Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Battle of the Little Bighorn

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The Battle of the Little Bighorn, known to the Lakota and other Plains Indians as the Battle of the Greasy Grass and commonly referred to as Custer's Last Stand, was an armed engagement between combined forces of the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes and the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army.

The battle, which occurred June 25–26, 1876, near the Little Bighorn River in eastern Montana Territory, was the most prominent action of the Great Sioux War of 1876. The fight was an overwhelming victory for the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho, led by several major war leaders, including Crazy Horse and Chief Gall, inspired by the visions of Sitting Bull.

 The U.S. 7th Cavalry, including the Custer Battalion, a force of 700 men led by George Armstrong Custer, suffered a major defeat. Five of the 7th Cavalry's twelve companies were annihilated; Custer was killed, as were two of his brothers, a nephew, and a brother-in-law. The total U.S. casualty count included 268 dead and 55 severely wounded, including four Crow Indian scouts and two Pawnee Indian scouts. Public response to the Great Sioux War varied in the immediate aftermath of the battle, but over the next years and decades Custer and his troops became iconic, heroic figures in American history, a status that lasted into the 1960s.


The battle, and Custer's actions in particular, have been studied extensively by historians. Background Tension between the native inhabitants of the Great Plains of the United States and the encroaching white settlers in the latter half of the 19th Century resulted in a series of conflicts known as the Sioux Wars, which took place between 1854 and 1890. Even though many of the native peoples eventually agreed to relocate to ever-shrinking reservations, a number of them resisted, at times fiercely. Among the Plains Tribes, the long-standing ceremonial tradition known as the Sun Dance was the most important religious event of the year. It is a time for prayer and personal sacrifice on behalf of the community, as well as making personal vows. Towards the end of spring in 1876, the Lakota and the Cheyenne held a Sun Dance that was also attended by a number of "Agency Indians" who had slipped away from their reservations. During a Sun Dance around June 5, 1876, on Rosebud Creek in Montana, Sitting Bull, the Hunkpapa Lakota spiritual leader, reportedly had a vision of "soldiers falling into his camp like grasshoppers from the sky."

Crazy Horse

At the same time, U.S. military officials were conducting a summer campaign to force the Lakota and the Cheyenne back to their reservations, using infantry and cavalry in a so-called "three-pronged approach".

1876 U.S. Military Campaign Col.

John Gibbon's column of six companies of the 7th Infantry and four companies of the 2nd Cavalry marched east from Fort Ellis in western Montana on March 30, to patrol the Yellowstone River. Brig. Gen. George Crook's column of ten companies of the 3rd Cavalry, five of the 2nd Cavalry, two companies of the 4th Infantry, and three companies of the 9th Infantry, moved north from Fort Fetterman in the Wyoming Territory on May 29, marching toward the Powder River area. Brig. Gen. Alfred Terry's column, including twelve companies of the 7th Cavalry under Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer's immediate command, Companies C and G of the 17th U.S. Infantry, and the Gatling gun detachment of the 20th Infantry departed westward from Fort Abraham Lincoln in the Dakota Territory on May 17.

They were accompanied by teamsters and packers with 150 wagons and a large contingent of pack mules that reinforced Custer. Companies C, D, and I of the 6th U.S. Infantry, moved along the Yellowstone River from Fort Buford on the Missouri River to set up a supply depot and joined Terry on May 29 at the mouth of the Powder River. They were later joined there by the steamboat Far West, which was loaded with 200 tons of supplies from Fort Lincoln.[8]

Battle of the Rosebud

The coordination and planning began to go awry on June 17, 1876 when Crook's column retreated after the Battle of the Rosebud. Surprised and according to some accounts astonished by the unusually large numbers of Native Americans, Crook held the field at the end of the battle but felt compelled by his losses to pull back, regroup, and wait for reinforcements. Unaware of Crook's battle, Gibbon and Terry proceeded, joining forces in early June near the mouth of the Rosebud Creek. They reviewed Terry's plan calling for Custer's regiment to proceed south along the Rosebud while Terry and Gibbon's united forces would move in a westerly direction toward the Bighorn and Little Bighorn rivers. As this was the likely location of Native encampments, all army elements were to converge around June 26 or 27, attempting to engulf the Native Americans. On June 22, Terry ordered the 7th Cavalry, composed of 31 officers and 566 enlisted men under Custer, to begin a reconnaissance in force and pursuit along the Rosebud, with the prerogative to "depart" from orders if Custer saw "sufficient reason". Custer had been offered the use of Gatling guns but declined, believing they would slow his command.


Little Bighorn

While the Terry/Gibbon column was marching toward the mouth of the Little Bighorn, on the evening of June 24, Custer's scouts arrived at an overlook known as the Crow's Nest, 14 miles (23 km) east of the Little Bighorn River. At sunrise on June 25, Custer's scouts reported they could see a massive pony herd and signs of the Native American village roughly 15 miles (24 km) in the distance. After a night's march, the tired officer who was sent with the scouts could see neither, and when Custer joined them, he was also unable to make the sighting. Custer's scouts also spotted the regimental cooking fires that could be seen from 10 miles (16 km) away, disclosing the regiment's position.Custer contemplated a surprise attack against the encampment the following morning of June 26, but he then received a report informing him several hostiles had discovered the trail left by his troops.Assuming his presence had been exposed, Custer decided to attack the village without further delay.

 Custer and his scouts

On the morning of June 25, Custer divided his 12 companies into three battalions in anticipation of the forthcoming engagement. Three companies were placed under the command of Major Marcus Reno, and three were placed under the command of Capt. Frederick Benteen. Five companies remained under Custer's immediate command. The 12th, Company B under Capt. Thomas McDougall, had been assigned to escort the slower pack train carrying provisions and additional ammunition.Unknown to Custer, the group of Native Americans seen on his trail were actually leaving the encampment on the Big Horn and did not alert the village. Custer's scouts warned him about the size of the village, with Mitch Bouyer reportedly saying, "General, I have been with these Indians for 30 years, and this is the largest village I have ever heard of."Custer's overriding concern was that the Native American group would break up and scatter. The command began its approach to the village at noon and prepared to attack in full daylight.

The 7th Cavalry was created just after the American Civil War. Many men were veterans of the war, including most of the leading officers. A significant portion of the regiment had previously served four-and-a-half years at Ft. Riley, Kansas, during which time it fought one major engagement and numerous skirmishes, experiencing casualties of 36 killed and 27 wounded. Six other troopers had died of drowning and 51 from cholera epidemics. While stationed in Kansas, the 7th Cavalry had attacked Black Kettle's Southern Cheyenne camp on the Washita River in the Battle of Washita River, an attack which was at the time labeled a "massacre of innocent Indians" by the Indian Bureau. US 7th Cavalry guidon Half of the 7th Cavalry's companies had just returned from 18 months of constabulary duty in the Deep South, having been recalled to Fort Abraham Lincoln to reassemble the regiment for the campaign. About 20 percent of the troopers had been enlisted in the prior seven months (139 of an enlisted roll of 718), were only marginally trained, and had no combat or frontier experience. A sizable number of these recruits were immigrants from Ireland, England and Germany, just as many of the veteran troopers had been before their enlistments. Archaeological evidence suggests that many of these troopers were malnourished and in poor physical condition, despite being the best-equipped and supplied regiment in the army.Of the 45 officers and 718 troopers then assigned to the 7th Cavalry (including a second lieutenant detached from the 20th Infantry and serving in Company L), 14 officers (including the regimental commander, Col. Samuel D. Sturgis) and 152 troopers did not accompany the 7th during the campaign.

The ratio of troops detached for other duty was not unusual for an expedition of this size, and part of the officer shortage was chronic, due to the Army's rigid seniority system: three of the regiment's 12 captains were permanently detached, and two had never served a day with the 7th since their appointment in July 1866.Three second lieutenant vacancies were also unfilled.

Number of Indian warriors

As the Army moved into the field on its expedition, it was operating with incorrect assumptions as to the number of Indians it would encounter. The Army's assumptions were based on inaccurate information provided by the Indian Agents that no more than 800 hostiles were in the area. The Indian Agents based the 800 number on the number of Lakota led by Sitting Bull and other leaders off the reservation in protest of US Government policies. This was a correct estimate until several weeks before the battle, when the "reservation Indians" joined Sitting Bull's ranks for the summer buffalo hunt. However, the agents did not take into account the many thousands of "reservation Indians" who had "unofficially" left the reservation to join their "uncooperative non-reservation cousins led by Sitting Bull". The latter were those groups who had indicated that they were not going to cooperate with the US Government and live on reservation lands. Thus, Custer unknowingly faced thousands of Indians, in addition to the 800 non-reservation "hostiles". All Army plans were based on the incorrect numbers. Although Custer was severely criticized after the battle for not having accepted reinforcements and for dividing his forces, it must be understood that he had accepted the same official Government estimates of hostiles in the area which Terry and Gibbon also accepted. Historian James Donovan states that when Custer asked interpreter Fred Gerard for his opinion on the size of the opposition, he estimated the force at between 1,500 to 2,500 warriors.

Additionally, Custer was more concerned with preventing the escape of the Lakota and Cheyenne than with fighting them. From his own observation, as reported by his bugler John Martin, Custer assumed the warriors had been sleeping in on the morning of the battle, to which virtually every native account attested later, giving Custer a false estimate of what he was up against. When he and his scouts first looked down on the village from Crow's Nest across the Little Bighorn River, they could only see the herd of ponies. Looking from a hill 2.5 miles (4.0 km) away after parting with Reno's command, Custer could observe only women preparing for the day, and young boys taking thousands of horses out to graze south of the village. Custer's Crow scouts told him it was the largest native village they had ever seen.


When the scouts began changing back into their native dress right before the battle, Custer released them from his command. While the village was enormous in size, Custer thought there were far fewer warriors to defend the village. He assumed most of the warriors were still asleep in their tipis. Finally, Custer may have assumed that in the event of his encountering Native Americans, his subordinate Benteen with the pack train would quickly come to his aid. Rifle volleys were a standard way of telling supporting units to come to another unit's aid. In a subsequent official 1879 Army investigation requested by Major Reno, the Reno Board of Inquiry (RCOI), Benteen and Reno's men testified that they heard distinct rifle volleys as late as 4:30 pm during the battle. Custer had wanted to take a day and scout the village before attacking; however, when men went back after supplies dropped by the pack train, they discovered they were being back-trailed by Indians. Reports from his scouts also revealed fresh pony tracks from ridges overlooking his formation. It became apparent that the warriors in the village were either aware of or would soon be aware of his approach. Fearing that the village would break up into small bands that he would have to chase, Custer began to prepare for an immediate attack.

Role of Indian noncombatants in Custer's strategy

Lt. Colonel George A. Custer's field strategy was designed to engage noncombatants at the encampments at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, so as to capture women, children, the elderly or disabled to serve as hostages and human shields. Custer's battalions were poised to "ride into the camp and secure noncombatant hostages and force the warriors to surrender. Author Evan S. Connell observed that if Custer could occupy the village before widespread resistance developed, the Sioux and Cheyenne warriors "would be obliged to surrender, because if they started to fight, they would be shooting their own families." In Custer's book My Life on the Plains, published just two years before the Battle of the Little Bighorn, he asserted: Indians contemplating a battle, either offensive or defensive, are always anxious to have their women and children removed from all danger…For this reason I decided to locate our camp as close as convenient to Chief Black Kettle's Cheyenne village, knowing that the close proximity of their women and children, and their necessary exposure in case of conflict, would operate as a powerful argument in favor of peace, when the question of peace or war came to be discussed.

 In the front and holding a pipe, Black Kettle attended the Camp Weld Conference in 1864 in an attempt to negotiate peace.

On Custer's decision to advance up the bluffs and descend on the village from the east, Lt. Edward Godfrey of Company K surmised : Custer expected to find the squaws and children fleeing to the bluffs on the north, for in no other way do I account for his wide detour. He must have counted upon Reno's success, and fully expected the "scatteration" of the non-combatants with the pony herds. The probable attack upon the families and capture of the herds were in that event counted upon to strike consternation in the hearts of the warriors, and were elements for success upon which General Custer fully counted. The Sioux and Cheyenne fighters were acutely aware of the danger posed by the military engagement of noncombatants and that "even a semblance of an attack on the women and children" would draw the warriors back to the village, according to historian John S. Gray. Such was their concern that a feint by Capt. Yates' E and F Companies at the mouth of Medicine Tail Coulee (Minneconjou Ford) caused hundreds of warriors to disengage from the Reno valley fight and return to deal with the threat to the village. Some authors and historians, based on archeological evidence and reviews of native testimony, speculate that Custer attempted to cross the river at a point they refer to as Ford D. According to Richard A. Fox, James Donovan, and others, Custer proceeded with a wing of his battalion (Yates' Troops E and F) north and opposite the Cheyenne circle at that crossing, which provided access to the women and children fugitives. Yates's force posed an immediate threat to fugitive Indian families gathering at the north end of the huge encampment then persisted in his efforts to seize women and children even as hundreds of warriors were massing around Keogh's wing on the bluffs. Yates' wing, descending to the Little Bighorn River at Ford D, encountered light resistance,  undetected by the Indian forces ascending the bluffs east of the village. Custer was almost within striking distance of the refugees before being repulsed by Indian defenders and forced back to Custer Ridge.

The Lone Teepee

The Lone Teepee was a landmark along the 7th Cavalry's march. It was where the Indian encampment had been during the Battle of the Rosebud on June 17. The Indians had left a single teepee standing (some reports mention a second that had been partially dismantled), and in it was the body of a Sans Arc warrior, Old She-Bear, who had been wounded in the battle. He had died a couple of days after the Rosebud battle, and it was the custom of the Indians to move camp when a warrior died and leave the body with its possessions.
The Lone Teepee is an important location for several reasons, including : It is where Custer gave Reno his final orders to attack the village ahead. It's also where some Indians who had been following the command were seen and Custer assumed he had been discovered. Many of the survivors' accounts use the Lone Teepee as a point of reference for event times or distances. Knowing this location helps establish the pattern of the Indians' movements to the encampment on the river where the soldiers found them. Battle Movement of the 7th Cavalry A: Custer B: Reno C: Benteen D: Yates E: Weir Reno's attack The first group to attack was Major Reno's second detachment, conducted after receiving orders from Custer written out by Lt. William W. Cooke, as Custer's Crow scouts reported Sioux tribe members were alerting the village. Ordered to charge, Reno began that phase of the battle. The orders, made without accurate knowledge of the village's size, location, or the warriors' propensity to stand and fight, had been to pursue the Native Americans and bring them to battle.

Reno's force crossed the Little Bighorn at the mouth of what is today Reno Creek around 3:00 pm. They immediately realized that the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne were present in force and not running away. Movement of Major Reno's three Companies Reno advanced rapidly across the open field towards the northwest, his movements masked by the thick bramble of trees that ran along the southern banks of the Little Bighorn river. The same trees on his front right shielded his movements across the wide field over which his men rapidly rode, first with two approximately forty-man companies abreast and eventually with all three charging abreast. The trees also obscured Reno's view of the Native American village until his force had passed that bend on his right front and was suddenly within arrow shot of the village. The tepees in that area were occupied by the Hunkpapa Sioux. Neither Custer nor Reno had much idea of the length, depth and size of the encampment they were attacking, as the village was hidden by the trees.

When Reno came into the open in front of the south end of the village, he sent his Arikara/Ree and Crow Indian scouts forward on his exposed left flank. Realizing the full extent of the village's width, Reno quickly suspected what he would later call "a trap" and stopped a few hundred yards short of the encampment. He ordered his troopers to dismount and deploy in a skirmish line, according to standard army doctrine. In this formation, every fourth trooper held the horses for the troopers in firing position, with five to ten yards separating each trooper, officers to their rear and troopers with horses behind the officers. This formation reduced Reno's firepower by 25 percent. As Reno's men fired into the village and killed, by some accounts, several wives and children of the Sioux leader, Chief Gall, mounted warriors began streaming out to meet the attack.

 Chief Gall

With Reno's men anchored on their right by the impassable tree line and bend in the river, the Indians rode hard against the exposed left end of Reno's line. After about 20 minutes of long-distance firing, Reno had taken only one casualty, but the odds against him had risen (Reno estimated five to one) and Custer had not reinforced him. Trooper Billy Jackson reported that by then, the Indians had begun massing in the open area shielded by a small hill to the left of the Reno's line and to the right of the Indian village. From this position the Indians mounted an attack of more than 500 warriors against the left and rear of Reno's line, turning Reno's exposed left flank. They forced a hasty withdrawal into the timber along the bend in the river. Here the Indians pinned Reno and his men down and set fire to the brush to try to drive the soldiers out of their position. Reno-Benteen Defensive Position After giving orders to mount, dismount and mount again, Reno told his men, "All those who wish to make their escape follow me," and led a disorderly rout across the river toward the bluffs on the other side. The retreat was immediately disrupted by Cheyenne attacks at close quarters.

 a Cheyenne warrior

Later Reno reported that three officers and 29 troopers had been killed during the retreat and subsequent fording of the river. Another officer and 13–18 men were missing. Most of these missing men were left behind in the timber, although many eventually rejoined the detachment. Reno's hasty retreat may have been precipitated by the death of Reno's Arikara Scout Bloody Knife, who had been shot in the head as he sat on his horse next to Reno, his blood and brains splattering the side of Reno's face.

 Bloody Knife

Atop the bluffs, known today as Reno Hill, Reno's shaken troops were joined by Captain Benteen's column, arriving from the south. This force had been on a lateral scouting mission when it had been summoned by Custer's messenger, Italian bugler John Martin with the hand-written message "Benteen. Come on, Big Village, Be quick, Bring packs. P.S. Bring Packs.". Benteen's coincidental arrival on the bluffs was just in time to save Reno's men from possible annihilation.
Their detachments were reinforced by McDougall's Company B and the pack train. The 14 officers and 340 troopers on the bluffs organized an all-around defense and dug rifle pits using whatever implements they had among them, including knives. This practice had become standard during the last year of the American Civil War, with both Union and Confederate troops utilizing knives, eating utensils, mess plates and pans, to dig effective battlefield fortifications. Despite hearing heavy gunfire from the north, including distinct volleys at 4:20 pm, Benteen concentrated on reinforcing Reno's badly wounded and hard-pressed detachment, rather than continuing on toward Custer. Benteen's apparent reluctance to reach Custer prompted later criticism that he had failed to follow orders. Around 5:00 pm, Capt. Thomas Weir and Company D moved out to make contact with Custer. They advanced a mile, to what is today Weir Ridge or Weir Point, and could see in the distance Native warriors on horseback shooting at objects on the ground. By this time, roughly 5:25 pm, Custer's battle may have concluded.

The conventional historical understanding is that what Weir witnessed was most likely warriors killing the wounded soldiers and shooting at dead bodies on the "Last Stand Hill" at the northern end of the Custer battlefield. Some contemporary historians have suggested that what Weir witnessed was a fight on what is now called Calhoun Hill. The destruction of Keogh's battalion may have begun with the collapse of L, I and C Company (half of it) following the combined assaults led by Crazy Horse, White Bull, Hump, Chief Gall and others. Other Native accounts contradict this understanding, however, and the time element remains a subject of debate. The other entrenched companies eventually followed Weir by assigned battalions, first Benteen, then Reno, and finally the pack train. Growing Native attacks around Weir Ridge forced all seven companies to return to the bluff before the pack train, with the ammunition, had moved even a quarter mile.

 White Bull

There, they remained pinned down for another day, but the Natives were unable to breach this tightly held position. Benteen displayed calmness and courage by exposing himself to Native fire and was hit in the heel of his boot by a Native bullet. At one point, he personally led a counterattack to push back Natives who had continued to crawl through the grass closer to the soldier's positions.

Custer's fight .

The precise details of Custer's fight are largely conjectural since none of his men survived the battle. The later accounts of surviving Indians were conflicting and unclear. While the gunfire heard on the bluffs by Reno and Benteen's men was probably from Custer's fight, the soldiers on Reno Hill were unaware of what had happened to Custer until General Terry's arrival on June 27. They were reportedly stunned by the news. When the army examined the Custer battle site, soldiers could not determine fully what had transpired. Custer's force of roughly 210 men had been engaged by the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne about 3.5 miles (6 km) to the north. Evidence of organized resistance included apparent breastworks made of dead horses on Custer Hill. By this time, the Lakota and Cheyenne had already removed most of their dead from the field. The soldiers identified the 7th Cavalry's dead as best as possible and hastily buried them where they fell. By the time troops came to recover the bodies, they found most of the dead stripped of their clothing, ritually mutilated, and in an advanced state of decomposition, making identification of many impossible. Custer was found with shots to the left chest and left temple. Either wound would have been fatal, though he appeared to have bled from only the chest wound, meaning his head wound may have been delivered post-mortem. He also suffered a wound to the arm. Some Lakota oral histories assert that Custer committed suicide to avoid capture and subsequent torture, though this is usually discounted since the wounds were inconsistent with his known right-handedness. His body was found near the top of Custer Hill, which also came to be known as "Last Stand Hill."

 Last Stand Hill

There the United States erected a tall memorial obelisk inscribed with the names of the 7th Cavalry's casualties. Several days after the battle, Curley, Custer's Crow scout who had left Custer near Medicine Tail Coulee, recounted the battle, reporting that Custer had attacked the village after attempting to cross the river. He was driven back, retreating toward the hill where his body was found. As the scenario seemed compatible with Custer's aggressive style of warfare and with evidence found on the ground, it was the basis of many popular accounts of the battle.

Atop Last  Stand Hill on the Custer Battlefied, four of the 7th Cavalry Crow scouts  pay tribute to those who fell with Custer. L-R: White-Man-Runs-Him, Hairy  Moccasin, Curly and Goes Ahead.(photograph by Rodman Wanamaker,  1913.)

According to Pretty Shield, the wife of Goes-Ahead (another Crow scout for the 7th Cavalry), Custer was killed while crossing the river: "...and he died there, died in the water of the Little Bighorn, with Two-bodies, and the blue soldier carrying his flag". In this account, Custer was allegedly killed by a Lakota called Big-nose. However, in Chief Gall's version of events, as recounted to Lt. Edward Settle Godfrey, Custer did not attempt to ford the river and the nearest that he came to the river or village was his final position on the ridge. Chief Gall's statements were corroborated by other Indians, notably the wife of Spotted Horn Bull.

 Spotted Horn Bull

Given that no bodies of men or horses were found anywhere near the ford, Godfrey himself concluded "that Custer did not go to the ford with any body of men". Cheyenne oral tradition credits Buffalo Calf Road Woman with striking the blow that knocked Custer off his horse before he died.

Custer at Minneconjou Ford

Having isolated Reno's force and driven them away from the encampment, the bulk of the native warriors were free to pursue Custer. The route taken by Custer to his "Last Stand" remains a subject of debate. One possibility is that after ordering Reno to charge, Custer continued down Reno Creek to within about a half mile (800 m) of the Little Bighorn, but then turned north, and climbed up the bluffs, reaching the same spot to which Reno would soon retreat. From this point on the other side of the river, he could see Reno charging the village. Riding north along the bluffs, Custer could have descended into a drainage called Medicine Tail Coulee, which led to the river. Some historians believe that part of Custer's force descended the coulee, going west to the river and attempting unsuccessfully to cross into the village. According to some accounts, a small contingent of Indian sharpshooters opposed this crossing. Lieutenant Colonel Custer and his U.S. Army troops are defeated in battle with Native American Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne on the Little Bighorn Battlefield, June 25, 1876 at Little Bighorn River, Montana. White Cow Bull claimed to have shot a leader wearing a buckskin jacket off his horse in the river. While no other Indian account supports this claim, if White Bull did shoot a buckskin-clad leader off his horse, some historians have argued that Custer may have been seriously wounded by him. Some Indian accounts claim that besides wounding one of the leaders of this advance, a soldier carrying a company guidon was also hit. Troopers had to dismount to help the wounded men back onto their horses. The fact that either of the non-mutilation wounds to Custer's body would have been instantly fatal casts doubt on his being wounded and remounted. Reports of an attempted fording of the river at Medicine Tail Coulee might explain Custer's purpose for Reno's attack, that is, a coordinated "hammer-and-anvil" maneuver, with Reno's holding the Indians at bay at the southern end of the camp, while Custer drove them against Reno's line from the north. Other historians have noted that if Custer did attempt to cross the river near Medicine Tail Coulee, he may have believed it was the north end of the Indian camp, although it was only the middle. Some Indian accounts, however, place the Northern Cheyenne encampment and the north end of the overall village to the left (and south) of the opposite side of the crossing. The location of the north end of the village remains in dispute, however. Custer's route over battlefield, as theorized by Curtis. Edward Curtis, the famed ethnologist and photographer of the Native American Indians, made a detailed personal study of the Battle, interviewing many of those who had fought or taken part in it. First he went over the ground covered by the troops with the three Crow scouts White Man Runs Him, Goes Ahead, and Hairy Moccasin, and then again with Two Moons and a party of Cheyenne warriors. He also visited the Lakota country and interviewed Red Hawk "whose recollection of the fight seemed to be particularly clear".[48]:44 Finally, he went over the battlefield once more with the three Crow scouts, but also accompanied by General Charles Woodruff "as I particularly desired that the testimony of these men might be considered by an experienced army officer".

White Man Runs Him, Goes Ahead and Hairy Moccasin

Finally, Curtis visited the country of the Arikara and interviewed the scouts of that tribe who had been with Custer's command. Based on all the information he gathered, Curtis concluded that Custer had indeed ridden down the Medicine Tail Coulee and then towards the river where he probably planned to ford it. However, "the Indians had now discovered him and were gathered closely on the opposite side". They were soon joined by a large force of Sioux who rushed down the valley. This was the beginning of their attack on Custer who was forced to turn and head for the hill where he would make his famous 'last stand'. Thus, wrote Curtis, "Custer made no attack, the whole movement being a retreat". Other historians claim that Custer never approached the river, but rather continued north across the coulee and up the other side, where he gradually came under attack. According to this theory, by the time Custer realized he was badly outnumbered, it was too late to break back to the south where Reno and Benteen could have provided assistance. Two men from the 7th Cavalry, the young Crow scout Ashishishe (known in English as Curley) and the trooper Peter Thompson, claimed to have seen Custer engage the Indians. The accuracy of their recollections remains controversial, as accounts by battle participants and assessments by historians almost universally discredit Thompson's claim. Archaeological evidence and reassessment of Indian testimony has led to a new interpretation of the battle. In the 1920s, battlefield investigators discovered hundreds of .45–55 shell cases along the ridge line, known today as Nye-Cartwright Ridge, between South Medicine Tail Coulee and the next drainage at North Medicine Tail (also known as Deep Coulee). Some historians believe Custer divided his detachment into two (and possibly three) battalions, retaining personal command of one while presumably delegating Captain George W. Yates to command the second. "Custer's Last Stand." Lieutenant Colonel Custer standing center, wearing buckskin, with few of his soldiers of the 7th Cavalry still standing. Evidence from the 1920s supports the theory that at least one of the companies made a feint attack southeast from Nye-Cartwright Ridge straight down the center of the "V" formed by the intersection at the crossing of Medicine Tail Coulee on the right and Calhoun Coulee on the left. The intent may have been to relieve pressure on Reno's detachment by withdrawing the skirmish line into the timber on the edge of the Little Bighorn River.

Had the US troops come straight down Medicine Tail Coulee, their approach to the Minneconjou Crossing and the northern area of the village would have been masked by the high ridges running on the northwest side of the Little Bighorn River. That they might have come southeast, from the center of Nye-Cartwright Ridge, seems to be supported by Northern Cheyenne accounts of seeing the approach of the distinctly white-colored horses of Company E, known as the Grey Horse Company. Its approach was seen by Indians at that end of the village. Behind them, a second company, further up on the heights, would have provided long-range cover fire. Warriors could have been drawn to the feint attack, forcing the battalion back towards the heights, up the north fork drainage, away from the troops' providing cover fire above. The covering company would have moved towards a reunion, delivering heavy volley fire and leaving the trail of expended cartridges discovered 50 years later. The "Last Stand" Custer's Last Stand by Edgar Samuel Paxson. In the end, the hilltop was probably too small to accommodate the survivors and wounded. Fire from the southeast made it impossible for Custer's men to secure a defensive position all around Last Stand Hill where the soldiers put up their most dogged defense. According to Lakota accounts, far more of their casualties occurred in the attack on Last Stand Hill than anywhere else. The extent of the soldiers' resistance indicated they had few doubts about their prospects for survival. According to Cheyenne and Sioux testimony, the command structure rapidly broke down, although smaller "last stands" were apparently made by several groups. Custer's remaining companies were soon killed. By almost all accounts, the Lakota annihilated Custer's force within an hour of engagement. David Humphreys Miller, who between 1935 and 1955 interviewed the last Lakota survivors of the battle, wrote that the Custer fight lasted less than one-half hour.


Other Native accounts said the fighting lasted only "as long as it takes a hungry man to eat a meal." The Lakota asserted that Crazy Horse personally led one of the large groups of warriors who overwhelmed the cavalrymen in a surprise charge from the northeast, causing a breakdown in the command structure and panic among the troops. Many of these men threw down their weapons while Cheyenne and Sioux warriors rode them down, "counting coup" with lances, coup sticks, and quirts. Some Native accounts recalled this segment of the fight as a "buffalo run."

Custer's final resistance

Recent archaeological work at the battlefield indicates that officers on Custer Hill restored some tactical control. E Company rushed off Custer Hill toward Little Big Horn River but failed, which resulted in total destruction, leaving behind some 50 to 60 men. The remainder of the battle took on the nature of a running fight. Modern archaeology and historical Indian accounts indicate that Custer's force may have been divided into three groups, with the Indians' attempting to prevent them from effectively reuniting. Indian accounts describe warriors (including women) running up from the village to wave blankets in order to scare off the soldiers' horses. One 7th cavalry trooper claimed finding a number of stone mallets consisting of a round cobble weighing 8–10 pounds (about 4 kg) with a rawhide handle, which he believed had been used by the Indian women to finish off the wounded. Fighting dismounted, the soldiers' skirmish lines were overwhelmed. Army doctrine would have called for one man in four to be a horseholder behind the skirmish lines and, in extreme cases, one man in eight. Later, the troops would have bunched together in defensive positions and are alleged to have shot their remaining horses as cover. As individual troopers were wounded or killed, initial defensive positions would have been abandoned as untenable. Under threat of attack, the first U.S. soldiers on the battlefield three days later hurriedly buried the troopers in shallow graves, more or less where they had fallen. A couple of years after the battle, markers were placed where men were believed to have fallen, so the placement of troops has been roughly construed. The troops evidently died in several groups, including on Custer Hill, around Captain Myles Keogh, and strung out towards the Little Big Horn River.

Last break-out attempt by 28 troopers

Modern documentaries suggest that there may not have been a "Last Stand", as traditionally portrayed in popular culture. Instead, archaeologists suggest that, in the end, Custer's troops were not surrounded but rather overwhelmed by a single charge. This scenario corresponds to several Indian accounts stating Crazy Horse's charge swarmed the resistance, with the surviving soldiers fleeing in panic. Many of these troopers may have ended up in a deep ravine 300–400 yards away from what is known today as Custer Hill. At least 28 bodies, including that of scout Mitch Bouyer, were discovered in or near that gulch, their deaths possibly the battle's final actions.

 Captain Myles Keogh (left) and scout Mitch Bouyer

Although the marker for Mitch Bouyer has been accounted for as being accurate through archaeological and forensic testing, it is some 65 yards away from Deep Ravine. Other archaeological explorations done in Deep Ravine have found no human remains associated with the battle. According to Indian accounts, about 40 men made a desperate stand around Custer on Custer Hill, delivering volley fire. The great majority of the Indian casualties were probably suffered during this closing segment of the battle, as the soldiers and Indians on Calhoun Ridge were more widely separated and traded fire at greater distances for most of their portion of the battle than did the soldiers and Indians on Custer Hill.

Aftermath

After the Custer force was annihilated, the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne regrouped to attack Reno and Benteen. The fight continued until dark (approximately 9:00 pm) and for much of the next day, with the outcome in doubt. Reno credited Benteen's leadership with repulsing a severe attack on the portion of the perimeter held by Companies H and M. On June 27, the column under General Terry approached from the north, and the Indians drew off in the opposite direction. The Crow scout White Man Runs Him was the first to tell General Terry's officers that Custer's force had "been wiped out."

Crow scout White Man Runs Him

Reno and Benteen's wounded troops were given what treatment was available at that time; five later died of their wounds. One of the regiment's three surgeons had been with Custer's column, while another, Dr. DeWolf, had been killed during Reno's retreat. The only remaining doctor was Assistant Surgeon Henry R. Porter. News of the defeat arrived in the East as the U.S. was observing its centennial. The Army began to investigate, although its effectiveness was hampered by a concern for survivors, and the reputation of the officers. The Battle of the Little Bighorn had far-reaching consequences for the Indians. It was the beginning of the end of the Indian Wars and has even been referred to as "the Indians' last stand" in the area. Within 48 hours after the battle, the large encampment on the Little Bighorn broke up into smaller groups because there was not enough game and grass to sustain a large congregation of people and horses. Oglala Sioux Black Elk recounted the exodus this way: "We fled all night, following the Greasy Grass. My two younger brothers and I rode in a pony-drag, and my mother put some young pups in with us. They were always trying to crawl out and I was always putting them back in, so I didn't sleep much."

 Black Elk

The scattered Sioux and Cheyenne feasted and celebrated during July with no threat from soldiers. After their celebrations, many of the Indians slipped back to the reservation. Soon the number of warriors who still remained at large and hostile amounted to only about 600. Both Crook and Terry remained immobile for seven weeks after the Bighorn battle, awaiting reinforcements and unwilling to venture out against the Indians until they had at least 2,000 men. Crook and Terry finally took the field against the Indians in August. General Nelson A. Miles took command of the effort in October 1876. In May 1877, Sitting Bull escaped to Canada. Within days, Crazy Horse surrendered at Fort Robinson. The Great Sioux War ended on May 7 with Miles' defeat of a remaining band of Miniconjou Sioux. Ownership of the Black Hills was determined by an ultimatum issued by the Manypenny Commission according to which the Sioux were required to cede the land to the United States if they wanted the government to continue supplying rations to the reservations. Threatened with starvation, the Indians ceded Paha Sapa to the United States, but the Sioux never accepted the legitimacy of the transaction. They lobbied Congress to create a forum to decide their claim and subsequently litigated for 40 years, and the United States Supreme Court in the 1980 decision United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians acknowledged that the United States had taken the Black Hills without just compensation. The Sioux refused the money subsequently offered and continue to insist on their right to occupy the land.

Participants 7th Cavalry officers at the Battle of the Little Bighorn

Commanding Officer: Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer (killed) Maj. Marcus Reno Adjutant: 1st Lt. William W. Cooke (killed) Assistant Surgeon George Edwin Lord (killed) Acting Assistant Surgeon James Madison DeWolf (killed) Acting Assistant Surgeon Henry Rinaldo Porter Chief of Scouts: 2nd Lt. Charles Varnum (detached from A Company, wounded) 2nd in command of Scouts: 2nd Lt. Luther Hare (detached from K Company) Pack Train commander: 1st Lt. Edward Gustave Mathey (detached from M Company) A Company: Capt. Myles Moylan, 1st Lt. Charles DeRudio[75] B Company: Capt. Thomas McDougall, 2nd Lt. Benjamin Hodgson (killed) as Adjutant to Major Reno C Company: Capt. Thomas Custer (killed), 2nd Lt. Henry Moore Harrington (killed) D Company: Capt. Thomas Weir, 2nd Lt. Winfield Edgerly E Company: 1st Lt. Algernon Smith (killed), 2nd Lt. James G. Sturgis (killed)[76] F Company: Capt. George Yates (killed), 2nd Lt. William Reily (killed) G Company: 1st Lt. Donald McIntosh (killed), 2nd Lt. George D. Wallace H Company: Capt. Frederick Benteen, 1st Lt. Francis Gibson I Company: Capt. Myles Keogh (killed), 1st Lt. James Porter (killed) K Company: 1st Lt. Edward Settle Godfrey L Company: 1st Lt. James Calhoun (killed), 2nd Lt. John J. Crittenden (killed) M Company: Capt. Thomas French

Native American leaders and warriors in the battle

Pretty Nose who, according to her grandson, was a woman war chief who participated in the battle. Hunkpapa (Lakota): Sitting Bull, Four Horns, Crow King, Chief Gall, Black Moon, Rain-in-the-Face, Moving Robe Woman, Spotted Horn Bull, Iron Hawk, One Bull, Bull Head, Chasing Eagle, Little Big Man
Sihasapa (Blackfoot Lakota): Crawler, Kill Eagle
Minneconjou (Lakota): Chief Hump, Black Moon, Red Horse, Makes Room, Looks Up, Lame Deer, Dog-with-Horn, Dog Back Bone, White Bull, Feather Earring, Flying By
Sans Arc (Lakota): Spotted Eagle, Red Bear, Long Road, Cloud Man
Oglala (Lakota): Crazy Horse, He Dog, Kicking Bear, Flying Hawk, Chief Long Wolf, Black Elk, White Cow Bull, Running Eagle, Black Fox II
Brule (Lakota): Two Eagles, Hollow Horn Bear, Brave Bird
Two Kettles (Lakota): Runs-the-Enemy
Lower Yanktonai (Dakota): Thunder Bear, Medicine Cloud, Iron Bear, Long Tree
Wahpekute (Dakota): Inkpaduta, Sounds-the-Ground-as-He-Walks, White Eagle, White Tracking Earth
Black Powder (Sioux Firearms trader): Black Powder, Johann Smidt
Northern Cheyenne: Two Moons, Wooden Leg, Old Bear, Lame White Man, American Horse, Brave Wolf, Antelope Women, Thunder Bull Big Nose, Yellow Horse, Little Shield, Horse Road, Bob Tail Horse, Yellow Hair, Bear-Walks-on-a-Ridge, Black Hawk, Buffalo Calf Road Woman, Crooked Nose, Noisy Walking
Arapahoes: Waterman, Sage, Left Hand, Yellow Eagle, Little Bird
Arapaho participation Modern-day accounts include Arapaho warriors in this fight, but the five Arapaho men were at the encampments only by accident. While on a hunting trip they came close to the village by the river and were captured and almost killed by the Lakota who believed the hunters were scouts for the US Army. Two Moon, a Northern Cheyenne leader, interceded to save their lives.

Native American warrior casualties

Native American casualties estimates have differed widely, from as few as 36 dead to as many as 300. The Sioux chief Red Horse told Col. W. H. Wood in 1877 that the Native American suffered 136 dead and 160 wounded during the battle. In 1881, Red Horse told Dr. C. E. McChesney the same numbers but in a series of drawings done by Red Horse to illustrate the battle, Red Horse drew only sixty figures representing Lakota and Cheyenne casualties. Of those sixty figures only thirty some are portrayed with a conventional Plains Indian method of indicating death.
Red Horse

In the last 140 years historians were able to identify multiple Indians names pertaining to the same individual which has greatly reduced previously inflated numbers. Today a list of positively known casualties exists that lists 99 names, attributed and consolidated to 31 identified warriors . Native American noncombatant casualties Six unnamed women and four unnamed children are known to have been killed at the beginning of the battle during Reno's charge. Among them were two wives and three children of the Hunkpapa Leader Pizi (Gall).

7th Cavalry casualties

The 7th Cavalry suffered 52 percent casualties: 16 officers and 242 troopers killed or died of wounds, 1 officer and 51 troopers wounded. Every soldier in the five companies with Custer was killed (except for some Crow scouts and several troopers that had left that column before the battle or as the battle was starting). Among the dead were Custer's brothers Boston and Thomas, his brother-in-law James Calhoun, and his nephew Henry Reed. In 1878, the army awarded 24 Medals of Honor to participants in the fight on the bluffs for bravery, most for risking their lives to carry water from the river up the hill to the wounded. Few on the non-Indian side questioned the conduct of the enlisted men, but many questioned the tactics, strategy and conduct of the officers. Indian accounts spoke of soldiers' panic-driven flight and suicide by those unwilling to fall captive to the Indians. While such stories were gathered by Thomas Bailey Marquis in a book in the 1930s, it was not published until 1976 because of the unpopularity of such assertions. Although soldiers may have believed captives would be tortured, Indians usually killed men outright and took as captive for adoption only young women and children. Indian accounts also noted the bravery of soldiers who fought to the death.

 "Sell or Starve" Main

As a result of the defeat in June 1876, Congress responded by attaching what the Sioux call the "sell or starve" rider (19 Stat. 192) to the Indian Appropriations Act of 1876 (enacted August 15, 1876) which cut off all rations for the Sioux until they terminated hostilities and ceded the Black Hills to the United States. The Agreement of 1877 (19 Stat. 254, enacted February 28, 1877) officially took away Sioux land and permanently established Indian reservations.

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