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The Battle of Little Big Horn: The Prelude to Disaster

It is hard to say how many years ago the Dakota Indians of the Northern Mississippi River began to spill over the Missouri in search of game, and became hostile toward the other tribes claiming the western country. Dakota was their traditional tribal name, but as they crossed this Northwestern Rubicon they became known by the name the Chippewas had given them years ago: "Sioux". It was by that moniker they became known as the most numerous and powerful nation of Native Americans -- warriors, women, and children -- to be found in the Northern Hemisphere. They were proud warriors when they launched

Chief Red Cloud

Chief Red Cloud

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

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

Brother against Brother: The Outbreak of the American Civil War

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

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

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

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

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

Proud Sioux Culture Demanded Something More Than Reservation Life

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

Sitting Bull

Chief Sitting Bull

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Approaching Clouds of War

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

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

Enter George Armstrong Custer

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

General George Custer

General George A. Custer, Commanding the 7th Cavalry at Little Big Horn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pride Comes Before the Fall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battle Map of Little Big Horn
Battle Map of the Battle of Little Big Horn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Custer's Last Stand

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

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

Map of Custer's Last StandMap Map of Custer's Last Stand

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

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

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

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

The Sole U.S. Army Survivor

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


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

Editorial Note: There are endless descriptions referring to this horse "Comanche" as the "only survivor of the Battle of Little Big Horn". Please remember that there were thousands of brave and victorious survivors among the Indian Nations. They won the battle and they survived the battle. They were fighting for their lands, their family, and maybe most of all, for their way of life. In the end, their cause was lost, and their battle in vain, but we must remember, and honor their skill, bravery, and honor at this great event in our history.

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

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

Terry and Gibbon had arrived. Reno's small remnant of the 7th cavalry had been saved. Together they reconnoitered the battlefield, and hastily buried their fallen comrades. They then hurried back to the Yellowstone while the Sioux were hiding in around the Big Horn. The Indians were shrewd enough to realize that Crook and Terry would be reinforced. They also realized that their victory would result in the US Army relentlessly pursuing them. As they heard that great numbers of troops were assembling near the Yellowstone and Platte, they took the only reasonable strategy that they could; the great Alliance of Indian Nations quietly dissolved. Sitting Bull, with many close associates, made for the Yellowstone, and was driven northward by General Miles. Others took refuge across the Little Missouri, where Crook pursued. With much hard pursuit, and even harder fighting, many bands and many famous chiefs were forced into submission that fall and winter. Among these, bravest, most skilled, most victorious of all, was the hero of the Powder River battle, the famed warrior Crazy Horse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battle of the Little Bighorn
Part of the Great Sioux War of 1876-77

Custer Massacre at BigHorn, Montana —
June 25, 1876, artist unknown
Date June 25–26, 1876
Location Near the Little Bighorn River, Big Horn County, Montana
Result Indian military victory

Northern Cheyenne
Arapaho United States
7th Cavalry Regiment
Sitting Bull
Crazy Horse
Chief Gall George A. Custer †,
Marcus Reno,
Frederick Benteen,
James Calhoun †
Believed to be 949 lodges (probably 900 – 1,800 warriors) 31 officers,
566 troopers,
15 armed civilians,
~35–40 scouts
Casualties and losses
Believed to be at least 36 killed, ~168 wounded
(according to Sitting Bull); or 136 killed, 160 wounded (according to Red Horse) ~268 killed (16 officers, 242 troopers, 10 civilians/scouts),
~55 wounded

George Armstrong Custer

George Armstrong Custer


Flamboyant in life, George Armstrong Custer has remained one of the best-known figures in American history and popular mythology long after his death at the hands of Lakota and Cheyenne warriors at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Custer was born in New Rumley, Ohio, and spent much of his childhood with a half-sister in Monroe, Michigan. Immediately after high school he enrolled in West Point, where he utterly failed to distinguish himself in any positive way. Several days after graduating last in his class, he failed in his duty as officer of the guard to stop a fight between two cadets. He was court-martialed and saved from punishment only by the huge need for officers with the outbreak of the Civil War.

Custer did unexpectedly well in the Civil War. He fought in the First Battle of Bull Run, and served with panache and distinction in the Virginia and Gettysburg campaigns. Although his units suffered enormously high casualty rates -- even by the standards of the bloody Civil War -- his fearless aggression in battle earned him the respect of his commanding generals and increasingly put him in the public eye. His cavalry units played a critical role in forcing the retreat of Confederate General Robert E. Lee's forces; in gratitude, General Philip Sheridan purchased and made a gift of the Appomatox surrender table to Custer and his wife, Elizabeth Bacon Custer.

In July of 1866 Custer was appointed lieutenant-colonel of the Seventh Cavalry. The next year he led the cavalry in a muddled campaign against the Southern Cheyenne. In late 1867 Custer was court-martialed and suspended from duty for a year for being absent from duty during the campaign. Custer maintained that he was simply being made a scapegoat for a failed campaign, and his old friend General Phil Sheridan agreed, calling Custer back to duty in 1868. In the eyes of the army, Custer redeemed himself by his November 1868 attack on Black Kettle's band on the banks of the Washita River.

Custer was sent to the Northern Plains in 1873, where he soon participated in a few small skirmishes with the Lakota in the Yellowstone area. The following year, he lead a 1,200 person expedition to the Black Hills, whose possession the United States had guaranteed the Lakota just six years before.

In 1876, Custer was scheduled to lead part of the anti-Lakota expedition, along with Generals John Gibbon and George Crook. He almost didn't make it, however, because his March testimony about Indian Service corruption so infuriated President Ulysses S. Grant that he relieved Custer of his command and replaced him with General Alfred Terry. Popular disgust, however, forced Grant to reverse his decision. Custer went West to meet his destiny.

The original United States plan for defeating the Lakota called for the three forces under the command of Crook, Gibbon, and Custer to trap the bulk of the Lakota and Cheyenne population between them and deal them a crushing defeat. Custer, however, advanced much more quickly than he had been ordered to do, and neared what he thought was a large Indian village on the morning of June 25, 1876. Custer's rapid advance had put him far ahead of Gibbon's slower-moving infantry brigades, and unbeknownst to him, General Crook's forces had been turned back by Crazy Horse and his band at Rosebud Creek.

On the verge of what seemed to him a certain and glorious victory for both the United States and himself, Custer ordered an immediate attack on the Indian village. Contemptuous of Indian military prowess, he split his forces into three parts to ensure that fewer Indians would escape. The attack was one the greatest fiascos of the United States Army, as thousands of Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors forced Custer's unit back onto a long, dusty ridge parallel to the Little Bighorn, surrounded them, and killed all 210 of them.

Custer's blunders cost him his life but gained him everlasting fame. His defeat at the Little Bighorn made the life of what would have been an obscure 19th century military figure into the subject of countless songs, books and paintings. His widow, Elizabeth Bacon Custer, did what she could to further his reputation, writing laudatory accounts of his life that portrayed him as not only a military genius but also a refined and cultivated man, a patron of the arts, and a budding statesman.

Countless paintings of "Custer's Last Stand" were made, including one mass-distributed by the Anheuser-Busch brewing company. All of these paintings -- as did the misnomer "the Custer massacre" -- depicted Custer as a gallant victim, surrounded by bloodthirsty savages intent upon his annihilation. Forgotten were the facts that he had started the battle by attacking the Indian village, and that most of Indians present were forced to surrender within a year of their greatest battlefield triumph.



Here, Custer's movements and those of the Lakota and Cheyenne are shown in the early phase of the fight on Custer field.

As Custer's soldiers were shot down, the Indian warriors tightened their encirclement of the command.

In about an hour's time, the Lakota and Cheyenne warriors encircled and killed all 210 men in Custer's immediate command.


In defense of Custer, some historians claim that some of the Indians were armed with repeating Spencer, Winchester rifles and Henry rifles, while the 7th Cavalry carried single-shot Springfield Model 1873 carbines, caliber .45-70.[44] These rifles had a slower rate of fire than the repeating rifles and tended to jam when overheated. The carbines had been issued with copper cartridges. Troopers soon discovered that the copper expanded in the breech when heated upon firing; the ejector would then cut through the copper and leave the case behind, thus jamming the rifle. Troopers were forced to extract the cartridges manually with knife blades; thus, the carbines were nearly useless in combat except as clubs. During Reno's fight, Captain French was reported to have sat in the open, completely exposed to native American gunfire, extracting jammed shells from guns, reloading, and then passing them back to troopers in exchange for other jammed weapons to clear.[45]
The Springfield Model 1873 was selected by the Army Ordnance Board after extensive testing in competition with other rifles. It was considered to be the most reliable rifle after multiple weathering tests. The choice of a single-shot rifle over repeat-firing rifles was the Army's choice to prevent overuse of ammunition, following its emphasis at that time on marksmanship, as well as the costs of transporting cartridges along a 1,000-mile (1,600 km) supply line. While Indian accounts of the Custer fight noted men throwing down their rifles, in panic or possibly anger, accounts of jammed Springfield carbines were not reported in other confrontations during the Indian Wars. The jamming could have been due to the men's lack of familiarity with the Springfields, as they had been issued only weeks before the Battle of the Little Bighorn.[46]
Additionally, subsequent archaeological excavations of the battlefield from 1983 to present have discovered evidence that cast light on the issue of jammed weapons. Fox, in 1993,[47] notes that only 3.4% (3 out of 88) of .45/55-caliber Springfield cartridge cases from the Custer battlefield and 2.7% (7 out of 257) cases from the Reno-Benteen field exhibit any indication they were pried from jammed weapons. These findings suggest accounts of jammed carbines were the result of misconception or a myth that grew after the defeat.
Indian accounts were documented in paintings on buffalo hides. They indicated a fight between Indian bows and arrows and cavalry pistols.[48] While this representation may support the claims of the Army's carbines' malfunctioning, the single-shot Springfield rifles used by the 7th had a much greater range than the Winchester and Henry rifles supposedly used by the Indians. Thus, if the troopers used skirmishers' covering fixed arcs of fire, the soldiers would have been able to keep the Indians at bay for some time. Indian leaders spoke of several of their charges against the soldiers' positions being repulsed, forcing the Indians to return to cover below the ridge.
As more Indians joined the fight, fire on Company L and Company C's two positions increased steadily in intensity. Indian accounts described warriors' rushing army positions with bright robes to induce panic in the cavalry mounts.[49] Another account related that soldiers (probably I Company, held initially in reserve over the crest of Finley Ridge) were rushed by warriors' waving blankets and by lone warrior "bravery runs," which forced troopers to choose between holding horse reins, or letting go to return fire. Soldiers aiming at oncoming Indians also had their hands pulled upwards by the frightened mounts, resulting in weapons discharged uselessly in the air. When horses' carrying ammunition packs were driven off, the Indians quickly gained control of them.
While some warriors were armed with rifles (including antiquated muzzle-loaders and Army Sharps carbines which they had acquired years before in trades with settlers), the Indians also carried a large variety of traditional weapons. These included bows and arrows and several styles of heavy, stone-headed war clubs. According to the Indian accounts, at least half of the Indian warriors were armed only with bows and "many arrows," making this the primary weapon.[50] Many of the Indian participants, including the thirteen year-old Black Elk, claimed to have acquired their first gun from dead troopers at the battle.[51] The Sioux warrior White Bull described the Indians' systematically stripping slain troopers of guns and cartridge belts. As the losses mounted among Custer's men, the soldiers' fire steadily decreased, while the gunfire by the Indians with newly acquired weapons increased until reaching a crescendo.[52] Cheyenne participants gave similar testimony: the Indians' firepower was increased by the new carbines they took off the soldiers, and ammunition recovered from the saddlebags of the troopers' captured horses.
Lakota and Cheyenne bows and arrows gave a deadly advantage over the troopers on the ridge due to the exposed terrain of the battlefield. Unlike the valley, the heights above the Little Bighorn River are considered completely unsuited for mounted troops. Custer's men were essentially trapped on higher ground, from which direct fire at the Indians through the high, dense brush would have been difficult. On the other hand, the Lakota and Cheyenne were able to shoot their arrows from heavy sagebrush below the ridge by aiming their arrows upward over obstacles at the puffs of smoke from the troopers' weapons. Their large volume of arrows ensured severe casualties. Many of the slain troopers were found with numerous arrows protruding from their bodies. Many also had crushed skulls, likely from the Indians' stone-headed war clubs.[53] Historians have not determined when the latter injuries occurred. Some accounts of the Indian wars describe Indian women coming onto the field after a battle and systematically bashing in the heads of the enemy dead and wounded alike.






Custer Statue: Monroe Michigan Pictures, Images and Photos

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Map of the Battle of The Little Bighorn

Here, Custer's movements and those of the Lakota and Cheyenne are shown in the early phase of the fight on Custer field.
As Custer's soldiers were shot down, the Indian warriors tightened their encirclement of the command.
In about an hour's time, the Lakota and Cheyenne warriors encircled and killed all 210 men in Custer's immediate command.


The 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 p.m.) 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.[60] On June 26, 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." 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;[61] the remaining doctor, Assistant Surgeon Henry R. Porter,[62] was assisted by interpreter Fred Gerard.
News of the defeat arrived in the East as the U.S. was observing its centennial,[63] and shocked people accustomed to battlefield victories and increasingly convinced of their inherent superiority and claim to manifest destiny. The Army began to investigate, although their effectiveness was hampered by a concern for survivors, and the reputation of the officers. There was public feeling for Custer's widow, Elizabeth Bacon Custer, and she fiercely protected her husband's reputation.[64] She lived until 1933, thus preventing much serious research until most of the evidence was long gone.[65]
From the Indian perspective, the aftermath of the Battle of the Little Bighorn had far-reaching consequences. It was the beginning of the end of the Indian Wars. The Indians camped on the Little Bighorn River knew that their victory over Custer would not be the end of conflicts.[citation needed] Their scouts reported that a large contingent of U.S. troops was still active in the area. On June 26 the Sioux and Cheyenne began to quickly pack their camps. Within 48 hours of their victory, they had dissolved and left the great Indian encampment.[66]
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.”[67]
The U.S. Army aggressively mounted a campaign to force remaining free Indians on to reservations. 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 Minneconju Sioux.[66]
As for the Black Hills, the Manypenny Commission structured an arrangement in which the Sioux would cede the land to United States or the government would cease to supply rations to the reservations. The Indian Commission entered negotiations supported by a company of soldiers and artillery. Under these conditions, the Indians ceded Paha Sapa to the United States.[68]
The Sioux did not consider the Battle of Little Bighorn a singular action. Rather, they saw it as one battle within a series of conflicts with the US Army that led directly to the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890.[citation needed] In this action, soldiers from the 7th Cavalry killed 146 Indian men, women and children and brought the Indian Wars to an end.


An Enduring Monument –
The Enigima Of Custer Hill

By John A. Doerner

Perhaps no other battle in American history captures the American

imagination more than Custer’s Last Stand. On a hot Sunday

afternoon in June 1876, hundreds of Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne, and

Arapaho warriors surrounded a small cluster of Seventh Cavalrymen,

who had shot their horses for breastworks, atop a high dusty knoll

above the Little Bighorn River. When the smoke and dust of battle

lifted, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and 209 members of his

immediate command lay dead. In the more than 125 years since that

fateful afternoon, the public’s fascination with the of story Custer’s

Last Stand continues to grow; forever engrained in the American

imagination. Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer has become an

American Icon, and household name.

Of the countless books written on the subject, few authors and

historians devote any ink to the immediate aftermath of the battle or

the ghastly discovery of Custer’s battalion by the Montana Column,

and subsequent burials, markers, and 7th Cavalry Memorials.

The topography of Custer Hill has undergone major alterations and

changes from its original appearance in 1876. Visitors to Little Bighorn

Battlefield today see a knoll that is has dramatically changed from over

125 years of War Department and National Park Service administrative

use and development. But the enigma of Custer Hill cannot be

addressed without also, retracing the rich and colorful history of that

special place.


Lt. Charles Francis Roe, Company F, 2nd Cavalry, Monday evening 26 June 1876 Just before Dusk:

“…In the rear of the main body of Indians, I could see a large extent of

country almost literally covered with horses and people, apparently

going in the direction of the Big Horn Mountains further south…We

also noticed, across the river [eastward], the bench lands and the

stream coming together to make a valley on the other side. On a hill

beyond this valley, a number of dark objects could be dimly seen;

looking at them for some time, we concluded that they were dead

(Little Bighorn Diary p.415

Lt. James H. Bradley, 7th Infantry, Commander of the Scouts, Tuesday Morning 27 June, 1876:

“I was usually in the advance of all his [Gibbon’s] movements and

chanced to be upon the morning of the 27th of June, when the column

was moving upon the supposed Indian village in the Little Bighorn

valley. I was scouting the hills some two or three miles to the left of the

column on the opposite bank of the river from that traversed by the

column itself, when the body of a horse attracted our attention to the

field of Custer’s fight, and hastening in that direction an appalling sight

was revealed to us of his entire command in the embrace of death. This

was the first discovery of the field, and a hasty count made of the slain,

resulting in the finding of 197 bodies reported by General

Terry…Probably never did a hero who had fallen upon the field of

battle appear so much to have died a natural death…He had died as he

had lived-a hero.” (Bradley p. 172-173)
(Slide: Lt. Bradley’s Discovery by O.C Seltzer)

A short while later, Lt. Bradley returned to the main column advancing

on the abandoned village and reported to Gen. Terry and Colonel

Gibbon with a trembled voice “I have counted one-hundred and ninety-

seven dead bodies lying in the hills…” “White men someone asked?”

“Yes,” White men.” (Willert p. 422)

The approaching dust from the Montana Column was observed that

fateful afternoon (27 June) by Reno’s command entrenched on the

bluffs. Lt. Hare and Lt. Wallace rode out to meet them and as they

drew closer quickly recognized Terry and Gibbon. Col. Gibbon

recalled that historic meeting: “…hands were grasped almost in silence,

but we questioned eagerly with our eyes, and one of the first things they

uttered was -‘Is General Custer with you?’…, Slowly General Terry

shook his head and informed them of the grave news. Lt. Godfrey

recalled that at first the arrival of Gen. Terry “was greeted with

prolonged hearty cheers…, but that “…the grave countenance of the

General awed the men to silence….” “Scarcely a dry eye. Hardly a

word was spoken, but quivering lips and hearty grasping of hands gave

token of thankfulness for the relief, and grief.” (Willert 422)

Lt. Roe recalled the historic meeting of the 7th Cavalry that morning on

June 27th: “Gen. Terry came up and Capt. Benteen asked Terry ‘If he

knew where Custer had gone?’ Terry replied ‘To the best of my

knowledge and belief he lies on this ridge about 4 miles below here with

all his command killed.’ Benteen replied: ‘I can hardly believe it. I

think he is somewhere on the Big Horn grazing his horses…At the

Battle of the Washita he went off and left part of his command and I

think he would do it again!’ Terry said: “I think you are mistaken, and

you will take your company and go down where the dead are lying and

investigate for your self.’ Benteen did this, Capt. Weir going along.

When Benteen cam back he was pale, and looked troubled and said ‘We

found them but I did not expect that we would.’” (Camp-Hammer BYU-217)

On Wednesday June 28th, Custer’s command received a hasty burial

where they fell. With only a few shovels available with the command,

the shallow burials were token at best. Stakes cut from abandoned tipi

poles served to mark the graves. Capt. Henry Nowlan, 7th Cavalry

drew a detailed map of the officer burials for future reference.

Major Marcus A. Reno’s vivid account recalls that ghastly scene:

“The scene at Custer’s battlefield was beyond description, and it filled

us with horror and anguish. The dead had been mutilated in the most

savage way…and lay as they had fallen.” …exposed to swarms of flies

and flesh-eating Crows, and the scene was rendered even more desolate

by the deep silence which seemed to hang like a weird mystery over the

battlefield.” Hardorff p. 97)

Frederick F. Gerard:
“…Custer was found on the highest point of the ridge where there was a little level place.” (Hardorff p. 98)

General Edward S. Godrey, 7th Cavalry:
“There were 42 men bodies and 39 dead horses on Custer Hill."

Private Jacob Adams, Co. H, 7th Cavalry:
“Custer lay within a circle of dead horses on a flat place at the end of the ridge. Tom Custer lay back of him and not near the horses.” (Hardorff p. 100)

Lt. George D. Wallace, 7th Cavalry:
“…on Custer Hill four or five men were piled in a heap beside a horse, Custer lying across one of the men.” (Hardorff p. 101)

Pvt. Thomas O’Neil, Co. G, 7th Cavalry:
“On June 28, the end of Custer Ridge, where the monument now stands, ran to a blunt peak. It was neither level nor sharp peaked. South end of ridge ran to a sharp peak.” (Hardorff p. 101)
“Vickory lay right near Gen. Custer.

Lt. Charles C. DeRudio, 7th Cavalry:
“Custer was found on the top of a conical hill where five or six horses lay as if to suggest a barricade. Empty shells were found behind the horses which were all sorrels of C Company…None in the Custer group had been scalped. Lieutenant Reily lay near Custer, and his body shot full of arrows.” (Hardorff p.101)

Pvt. Dennis Lynch, Co.F, 7th Cavalry:
“Vickory and Voss and Donovan lay near Custer. 14 F Troop enlisted men lay around Custer.” (Camp notes Hammer, BYU-387)

Col. Richard E. Thompson (Montana Column):
“I went with Benteen and H Company to the battlefield on June 27. The end of the ridge was a round hill; it was higher than the rest of the ridge. On this hill were dead horses for a barricade. Tom lay nearest the peak of this round hill.” (Hardorff p. 102)

General Edward J. McClernand (Montana Column):
“Where Custer monument now stands there was a level plot, 30 or 40 feet across-no more. This was the highest part of the ridge, in fact it was the top of a knoll. Going along the ridge from east to west there was quite a steep rise getting up to the knoll where Custer’s body lay. The bodies lay in a kind of half circle, convex toward east…the end of the ridge has been graded down and that at the time of the fight, Custer’s body must have lain as high as the top of the monument now is” (Hardorff p. 102)

“On top of Custer Hill was a circle of dead horses with a 30 foot diameter, which was not badly formed. Around Custer some 30 or 40 men had fallen, some of whom had evidently used their horses as breastworks…” (Hardorff p. 103)

Col. John Gibbon (Montana Column):
“Custer lay on the southwestern slope in a perfectly natural position as when asleep. His wounds could hardly be discovered. Numerous dead horses were lying along the southwestern slope of Custer Hill. On the very top were found four or five dead horses which were swollen, putrid, and offensive, their stiffened legs sticking straight out from their bodies. Close under the brow of the hill several horses are lying near together, and by the side of one of these Custer was found. The top of the knoll is only a few feet higher than the ridge.” (Gibbon p….)

General Charles F. Roe, 2nd Cavalry:
“Custer, nine men and officers were found lying behind their horses on the top of the ridge…Just west on the slope, in a very small space, we found 25 men and numerous horses all mixed together.” (Hardorff p. 102)

Capt. Michael Sheridan:
“I visited the field in July, 1877, to remove the officers bodies. Custer’s body was located a little to one side of the top of the ridge which was not wide enough to drive a wagon along. Where Custer was found, five or six horses had been killed.” (Hardorff p. 103)

· 1877

Lt. Col. (Capt.) Michael Sheridan Detail

Travelers passing through the Little Bighorn valley within three years

after the battle were shocked by the ghastly appearance of the

battlefield. The original 1876 burials were token at best. George and

Tom Custer were an exception. They were buried side by side but in a

shallow grave approximately 15 inches deep! With few shovels or

spades available, men were buried on top of the ground, where they

were found. The light ash-like soil quickly washed out after the first

Montana rains. Wolves and coyotes feasted on many of the gallant

dead, and cavalry horses, creating a ghastly scene so unlike the tranquil

battlefield experienced by visitors today.

Families and concerned citizens pleaded to have the House of

Representatives or U.S. Senate to “Establish a National Cemetery there,

so that the bodies all be cared for, or…that the bodies all be removed to

an existing National Cemetery.” (Rickey p.28)

Acting on these complaints, General Phillip H. Sheridan sprang to

action, ordering his brother and aid Lt. Col. (Captain) Michael Vincent

Sheridan, detached from the 7th Cavalry, to travel to the Custer

Battlefield and exhume the remains of Lt. Col. Custer and his officers,

and return them back to civilization for proper military burial. In a

May 7, 1877 letter to the Secretary of War, Gen. Sheridan informed the

Secretary that his brother was placed in charge of the reburial detail,

and requested $1,000.00 from the Army Contingency Fund to

accomplish the task.” (May 1877 Letter, Non-Accession File, Folder #

LIBI Library)
(Slide: Michael Sheridan)

Lt. Col. Michael Sheridan, under Special Order No. 40, Headquarters,

Military Division of the Missouri, May 16, 1877 was ordered to Saint

Paul, Minnesota and Bismarck, Dakota Territory, and the Missouri and

Yellowstone Rivers to the site selected for Cantonment No. 2 (Ft.

Custer) where he would receive special instructions. Lt. Col. Sheridan

arrived at Ft. Abraham Lincoln on May 21, 1877 and soon proceeded

upriver to the Custer Battlefield aboard the deep drafted steamer

Fletcher. Slowed by treacherous sandbars and the swift current of the

Yellowstone, he arrived at the new cantonment located at the mouth of

the Tongue River, garrisoning Col. Nelson Miles and his 5th Infantry

on June 20th. That same morning he was joined by Company I, 7th

Cavalry in command of Capt. Henry Nowlan, expedition

Quartermaster, and his new subaltern 2nd Lt. Hugh Scott. Capt.

Nowlan's service proved invaluable since he participated in the Battle

of the Little Bighorn, and the burial of Custer's command, marking the

sites with stakes cut from tipi poles supplied courtesy of Sitting Bull's

abandoned village, and drew a detailed map of the officer burials. (Gray p. 31)
(Slides: FarWest & Nowlan Map)

With the Fletcher, fully loaded with supplies, Sheridan ordered

Nowlan's command overland up the left bank of the Yellowstone to the

mouth of the Bighorn River, where they would be ferried across

to the south bank of the Yellowstone. Sheridan had loaned Nowlan's

command the noted scouts George A. Herendeen (who had been with

the 7th at the Little Bighorn) and Jack Baronette (noted for his cabin

and bridge built at the forks of the Yellowstone in Yellowstone National

Park). (Gray p.31) To Sheridan's surprise, Nowlan's command had

already crossed and were proceeding up the Bighorn valley. Sheridan

accompanied by an officer and orderly followed overland and soon

rendezvous with Nowlan. Arriving at Cantonment No. 2 (Ft. Custer) on

June 29. Col. Buell, 11th Infantry in command of the new post supplied

four ox wagons and prepared pine boxes to receive the officers remains.

Buell also provided his Crow interpreter Tom Leforge and eight Crow

Scouts, Little Bighorn veterans Corporal Half Yellow Face and Curly

among them. (Gray p.32). Due to the sensitivity of the gruesome task

ahead, reporters were prohibited. The detail left July 1st, after

traveling 12 miles, went into camp on the West Bank of the Little

Bighorn. On July 2nd they proceeded to the site of Sitting Bull's former

village and the Custer Battlefield, to begin the sad and grim task of

disinterment. By early July 3rd, the task was completed and the

remains of Lt. Col. Custer, Capt. Custer, Lt. Cooke, Capt. Keogh, Capt.

Yates, Lt. Reiley, Lt. Smith, Lt. McIntosh, and Lt. Calhoun were

exhumed and placed in pine boxes layered with freshly cut grass from

the field.
(Slides: )

Historic Accounts:

Col. Sheridan's vivid and important account of the job at hand is of

particular note: "All of the graves of both men and officers were

discovered without difficulty...all the evening [July 2nd] in camp

the soldiers were converting cedar boughs into stakes, or head boards

with which to mark the graves...each stake was cut just three feet long...

On the morning of the 3rd, a fatigue party was ordered out to exhume

and re-inter the remains of the soldiers who fell around Custer...Where

a little band had fought together and had fallen side-by-side or in a

heap, they had received burial in about the same order in which they

fell....There were no traces of flesh or corruption, and no odor, except

that which was wafted from the shoals of wild flowers blooming in the

valley below...." " In a few hours the thin layer of dirt had been

removed from the bones of over 200 soldiers, and the remains re-

interred in the same trenches, but rather more decently than

before...three feet of earth, tastefully heaped and packed with spade and

mallet, was put upon each set of remains, and the head marked by a

cedar stake." "....The grave of the Custers was near a summit of a little

knoll, right where the gallant soldier had taken his last stand. The

ground for two hundred feet around was filled with remains. Over

sixty men had been killed on that little elevation. The surface of the

knoll was strewn with the dry bones of horses, which had bleached to

the whiteness of ivory. From the position of these bones it was evident

to the observer that the horses had been shot for the purpose of forming

a breastwork. It looked as if the animals had been led into a position

describing a half circle and shot in their tracks." (Gray P.33)
Slide: Fouch Photo-1877)

The scout Jack Baronette reported to the press the following: "On the

slope of a ridge they found all the remains of the gallant Custer and his

officers, surrounded by the partially exposed and bleaching bones of

soldiers and their horses, fragments of clothing, shoes, and shod hooves

of horses...."the remains of Custer and most of his friends had evidently

been disturbed by coyotes and savages, and many of the skulls were

smashed to fragments, mingled and missing...still what was decided to

be, and they probably were, the main portion of the bones of Custer

and other officers were secured." (Gray p.33)

On July 4th, Sheridan departed the battlefield for the long journey

back to civilization aboard the Fletcher, arriving at Ft. Lincoln on July


The following one-page report was filed by an unknown officer:
"Remains of Officers taken up on Custer's Battle ground and brought to this Fort by the steamer Fletcher July 12, 1877 -
No. 1 Col. Cooke
No. 2 " Keogh
No. 3 " Custer
No. 4 Lt. Riley
No. 5 " Smith
No. 6 " Calhoun
No. 7 Gen'l Custer
No. 8 Capt. Yates
No. 9 Doct'r DeWolf
No. 10 Lieut. McIntosh

Scarcely had the dust of Sheridan’s column settled when on July 6th,

the Little Bighorn valley was hit with a fierce hail and thunderstorm

that quickly washed out the mounded graves, undoing days of tedious


Two weeks later, General Phillip H. Sheridan, out on a western

inspection and hunting excursion, and under escort by Major Verling

K. Hart and the 5th Cavalry, visited the Custer Battlefield. The rains

had completely undone the work entrusted to his brother. Gen.

Sheridan ordered his secretary Lt. Col. George A. Forsyth and Major

Hart to once again police the field with 60 troopers divided into three

details. They spent four hours reburying 17 skeletons, and remounded

all the graves with the ashy soil. (Gray p.36) Lt. John G. Bourke

commented "It was hard to go ten yards in any direction without

stepping on portions of human anatomy."

It is important to note that General Sheridan had been instrumental in

the future legislative birth of the Custer Battlefield as a National

Cemetery. In a follow up report of his recent visit he stated: “…that it

has been my intention to ask [General Sherman] this spring [1878] to

have the spot set off as a national cemetery, if possible…” (Rickey P. 29)

By the fall of 1878, renewed outrage from the public and press on the

horrid condition of the battlefield had again pressured the War

Department to action.

Acting on Gen. Sheridan’s recommendation, Quartermaster General

Montgomery C. Meigs on October 16, 1878 recommended to the

Secretary of War “That a monument be erected at the site and all the

remains of the soldiers be interred in a common grave underneath the

shaft.” (Rickey 29)

In the interim, on October 29th General Alfred H. Terry, commander,

Department of Dakota, directed Lt. Col. Buell at Ft. Custer to take

action by gathering all the remains under a “substantial pyramid of

loose stones to secure them from future animal depredations.” Terry’s

directive arrived at Ft. Custer three weeks later, too late to take

immediate action because the Montana winter had already set in. (Gray P. 37)

Finally on January 29, 1879, the Secretary of War ordered the

establishment of a National Cemetery of the 4th Class. The monument

recommended and spearheaded by Gen. Meigs was ordered to be built,

delivered, and erected on the Custer Battlefield.

With the arrival of spring, Lt. Col. A.G. Bracket, 2nd Cavalry, the new

post commander sprang to action, ordering Capt. G.K. Sanderson, 11th

Infantry to carry out Terry’s October directive. The following detailed

report by Capt. Sanderson is of historical note:

Fort Custer, M.T. April 7, 1879

Post Adjutant
Sir: I have the honor to report that in obedience to instructions I went

to Custer Battlefield to carry out orders in regard to the graves at that

point. I found it impossible to obtain rock within a distance of five

miles. I accordingly built a mound as illustrated below (Slide 1879 Cord

wood Monument) out of cord wood filled in the center with all the horse

bones I could find on the field. In the center of the mound I dug a grave

and interred all the human bones that could be found, in all parts of

four or five different bodies. This grave was then built up with wood for

four feet above the ground, well covered, and the mound built over and

around it. The mound is ten feet square and about eleven feet high; is

built on the highest point immediately in rear of where Gen'l Custer's

body was found.

Instead of disturbing any remains, I carefully remounded all

graves that could be found. AT each grave a stake was driven, where

those that had previously placed had fallen. Newspaper reports to the

effect that bodies still lay exposed are sensational. From a careful

searching of the entire ground the remains now buried beneath the

mound were all that could be found. I believe the large number of

horse bones lying over the field have given rise to some of such

statements, and do prevent any such statements being made in the

future, I had all the horse bones gathered together and placed in the

mound where they can not be readily disturbed by curiosity seekers.

The ground to the north and east of the field was well searched

for six miles in each direction, but no trace of any remains were found,

nor anything to indicate that any persons were killed in that direction.

The whole field now presents a perfectly clean appearance, each grave

being remounded and all animal bones removed.

I would respectfully suggest that if it is the intention of the

government to do anything further to mark the spot, that a stone wall

be built around where the mound now stands-stone can be quarried

within 100 yards; that either all the remains be gathered together and

placed in one grave and a stone mound be built over it, or that stone

headstones be placed at each grave as they now are. Either would make

an enduring monument.”
If any of the suggestions made are acted upon, it should be done as soon as practicable.
(Here follows photographs of the mounds)
I am your obedient servant,
G.K. Sanderson
Capt., 11th Infantry

One of the photographs attached to Sanderson’s report was a

steroview of the 1879 Cord Wood Monument, taken by the noted

frontier photographer Stanley J. Morrow, of Yankton & Deadwood,

D.T.. Noted for his “1876 Crook Starvation March” photographs,

Morrow had been the post photographer at Fort Custer from the fall of

1878 to May 5, 1879. (Gray P. 38) He took a series of nine important

photographs that today provide us with an important visual record of

Sanderson’s historic work that year.
(Morrow Slides)

That same year (1879), the long awaited and first enabling

legislation occurred on August 1st with General Order No. 78, Head

Quarters of the Army which proclaimed Custer Battlefield a National

Cemetery of the 4th Class.

1881 Monument:

Earlier on February 21, 1879 Alexander McDonald of the Mount

Auburn Marble and Granite Works, Cambridge, MA was awarded the

Ward Department contract for the long awaited 7th Cavalry

Monument. The 36,000-pound granite monument consisting of a large

truncated three-section pyramid at a cost of $550.00 plus 17 ½ cents for

each letter cut thereon (Rickey p.61)

The newly completed monument was shipped to Governors Island, NY

arriving there on August 18, 1879. The monument was then shipped up

River to Troy NY to begin its journey west via the Erie Canal and

Great Lakes. Unloaded at Duluth, MN the monument was sent

overland to the Northern Pacific Rail Road Station at Carlton and

loaded aboard A NPRR car for transfer west to Bismarck, D.T. In

June 1880, at Bismarck, it was loaded aboard the River Steamer F.Y.

Batchellor Captained by Grant Marsh and made the final journey

upriver via the Missouri, Yellowstone and finally the Bighorn River,

where it was unloaded at the Ft. Custer Landing
(Camp Hammer, BYU-225)

Lt. Roe’s detailed report of the monuments final journey to Custer
Battlefield is of particular historical note:

Fort Custer, M.T.
August 6th, 1881.
Asst. Adjt General,
Dept. of Dakota
Fort Snelling, Minn.


I have the honor to inform you, that in the month of February

last, I volunteered (Colonel Davidson 2d Cavalry, then Commanding

Post) to move the stones composing the Custer Monument, from the

bank of the Bighorn River to Custer Battlefield at once, and to erect the

monument at such time as it would be convenient.

The stones weighed respectfully (14,000) fourteen thousand lbs.

(12,000) twelve thousand lbs. And (10,000) ten thousand lbs. I

constructed a sledge, by making two (2) runners, ten (10) feet long,

eight (8) inches square and placing a platform on same of four (4) inch

lumber well bolted down, and putting the front axle of a government

wagon through the front ends of runners. The first stone weighing

seven (7) tons was placed on sledge eighteen (18) mules hitched to it,

and the stone moved twice across the Little Bighorn on the ice but

stalled badly on the coming out at second crossing. The axle not

working well, two (2) iron cleaises were put through end of runners and

twelve (12) mules hitched to each runner, making four (4) abreast,

twenty-four (24) in all. The stone was then moved with little difficulty

to Custer Hill, after making a third crossing of Little Bighorn on the


The two (2) other stones were moved in the same manner, each

crossing the river three (3) times on ice and occupying in all about eight

(8) days.

Since the frost has been out of the ground, it has not been

practicable to do anything towards the erection of the monument,

owing to troops being on detached service and other duties until July

7th, when I applied to Commanding Officer of Post, for a troop of

Cavalry, to be placed at my disposal to erect the monument and do such

work as might be necessary in connection therewith. Captain

Sanderson Commanding Post, detailed Troop “C” 2d Cavalry,

commanded by 2d Lieutenant Fuller 2d Cavalry and gave me such

material and so forth as was required. On the Custer Hill I built a

derrick crane of ash, cut on Little Bighorn River, and stayed it by guys

attached to dead men or posts, at different angles, and constructed also

a capstan about (30) feet from foot of derrick, to work with mules, so

that the rope (two 2 inch) passed over sheakes to the capstan, (ss

drawing “A”) and the stones were moved into position, with

comparatively little trouble.

I placed the monument on the point of the hill within six (6) feet

of the place where the remains of General Custer were found after the


I had a hole dug eight (8) feet square and six (6) feet deep and

then filled it in, with a concrete of stone and mortar making it perfectly

solid, which brought the foundation to the surface of the ground, on

that I built a foundation of large flat stones seven (7) feet square and

two and a half feet above the surface; binding it (the upper foundation)

together by four (4) iron rods running each way with iron plate washers

on the outside, so that it will probably last for a great many years. The

whole foundation is represented in drawing “B” attached”

The stones were then placed in position and a trench dug ten (10)

feet from the base of the monument on four (4) sides, for the remains. I

took great pains in gathering together all the remains from the Custer

Battlefield, Reno Hill and the valley, giving it my personal attention and

scouting very thoroughly over the whole ground and miles back, so that

I feel confident all the remains are gathered together and placed at base

of monument, stone put immediately on top of remains, and then earth,

so that now they are well buried and will never be exposed again in all

human probability. It was impracticable to place remains in crypt or

tomb under monument, as the stone was such nature as only to make a

good solid foundation.

Whenever I found the remains of a man, I planted a stake, well

into the ground, so that future visitors can see where the men actually

fell. The earth was mounded up against the monument so as to cover

the built foundation and gives it the appearance of being on a mound.

The work was completed on the 29th of July and the monument

completed has the appearance represented in drawing “C” hereto

attached, it has two hundred and sixty one names cut on the four faces

of the two upper stones and bears the inscription on one face of lower


“In memory of Officers and Soldiers who fell near this place

fighting with the 7th United States Cavalry against Sioux Indians on the

25th and 26th of June A.D. 1876”

I take this opportunity of commending Mr. Irishman,

Wheelwright, and Private Bannon “F” Troop 2d Cavalry, stonemason,

for their intelligent assistance and zeal.

The remains of Lieutenant Crittenden were well buried where he

fell and the stone sent by his father put in position. I understand such

to be his wish.
Very respectfully,
Your obdt. Servant,

/s/ Chas. F. Roe.

1st Lieut. & adjt. 2d Cavalry
(LIBI Nat’l Archives Non-Acc. File, Folder 230

Years later the noted historian Walter Camp questioned Gen. Roe

about the 1881 burial and Custer Hill “When [he] buried remains

around the monument did ridge rise to a peak and was wide level place

formed at the monument. Roe replied: “No, ridge was level originally.”

Camp: “Had any grading been done when remains buried in 1878

[1879]?” Roe: “No!”
(Slides Roe’s Sketches)
(1881 Monument D.F.Barry)

· 1883 Fence:

Sadly, within just two years after the 7th Cavalry Monument was

erected, the monument was heavily damaged by visitors and the

weather. Col. John Hatch, Commander, Ft. Custer reported in 1882

that the stone monument needed re-facing caused by “… weather and

relic hunters!” (Rickey p. 111). The work was completed by civilian

stone cutters who beveled the four-sided monument and re-carved the

261 names and inscriptions at a cost of $100.00. A fence was also

erected at a cost of $800.00. (Letter from Rufus Ingallis, QM General to

Chief QM, Dept. of Dakota, Ft. Snelling, MN, June 15, 188

· 1886 Boundary Established:

In 1886 the Custer Battlefield was surveyed to establish the actual

boundaries within the Crow Reservation, setting aside an area one

square mile.

· 1888 Fetterman/Ft. Phil Kearny Burials:

In 1888, Custer Hill underwent a little known and major historic

change that must have proved very confusing to the public. Under the

supervision of Capt. John H. French and Company H, 25th Infantry,

111 interments from the historic Fetterman Fight & Ft. Phil Kearny

Cemetery were actually re-interred from the long abandoned military

post in three neat rows adjacent (south) of the 7th Cavalry Monument!

the detail also spent considerable policing up the battlefield. A short-

lived wrought iron fence, complete with gate was erected by the War

Department to enclose the remains. The noted historian Walter Mason

Camp and stalwart of the battlefield and Indians Wars, concerned

about maintaining the historical integrity of Custer Hill, alerted Mrs.

Custer and General Godfrey however while the fence was removed, the

headstones remained until they were finally transferred to Section B,

Custer National Cemetery shortly after 1926. (Rickey p. 53)

· 1890 Capt. Owen Sweet Detail/7th Cavalry Markers Erected:

1890 marked a significant year in the administrative history of the

battlefield. Earlier in 1889 Senator Beck of Kentucky was escorted over

the Custer Battlefield by James Campbell, Civilian Scout, stationed at
Ft. Custer. Concerned about the lack of appropriate headstones for the

soldiers, Sen. Beck spearheaded an appropriation bill to provide

standard government regulation marble headstones for the battlefield.

In May 1890, Captain Owen J. Sweet, 25th Infantry, aided by scout

James Campbell and a detail from D Company, 25th Infantry erected

249 headstones at the original burial locations for Custer’s command.

Sweet reported that upon arrival on the battlefield he could find only

217 original graves marked, and spent considerable time and effort

locating the missing 29 bodies located by daily deployment of his men in

skirmish line formation and covering a two square mile area. Sweet in

his official May 15, 1890 reported: “Our efforts were rewarded

throughout, and on the 12th ist., the last of the 29 missing bodies was

found and buried, and the last headstone erected. All the headstones

for the men bear this inscription: U.S. SOLDIER, 7TH U.S. CAVALRY

FELL HERE JUNE 25, 1876.”

An interesting entry by an unknown War Department employee

provides important insight into the battlefield’s early administrative

history, including early problems faced by War Dept. staff with

vandalism to the new markers by visitors:

“February 1, 1896 General Custer’s stone entirely carried away &

wooden cross that is there now fas [sic [disappearing.”

August 6, 1906: “Supt. Grover erected Wooden Cross at General

Custer’s place 12 years ago.” (1894)

· In approximately 1911 a 20,000-gallon wood Water Cistern was

built on the North Slope of Custer Hill to supply water to Custer

Battlefield. On March 25, 1911 one “Water Wagon” was received for

filling the cistern.

· 1915 Road work/grading:

In 1915 improvements were made to Custer National Cemetery, Custer

Hill, and Battle Ridge with the addition of a graveled road from the

Stone Lodge (White Swan Memorial Library) Cemetery Street, Custer

Hill, and Calhoun Hill. The battlefield road was also widened out to 12’

from Custer Hill to Calhoun Hill to better accommodate the increased

use of automobiles. (Rickey p. 111)

· 1930 Custer Hill/Last Stand Fence:

Earlier in 1915 Custer Battlefield Superintendent Eugene Wesinger,

concerned about increased vandalism (chipping) to the 1890 7th

Cavalry headstones by the public, recommended to his superiors in

Washington D.C., the installation of an iron fence: “…a neat iron fence,

high enough to keep out anybody, be placed around the Markers of

Custer’s Last Stand.” (Rickey p.112) However, it wasn’t until 1930 that

action was finally taken by the War Department with the installation of

a low profile wrought iron fence, to enclose the Custer’s Last Stand


· 1938
The old military road was upgraded.

· 1941

In 1941 the battlefield tour road to the Reno-Benteen Battlefield was

completely graveled, providing a much better roadbed, however it was

closed during wet weather. (Rickey p.98)

Another memorable event occurred on April 9th of that year, when

NPS maintenance workers while digging a drainpipe for the cistern

tank, discovered a large Cavalry Horse Grave just to the rear of the

reservoir! Battlefield Superintendent Edward S. Luce requested the

assistance of Lt. Col. Elwood L. Nye, noted veterinarian, who at the

time was teaching hippology at the U.S. Military Academy, at West

Point NY. However, due to the outbreak of WWII, it wasn’t until 1946

when an excavation of the site occurred. Among the finds were

skeletons of 10 cavalry horses, a pair of cavalry boots complete with toe

bones, and bullet pierced tin hard cracker boxes stamped “C.L.

Woodman & Company! Luce & Nye estimated the horse grave to be

approx. 50’ x 20’ x 5’, and recommended a fence be erected to

commemorate the site of the revered cavalry horses.


· 100,000 gallon water tank installed below ground just south of

7th Cavalry Monument in order to update the battlefield's water supply

and provide adequate drinking water for the new visitor center.

In response to increased visitation and usage, the old military road

which was last upgraded during the War Department years in 1938,

was widened and graveled in order to provide visitors with a safer and

more user-friendly al-season modern roadway.

· 1954

In 1954 the road was sprayed with a special dust palliative oil to

minimize dust during the dry season. (Rickey P.98)

· 1962 Summer Road Work

In response to increased visitation, the old military road which dated

back to 1938, was graded, graveled, and paved, including the new

visitor center parking lot under (Struder Contract).


The 7th Cavalry Monument Fence was removed, as vandalism was no

longer considered a serious threat to the monument.

But what did Custer Hill look like in 1876? While we may never be

able to answer that question with 100% accuracy, we can however,

come fairly close with the help of the historical record, and through

the historical geology of the Little Bighorn valley.

Historical Geology:

The topography of Custer Hill is the result of millions of years of

geologic forces of uplifting, submersion, glaciation, and erosional forces,

the most recent, during the late Pleistocene Period (approx. 100,000 to

10,000 years ago). The Little Bighorn valley geologically speaking, is an

alluvial plain on which the Little Bighorn River is entrenched. The

resulting erosional forces have created a rugged topography of ravines,

and gullies overburdened by light ashy-like soil above a bed of light tan

colored Parkman Sandstone.

Surprisingly, the mystery of what Custer Hill may have looked like in

1876, is actually, plainly evident in the surrounding topography! In my

quest for the answer to the enigma of Custer Hill, I began to see

similarities in the surrounding ridges; specifically in what is actually an

extension of "Battle Ridge" (the area north of Custer Hill). The ridges

in the immediate area terminate very similarly, through the geologic

forces of erosion. The familiar hogback or conical knoll is present in

virtually ever knoll in the surrounding area!


In closing, a statement by Col. Nelson A. Miles, is appropriate here.

Col. Miles was a loyal friend of Lt. Col. Custer, and visited the

battlefield in 1878, accompanied by Custer’s Crow scouts and Lakota

Sioux who had participated in the battle two years earlier. In his

autobiography A Personal Recollection of General Nelson A. Miles he

penned the following observation of his visit:

“As the lips of Custer and those that died with him are forever

sealed….It is one of the saddest and greatest sacrifices that was ever

made by heroic men on any battlefield. No man of military knowledge

in riding over this field now, and examining the position that Custer

quickly took upon that crest commanding the valley, could fail to

recognize the military ability of that commander; and those graves

remain as monuments to the fortitude of men who stood their ground.”

(Nelson A. Miles, Personal Recollection of General Nelson A. Miles, P. 290)

The enigma of Custer Hill is rich and colorful. Today that high knoll

stands stoically silent above the Little Bighorn valley. Topped with the

historic 7th Cavalry Monument and cluster of 52 white marble

markers; the knoll will forever bear mute testimony to that horrific

Sunday afternoon in June, 1876 when that peaceful Montana hillside

forever changed two dynamic, opposing cultures, and left us an

enduring monument.