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Battle of the Little Bighorn

The Battle of the Little Bighorn (The Battle of the Greasy Grass)
Part of the Great Sioux War of 1876–77

"The Custer Fight" by Charles Marion Russell.
Date June 25–26, 1876
Location Near the Little Bighorn River, Big Horn County, Montana
Result Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho victory
United States
Commanders and leaders
Sitting Bull
Crazy Horse
Chief Gall
Lame White Man
Two Moon

Marcus Reno
Frederick Benteen
Myles Keogh
James Calhoun
900–2,500 647
Casualties and losses
36-136 estimated killed
160 wounded
268 killed
55 wounded
Little Big Horn Battlefield is located in Montana
Little Big Horn Battlefield
Little Big Horn Battlefield
Location within Montana

The Battle of the Little Bighorn, known to Great Sioux War varied at the time. The battle, and Custer's actions in particular, have been studied extensively by historians.[2]


  • Background 1
  • Prelude 2
    • 7th Cavalry organization 2.1
  • Military assumptions prior to the battle 3
    • Number of Indian warriors 3.1
    • The role of Indian noncombatants in Custer's strategy 3.2
  • Battle engagements 4
    • Reno's attack 4.1
      • Reno and Benteen on Reno Hill 4.1.1
    • Custer's fight 4.2
      • Custer at Minneconjou Ford 4.2.1
      • Other views of Custer's actions at Minneconjou Ford 4.2.2
    • The "Last Stand" 4.3
    • Custer's final resistance 4.4
    • Last break-out attempt by 28 troopers 4.5
    • Aftermath 4.6
  • Battle participants 5
    • 7th Cavalry officers at the Battle of the Little Bighorn 5.1
    • Native American leaders and warriors in the battle 5.2
    • Notable scouts/interpreters in the battle 5.3
    • Arapaho participation 5.4
  • Order of battle 6
  • Casualties 7
    • Native American casualties 7.1
    • 7th Cavalry casualties 7.2
    • Civilians killed 7.3
  • Legacy 8
    • Reconstitution of the 7th Cavalry – July 1876 8.1
    • The expansion of the US Army 8.2
    • "Sell or Starve" 8.3
  • Battle controversies 9
    • Reno's conduct 9.1
    • Custer's errors 9.2
    • Admiration for Custer 9.3
  • Weapons used at the Battle of the Little Bighorn 10
    • Lakota and Cheyenne 10.1
    • 7th Cavalry 10.2
    • Lever-action Repeaters vs. Single-action Breechloaders 10.3
      • Model 1873 Springfield carbine and the US Army 10.3.1
      • Malfunction of the Springfield Carbine extractor mechanism 10.3.2
  • The Gatling gun controversy 11
  • Battle survivor claims 12
  • Battlefield preservation 13
  • Battle of the Little Bighorn in popular culture 14
    • In paintings 14.1
    • In film, television and on radio 14.2
    • In fiction 14.3
    • In music 14.4
    • In video games 14.5
  • See also 15
  • References 16
  • Notes 17
  • Further reading 18
  • External links 19


Tension between the native inhabitants of the Great Plains and the encroaching settlers resulted in a series of conflicts known as the Sioux Wars. Even though many agreed to relocate to ever-shrinking reservations, some resisted.[3] In 1875, Sitting Bull created the Sun Dance alliance between the Lakota and the Cheyenne and a large number of "Agency Indians" who had slipped away from their reservations to join them.[4] During a Sun Dance around June 5, 1876, on the Rosebud Creek in Montana, Sitting Bull reportedly had a vision of "soldiers falling into his camp like grasshoppers from the sky."[5] At the same time, military officials were conducting a summer campaign to force the Lakota and Cheyenne back to their reservations, using infantry and cavalry in a three-pronged approach.

  • Custer Battlefield Museum, Garryowen, Montana
  • Map of Battle of Little Bighorn, Part III.
  • Map of Battle of Little Bighorn, Part IV. Indians.
  • Map of Battle of Little Bighorn, Part V.
  • Map of Battle of Little Bighorn, Part VI.
  • Map of Battle of Little Bighorn, Part VII. Custer's Last Stand.
  • Map of Indian battles and skirmishes after the Battle of Little Bighorn. 1876-1881.
  • Battle field related
    • Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
    • Friends of the Little Bighorn Battlefield
  • Portals
    • The Little Big Horn Associates – includes a bibliography and articles, as well as many general and commercial links
    • – site for traditional scholarship with sources and videos
  • First-person accounts
    • The Battle of Little Bighorn: An Eyewitness Account by the Lakota Chief Red Horse
    • An eyewitness account by Tantanka Iyotake (Lakota Chief Sitting Bull), NY Times archive pdf.
    • Complete transcript of the Reno Court of Inquiry
    • 100 Voices: Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Crow, Arikara and American eyewitness accounts of the Battle of the Little Bighorn
  • Lists of participants
    • Friends Of The Little Bighorn Battlefield – Battle information, including names of 7th Cavalry soldiers and warriors who fought in the battle.
    • Muster Rolls of 7th U.S. Cavalry, June 25, 1876
  • Custer Battlefield Historical and Museum Association
  • Kenneth M. Hammer Collection on Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn (Harold G. Andersen Library, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater)
  • Custer's Last Stand — An American Experience Documentary

External links

  • Barnard, Sandy, Digging into Custer's Last Stand. Huntington Beach, California: Ventana Graphics, 1998. ISBN 0-9618087-5-6.
  • Brininstool, E. A., Troopers With Custer. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 1994. ISBN 0-8117-1742-9.
  • Chiaventone, Frederick J., A Road We Do Not Know: A Novel of Custer at the Little Bighorn. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996. ISBN 0-684-83056-6.
  • Connell, Evan S., Son of the Morning Star. New York: North Point Press, 1984. ISBN 0-86547-510-5.
  • Cornut, David. Little Big Horn: Autopsie d'une bataille légendaire. Parçay-sur-Vienne: Anovi, 2012. ISBN 978-2-360351-34-3
  • Dickson, Ephriam D. III. "Prisoners in the Indian Camp: Kill Eagle's Band at the Little Bighorn," Greasy Grass 27 (May 2011): 3–11.
  • Donovan, James, A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn. Little, Brown, and Co. ISBN 978-0-316-15578-6.
  • Dustin, Fred, The Custer Tragedy: Events Leading Up to and Following the Little Big Horn Campaign on 1876. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Edwards Brothers, 1939.
  • Elliot, M.A. Custerology: The Enduring Legacy of the Indian Wars and George Armstrong Custer. University of Chicago Press, 2007. ISBN 0-226-20146-5.
  • Connell, Evan S., Son of the Morning Star: Custer and The Little Bighorn. New York: North Point Press, 1984. ISBN 0-86547-510-5.
  • Evans, Alun. Brassey's Guide to War Films. Brassey's, 2000. ISBN 1-57488-263-5
  • Flaherty, Thomas H. (Editor-in Chief). 1993. The Wild West. Time-Life Books. New York. ISBN 0-446-51761-5
  • Fox, Richard Allan, Jr., Archaeology, History, and Custer's Last Battle. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993. ISBN 0-8061-2496-2.
  • Gallear, Mark. 2001. Guns at the Little Bighorn. Custer Association of Great Britain. by Mark Gallear, CAGBGUNS AT THE LITTLE BIGHORN
  • Goodrich, Thomas. Scalp Dance: Indian Warfare on the High Plains, 1865–1879. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1997. ISBN 0-8117-1523-X.
  • Graham, Col. William A., The Custer Myth: A Source Book for Custeriana. New York: Bonanza Books, 1953.
  • Gray, John S., Custer's Last Campaign: Mitch Boyer and the Little Bighorn Reconstructed. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991. ISBN 0-8032-7040-2.
  • Grinnell, George Bird. The Fighting Cheyennes. Norman: The University of Oklahoma Press, 1915; reprint 1956, ISBN 0-7394-0373-7.
  • Hammer, Kenneth. Men with Custer: Biographies of the 7th Cavalry: June 25, 1876. (Ronald H. Nichols, editor). Hardin, Montana: Custer Battlefield Historical and Museum Association, 2000. ISBN 1-892258-05-6.
  • Hammer, Kenneth (editor), Custer in '76: Walter Camp's notes on the Custer Fight. Provo: Brigham Young University, 1976. ISBN 0-8061-2279-X.
  • Hardorff, R. G. (editor), Camp, Custer and the Little Big Horn. El Segundo, California: Upton and Sons, 1997. ISBN 0-912783-25-7.
  • Hardorff, R. G. Hokahey! A Good Day to Die! The Indian Casualties of the Custer Fight. University of Nebraska Press, 1993. 0-8032-7322-3.
  • Keegan, John, Warpaths. London: Pimlico, 1996. ISBN 1-55013-621-6.
  • Hatch, Thom. 1997. Custer and the Little Bighorn: An Encyclopedia. McFarland & Company, Inc. London. ISBN 0-7864-0154-0
  • Lawson, Michael L. 2007. Little Bighorn: Winning the Battle, Losing the War. Chelsea House Publishers. New York. ISBN 978-0-7910-9347-4
  • Mails, Thomas E. The Mystic Warriors of the Plains: The Culture, Arts, Crafts and Religion of the Plains Indians New York: Marlowe & Co., 1996. ISBN 1-56924-538-X.
  • Michno, Gregory F., The Mystery of E Troop: Custer's Grey Horse Company at the Little Bighorn. Missoula, Montana: Mountain Press Publishing, 1994. ISBN 0-87842-304-4.
  • Miller, David, H., Custer's Fall: The Native American Side of the Story, University of Nebraska Press, 1985. ISBN 0-452-01095-0.
  • Neihardt, John G. (editor), Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux. University of Nebraska Press, 1979. ISBN 0-8032-8359-8.
  • Nichols, Ronald H. (editor), Reno Court of Inquiry. Hardin, Montana: Custer Battlefield Historical and Museum Association, 1996.
  • Panzeri, Peter, Little Big Horn, 1876: Custer's Last Stand. London, UK: Osprey, 1995. ISBN 1-85532-458-X.
  • Perrett, Bryan. Last Stand!: Famous Battles Against the Odds London: Arms & Armour, 1993. ISBN 1-85409-188-3.
  • Philbrick, Nathaniel. "The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and The Battle of The Little Bighorn". Viking Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-14-242769-9
  • Reno, Marcus A., The official record of a court of inquiry convened at Chicago, Illinois, January 13, 1879, by the President of the United States upon the request of Major Marcus A. Reno, 7th U.S. Cavalry, to investigate his conduct at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, June 25–26, 1876. on-line in the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections.
  • Rice, Earle (Jr.). 1998. The Battle or the Little Bighorn. World History Series. Lucent Books, San Diego. ISBN 978-1560064534
  • Sandoz, Mari, The Battle of the Little Bighorn. Lippincott Major Battle Series. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1966. ISBN 0-8032-9100-0.
  • Robbins, James S. "The Real Custer; From Boy General to Tragic Hero", Washington D.C., Regnery Publishing, 2014. ISBN 978-1-62157-209-1.
  • Robinson, Charles M. III. 1995. A Good Year to Die: the story of the great Sioux war. Random House. New York. ISBN 0-679-43025-3
  • Sarf, Wayne Michael, The Little Bighorn Campaign: March–September 1876, Conshohocken, Pennsylvania: Combined Books, 1993. ISBN 1-58097-025-7.
  • Scott, Douglas D. & Connor, Melissa: Context Delicti: Archaeological Context in Forensic Work. In: Haglund, W.D. & Sorg, M.H. (eds.): Forensic Taphonomy: The Postmortem Fate of Human Remains, CRC Press, pp.: 27–38; Boca Raton, 1997.
  • Sklenar, Larry. To Hell with Honor, General Custer and the Little Big Horn, Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 2000. ISBN 0-8061-3472-0.
  • Utley, Robert M. 1993. The Lance and the Shield: the life and times of Sitting Bull. Henry Holt & Company. New York. ISBN 0-8050-1274-5
  • Utley, Robert M., Cavalier in Buckskin: George Armstrong Custer and the Western Military Frontier. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press; Revised edition, 2001. ISBN 0-8061-2292-7.
  • Vestal, Stanley. Warpath: The True Story of the Fighting Sioux Told in a Biography of Chief White Bull Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1934. ISBN 0-8032-4653-6.
  • Viola, Herman J., Little Bighorn Remembered: The Untold Indian Story of Custer's Last Stand. Westminster, Maryland: Times Books, 1999, ISBN 0-8129-3256-0.
  • Welch, James and Stekler, Paul, Killing Custer: The Battle of the Little Bighorn and the Fate of the Plains Indians. New York: Norton, 1994. ISBN 0-393-32939-9.
  • Wert, Jeffry D. Custer: The Controversial Life of George Armstrong Custer. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996. ISBN 0-684-81043-3.

Further reading

  1. ^ Capt. Sheridan (Company L), the brother of Lt. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, served only seven months in 1866–67 before becoming permanent aide to his brother but remained on the rolls until 1882. Capt. Ilsley (Company E) was aide to Maj. Gen John Pope from 1866 to 1879, when he finally joined his command. Capt. Tourtelotte (Company G) never joined the 7th. A fourth captain, Owen Hale (Company K), was the regiment's recruiting officer in St. Louis and rejoined his company immediately.
  2. ^ Testimony of Yellow Nose.
  3. ^ Reno Court of Inquiry.
  4. ^ United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians, 448 U.S. 371 (1980)(holding Government's must pay just compensation to the Sioux for taking the Black Hills including an award of interest). This case confirmed the court's view that the government can treat Indian Reservations like private property and take them by eminent domain if just compensation is paid.
  5. ^ Graham, 146. Lt. Edward Godfrey reported finding a dead 7th Cavalry horse (shot in the head), a grain sack, and a carbine at the mouth of the Rosebud River. He conjectured that a soldier had escaped Custer's fight and rafted across the river, abandoning his played out horse.
  6. ^ Badly wounded, the horse had been overlooked or left behind by the victors, who had taken the other surviving horses. Comanche was taken back to the steamer Far West and returned to Fort Abraham Lincoln to be nursed back to health.
  7. ^ Major Elmer I. Otis of the 1st Cavalry was promoted to replace Custer effective June 25, 1876, but did not report until February 1877. Two 1876 West Point graduates designated for the 7th Cavalry were advanced to 1st lieutenant effective 10 days after their graduation. Four others appointed to other regiments, along with eight experienced 2nd lieutenants, were transferred and designated one to each company of the 7th. However, five declined the appointment, replaced by 2nd lieutenants of infantry and unappointed new officers in July and August 1876. Only three replacements were able to report while the 7th was still in the field.
  8. ^ Twenty-three men were called to testify at the inquiry, which met in session daily except Sundays. For the army, far more was at stake than individual reputations, as the future of the service could be affected. On January 2, General Sheridan had quoted Lee’s report of agent malfeasance in a supplement to his annual report, which continued the General’s running battle with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of the Interior. At the same time, a House committee was busy debating a new appropriations bill that required a major reorganization of the army. “Reduction of expenses” was emphasized. One proposal would lop off entire regiments, including two cavalry regiments. Another would set the line officers (those in the field) from Major down back a few years in the promotion schedule. The total reduction in officers was proposed to be 406, almost 25 percent of the total. The military strongly wanted to avoid confirmation of incompetency or cowardice – rumors of which were circulating around the impending court of inquiry in Chicago. Donovan (2008). A Terrible Glory (Kindle Locations 6395–6403)
  9. ^ Libbie Custer "spent almost sixty years commemorating her marriage—and her memories of it quite literally kept her alive....she was quintessentially the professional widow, forcing it to become a very touchy matter for any military writer or officer to criticize Custer for having insanely launched an attack without taking the most elementary precautions or making even an attempt at reconnaissance. To say or write such put one in the position of standing against bereaved Libbie". Smith, Gene (1993) op cit.
  10. ^ National Park Service website for the Little Bighorn Battlefield.


  1. ^ "The Battle of the Greasy Gras".  
  2. ^ Kershaw, Robert (2005). Red Sabbath: The Battle of Little Bighorn. Ian Allan Publishing. pp. vi–5.  
  3. ^ Carole A. Barrett. "Sioux Wars". Encyclopedia of the Great Plains. Retrieved May 6, 2013. 
  4. ^ Hutton, Paul Andrew, The Custer Reader, 1992, University of Nebraska Press
  5. ^ "Sitting Bull", Encyclopædia Britannica
  6. ^ a b c Gray, John S., Centennial Campaign The Sioux War of 1876, 1988, University of Oklahoma Press
  7. ^ "Virtual Online Steamboat Museum at". 1914-01-30. Retrieved 2012-03-15. 
  8. ^ Andrist, Ralph K., The Long Death: The Last Days of the Plains Indian, Editorial Galaxia, 2001, p. 272.
  9. ^ Macnab, David B., A Day to Remember: Introducing the Drama, Irony, and Controversies of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, iUniverse, 2003, p. 45, based on Abstract of the Official Record of Proceedings of the Reno Court of Inquiry, 35.
  10. ^  
  11. ^ "A 7th Cavalry survivor's account of the Battle of the Little Bighorn". Conversations with Crazy Horse. Archived from the original on September 6, 2008. Retrieved August 19, 2008. 
  12. ^ Barnard, pp. 121–136.
  13. ^ "The 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment Fought in Battle of the Little Bighorn". Archived from the original on January 21, 2008. Retrieved January 18, 2008. 
  14. ^ Donovan, loc 3576
  15. ^ a b Charles Windolph, Frazier Hunt, Robert Hunt, Neil Mangum, I Fought with Custer: The Story of Sergeant Windolph, Last Survivor of the Battle of the Little Big Horn : with Explanatory Material and Contemporary Sidelights on the Custer Fight, University of Nebraska Press, 1987, p. 86.
  16. ^ Reno, Marcus A., The official record of a court of inquiry convened at Chicago, Illinois, January 13, 1879, by the President of the United States upon the request of Major Marcus A. Reno, 7th U.S. Cavalry, to investigate his conduct at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, June 25–26, 1876. (RCOI) [1] on-line in the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections.
  17. ^ Donovan, loc 3684
  18. ^ a b Donovan, loc 3699
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h Fox, Richard A. (1993) Archaeology, History and Custer's Last Battle. University of Oklahoma Press, ISBN 0-8061-2998-0.
  20. ^ Donovan, James. A Terrible Glory. Little, Brown and Company (2008). P. 253
  21. ^ Robinson, Charles M., A Good Year to Die. Random House Publishing (1995). p. 257.
  22. ^ Connell, Evan S. Son of the Morning Star. Farrar, Straus and Giroux (1997). p. 278.
  23. ^ Custer, George Armstrong, My Life on the Plains : Or, Personal Experiences with Indians. New York: Sheldon and Company (1874). p. 220 [2]
  24. ^ a b c d Godfrey, E. S. (1892) Custer's Last Battle. The Century Magazine, Vol. XLIII, No. 3, January. New York: The Century Company.
  25. ^ a b Gray, John S. Custer's Last Campaign. University of Nebraska Press (1991) p. 360.
  26. ^ Donovan, James, A Terrible Glory, Little, Brown and Company (2008). p. 267.
  27. ^ Bray, Kingsley M. Crazy Horse – A Lakota Life University of Oklahoma Press (2006). p. 222.
  28. ^ Graham, W.A. The Custer Myth The Telegraph Press (1953) p. 303.
  29. ^ Running Dog. "Confirmed by one of his surviving Arikara scouts, Little Sioux". Retrieved 2012-03-15. 
  30. ^ Running Dog. "Little Sioux's Story of the Battle of the Little Bighorn". Retrieved 2012-03-15. 
  31. ^ Goodrich, Thomas. Scalp Dance: Indian Warfare on the High Plains, 1865–1879. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1997. p. 242.
  32. ^ Perrett, Bryan. Last Stand: Famous Battles Against the Odds. London: Arms & Armour, 1993; p. 8.
  33. ^ Marcus, Reno. "The official record of a court of inquiry convened at Chicago, Illinois, January 13, 1879, by the President of the United States upon the request of Major Marcus A. Reno, 7th U.S. Cavalry, to investigate his conduct at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, June 25-26, 1876". 
  34. ^ John Keegan, The American Civil War.
  35. ^ Reno, Marcus. "The official record of a court of inquiry convened at Chicago, Illinois, January 13, 1879, by the President of the United States upon the request of Major Marcus A. Reno, 7th U.S. Cavalry, to investigate his conduct at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, June 25-26, 1876". 
  36. ^ a b c d e f g Michno, Gregory F., Lakota Noon, the Indian narrative of Custer's defeat, Mountain Press, 1997. ISBN 0-87842-349-4.
  37. ^ Michael Robert Patterson. "Frederick William Benteen, Brigadier General, United States Army". Retrieved 2012-03-15. 
  38. ^ a b Brininstool, 60–62.
  39. ^ Fox, pp. 10–13.
  40. ^ a b Linderman, F. (1932) Pretty-shield: Medicine Woman of the Crows. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0803280254. (Preface © 2003 by Alma Snell and Becky Matthews).
  41. ^ MARTIN J. KIDSTON, "Northern Cheyenne break vow of silence", Helena Independent Record, June 28, 2005. Retrieved October 23, 2009.
  42. ^ I fought with Custer by Charles Windolph, Frazier Hunt, Robert Hunt. 1987-09-01.  
  43. ^ "White Cow Bull's Story of the Battle of the Little Bighorn #1".
  44. ^ Wert, 1996, p. 355.
  45. ^ a b c d e Curtis, E. (1907) . The SiouxThe North American Indian. Vol.3.
  46. ^ Miller, David Humphreys, Custer's Fall, Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1985, pg 158
  47. ^ Graham, Benteen letter to Capt. R.E. Thompson, p. 211.
  48. ^ Graham, Gall's Narrative, p. 88.
  49. ^ Miller, David Humphreys, Custer's Fall, the Indian Side of the Story. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1985 (reprint of 1957 edition), p. 158.
  50. ^ Graham, pp. 45–56.
  51. ^ Rice, 1998. Benteen testimony at Reno Court of Inquiry, January 13 - February 11, 1879
  52. ^ They Died With Custer: Soldiers' Bones from the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Douglas D. Scott, P. Willey, Melissa A. Connor, p. 314, University of Oklahoma Press, 09/09/2002
  53. ^ Archaeological Perspectives on the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Scott/Fox/Connor/Harmon, University of Oklahoma Press, 1989 p. 82.
  54. ^ Archaeological Perspectives on the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Scott/Fox/Connor/Harmon, University of Oklahoma Press, 1989, pp. 39–48.
  55. ^ Brust, J.S., Pohanka, B.C. and Barnard, S. (2005) Where Custer Fell: Photographs of the Little Bighorn Battlefield Then and Now. University of Oklahoma Press, p.57.
  56. ^ "Reno-Benteen Entrenchment Trail, p. 6, Western Parks Association, 2004.
  57. ^ "The Little Horn [sic] Massacre", The New-York Times., Vol. 25, No. 7742, July 7, 1876, p. 1, recounting "dispatches" published the day before.
  58. ^ Cheney, Lynne V. (1974) 1876: The Eagle Screams. HISTORICAL REGISTER of the CENTENNIAL EXPOSITION 1876. American Heritage, Volume 25, Issue 3, April 1974.
  59. ^ "The Custer Syndrome", Newsweek, Sep. 29, 1991; accessed 2012.08.30.
  60. ^ a b
  61. ^ Welch, James A & Steckler, Paul (1994), Killing Custer – The Battle of the Little Bighorn and the Fate of the Plains Indians, New York: Penguin Books: p. 194.
  62. ^ Ambrose, Stephen E. Crazy Horse and Custer New York: Anchor Books, 1996, pp. 451-452
  63. ^ Welch, James A & Steckler, Paul (1994), Killing Custer – The Battle of the Little Bighorn and the Fate of the Plains Indians, New York: Penguin Books: pp. 196–197.
  64. ^ "Count Carlo Di Rudio at Little Bighorn". Retrieved 2012-03-15. 
  65. ^ Sturgis was the son of the 7th Cavalry's Colonel. "Samuel Davis Sturgis". Arlington National cemetery. Archived from the original on January 17, 2008. Retrieved January 14, 2008. 
  66. ^ "John Jordan Crittenden (1854–1876) – Find A Grave Memorial". Retrieved 2012-03-15. 
  67. ^ Graham, The Custer Myth, p. 109.
  68. ^ Hardorff, Hokayhey!, page 13.
  69. ^ Graham, Col. W. A. The Custer Myth. NY, Bonanza Books, 1953, p. 60.
  70. ^ "Medal of Honor Recipients: Indian Wars Period".  
  71. ^ a b Liberty, Dr. Margot. "Cheyenne Primacy: The Tribes' Perspective As Opposed To That Of The United States Army; A Possible Alternative To "The Great Sioux War Of 1876". Friends of the Little Bighorn. Archived from the original on January 24, 2008. Retrieved January 13, 2008. 
  72. ^ Running Dog (1920-08-19). "He Dog's Story of the Battle of the Little Bighorn #2". Retrieved 2012-03-15. 
  73. ^ Records of Living Officers of the United States Army (1884). 1883. Retrieved January 17, 2008. 
  74. ^ Utley, Robert M. (1973) Frontier Regulars: The United States Army and the Indian 1866–1890, pp. 64 and 69 note 11.
  75. ^ House Report 95-375
  76. ^ United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians (Ct. Cl. 1979), 601 F.2d 1157, 1161
  77. ^ "A Complete scanned transcript of the Reno Court of Inquiry (RCOI)". Retrieved 2012-03-15. 
  78. ^ Donovan, James (2008). A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn – the Last Great Battle of the American West (Kindle Location 5870). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.
  79. ^ a b Donovan (2008). A Terrible Glory, (Kindle Locations 3080–3086)
  80. ^ Connell, Evan S. (1997). Son of the Morning Star. New York: HarperPerennial, p. 257.
  81. ^ Donovan (2008). A Terrible Glory(Kindle Location 5758)
  82. ^ Donovan (2008). A Terrible Glory(Kindle Location 3697)
  83. ^ Goodrich, Thomas (1984). Scalp Dance: Indian Warfare on the High Plains, 1865–1879. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, p. 233.
  84. ^ Wert, Jeffry D. (1964/1996) Custer: The Controversial Life of George Armstrong Custer. New York: Simon & Schuster, p. 327.
  85. ^ Sklenar, page 341.
  86. ^ Smith, Gene (1993). "Libbie Custer". American Heritage 44 (8). Retrieved 10 September 2012. 
  87. ^ Smith, Gene (1993) op cit.
  88. ^ A Complete Life of General George A. Custer (1876), noted in Donovan (2008). A Terrible Glory (Kindle Locations 6222–6223)
  89. ^ Robert B.Smith (June 12, 2006). "Buffalo Bill's Skirmish At Warbonnet Creek". American History Magazine. Retrieved August 25, 2012. 
  90. ^ Gallear, 2001: “The Indians were well equipped with hand-to-hand weapons and these included lances, tomahawks, war clubs, knives and war shields were carried for defense. Such weapons were little different from the shock and hand-to-hand weapons, used by the cavalry of the European armies, such as the sabre and lance…[in addition] the Indians were clearly armed with a number of sophisticated firearms…”
    Hatch, 1997, p. 184: “Sioux and Cheyenne weapons included…clubs, bows and arrows, lances, and hatchets [as well as] an array of new and old [model] firearms: muzzleloaders, Spenser, Sharps, Henry and Winchester repeating rifles, and…Springfield carbines taken from Reno’s dead cavalrymen.”
    Robinson, 1995, p. xxix: “…Indians carried at least forty-one different kinds of firearms in the fight.”
  91. ^ Flaherty, 1993, p. 208: "By 1873, Indians “used the traditional bow and arrows and war club along with firearms such as the muzzle-loading Leman rifle, issued as part of treaty agreements, and rapid-fire Henry and Winchester rifles, obtained through civilian traders.”
  92. ^ Gallear, 2001: “Trade guns were made up until the 1880s by such gunsmiths as Henry Leman, J.P. Lower and J. Henry & Son.”
  93. ^ Gallear, 2001: “These guns were crudely made for Indian trade and were given out as a sweetener for treaties.”
  94. ^ Gallear, 2001: “Civil War type muzzleloader rifles would have had an effective range of about 500 yards, but with volley fire were effective to 1000 yards.”
  95. ^ Donovan, 2008, p. 188: “Though most of the men in the village carried the bow and arrow in battle...over the past decade [1866-1876] the sale and trade of arms to the Indians had increased significantly...[t]he latest Winchester magazine rifles were available for the right price...Many men carried older guns – muzzleloaders, for which some molded their own bullets; Henry and Spencer repeaters; Springfield, Enfield [rifled muskets], Sharps breechloaders and many different pistols. All told, between one-third and one-half of the gathering warriors had a gun.”
  96. ^ Gallear, 2001: “The bows effective range was about 30 yards and was unlikely to kill a man instantly or even knock him off his horse. However, it would incapacitate and few troopers would fight on after an arrow hit them.”
  97. ^ Gallear, 2001: “There is also evidence that some Indians were short of ammunition and it is unclear how good a shot they were. They certainly did not have the ammunition to practice, except whilst hunting buffalo, and this would suggest that the Indians generally followed the same technique of holding their fire until they were at very close range,”
  98. ^ Donovan, 2008, p. 188 (fragment of quote)
    Utley, 1993, p. 39: The Indians had grown to depend on the goods [white traders] supplied, especially firearms and ammunition…they could be obtained only though white men, directly, of through Indian intermediaries.”
    Gallear, 2001: “Indian trade muskets…could be legitimately obtained from traders at Indian agencies…The Sioux [however] were keen to obtain metal cartridge weapons [available].from half-breed Indian traders out of Canada or unsupervised traders at Missouri River posts in Montana…By 1876 almost all [Model 1860 Henry rifles] in civilian use would have disappeared so Indian use must have come from ex-Civil War stocks sold off cheaply and bought by Indian traders, such as the Métis.
    Flaherty, 1993, p. 208: By 1873, Indians “used the traditional bow and arrows and war club along with firearms such as the muzzle-loading Leman rifle, issued as part of treaty agreements, and rapid-fire Henry and Winchester rifles, obtained through civilian traders.”
    Donovan, 2008, p. 188: “…there were many…ways a warrior could acquire a rifle. Post-traders on some reservations supplied illegal arms to non-treat[y] [Indians]; so did unlicensed traders – primarily the half-breed Canadian Métis gunrunners to the north in the desolate area known as Burning Ground below the Black Hills.
    Robinson, 1995, p. xxix: “Studies of the cartridge cases recovered in archaeological investigations of the Little Big Horn show the Indians carried at least forty-one different kinds [models] if firearms in that fight, and it estimated that at least 25 to 30 percent [of Lakota and Cheyenne combatants] were armed with modern sixteen-shot Winchester and Henry repeating rifles.…they also armed themselves with captured Springfield carbines…[and] carried traditional weapons…bows and arrows, hatchets…and war clubs.”
  99. ^ Donovan, 2008, p. 118: Reynolds " white scout in Dakota Territory...had earned Custer's respect for his excellent[ed] to Custer that Lakotas under Sitting Bull were 'gathering in force'. They had been preparing for war by collecting Winchester repeating rifles and plenty ammunition."
  100. ^ a b Hatch, 1997, p. 184: “It has been estimated that perhaps 200 repeating rifles were possessed by the Indians, nearly one for each [man in Custer’s battalion].”
  101. ^ Sklenar, 2000, p. 163: “…the village contained possibly 1,200 lodges, plus several hundred wikiups housing individual warriors. The total population of men, woman and children probably reached 6,000 to 7,000 at its peak, with 2,000 of these being able-bodied warriors…”
  102. ^ Lawson, 2007, p. 52-53: “The troops of the 7th Cavalry were each armed with two standard weapons, a rifle and a pistol. The rifle was a .45/55-caliber Springfield carbine and the pistol was a .45-caliber Colt revolver...both weapons were models [introduced in] 1873 [though] they did not represent the latest in firearm technology.”
  103. ^ Lawson, 2007, p. 53: “Although each soldier was also issued a sword or saber, Custer ordered these weapons boxed before the strike force departed [up Rosebud Creek]…the lack of swords would prove to be a disadvantage during some of the close fighting that lay ahead. Gun powder of the day is now known as black powder. It causes substantial fouling within the firearm. After about 25 rounds are fired from the M1873 revolver using black powder, the cylinder binds on the cylinder pin. The cavalry trooper would then have used his saber. However, their inclusion would not have changed the ultimate outcome.”
  104. ^ Gallear, 2001: “No bayonet or hand to hand weapon was issued apart from the saber, which under Custer’s orders was left behind.”
  105. ^ Lawson, 2008, p. 53: “Many of the officers and most of the civilians brought along their own weapons.”
  106. ^ Donovan, 2008, p. 191: “...each enlisted man carried the regulation single-action breech-loading, M1873 Springfield carbine...the standard issue sidearm was the reliable [single-action] M1873 Colt .45 cal. pistol.”
  107. ^ Gallear, 2001: “Officers purchased their own carbines or rifles for hunting purposes…[however] these guns may have been left with the baggage and is unclear how many officers actually used these weapons in the battle. However, there is evidence that Reno’s men did make use of long-range hunting rifles. White Scouts would have been better armed and seemed to favor long-range buffalo hunting type rifles over fast-shooting lever actions… Henrys, Spencers and Winchester M1866s would also have been popular choices… Some Scouts would have been armed with both types of weapons plus a variety of side arms.
  108. ^ Donovan, 2008, p. 191: “[Each] trooper carried 100 rounds of carbine ammunition and 24 pistol cartridges with him – as many as 50 on a belt or in a pouch, and the remainder in his saddlebag (the pack train mules carried 26,000 more carbine rounds [approximately 50 extra per trooper]).”
  109. ^ Hatch, 1997, p. 184: “...not a wide disparity...” in arms of the opposing forces.
  110. ^ Gallear, 2001: “the .44 rim-fire round fired from the Henry rifle is the most numerous Indian gun fired with almost as many individual guns identified as the Cavalry Springfield Model 1873 carbine.”
  111. ^ Gallear, 2001: “…by the time of the Little Bighorn the U.S. Army was standardizing on the Springfield rifle and carbine [and] saw breech-loading rifles and carbines as the way forward.”
  112. ^ Lawson, 2008, p. 93: “The rapid fire power of the Henry repeaters was intimidating, especially to inexperience soldiers. Their use was probably a significant cause of the confusion and panic among the soldiers so widely reported by Native American eyewitnesses.”
  113. ^ Lawson, 2007, p. 91-93: "[Henryville] was named in the mid-1980s by archaeologists after they discovered a large artifact collection there, which included numerous .44-caliber Henry cartridges. The number of cartridges indicated that about 20 warriors at this position were using Henry repeating rifles. These weapons were less powerful than the cavalry's Springfield rifles, especially at long range; however, they had the advantage of providing rapid fire...The rapid fire power...was intimidating, especially to inexperienced soldiers. Their use was probably a significant a confusion and panic among the soldiers so widely reported by Native American eyewitnesses...Survivors of the assaults...fled north to seek safety with Keogh's Company I...they could react quickly enough to prevent the disintegration of their own unit."
  114. ^ Donovan, 2008, p. 191: “The Springfield had won out over many other American and foreign rifles, some of them repeaters, after extensive testing supervised by an army board that had included Marcus Reno and Alfred Terry.”
  115. ^ Gallear, 2001: “In 1872 the Army tested a number of foreign and domestic single-shot breechloaders…”
  116. ^ Robinson, 1995, p. xxviii: “…the Model 1873 Springfield rifle, in caliber .45-70 for the infantry, and .45-55 light carbine for cavalry.”
  117. ^ Gallear, 2001: “The established wisdom is that the U.S. Army did not adopt lever-action multiple shot weapons during the Civil War because of the problems they would create regarding the supply of ammunition. However, I believe that by the time of the Indian Wars the Army viewed the lever-actions weapons as under-powered novelty weapons and that they were equipping their men to fight wars against European equipped enemies or to re-fight the Civil War. The Indian Wars were seen as a minor sideshow in which troops armed to fight on European battlefields would be more than a match for fighting any number of Indians.
  118. ^ Donovan, 2008, p. 191: “…a solid weapon with superior range and stopping power…”
  119. ^ Robinson, 1995, p. xxviii
  120. ^ Gallear, 2001: “The Army saw breech-loading rifles and carbines as the way forward. They could fire a much more powerful round at longer ranges than lever-actions.”
  121. ^ Gallear, 2001
  122. ^ Gallear, 2001: “The Allin System had been developed at the Government Armories to reduce the cost, but the U.S. Treasury had already been forced to pay $124,000 to inventors whose patents it infringed. The adoption of the Allin breech gave the advantages of being already familiar throughout the Army, involved no more royalties, and existing machinery at the Springfield Armory could easily be adapted to its manufacture.
  123. ^ Donovan, 2008, p. 191: “Army appropriations were at an all-time low, and a key factor in the Springfield’s favor was its low production cost.”
  124. ^ Gallear, 2001: “…some authorities have blamed the gun's reliability and tendency for rounds to jam in the breech for the defeat at the Little Bighorn..”
  125. ^ Hatch, 1997, p. 124: “This defect was noted by the board of officers (which included Major Reno) that selected the weapon in 1872, but was not considered particularly serious at the time.”
  126. ^ Gallear, 2001: “A study of .45-55 cases found at the battle concludes that extractor failure amounted to less than 0.35% of some 1,751 cases tested…the carbine was in fact more reliable than anything that had preceded it in U.S. Army service. These weapons were vastly more reliable than the muzzle-loading weapons of the Civil War, which would frequently misfire and cause the soldier to uselessly load multiple rounds on top of each other in the heat of battle.
  127. ^ Hatch, 1997, p. 124: ‘Scholars have for years debated the issue of whether or not the Model 1873 Springfield carbine carried by cavalrymen, malfunctioned during the battle and [whether this] was one reason for the defeat” and “No definitive conclusion can be drawn [as to] the possible malfunction…as being a significant cause of Custer’s defeat. Writers of both pro- and anti-Custer material over the years…have incorporated the theory into their works…”
  128. ^ Donovan, 2008, p. 440: footnote, “the carbine extractor problem did exist, though it probably had little impact on the outcome of the battle. DeRudio testified that ‘the men had to take their knives to extract cartridges after firing 6 to 10 rounds.’…but ‘the men’ seems to have been an exaggeration. Private Daniel Newall mentioned the problem…”
  129. ^ Hatch, 1997, p. 124: “The controversy results from the known failure of the carbine to [eject] the spent .45-55 caliber cartridge [casings]. The cartridge cases were made of copper, which expands when hot. That - coupled with a faulty extractor mechanism and dirt – could cause the head of the cartridge to be torn away when the block was opened, and the cartridge cylinder would then be left inside the chamber…The casings would have to be removed manually with a pocketknife before [reloading and] firing again. This defect was noted by the board of officers (which included Major Reno) that selected the weapon in 1872, but was not considered particularly serious at the time.”
  130. ^ Hatch, 1997, p. 124: “How often did this defect [ejector failure] occur and cause the [Springfield carbines] to malfunction on June 25, 1876? According to Dr. Richard Fox in Archeology, History and Custer’s Last Battle (1993), there were very few .45-55 caliber cartridge casings found during the digs on the battlefield that showed any evidence to pry or scratch marks [indicating manual extraction]. Only 3 of 88 [3.4%] found on the Custer [battalion] portion of the battlefield could possibly have been removed in an extraction jam. On the Reno-Benteen defense site [Reno Hill], 7 of 257 fit this category [2.7%]. If this was a representative number it would appear that malfunction from that source was minimal.”
  131. ^ Hatch, 1997, p. 124: “Both sides [troopers and Indians] apparently believed that some weapons malfunctioned. Indian testimony…reported that some soldiers threw down their long guns and fought with their short guns. Could this indicate a malfunctioning [carbine] that was discarded and therefore could not have left its marked [pry scratched] casings on the field? [...] No definitive conclusion can be drawn about the possible malfunction…as being a significant cause of Custer’s defeat. Writers of both pro- and anti-Custer material over the years…have incorporated the theory into their works…”
  132. ^ Hatch, 1997, p. 124: “On a final note: the Springfield carbine remained the official cavalry firearm until the early 1890s”
  133. ^ Sklenar, 2000, p. 68: Terry’s column out of Fort Abraham Lincoln included “…artillery (two Rodman and two Gatling guns)…”
  134. ^ Lawson, 2007, p. 48: “[Three] rapid-fire artillery pieces known as Gatling guns” were part of Terry’s firepower included in the Dakota column.
  135. ^ Connell, 1984, p. 101: "How many Gatling guns lurched across the prairie is uncertain. Probably three."
  136. ^ Lawson, 2007, p. 50
  137. ^ Donovan, 2008, p. 175: “Custer refused Terry’s offer of the Gatling gun battery.”
  138. ^ Lawson, 2008, p. 50: “Military historians have speculated whether this decision was a mistake. If Gatling guns had made it to the battlefield, they might have allowed Custer enough firepower to allow Custer’s companies to survive on Last Stand Hill.”
  139. ^ Philbrick, 2010, p. 73: “Since its invention during the Civil War, the Gatling gun had been used sparingly in actual battle, but there was no denying, potentially at least, an awesome weapon.”
  140. ^ Sklenar, 2000, p. 71, p. 75
  141. ^ Donovan, 2008, p. 162-163: Reno’s wing “left…on June 10…accompanied by a Gatling gun and its crew…”
  142. ^ Donovan, 2008, p. 163: “The [Gatling gun] and its ammunition…was mostly pulled by two ‘condemned’ cavalry mounts [p. 176: “…drawn by four condemned horses…”] judged not fit to carry troopers, but it needed the occasional hauling by hand through some of the rougher ravines. (The gun would eventually upset and injure three men.)” and p. 175: “…Reno had taken [a Gatling gun] on his [June reconnaissance mission], and it had been nothing but trouble.”
  143. ^ Sklenar, 2000, p. 72: On Reno’s [June 10 to June 18] reconnaissance “the Gatling guns proved to be an annoying burden…they either fell apart or had to be disassembled and carried in pieces over rough terrain.” And p. 79: “During the Reno scout [reconnoitering], the two guns were actually abandoned (and retrieved later) because soldiers got tired of dragging them over rough spots…[I]f Custer did not already have a fully formed negative opinion of the Gatlings on such an expedition, the experience of the Reno [reconnaissance of early June] surely convinced him.”
  144. ^ Philbrick, 2010, p. 73: “The biggest problem with the [Gatling] gun was transporting it to where it might be of some use… [in the week preceding the Battle of the Little Bighorn], the Gatling, not the mules, proved to be the biggest hindrance to the expedition.”
  145. ^ Donovan, 2008, p. 175: “…Reno had taken one [Gatling gun] along [on his June reconnaissance], and it had been nothing but trouble." And p. 195: Custer, in comments to his officer staff before the Battle of the Little Bighorn, said that “…if hostiles could whip the Seventh [Cavalry]…they could defeat a much larger force.”
  146. ^ Hatch, 1997, p. 80-81: The Gatling guns “were cumbersome and would cause delays over the traveled route. The guns were drawn by four condemned horses [and] obstacles in the terrain [would] require their unhitching and assistance of soldier to continue…Terry’s own battery [of Gatling guns] – the one he had offered to Custer – [would have] a difficult time keeping up with the march of Colonel John Gibbon’s infantry.”
  147. ^ Lawson, 2007, p. 50: “[Custer] turned down General Terry’s offer to bring the three Gatling guns, because they would slow down his movement.”
  148. ^ Philbrick, 2010, p. 99: “Custer knew he had to move quickly to accomplish his objective. That was why he ultimately declined the offer of the Gatling guns that had proven such a bother to Reno.”
  149. ^ Sklenar, 2000, p. 79: After the 7th Cavalry’s departure up Rosebud Creek, “even Brisbin would acknowledge that everyone in Gibbon’s command understood [that]…the Seventh was the primary strike force.”
  150. ^ Philbrick, 2010, p. 99: “Thinking his regiment powerful enough to handle anything it might encounter, [Custer, in addition to declining the Gatling guns] declined the offer of four additional cavalry companies from [Gibbon’s] Montana column.” And p. 114: Custer told his officer staff days before the battle that he “opted against the Gatling guns…so as not to ‘hamper our movements’”
  151. ^ Sklenar, 2000, p. 92: Custer “on the evening of 22 June…[informed his officer staff]…why he had not accepted the offers…of Gatling guns (he thought they might hamper his movements at a critical moment).”
  152. ^ Lawson, 2007 p. 50: “Custer…refused Major James Brisbin’s offer to include his Second Cavalry Regiment [200 troopers], told Terry “the 7th can handle anything it meets.”
  153. ^ Donovan, 2008, p. “Explaining his refusal of the Gatling gun detachment and the Second Cavalry battalion, he convolutedly reaffirmed his confidence in the Seventh’s ability to defeat any number of Indians they could find.”
  154. ^ Hatch, 1997, p. 24: "Brisbin argued with Terry that Custer was undermanned, and requested that his troops [which had the] Gatling guns - with Terry in command because Brisbin did not want to serve under Custer - be permitted to accompany [Custer's] column. Custer refused the assistance, and Terry abided by that."
  155. ^ Sklenar, 2000, p. 78-79: “Apparently, Terry offered [Major James] Brisbin’s battalion and Gatling gun battery to accompany the Seventh, but Custer refused these additions for several reasons. First of all, Custer and Brisbin did not get along and Custer thus would not have wanted to place Brisbin in a senior command position. Custer was on the verge of abolishing the wings led by Reno and Benteen, and the inclusion of Brisbin would have complicated the arrangement he had in mind. Also, Custer retained the conviction that the Seventh could handle any force of Indians it might encounter, and he may have reasoned that taking the Second Cavalry would leave [Colonel John] Gibbon’s column susceptible to attack and defeat…”
  156. ^ Hatch, 1997, p. 80: “The offer of 3 Gatling Guns…was made to Custer by General Alfred Terry [at the] urging of Major James Brisbin, who also desired his Second Cavalry to become part of Custer’s detachment. Custer respectfully declined both offers, state that the Gatlings would impede his march.
  157. ^ Hatch, 1997, p. 80: “The Gatling Guns would have brought formidable firepower into play; this rapid fire artillery could fire up to 350 rounds in 1 minute.”
  158. ^ Donovan, 2008, p. 175: “Each of these heavy, hand-cranked weapons could fire up to 350 rounds a minute, an impressive rate, but they were known to jam frequently.
  159. ^ Hatch, 1997, p. 80-81: “The Gatlings had major drawbacks, such as frequent jamming due to residue from black powder…”
  160. ^ Philbrick, 2010, p. 73: “Military traditionalists like to claim the gun was unreliable, but in actuality the Gatling functioned surprisingly well.”
  161. ^ Hatch, 1997, p. 81: “…The [Gatling] guns were mounted on large [diameter] wheels, which meant that in order to operate them the gun crews would [necessarily] be standing upright, making them [extremely vulnerable] to Indian snipers.”
  162. ^ Utley, 1987, p. 80-81
  163. ^ Harris, Ethan E. (2012). Custer Survivors 101: The Impostor Roster. Warrior's Quill ebook. p. Introduction. 
  164. ^ Stewart, Edgar I. (1980). Custer's Luck. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. p. 490.  
  165. ^ Van de Water, Frederic F. (1988). Glory-Hunter: A Life of General Custer. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. p. 5.  
  166. ^ Ege, Robert J. (2008). Curse Not His Curls. Old Army Press. p. 121. 
  167. ^ Nunnally, Michael L. (2005). I Survived Custer's Last Stand. p. 38. 
  168. ^ Graham, W.A. (1995). The Custer Myth: a source book of Custeriana with a new introduction by Brian C. Pohanka. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books. pp. 353–357, 413.  
  169. ^ "Charles Kuhlman Papers, 1896-1959". University of Montana Library. Retrieved June 10, 2013. 
  170. ^ Kuhlman, Charles (1968). The Frank Finkel Story. Omaha, NB: Citizen Printing Co. p. 20. 
  171. ^ Ellison, Douglas W. (1983). Sole Survivor: An Examination of the Frank Finkel Narrative. North Plains Press. p. 128. 
  172. ^ Boyes, William (1977). No Custer Survivors: Or, The Unveiling of Frank Finkel. WJBM Associates. p. 16. 
  173. ^ Nunnally, Michael L. (2008). The Frank Finkel Hoax: No Survivor of Custer's Last Stand. Old Scout Books. p. 32. 
  174. ^ Raymond Hatfield Gardner (1944). The Old Wild West the Old Wild West: Adventures of Arizona Bill (1st ed.). San Antonio, TX: Naylor Company. 
  175. ^ The Autobiography of Frank Tarbeaux, as Told to Donald Henderson Clarke. Vanguard Press. 1930. p. 287. 
  176. ^ Ryan, Ed (1951). Me and The Black Hills. Custer, South Dakota: Ed Ryan. p. 89. 
  177. ^ Gardner, Raymond Hatfield (2009). The Old Wild West: Adventures Of Arizona Bill. Kessinger Publishing. p. 326.  
  178. ^ Clarke, Donald Henderson (1930). The Autobiography of Frank Tarbeaux. New York: Vanguard Press. p. 286. 
  179. ^ "A PRETENDED CUSTER SURVIVOR: Another Attempt to Pose As A Survivor Punctured by The Regiment's Clerk.". The Big Horn Searchlight. Retrieved 2 August 2012. 
  180. ^ "Martin Pate", Friends Of The Little Bighorn Battlefield, retrieved April 24, 2010.
  181. ^ Wooden Leg, q.v., p. 236.
  182. ^ Rankin, ed. by Charles E. (1997). Legacy : new perspectives on the Battle of the Little Bighorn ; [proceedings of the Little Bighorn Lagacy Symposium, held in Billings, Montana, August 3 - 6, 1994] ([Nachdr.] ed.). Helena, Mont.: Historical Soc. Press. p. 310.  
  183. ^ Rankin, ed. by Charles E. (1997). Legacy : new perspectives on the Battle of the Little Bighorn ; [proceedings of the Little Bighorn Lagacy Symposium, held in Billings, Montana, August 3 - 6, 1994] ([Nachdr.] ed.). Helena, Mont.: Historical Soc. Press. p. 311.  
  184. ^ Russell, D. Custer's List: A Checklist of Pictures Relating to the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Fort Worth: Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, 1969,
  185. ^ "Kansas Historical Quarterly – The Pictorial Record of the Old West, 4 – Kansas Historical Society". Retrieved 2012-03-15. 
  186. ^ "Custer's Last Stand – Artist E.S. Paxson". Retrieved 2012-03-15. 
  187. ^ Evans 2000, p. 180.
  188. ^ Custer's Last Stand. BBC Two, Friday 23 Feb 2007.
  189. ^ [3]
  190. ^ Custer's Last Stand. BBC Radio 4, Thursday 19 May 2011.


See also

  • The video game Darkest of Days has the player participate in the battle as a soldier under Custer's command.
  • The battle appears as the final level in the campaign of the computer game Age of Empires III: The War Chiefs where the player must kill Custer and his troops as part of the Native American army.

In video games

  • In 1960, country singer Johnny Horton released the album Johnny Horton Makes History featuring the song "Comanche (The Brave Horse)" about the only animal from the American forces to survive the Battle of Little Big Horn. That same year Larry Verne released a comedy hit song titled "Please, Mr. Custer (I don't wanna to go)" about a fictitious cavalryman who asked Custer not to join the battle after a nightmare he experienced the night before. This song was later re-recorded by Marty Robbins.
  • The Blazon Stone album by German power metal band Running Wild includes a song depicting the battle titled "Little Big Horn".
  • The Return Of The Pride album by rock band White Lion includes a song depicting the battle titled "Battle at Little Big Horn".
  • In 1989, British keyboard player Rick Wakeman composed the song "Custer´s Last Stand", released on his 1988 album The Time Machine.
  • The title track from The Minutemen album The Punch Line (1981) documents the battle in a facetious manner.
  • The song "Glory Hunter" by Heavy Metal band Armored Saint from their 1984 album March of the Saint.
  • The song "Trip to Little Big Horn" by country artist Marty Stuart from his 2005 album Badlands: Ballads of the Lakota.

In music

  • The 1956 novel The Dice of God written by Hoffman Birney features a fictionalized account of the battle. It was filmed by Levy-Gardner-Laven in 1965 as The Glory Guys.
  • The protagonist of Thomas Berger's 1964 novel Little Big Man describes himself as the sole white survivor of the Battle of the Little Bighorn; while not the focus of the book, the battle serves as the climactic episode of the narrative.
  • Flashman at the battle in his book Flashman and the Redskins.
  • Frederick J. Chiaventone wrote A Road We Do Not Know: A Novel of Custer at the Little Bighorn in 1996.
  • Marching to Valhalla: A Novel of Custer's Last Days was written by Michael Blake, who also wrote Dances with Wolves.
  • Fictional character Morgan Kane book series.
  • The 492nd volume of Italian comic book "Tex Willer" is based on the battle.
  • Frederick Forsyth portrayed the battle in his short novella "Whispering Wind", which is the final story in his collection of short stories', "The Veteran", published in 2001.

In fiction

  • In 1912, the first movie about the battle titled Custer's Last Fight was released.
  • In 1916, Britton of the Seventh was released in the U.S. starring Darwin Karr.
  • In 1927, Little Big Horn opened in theaters in the U.S. featuring Roy Stewart and John Beck as Custer.[187]
  • The 1936 film serial Custer's Last Stand is a heavily fictionalized version of events leading up to the battle.
  • They Died with Their Boots On (1941) was a highly fictionalized account of the battle with Custer portrayed by Errol Flynn.
  • In the 1952 Western Bugles in the Afternoon, a soldier played by Ray Milland witnesses the closing stages of the battle from a distance, having ridden to try to warn Custer. Earlier in the film Custer was seen leading the 7th Cavalry off on the campaign which climaxed at the Little Big Horn. The battle scene is actually a clip from They Died With Their Boots On.
  • In the 1954 western Sitting Bull, Chief Sitting Bull of the Sioux tribe is forced by the Indian-hating General Custer to react with violence, resulting in the famous Last Stand at Little Bighorn.
  • On November 21, 1953, the radio series Gunsmoke broadcast an episode called "Custer" that featured a young murderer getting away with his crime, only to be fatefully stationed with Custer and the 7th Cavalry on their way to the Little Bighorn. It was rebroadcast on September 22, 1957 and also adapted for the television episode that aired on September 22, 1956.
  • In 1956 movie, 7th Cavalry, directed by Joseph H. Lewis, the captain Benson (Randolph Scott), aide-de-camp of colonel Custer, comes back to the fort just after the battle and discovers half of the men died. Because he was on leave during the battle, he's seen as a coward by the other soldiers.
  • The 1958 Walt Disney Studios film Tonka is a highly fictionalized history of the horse Comanche that survived the battle. This was the first film to tell the story from the Indian point of view, with a fairly accurate version of the battle taking place near the end of the film.
  • The "Comanche" episode of Have Gun-Will Travel airing May 16, 1959 has Paladin hearing the gunfire in the distance, and arriving at the Little Big Horn shortly after the battle.
  • In a 1963 episode of The Twilight Zone titled "The 7th Is Made Up of Phantoms", three members of a modern National Guard troop suddenly join the battle on the side of Custer but are unable to use their M5 Stuart tank.
  • The 1965 film The Great Sioux Massacre stars Philip Carey as Custer and Darren McGavin as Captain Benteen (called Benton in this film).
  • A 1966 episode of "The Time Tunnel" titled "Massacre", the time travelers try to stop the battle by warning each side of the consequences.
  • A 1967 television series Custer, starring Wayne Maunder in the title role, lasted 17 episodes before cancellation.
  • The 1967 film Custer of the West stars Robert Shaw as Custer and concludes with the Little Big Horn battle.
  • The 1970 film Little Big Man portrays a manic and somewhat psychotic Custer (Richard Mulligan) realizing to his horror that he and his command are "being wiped out." (Mulligan later reprised his "crazy Custer" character in the 1984 film Teachers).
  • The 1977 television film The Court-Martial of George Armstrong Custer, starring James Olson as Custer, was based on a controversial best-selling novel by Douglas C. Jones in which Custer survives the battle and must explain his actions in court.
  • The television miniseries Son of the Morning Star, based on Evan S. Connell's bestselling book, debuted in 1991. The film recounted the story of Custer (Gary Cole) and the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
  • The History Bites episode "The Truth Is Out There" explored the battle via a parody of The X Files, among other things.
  • The 2005 TV miniseries Into the West included a version of the battle.
  • In 2007 the BBC presented a one hour drama-documentary titled Custer's Last Stand.[188]
  • The 2007 HBO production Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee depicts the last stand of the 7th Cav at the beginning of the movie. [189]
  • In 2011 the BBC broadcast a radio programme in which Melvyn Bragg (and guests) discussed the battle.[190]

In film, television and on radio

  • John Mulvany's 1881 painting, "Custer's Last Rally", was the first of the large images of this battle. It was 11 ft by 20 ft and toured the country for over 17 years.[184]
  • In 1896, Anheuser-Busch commissioned from Otto Becker a lithographed, modified version of Cassily Adam's painting "Custer's Last Fight", which was distributed as a print to saloons all over America.[185] It is reputed to still be in some bars today.
  • Edgar Samuel Paxson completed his painting "Custer's Last Stand" in 1899. In 1963 Harold McCracken, the noted historian and Western art authority, deemed Paxson's painting "the best pictoral representation of the battle" and "from a purely artistic of the best if not the finest pictures which have been created to immortalize that dramatic event."[186]
  • Noted artist Charles Marion Russell painted "The Custer Fight" in 1903, concentrating on the Indians.
  • In 1996 Allan Mardon completed one of his most significant works, "The Battle of Greasy Grass," which remains in the permanent collection of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in the Whitney Gallery of Western Art in Cody, Wyoming.

In paintings

Battle of the Little Bighorn in popular culture

Nearly 100 years later, ideas about the meaning of the battle have become more inclusive. The United States government acknowledged that Native American sacrifices also deserved recognition at the site. The 1991 bill changing the name of the national monument also authorized an Indian Memorial to be built near Last Stand Hill in honor of Lakota and Cheyenne warriors. The commissioned work by Native artist Colleen Cutschall is shown in the photograph at right. On Memorial Day 1999, in consultation with tribal representatives, the US added two red granite markers to the battlefield to note where Native American warriors fell. As of December 2006, a total of ten warrior markers have been added (three at the Reno-Benteen Defense Site, seven on the Little Bighorn Battlefield).[note 10]

United States memorialization on the battlefield began in 1879 with a temporary monument to U.S. dead. In 1881 the current marble obelisk was erected in their honor. In 1890 marble blocks were added to mark the places where the U.S. cavalry soldiers fell.

The site was first preserved as a United States national cemetery in 1879, to protect the graves of the 7th Cavalry troopers. In 1946 it was redesignated as the Custer Battlefield National Monument, reflecting its association with the general. In 1967, Major Marcus Reno was reinterred in the cemetery with honors, including an eleven-gun salute. Beginning in the early 1970s there was concern within the National Park Service over the name Custer Battlefield National Monument, recognizing the larger history of the battle between two cultures, hearings on the name change were held in Billings on June 10 and during the following months in 1991 Congress renamed the site the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.

[183] [182]
Indian Memorial by Colleen Cutschall
2005 The battlefield today
Photo taken in 1894 by H.R. Locke on Battle Ridge looking toward Last Stand Hill top center. To the right of Custer Hill is Wooden Leg Hill, named for a surviving warrior. He described the death of a Sioux sharpshooter killed after being seen too often by the enemy.[180][181]

Battlefield preservation

The Indians always insisted that they took no prisoners. If they did—a thing I firmly believe—they were tortured and killed the night of the 25th. As an evidence of this I recall the three charred and burned heads we picked up in the village near the scene of the big war dance, when we visited the village with Capt. Benteen and Lieut. Wallace on the morning of the 27th... I'm sorely afraid, Tony, that we will have to class Hayward's story, like that of so many others, as pure, unadulterated B. S. As a clerk at headquarters I had occasion to look over the morning reports of at least the six troops at Lincoln almost dally, and never saw his name there, or among the list of scouts employed from time to time...I am hoping that some day all of these damned fakirs will die and it will be safe for actual participants in the battle to admit and insist that they were there, without being branded and looked upon as a lot of damned liars. Actually, there have been times when I have been tempted to deny that I ever heard of the 7th Cavalry, much less participated with it in that engagement...My Medal of Honor and its inscription have served me as proof positive that I was at least in the vicinity at the time in question, otherwise I should be tempted to deny all knowledge of the event.[179]

Almost as soon as men came forward implying or directly pronouncing their unique role in the battle, there were others who were equally opposed to any such claims. Theodore Goldin, a battle participant who later became a controversial historian on the event, wrote that

Some of these survivors held a form of celebrity status in the United States, among them Raymond Hatfield “Arizona Bill” Gardner[174] and Frank Tarbeaux.[175] A few even published their own autobiographies including their deeds at the Little Bighorn.[176][177][178]

Frank Finkel, from Dayton, Washington, had such a convincing story that historian Charles Kuhlman[169] believed the alleged survivor, going so far as to write a lengthy defense of Finkel's participation in the battle.[170] Douglas Ellison—mayor of Medora, North Dakota, and an amateur historian—also wrote a book in support of the veracity of Finkel's claim.[171] Most scholars reject Finkel's claim.[172][173]

The historian Earl Alonzo Brininstool[165] suggested he had collected at least 70 "lone survivor" stories.[166] Michael Nunnally, an amateur Custer historian, wrote a booklet describing 30 such accounts.[167] It has been said that even Mrs. Libby Custer received dozens of letters from men, in shocking detail, about their sole survivor experience.[168] At least 125 alleged "single survivor" tales have been confirmed in the historical record as of July 2012.

Soldiers under Custer's direct command were annihilated on the first day of battle. However, over 120 men and women would come forward over the course of the next 70 years claiming they were "the lone survivor" of Custer's Last Stand.[163] The phenomena became so widespread that one historian remarked, "Had Custer had all of those who claimed to be “the lone survivor” of his two battalions he would have had at least a brigade behind him when he crossed the Wolf Mountains and rode to the attack."[164]

Battle survivor claims

Historian Robert M. Utley, in a section entitled “Would Gatling Guns had Saved Custer?” presents two judgments from Custer’s contemporaries: General Henry J. Hunt, expert in the tactical use of artillery in Civil War, stated that Gatlings “would probably have saved the command”, whereas General Nelson A. Miles, participant in the Great Sioux War declared “[Gatlings] were useless for Indian fighting.” [162]

Historians have acknowledged the fire power inherent in the Gatling gun: they were capable of firing 350 .45-70 caliber rounds per minute. Jamming caused by black powder residue could lower that rate,[157][158] raising questions as to their reliability under combat conditions.[159][160] Researchers have further questioned the effectiveness of the guns under the tactics that Custer was likely to face with the Lakota and Cheyenne warriors. The Gatlings, mounted high on carriages, required the battery crew to stand upright during its operation, making them easy targets for Lakota and Cheyenne sharpshooters.[161]

One factor concerned Major Marcus Reno’s recent 8-day reconnaissance-in-force of the Powder-Tongue-Rosebud Rivers, June 10 to 18.[140][141] This deployment had demonstrated that artillery pieces mounted on gun carriages and hauled by horses no longer fit for cavalry mounts (so-called condemned horses) were cumbersome over mixed terrain and vulnerable to breakdowns.[142][143][144][145] Custer, valuing the mobility of the 7th Cavalry and recognizing Terry’s acknowledgement of the regiment as “the primary strike force” preferred to remain unencumbered by the Gatling guns.[146][147][148][149] Custer insisted that the artillery was superfluous to his success, in that the 7th Cavalry alone was sufficient to cope with any force they should encounter, informing Terry: "The 7th can handle anything it meets".[150][151][152][153] In addition to these practical concerns, a strained relationship with Major James Brisbin induced Custer’s polite refusal to integrate Brisbin’s Second Cavalry unit – and the Gatling guns – into his strike force, as it would disrupt any hierarchical arrangements that Custer presided over.[154][155][156]

Custer’s decision to reject Terry’s offer of the rapid-fire Gatlings has raised questions among historians as to why he refused them and what advantage their availability might have conferred on his forces at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. [137][138][139]

Gatling gun, invented in 1861 by Richard Gatling. Custer declined an offer of a battery of these weapons, explaining to Terry they would "hamper our movements". Said Custer: "The 7th can handle anything it meets."[136]

General Alfred Terry’s Dakota column included a single battery of artillery, comprising two Rodman guns (3-inch Ordnance rifle) and two Gatling guns.[133][134] (According to historian Evan S. Connell, the precise number of Gatlings has not been established, ranging from two to three).[135]

The Gatling gun controversy

Historian Thom Hatch observes that the Model 1873 Springfield, despite the known ejector flaw, remained the standard issue shoulder arm for US troops until the early 1890s.[132] when the copper-cased, inside-primed cartridges were replaced with brass.

Gallear addresses the post-battle testimony concerning the copper .45-55 cartridges supplied to the troops in which an officer is said to have cleared the chambers of spent cartridges for a number of Springfield carbines.[128] This testimony of widespread fusing of the casings offered to the Chief of Ordnance at the Reno Court of Inquiry in 1879 conflicts with the archaeological evidence collected at the battlefield. Field data showed that possible extractor failures occurred at a rate of approximately 1:30 firings at the Custer Battlefield and at a rate of 1:37 at the Reno-Benteen Battlefield.[129][130][131]

That the weapon experienced jamming of the extractor is not contested, but its contribution to Custer’s defeat is considered negligible. This conclusion is supported by evidence from archaeological studies performed at the battlefield, where the recovery of Springfield cartridge casing, bearing tell-tale scratch marks indicating manual extraction, were rare. The flaw in the ejector mechanism was known to the Army Ordnance Board at the time of the selection of the Model 1873 rifle and carbine, and was not considered a significant shortcoming in the overall worthiness of the shoulder arm.[125] With the ejector failure in US Army tests as low as 1:300, the Springfield carbine was vastly more reliable than the muzzle-loading Springfields used in the Civil War.[126][127]

The question as to whether the reported malfunction of the Model 1873 Springfield carbine issued to the 7th Cavalry contributed to their defeat has been debated for years.[124]

Malfunction of the Springfield Carbine extractor mechanism

The breechloader design patent for the Springfield’s Erskine S. Allin “trapdoor” system was owned by the US government and the firearm could be easily adapted for production with existing machinery at the Springfield Armory in Massachusetts. [122] At time when funding for the post-war Army had been slashed, the prospect for economical production influenced the Ordnance Board member selection of the Springfield option.[123]

Gallear points out that lever-action rifles, after a burst of rapid discharge, still required a reloading interlude that lowered their overall rate of fire; Springfield breechloaders “in the long run, had a higher rate of fire, which was sustainable throughout a battle.”[121]

The Springfield carbine is praised for its “superior range and stopping power” by historian James Donovan, and author Charles M. Robinson reports that the rifle could be “loaded and fired much more rapidly than its muzzle loading predecessors, and had twice the range of repeating rifles such as the Winchester, Henry and Spencer.”[118][119][120]

British historian Mark Gallear maintains that US government experts rejected the lever-action repeater designs, deeming them ineffective in the event of a clash with fully equipped European armies, or in case of an outbreak of another American civil conflict. Gallear’s analysis minimizes the allegation that rapid depletion of ammunition in lever-action models influenced the decision in favor of the single-shot Springfield. The Indian War, in this context, appears as a minor theatre of conflict, whose contingencies were unlikely to govern the selection of standard weaponry for an emerging industrialized nation.[117]

Tomahawk and sabre; or even odds, painting by Charles Schreyvogel (1861 – 1912). This kind of combat never occurred at the Battle of the Little Bighorn: none of the 7th Cavalry carried sabers, on Custer’s orders.

After exhaustive testing – including comparisons to domestic and foreign single-shot and repeating rifles – the Army Ordnance Board (whose members included officers Marcus Reno and Alfred Terry) authorized the Springfield as the official firearm for the United State Army.[114][115] The Springfield, manufactured in a .45-70 long rifle version for the infantry and a .45-55 light carbine version for the cavalry, was judged a solid firearm that met the long-term and geostrategic requirements of the United States fighting forces. [116]

Model 1873 Springfield carbine and the US Army

Historian Michael L. Lawson offers a scenario based on archaeological collections at the "Henryville" site, which yielded plentiful Henry rifle cartridge casings from approximately 20 individual guns. Lawson speculates that, though less powerful than the Springfield carbines, the Henry repeaters provided a barrage of fire at a critical point, driving Lieutenant James Calhoun's L Company from Calhoun Hill and Finley Ridge, forcing them to flee in disarray back to Captain Myles Keogh's I Company, and leading to the disintegration of that wing of Custer's Battalion.[113]

Historians have asked whether the repeating rifles conferred a distinct advantage on Sitting Bull’s villagers that contributed to their victory over Custer’s carbine-armed soldiers.[112]

Two hundred or more Lakota and Cheyenne combatants are known to have been armed with Henry, Winchester, or similar lever-action repeating rifles at the battle.[100][110] Virtually every trooper in the 7th Cavalry fought with the single-shot, breech-loading Springfield carbine and the Colt revolver.[111]

Lever-action Repeaters vs. Single-action Breechloaders

Ammunition allotments provided 100 carbine rounds per trooper, carried on an cartridge belt and in saddlebags on their mounts. An additional 50 carbine rounds per man were reserved on the pack train that accompanied the regiment to the battlefield. Each trooper had 24 rounds for his Colt handgun.[108] The opposing forces, though not equally matched in the number and type of arms, were comparably outfitted, and neither side held a overwhelming advantage in weaponry.[109]

With the exception of a number of officers and scouts who opted for personally owned and more expensive rifles and handguns, the 7th Cavalry was uniformly armed.[105][106][107]

The troops under Custer’s command carried two regulation firearms authorized and issued by the U.S. Army in early 1876: the breech-loading, single-shot Springfield Model 1873 carbine, and the 1873 Colt single-action revolver.[102] The regulation M1860 saber or “Long Knives” were not carried by troopers upon Custer’s order.[103][104]

7th Cavalry

Of the guns owned by Lakota and Cheyenne fighters at the Little Bighorn, approximately 200 were repeating rifles[100] corresponding to about 1 of 10 of the encampment’s two thousand able-bodied fighters who participated in the battle[101]

Sitting Bull’s forces had no assured means to supply themselves with firearms and ammunition.[97] Nonetheless, they could usually procure these through post-traders, licensed or unlicensed, and from gunrunners who operated in the Dakota Territory: “…a horse or a mule for a repeater…buffalo hides for ammunition.”[98] Custer's highly regarded guide, "Lonesome" Charley Reynolds, informed his superior in early 1876 that Sitting Bull's forces were amassing weapons, including numerous Winchester repeating rifles and abundant ammunition.[99]

A Henry Rifle and a Winchester Mod 1866 Rifle. These repeater rifles were capable of higher rates of fire than the Springfield Trapdoor.
Springfield Trapdoor Rifle with breech open. Custer's troops were equipped with these breech-loading, single-shot rifles.

The Lakota and Cheyenne warriors that opposed Custer’s forces possessed a wide array of weaponry, from Stone Age war clubs and lances to the most advanced firearms of the day.[90] The typical firearms carried by the Lakota and Cheyenne combatants were muzzleloaders, more often a cap-lock smoothbore, the so-called Indian trade musket or Leman guns[91][92] distributed to Indians by the US government at treaty conventions.[93] Less common were surplus .58 caliber rifled muskets of American Civil War vintage such as the Enfield and Springfield.[94] Metal cartridge weapons were prized by native combatants, such as the Henry and the Spencer lever-action rifles, as well as Sharps breechloaders.[95] Bow and arrows were utilized by younger braves in lieu of the more potent firearms; effective up to 30 yards (27 meters) the arrows could readily maim or disable an opponent.[96]

Lakota and Cheyenne

Weapons used at the Battle of the Little Bighorn

The widowed Elizabeth Bacon Custer, who never remarried, wrote three popular books in which she fiercely protected her husband's reputation.[86][note 9] She lived until 1933, thus preventing much serious research until most of the evidence was long gone.[87] In addition, Captain Frederick Whittaker's 1876 book idealizing Custer was hugely successful.[88] Custer as a heroic officer fighting valiantly against savage forces was an image popularized in Wild West extravaganzas hosted by showman "Buffalo Bill" Cody, Pawnee Bill, and others.[89]

Criticism of Custer was not universal. While investigating the battlefield, Lieutenant General Nelson A. Miles wrote in 1877, "The more I study the moves here [on the Little Big Horn], the more I have admiration for Custer."[85] Facing major budget cutbacks, the U.S. Army wanted to avoid bad press and found ways to exculpate Custer. They blamed the defeat on the Indians' alleged possession of numerous repeating rifles and the overwhelming numerical superiority of the warriors.[note 8]

Admiration for Custer

Death of Custer, scene by Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show performers c.1905 of Sitting Bull's stabbing Custer, with dead Native Americans lying on ground

The historian James Donovan believed that Custer's dividing his force into four smaller detachments (including the pack train) can be attributed to his inadequate reconnaissance; he also ignored the warnings of his Crow scouts and Charley Reynolds.[82] By the time the battle began, Custer had already divided his forces into three battalions of differing sizes, of which he kept the largest. His men were widely scattered and unable to support each other.[83][84] Wanting to prevent any escape by the combined tribes to the south, where they could disperse into different groups,[18] Custer believed that an immediate attack on the south end of the camp was the best course of action.

Custer believed that the 7th Cavalry could handle any Indian force and that the addition of the four companies of the 2nd would not alter the outcome. When offered the 2nd Cavalry, he reportedly replied that the 7th "could handle anything."[80] There is evidence that Custer suspected that he would be outnumbered by the Indians, although he did not know by how much. By dividing his forces, Custer could have caused the defeat of the entire column, had it not been for Benteen's and Reno's linking up to make a desperate yet successful stand on the bluff above the southern end of the camp.[81]

By contrast, each Gatling gun had to be hauled by four horses, and soldiers often had to drag the heavy guns by hand over obstacles. Each of the heavy, hand-cranked weapons could fire up to 350 rounds a minute, an impressive rate, but they were known to jam frequently. During the Black Hills Expedition two years earlier, a Gatling gun had turned over, rolled down a mountain, and shattered to pieces. Lieutenant William Low, commander of the artillery detachment, was said to have almost wept when he learned he had been excluded from the strike force.[79]

General Terry and others claimed that Custer made strategic errors from the start of the campaign. For instance, he refused to use a battery of Gatling guns, and turned down General Terry's offer of an additional battalion of the 2nd Cavalry. Custer believed that the Gatling guns would impede his march up the Rosebud and hamper his mobility. His rapid march en route to the Little Big Horn averaged nearly 30 miles (48 km) a day, so his assessment appears to have been accurate. Custer planned “to live and travel like Indians; in this manner the command will be able to go wherever the Indians can,” he wrote in his Herald dispatch.[79]

Custer's errors

The Battle Of The Little Bighorn was the subject of an 1879 U.S. Army Court of Inquiry in Chicago, held at Reno's request, during which his conduct was scrutinized.[77] Some testimony by non-Army officers suggested that he was drunk and a coward. The court found Reno's conduct to be without fault. Since the battle, Thomas Rosser, James O'Kelly, and others continued to question the conduct of Reno due to his hastily ordered retreat.[78] Defenders of Reno at the trial noted that, while the retreat was disorganized, Reno did not withdraw from his position until it became apparent that he was outnumbered and outflanked by the Indians. Contemporary accounts also point to the fact that Reno's scout, Bloody Knife, was shot in the head, spraying him with blood, possibly increasing his own panic and distress.[19]

Reno's conduct

Battle controversies

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.[75][76] The Agreement of 1877 (19 Stat. 254, enacted February 28, 1877) officially took away Sioux land and permanently established Indian reservations.

"Sell or Starve"

The US Congress authorized appropriations to expand the Army by 2,500 men to meet the emergency after the defeat of the 7th Cavalry. For a session, the Democratic Party-controlled House of Representatives abandoned its campaign to reduce the size of the Army. Word of Custer's fate reached the 44th United States Congress as a conference committee was attempting to reconcile opposing appropriations bills approved by the House and the Republican Senate. They approved a measure to increase the size of cavalry companies to 100 enlisted men on July 24. The committee temporarily lifted the ceiling on the size of the Army by 2,500 on August 15.[74]

The expansion of the US Army

Beginning in July, the 7th Cavalry was assigned new officers[73][note 7] and recruiting efforts begun to fill the depleted ranks. The regiment, reorganized into eight companies, remained in the field as part of the Terry Expedition, now based on the Yellowstone River at the mouth of the Big Horn and reinforced by Gibbon's column. On August 8, 1876, after Terry was further reinforced with the 5th Infantry, the expedition moved up Rosebud Creek in pursuit of the Lakota. It met with Crook's command, similarly reinforced, and the combined force, almost 4,000 strong, followed the Lakota trail northeast toward the Little Missouri River. Persistent rain and lack of supplies forced the column to dissolve and return to its varying starting points. The 7th Cavalry returned to Fort Abraham Lincoln to reconstitute.

Scene of Custer's last stand, looking in the direction the Indian village and the deep ravine. Photo by Stanley J. Morrow, spring 1877.

Reconstitution of the 7th Cavalry – July 1876


Civilians killed

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.[70] 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.[71] 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.[71] Indian accounts also noted the bravery of soldiers who fought to the death.[72]

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 (3 Indian scouts and several troopers had left that column before the battle; an Indian scout, Curley, was the only survivor to leave after the battle had begun), although for years rumors persisted of survivors.[note 5] Among the dead were Custer's brothers Boston and Thomas, his brother-in-law James Calhoun, and his nephew Henry Reed. The sole surviving animal reportedly discovered on the battlefield by General Terry's troops was Captain Keogh's horse, Comanche, although other horses were believed to have been taken by the Indians.[note 6]

Comanche in 1887

7th Cavalry casualties

Native American casualties have never been determined and estimates vary widely, from as few as 36 dead (from Native American listings of the dead by name) to as many as 300.[68] 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.[69] 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. Many historians do not agree with these categorical numbers, since Native Americans did not keep such statistics.

Native American casualties


7th United States Cavalry Regiment Battalion Companies and Others

†, commanding.

Custer's Battalion


Reno's Battalion

   Major Marcus Reno

Benteen's Battalion

   Captain Frederick Benteen

Pack Train

   First Lieutenant Edward Gustave Mathey

  • Company B: Captain Thomas McDougall
Scouts and Interpreters

   Second Lieutenant Charles Varnum (wounded), Chief of Scouts

United States Army, Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer, 7th United States Cavalry Regiment, Commanding.

Native Americans Tribe Leaders

Native Americans

Lakota Sioux


Dakota Sioux


  • Lower Yanktonai: Thunder Bear, Medicine Cloud, Iron Bear, Long Tree
  • Wahpekute: Inkpaduta, Sounds-the-Ground-as-He-Walks, White Eagle, White Tracking Earth
Northern Cheyenne




  • Arapahoes: Waterman, Sage, Left Hand, Yellow Eagle, Little Bird

Native Americans

Order of battle

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.[67]

Arapaho participation

  • Bloody Knife: Arikara/Lakota scout (killed)
  • Bob Tailed Bull: Arikara scout (killed)
  • Boy Chief: Arikara scout
  • Charley Reynolds: scout (killed)
  • Curley: Crow scout
  • Curling Head: Arikara scout
  • Fred Gerard: interpreter
  • Goes Ahead: Crow scout
  • Goose: Arikara scout (wounded in the hand by a 7th Cavalry trooper)
  • Hairy Moccasin: Crow scout
  • Half Yellow Face, leader of Crow Scouts, also known as Paints Half His Face Yellow[45]:46
  • Isaiah Dorman: interpreter (killed)
  • Little Brave: Arikara scout (killed)
  • Little Sioux: Arikara scout
  • Mitch Bouyer: scout/interpreter (killed)
  • One Feather: Arikara scout
  • Owl: Arikara scout
  • Peter Jackson: half-Pikuni and half Blackfoot brother of William, scout
  • Red Bear: Arikara scout
  • Red Star: Arikara scout
  • Running Wolf: Arikara scout
  • Sitting Bear: Arikara scout
  • Soldier: Arikara scout
  • Strikes The Lodge: Arikara scout
  • Strikes Two: Arikara scout
  • Two Moons: Arikara/Cheyenne scout
  • White Man Runs Him: Crow scout
  • White Swan, Crow Scout (severely wounded)
  • William Jackson: half-Pikuni and half Blackfoot scout
  • Young Hawk: Arikara scout

The 7th Cavalry was accompanied by a number of scouts and interpreters:

Three of Custer's scouts accompanying Edward Curtis on his investigative tour of the battlefield, circa 1907. Left to right: Goes Ahead, Hairy Moccasin, White Man Runs Him, Curtis and Alexander B. Upshaw (Curtis' assistant and Crow interpreter).

Notable scouts/interpreters in the battle

Marker stone on the battlefield

Native American leaders and warriors in the battle

An obelisk commemorates the U.S. Army dead, and marks the spot of the mass grave where all US soldiers were re-buried

7th Cavalry officers at the Battle of the Little Bighorn

Battle participants

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. Threatened with starvation, the Indians ceded Paha Sapa to the United States,[63] but the Sioux never accepted the legitimacy of the transaction. After lobbying Congress to create a forum to decide their claim, and subsequent litigation spanning 40 years, the United States Supreme Court in the 1980 decision United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians acknowledged[note 4] the United States had taken the Black Hills without just compensation. The Sioux refused the money offered, and continue to insist on their right to occupy the land.

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, perhaps sensing that the summer of 1876 would be the last of their traditional lifeways. Soon, the number of warriors who still remained at large and hostile amounted to only about 600.[62] 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.[60]

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."[61]

Former US Army Crow Scouts visiting the Little Bighorn battlefield, circa 1913.

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, and has even been referred to as "the Indians' last stand"[59] in the area. Within 48 hours after the battle, the large encampment on the Little Bighorn broke up into smaller groups as the resources of grass for the horses and game could not sustain a large congregation of people.[60]

News of the defeat arrived in the East as the U.S. was observing its centennial.[57][58] The Army began to investigate, although its effectiveness was hampered by a concern for survivors, and the reputation of the officers.

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.[note 3] 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." 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.[55] The only remaining doctor was Assistant Surgeon Henry R. Porter.[56]


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. At this point, the fight would have become a rout with warriors riding down the fleeing troopers and hitting them with lances and coup sticks.[36][note 2] 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 (the most common number associated with burial witness testimony), including that of scout Mitch Bouyer, were discovered in or near that gulch, their deaths possibly the battle's final actions. Although the marker for Mitch Bouyer has been accounted for as being accurate through archaeological and forensic testing,[53] it is some 65 yards away from Deep Ravine. Other archaeological explorations done in Deep Ravine[54] 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.[36]:284–85 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.[36]:282

Mitch Bouyer marker on Deep Ravine trail, Deep Ravine is to the right of this picture (s/sw), and about 65 yrds. distant.

Last break-out attempt by 28 troopers

Under threat of attack the first US 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.

Recent archaeological work at the battlefield indicates that organized resistance in the form of skirmish lines probably took place. 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.[52] 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.

Custer's final resistance

By almost all accounts, the Lakota annihilated Custer's force within an hour of engagement.[46][47][48] 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.[49] 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."[50]

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 (E, F, and half of C,) were soon eradicated.

The "Last Stand"

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 1920s' evidence 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 (according to the Crow scout Curley, possibly viewed by both Mitch Bouyer and Custer) 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.

"Custer's Last Stand." Lieutenant Colonel Custer standing center, wearing buckskin, with few of his soldiers of the 7th Cavalry still standing.

Archaeological evidence and reassessment of Indian testimony has led to a new interpretation of the battle. In the 1920s, battlefield investigators discovered hundreds of .45–70 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.

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.

Other views of Custer's actions at Minneconjou Ford

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".[45]: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". Finally, Curtis visited the country of the Arikara and interviewed the scouts of that tribe who had been with Custer's command.[45]:44 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".[45]:48 They were soon joined by a large force of Sioux who (no longer engaging Reno) 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".[45]:49

Custer's route over battlefield, as theorized by Curtis. (Credit: Northwestern University Library 2003Edward S. Curtis's The North American Indian,).

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.[36]:10–20 The location of the north end of the village remains in dispute, however.

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.[43] Troopers had to dismount to help the wounded men back onto their horses.[36]:117–19 The fact that each of the non-mutilation wounds to Custer's body (a bullet wound below the heart and a shot to the left temple) would have been instantly fatal casts doubt on his being wounded and remounted.[44]

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.

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.

"Hurrah boys, we've got them! We'll finish them up and then go home to our station."

— Reported words of Lieutenant Colonel Custer at the battle's outset.[42]

Custer at Minneconjou Ford

Cheyenne oral tradition credits Buffalo Calf Road Woman with striking the blow that knocked Custer off his horse before he died.[41]

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".[40]:136 In this account, Custer was allegedly killed by a Lakota called Big-nose.[40]:141 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.[24]:380 Chief Gall's statements were corroborated by other Indians, notably the wife of Spotted Horn Bull.[24]:379 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".[24]:380

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.[39] 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.

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. (Other Native accounts note several soldiers committing suicide near the end of the battle.) His body was found near the top of Custer Hill, which also came to be known as "Last Stand Hill." There the United States erected a tall memorial obelisk inscribed with the names of the 7th Cavalry's casualties.[38]

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.[36] 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.[38]

The precise details of Custer's fight are largely conjectural since none of his men (the five companies under his immediate command) survived the battle. The accounts of surviving Indians are conflicting and unclear.

Fanciful 1876 illustration of Lieutenant Colonel Custer on horseback and his U.S. Army troops making their last charge at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Custer's fight

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.[37]

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.[35] 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.[36]:240 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. There, they remained pinned down for another day, but the Natives were unable to breach this tightly held position.

Atop the bluffs, known today as Reno Hill, Reno's shaken troops were joined by Captain Benteen's column (Companies D, H and K), 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 (Giovanni Martini) with the hand-written message "Benteen. Come on, Big Village, Be quick, Bring packs. P.S. Bring Packs.".[33] 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 Confederates troops utilizing knives, eating utensils, mess plates and pans, to dig effective battlefield fortifications.[34]

Reno and Benteen on Reno Hill

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. Later Reno reported that three officers and 29 troopers had been killed during the retreat and subsequent fording of the river, with another officer and 13–18 men missing. Most of these 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.

Reno-Benteen Defensive Position

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 (in Lakota, Phizí), mounted warriors began streaming out to meet the attack. 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.[30] From this position the Indians mounted an attack of more than 500 warriors against the left and rear of Reno's line,[31] turning Reno's exposed left flank. They forced a hasty withdrawal into the timber along the bend in the river.[32] 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 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.[29] 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.

Movement of Major Reno's three Companies

The first group to attack was Major Reno's second detachment (Companies A, G and M), 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."

Reno's attack

Movement of the 7th Cavalry
A: Custer B: Reno C: Benteen D: Yates E: Weir

Battle engagements

"Who knows that the same Indians [who destroyed Custer's battalion] might have done to [the column commanded by] Gibbon and Terry, had not Custer attacked …on the 25th, instead [attacking on] the 26th…and Sioux and Cheyenne forces "moving toward [Terry and Gibbon], do the very same thing [to their column] – overwhelm them by force of numbers…"[28]

Captain Robert G. Carter, writing to author W.A. Graham in 1925, discussed the vulnerability of U.S. Army troops to interception and destruction by Indian defenders, outside the context of the Indian villages:

Custer was almost within "striking distance of the refugees" before being repulsed by Indian defenders and forced back to Custer Ridge.[27]

Custer persisted in his efforts to "seize women and children" even as hundreds of warriors were massing around Keogh's wing on the bluffs.[26] Yates' wing, descending to the Little Bighorn River at Ford D, encountered "light resistance",[19]:297 undetected by the Indian forces ascending the bluffs east of the village.[19]:298

Custer proceeded with a wing of his battalion (Yates' Troops E and F) north and opposite the Cheyenne circle at a crossing referred to by Fox as Ford D[19]:176–77 which provided "access to the [women and children] fugitives."[19]:306 Yates's force "posed an immediate threat to fugitive Indian families…" gathering at the north end of the huge encampment.[19]:299

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.[25] Such was their concern that a "feint" by Cpt. 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.[25]

"[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".[24]:379

On Custer's decision to advance up the bluffs and descend on the village from the east, Lt. Edward Godfrey of Company K surmised:

"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 [military] 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."[23]

Custer asserted in his book My Life on the Plains, published just two years before the Battle of the Little Big Horn, that:

Lt. Colonel George A. Custer's field strategy was designed to engage noncombatants at the encampments at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, so as to capture women, children, the elderly or disabled [19]:297 to serve as hostages and human shields. Custer's battalions were poised to "ride into the camp and secure noncombatant hostages"[20] and "forc[e] the warriors to surrender".[21] 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."[19]:312[22]

The role of Indian noncombatants in Custer's strategy

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.[17] Fearing that the village would break up into small bands that he would have to chase, Custer began to prepare for an immediate attack.[18]

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.[16]

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 (Martini)[15] 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.[15]

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. While after the battle, Custer was severely criticized 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.[14]

1876 Army Campaign against the Sioux

Number of Indian warriors

A Cheyenne artist's depiction of the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Military assumptions prior to the battle

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 (approximately 22%) was not unusual for an expedition of this size,[13] 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.[note 1] Three second lieutenant vacancies (in E, H, and L Companies) were also unfilled.

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.[11][12]

US 7th Cavalry guidon

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.

7th Cavalry organization


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."[9] 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.[10]

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.[8] Assuming his presence had been exposed, Custer decided to attack the village without further delay. 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 (A, G, and M); and three were placed under the command of Capt. Frederick Benteen (H, D, and K). Five companies (C, E, F, I, and L) 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.[6]

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 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.

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 in the battle, 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 and pursuit along the Rosebud, with the prerogative to "depart" from orders upon seeing "sufficient reason." Custer had been offered the use of Gatling guns, but declined, believing they would slow his command.[6]

[7], which was loaded with 200 tons of supplies from Fort Lincoln.Far West 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 Missouri River on the Fort Buford, moved along the Yellowstone River from 6th U.S. Infantry 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 Dakota Territory in the Fort Abraham Lincoln detachment of the 20th Infantry departed westward from Gatling gun Companies C and G of the 17th U.S. Infantry, and the [6]

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