Deliverance From the Little Big Horn: Doctor Henry Porter and Custer’s 7th Cavalry, by Joan Nabseth Stevenson, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2012, $24.95
Not every soldier died at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, of course. The many wounded in Major Marcus Reno’s command received treatment from 28-year-old Henry Porter, the only one of three surgeons to survive the 7th Cavalry’s June 1876 ordeal in Montana Territory. Reno’s disastrous attack in the valley was followed by a marathon fight for survival and then transportation of the wounded to the steamer Far West for the 700-mile journey down the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers to the hospital at Fort Abraham Lincoln in Dakota Territory.
Author Joan Stevenson examines the battle and aftermath from a medical perspective and shines the spotlight on the unsung Porter, who was an acting assistant surgeon (a civilian surgeon serving the Army under contract). Porter, writes Stevenson, “attended to the wounds of 68 soldiers and two Indian scouts and performed surgeries, including two amputations.” The surviving surgeon missed out on greater recognition 22 years after the battle when nominated for—but not awarded—the Medal of Honor. At the field hospital on what became known as Reno Hill, Porter spent the moonless night of the 25th doing the best he could to stop the bleeding and ease the pain despite the scant water supply and his expectation at any moment “to be murdered and, perhaps, tortured and burned.” Porter was a first responder and so much more.