatal mistake in dividing his command too minutely. . . . I regard Terry’s suggestions in the order as very unfortunate for Custer, for had he not been hampered with a desire to follow these, he would undoubtedly have had his command better in hand when he found the village,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 261. Charley Reynolds’s claim that the valley contained “the biggest bunch of Indians he’d ever seen” is in Windolph, I Fought with Custer, as is Windolph’s account of how Benteen suggested that they “keep the regiment together, General,” p. 76. Private Fremont Kipp of D Company told Walter Camp of Benteen’s insistence that he have D Company in his battalion, in Hardorff’s On the Little Bighorn with Walter Camp, p. 184.
Reno testified that “I was not consulted about anything,” in W. A. Graham’s The Reno Court of Inquiry (subsequently referred to as RCI ), p. 211. On the dress of Custer and the other officers, see Godfrey’s “Mounts, Uniforms and Equipment” in W. A. Graham,The Custer Myth, pp. 345–46. As to the hats the soldiers wore, Varnum said, “The shapes were most irregular, some were rolled up on both sides; others just flat and others turned the brim up, in Napoleonic appearance,” in Coughlan’s “Varnum: The Last of Custer’s Lieutenants,” p. 31. Reno testified, “I had some whiskey in a flask that I carried in the inside pocket of my uniform,” in W. A. Graham, RCI, p. 221; several witnesses, including Gerard, DeRudio, and Private William Taylor, saw Reno with a bottle of whiskey; he may have had both a bottle and a flask and was certainly not the only officer carrying alcohol. Reno testified that he had “no confidence in [Custer’s] ability as a soldier,” in W. A. Graham, RCI, p. 225. Libbie recounted how the officers’ wives gathered together in her house on the afternoon of June 25, 1876, in Boots and Saddles, pp. 221–22; she also told of how Custer and the other officers virtually abandoned the women of Fort Lincoln in the spring of 1874, pp. 130–36. My thanks to Susan Beegel for first bringing the 1874 incident to my attention. Frost in General Custer’s Libbie cites Sheridan’s claim that Custer was “the only man whom matrimony has not spoiled for a charge,” p. 132.
Benteen recounted how Custer sent two messengers, both with the order to keep marching to the left until he gained a view of the LBH valley, in his narrative in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 168. Martin told of how after receiving reports from the scouts Custer “sometimes [would] gallop away a short distance to look around,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 289. Hare told Walter Camp that Custer “seemed . . . very impatient,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 64. Benteen wrote of seeing “the grayhorse troop in rapid motion,” in his narrative in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 168. Young Hawk told how he cut open the Lone Tepee with his knife and found “a dead body wrapped in a buffalo robe,” in Libby, p. 94; Red Bear told how the scout One Feather drank “soup left for the dead Dakota and ate some of the meat,” Libby, p. 121. Daniel Kanipe wrote that Custer “ordered the tepee fired,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 249. According to Peter Thompson, all signs pointed to the intermediate village having departed in a great rush: “[N]umerous articles were left behind, such as coffee pots, tin plates, cups, axes, hatchets, and other articles . . . scattered about from one end of the camp to the other,” in his Account, pp. 15–16.
Reno testified, “I had had trouble with Gerard, and discharged him because I thought he was stealing from the Government,” in W. A. Graham, RCI, p. 223. Gerard told Walter Camp of his personal history in the West, including the time in 1868 when as a trader at Fort Berthold he got into a scuffle with Sitting Bull, in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 229. Ring Cloud told Camp that Gerard was known as “Fast Bull,” in Richard Hardorff, Camp, Custer, and the Little Bighorn: A Collection of Walter Mason Camp’s Research Papers, p. 57. Peter Thompson recounted how at officer’s call at the divide, Custer told Gerard, “Go where you belong, and stay there,” Account, pp. 14–15; Thompson added, “It was Custer’s desire to keep every one in his proper place. This was perfectly right as in military life there must be discipline.” One Feather told Camp: “I scolded Gerard for not staying with us so as to give us the orders. Gerard left the scouts and went back with the soldiers and left us without an interpreter,” in Hardorff, Camp, Custer, p. 128. Gerard testified, “I turned my horse sideways, and waved my hat and hallooed to Gen. Custer, ‘Here are your Indians, running like devils, ’ ” in W. A. Graham, RCI, p. 35. Gerard told Camp, “[W]e could see a big dust over the valley . . . there being a north wind, and this gave the impression that the Indians were fleeing north,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 35. Reno’s account of Custer’s order to attack is in W. A. Graham, RCI, p. 212, as are the accounts of several officers and men. Red Bear spoke of Custer’s angry words to the Arikara scouts as well as one scout’s withering reply, in Libby, pp. 121–22. Varnum wrote of how he told Custer that the valley was “full of Indians,” as well as his final words with Custer, in Custer’s Chief of Scouts, pp. 65, 89. Varnum also wrote, “I was so completely exhausted that I could hardly sit in the saddle. Nothing but the excitement of going into action kept me in the saddle at all,” in Brininstool, p. 97.
The Arikara scout Soldier’s affectionate memory of Lieutenant Cooke (“his very breath being nothing but kindness”) is in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 189. Reno’s description of his final interchange with Cooke is in W. A. Graham, RCI, p. 228. DeRudio told Camp that he “never quite forgave Custer” for not giving him the command of E Company; he also recounted his interchange with Reno at the LBH, in Hammer, Custer in ’76, pp. 83, 84. In an Apr. 1, 1898, letter to D. F. Barry, Benteen wrote of DeRudio: “the ‘Count’ was never at home on the Hurricane Deck of a horse,” inThe D. F. Barry Correspondence, edited by John Carroll, p. 51. Gerard told Camp of how he went back to report to Cooke that the Indians were coming to fight us,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, pp. 231–32. What we know of the movements of Custer’s battalion after it left Reno comes primarily from the testimony of Sergeant Daniel Kanipe, Trumpeter John Martin, and Private Peter Thompson. Martin recounted Custer’s words while watering the horses, inThe Reno Court of Inquiry: The Chicago Times Account, introduction by Utley, p. 312. The Arikara scout Soldier told how “Custer took off his buckskin coat and tied it on behind his saddle,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 188. According to Kanipe, “I sighted Indians on the top of the range of bluffs over the LBH River. I said to First Sergeant Bobo: ‘There are the Indians.’ Custer threw up his head about that time and we headed for the range of bluffs where we had seen the Indians,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth,p. 249. Donald Horn in “Custer’s Turn to the North” claims that Custer’s turn to the right was not in response to the Indians sighted by Kanipe but was instead in reaction to the news that the Indians were coming to meet Reno in “a temporary stand typical of rear guard action to bide time for a fleeing village. Custer wanted to get around Reno,” p. 20. In Little Big Horn Diary Willert writes, “[I]t was not due to a whimsical change of mind on Custer’s part that he failed to follow Reno into the valley but Gerard’s fear-aroused assertion that the hostiles were not running but pressing to attack the soldiers. This was not the situation at all. . . . [H]ow easily the uncertainty of a situation will accept the leadership of emotion rather than reason,” p. 274. Brian Pohanka in A Summer on the Plainswrites that George Yates was so “neat and fastidious” that he “turn[ed] his pockets inside out every night and brush[ed] them,” p. 53; see also Pohanka’s “George Yates: Captain of the Band Box Troop.” Peter Thompson writes of the squad from F Company sent out to scout ahead as well as how Custer and Tom reviewed the battalion, in his Account, pp. 16–17; Thompson described the tepees of the Indian village as “gleaming in the sunlight.” Edgerly told Camp that Lieutenant Hare, “who had seen large droves of cattle and horses in Texas,” estimated the size of the Indian pony herd at twenty thousand, in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 58. Godfrey in “Custer’s Last Battle,” described “the strange sight” presented by the pony herd: “Some one remarked that there had been a fire that scorched the leaves of the bushes, which caused the reddish-brown appearance but this appearance was changeable. Watching this intently for a short time with field-glasses, it was discovered that this strange sight was the immense Indian pony-herds,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 142. Kanipe recounted how Custer cautioned the men to hold back their horses, in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 249, and in Hammer, Custer in ’76, pp. 94, 97. Martin’s description of Custer’s first extended look at the village is in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, pp. 289–90, and in Hammer, Custer in ’76, pp. 100, 103.
Chapter 10: Reno’s Charge
Wooden Leg told of how he and his brother woke up late on the morning of June 25 and went to the river for a swim, in Marquis, Wooden Leg, p. 216. Charles Eastman in “The Story of the Little Big Horn” wrote, “There were hundreds of young men and boys upon the flats playing games and horse-racing. . . . The young men who had been playing upon the flats were the first to meet Reno,” pp. 355–57. Moving Robe Woman spoke of “digging wild turnips with an ash stick,” in Hardorff’s Lakota Recollections, p. 92. On Inkpaduta and the various accounts of his presence on the LBH, see Paul Beck’s biography of the Santee chief, pp. 136–37; according to Beck there is “a wide variance in Sioux recollections over Inkpaduta’s role in the Battle of LBH.” For a carefully reasoned assessment of the village’s size, see John Gray’s Centennial Campaign, pp. 346–57. Vine Deloria Jr. points out that the water needs of the village were the limiting factor in its size, making some of the soldiers’ inflated claims (some of which were as high as twenty thousand Indians and fifty thousand horses) ludicrously impossible: “Just figuring water-needs to keep that many people and animals alive for a number of days must have been incredible. If you have estimated correctly, you will see that the LBH was the last greatnaval engagement of the Indian wars,” Custer Died for Your Sins, p. 150. Wooden Leg told of Roman Nose’s visionary experience on a raft on Medicine Water Lake, near Goose Creek in modern Wyoming in Marquis, Wooden Leg, pp. 149–51.
Reno testified to his actions and state of mind during the charge down the LBH Valley, in W. A. Graham, RCI, pp. 212–13, 217. Peter Thompson described how cavalrymen counted off by fours in his Account, pp. 16–17. My description of the McClellan Saddle and other equipment is based on James Hutchins’s Boots and Saddles at the Little Bighorn, pp. 39–40. Compared to a western-style saddle, the McClellan Saddle had relatively long stirrups. Young Hawk said that in addition to the black handkerchief with blue stars, Bloody Knife wore “a bear’s claw with a clam shell on it,” in Libby, p. 96. My account of Bloody Knife is based largely on Ben Innis’s Bloody Knife: Custer’s Favorite Scout, pp. 22–55. On the death of Deeds, see Richard Hardorff’s Hokahey! A Good Day to Die, pp. 17–30; Hardorff also presents the evidence regarding the killing of six women and four children at the beginning of the battle and speculates that “[m]aybe the Ree [or Arikara], Bloody Knife, was involved in the slayings,” p. 34. According to the Arikara scout Little Sioux, “We saw the Sioux squaws and two boys leaving village and we got after them. Squaws were on east side of river opposite timber,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 180. Little Sioux claimed they opted to pursue a herd of horses instead, but the evidence points to at least some of the scouts having in fact killed these and perhaps other Lakota noncombatants.
Sergeant Culbertson testified that “one in ten [enlisted men] had not seen prior service” and that some were “not fit to take into action,” in W. A. Graham, RCI, p. 128. According to Thomas McGuane in Some Horses, “Anxiety in a horse can spread like a virus,” p. 11; he continues, “Those who have not experienced a horse urgently going somewhere are unaware of their real physical capacity. . . . A runaway is far more dangerous than a downright bucking bronc as he becomes intoxicated by his speed and his adrenaline is transformed to rocket fuel,” p. 13. Rutten told Camp about how his horse started to act up “as soon as he smelled Indians . . . and he could not control him. The only thing he could do was to continually circle him around the three troops,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76,p. 118. John Henley recounted his similar experiences during the Yellowstone campaign, in Liddic and Harbaugh’s Camp on Custer, p. 48. Reno claimed that the dust on the trail they were following was “four to six inches deep,” in W. A. Graham, RCI, p. 213. Varnum described seeing the Indians in the distance up ahead, “apparently trying to kick up all the dust they could,” in W. A. Graham, RCI, p. 46. DeRudio described “the immense dense dust” and added that “we could see the shadows of Indians in that dust,” in Utley’s Reno Court of Inquiry, p. 149. Custer’s claim that it would take “another Phil Kearny massacre” to convince Congress to properly fund the military is in Henry Carrington’s Ab-Sa-Ra-Ka, Land of Massacre, p. v. On Crazy Horse’s role as a decoy at the Kearny massacre, see Bray’s Crazy Horse, pp. 98–100. Private William Morris of M Troop described Captain French as “a fat man, with a falsetto voice,” in Wengert and Davis’sThat Fatal Day, p. 25. Slaper’s description of French as being “cool as a cucumber” is in Brininstool, p. 53.
French’s letter in which he wrote “I thought we were to charge headlong through them all” is in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 337. Jay Smith in “A Hundred Years Later” cites the statistic that between 1868 and 1878, there were nineteen attacks on Indian villages, with the only unsuccessful charge occurring at the LBH, p. 105. Concerning Custer’s decision to attack, Camp wrote: “[V ]illages of 100–200 lodges had been ‘jumped’ before and since. . . . [A]n attack on a village of 1500 with a force of less than 500 men should be regarded as something of an experiment,” in Hardorff, On the Little Bighorn, p. 213. As asserted by Gregory Michno, who compiled 216 instances during which the American military came upon an Indian village in Encyclopedia of Indian Wars, Custer’s decision to attack the Indian village without reconnaissance was perfectly in keeping with common practice at the time: “That was the whole point of the pursuit: find the Indians and attack. No commander . . . would expend time and energy to track Indians only to call it off at the crisis point, even with unfavorable odds,” p. 356. Regarding the dynamics of a cavalry charge, General A. B. Nettleton wrote, “[I]n campaigning with cavalry, when a certain work must be done, audacity is the truest caution,” in July 29, 1876, Army and Navy Journal. Sheridan’s claim that the defeat at the LBH was due to Custer’s “superabundance of courage” is in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 117. According to Pink Simms, if Reno had charged instead of thrown out a skirmish line, “a mounted charge would have temporarily demoralized the hostiles and the two commands would have joined. It is idle to think that they could have defeated them, but a united command, by employing defensive tactics could have survived. No doubt they would have suffered heavy casualties,” box 111, folder 1, Camp Papers, BYU.
An officer is not supposed to let his personal feelings influence how he responds to a superior’s orders. But as later became obvious to a newspaper reporter who attended the monthlong RCI, such was not the case at the LBH. “It will be found,” the reporter wrote, “to be a general rule in human nature that where one man dislikes another, the dislike sways his judgment, without reference to the justice of the conclusion. Hence it is rather an unavoidable inference that Reno did not like Custer . . . ; and that, influenced by his feelings, he only half carried out Custer’s orders in attacking the Indians,” in Utley’s Reno Court of Inquiry, p. 466; much the same could be said for Benteen’s subsequent conduct. Dr. Porter testified as to Reno’s strange behavior at the ford, in W. A. Graham, RCI,p. 62. Godfrey in “Custer’s Last Battle” quotes Reno’s belief that he “was being drawn into some trap,” as well as Reno’s response to the soldiers’ cheers: “Stop that noise,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 287. William Taylor heard Reno’s slurred order to charge then saw him sharing a bottle of whiskey with Lieutenant Hodgson, in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 151, and in Taylor’s own With Custer on the Little Big Horn, p. 36. Reno testified that he felt he had obeyed Custer’s orders: “I did not charge into the village, but I went far enough to discover that it was impossible. Of course, ten men could be ordered to charge a million: a brilliant illustration is the battle of Balaklava. I then knew nothing of the topography, but it afterwards developed that had I gone 300 yards further the command would have been thrown into a ditch 10 yards wide and 3 or 4 feet deep,” in W. A. Graham, RCI, p. 227. In Hardorff’s On the Little Bighorn, Varnum asserted that due to the line of timber on the right, only those in the advance on the left of the line could see “the tops of a few tepees, enough to show where the village was,” p. 101. Dr. Porter insisted that most of them couldn’t see the village until they had fled into the timber, and then the village was a quarter mile away, in W. A. Graham, RCI, p. 64. My description of how the horse holders secured the other three horses is based largely on Hutchins’s Boots and Saddles, p. 40. Rutten related his wild ride to the verge of the village and back to Camp, in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 118. Taylor inWith Custer recounted the orders “Halt” and “Prepare to fight on foot,” p. 37.
The testimony of Pretty White Buffalo Woman (also known as Mrs. Horn Bull) is in James McLaughlin’s My Friend the Indian, pp. 166–70, and in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, pp. 81–87. Little Soldier’s account is in Hardorff’s Indian Views, pp. 173–78. Kate Bighead told her story to Marquis, in The Custer Reader, edited by Paul Hutton, pp. 363–77. Black Elk’s account of children running from the river is in DeMallie’s The Sixth Grandfather, p. 181. One Bull’s account is in box 115, WCC, and is cited by Hardorff in Hokahey!, p. 38; see also One Bull’s account in Hardorff’s Indian Views, pp. 138–41. Holy Face Bear corroborated the fact that Sitting Bull’s first reaction to the attack was to see if the soldiers might be willing to negotiate; he remembered the Hunkpapa chief saying, “Wait, these men may want to make a treaty with us,” in Hardorff’s Indian Views, p. 182. According to Gray Whirlwind, Sitting Bull said, “I don’t want my children to fight until I tell them. That army may be come to make peace, be officials bringing rations to us.” Gray Whirlwind also recounted how the death of Sitting Bull’s “best horse” caused him to shout, “It is like they have shot me; attack them,” box 105, notebook 14, WCC.
John Ryan told of using the prairie dog village as a breastwork, in Barnard’s Ten Years with Custer, p. 293. Private Daniel Newell opted for a buffalo wallow; “I said to myself,” he remembered, “ ‘Here is a good breastworks,’ ” in John Carroll’s Sunshine Magazine, p. 10. Thomas O’Neill told how “the men were in good spirits, talking and laughing and not apprehensive of being defeated and the Sioux . . . were . . . keeping well out of range,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 107. Charles White’s account of seeing the officers drinking whiskey is in Hardorff’s Indian Views, p. 17. Sergeant Culbertson testified that on the skirmish line “some of the new men [were] firing very fast,” W. A. Graham, RCI, p. 122; one of the men in Culbertson’s company reported that he’d fired sixty cartridges while on the skirmish line, p. 127. Moylan testified, “[I]t was impossible for an officer to regulate [the soldiers’ fire], owing to the men being new in the service, and not under fire before. On the part of those new men it was wild and at random,” in Utley’s Reno Court of Inquiry, p. 214, which also includes Varnum’s account of soldiers “shooting right up in the air,” p. 154. Hutchins in Boots and Saddles describes how the men’s ammunition was distributed between their belts and their saddlebags, p. 33; he also discusses the weapons used by Ryan and French, p. 30. Morris wrote how French and Ryan “scored hits,” in Neil Mangum’s “Reno’s Battalion in the Battle of the Little Big Horn,” p. 5; Morris claimed he fired thirty rounds on the skirmish line and that his gun barrel “was burning in my hand, and the breechblock commenced to jam.”
According to Richard Hardorff, Custer’s battalion was sighted on the bluff by at least seven officers and men: Moylan, DeRudio, Varnum, Roy, O’Neill, Petring, and Newell, On the Little Bighorn, p. 43. DeRudio said he saw Custer and Cooke on a bluff. “I recognized [them] by their dress,” he testified. “They had on blue shirts and buckskin pants. They were the only ones who wore blue shirts and no jackets; and Lt. Cooke besides had an immense beard,” in W. A. Graham, RCI, p. 115.
Little Soldier remembered that when Reno attacked, “older warriors were out hunting buffalo, for that reason boys 13 or 18 did the fighting. Old men sang death songs for warriors. Sweethearts, young Indian mothers, and children all wailing and crying,” in Hardorff’s Lakota Recollections, p. 175. The account of Moving Robe Woman, also known as Mary Crawler, is in Hardorff’s Lakota Recollections, pp. 92–94. In Waterlily, a novel full of carefully observed factual details about Lakota life, Ella Deloria describes a woman drying her eyes, “fitting the base of her palm into her eye sockets as all women did,” p. 19. My thanks to Jennifer Edwards Weston for bringing this source to my attention. Rain in the Face’s memory of Moving Robe Woman being “pretty as a bird” is in Charles Eastman’s Indian Heroes and Great Chieftains, pp. 146–47. John Ryan described how the warriors “tried to cut through our skirmish line” in Barnard’s Ten Years with Custer, p. 293. Billy Jackson talked of how the dust cloud raised by the warriors’ charge “almost choked us,” in Schultz, p. 136. Nelson Miles, who spoke with several Native participants soon after the battle, described in his Personal Recollections how, after the first charge, the ever-growing number of warriors “assembled out on the mesa, some 500 yards from the LBH,” p. 286. Moylan testified that Jackson said, “No man can get through there alive,” in W. A. Graham, RCI, p. 80.
Curley speculated that Boyer “probably told Custer Reno had been defeated, for Boyer did a whole lot of talking to Custer when he joined him and kept talking while they were riding side by side,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 166. Martin’s accounts of how he received his orders from Custer and Lieutenant Cooke are in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, pp. 289–90, and in Hammer, Custer in ’76, pp. 100, 103. Libbie told of Custer’s tendency to rattle off his orders in Boots and Saddles, pp. 120–21. Benteen quoted Cooke’s note in a July 4, 1876, letter to his wife, in John Carroll’sBenteen-Goldin Letters, p. 152. Standing Bear spoke of how Crazy Horse took time to “invoke the spirits. . . . [H]e delayed so long that many of his warriors became impatient,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 214. Black Elk’s memory of the cry “Crazy Horse is coming!” is in DeMallie’s The Sixth Grandfather, p. 182. Billy Garnett told of Crazy Horse’s determination to “have nothing to do with affairs political or social” and how “the Indians were almost uncontrollable” after Reno’s attack until Crazy Horse spoke to them, in Ricker, Voices of the American West, vol. 1, pp. 117, 118. Chipps explained that Crazy Horse “did not paint as the Indians usually do. . . . [H]e made a zigzag streak with red earth” in Ricker’sVoices of the American West, vol. 1, p. 126. Hutchins in Boots and Saddles discusses the cartridge-extraction problem in the Springfield carbine; a contributing factor was the soldiers’ use of leather cartridge belts, which tended to coat the shells with verdigris; when fired, the verdigris “formed a cement which held the sides of the cartridge in the place against the action of the ejector,” pp. 33–35. Red Hawk told how prior to the charge Crazy Horse exhorted his warriors, “Do your best, and let us kill them all off today,” in Ricker’s Voices, vol. 1, p. 312.
In a May 15, 1934, letter to Goldin, Fred Dustin described how the skirmish line pivoted to accommodate the growing threat to the left: “[W]hen the skirmish line changed positions, it simply pivoted on the right flank of McIntosh’s troop, and occupied the edge of the woods and brush, and facing about, French was on the right and McIntosh on the left at or near the edge of a depression, probably the old stream bed of the river,” in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 123. Gerard’s account of Reno’s taking a drink from a bottle of whiskey as he left the skirmish line for the timber is in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 232. Morris recorded French’s threat, “I will shoot the first man that turns his back to the enemy,” in Mangum’s “Reno’s Battalion,” p. 5. Private Pigford recounted Sergeant O’Hara’s plea, “For God’s sake, don’t leave me,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 143. A Native participant later pointed out to Nelson Miles the place where the first soldier had been killed; he said the trooper had “a large yellow stripe down the side of the trousers,” in Personal Recollections, p. 287.
Herendeen described the river-carved trench along the west side of the timber as well as the “little park or meadow just within the timber,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 263. Daniel Newell wrote of how the warriors “would gallop in bunches,” in John Carroll’s Sunshine Magazine, p. 11. Varnum in Custer’s Chief of Scouts wrote of Lieutenant Hodgson’s concerns about the supposed wound on his horse, of which Varnum “saw no sign,” p. 90; the possibility exists that Reno’s adjutant was as drunk as Reno apparently was. Varnum spoke of watching Reynolds attempting to drink whiskey from Gerard’s flask in Brininstool, p. 101. Herendeen told of how he ended up being the last person defending the timber and how he “wondered where the men could be,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 222. Johnnie Brughiere recalled how the Lakota responded to the Yellowstone Expedition of which Herendeen had been a part: “They could not understand it except on the theory that some new race of strangers had come into the country,” in Hardorff, Camp, Custer, pp. 103–4. Gerard told of the confusion in the timber, in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 232. Newell described the sounds in the timber as “one continuous roar,” in John Carroll’s Sunshine Magazine, p. 11. William Taylor wrote of Reno wearing “a red handkerchief about his head, which gave him a rather peculiar and unmilitary appearance,” in With Custer, p. 47. Richard Fox in “West River History” cites Brave Bear’s claim that “cotton from trees was falling down like snow,” in Legacy: New Perspectives on the Battle of the Little Bighorn, edited by Charles Rankin, p. 152. Reno testified that the “Indians were using the woods as much as I was,” in W. A. Graham, RCI, p. 215. Herendeen asked Reno “if he remembered Bloody Knife being killed. He said, ‘Yes, and his blood and brains spattered over me,’ ” in W. A. Graham, RCI, p. 94; Herendeen added, “All I heard from Reno was ‘dismount’ and ‘mount’; then his horse jumped as if the spurs were put to it. I always judged, and do still, that the . . . killing of that man was what made him start, and was what stampeded the command in there—that was what made them start,” in W. A. Graham, RCI, p. 94. John Ryan heard Reno shout, “Any of you men who wish to make your escape, follow me,” in Barnard’s Ten Years with Custer, p. 293.
According to one account, two Hunkpapa sisters later came across Bloody Knife’s body in the timber and, knowing that he was an Arikara scout, cut off his head as a trophy. They carried the head to their mother, who recognized it as belonging to her brother Bloody Knife, her two daughters’ uncle. According to another account recorded by Joseph Henry Taylor, Gall was at that time in mourning over the loss of his two wives and three children. However, when he saw Bloody Knife’s severed head he smiled and said that now that his worst enemy was dead, he would join in the victory celebration; both accounts appear in Ben Innis’s Bloody Knife, pp. 159–60.
Chapter 11: To the Hill
Wooden Leg described how he became aware of Reno’s attack and prepared for battle in Marquis, Wooden Leg, pp. 216–20. Red Feather insisted that Re-no’s battalion should have stayed in the timber; he remembered that he and his fellow warriors were pleasantly surprised to see them bolt to the south. “Some Indians shouted,” he remembered, “ ‘Give way; let the soldiers out. We can’t get at them in there,’ ” in Hardorff’s Lakota Recollections, p. 83. Moylan described the retreat from the timber as “the Sauve-Qui-Peut Movement,” i.e., “Everybody for himself,” in Hardorff’s On the Little Bighorn, p. 14. French told of being tempted to fire a “friendly bullet” into Reno, in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 342. Gerard insisted that “the timber was a splendid place for defense. . . . [H]ad a little determination been displayed in way of defense, [the Indians] would never have come into the brush to find the soldiers,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 233; he added, “Reno . . . seeing no support from the rear, lost his head, if he had any, and suddenly decided to run the gauntlet of the Sioux.” Newell disagreed, claiming that it was Sergeant John Ryan of M Company who saved the day by telling Reno, “There is nothing to do but mount our men and cut our way out. Another fifteen minutes and there won’t be a man left,” in John Carroll’s Sunshine Magazine, p. 10. Taylor wrote of the despair a soldier felt when he “sees his commanding officer lose his head entirely,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 344; he added, “Reno proved incompetent and Benteen showed his indifference. . . . Both failed Custer and he had to fight it out alone,” p. 344. Slaper remembered French telling Reno, “I think we had better get out of here,” in Brininstool, p. 51.
Thomas O’Neill of G Company heard Varnum object, “For God’s sake men let’s don’t leave the line. There are enough of us here to whip the whole Sioux nation,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 107. Varnum wrote in Custer’s Chief of Scouts of his difficult exit from the timber, p. 90, and of the warriors “with the Winchesters laying across their saddles and pumping them into us,” p. 66; he also recounted how Reno responded to his (Varnum’s) pleas to “get down and fight” with the words “I am in command,” p. 67. Wooden Leg saw the soldier riding with an arrow stuck in the back of his head, in Marquis, Wooden Leg, p. 221. Pretty White Buffalo Woman described how the warriors’ fresh ponies “flitted in and through and about the troopers’ broken lines,” in W. A. Graham,The Custer Myth, p. 85. Wooden Leg told how he and Little Bird surrounded a mounted trooper, in Marquis, Wooden Leg, pp. 221–22. French melodramatically described how he “sought death” in his “singlehanded” defense of the retreating soldiers in a letter in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 342. French bragged about his heroics in the valley, but once he’d made it across the river, he showed little interest in organizing a covering fire for those attempting to cross the river. When asked by Sergeant Lloyd about doing just that, French said, “I’ll try—I’ll try,” then proceeded to follow Reno and the others up the hill. “But nothing was done,” Culbertson remembered, “and the Indians’ fire was not returned at all,” in W. A. Graham, RCI, p. 123.
Porter’s account is in L. G. Walker’s Dr. Henry R. Porter, pp. 56, 57–58. William Morris’s account of his and Stumbling Bear’s adventures is in Mangum’s “Reno’s Battalion,” pp. 5–7. Taylor wrote of the prairie dog village that made for “very unpleasant riding at our rapid gait,” in With Custer, p. 42. Herendeen described how after falling from his horse, he cried out to Charley Reynolds, “Don’t try to ride out,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 223. Rutten recounted his wild ride from the timber to Reno Hill and how his good friend Isaiah Dorman cried out, “Goodbye Rutten!” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 119. On McIntosh and the picket pin, see Goldin’s April 5, 1933, letter to Albert Johnson, in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 43. In a July 4, 1876, letter to his wife, Benteen wrote, “I am inclined to think that had McIntosh divested himself of that slow poking way which was his peculiar characteristic he might have been still in the land of the living,” in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 158.
Morris estimated the western riverbank at the crossing was twelve to fifteen feet high, in Wengert and Davis’s That Fatal Day, p. 27. Brave Bear remembered how the sound of the troopers’ horses hitting the water “sounded like cannon going off. This was awful as the bank was awful high.” He also remembered seeing “lots of blood in the water,” in Hardorff’s Lakota Recollections, p. 84. Wooden Leg described how the “Indians mobbed the soldiers floundering . . . crossing the river,” in Marquis, Wooden Leg, p. 223. Flying Hawk’s account of Crazy Horse killing soldiers in the river is in Hardorff’s Indian Views, p. 124. The expression “shavetail”—used by Private Gordon to describe William Morris as the two soldiers climbed up the hill after crossing the river—refers to the practice of shaving the tail of a new, unbroken mule to distinguish it from the seasoned animals. Morris’s account of Hare’s brave actions after the retreat to Reno Hill are in Wengert and Davis’s That Fatal Day, p. 27. In a Jan. 31, 1896, letter to Goldin, Benteen claimed to have seen Moylan “blubbering like a whipped urchin, tears coursing down his cheeks,” in John Carroll,Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 243.
According to Trumpeter William Hardy, Sergeant Henry Fehler of A Company “had an unruly horse and could not get the guidon in [his] boot,” in Hardorff’s Camp, Custer, p. 88. DeRudio told of how he lost his horse while trying to pick up the A Company guidon, in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 253, and in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 65. DeRudio testified, “I went back for the guidon because I think it the duty of a soldier to preserve his colors at the risk of his life, though when I went, I did not think there was any danger,” in W. A. Graham, RCI, p. 115. O’Neill told how Jackson quieted his and Gerard’s horses by stuffing “a large bunch of grass” in each of their mouths, in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 108. My thanks to the Reverend Eugene McDowell for his explanation of what happens when a stallion and a mare find themselves in close quarters. Private Henry Petring recounted how he was midstream in the LBH when he jumped from his horse and swam back down to the timber, where he joined Herendeen and the others, in Hammer, Custer in ’76, pp. 133–34. Herendeen’s speech to the dozen or so troopers, in which he said he was an “old frontiersman” and “would get them out of the scrape, which was no worse than scrapes I had been in before,” is in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 258.
Red Feather told of seeing two Arikara “in white shirts and blue trousers running across the river. . . . Kicking Bear took after them and shouted, ‘These two are Indians—Palini!’ ” in Hardorff’s Lakota Recollections, p. 84. Young Hawk told of hugging his horse before launching into his own last stand in Libby, pp. 99–100. Black Elk described how he scalped the still-living soldier in DeMallie’s The Sixth Grandfather, p. 183. The Oglala Eagle Elk described Dorman’s death; he claimed a Hunkpapa woman named Her Eagle Robe shot Dorman, in Hardorff’s Lakota Recollections, pp. 101–2; as several scholars have pointed out, this is undoubtedly Moving Robe Woman. Although Moving Robe Woman does not mention the incident in her own narrative, it may have been because she feared possible retribution, given that the African American interpreter was well known at the Standing Rock Agency; see Gregory Michno’s Lakota Noon, p. 88. Years later, the cowboy Ed Lemmon remembered talking with Moving Robe Woman, whom he knew as Mary Crawler and who was “said to be the only real squaw who took part in the battle of the LBH in 1876. . . . She told of killing two wounded soldiers herself, shooting one and stabbing the other. She said she did it because some soldiers had hung an uncle of hers on Lance Creek a little before the battle,” in Boss Cowman: The Recollections of Ed Lemmon, edited by Nellie Yost, p. 88. My account of the mutilations inflicted on Dorman’s body is based on Hardorff’s The Custer Battle Casualties, pp. 148–50.
In a Jan. 28, 1934, letter, Goldin wrote, “McIntosh showed the Indian blood in his features very plainly,” in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 47. In a June 5, 1934, letter to Goldin, Fred Dustin quoted Charles Roe’s account of finding McIntosh’s body: “[I]t was naked, badly mutilated . . . and the features hammered to a jelly. As our sergeant-major picked up a gutta percha sleeve button, he said, ‘This may lead to its identification.’ ” Later that day, McIntosh’s brother-in-law, Lieutenant Gibson, said that “before leaving Fort Abraham Lincoln his wife gave him those sleeve buttons,” in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 133. Charles White’s account of how Reno refused to go back for the wounded is in Hardorff’s Indian Views, p. 21. Several of the Lakota in the valley fight later told of an officer of unusual courage. It might have been Captain Thomas French, but it also might have been Dr. James Madison DeWolf. According to Charles Eastman in “Story of the Little Big Horn,” several Native participants told him there was an officer who killed three warriors before “a gunshot brought him down” after crossing the river. “The Indians told me,” Eastman wrote, “of finding peculiar instruments on his person, from which I thought it likely this brave man was Dr. DeWolf, who was killed there.” DeWolf made the mistake of taking the leftmost route up the bluff, where a group of Indians were waiting in ambush. Although the warriors apparently rifled through DeWolf’s medical kit, the doctor’s notebook diary was found intact. Later inspection showed that DeWolf had been killed by a gunshot to the chest, then shot four times in the face with his own revolver; see Hardorff’s The Custer Battle Casualties, II, pp. 121–24. Porter recounted Reno’s assertion, “That was a charge, sir!” in W. A. Graham, RCI, p. 63.
Benteen described his swing left as “valley hunting ad infinitum,” in W. A. Graham, RCI, p. 147. Gibson told Camp that he thought he did finally see the valley of the LBH before they headed back for the rest of the column. “He now thinks however,” Camp wrote, “that he only went far enough to look down on the valley of the south fork of Sundance Creek,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 80. Benteen wrote of his premonition of trouble in the LBH Valley in his narrative, in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 168; he also described how he outwitted his horse Old Dick at the morass, p. 169. My thanks to Susan Beegel for pointing out that by taking the bit out of his horse’s mouth at the morass Benteen unnecessarily delayed his battalion. Camp wrote that Benteen “heard firing just before starting [from the morass],” in Hardorff’s On the Little Bighorn, p. 219. Godfrey heard one of the officers at the morass say, “I wonder what the old man is keeping us here so long for?” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 75. Godfrey said that Weir impatiently said the battalion “ought to be over there” and left the morass without orders; “Benteen, seeing this, immediately ordered the column to advance,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 75. Godfrey recorded Kanipe’s claim “We’ve got them, boys!” in his Field Diary, edited by Stewart, p. 12. Martin’s description of his ride from Custer to Benteen, during which he encountered Custer’s brother Boston, is in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, pp. 290–91, and in Hammer, Custer in ’76, pp. 101, 104. Martin told Camp he never said, as Benteen claimed, that “the Indians were skedaddling,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 101; however, Edgerly claimed in a July 4, 1876, letter to his wife that Martin said, “The Indians skedaddled, leaving the village,” in Bailly, “Echoes from Custer’s Last Fight,” p. 177. Benteen wrote of Cooke’s note in a July 4, 1876, letter to his wife, in which he commented that Cooke “left out the K in the last packs,” in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 152. Edgerly reported that Benteen responded to the message by saying, “If I am going to be of service to him I think I had better not wait for the packs”; he also heard Martin “telling the boys that Reno had attacked the village,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, pp. 54, 55. When the battalion reached the split in the trail, Gibson heard Benteen say, “Here we have the two horns of a dilemma,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 80. Martin recounted Reno’s first words to Benteen, “For God’s sake . . . halt your command,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 101. Benteen wrote “My first query of Reno was—where is Custer?” in his narrative, in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 170.
Chapter 12: Still Point
Martin claimed that after the battle, on June 27, he showed Benteen where he’d left Custer’s battalion, and Benteen estimated it was only about six hundred yards from the river at the base of Medicine Tail Coulee, in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 105. The interview with Sitting Bull appeared in the November 16, 1877, New York Herald and is in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, pp. 65–73. The Oglala warrior Shot in the Eye corroborated Sitting Bull’s account of there being a significant delay between Reno’s retreat and Custer’s attack: “It was . . . some little time after Reno had been pursued on top of the bluffs that Custer’s command suddenly appeared to the Sioux like an apparition,” in Michael Donahue’s Drawing Battle Lines, p. 164. Of this delay, Walter Camp wrote in a June 22, 1909, letter to Daniel Kanipe, “The Indians all tell me that Custer and his men were over across from the village a considerable time threatening to attack, the soldiers occasionally shooting over into the village, but that the soldiers did not at any time attempt to ford the river and come over. All this time the Sioux were crossing and getting ready to attack Custer,” in Hardorff’s On the Little Bighorn, p. 87.
Curtis’s account of his visit in 1907 to the LBH Battlefield with the three Crow scouts is in The Papers of Edward S. Curtis Relating to Custer’s Last Battle, edited by James Hutchins, pp. 37–48. According to Joseph Medicine Crow, the name White Man Runs Him is more accurately translated as “Chased by a White Man” and came from a “clan uncle who had once been chased in jest by a white trader, much to the amusement of some Crow men who had witnessed the incident,” in Herman Viola’s Little Bighorn Remembered, p. 105. White Man Runs Him’s account of Custer’s actions on the bluff, in which he tells how he “scolded” Custer for not assisting Reno, is in Hutchins, Papers of Edward S. Curtis, pp. 51–54. Theodore Roosevelt’s Apr. 8, 1908, letter to Curtis is in Hutchins, Papers of Edward S. Curtis, pp. 79–80. In a Feb. 9, 1908, letter to Colonel David Brainard about Curtis’s “Notes,” General Charles Woodruff wrote, “This all lends color to the theory that for three quarters of an hour or more Custer’s column was idle and he watching Reno, but it is an awful theory to contemplate,” in Hutchins, Papers of Edward S. Curtis, p. 76. In an Apr. 22, 1908, letter to Colonel W. H. C. Bowen, Curtis wrote, “I am beginning to believe that nothing is quite so uncertain as facts,” adding that “there certainly is no end of confusion in regard to the Custer affair,” in Hutchins, Papers of Edward S. Curtis, p. 85.
For an excellent summary of Walter Mason Camp’s association with the Battle of the LBH, see Hardorff’s Camp, Custer, pp. 11–34; according to Hardorff, Camp visited the battlefield a total of ten times, p. 28. Camp made the claim of interviewing 150 Native survivors and sixty soldiers in an Oct. 31, 1917, letter to Libbie Custer, in Hardorff’s On the Little Bighorn, p. 138. Camp’s notes contain an eloquent mission statement: “After having listened to the story of the LBH Expedition from the lips of some of the men who participated therein, the current literature on the subject seemed to present such a tangle of fiction, fancy, fact, and feeling that I formed an ambition to establish the truth. It occurred to me that the essential facts must rest in the minds of many men then living, and that these facts, if collected, would constitute fairly accurate history. This has been my plan: to gather my data from eyewitnesses,” in Hardorff’s On the Little Bighorn, p. 201. Camp dismissed White Man Runs Him’s story about Custer watching Reno’s battle from the bluffs as “entirely preposterous,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 178. Since the three Crow scouts were, by their own admission, the ones who pointed Benteen in the direction of Reno’s battalion on the top of the bluff, it is difficult to see how they could have been, as they claimed, on Weir Peak watching the Valley Fight with Custer several miles to the north at almost precisely the same time. Still, one can only wonder whether there is an element of truth in their suggestion that Custer demonstrated a less-than-sympathetic attitude toward Reno’s situation in the valley. Curley’s statement about the interpreters being responsible for the different accounts attributed to him is in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 170. Burkman, who was with the pack train, claimed that he saw Curley with some Arikara scouts riding away from the battlefield behind a herd of captured Indian ponies, in Wagner, pp. 158–59. Burkman lived out his final days in Billings, Montana, where he repeatedly confronted the Crow scout. “Curley,” he was overheard to shout, “you lie when you tell folks you fought on Custer Hill,” in Wagner, p. 27. Kanipe told Camp of the time he witnessed a similar encounter at a Billings Hotel, in Hardorff’s On the Little Bighorn, pp. 176–77.
In a Mar. 24, 1914, letter to J. S. Smith, the editor of the Belle Fourche Bee, which was in the midst of publishing a serialized version of Peter Thompson’s manuscript, Camp recounted how he first came upon Thompson: “Some time after I began to study the battle of the LBH, Sergeant Kanipe . . . told me that a set of four had straggled behind Custer’s command, or in some way had been left behind, after Custer and Reno had separated, and that these four men all got back to Reno’s command before the Sioux did. He then said that if I could only find one Peter Thompson he could tell me all about the matter, as Thompson was one of the four. . . . No one to whom I wrote or talked had seen Thompson or heard of him since his discharge from the army in 1880, until finally I met an ex-soldier who told me that Thompson had gone to work in the Black Hills somewhere after leaving the army, but he had not seen him or heard of him since that time. . . . My inquiries had started some discussion of the man in Deadwood, and a former superintendent of the Homestake Mining Co. wrote me that Thompson had gone ranching some twenty years before that, and suggested that I address him at Alzada [Montana]. I did so, and soon had a reply from the object of my long search,” in the archives of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.
Camp described how Thompson’s story was received by Godfrey and the other veterans in an Apr. 4, 1923, letter to Kanipe, in Hardorff’s On the Little Bighorn, p. 165. He told of Thompson’s career in Montana and his battlefield tour with him in a May 28, 1923, letter to Godfrey, in Hardorff’s On the Little Bighorn, pp. 168–69. Camp’s continued and tortured attempts to reconcile Thompson’s story over the course of more than twenty years are chronicled in Hardorff’s On the Little Bighorn. “I . . . have thought it over a good many times to try to reconcile it with the known facts,” Camp wrote, “or to account for ideas on which he is certainly mistaken, but have had to give it up,” p. 169. Camp’s statement that Thompson’s Account “could be edited into good shape but I hardly think the historian would have the moral right to do that,” is cited in a footnote in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 126. Thompson referred to the “moving panorama” in a Jan. 26, 1909, letter to Camp, LBHBNM, 312 c12473A&B, cited in Wyman and Boyd’s introduction to Thompson’s Account, p. iv. The moving panorama was the nineteenth-century equivalent of the slide show or PowerPoint, in which a series of sequential images painted on a large spool of canvas was unrolled before an audience. Thompson’s reference to the preacher’s comment, “Thompson, your memory is too good,” is in a Feb. 12, 1909, letter to Camp, in Hardorff’s On the Little Bighorn,pp. 35–36; in that letter, Thompson also states, “I do not think that any two persons can look at the same thing and tell it in the same way because our temperaments are not the same.”
Anyone writing about Peter Thompson is indebted to Michael Wyman and Rocky Boyd’s “Coming to an Understanding of Peter Thompson and His Account” in the Eighteenth Annual Symposium, June 25, 2004, edited by Ronald Nichols, pp. 37–54, as well as their preface and introduction toPeter Thompson’s Account of the Battle of the Little Bighorn: The Waddington Typescript, pp. i–v, published in 2004. I am personally indebted not only to Rocky Boyd for all his research help, but to June Helvie for permission to quote from her mother Susan Thompson Taylor’s unpublished manuscript “Thompson in Custer’s Cavalry, 1875–1880” (subsequently referred to as the Susan Taylor MS), in which she refers to and quotes from three different Thompson sources in the family’s possession: Thompson’s original notes, recorded in a small notebook when Thompson was still in the army; a first draft of the narrative composed prior to 1900 (subsequently referred to as the pre-1900 MS); and a shorter narrative written before 1912 (subsequently referred to as the pre- 1912 MS). Both early versions of the narrative contain material that never made it into the published 1914 account, which (with some minor variations) is the basis of subsequent published editions of the account. Susan Taylor’s unpublished manuscript also frequently refers to her many conversations with her father about the battle, in which he expanded upon the published account.
Susan Taylor described her father’s composition process: “After his hand healed [from a wound received during the battle] but while he was still in the cavalry, Thompson bought a small notebook and, in this, he jotted down events of the campaign of 1876 as he recalled them and at random. When he wrote his pre-1900 original MS, he had a lot of trouble with the sequences and guessed at the dates,” Susan Taylor MS, p. iii. When working on what would become the published version of his Account in the summer of 1913, Thompson frequently discussed the manuscript’s contents with his wife. Susan Taylor, who was seven years old at the time, was “a fascinated listener”: “When Father discussed points in the MS, or proposed changes, Mother acted as a ‘devil’s advocate.’ She would ask him just how it really went and just what he had actually seen. He would tell her. She especially urged him not to put down the statements of things he had not personally witnessed. . . . She insisted that he could not differentiate among facts, rumors and plain lies if he had not personally seen these things and that he should protect himself from being called a ‘liar’ in spots. But, he did not listen to her. He said, ‘That was the way it was and nobody can fault me for that.’ Too bad, as Mother was so right. . . . [T]here is too much hearsay in the MS without stating that it is hearsay,” in Susan Taylor MS, pp. iv–v; elsewhere she adds, “Thompson had the bad fault of making positive statements without proof,” p. 327.
Thompson’s habit of incorporating the unsubstantiated anecdotes of others into his own personal story was essentially that of many of the Lakota and Cheyenne warriors, whose accounts are, in the words of Michael Donahue, “a blend of native oral history and personal observation,” inDrawing Battle Lines, p. 193. Thompson’s tendency to remember specific scenes, often without any chronological context, is typical of many battle veterans. In the preface to his incomparable memoir of World War II, Quartered Safe Out Here, George MacDonald Fraser writes, “Looking back over sixty-odd years, life is like a piece of string with knots in it, knots being those moments that live in the mind forever, and the intervals being hazy, half-recalled times when I have a fair idea of what was happening, in a general way, but cannot be sure of dates or places or even the exact order in which events took place. I suspect it is the same with most folk.”
The novelistic style of Thompson’s Account has caused some scholars, such as Fred Dustin, to speculate that the manuscript “may have fallen into the hands of a novelist.” “Not so,” Susan Taylor claims. “Thompson was too independent and stubborn and proud to allow anyone to touch the wording of his MS except for the corrected spelling and grammar. Thompson wrote in the flowery manner in vogue in the late 1800’s,” in Susan Taylor MS, p. vi. Several LBH veterans, including William Slaper (who almost got into a fistfight with Thompson during the 1926 reunion) and Theodore Goldin, dismissed Thompson’s Account because James Watson, the soldier who supposedly accompanied Thompson during his adventures beside the river, never mentioned the incident. But as Camp discovered, Watson (who was dead by the early decades of the twentieth century) had, in fact, spoken about the incident to Private Frank Sniffen, in Liddic and Harbaugh’s Camp on Custer, p. 88. John McGuire of C Company told Camp the reason Thompson’s and Watson’s stories weren’t mentioned much at the time was that “the company filled up with new men in the fall who would not understand such discussions, and the old men never said much about questions of this kind,” in Hardorff’s On the Little Bighorn, p. 125. Several of the officers Camp spoke with, especially Godfrey, also discounted Thompson’s story because they had heard nothing about it at the time. But as several of the enlisted men Camp interviewed pointed out, this was not particularly surprising: “[A]fter the battle the officers never encouraged discussion of the details of the fighting. . . . [T]he habitual reserve between officers and enlisted men operated both ways,” in Hardorff’s On the Little Bighorn, p. 33. Susan Taylor remembered that Thompson “wished so many times that he could find Watson” so that he could confirm the truth of his Account, footnote in Susan Taylor MS, p. 314.
Walter Camp found corroboration of Thompson’s story from the Arikara scout Soldier, who spoke of coming upon two soldiers whose horses had given out and how a group of five Sioux “were circling them.” Camp informed Thompson: “When I told this Ree [Arikara] that at least one of the two soldiers whom he had seen surrounded by the five Sioux was still living he would not believe me”; see W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 44, and Hammer, Custer in ’76, pp. 188–89. The researcher Fred Dustin had his doubts about Thompson’s Account but grudgingly admitted that the account could not be completely dismissed: “In sifting the wheat from the chaff, it is necessary to exercise patience, discrimination and toleration. A story as a whole may be unreliable, but it may furnish a few corroborative facts that might not otherwise be obtained. Thompson’s alleged story is an instance in the matter of his horse giving out between where Custer’s battalion left Reno’s [i.e., Sun Dance] Creek and Reno’s Hill. Even that incident might have been discredited had not the Rees seen such an event,” in a Feb. 26, 1934, letter to Theodore Goldin, in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 116. Goldin, who claimed to have delivered a message from Custer to Reno, was an LBH veteran who ran into many of the same problems as Thompson when it came to being believed by others. Unlike Thompson, Goldin proved to be quite good at adjusting his story to meet the expectations of his audience (see W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, pp. 267–78); Goldin’s chief contribution to the history of the LBH was to draw Frederick Benteen into the series of very frank and opinionated letters in John Carroll, The Benteen-Goldin Letters.
At least one war veteran, and a Medal of Honor winner at that, Frank Anders, found Thompson’s Account to be entirely convincing in its sometimes perplexed but always graphic rendering of war. In a Nov. 4, 1940, letter to William Falconer, Anders wrote, “I have carefully read through Peter Thompson’s story twice to see what I could see about it. I see nothing about it that is more strange than any [other accounts]. Peter Thompson went into great detail as to what happened and that seldom or ever sets well with most people as they are generally incapable of visualizing such situations. . . . The experiences of some ten of us inside the Philippine lines from May 4th to May 10th 1899 is very comparable to those of Peter Thompson.” Later in the letter, Anders wrote, “I am supporting Peter Thompson’s story because 1) There is nothing improbable about it if my own experience is any thing to be relied upon. 2) Peter Thompson’s whole life as far as I can find out was one of honesty and integrity if the stories of those who knew him intimately [are] to be taken as a criterion. 3) If Peter Thompson had limited his story to one or two pages instead of what he did, little question about [it] would have prevailed. 4) The stories of men of greater rank who should have been in a position to correctly observe what was going on have been discredited,” in Anders Collection, North Dakota State Archives. My thanks to Rocky Boyd for bringing this letter to my attention.
Thompson’s Account was first published serially in the Belle Fourche Bee in the spring of 1914; in 1924, A. M. Willard and J. Brown published (without Thompson’s approval) the entire Account in The Black Hills Trails, edited by John Milek. In 1974 Daniel O. Magnussen published a heavily annotated edition of the Thompson Account that did much to obfuscate the importance of Thompson’s contribution to the history of the battle. Walt Cross has provided a more sympathetic reading in his 2007 edition of the Account,quite rightly pointing out that Magnussen “spent more energy disapproving much of Thompson’s writing, when he should have . . . dedicated his study to finding what was pertinent and historically viable in the narrative.” In their 2004 article, Wyman and Boyd found corroboration for several incidents in Thompson’s Account that others (Magnussen in particular) had found difficult to believe. In their view, Thompson was “a brave, sober, honest and successful man, who found that writing history and dealing with fame were difficult tasks. Repeated publication and distribution of his flawed account of the battle, in combination with the tenor of his times, resulted in his being discredited on a national scale. . . . Thompson’s story should be regarded as an honest eyewitness account,” in “Coming to an Understanding of Peter Thompson,” p. 48. When not otherwise indicated, all quotations in this chapter are from Wyman and Boyd’s 2004 edition of the Account, pp. 17–25.
Susan Taylor related her father’s description of how his fingers shook with fright as he attempted to put on the spurs, in the Susan Taylor MS, p. 224; she also recalled Thompson describing himself as running “like a bat out of hell with his wings on fire,” p. 258. On acoustics and the different theaters of battle, see Theodore Goldin to Albert Johnson, Jan. 15, 1930: “I reported these volleys and was a bit surprised to be told they were not heard by the force on the bluffs. . . . [L]ater among a group of officers, someone remarked that it would be easy to determine by putting a company of infantry on Custer Hill, while officers with compared watches went to Reno Hill, and at an agreed time their volleys were fired, BUT WERE NOT HEARD ON RENO HILL. [Not at all strange! Intervening ridges and over four miles distance, wind conditions might strongly affect.—F.D.],” in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 28; see also p. 82. In a footnote Susan Taylor wrote, “Peter Thompson had impaired hearing, totally deaf in the left ear, and this made his directional hearing poor. Under the rim of the bluff, sound would be distorted,” Susan Taylor MS, p. 263. Server’s comments about the myopia of war are in Eli Ricker’s Voices of the American West, vol. 2, p. 141. See also Gregory Michno’s “Space Warp: The Effects of Combat Stress at the Little Big Horn.”
Magnussen refers to “the hordes of black mosquitoes which infest the valley of the LBH,” in a note in his edition of Thompson’s Account, p. 142. According to the Cheyenne Young Two Moons, there was a “terrible plague of flies that summer,” in Hardorff’sCheyenne Memories, p. 162. Thompson’s insistence that “I.D. stood for Immediately Dead” is in his pre-1912 MS, in the Susan Taylor MS, p. 265. Corroborating Thompson’s memory of seeing blankets with I.D. stamped on them is a June 29, 1876, letter from Lieutenant John Carland (with the Sixth Infantry) in which he refers to the debris found in the Indian village on June 27: “also blankets that were new and branded, ‘U.S. Indian Department.’ ” My thanks to Rocky Boyd for bringing this letter, which appeared in a Detroit newspaper, to my attention.
Thompson believed that he saw Curley and Custer just upriver of the ford (commonly known as Ford B) at the mouth of Medicine Tail Coulee. Camp insisted that Thompson “surely is mistaken in the identity of the man he took for Custer,” in Hardorff’s On the Little Bighorn, p. 164. In a portion of a Feb. 27, 1909, letter to Daniel Kanipe not quoted by Hardorff, Camp speculated that instead of Curley and Custer, Thompson saw “two men belonging to the Sioux camp and mistook them for Custer and Curley. He says Custer had on buckskin pants and a blue shirt. This might have been some half-breed belonging to the Sioux village, and the man he took for Curley may have been some Sioux,” in folder 24, Walter Mason Camp Collection, LBHBNM. In a May 1, 1909, letter to Camp, Kanipe wrote, “I believe they were Sioux Indians, instead of Custer and Curley. I am not sure as to whether Custer had on buck-skin pants or not that day, but I know he had on blue shirt,” reel 1, box 1, folder 7, Walter Mason Camp Papers, BYU. In an Oct. 9, 1910, letter to Camp, Kanipe wrote: “I am like you about Peter Thompson, there is some things that he told that don’t look good to me but the times have been so long that he may have forgotten what he did see and [yet] it may all be so,” reel 1, box 1, folder 14, Walter Mason Camp Papers, BYU. In his edition of Thompson’s Narrative, Walt Cross argues that Thompson was mistaken in his identification of Curley: “Rather than a Crow, this Indian was likely a Ree/ Arikara scout. Two Arikara scouts were killed in Reno’s valley fight. . . . Either of these two men could have been the scout seen in the river by Thompson. Warriors traditionally took women from enemy tribes to serve as tribal slaves or even to take them for wives,” p. 43. Cross finds the meeting between Thompson and Custer entirely plausible: “With companies E and F holding the ford and the lack of significant Indian resistance, Custer would be quite comfortable riding a short distance away to reconnoiter or to talk to the Arikara scout,” p. 44. Based on his extensive study of the terrain, Rocky Boyd believes that Thompson never made it as far north as Ford B; he also believes that instead of Custer, Thompson may have seen the Custer look-alike Charley Reynolds, in a personal communication. Hardorff has enough faith in Thompson’s account that he cites his description of Custer along the river to corroborate the fact that Custer was not wearing his buckskin coat and was in his blue shirt; see note in Cheyenne Memories, p. 57. In Lakota Recollections, Hardorff states: “Although Thompson embellished considerably on his recollections, the essence of this observation does not involve a self-serving matter,” p. 68.
John Gray in Custer’s Last Campaign claimed that the movement of the Left Wing down Medicine Tail Coulee was a “feint or threat, for even a semblance of an attack on the Indian women and children should draw the warriors from Reno’s endangered battalion, allowing it to regroup in safety; it might then join Benteen and/or the packtrain and provide backup for a stronger Custer attack. . . . Custer was trying to buy time that would enable his full regiment to deliver a decisive attack,” pp. 360–61. Richard Fox claimed the move down Medicine Tail Coulee was “to gather intelligence,” since “Custer had early on anticipated that Benteen’s assistance would be necessary” before he could attack the village, in Archaeology, History, and Custer’s Last Battle, p. 314. According to the Oglala He Dog, “There was no fighting while Custer down near river but a few shots down there. No general fighting; fifteen or twenty Sioux on east side of river, and some soldiers replied, but not much shooting there. Did not hear Custer fire any volleys,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 207. Curley claimed that as Custer made his way down Medicine Tail Coulee, he “had all the bugles blowing for some time,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 172. The Cheyenne warrior Yellow Nose also commented on hearing music, in “Yellow Nose Tells of Custer’s Last Stand,” p. 40. According to Camp, “Custer no sooner came to the ford than he became aware that the main strength of the enemy were crossing the river at the north end of the village, making it necessary to attack in that direction. He may therefore have made no great effort to cross at the ford, or changed his mind, which would explain so few traces of battle there,” in Hardorff’s On the Little Bighorn, p. 212; on the reasons behind Custer’s delay, see also pp. 222–23.
As to the likelihood of Custer lighting out on his own as the majority of his column waited, either on the bluff or at the mouth of Medicine Tail Coulee, Varnum had an interesting response to Camp’s claim that Custer’s battalion had waited as many as forty-five minutes on the bluffs before engaging the enemy. “Anyone who knew George A. Custer,” Varnum wrote, “would find it hard to believe that he could keep still for five minutes under the circumstances.” If Thompson saw what he claimed to have seen, Custer was acting just as Varnum said he would: While the others waited, he dashed up and down the river on his Thoroughbred in search of essential information about the village and Reno’s activities. As relayed by his daughter Susan Taylor, Thompson claimed, “Everyone was used to Custer’s unpredictable actions and thought nothing of it,” in Susan Taylor MS, p. 278. Frank Anders wrote of the battle veteran William Taylor’s lament: “He says that after hearing all the stories he doubts that he was there and only dreamed that he was there,” in Anders’s Nov. 4, 1940, letter to W. A. Falconer, Anders Collection, North Dakota State Archives. When working on the final 1914 version of his Account, Thompson spoke about how he relied on his original notes and earlier narratives to help him sort out his often confused memories of the battle: “[H]e had lived and relived this past so many times in his head,” Susan Taylor wrote, “that he was not sure just how it really went. . . . He followed his original MS pretty well as he said it was fresher in his mind when he wrote it but that so many conflicting stories came out later that did not fit his memories,” in Susan Taylor MS, p. 314. As Susan Taylor points out, Thompson’s description of Custer’s forward-leaning riding posture is a telling detail; in a footnote in the Susan Taylor MS, she writes, “The cavalrymen rode leaning forward because of the long stirrups in use those days. He actually stood on the balls of his feet when the horse was trotting to keep from being harshly jarred. With those long stirrups, it was impossible for a rider to post when he rode . . . [i.e.,] flexing of the knees like a set of springs. Shorter stirrups came into use in later years, and they gave the knees a chance to flex and post. This writer was reared to ride in that old military style with the long stirrups,” p. 274.
Susan Taylor’s comments about Thompson’s fear of water are in the Susan Taylor MS, p. 282; she adds, “Thompson was much concerned with the depth of the river, especially when the water was running fast. He was terrified of water after falling off the boat into the ocean when he immigrated with his parents from Scotland in 1865.” In “Coming to an Understanding,” Michael Wyman and Rocky Boyd look to the testimony of Rain in the Face as possible corroboration of Thompson’s account of his and Watson’s cautious attempt to cross the river: “[A] soldier was detailed to ride down to the river and test the footing and the river’s depth,” Rain in the Face told an interpreter. “He was in the act of doing this when the Indians could not control themselves no longer, and rushed forward,” p. 47. Susan Taylor identified the vegetation surrounding Thompson and Watson’s lair as “buffalo berry bushes. . . . They have little red, sour berries, terrible thorns and silver leaves,” in Susan Taylor MS, p. 304. As Thompson stated in a questionnaire sent to him by Camp, Custer’s fight began about a half hour after Reno’s retreat, in Hardorff’s On the Little Bighorn, p. 28; this was the same interval independently claimed by both Herendeen and Gerard, who were hiding in the brush to the south of Thompson’s position. The time of 4:25 p.m. for the beginning of Custer’s battle comes from the timeline in John Gray’s Custer’s Last Campaign, p. 368.
Chapter 13: The Forsaken
Herendeen told Camp, “This firing down the river consisted of a great many volleys, with scattering shots between the volleys,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 224. Gerard told Camp that he heard “two volleys and straggling shots,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 234. McDougall also heard two volleys (“a dull sound that resounded through the hills”) as he and the pack train marched north toward Reno’s position, in W. A. Graham, RCI, pp. 194–95. Varnum testified that he heard the volleys from Custer’s battalion a few minutes after Benteen’s arrival on Reno Hill and shouted to his friend Wallace: “ ‘Jesus Christ, Wallace, hear that—and that.’ It was not like volley firing but a heavy fire—a sort of crash-crash—I heard it only for a few minutes,” in W. A. Graham , RCI, p. 55; he recounted asking, “What does that mean?” in Custer’s Chief of Scouts, p. 121. Varnum’s frustration and exhaustion were apparent to Edgerly, who testified that he saw Varnum “excited and crying and while telling us about what had occurred, he got mad and commenced firing at the Indians,” in W. A. Graham, RCI, p. 160. McDougall told Camp that he asked Godfrey, “who was deaf,” if he heard firing and he said he did, in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 70. Benteen testified, “I heard no volleys,” in W. A. Graham, RCI, 139. William Moran of the Seventh Infantry told Camp that he’d heard “that when Benteen met Reno he asked where Custer was, and when Reno said he did not know, Benteen replied: ‘I wonder if this is to be another Maj. Elliott Affair?’ ” in Hardorff’s Camp, Custer, p. 102.
Benteen’s lack of enthusiasm for going to Custer’s aid was apparent to several members of the regiment. James Rooney claimed that Benteen “went fishing instead of getting to where he was told to go. I saw him with a large straw hat and fishing pole over his shoulder, when he rode up after the ammunition mules got to Reno,” in Hardorff’s On the Little Bighorn, p. 21. Rooney was clearly mixing several memories (Benteen had fished on the Rosebud on the evening of the twenty-third), but the essence of his memory—that Benteen had taken his time—was certainly justified. According to William Morris of French’s M Company, Benteen arrived at Reno Hill going “as slow as though he were going to a funeral,” in Brady’s Indian Fights and Fighters, p. 404. As far as Reno’s insistence on finding Hodgson’s body, one can only wonder whether Hodgson might have had his own flask of whiskey, and Reno, whose personal supply may have been running low, decided to retrieve it. Godfrey used the battalion’s idle moments on Reno Hill trying to harass the warriors in the valley; holding his carbine at a forty-five-degree angle, he launched a bullet at the group of Indians surrounding Lieutenant McIntosh, probably about a mile away. “The Indians immediately scattered, and the bullet probably struck close to them,” he reported to Camp, in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 76. Godfrey recorded Moylan’s claim that Custer had made “the biggest mistake of his life” by dividing the regiment in “Custer’s Last Battle,” W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 141. Sergeant Culbertson overheard Weir ask Moylan whether “Custer gave him any particular orders” when he had served as adjutant, in W. A. Graham, RCI, p. 127. In the years after the battle, Benteen attempted to rationalize his conduct once he’d rejoined Reno’s battalion. “After getting with Reno,” he wrote to Goldin in a Feb. 10, 1896, letter, “not that I didn’t feel free to act in opposition to Reno’s wishes, and did so act, but then, what more could be done than we did do? Like ostriches, we might have stuck our necks in the sand, only that Custer had galloped away from his reinforcements, and so lost himself,” in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 246; of course, if Weir had not, in Benteen’s words, “exhibited a very insubordinate spirit,” Benteen and Reno would most likely have remained on the bluff, much like the proverbial ostrich, also in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 217.
Davern testified that he told Weir that Custer must be fighting the Indians “down in the bottom,” in W. A. Graham, RCI, p. 121. John Fox of D Company recounted the conversation between Weir and Reno and how Moylan and Benteen tried to dissuade Weir from going toward Custer, in Hardorff’s Camp, Custer, p. 94. Edgerly recounted how he ended up following Weir with the entire troop, in Hammer, Custer in ’76, pp. 55–56. Although some accounts have Benteen heading north before the arrival of the pack train, Captain McDougall saw Benteen and Reno talking when he first arrived: “[A]ll was quiet with Reno and Benteen’s men and one would not have imagined that a battle had been fought. [I]f the Indians had appeared suddenly . . . and attacked they could have annihilated the whole 7 cos.,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 70. Mathey told of how Reno greeted the pack train with a raised bottle of whiskey and said, “I got half bottle yet,” in Hardorff’s Camp, Custer, p. 43. McDougall spoke of how Reno “did not appear to regard the seriousness of the situation” and how he (McDougall) said, “I think we ought to be down there with [Custer],” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 70. Benteen recounted how Reno had “his trumpeter sound the ‘Halt’ continuously and assiduously,” in his narrative, in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 186.
Herendeen described how he led his group of frightened troopers to safety, in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 225. George Wylie told how Sergeant Flanagan pointed out to Weir that what he thought were troopers were really Native warriors, in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 129. Private Edward Pigford described the approaching warriors as being “thick as grasshoppers”; he also claimed to have seen the last stages of Custer’s battle: “[T]he Indians were firing from a big circle, but gradually closed until they seemed to converge into a large black mass on the side hill toward the river and all along the ridge,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 143. Edgerly remembered how Weir “standing on high point signaled that Indians were coming and he [Edgerly] therefore turned back and circled over to left and crossed his track and swung . . . ahead to high ground in front of Weir. . . . French’s troop came up next . . . Godfrey, then Benteen,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 56. Gibson heard Benteen say that Weir Peak was “a hell of a place to fight Indians,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 81. Benteen recorded his impression that the regiment “had bitten off quite as much as we would be able to well chew,” in a Mar. 1, 1892, letter to Goldin, in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 215. Hare said Benteen and Reno conferred “a half mile to the rear of Company D,” and that Benteen said they must fall back, since Weir Peak was a “poor place for defense,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 67. Benteen described his activities at Weir Peak and during the retreat back to Reno Hill in in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, pp. 171–72, and in a Jan. 16, 1892, letter to Goldin, in which he described how French “flunked” his assignment by abandoning his position at Weir Peak too soon and how he (Benteen) was the one who told Godfrey to cover the battalion’s retreat, in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, pp. 208–9. McDougall recounted how he told Benteen he’d “better take charge and run the thing,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 71. Peter Thompson recounted how he climbed up the bluff under heavy fire and joined Reno’s battalion in his Account, pp. 29–31. Kanipe told how he greeted Thompson by asking “[W]here in the devil have you been?” as well as Thompson’s reply, in Hardorff’s On the Little Bighorn, p. 126.
Edgerly described how he fled from Weir Peak, as well as his promise to the wounded Vincent Charley and how Charley was later found with “a stick rammed down the throat,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, pp. 56–57, and in W. A. Graham, RCI, pp. 162–63. Sergeant Harrison’s account of how he assisted Edgerly in mounting his plunging horse is in Hardorff’s Camp, Custer, p. 62; Harrison’s military record is in Nichols’s Men with Custer, p. 143. Wylie also recounted the retreat from Weir Peak, in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 130. In contrast to the general lack of bravery and compassion displayed during the incident involving the death of Vincent Charley was an occurrence at the Battle of the Rosebud the week before when the Cheyenne warrior Comes in Sight tumbled from his horse in the midst of the fighting. Before he could be killed by the enemy, his sister Buffalo Calf Road Woman, who’d been watching from the sidelines, bravely rode to his rescue and carried him to safety. As a consequence, the Cheyenne called the battle “Where the Girl Saved Her Brother,” in Stands in Timber’s Cheyenne Memories, p. 189.
Benteen told how Wallace and his handful of men became the “nucleus” of the entrenchment in a Jan. 16, 1892, letter to Goldin, in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, pp. 208–9, and in his narrative in the same volume, pp. 171–72. My account of how Godfrey covered the battalion’s retreat is based on his Field Diary, pp. 13–14, on “Custer’s Last Battle,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 143, and on “Cavalry Fire Discipline,” pp. 252–59. Young Hawk’s account of his actions during the retreat to the entrenchment is in Libby, pp. 100–103. Godfrey recounted how he gradually came to realize his overzealous actions on the firing line were “endangering others” in his Field Diary, edited by Stewart, p. 14. In a Mar. 19, 1896, letter to Goldin, Benteen claimed Godfrey “is rather an obtuse fellow, and like the traditional Englishman, it takes him a good while to see the nub of a joke,” in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 289. Hanley’s account of how he retrieved the mule Barnum is in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 127. Private John McGuire told Camp that he had assisted Hanley in the capture of the mule and that when Hanley received his Medal of Honor, he confided, “McGuire, you deserve a medal as much as I do, if not more, for you were wounded and I was not,” in a footnote in Hardorff’s Camp, Custer, p. 82. Ryan told how he and French and some others finally killed the Indian sharpshooter, in Barnard’s Ten Years with Custer, p. 298; according to Ryan, French “cut a notch in the stock” of his rifle every time he killed an Indian. Varnum told of the “one ring of smoke” coming from the surrounding warriors and how the warriors “would sit back on their horses” during a charge, in W. A. Graham, RCI, p. 57. McDougall described the hills as being “black with Indians looking on,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 71. Slaper’s account of how French sat tailor-style “while bullets were coming from front and both sides” is in Brininstool, p. 55. William Taylor claimed it was his idea to build the barricades in With Custer, pp. 51–52. Benteen testified that after firing ceased on the night of June 25, Reno “was up on the hill where my company was stationed . . . and recommended that I build breastworks. I was pretty tired, and I had an idea that there wasn’t much necessity for building breastworks;I had an idea that the Indians would leave us [italics in original newspaper story],” in Utley’s Reno Court of Inquiry, p. 324. In his defense, Benteen claimed that he “sent down for spades to carry out his instructions, and could get none”; the lack of proper tools did not prevent the other companies from digging pits with their knives and cups or from using the saddles and boxes from the corral to build barricades.
In a Jan. 6, 1892, letter to Goldin, Benteen told how Reno “recommended the abandonment of the wounded on the night of 25th . . . but I killed that proposition in the bud. The Court of Inquiry on Reno knew there was something kept back by me, but they didn’t know how to dig it out by questioning . . . and Reno’s attorney was ‘Posted’ thereon,” in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 207. Godfrey testified concerning his and Weir’s conversation on the night of June 25 “that we ought to move that night and join [Custer] as we then had fewer casualties than we were likely to have later,” in W. A. Graham, RCI, p. 181. For an intriguing theory that it was Godfrey and Weir’s original conversation about going to join Custer that spawned the rumor about abandoning the wounded (which “with perverse delight” Benteen later attributed to Reno), see Larry Sklenar’sTo Hell with Honor, pp. 314–15.
Bell told Camp that “Benteen’s weakness was vindictiveness,” in Hardorff, On the Little Bighorn, p. 7. According to John Gray in Custer’s Last Campaign, “When it later developed that Custer’s battalion was wiped out, Benteen must have realized that his indiscretion [in not obeying Custer’s orders] had spared his battalion the same fate as Custer’s. This recognition apparently drove him to an indefensible cover-up, so simplistic as to be transparent and which scarred his conscience for the rest of his life,” p. 261. Burkman’s account of Reno’s snide reference to Custer as “the Murat of the American army” is in Wagner, p. 170. My account of Reno’s drunken encounter with the packers is based on their own testimony, in W. A. Graham, RCI, pp. 172–73, 186–87. Edgerly recounted Reno’s late-night remark, “Great God, I don’t see how you can sleep,” in W. A. Graham,RCI, p. 164. For a compilation of the evidence that Reno was, if not drunk, “utterly unfit,” in Camp’s words, “to wear a uniform in the service of his country,” see Hardorff’s On the Little Bighorn, p. 236. As Camp states elsewhere, “After giving all the array of testimony about Reno and his bottle . . . need there then be any doubt as to what was the matter with Reno[?] With me there is not,” p. 208. Peter Thompson told of Private McGuire and the dead horses in his Account, p. 32. He also described how the men speculated that “if Custer would only turn up, our present difficulties would soon vanish” and “the howling of the Indians,” p. 33. Godfrey wrote about the “supernatural aspect” of the Indians’ bonfires and “the long shadows of the hills”; he also told of the “phantasma of imaginations” that led one packer to shout, “Don’t be discouraged, boys, it’s Crook!” in “Custer’s Last Battle,” W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 144. The sound of a warrior playing a bugle was described by many survivors, including John Ryan in Barnard’s Ten Years with Custer, p. 299, and William Taylor in With Custer, p. 54.
Chapter 14: Grazing His Horses
Gibson recounted how after the warriors fired a pair of rifle shots at 2:30 a.m. on June 26, Benteen ordered the trumpeters to sound reveille, in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 81. Trumpeter Hardy’s account of “a large body of Indians [dressed] in the uniforms of Custer’s men” is in a footnote in Hardorff’s Camp, Custer, p. 83. Prior to fooling Reno’s battalion, the Indians dressed in soldiers’ clothes had also fooled their own village. According to the Cheyenne Two Moons: “The young people of the Indian camp must have robbed the dead of clothing for next day they appeared up the river above the camp mounted on captured horses, dressed in soldier clothing, which led the Indians to think other troops were coming, which alarmed the camp until it was discovered who these mounted persons were,” in Hardorff’s Indian Views, p. 112. William Taylor described the warriors’ fire on the morning of June 26 as “a perfect shower of bullets” in With Custer, p. 54. Sergeant Stanislas Roy told Camp, “They fired at us so heavy that [the bullets] cut down all of [the] sage brush in front of us,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 114. In a July 4, 1876, letter to his wife, Gibson wrote that “my only wonder is that every one of us wasn’t killed,” in Fougera’s With Custer’s Cavalry, p. 269. Unless otherwise indicated, all of Benteen’s quotations in this chapter are from his narrative in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, pp. 172–75. Windolph’s description of the death of the soldier beside him and the shattering of his rifle butt are in his I Fought with Custer, p. 103. Windolph told Camp about how “someone cried: ‘Get the old man back here quick,’ ” in Hardorff, On the Little Bighorn, p. 180. Besides Benteen, Edgerly also testified to seeing Reno “in a pit with Captain Weir,” in W. A. Graham, RCI, p. 181. As to Reno’s drinking on the twenty-sixth, Private Corcoran, who was with the wounded that morning, told Camp that Reno came into the hospital with “a quart bottle of whiskey and [Corcoran] saw him take a big drink out of it,” in Hammer,Custer in ’76, p. 150; Corcoran also told how Benteen called out to the men gathered in the corral, “Come on back, and we will drive them off. You might as well be killed out there as in here.” In a Sept. 21, 1904, letter, William Morris wrote that when Benteen ordered M Company “out of their pits to reinforce his troop . . . [t]here was some dissatisfaction . . . as the men believed that the necessity was due solely to the neglect of ‘H,’ in digging pits,” in Brady’s Indian Fights and Fighters, p. 404. Taylor described Benteen walking calmly as the bullets flew around him inWith Custer, pp. 57–58.
John Keegan gives credence to the statement that the Battle of Waterloo was “won on the playing-fields of Eton,” in The Face of Battle, p. 194; the same might be said of the survival of the Seventh at the battle of the LBH, but instead of cricket it was the baseball diamonds of the northern plains. In a collection of sketches about his experiences in the West, Benteen described how after a confrontation with a Cheyenne war party in the spring of 1868, “the baseball nine of my troop [gave] Troop K’s nine a sad trouncing at our national game (each captain, of course, being captain, and playing as one of the nine of his troop). To play the match, the surrounding country was strongly picketed to avoid being interrupted during progress of the game by wary Indians or by herds of buffaloes, as it was quite possible that one or the other of them might . . . attempt to interfere with our sport. Is there another case on record where baseball has been played under similar circumstances?” in Cavalry Scraps, edited by John Carroll, p. 5. For information about H Company’s baseball team, I have relied on Harry Anderson’s “The Benteen Base Ball Club,” pp. 82–87. Private George Glenn described how Benteen’s shirttail worked out of his pants as he exhorted the men, “[T]his is a groundhog case,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 136. Goldin wrote of Benteen’s claim that he was protected from the warriors’ bullets by the medicine sewn into his uniform, in an Apr. 5, 1933, letter to Albert Johnson, in Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, pp. 43–44. Although we will never know what his wife, Frabbie, had sewn into Benteen’s uniform for “medicine,” here is an educated guess: In their correspondence the Benteens exchanged, in addition to the occasional pornographic picture, what they poetically and punningly referred to as sprigs of “Wild Thyme,” which the biographer Charles Mills claims were strands of their pubic hair, in Harvest of Barren Regrets, p. 295. This may be what Benteen considered his powerful medicine. Windolph told how the warriors were “coming on foot, singing some kind of war cry,” in Hardorff’s On the Little Bighorn, p. 180. Windolph’s account of Benteen’s invitation to “stand up and see this,” is in Hardorff’s On the Little Bighorn, p. 78. Windolph claimed that Benteen led three different charges on the warriors that morning, but almost all other participants (including Benteen) speak of only one charge. Windolph remembered Benteen’s speech about telling “the Old Folks . . . how many Indians we had to fight today” was before the second charge when H Company was assisted by French’s M Company; I have assumed that this was the one that Benteen and the others referred to as the charge.
For information on Long Road, I have depended on Hardorff’s Hokahey! pp. 87–91. Camp recorded Pigford’s account of how “the Indian killed near Co. H was the one who had charged up and stopped there. . . . Every little while this Indian would rise up and fire. Once when he rose up he exposed the upper half of his body, and Pigford taking deliberate aim, killed him,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 144. Ryan wrote about retrieving the mortally wounded Tanner in a blanket; Ryan also described the death of Private Voight and how both Tanner and Voight were buried in the same grave, in Sandy Barnard’s Ten Years with Custer, p. 300. Newell told of Tanner’s final words in John Carroll’s Sunshine Magazine, p. 13. Peter Thompson told of how he draped an overcoat over Tanner and how he found another coat to make a pillow, in his Account, p. 41.
Reno’s inability to see that the warriors were about to charge his position had much to do with how his men were positioned on the surrounding hills. Normal procedure during a siege was to set up the line of defense on the enemy side of the hill so that the defender had an open field of fire. On Reno Hill, however, about half the soldiers had elected to use the hill as a protective barrier, which severely limited their field of fire. As a consequence, the warriors in some instances could come to within thirty feet of the line without being fired on. See William Rector’s “Fields of Fire: The Reno-Benteen Defense Perimeter,” pp. 66–67. Peter Thompson wrote that Reno “would have pulled the hole in after him if he could,” in his Account, p. 41. Several officers testified to the interchange between Benteen and Reno and how Benteen called out, “Now charge and give them hell”; see in particular Edgerly in W. A. Graham, RCI, pp. 164–65. Varnum told of how he was injured during the charge, in Custer’s Chief of Scouts, pp. 93–94. Edgerly described the death of Private Patrick Golden, known as “Paddy,” in a July 4, 1876, letter to his wife, in Bailly, p. 179. Herendeen testified that warriors fired at such long range that “we could pick the balls up as they fell [italics in the original],” in Utley’s Reno Court of Inquiry, p. 242. An account of the packer J. C. Wagoner being hit in the head with a spent bullet is in a footnote in Hardorff’s On the Little Bighorn, p. 179; see also Nichols’s Men with Custer, pp. 342–43. Peter Thompson remembered seeing this same packer: “His bandaged head and blood-stained face made him look ‘tough,’ ” in his Account, p. 44.
Herendeen told Camp that when his dead horse was hit by a warrior’s bullet he could “hear the hiss of escaping gas,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 225. In a July 4, 1876, letter to his parents, Varnum wrote, “[T]he men lay in the trench beside corpses with flies and maggots. . . . I will not attempt to describe the horror of the situation. We had no water, and the men became furious,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 343. Godfrey described the men’s “almost maddening” thirst and how they blew the hardtack from their mouths “like so much flour,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 145. The reference to soldiers drinking horse urine is in Royal Jackson’s An Oral History of the Battle of the Little Bighorn from the Perspective of the Northern Cheyenne Descendants, p. 55; my thanks to John Doerner for bringing this source to my attention. Porter’s account of the wounded men “crying and begging piteously for water” is in L. G. Walker’s Dr. Henry R. Porter, p. 66. Like his account of having seen Custer beside the Little Bighorn, Peter Thompson’s insistence that he went for water on his own initiative on the morning of June 26 has been viewed with skepticism by many historians. But as Camp learned from other troopers who were there, “Thompson is said to have been the first . . . to make the trip.” See Michael Wyman and Rocky Boyd’s “Coming to an Understanding,” which also cites the account from Young Two Moons (see below), p. 47. By the time Thompson ventured to the river a second time, Madden, the K Company saddler, was, as Mechling recounts, sitting at the mouth of the ravine. This sequencing is further proof that Thompson was the first to go for water. See also John McGuire’s letter to Camp in which he states, “Peter Thompson took two canteens and went to the river and filled [them] with water and returned to us safely except for a wound through the hand which he had previously received,” Camp Collection, box 1, folder 2, reel 1, BYU. Unless otherwise indicated, my account of Peter Thompson’s activities in this chapter comes from hisAccount, pp. 33–46. My description of the ravine down which Thompson went for water is based, in part, on my own experience walking this same ravine in July 2009.
Thompson seemed unsure of exactly how many times he went down to get water—hardly surprising given that he’d lost enough blood after suffering the gunshot to his hand and elbow that he’d passed out in the hospital prior to making his first trip to the river. In his Jan. 26, 1909, letter to Camp he wrote that he’d taken six trips to get water. In an undated note at the LBHBNM archives, Camp recorded a conversation with Thompson in which Thompson claimed to have made just three trips: “going first about 9 a.m—had to run down across open space to make gully. Then crept along watching at every turn in ravine to see if any Indians ahead. Had neither carbine, pistol nor knife. Finally got down to river for water. No sooner did I emerge from the mouth of the gully than a volley of about 20 shots was fired at me from same side of river and further upstream. There were no Indians directly across the stream. In all my trips I went for water alone.” In a May 24, 1877, letter recommending Peter Thompson for a medal “of conspicuous gallantry,” Captain Henry Jackson, then commander of C Company, wrote that Thompson had made three trips to the river even though “he was remonstrated with by Sergeant Kanipe, then in charge of the detachment of the Company.” (My thanks to Rocky Boyd for bringing this letter and the undated Camp interview to my attention in his unpublished manuscript, “Statements Related to the Water Carriers.”) In his published Account, Thompson described a total of four trips to get water. According to Thompson’s daughter Susan Taylor, those who doubt that the seriously wounded Thompson was capable of making three or more exhausting trips for water “do not understand an independent, patriotic Scotsperson who will do whatever he sets out to do or almost die trying. Patriotism and independence seem too rare to be believed, apparently,” in Susan Taylor MS, pp. xiii–xiv. When Thompson’s daughter was still a child, he reenacted many of his experiences during the battle. “He taught me . . . ,” Susan Taylor writes, “how to dip water out of the river with a kettle in my left hand under ‘Indian fire’ from the buckrush across the river. He taught me to ‘stroll’ under Indian fire on a pretend Reno Hill. This ‘strolling’ was more like a squatty shuffle, my mother said, and he should describe it that way in his MS. He said that would not sound ‘dignified.’ He said [that during the battle] he did not want to crawl on the filthy ground because of his wounded hand. He said he simply had to move around because his arm and hand hurt too much to sit still in the hot sun, and besides, he wanted to do something useful,” p. xv. Susan describes the injury to Thompson’s elbow and hand in the Susan Taylor MS, p. xii. Young Two Moons’ account of seeing “one soldier stripped to his underclothing” running to the river on June 26 is in Jerome Greene’s Lakota and Cheyenne: Indian Views of the Great Sioux War. “When he reached [the river],” Young Two Moons told an interpreter, “he threw himself in [the] water, filling his vessels and drinking at the same time. Half the time they could not see him because of the water thrown up by the bullets,” p. 72. Susan Taylor writes of how Thompson was questioned about the injury to his head when he returned from his first trip to the river; she claimed her father had a total of three bullet scars on the top of his head, in Susan Taylor MS, p. xii. Daniel Newell wrote that Private McVay, the same trooper who threatened to shoot Peter Thompson if he didn’t give him his canteen, offered him (Newell) seventy-five dollars for a drink, in John Carroll’s Sunshine Magazine, p. 13.
Mechling described his trip to get water and how Benteen’s extended drink from his canteen almost started a rush for the river, in Hardorff’s Camp, Custer, pp. 76–78. In the opinion of Private William Taylor, Benteen’s decision to organize a detail of water carriers was “foolish and uncalled for” since it took away men who were vitally needed to defend the entrenchment, in With Custer, p. 60. Thompson wasn’t the only one who heard someone shout curses at the soldiers in English. Private John Siversten claimed that warriors on the other side of the river said, “Come on over on this side, you sons of [bitches] and we will give it to you! Come over!” in Liddic and Harbaugh’s Camp on Custer, p. 110. Reno claimed the Seventh fought “all the desperadoes, renegades, and half-breeds and squawmen” in his July 5, 1876, report, reprinted in W. A. Graham, RCI, p. 277; see Walter Boyes’s “White Renegades Living with the Hostiles Go Up Against Custer,” pp. 11–19. William Taylor’s description of the “dirty and haggard” survivors watching the departing Indian village is in With Custer, p. 60. Edgerly’s comparison of the Indians’ pony herd to “a great brown carpet” is in the Official Transcript of the RCI, edited by Ronald Nichols, p. 780, and is cited by Stewart in Custer’s Luck, p. 428. Trumpeter Hardy described the departing Indian village “as a long black cloud at the foot hills across the bottom”; he also recounted Reno’s exclamation, “For God’s sake, Moylan, look what we have been standing off!” in a footnote in Hardorff’s Camp, Custer, p. 83. Ryan’s claim that he and French fired the last shots of the battle are in Barnard’s Ten Years with Custer, p. 301. Gerard’s account of overhearing the “cries of children . . . [and] the death chanting of the squaws” is in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 234. Edgerly told of how the horses skidded down the bluff to the river, adding, “Their rush for the river when they got near to it was very pathetic,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 58. Roy’s account of the horses plunging their heads into the water is also in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 116. McDougall’s nuanced description of Reno’s character is in W. A. Graham, RCI, pp. 196–97. Peter Thompson told how Benteen inspired the men in his Account, p. 42. The description of Benteen as the “savior of the Seventh” is cited by James Donovan in A Terrible Glory, p. 250.
Brisbin’s account of Terry’s “anxiety and impatience to get on” is in Brininstool, p. 281. All quotations from Lieutenant Bradley are from his “Journal,” pp. 219–24. Charles Roe’s account of horsemen “clothed in blue uniforms” is from his Custer’s Last Battle, p. 7. Gibbon’s account of the column’s arrivalI at the battle site is in his “Last Summer’s Expedition Against the Sioux and Its Great Catastrophe,” pp. 298–99. In his diary, edited by Barry Johnson, Dr. Paulding wrote, “I picked up a buckskin shirt . . . marked Porter,” “Dr. Paulding and His Remarkable Diary,” p. 62. Windolph described Terry as openly crying as he approached the survivors of the Seventh, in I Fought with Custer, p. 109. Roe told Walter Camp of Benteen’s insistence that Custer “is somewhere down the Big Horn grazing his horses,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 249. Benteen’s response to discovering Custer’s dead body is in Hardorff’s Custer Battle Casualties, pp. 19–20.
Chapter 15: The Last Stand
In writing this chapter, I have relied primarily on Native accounts. This does not mean, however, that there is a monolithic “Indian view” of what transpired during the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Much of the oral testimony that has been recorded over the course of the last 130 years is contradictory—as is, it should be pointed out, the evidence associated with the army’s side of the battle. However, the issues associated with Native testimony are particularly complex. Since few of the Indian participants spoke English, an interpreter was required, and as Curley complained to Walter Camp, interpreters were often suspect; but so were the interrogators, many of whom had a preconceived agenda they hoped the Indians’ testimony would support. There were also the warriors’ legitimate concerns that they might suffer some form of retribution if they told their questioners, many of whom were soldiers and government officials, anything they didn’t want to hear. The accounts collected by the Cheyenne tribal historian John Stands in Timber, who knew many battle veterans and who could speak both Cheyenne and English, is of special interest, since the testimony was not filtered by an interpreter.
In the last decade or so, largely through the efforts of the superb researcher Richard Hardorff, immense amounts of previously unpublished Native testimony have made their way into print. In 1997, Gregory Michno published Lakota Noon, an account of the battle that relies almost exclusively on Native testimony. In 1999, Herman Viola published Little Bighorn Remembered, the culmination of two decades of collecting oral traditions of the battle from living descendants. More recently, the descendants of Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull have participated in documentaries that reveal never-before-disclosed information about their famous ancestors. The Lakota author Joseph M. Marshall has also written several books about the battle that make excellent use of Native oral tradition.
Just as important as the oral testimony left by Native participants is the visual evidence. Pictographs by Red Horse, Amos Bad-Heart Bull, One Bull, Standing Bear, Wooden Leg, and many others are much more than pretty pictures; they are highly detailed and painstakingly crafted renderings of what happened along the Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876. A warrior remembered in obsessive detail each one of his battle honors or coups, which like “kills” in twentieth-century aerial combat, were corroborated and confirmed by other warriors. With these drawings, the warrior recorded essential and extraordinarily precise information, and they are an immense help to anyone attempting to understand the battle. A good place to start in this regard is Sandra L. Brizée-Bowen’s For All to See: The Little Bighorn Battle in Plains Indian Art. However, as Castle McLaughlin cautions in a review of Brizée-Bowen’s book, Native pictographs are by no means a purely documentary source: “Rather than simply creating ‘literal’ visual records, Plains artists often used rhetorical gestures to convey aspects such as tense, perspective, distance, quantity, and the identity of subjects,” p. 60.
In addition to studying the Native testimony, I have looked to the relatively recent appearance of a new source of archaeological evidence. In 1983, fire swept across the battlefield, providing a team of archaeologists and volunteers with the chance to comb the site with metal detectors and analyze what they found. This happenstance has provided a most exciting and late-breaking avenue of research, but there are also problems associated with this form of evidence. The battlefield was by no means a virgin archaeological site in 1983. Soldiers had been buried, exhumed, and reburied; beginning with the victorious warriors, artifact hunters had been picking over the site for more than a century. In 1993, Richard Fox, one of the archaeologists on the team that examined the battlefield after the fire, wrote Archaeology, History, and Custer’s Last Battle. Combining the evidence found in the ground with Native testimony, Fox argued that Custer’s battalion pushed much farther north than had generally been believed. Although I find Fox’s insistence that there was no concerted “last stand” more a matter of semantics than a proven fact, I feel that his account does an excellent job of explaining the eventual fate of Custer’s battalion, and I have followed it closely in this chapter. In 1994 Douglas Scott and Peter Bleed conducted an archaeological examination of portions of the battlefield adjacent to the Little Bighorn National Monument (described inA Good Walk Around the Boundary) that corroborated the fact that Custer’s battalion pushed well north of Last Stand Hill and that the firing around the mouth of Medicine Tail Coulee was quite light. (What Scott and Bleed did find in the vicinity of Medicine Tail Coulee was archaeological evidence associated with the movie Little Big Man, which was filmed in this portion of the battlefield, p. 38.)
Another recent publication that I have found indispensable is Where Custer Fell: Photographs of the Little Bighorn Battlefield Then and Now by James Brust, Brian Pohanka, and Sandy Barnard. Combining historic photographs with the written evidence (much of it from the papers of Walter Camp), Brust et al. have done much to clarify the topographic subtleties of the battlefield. Yet another essential book in this vein is Michael Donahue’s Drawing Battle Lines: The Map Testimony of Custer’s Last Fight. Combining recorded oral and written testimony with the maps drawn by either the battle participant or the interviewer, Donahue’s book is especially helpful in trying to understand what happened during Custer’s thrust to the north.
One source that may seem noticeably absent from my account is David Miller’s Custer’s Fall. Although it is useful in providing a readable Native-based narrative of the battle, some of Miller’s informants, especially the Oglala White Cow Bull, seem too good to be true when it comes to witnessing certain key events. Not only does White Cow Bull claim that he saw Custer’s Cheyenne captive Monahsetah at the LBH with the son she bore after her relationship with Custer, but he insists that after he saw the action at Reno’s skirmish line he also managed to make it to the river in time to see Custer get shot as he led his soldiers across the ford. Given the testimony of several southern Cheyenne informants, especially that of Kate Bighead (who mentions Custer’s relationship with Monahsetah but does not claim she was at the battle), it seems highly unlikely that Monahsetah and her son were present that day.
Benteen testified that Custer’s battle “was a panic—rout,” in W. A. Graham, RCI, pp. 145–46. The testimony of the Cheyenne Sylvester Knows Gun appears in Royal Jackson’s An Oral History of the Battle, pp. 67–68. The Cheyenne Ted Rising Sun also learned from his grandparents “that Custer was wounded in the midstream of the LBH. And that some soldiers quickly rode up beside him and propped him up,” p. 67. In an interview, Sitting Bull’s great-grandson Ernie LaPointe also claimed that Custer was killed at the ford at Medicine Tail Coulee and that the battle was over twenty minutes later. In the documentary film The Authorized Biography of Crazy Horse and His Family, Part 3: The Battle of the Little Bighorn, descendants of the Crazy Horse family claim that it was Tom Custer who was wounded at the ford and eventually taken up to Last Stand Hill. In Sandy Barnard’s Ten Years with Custer, John Ryan wrote that Custer had “a Remington Sporting Rifle that used a brass shell” and that “five or six shells . . . were found under General Custer’s body. I picked up those shells and gave them to the captain of my company. They were afterwards sent to Mrs. Custer with a lock of the general’s hair,” p. 303. Richard Fox provides a useful summary of the scenario he developed in Archaeology, History, and Custer’s Last Battle, pp. 333–34. In this chapter I have relied on Fox and others in developing an overall scheme of the battle while using the warriors’ own accounts to drive the narrative.
Runs the Enemy’s account of first seeing Custer’s battalion and hearing Sitting Bull’s speech about the bird protecting its nest is in Joseph Dixon’s The Vanishing Race, p. 174. Sitting Bull admitted that “[w]e thought we were whipped” in the interview in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 69. According to Red Horse, “A Sioux man came and said that a different party of soldiers had all the women and children prisoners. Like a whirlwind the word went around, and the Sioux all heard it and left the soldiers on the hill and went quickly to save the women and children,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 61. John Henley recounted hearing the interchange among Yates and the other two officers after the skirmish in the Yellowstone campaign, in Liddic and Harbaugh’s Camp on Custer, p. 50. Curley told Camp about Boyer’s claim that “the other commands had been scared out” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 158. Curley told Russell White Bear that Boyer pointed at Custer and said, “That man will stop at nothing,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 18; White Bear also told how Boyer encouraged Curley to escape before it was too late, p. 19.
Wooden Leg’s account of the battle is in Marquis, Wooden Leg, pp. 226–70; Kate Bighead’s account, also told to Thomas Marquis and titled She Watched Custer’s Last Battle, is in The Custer Reader, edited by Paul Hutton, pp. 363–77. My description of the terrain is based, in part, on my own experience riding across the battlefield with the Crow tribal member Charlie Real Bird in June 2007. I also found discussions in July 2009 with author and seasonal ranger Michael Donahue of great value; Donahue directed me to Kill Eagle’s account of a buffalo trail that led from the vicinity of Last Stand Hill to the LBH River, in Donahue’s Drawing Battle Lines, pp. 139–43. Hanging Wolf’s description of the soldiers’ approach to the river is in John Stands in Timber’s description of the battle in Cheyenne Memories, pp. 194–210. See also Fox’s account of Custer’s northerly thrust in Archaeology, pp. 173–94. There is a striking similarity between Hanging Wolf’s account of the Left Wing’s approach to the north ford (often referred to as Ford D) and the account of Sylvester Knows Gun’s grandmother (and many others) of the Left Wing’s approach to the ford at Medicine Tail Coulee (Ford B). Both accounts describe a trooper in the lead getting wounded, if not killed, as he came to the river. Given the difficulty of pinpointing the exact location of an event during a battle, the possibility exists that these might be descriptions of the same event. Kellogg’s remains were identified by the distinctive shape of his boot heels. Also found with the body were thirty-seven narrow sheets of paper folded to fit neatly into Kellogg’s pocket. The reporter’s diary entries, it was later discovered, went only as far as June 9. See Sandy Barnard’s I Go with Custer,pp. 142–47. John Stands in Timber provides a surprisingly detailed account of how the Left Wing paused for twenty minutes at what is known today as Cemetery Ridge, then deployed in the vicinity of Last Stand Hill, in Cheyenne Memories, pp. 199–200. Runs the Enemy corroborated Wooden Leg’s and Kate Bighead’s claims that there was no firing as the warriors infiltrated the hills: “[W ]hile Custer was all surrounded there had been no firing from either side,” in Joseph Dixon’s The Vanishing Race, p. 175.
On the demise of C Company and the warriors’ attack on Calhoun Hill, see Fox, Archaeology, History, and Custer’s Last Battle, pp. 143–61. I have also found Brust, Pohanka, and Barnard’s Where Custer Fell extremely helpful in describing these episodes; they claim that Keogh’s Right Wing “probably enjoyed half an hour to forty-five minutes of relative tactical stability, and the deployment of Company C must have been a controlled and seemingly logicalI reaction to the situation as [Keogh] saw it. Most likely the move was intended to check the growing number of Indians gathering on Greasy Grass Ridge,” p. 91. Sitting Bull told of how the dismounted soldiers “swayed to and fro . . . like the limbs of cypresses in a great wind,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 71. Yellow Nose described how the Indians “seemed really to be springing from the ground” in “Yellow Nose Tells of Custer’s Last Stand,” p. 40. On Lame White Man’s role in the battle, see the accounts of John Stands in Timber in Cheyenne Memories, pp. 197, 205; Hardorff’s Cheyenne Memories, pp. 170–71; and Wooden Leg in Marquis, Wooden Leg, p. 231, who quotes Lame White Man as calling out, “Come. We can kill all of them.” John Two Moons told of how the warriors finally followed Yellow Nose on his fourth attempt to lead them in a charge, in Hardorff’s Cheyenne Memories, p. 66. White Shield told how Yellow Nose used the captured guidon to count coup, in Hardorff’s Cheyenne Memories, p. 53, which also contains a footnote with extensive biographical information about Yellow Nose. See also Yellow Nose’s own account in Hardorff’s Indian Views, pp. 99–105. White Shield, Little Hawk, Young Two Moons, Long Forehead, and John Stands in Timber all commented on Yellow Nose and the guidon, in Hardorff’s Cheyenne Memories. Gregory Michno in Lakota Noon claims that Yellow Nose took the guidon much earlier in the battle, during his encounter with Yates’s Left Wing as it first made its way toward the river in the vicinity of Medicine Tail Coulee, pp. 127–28, 139. Hardorff, on the other hand, places the event later in the fight, during the warriors’ assault on Calhoun Hill, in Indian Views, p. 102. Since Yellow Nose’s description of how a group of troopers suddenly found itself surrounded corresponds so closely to Wooden Leg’s and Kate Bighead’s descriptions of what happened to C Company in the vicinity of Greasy Grass Ridge, I have placed the guidon taking during the initial attack on C Company prior to the charge on Calhoun Hill, as do Brust, Pohanka, and Barnard in Where Custer Fell, p. 92. Runs the Enemy’s description of how “a great roll of smoke seemed to go down the ravine” is in Joseph Dixon’s The Vanishing Race, p. 176; Fox also cites this account in his description of C Company’s collapse, Archaeology, p. 154. Red Horse’s description of “the bravest man they had ever seen” is in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, pp. 57, 60. Two Moons mentioned a heroic trooper in buckskin with “long black hair and a mustache,” in Hardorff’s Cheyenne Memories, p. 102. Walt Cross in Custer’s Lost Officer argues that this “bravest man” was Harrington, pp. 140–55.
On the archaeology conducted at the battlefield, see Douglas Scott and Richard Fox’s Archaeological Insights into the Custer Battle; Scott, Fox, Melissa A. Connor, and Dick Harmon’s Archeological Perspectives on the Battle of the Little Bighorn; Scott, P. Willey, and Melissa A. Connor’sThey Died with Custer; and Fox’s Archaeology, History, and Custer’s Last Battle, pp. 63–131. Two Moons described the firing as “pop—pop—pop” in Hardorff’s Cheyenne Memories, p. 102. Curley compared the sound of gunfire to “the snapping of threads in the tearing of a blanket” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 11. Red Hawk’s account of the skirmish line at Calhoun Hill is in Hardorff’s Lakota Recollections , p. 43. Moylan testified about the shells he found on Calhoun Hill in W. A. Graham, RCI, p. 76. Brust, Pohanka, and Barnard provide an excellent account of the attack on Calhoun Hill in Where Custer Fell, pp. 95–97. On the devastating effect of “high trajectory arrow fire,” see Jay Smith’s “A Hundred Years Later,” p. 141. Moving Robe Woman told of seeing a horse holder with as many as ten horses in Hardorff’s Lakota Recollections, p. 95. Gall’s account of attacking the horse holders is in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, pp. 89–92. Gall told F. E. Server about his discovery of the horses in Horse Holders’ Ravine; Server told Eli Ricker, “The horses were huddled together in this safety-spot, the only one on the now circumscribed field. They must have been packed in like livestock on shipboard,” in Ricker’s Voices of the American West, vol. 2, p. 144. Low Dog told how the plunging horses made it difficult for the soldiers to shoot effectively, in Hardorff’s Indian Views, p. 65. He Dog told of how Crazy Horse “broke through . . . a sort of gap in the ridge,” in Hardorff’s Lakota Recollections, p. 75. See also Brust, Pohanka, and Barnard’s account of the incident in Where Custer Fell, p. 104. Waterman’s claim that Crazy Horse was “the bravest man I ever saw,” is in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 110. Stands in Timber detailed the activities of the Suicide Boys inCheyenne Memories, pp. 292–93. Moving Robe Woman told of the darkness of the smoke and the flash of guns, in Hardorff’s Lakota Recollections, p. 95. Crow King told of the war cry “Hi-Yi-Yi” (“a high, prolonged tone,” according to the interpreter) in Hardorff,Indian Views, p. 69. Red Hawk recounted how the soldiers were “swept off their feet. . . . [T]he Indians were overwhelming,” in Hardorff’s Lakota Recollections, p. 44. Gall claimed that “Calhoun’s men died fighting as skirmishers,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth,p. 91. Varnum remembered that Calhoun was identified by the fillings in his teeth, in Hardorff’s The Custer Battle Casualties, II, p. 15. Hugh Scott learned that an “Indian had shot an arrow in Crittenden’s eye and had broken it,” in Hardorff’s The Custer Battle Casualties, p. 104. Brust, Pohanka, and Barnard write that the positions of the bodies on Calhoun Hill indicate that the “two platoons had been fighting back to back,” in Where Custer Fell, p. 95. Gall recalled that Keogh’s men “were all killed in a bunch,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 91. On Keogh’s Agnus Dei, see “Captain Keogh’s Medals,” in Myles Keogh, edited by John Langellier, Kurt Cox, and Brian Pohanka, p. 162. Godfrey wrote that “in life [Keogh] wore a Catholic medal suspended from his neck; it was not removed,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 345.
Two Moons described how “[T]he whole valley was filled with smoke and the bullets flew about us, making a noise like bees,” in Joseph Dixon’s The Vanishing Race, p. 183. That White Shield wore a stuffed kingfisher on his head during the battle is in Hardorff’s Cheyenne Memories, p. 50, and that Standing Bear wore a skinned redbird and “vowed that I would make an offering if this bird should help me” is in DeMallie’s The Sixth Grandfather, p. 188. Iron Hawk told of how after being fired on by the soldiers, a Cheyenne warrior with a “hairy belt around his waist” shook out the slugs the belt had magically collected, in DeMallie, p. 189. Gall spoke of the Great Spirit on “a coal black pony,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 91. Red Horse told of how the soldiers threw down their guns and raised their hands, in Hardorff’s Indian Views, p. 75. Iron Hawk remembered seeing the soldiers firing “wildly in every way,” in Hardorff’s Lakota Recollections, p. 66. Shoots Walking, who was just sixteen during the battle, told of shooting two soldiers who stood dumbly by with carbines in their hands, in Hardorff’s Indian Views, p. 169. The Brulé warrior Standing Bear, not to be confused with the Minneconjou of the same name who wore a redbird on his head, recounted the pangs he felt killing soldiers who “lay on the ground, with their blue eyes open, waiting to be killed,” in Luther Standing Bear’s My People the Sioux, p. 83. Horned Horse told of how the warriors “were knocking each other from their steeds,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth,p. 63. Yellow Nose’s account of seeing two mounted warriors running into each other and rolling to the ground is in Stands in Timber’s Cheyenne Memories, p. 202. Wooden Leg recounted how the sight of the warrior with a missing jaw sickened him, in Marquis,Wooden Leg, p. 234. White Bull’s account of his hand-to-hand battle with a trooper is in Hardorff’s Lakota Recollections, pp. 107–26. See also Vestal’s Warpath, in which White Bull proclaimed, “It was a glorious battle, I enjoyed it,” p. 199. Foolish Elk described the soldiers fleeing toward Last Stand Hill, in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 199. Fox estimates that only twenty survivors of the Right Wing reached Last Stand Hill, in Archaeology, History and Custer’s Last Battle, p. 195. Two Moons described how the warriors circled around the soldiers, “swirling like water round a stone,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 102. Hardorff describes the topography of Last Stand Hill: “In 1876, the crest near the present monument was much higher and considerably narrower, and only a small level place with a thirty feet diameter existed then,” in The Custer Battle Casualties, p. 35.
One Bull told of where he and Sitting Bull watched the battle with the noncombatants, in box 105, notebook 19, WCC; he also described how Sitting Bull was dressed during the battle: “buckskin clothes, no war bonnet, shirt was green quill work on buckskin, not painted and human hair hung from sleeves, wore one feather on head, no war paint,” in box 104, folder 6, WCC. According to Utley in The Lance and the Shield, Sitting Bull’s “willful and deliberate ways [as a boy] earned him the nickname Hunkesni, or ‘Slow,’ ” p. 6. Two Moons claimed that as Custer and the Left Wing and the survivors of the Right Wing gathered around Last Stand Hill “not a shot was fired,” in Hardorff’s Indian Views, p. 111; he also told of seeing the soldier in buckskin stagger from the northern ridge toward Last Stand Hill, p. 113. Fox believed that the remnants of both F and E companies redeployed at Last Stand Hill “to intercept right-wing survivors,” in Archaeology, History and Custer’s Last Battle, p. 192. Kate Bighead told of how there were “hundreds of warriors for every white soldier left alive” on Last Stand Hill, in Hutton’s The Custer Reader, p. 370.
Two Moons described how the horses of the Gray Horse Troop were “turned loose by the soldiers and they fled toward the river,” in Hardorff’s Indian Views, p. 111. Standing Bear told of how the warriors shouted, “They are gone!” when the horses were released, then repeated the exclamation when the troopers followed, in DeMallie, The Sixth Grandfather, p. 186. Red Horse recounted how the group of soldiers and the group of warriors “stood for one moment facing each other,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 60. Iron Hawk told how he beat the soldier to death because “the women and children had run away scared,” in DeMallie, The Sixth Grandfather, pp. 191–92. Moylan testified that they found “20 odd bodies of E Company” in Deep Ravine: “The marks were plain where they went down and where they tried to scramble up the other side, but these marks only extended half way up the bank,” in W. A. Graham, RCI, p. 76. Fox cites Bourke’s reference to the seven skulls in Deep Ravine, in Archaeology, pp. 213–14. Gray writes about the discovery of what appear to be the bones of Mitch Boyer, in Custer’s Last Campaign, pp. 398–99; he also cites Boyer’s claim that the Sioux “can’t get even now,” from the July 15, 1876, Helena Herald, p. 396. Godfrey wrote, “I firmly believe [the E Company men found in Deep Ravine] belonged to Lieutenant Sturgis’ Platoon and had been ordered to locate a ford for crossing the river,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 95. In addition to citing Godfrey’s belief that it was Sturgis who led E Company toward the river, Brust, Pohanka, and Barnard cite Godfrey’s account of finding “several headless bodies” in the Indian encampment not far from the river; they also cite Private George Glenn’s claim that one of the severed heads found in the village was that of Sturgis, in Where Custer Fell, p. 112.
On what was found on June 27 on Last Stand Hill and the wounds on Custer’s body, see Hardorff’s The Custer Battle Casualties, pp. 15–31. Yellow Nose’s account of his encounter with the “striking and gallant” officer whom he took to be Custer is in “Yellow Nose Tells of Custer’s Last Stand,” pp. 41–42, and in Hardorff’s Indian Views, pp. 103–5. As Hardorff argues in a footnote, Yellow Nose’s opponent was almost certainly not Custer but his brother Tom; see also George Grinnell’s comments in Hardorff’s Cheyenne Memories, p. 58. On the mutilations to Tom’s body (Sergeant Ryan wrote that Tom’s head “was smashed as flat as the palm of one’s hand”), see Hardorff’s The Custer Battle Casualties, pp. 24–25. White Bull claimed that the Lakota sometimes mutilated the body of an enemy “because [the] man was brave,” in box 105, notebook 24, WCC.
Edgerly wrote that Boston Custer and Autie Reed were found “about a hundred yards from the general’s body,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 220. Frost cites the Oct. 28, 1868, letter in which Custer asked Libbie about the possibility of adopting Autie Reed, in General Custer’s Libbie,p. 178. Big Beaver, who was seventeen at the time of the battle, reported that “a soldier got up and mounted his horse and rode as fast as he could towards the east. . . . Two Cheyenne Indians cut him off and killed him,” in Hardorff’s Cheyenne Memories, p. 149; others claimed the soldier committed suicide, while Moses Flying Hawk reported that instead of killing himself, the lone rider “was beating his horse with his revolver” when it went off accidentally, in Ricker’s Voices of the American West, vol. 1, p. 446. Walt Cross argues that forensic analysis of a skull taken from a remote portion of the battlefield indicates that it was Henry Harrington’s, in Custer’s Lost Officer, pp. 199–233.
Wooden Leg claimed that the warriors’ mad scramble for Last Stand Hill “looked like thousands of dogs . . . mixed together in a fight,” in Marquis, Wooden Leg, p. 237; Wooden Leg also told how the warriors exclaimed, “I got a good gun,” etc., p. 264. Brave Bear spoke of the “fussing and quarreling” over spoils, in Hardorff’s Indian Views, p. 80. Wooden Leg told of how he scalped Cooke’s face of one of its long sideburns and how the women “used sheathknives and hatchets,” in Marquis, Wooden Leg, pp. 240, 263. On Sand Creek, see Jerome Greene’s Washita: The U.S. Army and the Southern Cheyennes, 1876–9, pp. 3–5, and Gregory Michno’s Encyclopedia of Indian Wars, pp. 157–59. Julia Face told of seeing the naked skin of the dead soldiers shining in the sun, in Hardorff’s Lakota Recollections, p. 190. One Bull recounted how Sitting Bull “told Indians not to take spoils or be condemned by God, but Indians took saddles, etc. and Sitting Bull said because of it they will starve at [the] white man’s door, they will be scattered and be crushed by troops,” in box 104, folder 6, WCC; elsewhere White Bull remembered, “After the battle Sitting Bull told the Indians to leave things alone that belong to the soldiers but they did not obey. Sitting Bull said, ‘For failure on your part to obey, henceforth you shall always covet white people’s belongings,’ ” box 110, folder 8, WCC.
Beaver Heart claimed that Custer bragged, “When we get to the village I’m going to find the Sioux girl with the most elk teeth,” in John Stands in Timber’s Cheyenne Memories, p. 199. Kate Bighead recounted how the two southern Cheyenne women punctured Custer’s eardrums with an awl, in Hutton’s The Custer Reader, p. 376. Hardorff writes, “In an interview with his friend Colonel Charles F. Bates, General Godfrey disclosed that Custer’s genitals had been mutilated by an arrow which had been forced up his penis,” in The Custer Battle Casualties, p. 21; see also Hardorff’sThe Custer Battle Casualties, II, pp. 20–21. Sergeant Ryan wrote, “At the foot of [the] knoll, we dug a grave about 18 inches deep, and laid the body of the General in it. We then took the body of Tom, and laid him beside the General. Then we wrapped the two bodies in canvas and blankets, and lay them side by side. . . . We took a blanket [basket?] from an Indian travois, turned it upside down, put it over the grave, and laid a row of stones around the edge to keep the wolves from digging them up,” in Hardorff’s The Custer Battle Casualties, p. 25. Herendeen, who accompanied the soldiers assigned to retrieve the officers’ remains the following year, claimed that “out of the grave where Custer was buried, not more than a double handful of small bones were picked up. The body had been dragged out and torn to pieces by coyotes and the bones scattered about,” in Hardorff’s The Custer Battle Casualties, p. 45.
Chapter 16: The River of Nightmares
In a July 4, 1876, letter to Sheridan, Reno claimed that if Gibbon and Terry had attacked instead of bivouacked on the evening of June 26, the outcome of the battle might have been entirely different: “Had [Gibbon] done so the destruction of [the Indians] was certain and the expedition would not have been a failure. But the truth is he was scared . . . [;] he was stampeded beyond any thing you ever heard of. When we commenced to fall back to the boat at the mouth of ‘Big Horn’ I thought that all right but we did not stop until we put the Yellowstone between us and Custer’s battleground. We could have stayed [on the LBH] as long as there was anything to eat, not to take the offensive perhaps but could have remained in their country in spite of them and not have come skulking back here like a whipped dog with his tail between his legs,” in Sheridan Collection, LOC, cited in Nichols’s In Custer’s Shadow, p. 218. As Nichols points out, “Reno’s letter . . . was a serious breach of military protocol—the letter should have been sent to Terry. Perhaps Reno thought . . . a letter to Terry would not be well received and Sheridan would not have the benefit of Reno’s opinion as to why the battle went so poorly,” p. 236. Given Reno’s conduct in the battle, it’s quite incredible that he dared question the bravery of another officer.
Peter Thompson described his dizzying ride on the night of June 28 in his Account, p. 52. In a July 8, 1876, letter to his mother, Dr. Paulding wrote, “We had a hard job carrying off the wounded . . . , carrying them in hand litters. This was slow and exhausting, and the next day . . . Doan of the Second went to work and made mule litters from timber frames with thongs of raw hide cut from some of the wounded horses we found in the camp & among the timber & which we killed & skinned for the purpose,” in “A Surgeon at the Little Big Horn,” edited by Thomas Buecker, p. 143. Private Adams’s account of finding Comanche is in Hammer, Custer in ’76, pp. 121–22; see also Elizabeth Lawrence’s His Very Silence Speaks, pp. 74–81. My account of Curley’s appearance on the Far West is based on Hanson’s The Conquest of the Missouri, pp. 247–80. Curley told Walter Camp that by repeating “Absaroka” (which means “Crow”) to Marsh and the others on the Far West, “He meant that he was a Crow and that the other scouts had run away and [the] soldiers [had been] killed,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 169. Hanson details how Marsh turned the riverboat into a hospital ship, p. 290; he also describes the column’s approach at night and how Marsh constructed a stall for Comanche, pp. 293, 295. McDougall told Camp that “on the night march to the steamer Mike Madden was dumped out of the litter and fell into a cactus bush,” in Hammer, Custer in ’76, p. 73. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations describing the Far West’s voyage to Fort Lincoln are from Hanson, pp. 295–314. Wilson told how the riverboat pinwheeled down the Bighorn in his official report, in General Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn: The Federal View,edited by John Carroll, p. 67. James Sipes, a barber aboard the Far West,described how the lower deck was protected with “sacks of grain and four-foot cordwood stood on end” and how the pilot house was armored with boiler plate. He also described how the vessel struck a large cottonwood and “split her bow open,” in Hammer,Custer in ’76, p. 240.
Private William Nugent’s claim that Terry delayed the departure of the Far West so that he had the time to draft “a report that would suit the occasion” is in L. G. Walker’s Dr. Henry R. Porter, pp. 59–60. In the confidential July 2, 1876, dispatch to Sheridan, Terry wrote, “I do not tell you this to cast any reflection upon Custer. For whatever errors he may have committed he has paid the penalty and you cannot regret his loss more than I do, but I feel that our plan must have been successful had it been carried out, and I desire you to know the facts,” in The Little Big Horn 1876: The Official Communications, edited by Lloyd Overfield, p. 37. M. E. Terry wrote of how the Far West bounced off the riverbanks, “throwing the men to the deck like tenpins,” in an article that appeared in the Pioneer Press in 1878 and was reprinted in Hiram Chittenden’s History of Early Steamboat Navigation on the Missouri River, pp. 388–90. Mark Twain described “that solid world of darkness” aboard a riverboat at night in Life on the Mississippi, p. 70; he also told of how “on very dark nights, pilots do not smoke; they allow no fire in the pilothouse stove if there is a crack which can allow the least ray to escape; they order the furnaces to be curtained with huge tarpaulins and the skylights to be closely blinded. Then no light whatever issues from the boat,” p. 65. On Reno’s purchase of whiskey during the summer of 1876, see Evan Connell’s Son of the Morning Star, p. 51, and James Donovan’s A Terrible Glory, pp. 328–29, in which Donovan also cites evidence of French’s opium use. Benteen wrote of how he challenged Weir to a duel in a Mar. 19, 1892, letter to Goldin, in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 219. Lieutenant E. A. Garlington was assigned to the Seventh soon after the battle and described Weir’s sad and drunken behavior as the regiment waited on the Yellowstone, in The Lieutenant E. A. Garlington Narrative, Part I, edited by John Carroll, p. 15. Godfrey recounted Weir’s reaction to seeing the naked bodies of the dead, “Oh, how white they look!” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 346. On the circumstances of Weir’s death, see Nichols, Men with Custer, p. 350. According to an article in the December 16, 1876, Army and Navy Journal, Weir died “of congestion of the brain.”
My account of the Fourth of July celebration in Philadelphia is based on William Randel’s Centennial: American Life in 1876, p. 300. Sipes told Camp how the soldiers at the Powder River “gave up the idea” of a Fourth of July celebration when they heard about Custer’s defeat, in Hammer,Custer in ’76, p. 241. John Gray described the measures taken against the Lakota on the reservations in the wake of the battle in Centennial Campaign, pp. 255–69. The rumor that Sitting Bull was a student of Napoleon’s military tactics appeared in the July 29, 1876, Army and Navy Journal;the claim that he was really a West Point graduate named “Bison” McLean appeared in the Sept. 2, 1876, Army and Navy Journal. My description of Sitting Bull’s meeting with Nelson Miles is based on Utley’s Lance and Shield, which cites Miles’s Oct. 25, 1876, letter to his wife, pp. 171–73. Sitting Bull’s comparison of Custer to “a sheaf of corn with all the ears fallen around him” is in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 73. Grant Marsh’s passage up the Missouri with Sitting Bull is described by Hanson, pp. 415–17. Sitting Bull’s frustration over his treatment by McLaughlin (“Why does he keep trying to humble me?”) is in Vestal’s New Sources of Indian History, p. 310. McLaughlin described Sitting Bull as “crafty, avaricious, mendacious, and ambitious,” in My Friend, the Indian, p. 180. Sitting Bull claimed McLaughlin “had it in for me” after he refused to rejoin Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, in Vestal, New Sources, p. 310. On the movement to “Kill the Indian, and save the man,” see Jeffrey Ostler’s The Plains Sioux and U.S. Colonialism, pp. 149–68. Sitting Bull’s views on the potential uses of white culture are in Vestal, New Sources, pp. 273–74, as are his comparison of McLaughlin to a “jealous woman,” p. 310, and his comparison of reservation life to a game of whipping tops, p. 280. One Bull’s account of what the meadowlark told Sitting Bull is in box 104, folder 21, WCC. One Bull said the incident occurred soon after Sitting Bull’s return from Fort Randall; according to Ernie LaPointe it was in August of 1890, in Sitting Bull, p. 93.
In Centennial Campaign, John Gray described the Far West’s stop at Fort Buford, p. 54, where Peter Thompson claimed Marsh picked up some ice; Thompson also related how “wood and bacon were fed to the hungry furnaces,” p. 54. Magnussen, in his edition of Thompson’s Account, writes in a note, “[T]his must have been sides of bacon which spoiled in the hot weather and would produce great heat for the boilers,” p. 290. Thompson described the mysterious leave-taking of the Indian scout in his Account, pp. 54–55, in which he also told of Bennett’s death. My account of Sitting Bull’s death draws from the testimony in Vestal, New Sources, pp. 1–117; in John Carroll’s The Arrest and Killing of Sitting Bull: A Documentary, pp. 68–97; and in William Coleman’s Voices of Wounded Knee, pp. 176–224. See also Jeffrey Ostler’s The Plains Sioux and U.S. Colonialism, pp. 313–37. In “ ‘These Have No Ears,’ ” Raymond DeMallie cites One Bull’s and his wife’s accounts of how Bull Head struck Sitting Bull on the back three times, saying, “You have no ears,” p. 534. “[T]here had been no trouble between Sitting Bull and Bull Head before settling at the agency,” DeMallie writes; “adherence to different strategies to reach the same result—accommodation with the white people—led to an irrevocable breach between them.” Louise Cheney tells the story of how C. A. Lounsberry and others transmitted the story of the battle to the East Coast in “The Lounsberry Scoop,” pp. 91–95. As Sandy Barnard points out in I Go with Custer, the telegraph operator John Carnahan later claimed that Lounsberry greatly exaggerated his role in the scoop, pp. 157–59.
Jeffrey Ostler’s The Plains Sioux and U.S. Colonialism contains a provocative account of the Ghost Dance and the massacre at Wounded Knee, pp. 338–60. Joseph Horn Cloud told an interpreter that “Capt. Wallace sent Joseph to tell the women to saddle up,” in Ricker, Voices of the American West, vol. 1, pp. 200–201. Dewey Beard’s memory of how the officers of the Seventh “tortured us by gun point” is in William Coleman’s Voices of Wounded Knee, p. 275, as is Beard’s account of seeing his “friends sinking about me,” p. 303. Philip Wells claimed Wallace was killed by a bullet to the forehead; other accounts said he’d been smashed with a war club; both may have been true; see William Coleman, Voices, p. 304; Will Cressey’s account of the smoke-shrouded Indian camp looking like a “sunken Vesuvius” is also in Voices, p. 305. Godfrey’s testimony about hunting down the Lakota women and children is in his Tragedy at White Horse Creek: Edward S. Godfrey’s Unpublished Account of an Incident Near Wounded Knee, pp. 3–6, cited in William Coleman, Voices, pp. 330–33. Elizabeth Lawrence chronicles Comanche’s last days in His Very Silence Speaks, pp. 108–9.
Libbie Custer touched briefly on how she received word of the disaster in Boots and Saddles, pp. 221–22. Gurley’s account of delivering the news to Libbie and her sister-in-law is in Hanson, pp. 312–14, as is Marsh’s account of turning down Libbie’s invitation to visit her and the other widows. See also Dennis Farioli and Ron Nichols’s “Fort A. Lincoln, July 1876,” pp. 11–16. In an Oct. 3, 1876, letter to his wife, Lawrence Barrett said that an officer who saw Libbie on her way from Fort Lincoln to Monroe, Michigan, “says that he believes she will become insane—that her nervous energy will support her for a time, but when the strain has weakened her strength, her brain will give way,” in Sandy Barnard’s “The Widow Custer: Consolation Comes from Custer’s Best Friend,” p. 4. Barrett’s description of his visit with Libbie is in an Oct. 25, 1876, letter to his wife, p. 3.
DeRudio told Camp that at the RCI “there was a private understanding between a number of officers that they would do all they could to save Reno,” in Hardorff’s On the Little Bighorn, p. 241. In 1904, a story in the Northwestern Christian Advocate claimed that Reno had admitted to a former editor of the Advocate that “his strange actions” both during and after the Battle of the Little Bighorn were “due to drink,” in W. A. Graham, The Custer Myth, pp. 338–39. Thomas French, one of the other heavy drinkers in the regiment, died of alcoholism on Mar. 27, 1882. For the linkage between the article that appeared in the Jan. 3, 1887, Kansas City Times and Benteen’s ultimate court-martial, as well as the parallels between that article and the one Benteen penned about Custer and the Battle of the Washita, see John Carroll’s The Court Martial of Frederick W. Benteen,especially p. vi. Benteen compared his literary outpourings about Custer to “a goose doing his mess by moonlight” in a Mar. 23, 1896, letter to Goldin, in John Carroll,Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 295. Benteen’s comment that “[t]he Lord . . . had at last rounded the scoundrels up” is in a Feb. 17, 1896, letter to Goldin, in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 271. Colonel Samuel Sturgis’s criticisms of Custer appeared in the July 22, 1876, issue of the Army and Navy Journal. On Libbie’s role as guardian of her husband’s reputation, see Louise Barnett’s Touched by Fire, pp. 351–72, and Shirley Leckie’s Elizabeth Bacon Custer, pp. 256–306. On Custer and the myth of the Last Stand, see Richard Slotkin’s The Fatal Environment, especially the chapter “To the Last Man: Assembling the Last Stand Myth, 1876,” pp. 435–76, as well as Slotkin’s Gunfighter Nation, especially the chapter “The White City and the Wild West: Buffalo Bill and the Mythic Space of American History, 1880–1917,” pp. 63–87. Benteen told of attending the lecture about the LBH, then insisted, “I’m out of that whirlpool now,” in a May 26, 1896, letter to Goldin, in John Carroll, Benteen-Goldin Letters, p. 302. He died two years later on June 22, 1898.
In his notes, Camp recorded that the three slabs of stone used to construct the Custer monument weighed five, six, and seven tons and were “hauled one piece at a time to Custer battlefield during winter in a wooden drag or sled pulled by 24 mules, 4 abreast, crossed LBH 3 times on ice. Derrick of ash used to put stones in place. W. B. Jordan says no steamboat pilot wanted to take monument. Finally Grant Marsh took it on F. Y. Batchelor, put it in bow of his boat and took it to Fort Custer,” in box 6, folder 2, #57, Camp Papers, BYU. See also Jerome Greene’s Stricken Field, pp. 30–33.
Epilogue: Libbie’s House
My account of the meeting between Steve Alexander and Ernie LaPointe is based on “A Visit of Peace” by Dean Cousino in the Sept. 30, 2006, Monroe News. Alexander’s Web site address is Georgecuster.com. Also see Michael Elliott’s Custerology, pp. 90–101. Elliott’s probing analysis of the meaning of the battle in modern society and culture has deeply influenced my own thinking about the LBH. See also Paul Hutton’s “From Little Bighorn to Little Big Man,” pp. 19–45. Vine Deloria refers to Custer as “the Ugly American” in Custer Died for Your Sins, p. 148. He Dog’s statement that “the cause of that trouble” was in Washington, D.C., is in Hardorff’s Lakota Recollections, p. 78. White Man Runs Him’s claim that Custer said, “I have an enemy back where many white people live that I hate,” was recorded by Edward Curtis, in The Papers of Edward S. Curtis, edited by James Hutchins, p. 41. The passage in which Custer expresses his sympathies for the Indians who “adhered to the free open plains” is in My Life on the Plains, p. 22. Even Custer’s peers recognized that Custer was a cultural chameleon; according to John Wright, one of Custer’s classmates at West Point: “Custer was only meeting the demands of the country when he met his fate, his fault was the fault of his times and people,” Recollections of John M. Wright, LBHBNM Collection, cited in Lisa Adolf’s “Custer: All Things to All Men,” p. 16. In Moby-Dick, Melville writes, “Be sure of this, O young ambition, all mortal greatness is but disease,” p. 82.
DeMallie links Bull Head’s and Kate Bighead’s uses of the term “no ears,” in “ ‘These Have No Ears,’ ” p. 534. According to Utley in The Lance and the Shield, “Sitting Bull defiantly swore to all that . . . he would rather die like Crazy Horse than leave his new home at Standing Rock,” p. 240. No one at Standing Rock felt, however, that Sitting Bull had a death wish in the last years of his life. According to Stanley Vestal, “As to his wanting to die and wanting to fight, the old men say it is false. They say, ‘If he had wished to die fighting, he . . . had only to take his rifle, ride to Fort Yates, and begin shooting at the soldiers,’ ” in Vestal, New Sources, p. 312. On Sitting Bull’s relationship with Catherine Weldon, see Eileen Pollack’s Woman Walking Ahead. Weldon’s letter to McLaughlin saying that she respects Sitting Bull “as . . . my own father” is in Vestal, New Sources,p. 100. James Carignan’s report to McLaughlin that Sitting Bull “has lost all confidence in the whites” is in Vestal, New Sources, p. 10. Ernie LaPointe’s account of his great-grandfather’s death is in Sitting Bull, pp. 102–7. According to LaPointe, the crying child that the agency police claimed was Crowfoot was actually Crowfoot’s twelve-year-old half brother William, p. 104. In Woman Walking Ahead, Eileen Pollack writes about the staged reenactment of Sitting Bull’s death, p. 290, and of “Sitting Bull’s Death Cabin” at the midway in Chicago, p. 295. Custer’s essay “The Red Man” is in E. Lisle Reedstrom’s Bugles, Banners and War Bonnets, p. 311. The 1890 census report read: “At present, the unsettled area has been so broken into by isolated bodies of settlement that there can hardly be said to be a frontier line,” cited in Utley, The Last Days of the Sioux Nation,p. xvii. For an account of how the dams associated with the Pick-Sloan Plan affected the tribes along the Missouri River, especially the Fort Berthold Indians, see Michael Lawson’s Dammed Indians, pp. 59–62. Gerard Baker described the tribal elders mourning beside the artificially created lake at Fort Berthold in Herman Viola’s Little Bighorn Remembered, pp. x–xi. Like his great-grandfather before him, Ernie LaPointe has seen a vision of the future: “I was told through ceremony that what the Americans have done will come back to them four times. This is why I ask the creator to have pity on them. It doesn’t matter what they have done. I do not wish what is coming from the future on anyone” (personal communication to the author).