Battle of Little Bighorn: Were the Weapons the Deciding Factor

Battle of Little Bighorn: Were the Weapons the Deciding Factor

6/12/2006 • Wild West

It may be that the Battle of the Little Bighorn is the most written about subject in American history. For more than 120 years, people have speculated about how Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer and five companies of the 7th Cavalry were overwhelmed in southeastern Montana Territory by a combined force of Lakota and Cheyenne Indians on June 25, 1876. Yet, the controversy does not appear any closer to resolution today.

A number of reasons have been given for the defeat: Custer disobeyed orders, disregarded the warnings of his scouts, violated the principles of warfare by dividing his command, was ambushed or was the victim of a conspiracy; internal regimental jealousies caused the defeat; the regiment was too tired to fight; there were too many raw recruits or too many Indians; the Indians had better weapons; or the Army had defective guns. Most of the conjectures are moot, for they can be debated endlessly–with intellectual and emotional biases interfering with reasoned arguments. Given the nature of the evidence, however, one should be able to study the role the weapons played in the battle’s outcome with a modicum of objectivity.

During the battle, the 7th Cavalry troopers were armed with the Springfield carbine Model 1873 and the Colt Single Action Army revolver Model 1873. Selection of the weapons was the result of much trial and error, plus official testing during 1871­73. The Ordnance Department staged field trials of 89 rifles and carbines, which included entries from Peabody, Spencer, Freeman, Elliot and Mauser. There were four primary contenders: the Ward-Burton bolt-action rifle; the Remington rolling-block; the ‘trapdoor’ Springfield; and the Sharps, with its vertically sliding breechblock.

Although repeating rifles such as the Spencer, Winchester and Henry had been available, particularly in the post-Civil War years, the Ordnance Department decided to use a single-shot system. It was selected instead of a repeating system because of manufacturing economy, ruggedness, reliability, efficient use of ammunition and similarity to European weapons systems. Ironically, the board of officers involved in the final selection included Major Marcus A. Reno, who would survive the 7th Cavalry’s 1876 debacle on the Little Bighorn.

The guns were all tested for defective cartridges, endurance, accuracy, rapidity of fire, firing with excessive charges, and effects of dust and rust. The Springfield was the winner. The Model 1873 carried by the 7th Cavalry was a carbine that weighed 7 pounds and had an overall length of 41 inches. It used a .45-caliber copper-cased cartridge, a 405-grain bullet and a charge of 55 grains of black powder. The best effective range for this carbine was under 300 yards, but significant hits still could be scored out to 600 yards. A bullet was driven out of the muzzle at a velocity of about 1,200 feet per second, with 1,650 foot-pounds of energy. The trapdoor Springfield could hurl a slug more than 1,000 yards and, with proper training, could be fired with accuracy 12 to 15 times per minute.

The Colt Single Action Army revolver was chosen over other Colts, Remingtons and Starrs. By 1871, the percussion cap models were being converted for use with metallic cartridges. Ordnance testing in 1874 narrowed the field to two final contenders: the Colt Single Action Army and the Smith & Wesson Schofield. The Schofield won only in speed of ejecting empty cartridges. The Colt won in firing, sanding and rust trials and had fewer, simpler and stronger parts. The Model ‘P’ had a barrel of 7.5 inches and fired six .45-caliber metallic cartridges with 28 grains of black powder. It had a muzzle velocity of 810 feet per second, with 400 foot-pounds of energy. Its effective range dropped off rapidly over 60 yards, however. The standard U.S. issue of the period had a blue finish, case-hardened hammer and frame, and walnut grips. The Colt became ubiquitous on the frontier. To the soldier it was a ‘thumb-buster,’ to the lawman a ‘peacemaker’ or ‘equalizer,’ and to the civilian a ‘hog leg’ or ‘plow-handle.’ The revolver was so strong and dependable that, with minor modifications, it was still being produced by the Colt Company into the 1980s.

Overall, the soldiers were pleased with their weapons. Lieutenant James Calhoun of Company L wrote in his diary on July 1, 1874: ‘The new Springfield arms and ammunition were issued to the command today. They seem to give great satisfaction.’ Although most of the men drew the standard-issue weapons, it was their prerogative to purchase their own arms. George Custer carried a Remington .50-caliber sporting rifle with octagonal barrel and two revolvers that were not standard issue–possibly Webley British Bulldog, double-action, white-handled revolvers. Captain Thomas A. French of Company M carried a .50-caliber Springfield that his men called ‘Long Tom.’ Sergeant John Ryan, also of Company M, used a .45-caliber, 15-pound Sharps telescopic rifle, specially made for him. Private Henry A. Bailey of Company I had a preference for a Dexter Smith, breechloading, single-barreled shotgun.

It is well-known that Custer’s men each brought a trapdoor Springfield and a Colt .45 to the Little Bighorn that June day in 1876. Identification of the Indian weapons is more uncertain. Participants claimed to have gone into battle with a plethora of arms–bows and arrows, ancient muzzleloaders, breechloaders and the latest repeating arms. Bows and arrows played a part in the fight. Some warriors said they lofted high-trajectory arrows to fall among the troopers while remaining hidden behind hill and vale. The dead soldiers found pincushioned with arrows, however, were undoubtedly riddled at close range after they were already dead or badly wounded. The long range at which most of the fighting occurred did not allow the bow and arrow a prominent role.

Not until archaeological investigations were conducted on the battlefield during the 1980s did the extent to which the Indians used gunpowder weapons come to light. Modern firearm identification analysis revealed that the Indians had spoken the truth about the variety and number of weapons they carried. The Cheyenne warrior Wooden Leg went into battle with what he called a’six-shooter’ and later captured a Springfield carbine and 40 rounds of ammunition. The Miniconjou One Bull, Sitting Bull’s nephew, owned an old muzzleloader. The Hunkpapa Iron Hawk and the Cheyenne Big Beaver had only bows and arrows. Eagle Elk, an Oglala, started the battle with a Winchester. White Cow Bull, an Oglala, also claimed to have a repeater.

There were 2,361 cartridges, cases and bullets recovered from the entire battlefield, which reportedly came from 45 different firearms types (including the Army Springfields and Colts, of course) and represented at least 371 individual guns. The evidence indicated that the Indians used Sharps, Smith & Wessons, Evans, Henrys, Winchesters, Remingtons, Ballards, Maynards, Starrs, Spencers, Enfields and Forehand & Wadworths, as well as Colts and Springfields of other calibers. There was evidence of 69 individual Army Springfields on Custer’s Field (the square-mile section where Custer’s five companies died), but there was also evidence of 62 Indian .44-caliber Henry repeaters and 27 Sharps .50-caliber weapons. In all, on Custer’s Field there was evidence of at least 134 Indian firearms versus 81 for the soldiers. It appears that the Army was outgunned as well as outnumbered.

Survivors of the remaining seven companies of the 7th Cavalry asserted that the Indians were equipped with repeating rifles and mentioned Winchesters as often as not. Major Marcus Reno claimed: ‘The Indians had Winchester rifles and the column made a large target for them and they were pumping bullets into it.’ Although some white survivors claimed to be heavily outgunned, Private Charles Windolph of Company H was probably closest to the truth when he estimated that half the warriors carried bows and arrows, one-quarter of them carried a variety of old muzzleloaders and single-shot rifles, and one-quarter carried modern repeaters.

The Winchester, in fact, was almost a duplicate of the repeater developed by B. Tyler Henry, who was to become superintendent at Oliver Winchester’s New Haven Arms Company. The success of Henry’s rifles ensured Winchester’s success, and the primary weapon carried by the Indians at the Little Bighorn was either Henry’s model or the slightly altered Winchester Model 1866. Both fired a .44-caliber Henry rimfire cartridge. The Henry used a 216-grain bullet with 25 grains of powder, while the Winchester used a 200-grain bullet with 28 grains of powder. Velocity was 1,125 feet per second, with 570 foot-pounds of energy. Cartridges were inserted directly into the front of the Henry magazine, while the Winchester 1866 had a spring cover on the right side of the receiver. The carbine and the rifle had a capacity of 13 and 17 cartridges respectively.

Even though the board selected the Springfield as the top single-shot weapon, the Indians’ arms fared nearly as well in subsequent tests. The Springfields recorded 100 percent accuracy at 100 yards, but so did the Winchesters, Henrys, Sharps, Spencers and various muzzleloaders. At 300 yards, the Springfield .45-55 carbine’s accuracy dropped to 75 percent, while the repeaters fell to about 40 percent. Weapons such as the Springfield .50-70 rifle and the Sharps .45-70 rifle, however, still produced 100 percent accuracy at 300 yards. At 600 yards, both Springfields could still hit the mark 32 percent of the time, while the Winchesters and Henrys were almost useless at ranges over 300 yards.

In effect, all of these weapons fared equally well at short ranges. The Army’s Springfields had an accuracy advantage over the Indians’ repeaters at medium ranges (200­500 yards), plus they were more rugged and durable. The long-range weapons the Indians had were too few (there is evidence of only one Sharps .45-70 at the battle) to make much of a difference. Their preponderance of repeaters increased the Indians’ firepower, but the repeaters were only good at short ranges. And the Indian narratives tell a story of a battle that, until the last desperate moments, was fought generally from long range (more than 500 yards)–a dubious advantage to the cavalrymen, since the relatively slow muzzle velocity of their Springfields meant a high trajectory that made chances of hitting anything slim.

Overall, the pluses and minuses probably canceled each other out. It has been said that the 7th Cavalry might have won had it still used the seven-shot Spencers it carried at the Washita battle in 1868, but the Spencers were no better in range or accuracy than the Henrys or Winchesters, and they carried fewer bullets. The contention that the Springfields suffered from a significant number of extractor failures was not borne out. Only about 2 percent of the recovered specimens showed evidence of extractor problems. Custer has been criticized for not taking along a battery of Gatling guns, but General Nelson A. Miles commented on their usefulness: ‘I am not surprised that poor Custer declined’ taking them along, he said. ‘They are worthless for Indian fighting.’ Equipping the cavalry with another type of weapon probably would not have made much of a difference at the Little Bighorn.

What, then, was the reason that the soldiers made such a poor showing during the West’s most famous Army-Indian battle? While Custer’s immediate command of 210 men was wiped out and more than 250 troopers and scouts were killed in the fighting on June 25-26, the Indians lost only about 40 or 50 men. The explanation appears to lie in the fact that weapons are no better than the men who use them. Marksmanship training in the frontier Army prior to the 1880s was almost nil. An Army officer recalled the 1870s with nostalgia. ‘Those were the good old days,’ he said. ‘Target practice was practically unknown.’ A penurious government allowed only about 20 rounds per year for training–a situation altered only because of the Custer disaster. And the 20 rounds of ammunition often were expended in firing at passing game rather than in sharpshooting. The 7th Cavalry was not hampered by new recruits, for only about 12 percent of the force could be considered raw. What handicapped the entire regiment, however, was inadequate training in marksmanship and fire discipline.

It is a perplexing incongruity in a citizen-soldier army, but the vast majority of soldiers, when the time comes to kill, become conscientious objectors. It has been asserted that man is essentially a killer at heart, yet recent studies have found evidence quite to the contrary. Men, soldiers or not, simply have an innate resistance to killing. It is fairly well-established that when faced with danger, a man will usually respond by fight or flight. New studies, however, have argued that there are two other likely possibilities: posture or submit.

It is the posturing that has increased with the introduction of firearms to the battlefield. It is almost impossible for a man to shirk battle when at arm’s length from an enemy wielding sword or pike, but it is easier to remain aloof at rifle range. One has other options besides immediate fight or flight. The Rebel yell or the Union ‘hurrah,’ for example, were simply means to bolster one’s courage while trying to frighten the enemy. The loud crack of the rifle also served the same purpose, filling a deep-seated need to posture–i.e., to put on a good show and scare the enemy, yet still leave the shooter far away from a hand-to-hand death struggle. In reality, those good shows were often harmless, with the rifleman firing over the heads of the enemy.

Firing high has always been a problem, and it apparently does not stem solely from inadequate training. Soldiers and military historians from Ardant du Picq to Paddy Griffith and John Keegan have commented on the phenomenon. In Civil War battles, 200 to 1,000 men might stand, blasting away at the opposing lines at 30 to 50 yards distance, and only hit one or two men per minute. Commanders constantly admonished their troops to aim low and give the enemy a blizzard at his shins. Regardless, the men continued to fire high–sometimes intentionally, sometimes without consciously knowing what they were doing.

In Vietnam, it was estimated that some firefights had 50,000 bullets fired for each soldier killed. In the Battle of the Rosebud, eight days before the Little Bighorn fight, General George Crook’s forces fired about 25,000 rounds and may have caused about 100 Indian casualties–about one hit for every 250 shots. One of the best showings ever made by soldiers was at Rorke’s Drift in an 1879 battle between the Zulus and the British infantry. There, surrounded, barricaded soldiers delivered volley after volley into dense masses of charging natives at point-blank range where it seemed that no shot could miss. The result: one hit for every 13 shots.

Indeed, it was at times even difficult to get soldiers to fire at all. After the Battle of Gettysburg, 24,000 loaded muskets were recovered; only 12,000 of them had been loaded more than once, 6,000 had from three to 10 rounds in the barrel, and one weapon had been loaded 23 times! One conclusion is that a great number of soldiers are simply posturing and not trying to kill the enemy.

At the Little Bighorn, about 42,000 rounds were either expended or lost. At that rate, the soldiers hit one Indian for about every 840 shots. Since much of the ammunition was probably lost–Indians commented on capturing ammunition in cartridge belts and saddlebags–the hit rate must have been higher. Yet the results do not speak highly of a supposedly highly trained, ‘crack’ cavalry regiment.

High fire very plainly took place at the Little Bighorn, most notably on Reno’s skirmish line in the valley. Troopers went into battle with 100 rounds of Springfield ammunition and 24 rounds of Colt ammunition. About 100 troopers on Reno’s line may have fired half of their ammunition toward the southern edge of the Indian village. The 5,000 bullets only hit one or two Indians, but they certainly damaged the lodges. A Hunkpapa woman, Moving Robe, claimed ‘the bullets shattered the tepee poles,’ and another Hunkpapa woman, Pretty White Buffalo, stated that ‘through the tepee poles their bullets rattled.’ The relatively low muzzle velocity of the Springfield meant that the soldier would have had to aim quite a bit over the head of an Indian for any chance to hit him at long distance. If the officers called for the sights to be set for 500 yards to hit Indians issuing from the village–and did not call for a subsequent sight adjustment–by the time the Indians approached to 300 yards, the bullets would be flying 12 feet over their heads. As a comparison, the modern M-16 round, traveling at 3,250 feet per second, has an almost flat trajectory, and the bullet will hit where it is aimed with very little sight adjustment.

The soldiers’ difficulty in hitting their targets was also increased by the fact that the Indians stayed out of harm’s way for almost all of the battle. One archaeological field study located the Indian positions and discovered that nearly every location was 300 to 1,200 yards away from the troopers. Given the distances involved, the fact that soldiers tended to shoot high, the lack of marksmanship training and the conscious or subconscious posturing involved, it is not surprising that the troopers scored so few hits.

Arguably, posturing has been a factor at every gunpowder battle, as it most likely was at the Little Bighorn–but how about submission? It was drummed into the common soldier that he should save the last bullet for himself. He supposedly would place his Colt to his head, pull the trigger and go to Fiddler’s Green, rather than take the chance of being captured alive. Custer had even requested that his wife, Elizabeth, who often rode with the cavalry, should be shot by an officer rather than chance being taken by the Indians. As strange as it may seem, even with this dread of being captured, surrender attempts were made at the Little Bighorn fight. Indian accounts tell of white men who, at the last second, threw their hands up in surrender and offered their guns to the onrushing warriors. The Lakotas and Cheyennes were not swayed.

Given all these factors operating against the citizen-soldier, how could commanders ever go into battle expecting to win? The answer, again, lies not in the weapons the soldiers used, but in the soldiers themselves–and their officers.

Dividing up a command in the near presence of an enemy may be an act to be avoided during large-scale maneuvers with army-sized units, but such is not the case during small-scale tactical cavalry maneuvers. Custer adhered to the principles for a successful engagement with a small, guerrilla-type, mobile enemy. Proven tactics called for individual initiative, mobility, maintaining the offensive, acting without delay, playing not for safety but to win, and fighting whenever the opportunity arose. It was accepted that Regular soldiers would never shirk an encounter even with a superior irregular force of enemies, and that division of force for an enveloping attack combined with a frontal assault was a preferable tactic. On a small scale, and up to a certain point, Custer did almost everything he needed to do to succeed.

Problems arose, however, when tactics broke down from midlevel and small-scale, to micro-scale. According to then Brevet Major Edward S. Godfrey, fire discipline–the ability to control and direct deliberate, accurate, aimed fire–will decide every battle. No attack force, however strong, could reach a defensive line of steady soldiers putting out disciplined fire. The British army knew such was the case, as did Napoleon. Two irregular warriors could probably defeat three soldiers. However, 1,000 soldiers could probably beat 2,000 irregulars. The deciding factor was strength in unity–fire discipline. It was as Major Godfrey said: ‘Fire is everything, the rest is nothing.’

Theoretically, on the Little Bighorn, with a small-scale defense in suitable terrain with an open field of fire of a few hundred yards, several companies of cavalrymen in close proximity and under strict fire control could have easily held off two or three times their number of Indian warriors. In reality, on the Little Bighorn, several companies of cavalrymen who were not in close proximity and had little fire control, with a micro-scale defense in unsuitable, broken terrain, could not hold off two or three times their number of Indian warriors.

The breakdown stems from an attitude factor. Custer exhibited an arrogance, not necessarily of a personal nature, but rather as a part of his racial makeup. Racial experience may have influenced his reactions to the immediate situation of war. It was endemic in red vs. white modes of warfare and implies nothing derogatory to either side. Historically, Indians fled from large bodies of soldiers. It was Custer’s experience that it was much harder to find and catch an Indian than to actually fight him. Naturally influenced by his successful past experiences with small-unit tactics, Custer attacked. He was on the offensive. He knew he must remain on the offensive to be successful. Even after Reno had been repulsed, Custer was maneuvering, looking for another opportunity to attack.

The positions that Custer’s dead were found in did not indicate a strong defensive setup. Even after the Indians had taken away the initiative, Custer’s mind-set was still on ‘attack.’ Although a rough, boxlike perimeter was formed, it appeared more a matter of circumstance than intent. Custer probably never realized that his men’s very survival was on the line, at least not until it was too late to remedy the situation. The men were not in good defensible terrain. They were not within mutual supporting distance. They were not under the tight fire control of their officers. Custer’s troopers were in detachments too small for a successful tactical stance. When the critical point was reached, the soldiers found themselves stretched beyond the physical and psychological limits of fight or posture–they had to flee or submit.

Seemingly out of supporting distance of his comrades, the individual trooper found himself desperately alone. The ‘bunkie’ was not close enough. The first sergeant was far away. The lieutenant was nowhere to be seen. The trooper responded as well as he could have been expected to. He held his ground and fought, he fired into the air like an automaton, he ran, he gave up. Some stands were made, particularly on and within a radius of a few hundred yards of the knoll that became known as Custer Hill, where almost all of the Indian casualties occurred. When it came down to one-on-one, warrior versus soldier, however, the warrior was the better fighter.

George Armstrong Custer may have done almost everything as prescribed. But it was not enough to overcome the combination of particular circumstances, some of his own making, arrayed against him that day. Inadequate training in marksmanship and poor fire discipline resulting from a breakdown in command control were major factors in the battle results. Neither Custer’s weapons nor those the Indians used against him were the cause of his defeat.


This article was written by Greg Michno and originally appeared in the June 1998 issue of Wild West. For more great articles be sure to subscribe to Wild West magazine today!

139 Responses to Battle of Little Bighorn: Were the Weapons the Deciding Factor

  1. Bob says:

    One of the best analyses of Custer’s defeat I have ever read. Kudos to author Michno and Wild West magazine.



    • Howard Toburen says:

      I understand that Custer’s woulds would have been instantly fatal, according to the field autopsy. S he was not ‘assisted back in the saddle’ as the Indian said.

      Certainly his being wounded as they tried to cross might have discouraged them from going on. More likely though, they just realised they would not be able to cross in the face of increasing fire.

      I also understand that there were three other officers were wearing buckskin, so it might have been one of them who was shot. The adjutant, Major Cook, likely would have been near Custer on the probe.

      • Bo-Jangles says:

        Apparently (according to the Indians) and obviously by word of mouth. Custer never made it across the Little big horn.
        Most of the American history (I use the word history when referring to America in it’s widest possible extent) is claptrap.
        Just as the Gunfight at the OK coral actually occurred down the street a touch outside a barbers shop. However the romance of the event would probably recede somewhat if it was called the gunfight at Bob the barbers. Only another 616 states to go!

  3. austin pankey says:

    I love this info that is put up, I even choose this website for nhd (National
    History Day

  4. Alberto Gonzalez says:

    what kind of weapons use the Indians against the 7m Cavalry & General Custer?

    • Clark Wilkins says:

      They used anything at hand. Most had bows and arrows. To use them, they crept up under cover of grass (called “infiltration”) until close enough to get an arrow off. Once out of arrows, these same Indians resorted to throwing rocks.

      Those Indians with firearms were actually a minority and about half of them had muskets. The rest had weapons that were either deer rifles (repeaters) or buffalo guns. Although Gary Michno wrote an intelligent article it is incorrect to say the Indians “outgunned” the soldiers. They had to overcome the range and their own ammunition limitations (An Indian only had what he carried and to expect an Indian to be carrying 50 rounds would be the absolute upper limit of expectation with 15-30 rounds probably more accurate.). The fact that an Indian may have had a repeating rifle was of no use to him if he ran out of ammunition. The Indians would have been forced to conserve ammunition in the battle, firing only at targets of opportunity.

      As an example, the Indians on “Henry Hill” SE of Calhoun Hill had mostly repeating rifles. Many fired at the soldiers from 375 yards away and uphill. Unless a soldier actually stood straight up, stood perfectly still, and waited to be shot, no Indian could have hit him with a Henry rifle.

      But, in return, a soldier with a Springfield could maybe/might have hit that same Indian back first shot.

      So it would seem it wasn’t safe being an Indian. Yet very few were killed. As pointed out, none of Custer’s men had practice with their rifles. So the previous “maybe/might hit” becomes a guaranteed miss. In effect, neither side could hit the other.

      It was the Indians who solved the problem. They kept moving up closer and closer using infiltration until they could hit. And, if they could hit one soldier, they could hit two. But they had to raise their heads in the grass to make their shot. Thus, in return, the soldiers would be looking for heads popping up. They would hold their fire until they saw one. This would dictate their rate of fire as being very low.

      The Indians who overran Companies C, L, and “I” not only obtained their rifles but also their ammunition and then used them on LSH. Thus, they came into ammunition off the dead soldiers. A soldier carried 50 rounds with another 50 rounds on his horse. Indians who stripped a dead soldier of his carbine and ammunition probably did so without ever knowing there was more ammunition in his horse’s saddlebags. Why would they know that? Further, there is never any mention of Indian accounts of soldiers going back to their horses for extra ammo suggesting they never fired off their first load. Why? Because, until an Indian pops his head up, he has nothing to shoot at. Obviously, the Indians got their heads back down again before the soldiers could reply (Or there would have been a lot more dead Indians.). But now we can see why dead soldiers still have ammunition to be stripped of (One Indian took 40 rounds off a soldier.).

      There is no indication that any of Custer’s units survived more than 20 minutes once brought under effective fire (That is when the Indians got the range down to about 70 yards.). To not fire off their whole allotment meant the soldiers were firing less than 2.5 rounds per minute (and probably 1.5 for the Indians to recover ammunition off them.). Again, the soldiers are looking for heads to pop up. Otherwise, the fields are empty.

      Once the range got down to 70 yards (where the Indians couldn’t miss), Companies C and L are going to bolt. How many Indians have they killed?

      Almost none. If this wasn’t true, the Indians could not have come within 70 yards.

      But, when companies C and L bolted, it would have created an Indian charge behind to catch them (and they did) and without the Indians understanding that this is what Company “I” is waiting for. Company “I” is about to be see targets all over the place. And they will be 70 yards behind the running Companies of C and L. Not a lot of distance to work with but a lot of targets. The distance is so short and the targets so many that none of Company “I” will get a chance to retreat before the Indians overrun them too. Just about about every Indian killed that day was killed by Company “I”. And they had maybe 30 seconds to do it in before they were dead themselves. Keogh never even got the chance to order retreat.

      Thus, the weapons the Indians employed that day had very little impact on the battle (except for the Sharps used on Greasy back Ridge). Rather, the distance they were employed at was the deciding factor (Even at 70 yards a bow and arrow was an effective weapon.). Or, more precisely, creeping through grass killed the 7th.

  5. Paul says:

    The original Springfield Rifle adopted by the army was not .45 caliber. It was a .50. Also the ammunition issued for the .45 jammed notoriously and was a factor in the battle. you might want to check these facts out to your satisfaction and posting improvement.

    • Fred Middleton says:

      Jamming? Perhaps. Richard Fox ‘dig’ in the 80’s indicated near normal ‘jammed case’ of those recovered.

      If a .50 was the standard issue in 1874, then the G-4 of the Dept of Dakota order many hundred of thousand/rounds of the wrong .45-55 cartridges. Infantry would have also been given the incorrect 45-70 for their ‘.50 rifle if so issued.

      Uncle Sam chapter of the James Donovan/A Terrible Glory. G-4 wins wars, G3 submitted to S3 tenacity wins battles. Virtually every level of command committed mighty errors of decision, from the President down.

  6. Jeff Helmer says:


    You need to read the 1985-85 archaeolgical report at Little Bighorn. Jamming of weapons was more prevalent among the Sioux and Cheyenne weapons than it was for U.S. Army Springfields.

    Crook’s 15 cavalry companies expended approximately 80,000 rounds of .45/55 ammunition aat the Rosebud on 17 June 1876 but experienced little to no documented jamming.

    Custer was beat in a straight-up engagement. Bested by warriors who fought better than his immediate command. No excuses for his defeat are needed. He lost because the Sioux/Cheyenne won.

  7. Paul says:

    Jeff: You need to look further and deeper than a archalogical report on a picked over battlefield. There are several books on the .45-70 and its overly soft copper case heads. The key word is REPORTED/DOCUMENTED jamming! Jammed springfiields were prevalent at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Numerous busted pocket knives found of troopers trying to clear jams. Numerous indian’s reported trooper fighting with jammed trapdoors. They also reported throwing many jammed rifles into the river as they were useless. Perhaps 6 or 7 cases with blown heads. Only a small portion of what had occurred. Right after the battle Army Ordinance changed the ammunition and covered up the incident much like they did with the M16 in Vietnam!
    Do not just be a reader of men’s viewpoints, be a researcher. The LBH was not a stand up fight, and the indian’s did not fight better than the soldiers. Custer broke his command into three sections, did not wait for the second half of his detachment, and went glory hunting on his own. Three small units, jamming carbines, hordes of indian’s. The results were predictable. This hardly makes great stand-up fighters of the indian’s.
    There is considerable evidence to suggest the indians lost a far greater number than is accepted by dogma. In fact they may have actually lost thousands but that is politically not acceptable.
    Whatever is finally said, the fact is it was the last great battle for the plains indian’s. Other than the Nez Peirce conflict the plains indian’s were destroyed. I hardly think losing only 33 indian’s would have caused that!
    Yes, the early .45-70 ammunition was unreliable and cost many lives. Were it not for the Colt .45 the loses would likely have been much higher.
    Custer was an incompetent and would have been courtsmartialed had he survived. DO NOT BE A READER, BE A RESEARCHER!

    • Dakota 22 says:

      Custer and the 7th cavalry were demolished by Dakota fighting tactics. General Crook was also defeated at the Battle of Rosebud days prior to the Little Bighorn. The U.S Cavalry fought in skirmish lines just as they did during the Civil War. Who in their right mind fights like that?…The Dakota were masters at prairie battle tactics and used camoflage. Read the officers accounts of the Battle of the Rosebud. The U.S officers had no idea how fight against the Dakotas. They relied on Crow scouts to reveal tactics and positions.
      Your image of the Dakota warrior is based on hollywood movies. The U.S never defeated the Dakota in battle.

    • Sam Ruger says:

      Paul is correct that the copper casings of the Springfield were inferior to brass and this (along with target practice) were corrected after the LBH. Generally, these kinds of corrections are made as a consent to fault. Custer’s troops show about a 3% casing fault. This is pretty minimal but it should be 0% and, hence, the correction. If this was actually a serious problem, the Army had three years before to find it.

      Also, the trapdoors did not jam.

      And the reason to throw a carbine into a river (Reno) doesn’t require a jam. It only requires the soldier needed one hand on the reins versus two hands on the carbine. That’s what pistols were for.

      But, except for these few, small corrections, Paul’s post stands.

  8. Mike says:

    I agree with the view that the most plausible (and imo, ONLY) explanation for the flow of the battle and command suddenly going from offense to defense after the MTC crossing is that Custer was mortally shot at that point, rather then sitting uphill and watching Yates charge the village (which totally contradicts Custer’s charatcter and command expectations of the time of having the Genreal at the head of the command) or sending Yates to reconnoiter the village, which was lightly defended but yet not attacked. My only puzzle with this theory is was Surgeon Lord’s body was not found by last stand hill but rather with E/F further down towards the River. It would make sense that he would have stayed close to wounded Custer unless of course Custer was dead and nothing could be done for him. Weopon jamming could explain the sudden onset of despair evident by the seeming widespread evidence of suicide pacts (frequent occurance of two paired markers) . Salute.

    • Clark Wilkins says:

      The argument that Custer was killed at MTC has no basis whatsoever. Posters need to move on from this misconception. It would require that three Indians, from a half mile away, killed Custer and with one of them, according to him, doing so in hand to hand combat. And then, seeing Custer shot, 210 men instantly stopped their charge, halted, and agreed among themselves (Themselves being Custer’s own relatives) that, “That’s it! The battle’s over! No need to advance any further. Let’s go home. But wait! Hey! It’s a nice day! Let’s go home the WRONG WAY and ride north and have a picnic lunch. And let’s take Custer’s body with us and, while we’re there, let’s put a pistol in his hand so he he defend himself while he’s DEAD.”

  9. Paul says:

    Mike; Rather than refer back to my books I think I will just answer off the top of my head. As I remember Custer was reported as having three wounds on his body. One through the right chest, one creasing the head and one some where else of a minor nature. I probably should do the research to renew my memory! The point I am attempting to make is should he have been shot through the chest at the river, by the time he reached LSH he could have bleed out by the time he got there. A good possibility. This of course, is only theory
    At the Battle of the Rosebud Gen. Crooks account never mentions any jamming of the Springfield’s during extensive ammunition expenditure that I can remember. Your own conclusions can be drawn from this. Crook was primarily saved by his own indian allies.

  10. Keith Patton says:

    The paired markers is a myth caused by the fact that markers meant for the Reno-Benteen battlefield were mistakenly placed on the Custer field. When the markers were placed, the were put in locations of “depressions” and “rank” vegetation. During the earlier burials earth was scraped up on either side of a body and piled on it. Resulting in two depressions next to one another. Two markers were therefore mistakenly placed where only one should have been and others to mark where horses might have fallen.
    This has been supported by subsequent excavations at paired markers where only the disarticulated remains of one individual have been found. Still at others, the markers were offset from the remains and only part of the remains were recovered for reburial leaving as much as half or more in place. This says something about the dedication of the burial details and or the Montana summer heat.

    Bottom line is these myths need to stop being repeated in the face of verifiable historical and scientific fact.

    Suicide pacts indeed….

  11. Paul says:

    I am somewhat at a loss as to what Keith means by paired markers. The only conclusion i can draw is he means a paired marker indicates two soldiers each shot themselves rather than be captured. Or two soldiers fell near each other.
    If this is so, I would not be so quick to scoff at suicide pacts. This was an situation where “save the last bullet for yourself” had real meaning. These soldiers were fighting a stone age Asian society where torture was freely practiced on their enemies. Being captured alive meant being skinned or burned alive or some similar end. Some Indian biographies note that quite a few soldiers shot themselves when they ran out of ammunition or their rifles jammed (look it up!).
    So scoffing at suicide pacts is not an objective evaluation of this particular situation and is a personal opinion unsupported by any evidence.

  12. John Koster says:

    Lakota and Cheyenne warriors were generally quick killers and didn’t go in for a lot of torture, though they certainly mutilated the dead afterwards. When Fanny Kelly was captured by the Lakota in 1864, they dragged her off into a teepee — and made them teach her how to read. She appears never to have been raped and when she owned a house in Washington she invited any Lakota who showed up with his wife to stay over. Perhaps the greatest myth of the American West is that Indians were “savages” who did all sorts of terrible things without the slightest provocation. This is hokum. Their most frequent initial response to white people was curiosity, sometimes followed by hospitality. Even when wars were in progress, Catholic priests and Quakers could circulate among the Plains tribes without fear because they were holy men who presented no threat. Once Episcopal Bishop Henry Whipple, visiting Lakota friends, got up on a cold night to bring his saddle into the teepee to prevent theft. “You didn’t have to do that,” his Lakota host told him. “You’re the only white man around for 50 miles….”

  13. Paul says:

    It is always interesting to see the innocent try to re-write history. Modern historians and pre-occupied supporters of equality try to portray the American Indian as the gentle noble native. The truth of course, is they were asian stone-age savages. This is not a denegration, it is merely the truth. They had a penchant for war and torture. Despite all the modern nay-sayers all of the 19th century and early 20th century books on their lives and culture detail this.
    Fanny Kelly’s capture and captive life was brutal and savage. She details how a number of times different indians tried to murder her only to be stopped by another. Whether she was raped or not we only have her word on that. The indians regularly scalped women and small children. Skinning alive and burning at the stake was a common end for captives.
    Did whites practice brutality against the indians? They certainly did. History is filled with the details. Did the whites practice ethnic cleansing? To a degree they certainly did.
    Were clerics exempt? Only ocassionally, and usually based on personal relationships.
    Before people yell “Hokum”, read your history books, don’t try to make up history as you wish it was.

    • Dakota22 says:

      white savages used scalping to collect bounties. The Cheyenne mutilated the 7th Cavalry for the atrocities committed to their women and children at the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864.

      The U.S army never defeated the Dakota army in any battle. The only victories the U.S had were over women and children.

      You talk of research, research your own savage white history.

      When your people came to our country they were kept alive and taught how to live. You come from a race of people whose only claim to fame is greed.

      Look at the condition of our country. This is what you call civilized?

      • BIll says:

        Thank you Dakota22.
        I am so glad to hear your comments here…
        I am not an historian, nor Lakota, just a guy living in upstate New York on land that once belonged to the Seneca.(That’s another story).. but I have done a good deal of research into Native American history, sociology, mostly the plains people and Southwest. I traveled in southern Montana, SD looking for….a feeling….,I spent a brief time with a Hopi family in 1970…etc. that is all I know…
        But I have always been especially interested in the fight on the “Greasy Grass.” Why?

        From what I have learned there is good information in this article-at least on the weapons if not not on the fight itself- and many mistakes…and the same with the comments..
        Thank you again…

      • Smedley says:

        Thank you Dakota 22 for your candor. So,,,,,,given the reality of 2013 issues …..what do you recommend that we all do? I agree that greed is ruining people and the environment.

  14. NorPlains says:

    I found the reading of this article and most of the comments a waste of time, although there were a couple of things that were gotten right.

  15. […] What, then, was the reason that the soldiers made such a poor showing during the West’s most famous Army-Indian battle? While Custer’s immediate command of 210 men was wiped out and more than 250 troopers and scouts were killed in the fighting on June 25-26, the Indians lost only about 40 or 50 men. The explanation appears to lie in the fact that weapons are no better than the men who use them. Marksmanship training in the frontier Army prior to the 1880s was almost nil. An Army officer recalled the 1870s with nostalgia. ‘Those were the good old days,’ he said. ‘Target practice was practically unknown.’ A penurious government allowed only about 20 rounds per year for training–a situation altered only because of the Custer disaster. […]

  16. Paul says:

    Re: Norplains
    Some people find reading Caesars commentaries and Shakespeare a waste of time. Norplains displays his total inability to comprehend even the basics of history! It is to bad that this site does not seem to attract any serious students of history. Much could be gained in exchanges of the educated. Should anyone really wish to discus the part the Springfield played in the defeat of Custer first they should research the M-16 in Vietnam and how many soldiers got killed with the improper ammunition issued, then they would have some background to understand the part the rifles Custer was armed with in his defeat. I invite any proper discussion on the topic.

    • Vin says:

      It wasn’t just the ammunition that caused problems, given that the AK-47 had a better penetration. It also had a superior receiver (chrome) that repelled dirt, mud and everything else. We simply didn’t try hard enough to win this shooting war. Same mistakes as in LBH.

  17. Gish says:

    Different weapons may not have changed the battles outcome but a different Regimental C.O would!!

    Weapon wise I believe it possible that more Springfields did jam than noted, I venture that a weapon is more likely to cease on continual, sustained fire, in the last moments of the battle the troopers would have had no time to clear blockages and the guns became clubs, perhaps where the talk of troopers holding up their guns has been mentioned, was a misinterpretation of this?

    Regarding accuracy, anyone who has been in rolling hill and countryside knows how difficult it is to range something? Even with effective fire discipline, it meant that the ‘ranging’ officer had to get it right. Were all officers effective in this way? I know the Brit Army liked to set up range markers, like in Zulu Dawn lol, to make fire more effective, obviously not something a cavalry unit would be doing!!!

    I see the Little Big Horn as two separate brigade commander mindsets; Reno/Benteen’s defensive ‘wait for help or it to stop’ process or Custer’s more aggressive process. One process led to a draw at best…the other led to Custer’s defeat.

    • Sam Ruger says:

      The jamming of a Springfield had nothing to do with it being used as a club. Indeed! There’s no designed use of the weapon as a club at all or it would have been equipped with a bayonet.

      Any soldier resorting to using a Springfield as a “club” was apparently unaware that he had been issued a pistol.

      Which one would you use?

      The only evidence of hand to hand fighting occurred with Company “I”. Had the 7th’s cavalry had the opportunity to shoot Indians with their pistols within “clubbing range” each one of them would have killed six Indians or a total of 1200 of them and not just 60.

  18. osori says:

    with all due respect I’d suggest you get off your high horse and accept the fact that the US army lost this battle. If it feels better to claim thousands of Indians died rather than the accepted 33 warriors (names of the dead were chanted following battles for a significant time) then by all means do so, it’s a free country. But to that those of us who insist on historical accuracy are being “politically correct” is an ignorant statement.

    The US army lost this one. It happened 134 years ago. get over it.

  19. osori says:

    Paul et al,
    ignore the previous entry. I’d assumed you were merely a strong supporter of the US military. Asian stone age savages?

    You’re not a military supporter. You’re a garden-variety mean spirited asshole.

  20. Paul says:

    Sirs: In order;
    Gish- The jamming of the new Springfield .45-70 copper cased cartridges is a matter of historical accuracy.It is a known technological fact despite the army attempting a cover up and changing to the harder brass case immediately after the battle.
    Osori – Your sheeplike acceptance of the low numbers of indian casualties is indicative of the close minded shallow researcher.This not the place to fully discuss this. If you carefully research the amount of ammunition used and the ranges fired at coupled with the fact the plains indians were a broken force afterwards you cvannot arrive at any other conclusion than there was a massive loss of indian soldiers. Oh I don’t think my horse is any higher than yours!
    Osori – Again, the plain fact is the indians were indeed stone age tribes emigrated from asia. This is a fact rather than what you appear to interprept as a denegration.You sir, are attempting to play the race card with a foul mouth! SHAME ON YOU!

  21. Stuart Long says:

    I’m reading “Five Years a Cavalryman” about service on the Texas frontier 1866-71. They were armed with the Spencer carbine, a reliable 7-shot repeater used with good effect in the Civil War.

    It’s too bad Custer’s men were fighting with single-shot carbines. I don’t think there’s any doubt from the archeological evidence that the 7th Cavalry were outgunned at Little Bighorn. I wouldn’t be surprised by a bad ammo problem in light of Ordinance’s record.

    Maybe a year ago I read the latest book based on digging over the Custer battlefield (sorry, can’t name it). What I remember is how Custer kept subdividing his troops to hit the Indian camp from south, middle and north. Custer was fixated on the idea that the Indians would run and he needed to trap them.

    When the Indians came boiling out to fight, Custer’s command began to disintegrate and didn’t regroup effectively.

    The author suggested from the uneven evidence of heavy defensive fire (including revolvers) that a good number of the cavalrymen succumbed to panic.

    Besides not arming soldiers well, the U.S. Army for a long time didn’t train recruits usefully either.

    I’m curious how many thousands of years a people needs to live in one place before they’re natives. In fact, we’re all Africans, if you want to go back far enough, right?

  22. Paul says:

    To the general readership: I have been disappointed with the general shallow and very narrow interest of readers replies. One guy is a indian and only interested in his race baloney, another guy pretends to be a intellectual trying to claim the hardened soldier all panicked and also plays a weak race card.
    The facts are the Springfield jammed after a few shots and was often unusable. The reason for this was the new 45-70 used a soft copper case like the lower pressure, reliable 50-70. After some minimal fouling the case tended to stick in the chamber and the extractor cut through the rim leaving the fouled case in the chamber. This is not opinion! It is substantiated by the Frankfort Arsenal reports of the time.Sometimes the trooper could dig the case out with a pocket knife, sometimes and eventually he could not. He had no saber to fight with. So the 1873 Colt issued with 25 cartridges became highly significant. Smart troopers carried more cartridges and another revolver as well. Custer is quoted in the recent movie Son of the Morning Star, “The Springfield jams after a few shots and that’s why the officers buy their own guns and ammunition.” Numerous different revolvers and ammunition have been found at the battle site.Most of this firing was done at close range. The troopers theoretically could have fired 23,000 45-70 rounds at close charging indians, they also could have fired around 6000 revolver 45 Colt cartridges at a close range enemy. Probably much higher for the revolver cartridges and considerably lower for the rifle, more revolvers and ammunition than recorded which may even out. Nearly 30,000 possible rounds fired in this engagement. If 25% solid hits were, that would equal 7500 probable kills or serious wounds. Could any serious student of linear logic and serious researcher of history believe a fallacious number like only 33 indians were killed in this engagement. It is an impossibility! And Reno’s fight is not factored in.This battle broke the back of the plains indians and all they did beyond this point was run, run, run.
    The army lied about the battle because of Custer’s incompetent leadership leading his underarmed and split up command to annihilation and the bad ammunition for the rifles. the indians lied because they did not want to admit the horrific losses, and history endorsed it for the clueless!

    • Mark A Golding says:

      The LBH did not break the back of the plains Indians. In the 1890s there should have been about 25,000 to 50,000 plains Indian warriors living and a high proportion of them would have had repeating rifles. In the 1890s the plains Indian tribes had the United States Army outnumbered and outgunned but there were no Indian wars on the plains.

      How could the LBH break the back of the Crows, the Shoshonie, the Arikaras, and other allies of the US army during the Great Sioux War if not a single member of those tribes was alleged to have fought for the Sioux??

      How could the LBH break the backs of neutral plans tribes like the Gros Ventres, the Kiowa, the Ponca, the Comanche, etc.etc. if not a single member of those tribes was alleged to have fought for the Sioux?

      And thousands of Teton Sioux warriors stayed at the Red Cloud and Spotted Tail Indian agencies throughout the Great Sioux War and were undefeated because they did not fight.

      I would say that Custer’s men would be shooting very accurately if they did a tenth as well as you estimated and made hits with 2.5 % of their shots would would result in about 750 warriors killed and wounded, a terrible loss indeed for the hostiles.shots.

  23. Kenulf says:

    Whenever one side has a combat advantage, be it in weapons, tactics or training, we see smaller numbers repeatedly defeat larger numbers (Greeks v. Persians, Romans v. Gauls, British v. Zulus, US Cavalry v. ‘Red Indians’).
    However, there is always a limit to how big an opposing force you can take on. Sometimes that limit is crossed and then, no matter how well the smaller force fights, it will be overrun, and numbers will decide
    (Teutoberg Forest, Isandlhwana, Little Big Horn).

  24. andy says:

    Thank you for these interesting comments.
    I am interested in the question of malfunctions in the Springfield carbine. Some of you regard this as a myth, others not.
    Wikipedia ( cites Richard Fox, Archaeology, History and Custer’s Last Battle, 1993, University of Oklahoma Press, pp 241-2. Fox comments on the findings after a fire exposed the area to archaeological investigation in the early 1980s. He finds that 3.4% (3 out of 88) of .45/55-caliber Springfield cartridge cases from the Custer battlefield and 2.7% (7 out of 257) cases from the Reno-Benteen field seemed to have been pried from jammed weapons.
    This is obviously only a very small sample of the thousands of rounds that must have been fired. Still it may be representative. (I find it interesting that the rate of malfunction on the site of the frenetic battle of Custer’s troops before they were overwhelmed is higher than where Reno’s troops withstood attacks over a much longer period and were presumably firing at a slower overall rate.)
    The Wikepedia author concludes that “these findings suggest accounts of jammed carbines were the result of misconception or a myth that grew after the defeat.” That seems to me a misinterpretation. If 3% of rounds misfired, that would mean a trooper could expect to fire 33 rounds before a malfunction. That is only two or three minutes of rapid fire with this weapon.
    If as seems likely some units beat off attacks by intensive fire for some time before they were overwhelmed, the 3% figure suggests a rate of malfunction that must have been terrifying for the soldiers. There are of course no reports of this from Custer’s units, but reports from Reno’s do indicate serial malfunctions.
    The report of “numerous” broken knives is interesting. I assume these were not knives intended for fighting and so broken in combat, and I cannot imagine how such a knife would break in such conditions except in a frantic effort to extract a jammed cartridge. Yet presumably the knife would break only in a minority of cases, so numerous broken knives seems to suggest many jammed cartridges.
    There are no official reports of this problem in earlier or later actions. The weapon was relatively new, and I wonder if earlier actions had been as intensive as this. The copper cartridge was replaced after the Greasy Grass by a brass version, so if later actions by troops so equipped did not reveal such a problem, that tells us little.
    Does it matter?
    Would Custer’s disposition of his forces have led to success if the carbines had all worked as designed? It seems unlikely, given how he had divided his forces so that they could not support each other. (Can anyone tell me how long the destruction of his units took? Given the criticism of Reno and Benteen, one would have to assume a considerable period, but I suspect it happened too fast for them to intervene.)
    My assumption – not well based of course – is that his experiences had convinced him that the Indians would not fight, or at least would fight only to cover the flight of their families rather than make a serious attack. And that therefore his main intent was to cut off their retreat rather than to make a concerted attack where all his forces could support each other. Had there ever in 80 years been such a fight? Red Cloud’s war had been very different. Fetterman had been a far smaller affair. It was unprecedented for a whole regiment to have its attack replied to by attack.
    Moreover, Custer’s uncordinated units were met by a response that was to say the least effective and, by some accounts, brilliant. He was utterly off balance, and the reply was deadly.
    And in the end, it made no difference.
    Two ways of life. Epic. That is to say, tragic and brutal and splendid, on both sides. And the ordinary people ruined and bereaved.

    • willard says:

      Point of disagreement, the Fetterman clash, I presume that you mean the encounter at Rose Bud, was not so much a smaller affair as you state. In fact when reading descriptions of it one realizes that it was a long, virtually daylong, running battle betweed Fetterman and a force led by Crazy Horse. Initial fighting began as early as 0300 hrs and continued well into the day. In fact, were it not for the assistance of turncoat indians, traditional enemies of the Lakota and Cheyenne, the Rose Bud could have been far worse that LBH. In the event the failure of Fetterman to fulfill his portion of the three pronged pincer on the Lakota/Cheyenne alliance contributed to Custer’s defeat at the LBH.

    • Mark A Golding says:

      andy wrote:

      “Had there ever in 80 years been such a fight? Red Cloud’s war had been very different. Fetterman had been a far smaller affair. It was unprecedented for a whole regiment to have its attack replied to by attack.”

      This may be an accurate statement of what Custer, and Terry, and Sheridan, believed up to the June 25, 1876, but it was not what they should have believed if they had done their research thoroughly.

      They could have found a few reports of plans Indians traveling miles or tens of miles from their camps to attack US army brigades, not mere regiments.

    • Clark Wilkins says:

      Your use of statistics is interesting. If one in 33 rounds jammed, it would be very difficult to clear the jam. Since the soldiers each carried 50 rounds, one would think that ever soldier experienced a jam before he fired off his first load. Indeed! I calculate most every soldier stopped firing after expending just about 33 rounds.

      The problem with this logic (and perhaps someone else can solve it) is that when the Indians picked up the same rifles and used them against LSH, none were jammed.

      So either the soldiers could remove the jam themselves or the Indians could. Not something I know the answer to. Someone else?

      Oh! And there’s no reason for a knife to break in removing a jam. But it would certainly be a scary time to have to remove one and certainly difficult to do. I think the word I’m looking for is “Desperation”. I don’t think the words “cool, calm, and collected” would describe my response to such a jam although, given a knife, I think I could have removed it within 30 seconds given no “distractions”. But I know other people who could not clear such a jam at all if it was their first ever. It’s sort of a puzzle on how to remove.

  25. Paul says:

    I find Andy’s comments interesting. He takes the time to make some evaluation of the incident. My comments would be:
    Archaeologists like Fox are evaluating a very picked over battlefield so their findings do not necessarily reflect what actually happened.
    Note, 45-70 and 45-55 cases cannot be distinguished because there was no headstamping to differentiate. Both were likely present. They are not shooters nor ballistics experts, thus they really have no grasp on what they are looking at.
    The 3.4% pried cases figure cannot be supported in reality. This was only the number of cases found and reported in modern times so it is a non-fact. Thus trying to extrapolate 33 shots between jams is totally incorrect. The same problem applies to the broken pocket knives found. Many had already been picked up. Battlefield pick over began with the indians looting the dead. It is a matter of record one indian said numerous Springfields were thrown into the river because they were jammed beyond
    the indian’s ability to repair them.
    The Frankfort Arsenals reports and modern replication of Springfield rifle tests are totally conclusive. The rifle started jamming after about 5 shots and progressively got worse if not completely cleaned. To those of you who have not done any black powder shooting, that means cleaning the rifle with hot water!
    One other significant point I must take issue with. The fact the brass casing replaced the copper one after this fight tells us a great deal! It tells us the copper one was inadequate and failed in service at the Little Big Horn, badly.
    Of course the big question is as Andy states, would it have made any difference in the outcome had the carbines functioned properly?
    The short answer is yes, but only in degree. Custer’s unit could still have been completely lost due to the disparity in numbers. They also might have survived, but badly mauled. It is unlikely Custer personally would have survived as there is some indication he was badly hit down at the river before retreating up the hill.
    Custer made the mistakes of:
    1. Making his men leave their sabers at home.
    2. Not taking Gatling guns and infantry offered.
    3. Dividing his force in the face of a mammoth enemy.
    4. Ignoring all advice by Reno, Benteen and his scouts.
    5. Not issuing more revolver ammunition while knowing the Carbine was defective.
    I believe the indians lost a massive and undetermined amount of warriors. If they did not, why did they not attack Terry’s forces the next day? Where was their next big battle? There was none, because the Little Big Horn broke them. The way of life of the Plains Indian died with their enemy “Son of the Morning Star, he who attacks at dawn”.

    • BIll says:

      1- I think Custer made other mistakes,,the biggest being not knowing his enemy. Robt.. E. Lee also attacked larger forces and split his own forces against common military practice BUT he knew the enemy commanders so could make intelligent choices.
      2- I do NOT believe the Indians had massive loses- just from the research I have done..
      3- I am enjoying your comments about the weapons and ammunition, much of which I have also read elsewhere but your info is more complete. But I don’t know that if their Springfields had functioned better OR even if Custer had say Winchesters or Henry rifles he would have ‘won.’ That is difficult to say given all the other circumstances.–poor fire control, many new recruits, poor “generalship”, Odds of greater than 10 to 1 at each of the major fights– Reno/Benteen and Custer..etc….
      4- This was the largest gathering of Plains Indians known and their intent was not about fighting. Many had left reservations to join Sitting Bull and live a better life than the horror of reservation life.They just wanted to live, hunt buffalo, raise children and whatever… They never thought in a million years that the ‘bluecoats’ would attack such a large camp.
      So on the evening of the 26th they just left and did not fight Terry because ‘they had had enough fighting for then.’

  26. casual observer says:

    Question; Is there any info to extrapolate the rounds fired by Custer with the cartridge cases found. Unless someone picked them up Custer did not spend much time firing.

  27. Paul says:

    With such a picked over battlefield extrapolation is a guess work rather than facts from a uncontaminated crime scene. Cases found on the battlefield are apparently few, compared to cartridges fired. Some reports exist about large piles of copper casings at the battle site. In the 1960’s cartridge case hunting by tourists and collectors was popular at the LBH. There also had been a re-enactment there in1881 with live ammunition. Dick Fox a archaeologist of small repute with others, is full of theories/extrapolations about a few casings found. He speculates Custer’s battalion only fired 14% of their ammunition! Such figures are comparable to 33 indians killed in the whole battle! Custer’s battalion was packing at least 21,000 rounds for the carbine not to mention the revolver
    The only extrapolation to be drawn, is they threw everything they could at the indian’s..

    • Sam Ruger says:

      Geologic study shows the artifacts were under one inch of soil in the 1930’s and two inches by the 1960’s. This likely impaired “souvenir” hunts.

      Still, to fire 14% of their ammo (14 rounds per man) is probably an understatement and may perhaps be attributed to some tourists but said tourists would not know where to look beyond LSH. And, no matter where you look, especially companies C, E and F (The first two of which no tourists should have picked over), the ammunition expenditure is simply not very high. It depends upon the firing by company. Obviously Company L is blasting away. But what about Company E? What are they even shooting at? So Company E could have fired 28 rounds to Company’s E’s 7 rounds per man and the average will be 14. It’s a meaningless calculation.

      I do disagree entirely that 3% jams (found at both Reno and the Custer site) is not representative. That’s why the statistic was calculated. It is standard math for any statistics class.

      • Sam Ruger says:

        Souvenir hunting did take place on LSH. Archeology studies show more bullets (and a lot) were fired from LSH than empty cartridges found there.

        There was a curiosity on LSH that the Colt pistols seemed to have been fired only twice by the soldiers and then a third time by the Indians who shot the soldiers with them, meaning they took a wounded soldier’s own Colt and finished him off with it.

        Lurkers can identify when a soldier was shot by his own Colt because the Indians, after shooting him, would then remove the brass cartridge from the pistol afterwards to reload it back to six rounds, causing a brass pistol csing to be found next to the soldier (As as well a pistol round in the ground where it went through the soldier’s body.). Otherwise, a Colt revolver will not eject just a single cartridge.

  28. casual observer says:

    question- any info thoughts why crazy horse can ride as if on parade and not get shot, With all of the 7th firing (did it happen) was it his powerful medicine or elevation problems from lack of training, or something else.

    • BIll says:

      According to Native American accounts Crazy Horse had had a vision that he would never be hit by the enemy..He had special ‘medicine’ and painted his horse and himself in ways to protect him.. When he finally was killed it was at the hand of another Native American acting as a guard at Fort Robinson..

    • Waldo says:

      No doubt, the vast majority of the troopers were not well trained marksmen. Add in the dust, smoke, noise, confusion, physical and mental strain, and Indians shooting at you, and it’s not easy to hit a moving target. Also, perhaps the stories are exaggerated and he wasn’t that close to troopers. Perhaps he just got lucky. Who knows for sure.

  29. Paul says:

    This type of question is most difficult to answer objectively. The early plains indian’s believed that “strong Medicine” could protect them from bullets. This led to some unbelievable displays of bravery or foolhardiness as one would percieve it. Crazy Horse could well have rode back and forth in front of the troops and not stopped a bullet. And also the tale maybe exaggerated as many tales are over the many retelling. This is for the reader to evaluate.

  30. Kevinmeath says:

    Thanks for the interesting article, better reading this than doing work (don’t tell the boss). Couple of points struck me;-

    As for the ‘indians’ being ‘savages’ I think we have to be mature and move away from the ‘traditional’ view of demonizing them but equally reject the ‘PC’ ‘hippie’ view of the some eco friendly vegetarian, spiritual, warrior(non violent warrior of course). Best comment I have read is that they were simply people with good points and faults etc.

    It is only in recent times that the notion of taking prisoners (other than as slaves) has become the norm before that well it varied. If you look back to when my peope (Welsh/British) were at the same level of development –what 2-3000 years ago?— then a captive would be a slave (if she was lucky), given to a druid to sacrifice (Romans were terrffied of being caught) or I’d cut his head off and use his skull as a drinking cup of put it on a stake as a sign of my prowess.

    Paul would sabres have really helped? have read several accounts and they comment that the troopers had having no close range weapons. The 24th at Rorkes Drift and Isandlwana inflicted very heavy casualties at close range because of their bayonets but they were trained and able (where they were scattered they were quickly overcome) to stand in rally squares or shoulder to shoulder. This would not have been and opotion for the 7th. also ,as you point out, the average US trooper was not trained well in his primary weapon, would they have had any idea how to use a sabre, it is not just a big knife. The officers would perhaps been competent.

    Would the infantry have been able to keep up? were they mounted?
    Would they have simply arrived to rescue Benteen earlier?
    Wasn’t he offered extra troops of horse from the 2nd (?), these may have helped but given the totality of his defeat would it have simply added extra casualties?

    About the casualties from what I have read (agreed you’ve read more) the low numbers of Indian casualties are based on estimates so are not accurate but there does seem to be agreement in most sources that ‘Indian’ (sorry not sure of what is the latest PC word required to descibe these good people) casualties were very low especially considering the size of the victory. At Isandlwana the Zulu King described the ‘butcher bill’ for the victory as a spear thrust into his own belly. However if we accept that only 50 warriors were killed outright for each one of them there must have been 4-5 wounded. The PC brigade will then say that would shouldn’t underestimate traditional medicine and that people then were much tougher than today (true that had to be or they would be dead) but sorry wounds inflicted by such guns would require modern ER so many if not most of these wounded would have died.
    Hope you notice this, sorry coming late to the post.

    • Sam Ruger says:

      Paul is obviously gone so I’ll answer.

      Sabers only applied to Reno’s charge. Had Reno reached the village on horseback, it would have been considered much too difficult to reload revolvers once emptied, during combat. The same applies to carbines. Therefore, sabers were normally issued to continue the combat.

      Issuing sabers to Custer’s men was absolutely useless. Unlike Reno, they never charged (And neither did the Indians for the most part as charging a skirmish line would have been hazardous to their health. ).

      I am not sure what you mean by “could the infantry keep up?” So I’m guessing you mean Terry’s men.

      There was no plan for Terry’s men to “keep up”. Terry’s force was simply a blocking force in case Custer dispersed the Indians.

      Custer was offered the 4th cavalry battalion and refused it. This was purely a political move by Custer to retain all glory to his 7th. Had the 4th been present it would have made no difference to Custer except to force him to use the accepted military tactics of West Point (Where Custer received a record number of demerits.). He would have had to place the 4th in support of Reno rather than just simply lie to Reno about it and falsely promise it (Custer could not possibly support Reno from across a river, knew it, and never attempted it.).

      With the 4th in support behind, Reno would have behaved way differently. What Custer did to Reno was nothing short of a stab in the back. It was due to lack of support (Which he twice requested) that Reno withdrew. If Reno did nothing else in his court martial, it was to point out Custer’s promised “support from the whole outfit” was grossly misleading.

      Had the the 4th arrived to support Reno, his retreat may have ended at the woods. Thus, in theory, Reno would have still been on the offensive (versus the defensive on Reno Hill). But I don’t think Reno would have done any more, given the 4th, then he did when when given Benteen.

      I notice that none of Reno’s Civil War commendations (and there are several) include the words “bravery”. That’s not to suggest he was a coward. I saw no evidence of cowardice in Reno. Yet neither did I see any evidence of a willingness to move forward into “harm’s way”.

      So adding the 4th simply strengthens Reno while doing nothing for Custer.

      As to Indian casualties, they number no more than 80 tops.

  31. H. Toburen says:

    I think I read that the paired markers were because their were markers placed at head and foot. This fact wasn’t known later.

    The Lakotas did not usually carry dead bodies away, except from the fight to the village. They left the dead in the teepees found in the abandoned village. Undoubtedly, many more died of wounds later and their bodies were not found along the trail.

    The Indian’s position in a long term conflict was untenable because they always had their families nearby. Except for occasional raids.

    I don’t suppose they were any more ‘savage’ than we were, in most circumstances. They were mostly insular though. But they were a warrior dominated society. And they raided, killed and captured other tribes. But when they stole a female, it was to acquire a wife. It’s difficult to generalize about other societies. But down through history, when two different societies met, they fought. And the stronger won.

    Being nomadic is a real disadvantage, because when you’re gone some settler would move in and fence the best sites. They then would not be comfortable with the returning nomads. And the nomads would not be happy with their usual foraging grounds being unavailable. It would have been fatal to that nomadic lifestyle.

    How could there not have been conflict?

  32. Paul says:

    In regard to the mature view of the indians being not savages but instead simply” people with good points and bad”.
    Of course, you know that is completely misleading. The north American indian was for most definitions a “hunter gather society” but some tribes were extremely vicious and cruel and constantly engaged in tribal warfare. These are not my definitions. There is some indication that soldiers captured at the Little Big Horn were tortured well into the night. Any light study of the subject matter shows the word “Savage” regarding the Lakota, Comanche, Apache and most other indians is completely accurate although discomforting to the modern reader.
    Would saber’s have helped? Well, it is obvious they would have helped. It is a very good question to attempt to ascertain to what extent. You mention the British Bayonet and it’s wet work in Africa.Massive casualties from a somewhat crude and simple weapon most would be surprised at. I myself have had occasion to work with a bayonet. It is an extremely deadly and under-rated weapon.
    Imagine yourself on a training field surrounded by ten thousand troops all armed with bayonet fitted M-14’s. The Drill Instructer in the center mounted on a twenty foot platform screams “What is the spirit of the bayonet? Ten thousand throats scream back “To Kill”. Don’t laugh till you have experienced the incredible chill down your back.
    Hundreds of thousands of warriors have laughed in the face of death with no more than a strand of three foot of steel, iron or bronze in their hand.
    Of course all kinds of extrapolations can be drawn from this. This weapon was less effective dismounted. So you could say maybe 50% of Custer’s company could have killed one indian each and climb up.As you can see this is not going to change the outcome. Scale upward with all elements being lead on a sabre charge into the village indian losses would likely been horrific and probably most of the force would likely been lost. Endless but fascinating scenarios.
    Custer would not accept the Gatling Guns and the infantry because he wanted to race to the indian village ahead of Terry and Crook to grasp his imagined great victory. His men were dog tired as well as his horses when they got there.
    I believe the Indian losses are greatly underestimated. This was the last battle of the Plains Indian.

  33. Paul says:

    H. Toburen:
    OK lets get a few facts straight here.
    1. Not sure about the paired markers. Many of the bones were simply dumped into a mass grave with the horses. Others “buried’ under sagebrush.
    2. The Indian’s almost always carried their dead off the field if at all possible.Often they were placed in tree’s or caves. The Box Wagon Fight is well documented with a long line of ponies carrying Indian dead up the mountain. Later a Lt. followed them and reported finding hundreds of bodies placed in tree’s near a clearing. One Buckskinner recorded killing hundreds of Indians as they attacked and attempted body recoveries.
    3 Conflict was inevitable in settling the country.
    Good subjects.

  34. be correct says:

    i never knew india had colonies in north america, and that they manged to aquire repeating rifles

  35. tman says:

    just stumbled on this article/comments while doing some research and felt compelled to comment even though the thread is apparently dead…

    those who argue for a higher indian body count due to the possibility that the troopers COULD have fired 25,000+ rounds are smoking crack. while it’s certainly possible that the indians deaths were over 33 it certainly wasn’t in the multi-hundreds or thousands. it’s simply impossible

    though each trooper was issued 100 carbine rounds (5 boxes of 20 rds each), not all could be carried on their person. rounds were placed in saddlebags, pockets, cartridge boxes, cartridge belts – whatever the soldier was wearing. it is widely estimated that the trooper only had about 20 carbine rounds at his immediate disposal on horseback or dismounted, the rest being stored or carried elsewhere on him or his mount.

    if the 210 men of custer’s immediate command only had 20 rounds (we’ll be generous and give them 40) available their potential output of carbine ammunition was around 1000 rounds.

    numerous accounts of captured or stampeded horses means that most of their ammunition, stored in saddlebags, was not available or easily accessed during the fighting. furthermore, the springfield was prone to jamming so even if he had the ammo the trooper might not have been able to shoot all of it.

    additionally, it’s common that when fighting from a fixed position – imagine, kneeling or lying prone on the skirmish line – that a frontier solder would pull out a handful of rounds and put them on the ground for quicker access. when that solder was forced to move by command or the enemy those easily accessible rounds were often left behind on the ground as the soldier would not have time to retrieve them

  36. Paul says:

    t-man – I do in fact and point of logical argument argue the body count was far higher than has ever been admitted. The 1873 Colt could have fired over 5,000 rounds at charging indian’s by itself. If 10% had been hits there would have been 500 dead indian’s. Unlike the Springfield the Colt was extremely reliable and accurate in it’s 7 1/2 barrel version. Under 50 yards it was deadly. This does not count extra revolvers and ammunition documented.
    Before you start your non-sensical name calling, invest a few hundred dollars in books on the subject. Review The Box Wagon Fight and similars and you will find horrific casualties.
    Oh, and you might want to try to find out what happened to all the great and victorious Sioux warriors who simply disappeared after the Little Big Horn Battle!

    • Clark Wilkins says:

      Sorry, Paul. There are no “huge casualties” by the Indians. If it was as simple as you say, Reno and Benteen would have thousands of dead Indians in front of them. Please explain how they magically disappeared?

      For the curious, Paul is not stupid. He simply makes an assumption:

      The Indians charged.

      No. The Indians placed themselves between the cavalry and their own families. Their idea of fighting US troops was to fight a delaying action while their village withdrew. This was such a well known tactic that even Custer knew about it. Reach the village and watch the warriors surrender. That was his battle plan.

      It has been mentioned that the Indians fought Crook differently.

      Yes they did. Why?

      Because Crook was not attacking their village which relived the Indians of the burden of defense. Relieved of the burden of defense, the Indians attacked Crook.

      Likewise, the moment Reno stopped his charge and ordered a scrimmage line the Indians were no longer on the defensive and the moment Custer turned away from MTC ford without crossing, the Indians were no longer on the defensive.

      So now the Indians attacked Reno and Custer and are on the offensive the same as they were with Crook. Did they charge Crook?


      Indians lacked a command structure to organize a charge. To Indians, a charge was made by a single Indian, who rode through the ranks of the soldiers, counted coupe or stole a banner, and rode back UNTOUCHED. This encouraged the others to do the same and the result was an ADVANCE (Which may, or may not, be a “charge”). In most cases, an ADVANCE was a flanking maneuver. Reno was flanked on his left. Calhoun was flanked on his right.

      The idea that the Indians simply rode straight into a Springfield rifle followed by six rounds from a Colt is supported nowhere. Further, even if they did, the oft made suggestion that the Indians would be gunned down by Colts is seriously flawed. The same pistols were used in the gunfight at the OK Coral and over 30 shots fired from no more than ten feet away against standing, stationary targets.

      Almost all shots missed.

      Why is this?

      What the posters here don’t understand is that, with black powder, you only get your FIRST shot. You are then surrounded by a blinding haze of smoke from your OWN WEAPON. To fire again, you must either move out of the smoke or wait for it to clear. If you’re on a moving horse, it instantly clears. If you’re kneeling on a scrimmage line, it does not.

      If you’re on a scrimmage line (and everybody in the 7th was), your best shot is your first. After that, things go do downhill. Even if you wait for own smoke to clear before firing again, the trooper to your left or right may fire and renew the smoke in front of you.

      So the idea that Indian bodies are piling up in front of you is twice faulty when 1) The Indians aren’t charging and 2) You can’t see through your own side’s smoke to aim.

      Reno, with 100 skirmishers in line in the field, got TWO INDIANS in ten minutes. Custer had about four times as much time and twice as many men. That’s sixteen Indians.

      Paul sounds like a Vietnam Vet because he approaches the problems as if no one used black powder and apparently watched the TV shows popular then of Indians charging circled wagon trains.

      No insult to Paul intended. He actually has a studious mind. In fact, I respect his opinions the most.

  37. tman says:

    Paul –

    Non-sensical name calling? No. Belief in recreational drug use by some students of the battle? Yes. It’s not just you, so don’t take it personally as my “smoking crack” comment was/is a figure of speech.

    I don’t claim to be an expert on anything and I don’t doubt that you’ve studied the battle in great detail, as have I. We probably own many of the same books (yes, hundreds of dollars invested in them and then some), have visited/studied the same websites, reports, documents, etc and have visited the battlefield numerous times (though I’ve only been 3 times as I’m in the east).

    Make no mistake, we both agree that there were more than 33 dead indians BUT where we disagree is in the number. I’m more apt to say a couple hundred, but in no way thousands.

    My guestimate, and lets face it – that’s all we’re doing, is based upon the fact that scared, tired and poorly trainer soldiers, regardless of the era, are simply are not the good marksmen that you claim. I believe your hit/kill number is still way to high, even for a fine weapon like the ‘ 73 Colt. While a great weapon (my 2nd generation shoots like a dream) it’s the user and their skill/ability that I doubt.

    Your numbers assume that the soldier was able to fire most if not all of his rounds mounted or dismounted. My train of thought is that there weren’t – due to death, panic, loss of munitions, malfunction, etc – able to shoot as much as you believe which brings down the hit/kill ratio a great deal. For the record, I know that you don’t think they fired all their rounds as well.

    Forget Reno/Benteen, if everyone under Custer’s immediate command fired every pistol cartridge that they’re reported to have been issued that would be roughly 5,250 pistol rounds (210 men x 25 rds) – a number that you and I agree with. Where we disagree is that you seem to think that they were that good, in the heat of chaotic combat sometimes mounted, to have a 10% hit/death ratio. I think that number is very high. I won’t even go into the carbine ammunition numbers again.

    Here’s a more recent military anecdote with LBH overtones to back up my theory. A good friend of mine was a Ranger in the Battle of Mogadishu, Somalia (the Black Hawk Down fight) in 1993. Task Force Ranger (about 180 Rangers, SEALs and Delta operators) fought off a teaming and angry Somali populace for over 18 hours often times surrounded – kinda like LBH. The internal Ranger estimates of the Somali casualties are somewhere between 800 and 2000 – I’m not talking outside estimates, sources, etc. this is the Rangers themselves. While this is a wide range it underscores my point. These Rangers, SEALs and Delta operators, unlike the 7th Cavalry in 1876, were/are some of the best trained, armed and disciplined soldiers in the world and their casualty estimates are seemingly very conservative when you consider that they had “little bird” helicopter with chain gun air cover, SAWs, M-16 variant weapons, grenades, rocket launchers, shot guns and M-9 pistols and were fighting a well equipped yet poorly trained foe… again like LBH. Each US soldier on the ground was carrying roughly 230 rifle rounds when they roped or drove into the city and they were resupplied via air overnight. Their plan went to hell, just like LBH. Overall, these guys are THE varsity squad of efficient killing and they still missed far more than they hit while suffering steep casualties (approx 75% were wounded with 18 killed). They were rescued by a heavily armored column with APCs, tanks, etc and still the enemy casualties estimates are relatively conservative given the arms and armament involved in the battle. We know that the US/UN forces did fire tens of thousands of rounds and still didn’t hit that many of the enemy, relative to rounds fired, by their own reckoning. Again, I’m not talking about a casualty figure released to the media in order “to keep the horrific casualties away from the world so we look better” I’m referring to internal estimates.

    Now back to LBH and only LBH – no need to talk about other Indian War battles since we’re talking about LBH and the 7th wasn’t at the other battles that you reference. I’m not saying the men of the 7th and their Indian adversaries weren’t brave and valiant fighters. I’m just saying that they weren’t that good, lucky, accurate or whatever you wish to call it.

    You’re correct in that there’s no doubt that the Northern Plains Indians ceased to be an effective fighting force in post LBH years but I think that you’re placing too much of this on the 7th Cavalry’s marksmanship. Your seemingly sarcastic comment about the warriors post LBH can be answered by many things, including battle related deaths. Don’t forget the Indians had a host of other problems and issues to deal with over and above actual combat with the US Army.

    Go ahead and believe what you want – I’ll do the same.

    We’ll never know the answer to the question at hand. I don’t know about your real world experience, but speaking from mine – strange things happen and we’re not always as good as we think when bullets are heading in our direction – that is a known fact.

    Let’s keep up our studies and research, but let’s also keep an open mind to the fact that we’ll never really know what happened on 25 June, 1876…

  38. Paul says:

    t-man Calling someone a “Crackhead” is what it is and has no place in serious discussions.
    Your weak attempt at reasonableness like all modern scholars attempting to downplay massacres fly’s in the face of the facts. If only hundreds were killed where did the thousands go to later that should have attacked the US Army? No facts
    , no linear logic, please improve.
    I disagree the soldier had no training and the records do not reflect that. Some had prior indian combat, some civil war. You are repeating a glittering generality.
    It is impossible to determine how many rounds were fired. However, based on the Little Rosebud model, A LOT.
    I don’t think they were great marksmen. Think about it, avearge marksmen at charging adversaries under 25 yards? Think about it! Most soldiers carried more than one pistol! Think about it!
    You Somali comparison is not valid. Wils automatic fire against aimed fire is not a good comparison. Vietnam estimated 20,000 rounds per kill!
    Other indian battles that are comparable give authentic kill ratios. The LBH cover-up does not! Use your head!
    Yes, keep an open mind! But what happened to all those warriors you say were not killed at the LBH. You are trying to explain it away with non-facts! If they were all alive they should have attacked not only Terry but latter Crook in his great campaign that found no indians.

    • Clark Wilkins says:

      I will conclude here why Paul’s arguments for thousands of dead Indians simply don’t work.

      1) Why didn’t the Indians attack Terry? Paul thinks they’re all dead. No. They are moving their village away from Terry’s advance. This is historical fact.

      2) In the time they had, the Indians did attack Reno and Benteen who had as much or more firepower (7 companies) as Custer’s five. Where are the thousands of dead Indians around Reno Hill? Did Reno and Benteen order a cease fire to allow the Indians to pick up their dead?

      3) Paul describes the Indians as “charging adversaries under 25 yards”. Where did he get this figure? The archaeology study of the battlefield shows the Indians never came closer than 70 yards (most times further away) with the exception of Company “I”. Again, except for Company “I”, there’s no evidence of a charge (And the Indians made that by mistake.). The Indians simply stood off at a safe distance and killed Custer’s men. It wasn’t hard to do. Custer didn’t have a single position that just two Indians couldn’t surround or shoot into.

      4) Notice the Indians stayed at “70 yards plus”. The maximum effective range of a Colt revolver was 80 yards. But Custer’s men had no practice with their revolvers. “80 yards” appears to have become “69”. Considering Paul conceded their carbines were jammed and the Indians are out of pistol range, there’s nothing for the troopers to hit. So what were these “thousands” of casualties shot by?

      5) Indians concede 33 deaths. What’s overlooked here is Sioux did not remember Cheyenne dead and Cheyenne did not remember Sioux dead. So, when the Indians concede 33 dead, they’re talking one tribe, be it Sioux or Cheyenne. If we double that for two tribes, it becomes 66. This figure comes very close to official estimates including my own.

      The claim that “thousands” of Indians were killed at LBH ranks right alongside the claim that Custer was killed fording the river at MTC.

  39. Jim says:

    Paul and tman,
    Interesting discussion you two were having… I am going to disagree and kinda agree with both of you. If you can find the book called, “Legacy: New Prospectives on the Battle of the Little Bighorn” There is a great article in there by Fox that talks of the indian village. He pretty much shows how the village was 1.5 miles in length, or half the size as the more conservative estimates have been. So…I am guessing that now we are talking about MAYBE a thousand warriors or so. Do I think there was a potential of a couple of hundred or so Indians getting killed? Heck ya! Many Indian accounts tell how close the battle was. Also, think about it…what did they do when they heard Terry and Gibbon were coming? They ran! If they were really unscathed by the Custer’s men, they would’ve ambushed Terry and Gibbon’s column.


  40. tman says:

    Hey Jim – thanks for chiming in. Fox is one of my favorite researchers of the battle – love his work in the classroom, the books and in the field and I believe his models of the fight are the most believable to me – but I don’t think it really matters how many warriors were present. I contend that there were probably a couple hundred Indian casualties/dead in the entire fight (Custer & Reno areas). It doesn’t matter if there were 1000 warriors or 2500 warriors. The troopers, especially in the 5 companies with Custer had a finite amount of ammunition and either could not, or did not, expend it all in the battle. It was a brutal fight, but Indian accounts also mention saddlebags and cartridge belts full, or nearly full, of ammunition when they were taken from dead and captured horses or from the dead men.

    Reloading either of the primary cavalry weapons while mounted is difficult. Loading either weapon if you’re dismounted and holding your own mount is difficult, especially if the battle is “hot” and the mount and soldier agitated. If you’re following the skirmish tactics of the time and every fourth man is holding horses to the rear it’s easier for the dismounted fighter to load and fire but that reduces your effective shooters by 25%. If you lose your horse, regardless of who’s holding it, you lose your extra ammunition stored in the saddlebags. It’s simply my contention that they didn’t fire as much as older histories of the battle would like us to believe and when they did, they most often didn’t hit what they were aiming at. The Indian tactic was to remain as concealed as possible while slowly drawing near the soldiers. The dismounted soldiers would want to be concealed as well so it would be kinda like “whack a mole” at times with the adversaries popping up to take shots at each other until someone got hit or you got close enough that one party decided to retire, move, etc to avoid getting hit. A common cavalry tactic to countermand the Indian tactic of slowly enveloping a foe was to charge (mounted or dismounted) to scatter the Indians, which would effectively disrupt their plans and attack. This method of counter attack was sometimes a bad idea as well in this battle if you study it closely.

    Another army tactic was to keep the Indians at a distance with the superior range of the Springfield carbine, or rifle for infantry. To do this, you don’t necessarily have to hit anyone, you just have to let them know that you can hit them. And, if you’re mounted that might be the best you can expect when shooting from that position.

    If you look at Keogh’s wing from the Custer command, at least one of those 3 companies, the skirmish line reserve in the swale (I forget exactly which one – Co. I or Co. L) appears to have been overwhelmed quickly and by surprise based on the available evidence. That’s roughly one fifth of Custer’s immediate command that is taken out of the fight before having the opportunity to be effective against the enemy. Fox and others contend that this may have been the pivotal part of the collapse of the soldier’s offense or defense (depending on how you look at that phase of the battle) and was the prelude to their ultimate destruction.

    I’m not questioning the bravery of either side, I’m simply questioning the volume and accuracy of the soldier’s fire.

    Why didn’t the Indians attack Terry and Gibbon? Probably for some of the same reasons why Crook didn’t stay engaged after the Rosebud where his casualties were only in the dozens. Seriously though, the Indians were surprised, or relatively surprised, by Custer’s appearance/attack. The had just fought a good sized battle over two days at LBH, absorbed casualties, used up valuable supplies (though some were supplemented by their “new” weapons from the 7th). I think they were prudent in leaving. They saw the approaching Army columns of Gibbon and Terry and thought that it would be a good idea to leave, get their families/civilians out of the way, etc. It makes perfect sense. After all, it was the Army out looking to destroy the Indians that summer (and many before and after) with the campaign. The Indians were the hunted. They were engaged and made a tactical withdrawal/retreat, if you could call it that based on their non-Eorpopean style of fighting.

    Paul – 2 revolvers per man? Officers – maybe. Enlisted and NCOs – VERY, VERY doubtful to darn near impossible. In fact your’e the first person I’ve seen make that claim.

    Where were the warriors after the battle? Certainly some of them were dead/wounded (again I’ll give the Army credit for a couple hundred). Some, as evidenced by interviews with participants as early as months after the battle, returned to the reservations. They came out to fight, why not go back when they’re done? There was nothing keeping them there and the Dept of the Interior kept terrible records on the coming and goings of all Indians often times so that the responsible Indian agent could line their pockets through gov’t contracts on supplies, etc. Some Indians went to Canada with Sitting Bull. Some simply dispersed with their tribe – remember the village on the LBH river was not one tribe but, rather, was supposedly the largest gathering of separate tribes (Indians) on the plains. Why wouldn’t individual clans and even tribes leave the group as quickly and easily as they joined? While there’s strength in numbers, it’s also easier to find/hunt/kill a larger, slower group. Yes the Northern Plains Indians ceased to be an effective fighting force after LBH but I submit, again, that it wasn’t primarily due to casualties inflicted at LBH.

  41. […] the many advantages the competition had. Here’s one big one: While Custer’s troops were generally armed with single-shot rifles, the Indians had a number of repeating rifles that made their superior numbers even more so. Less […]

  42. Miguel says:

    The archeological evidence suggests the Indians had better firearms. Where and how did they acquire these weapons?

  43. tman says:

    I’ve not researched this in depth but the Indians got their repeating rifles and other good arms from a variety of sources, including legal and illegal trade with Department of Interior agents at the reservations. I’d imagine that trade, theft and “battlefield pick-up” were the primary sources. Some may have been purchased and some, in later years, were presented to chiefs like Sitting Bull. The US Army weapons were certainly good, but the long arms (carbines and rifles) did not have the rapid fire capability of the Henry and Winchesters. BUT the rifle or carbine had better range and stopping power at the greater ranges. For a variety of reasons, the Army Ordnance Dept & Quartermaster Dept had concerns (valid and otherwise) about repeating rifles, ammunition expenditure and supply, along with their adaptation into the linear Napoleonic tactics of the time going back to the American Civil War.

  44. PS Bring Pacs (AMMO) says:

    Simply put, Custer’s battalion (5 Companies- C, E, F, I and L) were defeated because dismounted troopers on a skirmish line or later trying to make a Last Stand on foot ran out of ammo. In the chaos of the fighting most of the horses carrying about 80% of each soldiers ammo stampeded away from the dismounted cavalrymen.
    According to LBH survivor Peter Thompson (who was in the Custer battalion in Company C that day) his horse broke down AFTER Martini was dispatched to carry Custer’s last order to Benteen’s battalion (Benteen Come on. Big Village, Bring Packs P.S. Bring Pacs WW Cooke) and he could not continue to advance with Custer and the 5 Companies. And then when he found himself horseless and alone, he took stock of the ammo he was carrying – 5 pistol rounds in his Army Colt .45 and 17 carbine rounds on his ammo belt! He added that he left 100 rounds in the saddlebags of his mount. If other men in Company C (as well as in the 4 other Companies) were in a similar ammo situation when dismounted, you can see how a vastly numerically superior force with repeating rifles and a zeal to enter close combat using war clubs, spears, knives was victorious.

  45. Dakota22 says:

    The Dakota have a treaty with the British which dates back to 1670. This is the only treaty made on our terms. The repeating Henry rifle was British issue and it was the Dakota north of the 49th that had these weapons.

    When Sitting Bull led the Dakota north across the 49th, General Miles camped across the line with his army.

    Paul makes a claim that the backs of the natives were broken at LBH but it was the backs of the U.S Cavalry that were broken there.

    General Miles had 1000 soldiers camped across from Sitting Bulls camp. He was scared sh*tless to attack the Dakotas. Don’t even suggest that the border kept him back. There was no border and
    there still is no border. That entire piece of property is all open prairie.

    The Dakota people are still free and I suggest you google Dakota Chundee and see where we are today.

    Have a nice day Paul.

  46. Paul says:

    Interesting discussion. I have found in my research, reading dozens of books on the subject (there are many) that much disinformation can be easily dismissed. It gives me an unfair advantage, but one that another researcher could easily duplicate in perhaps a year or two.
    First, as to Tman and his assertion no troopers carried several revolvers. It sounds logical when first analyzed, so you have to think about it. You have a glory happy commander that wants to beat everyone to the indians and also tells you to leave your saber home! Custer carried a pair of revolvers plus a rolling block Remington. You are a trooper armed with an extremely unreliable rifle/carbine and a very reliable but very slow to load revolver. What would you do??? Easily figured out plus the myriad of bullets located on-site which include almost every pistol ball known. However, conclusions cannot be drawn because of an extremely picked over and re-enacted with live ammunition site.
    Secondly the false conception the indians were all armed with Henry repeaters, what evidence that could be found I believe supported about thirty involved in this action. Hardly several thousand.
    Dakota, I hardly know how to reply to you. I have not read anywhere where Canadian armed forces used Henry rifles and certainly nothing about an issue to hostiles!
    Miles did not have permission to cross into Canada, the only thing that saved the fleeing for their lives indians.Your claim the US Army was broken at LBH is ludicouus and untrue. Sitting Bull and his ragged band begged to come back to their reservations because they were starving in Canada.The Canadians would not feed them, much less give them Henry”s! Dakota, you need to start reading, instead of trying to play the race card!
    I enjoy educated and intellectual discussion about the battle,I do not enjoy attempted and ignorant revionism because of whatever heritage I want to blow about. I don’t care who you are I only wish to discuss facts. The fact is the plains indian culture died at LBH!
    If I wished to be really nasty regarding where you are today I would say you are still living on government land on government subsidies with one of the highest alcoholism rates for a people in the world! You are no more free than any other US citizen, only more on welfare.

  47. Dakota22 says:

    Educated and intellectual discussion? The forensic evidence completely demolishes the U.S version of the Battle. The 7th Cavalry lost because they ran out of bullets is ridiculous. Our great grandfathers took part in this battle and came home. Many were buried with their rifles and many were victims of grave robbers looking for these very rifles you claim we didn’t have. Check the Manitoba museum and gun collector inventories and you’ll find them. As for Miles not having permission, that’s a poor excuse. The 49th parallel is an imaginary line on a map. Since when has the U.S army followed orders when it comes to the massacre of native people? Did the 7th Cabalry follow orders at Sand Creek where the soldiers murdered,,dismembered and mutilated women and children? Did General Crook follow orders when he turned tail and fled after getting schooled at the Rosebud 8 days prior to the LBH? 4000 “hostiles” camped on the prairie with 800 warriors that took part in the U.S armies worst defeats and Miles needs permission? Miles and the 7th were scared, plain and simple. As for Sittimg Bull begging? Please. Now you’re being silly. The U.S army couldn’t beat our army in battle so they starved our people by slaughtering the buffalo. As for the Canadian governments refusal to back the Dakotas, the time has come for debts to be paid. We have no treaty with Canada and in the words of the Provincial Crown Attorney “if the Dakota take this stand (sovereignty) they will unravel Canada”. Google Dakota Chundee and you’ll read for yourself. As hard as the U.S and Canadian governments have tried to assimilate us, we’re still here camouflaged with the “indians” around us. We have never surrendered to either government and yes there is rampant alcoholism and dependency, but there are enough of us left that know the truth and the documents to prove it that has brought Canada to its knees. The U.S is not far behind. The house of cards built on lies is about to collapse. Check your history before making absurd statemenabout our Dakota people.

  48. Dakota22 says:

    Excerpt from Battle of the Roaebud by Captain Anson Mills, describing the fighting at the gap, later wrote: “The Indians proved then and there that they were the best cavalry on earth. In charging up towards us, they exposed little of their persons, hanging on with one arm around the neck and one leg over the horse, firing and lancing from underneath the horses’ necks, so that there was no part on the Indian at which we would aim.”

  49. Dakota22 says:

    Excerpt from Battle of the Rosebud, a prelude to disaster.

    Despite the ferocity of the six-hour battle among roughly 2,500 combatants, General Crook reported only 10 men killed and 21 wounded. Cheyenne and Sioux losses were estimated to be slightly higher, though still relatively light, considering the magnitude of the conflict.
    Crook claimed victory based on the argument that he held the ground. But military strategists later judged the claim an empty boast. Though tactically the battle was a draw, it turned out to be a strategic victory for the Indians. Crook’s was the largest of the three prongs sent by the Army to force the Indians back to the reservations, and the Rosebud Battle knocked him out of the campaign. After withdrawing to his supply base on Goose Creek, Wyoming Territory, Crook and his men rested for six weeks. By the time they recovered, they were too late to help prevent the Army’s greatest defeat in the Indian wars.
    The success at Rosebud had strengthened the resolve of the Cheyenne and Sioux. It bolstered their determination to fight for freedom and convinced them they could, in sufficient numbers, fight the soldiers and win. That attitude prevailed eight days after Rosebud when the warriors achieved their largest triumph ever—the stunning annihilation of Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer’s immediate command at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

    **6 hour battle and Crook retreats? Why? He fought our army and lost. The Dakota army never lost a battle with the U.S army. NEVER!!!

    • Mark A Golding says:

      Dkota22 wrote:

      “lThe Dakota army never lost a battle with the U.S army. NEVER!!!”

      Battle of Wood Lake Sept. 23 1862.

      Battle of Big Mound July 24 1893.

      Battle of Dead Buffalo Lake July 26 1863.

      Battle of Stony Lake July 28 1863.

      Battle of Whitestone Hill Sept. 03 1863.

      Battle of Killdeer Mountain July 28 1864.

      Battle of the Badlands Aug. 7-9, 1864.

      The Hayfield Fight Aug. 1 1867.

      The Wagon Box Fight Aug. 2, 1867.
      Battle of.

  50. Paul says:

    Childish argumentation with no facts, only silly emotion. Ridiculous attempt at revisionist history.

  51. tman says:

    Paul – regarding the trooper carrying two pistols… I said that officers and NCOs could and possibly did (we know of several officers who did for a fact) but I do not think the enlisted men did and have seen no evidence to back up that claim. I have never seen a picture from the LBH or Black Hills campaigns, nor have a read any first hand accounts (letters, diaries, etc – not conjecture or flights of fancy) that the enlisted personnel carried more than their issued revolver. If they had brought their sabers, and even without them, riding, shooting and loading is more than enough to keep their two hands busy. While it’s certainly possible that a couple guys did, remember that the price of a revolver was more than one month’s pay for the enlisted soldier.

    I’m not being sarcastic here, I love to learn. Please share with me/us the first person documentation (ie: the letter home that says that they bought a personal weapon, or received one from home to carry on the campaign) or photos of enlisted men on campaign with more than one revolver on their person or mount. Not officers or scouts, but the average trooper. It’s documented that officers, scouts, and certain NCO’s had leeway and exercised it. I’d like proof of widespread use of a second revolver by the common/average soldier on the campaign. Again, not being sarcastic – please share this info as it pertains to LBH – I think its something that many students of the battle would like to see.

    Indians had pistols, of varying makes and calibers too and that accounts for much of the evidence unearthed in the 1980s and 1990s.

  52. HistoryNet Editor says:

    These comments have created a lively and informative discussion on a controversial subject. Some, however, have slipped toward personal attacks and insults, which violate HistoryNet’s rules. Keep the discussion going, but please—respect the other people even when you object to their opinions.

    Thank you. Now let the debates continue.

  53. Paul says:

    Tman, you are absolutely right about hard evidence regarding the widespread use of 2 revolvers by enlisted men. The so-called documentary evidence at this historical site has been vastly compromised. However, bullets and lead balls of almost every conceivable caliber has been found at this site. You are right about the price of new revolvers, however this was after a recent civil war and cheap cap and ball and cartridge conversions abounded all over the west, so price was not an obstacle. Also the army sold off all its Henry and Spencer rifles cheaply.
    My comment is an observation based on the varied bullets found and how I would react to a commander who ordered sabers left behind. As to riding and shooting, most of this fight was conducted on the ground. The only instance I can recall was a trooper biography, highly censored by the army of one of Reno”s men charging to the river and up the bluffs that discusses firing his .45 at indian’s as they charged toward him. I think he said he believed he had two hits. You put the horse in charge of the running while you attempt to fire from a unstable platform. However, this firing was done at almost muzzle distance. If you are more interested read Winston Churchills biography on his participation in The Charge at Obdurman”. His sword arm had been injured so he used a 1896 Mauser Pistol, I think he had three kills if memory serves.
    Mark Golding seems to have done some research and his comment about the hostile’s losing those fights mentioned. Particularly enlightening is the Boxwagon fight which various biographies have escaped heavy censorship. One buckskinner reported using a Henry rifle for which he had a case of ammunition. Of the various charges he said he did not believe he missed one shot. This was a horrific defeat for Red Cloud who later said “he lost the flower of his warriors”. I would not pretend to be able to estimate casualties. But it is obvious hundreds if not thousands were lost there. One observer said the road up the mountan was lined with horses carrying dead indians. If you start comparing these earlier more reliable documented fights with LBH you begin to get some idea of what really happened.
    These earlier fights also, on occasion mention the multiple firearms carried by civilians and some soldiers. Again much of this is deductive reasoning, but it is based on solid fact.

  54. Paul says:

    I have gone back through a few of my books and found one reference for you. The Lakota Recollections of the Custer Fight”. by Richard G. Hardorff 1997. And I quote from page 34. Footnote 24.
    “Inasmuch as the total casualties of both Custer’s and Reno’s battles amounted to some 260 men, the maximum stand of revolvers, carbines and rifles could not have been much more than 520 pieces. Yet, some indian accounts are persistent in their tally of 700.” This has two further citations, Blish, Pictographic History and McCreight, Firewater and Forked tongues.
    This is only a few of the numerous references to the troopers armed with multiple weapons. In fact I would be surprised if they only had one back up weapon.
    I hope this helps you and thank you for your interest.

  55. Dakota22 says:

    Dakota ARMY…not massacring women and children…ARMY

    • PS Bring Pacs (AMMO) says:

      Dakota 22 stop politicizing this discussion. We are talking tactics and weapons capabilities not who was right or wring!

  56. PS Bring Pacs (AMMO) says:

    Also Dakota 22 the US 7th Cavalry was not involved in Sand Creek in 1864. The US 7th Cavalry was created by the US federal government in 1866. In fact the Regular US Army was not involved in Sand Creek. It was the 1st and 3rd Colorado Volunteer [key word is “Volunteer”] Cavalry Regiments commanded by a Colorado politician named Chivington. The governor of Colorado was responsible for Sand Creek, not the U.S. Army [federal government] and it’s commander in chief Abraham Lincoln. Colorado was not a state in 1864. The US Army WAS NOT present at Sand Creek. There is no record that US Army personnel were present at Sand Creek. But you are right the US Army did participate in the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

  57. Paul says:

    Got your e-mail. I dont know why you did not post here? The jamming issue of the .45-70 first issue is well known and is indisputable. If you doubt that, obtain a Frankfort Arsenal report on it which I have one somewhere or a modern test using copper cases. There have been a couple. The 50-70 was lower pressure and did not jam, the 45-70 did. And in point of fact although many 45-70’s and 45-55 were issued to various troops the cases were not marked. So once out of the wooden shipping containers were thoroughly mixed up in this period.
    In my opinion Fox is a LBH hobbist and his investigations hit or miss. But we would have to discuss one of his books to be able to argue his authenticity. Remember by the time Fox got there this was a very picked over battlefield. The indian’s also report throwing the jammed carbines into the river.
    I believe the 45-70 was issued as the 50-70 was withdrawn so I know of no mix-up there. I have no copies of ammunition orders, do you have a reference?

  58. Waldo says:

    Your notion of a 25% hit rate is fantastical and suggests that you lack credibility in everything else. As author of piece notes, Crook’s cavalrymen had about a 0.4% hit rate. I think you slightly overestimate the number of rounds Custer’s battalion had. At 210 men with 100 carbine rounds and 24 revolver rounds apiece, that works out to 26,000 rounds. We know that some significant portion of the ammo was lost when horses stampeded and that much more was captured from the dead soldiers by the Indians. From all the evidence, it’d be surprising if the soldiers fired close to half their ammo. 13,000 rounds fired * 0.4% hit rate = 52 Indian casualties. I wouldn’t be surprised if Custer’s soldiers had a better hit rate considering the close quarters nature of the fighting, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if they got off much less than half their ammo given loss of horses and how many troopers were quickly overrun and ensuing panic that likely took place.

    • Paul says:

      Once again I deal with the slight informed. A quarter hit rate is not incredulous about a charging enemy at very close range! It is probably Much higher! Waldo have you read Crook’s autobiography? I suggest you do. Your 26000 round estimate is way too light as most troopers were carrying extra ammunition and an extra revolver. You research it I don’t have time. Then instead of reading hobby forums go get a 7 1/2 inch peacemaker go out to the desert, set up a pully and rope and have a buddy pull a sillouette target toward you from 25 yards or so out and see if you can hit it while pretending to be scared for your life of it. Then get back to me and we will discuse it further.

  59. Tom says:

    Paul states \The 1873 Colt could have fired over 5,000 rounds at charging indian’s by itself. If 10% had been hits there would have been 500 dead indian’s. Unlike the Springfield the Colt was extremely reliable and accurate in it’s 7 1/2 barrel version. Under 50 yards it was deadly. \

    1. You assume every hit results in a fatality. 2.There are few people who can hit a moving target at 10 yards with a handgun, let alone out to 50. As a onetime avid shooter, I can attest to the amount of skill and practice needed to become proficient with a handgun; it is the most challenging weapon to become accomplished with. Your figure of 5000 pistol rounds fired seems reaching, that is everyman firing the maximum under the best of circumstances, I’d bet money the average is much much lower.

    • Paul says:

      Tom: YOU ASSUME every hit a fatality, not I. However, hits with .45 cal. slugs often are and they leave terrible wounds! 2. There are few soldiers who will miss a moving target coming straight at them. 3. What is a one-time avid shooter??? You do not need much skill to kill a indian running at you with a large peacemaker. 5000 rounds reaching? Once again I ask this person to use his brain. Several hundred troopers in a hour long battle firing as fast as they can. Come on now Tom, what DO YOU THINK??? OVERREACHING??? I really wish we could get some serious discussion on this board!

  60. mitch says:

    I only recently became interested in LBH. Great info and comments here. I must admit I am now skeptical of Mr Fox’s research and conclusions. However, Paul… Your conclusion that LBH was picked over in the 60’s doesnt seem right IMO. Wouldnt the site have been covered with dust/dirt after 85yrs? Also, My father who passed away a few yrs ago owned a Henry rifle he suspected could have been at LBH. Where might i begin to find this out? Thanks!


    1. I believe the LBH Battlefield starting being picked over in 1877, when they returned to re-mound the graves, and successively through the years right up to, perhaps the 1930’s. Native Americans passed through as well, occasionally scavenging useful objects, picnic parties from Ft. Custer took tokens of their visit to the battlefield, later Anniversary gatherings, etc. I believe ( don’t quote me ) Colonel Luce put an end to it, at least at LBH.

    Of course, when did the Federal Law get passed about removal of objects, metal detecting,random digging, etc. on National Battlefields? I guess right up until 11:59 PM of that law being in effect, you could theoretically find and keep an object.

    2. Most, if not all authors must be balanced with evidence that already exists, theories/hypothesis’ on recent finds, and that which remains to be discovered. Fox included. He is not the final word on the subject………….

    3. Mitch: Your Henry

    Check Wikipedia. New Haven Arms was the original manufacturer, bought out by Winchester. Perhaps an email to them with the serial number can shed some light as to the original purchase/owner. That’s a start. Who knows? Maybe the ownership path will take you to Last Stand Hill…….

  62. david wicker says:

    Everything i have read about the cavalry marksmanship in this era
    is that they could not hit the side of a barn from ten paces with a
    handful of wheat.Come on paul old mate,just accept what would
    appear to be the fact,albiet nobody,not even you paul know for sure,that in all probability,and looking at the battle with an open and
    unbiased eye,that custers men have disinigrated and apart from
    maybe some resistance on calhoub hill,and right at the end behind
    the barricade of dead horses,it was probably a turkey shoot.
    I dont think the 7th was the flint hard outfit it was made out to be,and
    some people,you included paul,try and save face for the 7th by
    suggesting ridiculous indian losses.But its all about opinion
    regards to all david

  63. Eye of Lynx says:

    Hi all

    Indian losses at the Battle of LBH would be:

    1 / Colonel Burke Standing Rock Agency, wrote in 1876: \An Indian came in the reserve.Il was with the hostile and told me that nine other tribes fought Custer.Il told me that several tribes had lost most warriors that his own tribu.Il told me that Hunkpapas alone had 160 killed. \

    2 / The war chief Red Horse commenting on the general attack of war chief Lame white Man: \During this phase of the battle, soldiers killed 136 Indians and wounded 160.\

    3 / To this day, only 76 dead warriors were identified:

    The Southern Cheyenne 1 = Death.

    The Northern Cheyenne = 20 Dead.

    Lakota Hunkpapa = 16 Dead.

    Lakota Minneconjou = 7 Dead.

    Lakota Oglala = 8 Dead.

    Lakota Sans Arcs = 15 Dead.

    Lakota Blackfeet 1 = Death.

    Lakota Two Kettle = 1 Death.

    There are also seven other warriors that you know the name, but not the tribu.

    Il There were also 10 to 13 civilians killed, mostly women of the Lakota Hunkpapa …

    The losses of the Dakota (Yanktonnais and Santee) are unknown, the five \Arapahoes\ had no loss …

    3 / For the historian Robert Utley, other Indian testimonies combinnés with the discovery of graves around the battlefield and along the track of retirement of the Indians, indicate that at least one hundred Indians, and much more beings can have killed or died of their wounds. (Utley, Custer.Cavaliers …, page 150).

    4 / Yellow Horse believes that \83 Indians were killed on the spot and others died of their wounds\.

    5 / Little Buck Elk : \We tried to conceal the number of deaths in our ranks, but it is useless to lie we had over a hundred warriors killed in battle\.

    From after this information, we can evaluate the Indian losses at 190 dead and 200 wounded, including civilians …

    These are high losses but not unrealistic.

    Mind you the Fatterman battle, during which 172 Indians were knocked out despite 500 warriors ambushed 83 soldiers or those of Wagon Box or Indian losses were catastrophic …

  64. Jack Werner says:

    FYI: My copy of the April 1889 Francis Bannerman Catalogue pg 7 lists the following: Lot of 50 Assorted Rifles, Muskets, and Carbines,part of the lot surrendered by the Indian Chief, Sitting Bull, to the U.S. Government, after the Custer Massacre; some of the rifles are the Leman Indian Sporting Rifle with heavy barrels and fine sights; stocks and woodwork are worn thin; some stocks are repaired with buckskin; some are still loaded. Charges will be withdrawn before shipment. Prices: Carbines, $3; muskets, $4; sporting rifles, $5; some Henry Repeating Rifles in lot. Price, $7.00

  65. […] and bullets were recovered from the site which reportedly came from 45 different firearm types. Battle of Little Bighorn: Were the Weapons the Deciding Factor Reply With Quote + Reply to […]

  66. Paul says:

    I have not posted her for some time. One problem is too many low IQ trolls and not enough serious researchers willing to spend some money on books and research. The other is too few participants.
    DWicker has an opinion on all but no researched facts or experience coupled with faulty logic. It is true that the 7th were not all sharpshooters and that has nothing to do with the situation. Pull your head out of your rear end! A mass of screaming savages bearing straight down on you at as close as a few yards when you fire carbine or revolver, think you will miss? Both firing .45 heavy slugs! Think these indian’s will be killed or maimed?
    An arm chair warrior who just does not get it!!! Regards low IQ moron.

  67. Paul says:

    Mitch: The battleground was picked over begining in 1876 by the indians and every year afterwards by everyone who could get there. Then as now Custer battle artifacts are popularly sold. The site was not covered over with dust or dirt. It is mountainous prairie of sagebrush and grass. Remarkable unchanged from 1876. Photos available on LBH sites.

  68. Jeff Swanson says:

    Hi. The troopers fired the 45-70. Black powder. Started to foul after about 50 shots….and cases stuck. Revolvers were slow to reload. Indians outnumbered the troopers. Firing at them from multiple directions. Initially as skirmish line was formed….one trooper held 4 horses while three troopers fired. Dismounted Calvary….thus gave up maneuver an 25% of their firepower. The Indians crawled in aroyos and reined arrows on the troopers…hitting horses and men. The Indians also had many lever action repeaters and poured fire upon the troopers. I suspect Indians attacked primarily from the valley aroyos….uphill. and from over the crest of the hill behind the troopers. (I’m a US Marine Viet Nam vet). I went to LBH and tried to imagine best Indian tactics. So..the troopers had to fire in multiple directions. Custer also sent an urgent note for the wagons and packs. This indicates to me he needed more ammo. Also….I shoot the 45-70 round. Even in light loads about 20 shots with this amazing …. powerful caryrige and my marksmanship is off….due to the recoil. The troopers were surrounded. The trooper rifles fired straight trajectory…..and they could not hit the Indians over the hill behind them or in the aroyos. But the Indians could quick shoot at the troopers from cover…..or rein as many arrows as they could shoot on the troopers. When the troopers rifle diminished….the Indians swarmed….And from close range enveloped the troopers and divided the troopers positions along the skirmish line. The wounded troers were killed with bladed weapons and blunt force trauma delivered by Indians armed with clubs and stoneage weapons……as well as the rifles the Indians fielded. Amen. Jeff

  69. Jeff Swanson says:

    I’m American of scandanavian ancestory. So….no claim to Indian heritage. Served in US Marines. Studied war including LBH. No reasonable person can deny the tremendous courage and tenacity of attack by the Indians at LBH. The Indian warriors prevailed by effective use of combined arms and pluck with regard to maneuver. They pressed the attack with telling effect. Amen. The Lakota were not and are not defeated. They have huge social scurges with which they contend…..however I have seen and experienced their resiliency via courage and virtues. Of the highest caliber. Amen.

  70. Jeff Swanson says:

    Another issue with weaponry… The 45-70 rifles used by the troopers were capable of sustained volley fire sufficient in the minds of the time. And they were capable of hitting man sized targets by direct aim fire to 300 yards …. and beyond in the hands of expert marksmen. I doubt that the military leaders of the time imagined a scenario such as dismounted Calvary on the ground of the Little Big Horn. Intelligence failed to reveal the numbers of Indians gathered at LBH and not on reservations. Custer was executing classic hammer and anvil maneuver. Via Calvary. Ahead of Gen Terry infantry enroute. Perhaps more courage than sense. Certainly hindsight reveals he should have waited for Gen Terry and benefited from coordinated….combined arms attack. But we were not there. Perhaps Custer wanted to route any bands of Indians and chase them to reservations…avoiding massive casualties…. Perhaps he suffered from denial in notions of invincibility as he yelled at the confederate solgier who shot him and knocked him off his horse. Anyway…..we honor all the combatants by asking and studying such questions. Thanks for all with historical…..reflection and inquiry.

  71. Mike from Maryland says:

    I’ve studied this battle for about 40 years and to me the main factor for the demise of 5 companies of the Custer battalion was the troopers ran out of ammo. Remember each trooper kept about 70% of his carbine and revolver ammo in the saddlebags on his horse. So when these 5 companies dismounted each man probably had less than 30-40 rounds as most of the mounts ran off or were stampeded or were captured by the warriors during the battle. Also keep in mind some of the men had fired their carbine ammo between June 22-24 to hunt wild animals. Peter Thompson of C Company (part of the Custer Battalion) said when he was separated from his mount on 25 June near the Indian village, he had only 5 cartridges in his revolver and 17 rounds of carbine ammo on his belt! He said he left about 100 rounds with his horse. So now do the math of the 7th Cavalry’s firepower on Custer Hill.
    Custer also realized he was in danger of losing because his 5 companies might run out of ammo. So he ordered Adjutant W. W. Cooke to write the famous message to Benteen \Benteen Come On. Big Village. Be Quick. Bring Packs [containing the Regiment’s reserve ammo]. PS Bring Packs [added emphasis that my 5 companies desperately needs more ammo]\. I personally believe that the main reason for the complete annihilation of the Custer Battalion was Benteen’s failure to carry out this order. I feel that Benteen and some other surviving officers of the Benteen and Reno Battalions knew this and covered up this fact by obfuscating the chronology of events and leaving certain details out of the official Army record about the afternoon of June 25. They also made it appear that Benteen’s battalion was further away from Custer when Martini/Martin delivered the Custer/Cooke message to Benteen. They also made up Martini’s alleged comment to Benteen that the Indians were \skedaddling\ In every interview with Martini and in Martini’s testimony at the Reno Court of Inquiry he said the only question Benteen asked him was \where General Custer was?\ And Martini said he told Benteen that \I supposed that by that time he had made a charge through the village\. I also think it’s telling that Martini said Benteen then ordered Martini to find Captain McDougall (who was commanding the pack train with the ammo) and tell him to \hurry up the packs\. Martini said he went about 150 yards back and found McDougall and passed him Benteen’s order. Later at the Reno Court of Inquiry when McDougall was asked if he received Custer’s orders to hurry up the pack train, McDougall replied he did not receive this order but \he thinks\ Lt. Mathey (his second in command) got the order. To me McDougall’s lack of memory indicated he was probably part of the Benteen coverup.

  72. Dakota22 says:

    I would suggest to the authors of the latest posts to watch the forensic investigation documentary by Richard Fox. Custer was a decoratedcivil war hero, true, but U.S army tactics of raiding and murdering defenceless women and children, skirmish lines and fu frontal assaults was not going to work against the Dakota army. Make no mistake that this was an army of superior warriors with superior battle tactics and firepower. The forensic investigation unravels the battle peopaganda that the U.S government had been publishing. The whooping and hollering indians ridng en masse over a hill sacrificing their lives in a mindless stampede is Insane. Our warriors never fought in that manner. Distraction is a military tactic. The ghilley suits (camouflage) worn by the U.S military was adopted from our warriors. 8 days prior to the lBH, General Crook’s art was engaged and defeated at the Battle of the Rosebud. That battle was involved Crooks entire 1000 man army. Two journalists were part of the civilian contingent to record the anticipated armies triumph over the Dakota (Sioux) and instead an eye witness account is written of the battle with interviews from the surviving soldiers. Captain Anson Mills describes the Dakota warriors as proving then and there that they were the \greatest cavalry on earth\. So not forget that the Dakota have been engaging the U.S army for one hundred years by this point and still the U.S maintained their outdated battle tactics. The British revolutionary war records verify our presence and again during the war of 1812. 1000 warriors under Wabasha who was designated as a general by the British Army is in the records.
    Accept that Custer was defeated. Crook was defeated. The U.S army was no match for our Dakota army. Anyone can claim victory over women and children at winter camps, but never against our armies. Keep in mind that we also had our women and children with us. Imagine that happening today. Oh wait, it still does. In Afghanistan, Iraq, and anywhere else the U.S army invades. I laugh when I read again how the defeat is attributed to lack of ammunition. Watch the forensic investigation and you will see the truth.

  73. HistoryNet Editor says:

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  74. Mike from Maryland says:

    Nothing personal Dakota 22 but to really understand history you have to not let your anti-US Army and pro-Dakota biases cloud your analysis. I think you have seriously under-rated the fighting abilities of the US Army and over-rated the abilities of the Indians. If Custer’s command of 210 men were attacked by 210 Dakota warriors the Army would have controlled the battlefield and the Dakotas would have retreated when they lost around 40–50 men. Custer’s casualties probably would have ranged from 10-40 KIAs.That’s the reality of how the battles of the Plains War were resolved. History has shown the Indians only won when they had overwhelming numerical superiority, like LBH and the Fetterman fight. (You could even make the argument that Reno/Benteen’s command defeated the Indians at Little Big Horn or at least fought them to a draw as the US Army controlled the battlefield and the Indians retreated.) Name me a battle the Indians won when they did not have overwhelming numerical superiority? I can’t think of one. But I can think of a couple of battles where the US Army defeated a numerically superior Indian force (without accompanying women and children) such as the Wagon Box Fight and Beecher’s Island.

    I would also call the Rosebud fight at the least a draw as the US Army controlled the battlefield and the Indians decided to call it a day by retreating. After he controlled the battlefield Crook decided he was short of supplies and withdrew from the area.

  75. William says:

    Surprised by the years long threads. I guess we are all passionate on the subject. I agree with you on the number of probable killed Indians. With all the long range snipping most of the early casualties were probably the mounts. When the Indians had moved up close enough in the draws for more massed attacks, hit rates for the soldiers would be high. It is believed most of the attacks were by dismounted Indians as they left their horses in the coulees and crawled forward in the depressions.
    Now consider, you’re a dismounted soldier either on a skirmish line or behind a dead horse. The Indians finally move across the open in a mass attack on foot. Results, massive Indian casualties. But that would not fit the narrative of the modern recreate history crowd. As far as the Indians, of course they would want to minimize their addmission of losses. Who could blame them for that?

  76. Jeff Swanson says:

    Hi. Does anyone know how high the grass was at the LBH battle? It may have been much higher than now…..and the Indians could have used the grass to their tactical advantage….for cover and concealment. I don’t know. Just asking the question. Thanks. Jeff

  77. Dakota22 says:

    Wow!!! Dakota’s never attacked “en masse” whoopng and hollering. You’ve been watching too many Hollywood movies. Jeff makes an excellent inquiry regarding the grasses. In our culture, many of you are aware of the “pow wow”. There is a dance called the grass dance. Dancers wear outfits with long fringes and sway to the beat of the drum. Go back 150 years and this same dance was done using the camouflage outfits worn by our scouts. The fringes represent the long grasses used to conceal, much like today’s ghilley suits worn by army snipers. Remember the standard European style of battle was openly visible lines of soldiers attacking each other. Our warriors never fought in that manner. We have British army records dating back to the revolutionary war and the war of 1812. If you have the opportunity, purchase the Battle of the Rosebud: Prelude to the Little Bighorn.

  78. Jeff Swanson says:

    The Indians were fighting at core interest level. Bullets were shot into their teepees…..and threatened their beloved women, children, elderly. The Indians mustered their warrior grit…skills…and eliminated the threat by using tools and tactics in their resources and warrior skillsets. Amen….which literally means \so be it.\ Jeff

  79. William says:

    Interesting Dakota. But I would disagree with your comment about the Sioux never attacking that way. Recall the many survivors stories about Red Cloud’s people attacking at the wagonbox fight in NE Wyoming. Warriors, both mounted and on foot attacked in mass then.
    Also worth consideration at the LBH is the accounts of the battle according to Cheyenne woman Kate Bighead and Mrs. Spotted Horn Bull. They were both witnesses. Kate on Greasy Grass Hill and Mrs. Spotted Horn Bull from down near the river.
    Company C and E were positioned below and south of the position where Custer died. With E ending almost half a mile away and almost to Greasy. The Cheyenne are the peoples who were amassed there. Chief Lame White man was over the rise just northwest of the line of these two companies C and E.
    According to warrior Wooden Leg, fighting with Lame White Man, as well as Kate Bighead, the order to attack came from Lame White Man as soon as Lt. Sturgis in E company order a dismount. The attack by the Cheyenne’s was entirely on foot and was but a short distance from the troopers.
    Although company E, about 40 troopers, was quickly wiped out, many Native American accounts say that the Cheyenne suffered great losses there. Company C was directly uphill from them and was able to give E some supporting fire into the flank of Lame White Man’s warriors. Lame White Man also was killed there.
    McClernand’s article in the Cavalry Journal for January 1927 gives the testimony from Cheyenne participants.
    Dakota, I wish I had Native American blood in me. I would have fought the invading whites. It was a criminal injustice that was perpitrated against all the native tribes. I believe I would like swapping stories with you. And I believe all of us who take time to post here find a facination with the life and death struggle by brave men on both sides that occured at the LBH.

  80. Smedley says:

    I suspect…we are reasonable to believe that the Indians did not move Custer or any of the soldiers far from where they died. Rifle casings around their bodies…later revealed in excavations confirmed this. But one thing is total certain….Custer did not depart the upper Big Horn…last stand hill on his own mortal energirs. There he died.

  81. SOCRATES says:

    A research paper titled “FOLLOWING ORDERS: Deliberate Defeat at the Little Bighorn ” has been published in Edition- II Vol: I Issue – March 2014 of SOCRATES . Socrates is an International Multi-lingual Multi-disciplinary Refereed and Indexed Scholarly Journal ISSN 2347-2146 & ISSN 2347-6869. This research paper has been authored by Monette Bebow Reinhard who resides in 3034 Sandalwood Road, Abrams Wisconsin United States of America.
    Email Address:
    This paper is based on author’s eight years of consistant research on this topic.

    Details of author :
    Monette Bebow Reinhard
    Historian/Independent Scholar/Freelance Writer/Author/Editor
    Former Moderator : Green Bay Reading Writers Guild
    Former Editor: Manitowoc Civil War Round Table Newsletter
    Director : North American Copper Artefact Trade Project
    Former curator of the Oconto Copper Burial museum
    Newsletter Editor
    The Archaic Copper Newsletter
    The Manitowoc County Civil War Round Table
    Email Address:

    Find the abstract of this research paper below:

    The battle of Little Bighorn in 1876 marked the beginning of the end of conflict between the U.S. and its military against the various Native American tribes west of the Mississippi River. Historians have given us various ideas of why Lieutenant Colonel Custer met with defeat. But none have noted, in connection with the November 3rd “secret meeting” between Grant and his generals, a movement of troops away from the Black Hills even before decisions were supposedly made to no longer keep miners out of that sacred land. When we study attitude and orders in conjunction with what we know about these events, the idea emerges that the government knew that they couldn’t get the Indians to break the Fort Laramie Treaty unless they were attacked. Here, then, is a presentation of the possibility of deliberate defeat by the U.S. government and its military in order to take the Black Hills.

    Keywords: The battle of Little Bighorn, conflict between the U.S. the Plains Indians

    The full paper is available on

  82. Herb1949 says:

    I came across this article while doing research on weapons.

    Very interesting article and comments.

    I want to add a few things that everyone has seemed to leave out.

    The weapons the 7th had were a major problem. The idea of 15 aimed rounds a minute, by a trooper with minimal training, from the single shot Springfield is ludicrous. This is a weapon that takes 2 good hands to reload, requires taking the rifle down from the aiming position, and the eyes off of the target. It was a stupid move on the part of the Army to even consider this as a weapon for mounted troops.

    At the same time the repeaters of the time could be fired and reloaded without even removing it from the shoulder or taking the eyes off of the target(s).

    The weapons used also had another major disadvantage. The ballistics only tell half the story. With these old slow, heavy bullets the tendency to shoot way high, when shooting down hill, and to shoot low, when shooting up hill have been well documented.

    As for the training the soldiers had, these were different weapons than they had been trained on, with vastly different ballistics. Shooting high would have been a problem even on flat ground.

    The Army weapons training, to be kind, SUCKED.

    Now, onto the battle training of the opposing sides.

    Dakota 22 is correct about the NA Calvary being good, they were also fierce fighters on the ground.

    The NA warriors were trained in tactics of small team fighting, from the time they were children. The skills they needed to survive as hunter gathers were the same as those needed in a battle.

    At the same time the US Calvary was trained to fight a totally different type of war. They were plain and simply out classed, IN THIS TYPE OF FIGHT. Just as the NA would have been in the type of fighting that the troopers of the 7th were trained in.

    Did Custer under estimate the strength and ability of the NA’s? Dang straight he did. Did he make some major wrong decisions? Yep.

    While good repeating weapons might have made a difference that day. The poor training and tactics the Army employed were the major factors.

    Sun Tzu said, know your enemy and yourself. The NA’s knew both, the US government and Custer did not.

    The final ending of the conflict between the stone age culture of the NA’s and the industrial culture of the Europeans was a foregone conclusion. There is no way the NA’s could win, in the long run.

    One last thought…

    A lot of good men, on both sides, died that day

  83. […] line, the Indians could launch arrows and still inflect injury. 200+ soldiers dead in a half hour. Battle of Little Bighorn: Were the Weapons the Deciding Factor A couple of side notes. First off I think it is terrible what are country did to the Indians. That […]

  84. Jacob Eagleshield says:

    So,the fact that the warriors somehow got their hands on repeating rifles,while the soldiers had breech loaders,had no impact? Please.
    Custer was a psychopathic egomaniac who thought he could ride through 3,000 mounted warriors with a couple of hundred soldiers. He got what he deserved.

    But when all things were equal,the white could not fight their way out of a wet paper bag. Little Big Horn was not the most devastating defeat suffered by the Americans. There was this Miami Indian named Little Turtle,who crushed both Harmer and St Clair,killing nearly a thousand of them .This country was not taken from us by conquest,it was stolen.

  85. Steve Chicoine says:

    This is a most interesting thread – a great discussion of timeless value in so many ways. Thanks to all.

    Historians can (and will) debate endlessly as to which factors played a more important role than others in Custer’s defeat. One thing most of us (perhaps not all of us) can agree on is that the Lakota soundly defeated Custer at the Little Bighorn.

    I am not a combat veteran. I have interviewed many combat veterans. One thing I have learned over the years is to pay close attention to what the combat vets have to say. There is no insight like the real experience. I recognize the acquired wisdom in the comments of Jeff Swanson (Thanks for your service). As far as I am concerned, when in doubt, the decision goes to anyone who actually has seen the face of battle.

    On that note, if only as a point of honor and reverence to the brave dead, such discussions should never degenerate into name calling. Everyone here offered some point of value, even if everyone did not agree. It would seem that military historians could agree to disagree in a civil manner.

    Unless I missed it, no one mentioned that Lakota proved to be courageous and tenacious warriors in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and all the way to the present day. Custer had little respect for these people and underestimated their capabilities and their resolve to defend their families. That is a fatal mistake in war.

    Steve Chicoine

  86. […] at the historical ignorance of some of the posters here. One of the biggest blunders of the era. Battle of Little Bighorn: Were the Weapons the Deciding Factor Although repeating rifles such as the Spencer, Winchester and Henry had been available, […]

  87. Paul Cross says:

    I think this is a good discussion board. I also think many who post here should invest in some education regarding the subject. You cannot substitute race for IQ, sorry!

  88. Jeff Swanson says:

    Good point…Paul. May I ask your opinion? What does this battle continue mentally interest and emotionally engage us? With such intensity? Thanks!


  89. Paul Cross says:

    Jeff: That is a thinking mans question! The devil is in the details. Custer was indeed an incompetent commander and this has been covered up to a large extent. The new Springfield .45-70 copper cased cartridge was a terrible mistake. Another coverup. The slaughter of the indians covered up! The indian lies about numbers lost at the battle to cover their humiliation. All contribute to a thinking man thinking what the heck happened here?
    Generalized reports and books do not tell the true story. However, if you read perhaps 30 or so books like Springfields Armory report on the .45-70 and first hand accounts like the Battle at Box Wagon fight which is not so heavily politicized the real picture of what happened at the little Big horn begins to emerge.
    A huge coverup by both sides and why its calling to the objective non-emotional analyst.
    A facinating study in politics and U.S. Army policy. This battle marked the end of the power of the plains indian. It only remained to crush the nez peirce and chase remanents into Canada. Of couse the analyst will instantly recognize losses of 30 some indians would not accomplish this. Ergo, an ongoing enigma for the uneducated and a forever facinating study for the analyst.

  90. Dakota22 says:

    “Custer was incompetent commander” “the 45-70 blah blah blah…”
    Millions of Bison were slaughtered after this fight…the big bad U.S army was scared to attack our army and used the “international” boundary as an excuse. When has the U.S acknowledged a line on a map? Answer: Never.

    This post was based on forensic evidence which proves our version. So keep telling yourself the false version and some day you may actually believe it.

  91. Dakota22 says:

    Addendum to previous.
    The only way the U.S government succeeded in getting Sitting Bull to surrender was starvation. That’s the point of the slaughter of the bison. We are still the only nation on earth to make the U.S sue for surrender (1868 Fort Laramie Treaty). Unfortunately like every othe agreement the U.S entered in to, they broke it and sacrificed brave young men to die for their greed.

    Rather than Custer running out of bullets, your government used an endless supply of human bullets against us combined with starvation and there is your great victory. What a sad history.

  92. Mike says:

    Dakota what country are you a citizen of? You sure don’t have a grasp of American History. You should read up on it. The US Army NEVER surrendered to the Dakotas. On a smaller scale I’m sure every soldier that tried to surrender to the Dakotas was tortured to death or killed outright and then had his body horribly cut and mutilated in a savage way.

  93. Dakota22 says:

    I am a Dakota citizen living in what is now called \Canada\.

    As I had stated previously, the U.S surrendered to the Dakota in 1868 with the Fort Laramie Treaty. Your version of \U.S\ history is only what they teach in the education system. The comments on this site are supposed to be based on the forensic evidence from the Little Bighorn documentary not supposed events based on hearsay and U.S propaganda.

    Here is a link so you can read the treaty for yourself. The government gave up the Bozeman trail forts which were burnt to the ground.

    When gold was discovered in the Black Hills, President Grant reversed his previous directive to protect the Black Hills and instead gave Custer new orders to protect the miners instead.

    The rest as they say, is history.

    If one was really interested in factual history, I suggest the following.

    On June 17, 1876, 8 days prior the Battle of the Little Bighorn, General Crooks entire 1000 troop army was defeated and sent packing. This book details the events with testimony from General Crook and his officers. The best of all is that reporters accompanied the army to record the \great triumph\ over the Dakotas (sounds similar to something North Korean leader, Kim Jung Un would spout), instead they provide their analysis of the defeat.
    If it wasn’t for the Shoshone and Crow scouts who spotted the Dakotas, Crook’s command may have been destroyed.

    One last comment on being \cut and mutilated in a savage way\, you may want to read up on the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre where supposedly civilized U.S soldiers and volunteers butchered, murdered and raped Cheyenne women and children. It didn’t stop there. They also mutilated the women by cutting off their breasts and genital areas and parading them around. This is all documented.

    In 1868, Cheyenne women and children were again massacred at the Washita River, this time by the Custer and the 7th cavalry. So if the Cheyenne retaliated against Custer and the 7th cavalry in the same way, two wrongs don’t make a right, but who gets the \savage\ tag?

    You may also want to research on the origin of scalping. This was a means of claiming a U.S bounty. Only the scalp of a heathen was needed rather than bringing in the corpse.

    Want more? I suggest picking up a copy of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. You can read up on how the U.S, the champion of human rights, slaughtered native women and children from the east coast to the west coast, placed a Wampanoag native leader’s head on a stake for 2 months so the other natives would see and fear, the 1200 mile force march of 20 000 Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminoles at gunpoint in the dead of winter with over 4000 dying along the way.

    So excuse us Dakotas for fighting for our rights. FYI the battle is still going on, but this time its a paper battle. Do you know what the governments biggest and ultimately fatal mistake will be, as told by future historians? Teaching us their language.
    We know their deceitful and fraudulent tactics and we are using their laws against them. I would suggest educating yourself on the real history of our country.

    Alas, from the comments being made there’s no point beating a dead horse, or in this case a dead Custer. You will believe whatever you want to believe and the U.S government will continue to lie to the people.

  94. Jeff Swanson says:

    There is plenty of blame to go around…as war brings out the best of human virtues….and also our worst behaviors. So where do we go from here…Based upon the lessons and insights those who went before us…bestow? Easy on each other. Time to smoke the peace pipe…and learn from each other… Jeff

  95. Paul Cross says:

    I can’t believe this race-baiting troll is still allowed to post his lies here!

  96. Paul Cross says:

    I prefer to have ojective discussion on the matter of the LBH. Some guy attacking the government constantly with lies is tiresome. I wonder what Homeland Security might have to say about some of his threatening posts?

  97. Dakota22 says:

    Objective meaning what? Discounting the forensic evidence? Custer we defeated in a battle. He set up text book skirmish lines, got flanked, set up a secondary haphazard one which was also flanked and the men panicked and ran to a ravine. So he didn’t have a Gatling gun. That isn’t the focus of the battle. So he had inferior weapons. The bottom line is he sacrificed good men against a superior fighting force. If you think this is a lie then that’s your opinion. Forensic evidence vs your nonsense? Please.

  98. William says:

    Dakota, I agree completely with your comments #97. Not so much the other comments. A battlefield situation that I haven’t heard discussed yet is this. To all of you that have been there, Custer picked a really poor spot to stop. Yes he stopped. The Native Americans have said he was in the same general location for the better part of an hour before the real battle started. Maybe he was waiting for Benteen. Regardless, he occupied open high ground. All around it is broken country with draws and ravines. The NA had a perfect set up to stay in the draws, remain nearly invisible and shoot their repeaters at the open targets. Bad plan for Custer. We all know he was shot twice. Once in the chest and one to the head. Just possibly, Custer himself was wounded (mortally) in the chest early on and the rest of the officers didn’t want to move him. So they stayed, waited for Benteen, set their skirmish lines and all died due PARTLY, to an unfavorable lay of the ground.

  99. The Olde Man says:

    I worked cattle in So.Dak in the early 1950’s. One of the ranchhands claimed to know at least four Sioux that had participated in the battle.

    1. The grass was very tall, there was a lot of dust and the soldiers acted as if they could not see the Indians.

    2. Their horses were very tired so it was easy to run up alongside them.

    3. It was very easy to drag the soldiers off their horses.

    Sounds like Reno’s affair.

    Things that stick in my mind from reading through the years.

    1. Statement by somebody who left Custer’s command. \The Sioux came out of their camp like a swarm of bees.\

    2. Statement by Gibbon. Surprised at how few empty cartridge cases there were.

    3. Indian statement that the entire battle took about the time of the movement of the shadow of the width of a teepee pole. That has been ascertained as being about 20 minutes.

    4. Statement by some Indian that a year later they went over to the Custer battlefield to get some ammunition that apparently was still laying around to be picked up.

    I have no idea of the veracity of any of it, just what sticks in my mind of reading about the battle over the last 70 yrs.

  100. Herman Payne says:

    Although the weapons may have been the deciding factor, the lack of ammo refills and re-enforcements, and

    the lack of knowledge of the HUGH NUMBERS of warriors definitely had some impact on the final results

    1. Custer did not know how many potential warriors were in the camp. Custer was not aware(no one in the

    military was) of the size of this group.

    “Historians have estimated the population of the Cheyenne, Lakota and Arapaho encampment along the Little

    Bighorn River was approximately 10,000, making it one of the largest gatherings of Native Americans in

    North America in pre-reservation times.”


    “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.”

    “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.”

    “There is evidence that Custer suspected that he would be outnumbered by the Indians, although he did not

    know by how much.”

    “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.[citation needed] 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.”


    2. Even when he realised the camp was larger than he’d been told, (although he still had no idea it was as

    LARGE as it was) he still wasn’t worried because he was not interested in a war.

    Custer was not interested in having a battle with this group! His main objective was to have them to join

    their respective reservations.

    Custer’s book “My Life on the Plains”, details his general strategy of surprising them, and quickly taking

    women and children as hostages. This would insure his men’s safety(he knew the warriors respected the

    lives of their wives and children and would not endanger them in a battle) and give him a bargaining chip

    (the wives and children) to entice the warriors to go to a reservation.

    “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]”

    The specific plan for that day might have been to have Reno attack first to draw the few non – sleeping

    warriors out of the southern end of the camp. If you are being attacked from the south end of the camp,

    you might have women, children, the infirm, and elderly exit to safety from the north end. This idea may

    give insight into Custer’s strategy of separating his companies into three detachments and distributing

    them as he did. While the few warriors were defending against an attack in the south of the camp, Custer

    could grab hostages as they exited the northern part of the camp and that way he might not even have to

    expose more of his men to danger by making a quick surprise incursion into the camp to get the hostages.

    No big battles, no big losses for either side. Grab hostages, make a deal, problem solved.


    3. In case things didn’t go right, Benteen to the rescue – but never showed either because he was truly

    pinned down, or because Benteen was exacting revenge for an 1868 Washita River Battle event

    Just in case –

    “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.”

    – but Benteen would never show up. Probably because he was pinned down on Reno Hill

    ‘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]’

    It has been suggested that the reason Benteen did not fight to bring more ammo to Custer was because of an

    event from the Washita River Battle –

    “Custer’s abrupt withdrawal without determining the fate of Elliott and the missing troopers darkened

    Custer’s reputation among his peers. There was deep resentment within the 7th Cavalry that never healed.

    [53] In particular, Eliott’s friend and H Company captain Frederick Benteen never forgave Custer for

    “abandoning” Elliott and his troopers. Eight years later, when Benteen failed to race to Custer’s aid at

    the Battle of the Little Bighorn, his actions were closely examined in light of his long-standing anger

    toward Custer for the events at the Washita River.”


    4. Custer was basically forced to take action because his presence was becoming known.

    As far as knowing exactly what he was dealing with, he would have liked more time to study the situation,

    but that was not possible because –

    “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.”


    “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.”


  101. Paul Cross says:

    Herman Payne, Nice informative post! Actually the soldiers had plenty of ammo. Probably needed better fire control Custer needed no more warning than he recieved at the Crows Nest where his indian scouts tried in vain to point out the vast camp and pony herd to him. Bad eyes? Despite stealing a under officers binouculars he could make out nothing.
    The Battle of the Rosebud is interesting. Crook was likely saved by the Crow (175) and Showsoni (86) forces with him. They discovered the Sioux attacking and counterattacked while warning Crooks forces (on break). Crook 14 to 28 killed, indians estimated 13-36 killed. Crook did not need to replenish his forces, but says in his book fired away most of his ammunition!
    Benteen did not leave Reno hill till one element headed toward Custer’s fight. All elements than moved out. Stringing out a mile or more at an outlook they hit severe resistance and all including wounded retreated to Reno hill. Benteen was completely exonerated at a courtmartial he insisted on.

  102. The Olde Man says:

    I have always thought the best explanation was that Custer got knocked out early in the game and as seems to have been usual with Custer, his subordinates had no clear idea what the PLAN was, thus the paralysis. They \knew\ that Reno had the NA’s pinned down to the south. And maybe they ‘knew’ that Benteen was supposed to be right behind them. But by withdrawing, that would leave Reno hanging out there by himself. And possibly by the time the next in command got a firm grip on the outfit, it was too late. Some of their flankers were pinned down.

    Decisions, decisions.

  103. Anonymous by Necessity says:

    Is it possible the Indians’ Winchesters were supplied by President Grant’s covert agents, assigned the task of secretly arming the Indians with superior weapons to ensure victory over Custer?

    1: Grant needed a pretext to violate Indian treaties giving the Indians possession of land where gold was discovered. The Last Stand served as that pretext.

    2: Grant hated Custer b/c Custer informed Congress that Grant’s Administration was making huge profits at the reservations giving the Indians rancid food.

  104. Paul Cross says:

    To help clarify all of this posted BS “Were the weapons the deciding factor at LBH? The US Cavalry had been stripped of their close range weapon the truly effective and deadly saber by the low IQ Custer. Might make some noise! They were armed with the effective but murderously slow to load Colt SAA 73. This led to numerous other handguns carried as backup. And lastly they had a not fully tested .45-70 carbine with a copper case which jammed in the carbine after 4 or 5 shots. The sharp extractor tore through the copper rim after some fouling made ejection difficult. This has been substantiated by modern testing and those results easily found by good researchers.
    So in a word YES the weapons were the deciding factor in the battle. This does not even take into consideration Custer leaving his Gatling Guns home and infantry units!!!

  105. Vincent Fisher says:

    I’ve been reading about the West and this particular battle since I was a child. John Keegan’s writings in comparing European forces and their use of native troops to how the U.S. Army’s used its resources in the West really opened my eyes. Also, the gatling guns were too cumbersome to be effective for the usual cavalry tactic of lightning attacks. These guns had to be disassembled and carried by mules or horses. Also, in the rough terrain at the Little Bighorn the exposed gun crews would have been excellent targets.

  106. Catriona M Mac Kirnan says:

    The article accidentally tells one something else about the revolver ammunition being used by the soldiers. It says that the Colts were using cartridges with 28 grains of powder. That is a standard military load for the .45 Schofield catridge, which was made to fit both the S&W Schofield and the Colt Model P. Cartridge cases found at the battlefield bear this out — most were Schofield cartridge cases.

  107. Ken Stafford Smith says:

    bad tactics he split his forces not a good thing to do,the Indians captured the mule train with the ammunition,, Renos men survived by digging rifle pits, Custer pushed his men hard to arrive early,he should have waited for the main force to arrive,bad planning was the main cause of the rout,Custer had no fall back ideas,he was lowest in his class,if he had taken the Gatling guns they would have been a good fallback Custer was an arrogant fool to attack such a large enemy with so few men,if only he had waited till the day after for the main force it would have been so different

  108. Mostlynew says:

    Bravo ! I arrived at this article trying to verify theory I read long ago that Indians had the edge because they could rapid fire arrows while Custer’s soldiers were hindered by single fire weapons. This article proves the difference between speculation and serious reporting. The ineffectiveness of systematically inaccurate fire was also an eye opener.

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