1876 The Battle of the Little Big Horn


“The day was hot and the soldiers removed their coats and top shirts and went into battle in their undershirts…….. Gall himself says that it was impossible to distinguish individual soldiers because of the dust from the horses’ hooves and the smoke of the battle.” (page 82)

The Last Battle of the Sioux Nation by Usher L Burdick, 1929

Custer's Last Stand by Edgar S Paxson, 1899

Custer's Last Stand by Edgar S Paxson, 1899

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1876 The Battle of the Little Big Horn

1876 The Battle of the Little Big Horn


. Crazy Horse on his deathbed, quoted in The Killing of Crazy Horse, Robert Clark, 1976

“We preferred our own way of living. We were no expense to the government…All we asked was to be left alone.”

Gall, Fort Rice 1868, quoted in Dee Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

“We were born naked, and have been taught to hunt and live on game. You tell us that we must learn to farm, live in one house and take on your ways. Suppose the people living beyond the great sea should come and tell you that you must stop farming, and kill your cattle, and take your horses and lands, what would you do. Would you not fight?” (page 233)

The Coming of Custer by Wooden Leg, Northern Cheyenne participant, as told to & interpreted by Thomas B Marquis, 1931

“Most of the Indians were working around the ridge now occupied by soldiers. We were lying down in gullies and behind sagebrush hillocks. The shooting at first was at a distance, but we kept creeping in closer all round the edge. Bows and arrows were in use much more than guns. From the hiding places of the Indians, the arrows could be shot in a high and long curve, to fall upon the soldiers or their horses………The slow long-distance fighting was kept up for about an hour and a half, I believe.” (page230)

“From the gulch where I was I could see the north slope of the ridge covered by hidden Indians. But the soldiers, from where they were, could not see the warriors, except as some Indian might jump up to shoot quickly and then duck down again.” (page235)

“The shots quit coming from the soldiers. Warriors who had crept close to them began to call out that all the white men were dead. All of the Indians then jumped up and rushed forward……….The air was full of dust and smoke. Everybody was greatly excited. It looked like thousands of dogs might look if all of them were mixed together in a fight. All of the Indians were saying that these soldiers …..went crazy and killed themselves.” (page 237)

The Last Battle of the Sioux Nation by Usher L Burdick, 1929

“The day was hot and the soldiers removed their coats and top shirts and went into battle in their undershirts…….. Gall himself says that it was impossible to distinguish individual soldiers because of the dust from the horses’ hooves and the smoke of the battle.” (page 82)

Kate Bighead, 1922 recorded by Dr. Thomas Marquis and published as She Watched Custer's Last Battle: Her Story, 1933

This account was taken down and interpreted by Tongue River Reservation physician Thomas Bailey Marguis (1869-1935). Following World War I, Dr. Marguis, as a government physician, was assigned to serve the Crow and Northern Cheyenne. As he learned their language and gained their trust, Dr. Marguis began to take down native American accounts of the Battle of the Little Big Horn. He later operated a small museum in Hardin, Montana, and published those accounts, some as small paperback tracts which he sold in the museum. Among them was Kate Bighead's, whose family were Northern Cheyenne survivors from Washita who had taken refuge with the HunkpapaMrs. Bighead was one of the last survivors of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. She died in 1959.

Little Big Horn was not the first meeting between the Cheyennes and Long Hair. Early in the winter of 1868 Long Hair and the Seventh Cavalry attacked our camp on the Washita River killing Chief Black Kettle and his band, burning their tipis and destroying all their food and belongings. In the spring Long Hair promised peace and moved the Cheyenne to a reservation. When gold was discovered white people came and the Indians were moved again. My brothers and I left for the open plains where our band of Cheyenne was again attacked by white soldiers in the winter of 1875. We were forced to seek help from a tribe of Oglala Sioux led by Chief Crazy Horse. After several days we joined Sitting Bull and the Hunkpapa Sioux and decided to travel and hunt together as one strong group. As conditions on the reservations became worse more and more Indians migrated west joining our group. Six tribes lived peacefully for several months, hunting buffalo, curing the meat for the winter months, and tanning buffalo hides. In the early summer, 1876 we set up camp near Little Big Horn River. Soldiers were spotted by some hunters to the south of the camp. Some young men went off to fight them and when they returned the next day they carried the bodies of several dead warriors with them. The chiefs then decided the group should move to the mouth of the river where there was plenty of game. On the first day of camp the peace was shattered when two boys ran into the camp warning of soldiers. Then shooting could be heard. Women and children went to hide in the brush, some women carried away tipis and their belongings, others just ran with their children. Old men helped young men put on their war paint and dress. War ponies were brought into camp from the herds and the warriors mounted them and galloped away.

I found a pony and followed the warriors to watch the fighting as I often did since my nephew, Noisy Walking, expected me to watch and sing songs to give him courage. I rode around the outer fringes of the fighting, staying out of range of the bullets as I searched for Noisy Walking. In this way I could see what was happening. More and more soldiers were getting off their horses, preferring to hide or crawl along the ground. The ride by the river became a focal point as bands of warriors moved toward the waiting soldiers. Hundreds of Indians had begun to crawl toward them along crevices and gullies. Some soldiers mounted an attack off the ridge, galloping on their horses toward a group of Cheyennes and Oglalas. The Indians scattered to safety, and the white men dismounted again to hide along a second ridge. As hundreds of Indians surrounded this ridge I saw one of the soldiers point his pistol at his head and pull the trigger. Others imitated his example, shooting sometimes themselves, sometimes each other. When Chief Lame White Man reached the soldiers all of them were already dead. Indians then attacked the first ridge, and again most of the white men were already dead. The only thing remaining for the Indians to do was pick up the abandoned guns and ammunition. As warriors walked among the white men, they cut off the legs or feet or arms of many of the bodies. Some of the soldiers were still living, having only been wounded, but they were quickly killed and parts of their bodies were also severed.

Only a few soldiers were still alive and able to fight at this point, and they joined forces at the west end of the ridge where they were surrounded by warriors and killed. When the shooting stopped the Indians thought all the soldiers had been killed, but seven soldiers were still alive and they rushed out from behind their horses and started running. I could not see what happened to these seven because of all the dust raised by the Indians and their ponies. I rode away searching for my nephew who had been shot and stabbed. I stayed with him, and brought him to his mother, but Noisy Walking died that night. He was one of the few Indians to be killed -- only half a dozen Cheyenne and two dozen Sioux lost their lives. The Indians said this was because of the Everywhere Spirit who had caused the white men to go mad and kill themselves thus saving many lives from the guns of the soldiers. They said this madness was the Everywhere Spirit's way of punishing the white men for attacking a peaceful Indian camp.

After the battle according to Cheyenne custom the dead were buried while some of the Sioux dead were placed on scaffolds. Then lodges and tipis were dismantled and we traveled down river when we received word that more soldiers were coming toward Little Big Horn. When we reached the junction of the Little Big Horn and Powder Rivers the group divided and the Cheyenne made camp near the mouth of the Powder River. Soldiers once again attacked us during the winter destroying our food and hides, so we moved into the Little Big Horn Valley. We were finally persuaded to go with the soldiers and sent to Oklahoma.

Moving Robe (Tashna Mani), 1931 recorded by Frank Zahn

Several of us young Indian women were digging wild turnips when I saw a cloud of dust rise beyond a ridge of bluffs in the east. We looked towards camp and saw a warrior ride swiftly, shouting that the solders were only a few miles away, and that the women and children and old men should run for the hills in the opposite direction. I dropped the pointed ash stick which I had used in digging turnips and ran toward my tipi. I saw my father running toward the horses. My mother told me that news was brought to her that my brother had been killed by the soldiers. In a few moments we saw soldiers on horseback on a bluff just across the Peji Sla Wakapa (Greasy Grass or Little Big Horn River). I heard Hawk Man shout, "Hoka He! Hoka He! (Charge! Charge!)" The soldiers began firing into our camp. Then they ceased firing. I saw my father preparing to go to the battle. I sang a death song for my young brother, One Hawk, who had been killed. I ran to a nearby thicket and got my black horse. I painted my face with crimson and braided my black hair. I was mourning. I was a woman, but I was not afraid.

By this time the soldiers were forming a battle line in the bottom about a half mile away. In another moment I heard a volley of carbines. The bullets shattered tipi poles. Women and children were running away from the gunfire. In the tumult I heard old men and women singing death songs for their warriors who were now ready to attack the soldiers. The songs made me brave. Warriors were given orders by Hawk Man to mount their horses and follow the soldiers to the forest and wait until commands were given to charge. The soldiers kept firing. Ten women were also killed. Father led my horse to me and I mounted. We galloped toward the soldiers. Other warriors joined in with us. When we were nearing the fringe of the woods, an order was given by Hawk Man to charge. The warriors were now near the soldiers. The troopers were all on foot. They shot straight, because I saw Hawk Man killed as he rode with his warriors. The charge was so stubborn that the soldiers ran to their horses and mounting them, rode swiftly toward the river where the horses had to swim to get across. Some of the warriors rode into the water and killed some of the soldiers and unhorsed some of them. The warriors chased the soldiers across the river and up over a bluff, then they returned to where the battle took place and sang a victory song. Someone said that another body of soldiers was attacking the lower end of the village. I heard afterwards that these soldiers were under the command of Pehin Hanska (Hair Long). With my father and other youthful warriors I rode in that direction holding my brother's war staff over my head. Rain in the Face shouted, "Behold, there is among us a young woman! Let no young man ride behind her garment!" knowing it would make the young men brave.

We crossed the Greasy Grass below a beaver dam where the water is not so deep, and came upon many horses. One soldier was holding the reins of eight or ten horses. An Indian waved his blanket to scare the horses and they got away from the soldiers. On the ridge just north of us, I saw blueclad men running up a ravine, firing as they ran. The valley was dense with powder smoke. Long Hair's troops were trapped in an enclosure. The Cheyennes attacked the soldiers from the north, and Crow King from the south.

After the battle the Indians took all the equipment and horses belonging to the soldiers. We did not know who the soldiers were until an interpreter told us that the men came from Ft. Lincoln in Dakota Territory. On the saddle blankets were the crossed saber insignia and the figure "7". The brave men who came to punish us that morning were defeated; but in the end the Indians lost. Over sixty Indians were killed, and they were brought back to the camp for scaffold burial. The Indians did not stage a victory dance that night. They were mourning for their own dead. The next day Sitting Bull's band packed our tents and started north to the Canadian line where we remained four years until Sitting Bull surrendered at Fort Buford.

Sitting Bull (Tatanka Yotanka), recorded by New York Herald correspondent, November 16, 1877

I was lying in my lodge. Some young men ran in to me and said, "The Long Hair is in the camp. Get up. They are firing in the camp." I jumped up and stepped out of my lodge (shown on the right side of the map). The old men, women and children were hurried away. Long Hair retreated and my men fought him in the brush, and he fell back to the northern bluffs. Then he took the road to see if he could beat us by the river (shown on the left side of the map). The soldiers were brave men, but they were tired. They were too tired.

Your people were killed. I tell no lies about dead men. These men who came with the Long Hair were as good men as ever fought. When they rode up their horses were tired and they were tired. When they got off from their horses they could not stand firmly on their feet. They swayed to and fro -- so many young men have told me -- like the limbs of cypresses in a great wind. Some of them staggered under the weight of their guns. But they began to fight at once; but by this time, as I have said, our camps were aroused, and there were plenty of warriors to meet them. They fired with needle guns. We replied with magazine guns -- repeating rifles. It was so. Our young men rained lead across the river and drove the white braves back.

At first I was in doubt as to whether we would whip the Long Hair and began telling the women to pack up the lodges and get ready to move away. I was not in the battle, but my warriors tell me that they decided to surround Long Hair's soldiers. When Long Hair found that he was so outnumbered and threatened on his flanks, he took the best course he could have taken. The bugle blew. It was an order to fall back. All the men fell back fighting and dropping. They could not fire fast enough, though. But from our side it was so (rapid firing). They could not stand up under such a fire.

The soldiers kept in pretty good order. Some great chief must have commanded them all the while. They would fall back across a coulee and make a fresh stand beyond, on higher ground. The map is pretty nearly right. It shows where the white men stopped and fought before they were all killed. I think that is right -- down there to the left, just above the Little Big Horn. There was one party driven out there, away from the rest, and there a great many men were killed. There were no cowards on either side.

I have understood that there were a great many brave men in that fight, and that from time to time, while it was going on, they were shot down like pigs. They could not help themselves. One by one the officers fell. I believe the Long Hair rode across once but I am not sure of this. Anyway it was said that up there, where the last fight took place, where the last stand was made, the Long Hair stood like a sheaf of corn with all ears fallen around him. He killed a man when he fell. He laughed; he had fired his last shot. He rose up on his hands and tried another shot, but his pistol would not go off. One man was kneeling, that was all. But he died before Long Hair. All this was far up on the bluffs, far away from the Sioux encampment. I did not see it. It was told to me. But it is true.

Crazy Horse (Tashunkewitko), May 28, 1877 told to Horned Horse and recorded by the Chicago Times correspondent

When Custer made his charge the women, children, and all that were not fighters made a stampede in a northerly direction. Custer, seeing so numerous a body, mistook them for the main body of Indians retreating and abandoning their village, and immediately gave pursuit. We, the warriors in the village, seeing this, divided our forces into two parts, one intercepting Custer between our non-combatants and him, and the other getting in his rear. Outnumbering him as we did, we had him at our mercy. The smoke and dust was so great that foe could not be distinguished from friend. The horses were wild with fright and uncontrollable. Indians were knocking each other from their steeds, and several dead Indians were found killed by arrows. Just like this (intertwining his fingers), the Indians and white men. The chiefs suffered a loss of fifty-eight killed, and over sixty wounded. Many of our wounded died.

Meanwhile Reno was fighting in the upper part of the village, but did not get surrounded and managed to escape. Had he got in as far, he would have suffered the same fate as Custer, but he retreated to the bluffs, and was held there until those of us fighting Custer, comprising over half the village, could join the northern portion in besieging him. But for the arrival of General Terry we would have got Reno. In both the Rosebud and Custer fights I rode unarmed in the thickest of the fight invoking the blessing of the great spirit -- that if I was right I might be victorious and if wrong that I might be killed.

Lakota Chief Red Horse 1881 recorded in pictographs and text at the Cheyenne River Reservation, Graham p61

The day was hot. In a short time the soldiers charged the camp. [This was Maj. Reno's battalion of the Seventh Cavalry.] The soldiers came on the trail made by the Sioux camp in moving, and crossed the Little Bighorn River above where the Sioux crossed, and attacked the lodges of the Uncpapas, farthest up the river. The women and children ran down the Little Bighorn River a short distance into a ravine. The soldiers set fire to the lodges. All the Sioux now charged the soldiers and drove them in confusion across the Little Bighorn river, which was very rapid, and several soldiers were drowned in it. On a hill the soldiers stopped and the Sioux surrounded them. A Sioux man came and said that a different party of Soldiers had all the women and children prisoners. Like a whirlwind the word went around, and the Sioux all heard it and left the soldiers on the hill and went quickly to save the women and children.

From the hill that the soldiers were on to the place where the different soldiers [by this term Red-Horse always means the battalion immediately commanded by General Custer, his mode of distinction being that they were a different body from that first encountered] were seen was level ground with the exception of a creek. Sioux thought the soldiers on the hill [i.e., Reno's battalion] would charge them in rear, but when they did not the Sioux thought the soldiers on the hill were out of cartridges. As soon as we had killed all the different soldiers the Sioux all went back to kill the soldiers on the hill. All the Sioux watched around the hill on which were the soldiers until a Sioux man came and said many walking soldiers were coming near. The coming of the walking soldiers was the saving of the soldiers on the hill. Sioux can not fight the walking soldiers [infantry], being afraid of them, so the Sioux hurriedly left.

The soldiers charged the Sioux camp about noon. The soldiers were divided, one party charging right into the camp. After driving these soldiers across the river, the Sioux charged the different soldiers [i.e., Custer's] below, and drive them in confusion; these soldiers became foolish, many throwing away their guns and raising their hands, saying, "Sioux, pity us; take us prisoners." The Sioux did not take a single soldier prisoner, but killed all of them; none were left alive for even a few minutes. These different soldiers discharged their guns but little. I took a gun and two belts off two dead soldiers; out of one belt two cartridges were gone, out of the other five.

Mari Sandoz, in the 1953 history Cheyenne Autumn, claimed that Custer sired a child with Monahsetah, whom he captured at the Washita. There is one major problem with this claim -- Monahsetah delivered her child in early January 1869, less than two months after she was captured by Custer and his men.

Low Dog, 1881:

I called to my men, "This is a good day to die: follow me." We massed our men, and that no man should fall back, every man whipped another man's horse and we rushed right upon them. As we rushed upon them the white warriors dismounted to fire, but they did very poor shooting. They held their horses reins on one arm while they were shooting, but their horses were so frightened that they pulled the men all around, and a great many of their shots went up in the air and did us no harm.

White Man Runs Him, Crow Scout, Graham p 16 & 21-3

(Custer) looked over and said, ‘These people are troublesome and bother the Crows and the white people. I am going to teach them a lesson today. I am going to whip them and I will build a fort at the junction of where the Little Horn flows into the Big Horn and you Crows may live in peace’.

White Man Runs Him, Crow Scout, Graham p 23

Custer had come down Medicine Tail Creek and was moving towards the river. The Indians saw him there and all began running that way. There were thousands of them. Custer tried to cross the river at the mouth of Medicine Tail Creek but was unable to do so. This was the last we saw Custer. ( This was actually the force led by Captain George Yates while Custer stayed on the Ridge with Captain Myles Keogh, if Richard Hardorff is correct, as I think he is).

Kill Eagle Blackfeet Lakota chief , Graham p.53

I got this information from Sitting Bull: After crossing the creek with his warriors he met the troops ( Custer) about 600 yards east of the river. He drove the soldiers back up the hill. He then made a circuit to the right around the hill and drove off and captured most of the horses. The troops made a stand at the lower end of the hill, and there they were all killed.

Mitch Bouyer, Scout (as said to Curley, Crow scout and reported after his death by Curley’s friend, Russell White Bear) Graham p 18

‘(Custer) will stop at nothing. He is going to take us right into the village where there are many more warriors than we have. We have no chance at all.’

Feather Earring Minneconjou 1919 Graham p. 97

Custer struck the Hunkpapas. He did not come across the river. He fired on the village. The Indians crossed the Greasy Grass Creek ( Little Big Horn) above where Custer tried to cross, in great numbers, and cut him off from Reno. They got round behind him. (east). They made their main stand on the ridge where the monument now is. They fought very hard.

Major, later General ( Lt Colonel in 1876) Edward S Godfrey, 1896, Graham p. 346

The command was armed with the Springfield and the Colt revolver; every officer carried a revolver. NO ONE CARRIED THE SABER (sic)

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1876 The Battle of the Little Big Horn

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© Chris Smallbone July2007