Cover image for Little Bighorn remembered : the untold Indian story of Custer's last stand
Little Bighorn remembered : the untold Indian story of Custer's last stand
Viola, Herman J.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Times Books, [1999]

Physical Description:
xiii, 239 pages : illustrations (some color), color maps ; 31 cm
Format :


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E83.876 .V563 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area-Oversize

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On the morning of June 25, 1876,  soldiers of the elite U.S. Seventh Cavalry led by Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer attacked a large Indian encampment on the banks of the Little Bighorn River. By day's end, Custer and more than two hundred of his men lay dead. It was a shocking defeat--or magnificent victory, depending on your point of view--and more than a century later it is still the object of controversy, debate, and fascination.          What really happened on that fateful day? Now, thanks to the work of Herman J. Viola, Curator Emeritus of the Smithsonian Institution, we are much closer to answering that question. Dr. Viola, a leader in the preservation of Native American culture and history, has collected here dozens of dramatic, never-before-published accounts by Indians who participated in the battle--accounts that have been handed down to the present day, often secretly and accompanied by oaths of silence, from one generation to the next. These remarkable eyewitness recollections provide a direct link to that day's events; together they constitute an unprecedented oral history of the battle from the Native American point of view and the most comprehensive eyewitness description of Little Bighorn we have ever had.          Here are the dramatic stories of the Cheyenne and Lakota warriors who rode into battle against Custer, the yellow-haired Son of the Morning Star, an adversary whose valor they admired--but who became a mortal enemy after breaking his peace-pipe oath, a scene described vividly in these pages. Here in their own words are the stories of the Crow scouts, allies of Custer, who advised against attacking Sitting Bull's village on the Little Bighorn. Here are tales of valor told by the Arikara scouts who fought side by side with Custer's men against the Lakota and Cheyenne; although the Great Father in Washington rewarded their heroism with silence, it is celebrated to this day in tribal stories and songs that come to us from beyond the grave with hair-raising immediacy and power.          Lavishly illustrated with more than two hundred maps, photographs, reproductions, and drawings, this remarkable book also includes:    An account of the battle, including startling descriptions of Custer's conduct, collected from the Crow scouts by the famed photographer Edward S. Curtis in 1908. Curtis never published this report--President Theodore Roosevelt advised him not to--and it remained a secret until his ninety-year-old son recently gave the material to the Smithsonian.   New archaeological evidence from the battlefield that casts fresh light on the Seventh Cavalry's movements, along with discoveries from the site of Sitting Bull's village--including the complete skeleton of a cavalry horse with its rider's well- preserved saddlebags and personal items.   A series of illustrations made soon after the battle by Red Horse, a remarkable tableau that is reproduced here in its entirety for the first time.   Three letters written by Lieutenant William Van Wyck Reily just days before he died at Little Bighorn that provide key and potentially controversial insights into the conduct of the cavalry under Custer's command.          In short, this landmark book takes us much closer to knowing what really happened on that June day in 1876 when Custer died and a legend was born.

Author Notes

Herman J. Viola, Curator Emeritus of the Smithsonian Institution and former director of the Smithsonian's National Anthropological Archives, is the biographer of Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, whose Cheyenne grandfather Black Horse fought at Little Bighorn. His work with American Indians over the last twenty-five years has given him unique access to the Indian community. In 1997, he became the adopted brother of Joseph Medicine Crow, whose grandfather White Man Runs Him was one of Custer's six Crow scouts. Dr. Viola is the author of fifteen books, including After Columbus, North American Indians, and It Is a Good Day to Die. He lives in Falls Church, Virginia, and Bozman, Maryland.

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

One of those events familiar to even the historically unaware or uninterested, Custer's Last Stand (or the Battle of Little Bighorn) has suffered the unfortunate fate of becoming a cultural icon, to be repackaged to fit different historians' ideologies. The last large-scale pitched battle between Indians and soldiers, it was a dramatic defeat for the U.S. military and yet the beginning of the end for the victorious Plains Indians. The picture is more complicated, though, as several Indian tribes served as scouts for Custer. Viola, curator emeritus at the Smithsonian and a frequent writer on Indian subjects, creates an interesting overview by collecting accounts of the battle by descendants of Indians who fought on both sides. Lavishly illustrated with period photographs, maps, and color drawings by witnesses as well as photographs of descendants, this recalling of the battle, supplemented by new archaeological research, should be popular with many readers. Recommended for larger public and academic libraries. (Photos not seen.)ÄCharles V. Cowling, Drake Memorial Lib., Brockport, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One The Trail to Little Bighorn Herman J. Viola The Battle of the Little Bighorn has contributed much to the romantic lore of the West. The story of "Custer's Last Stand" has been told and retold in countless books and movies. What remains largely untold is the story of the Indians at Little Bighorn. Lost in all the fascination about Custer and his doomed command are the Arikara and Crow warriors who rode at his side that day. Along with Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, the Indians who defeated Custer have fared poorly in the romantic literature. Here is their story.     Few people fought harder to maintain their traditional way of life than the Indians of the Great Plains. But courage could not overcome the railroad, the telegraph, and, above all, the extermination of the bison. As long as Plains Indians could live off the land, they were invincible. Nobody knew this better than the soldiers chasing them. That is one reason western army officers issued free ammunition to the hide hunters who, along with diseases introduced into the buffalo herds by domesticated livestock, helped the United States solve its "Indian problem."     Another important factor in the defeat of the western Indians was their inability to put aside tribal differences to organize against a common enemy. Indeed, it was not uncommon for Indians to assist the U.S. Army against members of their own tribes. At the Little Bighorn, for example, several of the Arikara scouts riding with the Seventh Cavalry were actually Sioux men married to Arikara women.     The events of 1876 need to be understood in the context of the rapid changes that overtook the West after the American Civil War. Following Lee's surrender at Appomattox, a tide of white settlement surged across the Great Plains. What helped fuel the migration was the Homestead Act of 1862, which dispensed public land to settlers for a nominal fee after five years of residence; the transcontinental railroad, which carried passengers and freight from coast to coast safely and conveniently in a mere six days; and an incredible influx of European immigrants--of the thirty-eight million people living in the United States in 1870, approximately five million were foreign-born. All these pressures conspired to further reduce Indian landholdings and increase tensions between the races that flared into hostilities on the Northern and Southern Plains.     Two brutal incidents set the stage for the violence that engulfed the Plains in the 1870s. In Minnesota, the Santee or Eastern Sioux, having witnessed the steady erosion of their lands to white settlement, were greatly agitated by rumors that their annuities would be cut off and their rations reduced. When tribal leaders asked a local trader for more food, he told them to eat grass. In August 1862, this emotionally charged climate encouraged four young Indian men to kill a white family. Fearing a massive retaliation by the U.S. Army, tribal leaders persuaded Chief Little Crow to strike first. Although Little Crow had visited Washington, D.C., a few years earlier and knew his people had no hope of victory, he agreed to lead the uprising. The fighting claimed the lives of more than five hundred Minnesotans, including a trader whose mouth was stuffed with grass.     The U.S. Army responded swiftly and ruthlessly. In command was General John Pope, who had just suffered an embarrassing defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run. Perhaps hoping to win back some lost laurels, Pope was merciless. "It is my purpose," he informed his superiors, "to utterly exterminate the Sioux if I have the power to do so.... They are to be treated as maniacs or wild beasts, and by no means as people with whom treaties or compromises can be made." Within a month of his taking command, the Sioux war was over, but it was another year before a starving Little Crow was killed by a Minnesota farmer who found the chief and his son picking berries. In the meantime, a military commission had condemned 303 of his followers to death. It is to Abraham Lincoln's credit that, despite intense pressure from the Minnesota congressional corps, he commuted the death sentences of all but thirty-eight of the condemned Indians, who were executed in a mass hanging in the public square of Mankato on December 26, 1862. Despite Lincoln's caution not to punish innocent Indians, at least one of those executed that day had actually saved white lives. In fact, the reason the insurgents had not taken more lives was due to the number of Santee who had warned white friends to seek safety.     The Santee survivors were forced from Minnesota. Most of them eventually accepted a reservation in present-day Nebraska, but some of the displaced Santees chose instead to seek refuge among their western kinsmen. They were among the thousands of people in Sitting Bull's camp on the Little Bighorn that fateful June day in 1876.     The second tragedy occurred in Colorado Territory, which had experienced phenomenal growth because of the gold and silver rushes of the 1850s. As many as one hundred thousand miners had elbowed their way into the mineral fields, dislocating and angering the Cheyennes and Arapahos, who seized the opportunity offered them by the reduced military garrisons during the Civil War to attack wagon trains, mining camps, and stagecoach lines. One white family was killed within twenty miles of Denver.     To stem the mounting violence, the governor of Colorado Territory called out the militia. Its commander was Colonel J. M. Chivington, a former clergyman whose compassion for his fellow man did not extend to Indians. Having chased the elusive hostiles for several weeks with little more than saddle sores to show for his troubles, Chivington decided to attack the village of Chief Black Kettle, whose people had in fact been involved in some of the disturbances but were then camped on Sand Creek under what they thought was the protective custody of the commander at Fort Lyon, some forty miles away.     Chivington and his men charged the sleeping camp at dawn, the morning of November 28, 1864. Black Kettle rushed from his tent and raised first an American flag and then a white flag, but Chivington wanted a victory, not prisoners. Men, women, and children were hunted down and shot. "Nits make lice," Chivington was quoted by one of his soldiers at a subsequent military inquiry when asked why children had been killed.     An interpreter living in the village later testified: "They were scalped, their brains knocked out; the men used their knives, ripped open women, clubbed little children, knocked them in the head with their guns, beat their brains out, mutilated their bodies in every sense of the word." As many as 450 of the 700 Indians in the village that day were killed. Black Kettle was not one of them, however. He survived, only to be killed in November 1868, when George Armstrong Custer carried out a similar attack on an unsuspecting Cheyenne village in winter camp along the banks of the Washita River.     The Sand Creek Massacre outraged easterners, but it pleased the people of Colorado Territory. Chivington later appeared on a Denver stage, where he regaled delighted audiences with his "war" stories and displayed one hundred Indian scalps.     If Chivington hoped to bring peace by destroying Black Kettle's village, he failed. Instead, it ignited a fire of revenge among the Plains tribes. The U.S. Army, on the other hand, felt confident about its ability to stamp out any Indian unrest. Western citizens, who had little sympathy for a policy that appeared to coddle Indians, supported the Army attitude. Graffiti found scrawled on Indian skulls, such as "I am on the reservation at last," succinctly expressed the racist feelings of most westerners toward their Indian neighbors. Indians had to give way peacefully or face the consequences.     The soldier charged with pacifying the militants among the Plains tribes was General John Pope. His uncompromising treatment of the Santee Sioux in Minnesota had endeared him to both westerners and his military superiors. In command of the entire western theater, Pope launched a massive assault against the Plains Indians in spring 1865. Fully six thousand combat troops comprising three separate armies were hurled against the Comanches and Kiowas on the Southern Plains and the Arapahos, Cheyennes, and Sioux on the Central and Northern Plains.     The campaign did little except anger the Indians and embarrass the U.S. Army, which learned a valuable lesson. Feeding and supporting the unwieldy military columns absorbed so much energy that there was little time to pursue Indians. Inhospitable weather further hampered military effectiveness. One unit not only lost most of its horses and mules to the inclement weather, but came perilously close to losing a large number of its personnel.     Meanwhile, the Indians chased by Pope's forces had little difficulty locating and eluding their pursuers. Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Sioux war parties on the Central Plains revenged the atrocities at Sand Creek in dramatic fashion as they burned ranches and stage stations, disrupted telegraph service, twice terrorized the town of Julesburg, Colorado, and generally played havoc with any unwary travelers who came their way. One war party, for instance, derailed a steam engine employed by construction crews on the transcontinental railroad.     Another party, according to a story still told by Southern Cheyennes, killed a telegraph operator. Aware that white people somehow talked over the wire, members of the war party shoved a piece of it through his head from ear to ear "so he could hear better in the afterlife."     Determined to bring the Southern Plains tribes to heel, the Army launched a three-pronged campaign reminiscent of the ill-fated strategy that led to the debacle at Little Bighorn a decade later. One of the columns was led by George Armstrong Custer, who pushed south from Fort Dodge, Kansas, and found the winter camp of Black Kettle. This star-crossed chief had survived Sand Creek and was now sincere in his hopes to live in peace with the white man. Custer, as he was to do at Little Bighorn, divided his forces and assaulted the sleeping village from four sides. According to Captain Albert Barnitz, a company commander in the Seventh Cavalry, We had just reached the edge of a shallow ravine beyond which we could see the clustered tepees ... when a shot was fired in the village, and instantly we heard the band on the ridge beyond it strike up the familiar air "Garry Owen" and the answering cheers of the men, as Custer and his legion came thundering down the long divide, while nearer at hand on our right came Benteen's squadron, crashing through the frozen snow, as the troops deployed into line at a gallop, and the Indian village rang with unearthly war-whoops, the quick discharge of fire-arms, the clamorous barking of dogs, the cries of infants, and the wailing of women.     Custer quickly captured the village, but almost as quickly found himself under attack from growing numbers of angry warriors pouring from nearby villages also wintering in the Washita valley. The Seventh Cavalry managed to extricate itself with little loss--five troopers killed (including the grandson of Alexander Hamilton) and fifteen missing. Their mutilated bodies were later found in a setting again reminiscent of Little Bighorn, but this time Custer triumphed. He left Black Kettle's village in ashes. His troopers shot the entire Cheyenne pony herd--nine hundred animals--and killed dozens of men, women, and children including Black Kettle and his wife, who, double mounted on a pony, were cut down as they tried to escape the slaughter. To many easterners, the so-called Battle of the Washita was little more than another Sand Creek Massacre, but it enhanced Custer's reputation as a dashing cavalier and launched his reputation as an Indian fighter.     Meanwhile, there was a growing sentiment among the people of the United States to stop the bloodshed even if it meant that certain Indians went unpunished for their "crimes," In fact, in spring 1866, government officials had already begun extending olive branches to the militants on the Northern Plains by asking them to assemble for a grand conference at Fort Laramie in order to establish "a lasting peace."     Foremost among the militants was Red Cloud, the Oglala war chief whose name, along with those of Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, was to become a household word in the decades following the Civil War. When news went out that government officials wished to talk of peace and were promising presents and badly needed food, Red Cloud and several thousand Sioux and Cheyenne assembled at Fort Laramie in June 1866 to meet with the Great Father's representatives, led by Commissioner E. B. Taylor.     The government did not wish to purchase their country, the Indians were told. It simply wanted to make peace and obtain permission for white travelers to use the Bozeman Trail, a new road through the Powder River country. A promise that all travelers would stay on the road and not do any hunting was, one official later admitted, "well calculated, and ... designed to deceive."     Red Cloud was not fooled. Travelers were already using the road, and he suspected the worst when Colonel Henry B. Carrington and a battalion of infantry marched into Fort Laramie in the midst of the proceedings. Carrington, in fact, had orders to build a string of posts along the Bozeman Trail to protect emigrants from Indian attack. When Carrington appeared at the conference, Red Cloud refused an introduction. According to witnesses, he rebuked Carrington for being a party to deceit: "The Great Father sends us presents and wants us to sell him the road, but the White Chief goes with soldiers to steal the road before the Indians say yes or no!" With that, Red Cloud stalked from the treaty grounds, taking most of the militants with him.     Commissioner Taylor continued with the conference and persuaded the remaining chiefs to sign an agreement for use of the Bozeman Trail. He did not seem concerned that the signatories were primarily "Laramie Loafers"--friendly Indians who spent most of the time lounging around the fort--and a handful of leaders not affected by the proposed right-of-way. "Satisfactory treaty concluded with the Sioux and Cheyennes," he immediately wired his superiors in Washington. "Most cordial feelings prevail."     The extent of the "cordial feelings" soon became evident as Red Cloud's war parties harassed travelers and the garrisons building the three Bozeman Trail forts--Phil Kearney, C. F. Smith, and Reno. The primary post and Carrington's headquarters was Fort Phil Kearney, which immediately became the focal point of Sioux militancy. As a result, Carrington decided to erect a log palisade, a feature seldom seen in western forts.     Although Red Cloud never attempted a direct assault on the fort, he continually sent war parties against the work crews cutting trees on the slopes of nearby mountains. It was an attack on a train bringing logs to the fort that gave Red Cloud his finest moment and enabled a bold young warrior named Crazy Horse to join the pantheon of American Indian heroes. On a brisk winter day in December 1866, Carrington sent Captain William J. Fetterman and a combined force of some eighty cavalry troopers and infantry to chase away a Sioux war party that had attacked the wood train within sight of the fort. In the war party was Crazy Horse, whose task was to lure the relief column over a nearby hill and into an ambush.     Fetterman was a brash and foolhardy Civil War veteran who ridiculed the fighting abilities of the Plains Indian. Certain that he could overtake the decoy party and Crazy Horse, whose pony appeared to be limping badly, Fetterman dashed over the hill and into the hands of some two thousand Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. Within minutes, only a dog that had followed the troopers remained alive; it, too, was shot when one of the warriors yelled: "Do not let even a dog get away!"     From the condition of the horribly mutilated bodies, it was obvious Red Cloud's warriors intended to make a statement. One corpse, that of a civilian who joined the column to test his new repeating rifle against Indians, had 105 arrows in it. Fetterman and his second in command, terrified at the prospect of being captured alive, evidently committed suicide by shooting each other in the head.     Red Cloud's stunning victory brought immediate and surprising results. Rather than seek revenge, the federal government decided to seek peace by improving the way the nation's Indian affairs were being managed. A peace commission appointed in 1867 toured the Plains and concluded that most instances of Indian violence had been provoked by whites. At the commission's urging, the Army closed the Bozeman Trail and abandoned the offending forts, one of the few occasions the white man retreated. Some scholars, however, now believe the entire episode might have been orchestrated by monied interests who wished to distract Red Cloud and his warriors from the work crews constructing the transcontinental railroad, which was about to make such trails obsolete.     For Red Cloud and the Sioux, it was only a symbolic victory at best, but the Treaty of Fort Laramie, signed in 1868, did negate the earlier agreement approving the trail. It also established the Great Sioux Reserve west of the Missouri River in Dakota and, by accepting it, the chiefs agreed to settle at agencies and accept reservation life. True to his word, Red Cloud became a reservation Indian, forfeiting the respect of those leaders who had refused to sign.     Another immediate result of the Fetterman fight was President U. S. Grant's "Quaker Policy," so named because it encouraged the appointment of clergymen as Indian agents. Although the religious experiment lasted throughout the Grant administration, it proved to be no panacea. The religious groups squabbled over the division of the reservations; some of the smaller denominations had difficulty finding enough qualified volunteers; and the proselytizing of some sincere but overzealous agents antagonized their tribes. By the time Grant left office, agency administration was pretty much a matter of business as usual, and the worst abuses continued until Civil Service Reform legislation was introduced during Grover Cleveland's presidency.     Grant's peace policy was administered by his friend Ely S. Parker, a Seneca Indian from New York. Parker had been Grant's military secretary during the Civil War. He was one of the best educated and most able persons ever to head the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He was also the first Indian to do so.     Parker was a longtime opponent of the treaty-making system, because he believed it was based on the erroneous assumption that the tribes were sovereign nations. His recommendation that treaty-making be abolished coincided with a drive in the House of Representatives for a more active role in the management of Indian affairs. House participation in Indian matters was seriously curtailed because the ratification of all treaties--with Indian tribes as well as foreign nations--was the Senate's prerogative. In 1871, the practice of negotiating formal treaties with the tribes was terminated. Existing treaties remained in force, but thereafter negotiated "agreements" replaced "treaties." The "agreements" became law only when ratified by both the House and the Senate.     Parker, unfortunately, fell victim to another arm of Grant's peace policy, the Board of Indian Commissioners. Established in 1869 to control the graft and corruption associated with Indian affairs, the board consisted of ten high-minded, unpaid philanthropists whose primary task was to oversee fiscal matters within the Indian bureau. The board had little actual power and proved to be rather ineffective, but it did stir up a hornet's nest for a time as it exposed examples of graft at every level of Indian affairs from the Secretary of the Interior to the lowliest field employee. One of those charged with fraud was Parker. Although eventually exonerated, he resigned.     Especially subject to fiscal abuse were Indian delegations, a key component of Grant's peace policy. Each delegation followed a similar script. During a whirlwind tour of eastern cities, the delegates were showered with presents; guided on tours of arsenals, battleships, and forts; and then taken to meet the president, whom they addressed--as a title of respect and not subordination--as the Great Father, never the Great White Father, a phrase from dime novels and the film industry.     No warrior left Washington unimpressed by the vast numbers of white people, the huge cities, and the advanced technology he had seen. Huge shore batteries and rapid-fire Gatling guns were weapons beyond imagining; equally amazing were the tens of thousands of muskets and rifles at the Washington Arsenal--"a forest of guns," muttered one astonished visitor.     Even the most sophisticated Indians had difficulty comprehending all they saw during their eastern visits. An agent accompanying the Red Cloud and Spotted Tail delegation of 1870 overheard several of the Indians discussing the great number of whites they were seeing. The astonished warriors could only reason that they were seeing the same people in each city. The people in Chicago had somehow followed them to Washington, Philadelphia, and then New York. The delegates were convinced that white men, with their superior technology, had developed the means of moving whole cities, much like the Sioux themselves could move their tipi villages from one site to another.     A key flaw in the delegation policy was the disbelief of fellow tribesmen of the reports of the returned delegates. Even Sitting Bull, who had not accompanied a delegation before the Battle of the Little Bighorn, discounted the fabulous tales of other Sioux travelers as figments of their imagination induced by the white man's powerful "medicine."     In the end, Quaker Indian agents, delegations, presents, and empty promises could not restrain rising Indian resentments that had been building since 1854, when a foolish young lieutenant at Fort Laramie decided to intimidate a nearby Sioux village for supposedly stealing a stray cow from a passing wagon train. The Grattan Massacre, as this episode is known, was but the first in a series of confrontations between the incomparable light cavalry of the Plains Indians and the U.S. Army: the Fetterman fight, the Wagon Box fight, the Battle of the Rosebud, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn. No corner of the Great Plains escaped the wrath of angry tribesmen who, in the 1870s, lashed out in a final, desperate attempt to keep the white man at bay.     Although Red Cloud had signed the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868 and settled on a reservation, many other Lakota and Cheyenne leaders had not. Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Gall, Two Moons, and Lame White Man were all at large, living on unceded Indian lands.     Construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad through Dakota and Montana Territories, the heart of Sioux country, triggered the next confrontation. The military decided that a new fort was necessary to guard the railroad, and the ideal site was in the Black Hills, an area in the southwestern portion of the Great Sioux Reservation, which is sacred to the tribe. In 1874, George Armstrong Custer led an expedition into the Black Hills to locate a site for the fort and found gold as well. Soon the Black Hills were overrun with prospectors, and the Army faced a losing battle trying to drive them off. When an attempt to purchase the Black Hills came to naught, the government decided to take action against the Sioux and their allies for failing to meet the terms of the 1868 treaty, a flawed charge at best, because most of the free-roaming bands were on unceded lands.     One of those assigned the task of forcing the nontreaty Indians to move onto the reservation was Custer, the person so instrumental in bringing matters to a head. Although virtually every schoolchild knows what happened when Custer had his rendezvous with Sitting Bull, few people know that Indian allies were in American uniform that day, most of them Crows and Arikaras who were anxious to even old scores. For generations, these small tribes had stood alone against their Sioux and Cheyenne enemies. Constant warfare made them hardy and brave. It also made them embrace the white man as an ally against the Sioux.     To regard the Crows, Arikaras, and other tribes that helped the U.S. Army as traitors or mercenaries overlooks the legacy of intertribal warfare that long predated the arrival of the first white man on the Plains. As late as the 1860s and 1870s, the Crows and Arikaras still suffered from Sioux aggression, and understandably viewed the Army as a tool in their centuries-old struggle for survival against a determined and more numerous enemy. Unfortunately, these tribes did not realize that, in helping the United States defeat their Sioux enemies, they were dooming themselves to share the same destiny--life on a reservation. Unlike many other tribes, however, the Crow and Arikara reservations at least included part of their traditional homeland.     Authorities forced the conflict in the spring of 1876 in response to reports that young warriors were slipping away from their agencies to join bands of nontreaty Indians in the unceded country east of the Bighorn River. The federal government ordered all Sioux bands, regardless of treaty guarantees giving them the right to hunt on the Northern Plains, to return to the Great Sioux Reservation by February 1 or face the consequences. Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and other leaders not only ignored the order but gave every indication they were prepared to fight.     The Army welcomed the challenge and sent three columns of troops to converge upon and trap the defiant Indians, who were known to be somewhere in the Bighorn country. One column, under General George Crook, marched northward from newly built Fort Fetterman on the upper North Platte River. A second column, headed by Colonel John Gibbon, moved eastward from Fort Ellis in Montana. The third column, which went west from Fort Lincoln in Dakota Territory, was led by General Alfred H. Terry. Under his command was Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer and the Seventh Cavalry.     By mid-June, Sitting Bull and his followers were camped along the Little Bighorn River, which they called the Greasy Grass. It was a huge village of some twelve hundred lodges and six tribal camp circles--Hunkpapa, Oglala, Miniconjou, Sans Arc, Blackfoot, and Northern Cheyenne--that stretched upwards of three miles along the banks of the Greasy Grass. No one knows the number of warriors in the camp, but estimates range from fifteen hundred to five thousand men at arms. Contributing to the confidence of the villagers was knowledge of Sitting Bull's vision. During the annual Sun Dance a few days earlier he had seen "dead soldiers failing into camp"     Although the Army had enjoyed previous success against Plains Indians with its "convergence" strategy, this time it failed thanks largely to an unexpected spanking inflicted on General Crook by Crazy Horse along Rosebud Creek on June 17,1876. The six-hour fight caused few casualties to either force, but when the Indians called it a day, Crook retreated.     Unaware of Crook's defeat, Terry and Gibbon met at the junction of the Rosebud and Yellowstone rivers without encountering any Indians. Upon receiving word that scouts had spotted a large fresh trail heading toward the Little Bighorn, Terry sent Custer and the Seventh Cavalry south along the Rosebud in hopes of finding Sitting Bull's camp. Once he found the village, Custer was to block their retreat into the Bighorn Mountains. Terry, meanwhile, planned to march the combined command overland and trap Sitting Bull between both forces.     The plan might have worked had it not been for Custer's eagerness to repeat his Washita triumph. His Crow scouts had no trouble finding Sitting Bull's village, but instead of waiting for the reinforcements with Terry, Custer chose to launch an immediate attack. Just as he did at the Washita, Custer divided his troopers into three columns, leaving a small force to guard his pack train. On the morning of June 25, he sent one column under Major Marcus Reno in a direct assault on Sitting Bull's village. Another column under Captain Frederick Benteen he sent in a sweeping arc to the left to cut off any fleeing Indians. Custer's own column moved along the bluffs to the right of the village. Instead of the small sleeping village like the one he crushed at the Washita, however, Custer found an enormous encampment thronged with angry warriors who quickly surrounded and annihilated his inexperienced and weary force. The troopers with Reno and Benteen avoided a similar fate only because of Terry's timely arrival. The fact that two thirds of the troopers under Custer's command survived the battle has been all but forgotten in the mystique and romance of what is popularly known as Custer's Last Stand.     In truth, it was also the last stand of the Sioux and Cheyenne as well, because their victory over Custer led to their own destruction. Imagine the shock and embarrassment to citizens of the United States enjoying the centennial year of their independence. The U.S. Army went after Sitting Bull and his allies with a vengeance. Within a year, most of them were either on reservations or refugees with Sitting Bull in Canada, where a handful of diehards remained until 1883.     Perhaps the cruelest fate befell the Northern Cheyennes. While in their winter camp, they were attacked by about a thousand cavalrymen who drove them from their village and then destroyed their tipis, clothing, and food supply. That night, eleven Cheyenne babies froze to death. The survivors eventually found shelter with Crazy Horse, but when spring came they surrendered.     Although the Cheyennes expected to be placed on a reservation, they did not anticipate being relocated to Indian Territory in latter-day Oklahoma, many hundreds of miles from their homeland on the Northern Plains. It was their misfortune to become part of a new government program to concentrate as many tribes as possible in a relatively small region. Eventually, some twenty-five tribes were moved to Indian Territory; many of their descendants still live in Oklahoma today.     For the Cheyennes, the policy was a nightmare come true. Of the thousand or so members of the tribe who were shipped to Indian Territory in the summer of 1877, many sickened and died. "In Oklahoma we all got sick with chills and fever," recalled Iron Teeth, an elderly Cheyenne woman who told her story in 1927. "When we were not sick we were hungry"     Rather than die by degrees in Oklahoma, some three hundred Northern Cheyennes under Chiefs Dull Knife and Little Wolf made a desperate dash for Montana. Despite the fact that only one in five was a warrior, that they were poorly armed and mounted, and that they were without tents or sufficient food, the fugitives managed to elude the hundreds of troops attempting to intercept them, reaching the Dakota country in early December 1878. They then split into two groups. Some chose to follow Little Wolf, who spent the winter deep in the Wyoming wilderness; the others, thinking themselves finally safe, surrendered with Dull Knife at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, only to be told that they would have to return to Oklahoma. When they refused, they were confined to unheated barracks without food or water. During the night of January 9, the imprisoned Cheyennes made a suicidal break for freedom. Of 149 held in the barracks, 64 were killed. Most of the others, many gravely wounded, were recaptured.     Iron Teeth's experiences were probably typical. Her husband had died in the attack on their village. With her five children, she went to Oklahoma and then participated in the escape. When the group separated, a son and daughter went with Little Wolf. She and the remaining children, including a twenty-two-year-old son named Gathering His Medicine, followed Dull Knife to Fort Robinson. During the breakout, she kept one daughter with her, and they were found hiding in a cave the following day. Her son, who had a pistol, carried the youngest girl on his back into another cave. When soldiers who tracked him through the snow reached the cave, Gathering His Medicine told his sister to stay hidden while he challenged them. "Lots of times" Iron Teeth admitted, "as I sit here alone on the floor with my blanket wrapped about me, I lean forward and close my eyes and think of him...fighting the soldiers, knowing that he would be killed, but doing this so his little sister might get away in safety. Don't you think he was a brave young man?"     As the stories collected from descendants of the Indians who fought at Little Bighorn reveal, none of the four tribes involved find any comfort in the events of 1876. All four tribes have suffered to some extent. The Crow and Arikara not only feel betrayed by the government they sought to help, but today they are more often seen as traitors for helping the cavalry hunt down their traditional enemies. The Cheyenne and Sioux, on the other hand, suffered terribly for their victory. In fact, elderly descendants of the Cheyenne and Sioux who were present at Little Bighorn still fear some sort of retribution awaits them if their family connection to Custer's demise is revealed.     Fortunately, some descendants put aside their concerns and contributed their family recollections to this book. Perhaps their example will encourage other Indian families to follow, because there are still questions to be answered and much to be learned about this sad moment in American history. Copyright © 1999 Rivilo Books. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Forewordp. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xii
The Trail to Little Bighornp. 3
The Day of Deathp. 23
Cheyenne Memories of Little Bighornp. 33
Custer's Cheyenne Connectionsp. 52
Sitting Bullp. 54
A Dakota View of the Great Sioux Warp. 57
Red Horse and the Battle Drawingsp. 83
Custer and His Crow Scoutsp. 105
The Crow Scouts After Little Bighornp. 125
Why the Arikara Fought for Custer and the Seventh Cavalryp. 133
The Scouts: Extra Duties as Assignedp. 144
Red Star's Pensionp. 147
Edward S. Curtis and Custer's Crow Scoutsp. 152
Archaeologists: Detectives on the Battlefieldp. 165
Reno's Retreatp. 180
Reily's Ringp. 182
Custer: The Making of a Mythp. 188
The Little Bighorn Chess Setp. 220
Additional Readingp. 226
Contributorsp. 228
Indexp. 229