Out of Respect for Libbie
I enjoyed reading Paul Hutton’s well-crafted piece “Libbie Custer: ‘A Wounded Thing Must Hide’” in the June 2012 issue. Libbie’s lasting love for her slain husband echoes the words of the antebellum song “Dashing White Sergeant”:
When my soldier is gone
Do you think I’ll take on
Or sit moping forlorn
No, no, not I!
His fame my concern
How my bosom would burn
When I saw him return crown’d with victory!
Hutton points out that Libbie, dying at age 91, outlived all of Custer’s officers. What is not mentioned in the article, however, is that while she lived, participant officers, out of respect for this proud and devoted widow, did not wish to criticize George Armstrong Custer. Because of their sense of ethics, the valuable testimony of these 19th-century gentlemen was lost forever to historians.
In Paul Andrew Hutton’s June 2012 article on Libbie and George Custer, I didn’t find the name Monahsetah mentioned. A local book, Oklahoma Legends: A Pictorial History of Oklahoma’s Indians, Cowboys, Outlaws and Pioneers, illustrated by Mike Parks, includes this item: “Records show that Monahsetah, pretty daughter of a chief, was captured at the Battle of the Washita and for months thereafter was assigned to Custer’s staff as interpreter although she did not speak English! No photos of her are extant.” Many times in Oklahoma I have seen the bumper sticker CUSTER HAD IT COMING.
Midwest City, Okla.
The editor responds: Actually, on P. 35 of his article Hutton writes, “Still, others’ testimony bore out [Captain Frederick Benteen’s] tales of Custer’s dalliances with other women, namely another officer’s wife and the Cheyenne captive Monahsetah.” For much more about the relationship between Monahsetah, Libbie and George see the cover story “Squaring Custer’s Triangle,” by John Koster, in the June 2009 Wild West.
Great piece on Libbie Custer by Paul Andrew Hutton. I have read that George Custer’s probable Indian lover, Monahsetah, kept his body from being mutilated at the Little Bighorn. Suppose that she actually found him alive and nursed him during the Indian retreat and then introduced him to his son. Wouldn’t that be a story for the ages?
West Linn, Ore.
‘The story of the Indian woman saving Custer from mutilation is apocryphal and is based on rumors and writings with little or no evidence to back them up’
Wild West special contributor Gregory Michno responds: When Custer first met Monahsetah (Meotzi) in 1868, she was already seven months pregnant, a detail that would frustrate gossipers over the years. If that child couldn’t have been George’s, then rumors followed there must have been another one between them later, born in late 1869. This tale, used by Mari Sandoz in Cheyenne Autumn, is also unsubstantiated. There are hints Monahsetah may have been at Last Stand Hill after the Little Bighorn fight and “saved” Custer from mutilation. These come from Cheyenne Kate Bighead and the Oglala White Cow Bull. The latter’s story, as told by D.H. Miller in Custer’s Fall, is the one account of the many Indian recollections of the battle that is the most difficult to reconcile with corresponding narratives. It seems that at best the story of the Indian woman saving Custer from mutilation is apocryphal and based on rumors and writings with little or no evidence to back them up. It is, however, a bit of historical irony and the type of tale that will probably never fade away.
White Bull and Custer
I have been receiving your magazine for some time now and find it very interesting, particularly the article in the June 2012 issue about Lt. Col. George Custer and his wife. I am wondering if you have any information about the Sioux White Bull, who was at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
I am retired from working for the Department of Mental Health for the state of Illinois. I worked at the Elgin Mental Health Center for more than 20 years. Even Mary Todd Lincoln stayed at this facility for a while. I stood in the room she occupied in the old center building before it was torn down a number of years ago. One day while working at the facility, I met a patient who stated his grandfather was White Bull. Apparently his grandfather was close to 100 years old when interviewed by National Geographic in 1947. The patient told me his grandfather saw Custer defending his position in the battle, ran up to him and wrestled the gun away from him, but not before Custer apparently bit White Bull’s nose to the extent of doing some considerable damage. White Bull was able to hit Custer in the face, take the handgun away from him and then shoot Custer in the chest and then the right temple. Could you investigate this information?
White Bull (1849–1947) was a nephew of Sioux spiritual leader Sitting Bull. Gregory Michno, author of Lakota Noon: The Indian Narrative of Custer’s Defeat, responds more fully: The story of White Bull killing Custer stems from Walter Campbell (who wrote under the name Stanley Vestal). Campbell interviewed White Bull extensively, but nowhere in those notes does White Bull ever mention personally fighting Custer or the color of the hair of the man he fought. No Indians at the Little Bighorn battle knew they were fighting Custer. In Campbell’s notes the soldier had a carbine, not a handgun, and he tried to bite White Bull’s nose but failed. Campbell never mentioned the soldier was Custer in his biography of White Bull. Campbell died in 1957, and it seems he might have wanted to make his final “contribution” to history by claiming White Bull fought and killed Custer. In his last publication in American Heritage that year he said the man White Bull fought had yellow hair and was Custer. But again, White Bull never said any such thing in his interviews. And actually, he had to call his friends Bear Lice and Crow Boy to help him fight the soldier. They killed him by beating him in the head with their rifles and handguns. They never wasted a bullet on him.
Chiaventone’s Red Cloud
I just finished reading R. Eli Paul’s article “Red Cloud and the Bull Bear Shooting” in the April 2012 issue and then noticed your list of Red Cloud books in the “Must See, Must Read” section of the “Reviews” department. They are all fine histories of the great warrior, but your list is missing one of the best books I have ever read on Red Cloud, and that is Frederick J. Chiaventone’s Moon of Bitter Cold, the masterfully written historical novel on how Red Cloud united the Lakota Sioux, Cheyennes, Arapahos and Crows in what became known as Red Cloud’s War. It is written in such an easy, flowing manner that still grips you and makes it hard to put down—much like his Little Bighorn book A Road We Do Not Know. I’m glad Eli Paul is a regular contributor to Wild West, as his articles are excellent.
McKay S. Anderson
Kansas City, Mo.
Editor’s response: Only nonfiction books were listed on the “Must Read” Red Cloud list, but Chiaventone won a Western Heritage Award (Wrangler) in 2003 for Moon of Bitter Cold. We’re also happy to say he won a second Wrangler in 2011 for “Taking Stock of the Pony Express,” which appeared in the April 2010 Wild West.
Julia Bulette’s Killer
In Lee A. Silva’s December 2011 “Guns of the West” article on the spur trigger guns of the bordellos, he mentions as an example of the brutality suffered by prostitutes the case of Julia “Jule” Bulette and mentions John Millais (while there are alternative misspellings, this is a new one). Bulette came to America from England by way of New Orleans, not from France, but John Milleain (correct spelling; see his photo at the Nevada Historical Society) was French. Mark Twain, in the [Virginia City] Territorial Enterprise, reported that his true name was Jean Marie Villain. In his final confession Milleain blamed everyone in Virginia City, including presumably the respectable women, for his death, because they did not like France or Frenchmen. There is no record of the town’s respectable women treating him like a hero; to the contrary, eight women, presumably prostitutes, testified against him, securing his conviction, and he had killed a genuine “prostitute with a golden heart.” Bulette did not live in a “palatial bagnio” but in a one-room crib, and she took her meals at the home of neighbor Gertrude Holmes. The evidence was conclusive that Milleain alone had murdered Bulette, not several drifters (Douglass, Dillon, with Milleain himself as lookout), who were a figment of his imagination conjured in his second attempt to shift the blame (the first attempt was to put the blame on Chris Blair). Milleain was hanged on April 24, 1868, not 1869.
R. Michael Wilson
Las Vegas, Nev.
John Koster’s “Plural Wives and the Plains Indians” in the June 2012 is excellent. That said, the author minimizes the impact of three important elements—time, tribe, social class. Halfbreed: The Remarkable True Story of George Bent, by David Fridtjof Halaas and Andrew E. Masich, shows the effect of each. For the Cheyennes, after Sand Creek complex incest rules fell away and plural marriage became more common. The daughters of chiefs tended to follow the rules more closely than girls whose families were less concerned with status. Jicarilla and Plains Apaches would find it far more difficult than their sisters among the Cheyennes to end a union.
Sierra Vista, Ariz.
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