Ten Myths of the Little Bighorn | HistoryNet

Ten Myths of the Little Bighorn

By Gregory Michno
2/20/2009 • Wild West

"Custer's Last Rally," by John Mulvany (Courtesy of Library of Congress)
"Custer's Last Rally," by John Mulvany (Courtesy of Library of Congress)

Although some soldiers ran from Custer’s Hill, they did hold their ground and fight from their position as long as they could. The participating warriors called it a Last Stand. Deal with it

The Battle of the Little Bighorn, fought on the banks of the river of that name in Montana Territory in June 1876, is the most often discussed fight of the Indian wars. It has been said that we will never know what happened there because there were no survivors. That is nonsense. There were thousands of survivors. The Indians clearly told us what happened. We need only to listen to what they said.

There are also many misconceptions about Lt. Col. George A. Custer and the 7th Cavalry, among them being that Custer had long yellow hair and that he and his regiment carried sabers into the battle. In reality, Custer’s hair was cut short, and the regiment left its sabers behind.

An examination of 10 of the major myths about the Battle of the Little Bighorn follows. The first two myths are widely held fallacies that do not require Indian testimony to discredit; the last eight myths are largely discredited by eyewitness accounts of those on the winning side.

Custer and All His Men Were Killed

The 7th Cavalry on June 25, 1876, consisted of about 31 officers, 586 soldiers, 33 Indian scouts and 20 civilian employees. They did not all die. When the smoke cleared on the evening of June 26, 262 were dead, 68 were wounded and six later died of their wounds. Custer’s Battalion – C, E, F, I and L companies – was wiped out, but the majority of the seven other companies under Major Marcus Reno and Captain Frederick Benteen survived.

Custer Disobeyed His Orders

Many Custerphobes insist Custer violated Brig. Gen. Alfred Terry’s orders. We only need to read Terry’s written instructions to clarify the situation. Terry wrote that he “places too much confidence in your zeal, energy, and ability to wish to impose upon you precise orders which might hamper your action when nearly in contact with the enemy.” Terry gave Custer suggestions that he should attempt to carry out, “unless you shall see sufficient reason for departing from them.”

In addition to the written orders, Terry entered Custer’s tent before he left on his final march, and told him, “Use your own judgment and do what you think best if you strike the trail.”

Custer did not disobey his orders.

Custer Did Not Listen to His Scouts

Even using binoculars from the traditional Plains Indian lookout known as the Crow’s Nest, Colonel Custer of the 7th Cavalry had trouble seeing the village in the valley some 15 miles away. His scouts told him a large village was there. He believed them, but he wanted to wait one more day, until the morning of June 26, 1876, to attack. He told Half Yellow Face, “I want to wait until it is dark, and then we will march.” The Crow scout replied, “These Sioux…have seen the smoke of our camp,” and argued that they must attack immediately.

Custer still wanted to wait. Another Crow, White Man Runs Him, said, “That plan is no good, the Sioux have already spotted your soldiers.” Red Star, an Arikara, concurred that the Crows were right, and believed that Custer must “attack at once, that day, and capture the horses of the Dakotas [Sioux].” Shortly after, soldiers discovered Indians rummaging through some supplies they had dropped on the back trail. Custer now knew his scouts were right. He followed their advice and attacked immediately. Custer did listen to his scouts.

The Indian Village Was Immense

Traditionally, the village on the Little Bighorn has been depicted as the largest ever seen in the West. Actually there were at least one dozen villages larger, and geographical and spatial considerations illustrate the impossibility of the exaggerated size estimations. A village that has been depicted as large as six miles long and one mile wide, in reality was 11⁄2 miles long and one-quarter mile wide. It contained about 1,200 lodges and perhaps 1,500 warriors. Custer was not “crazy” for attacking.

The Indians told us the village size. Pretty White Buffalo said that the Cheyenne and Sans Arc camps were at the lower end of the village, across from the Medicine Tail crossing of the river. Standing Bear said that the mouth of Muskrat Creek (Medicine Tail) was north of the Santee camp, which was the northernmost of the circles. Two Moon said that the village stretched from Sitting Bull’s Hunkpapa camp at Shoulder Blade Creek, to the Cheyenne camp at Medicine Tail’s place. Wooden Leg stated that the Cheyenne camp was just a little upstream and across from Medicine Tail Coulee, and at the other end were the Hunkpapas, just northeast of the present-day Garryowen Station, with all the camps east of the present road. A soldier named Wolf drew a map depicting the camp conforming to the course of the river with its northernmost limits across from Medicine Tail. Fears Nothing’s map showed the entire camp between Medicine Tail in the north, to Shoulder Blade Creek in the south. Standing Bear and Flying Hawk both produced maps that showed the northernmost limit of the camp to be south of Medicine Tail Creek.

The Indians showed us that the camp conformed to the river and was, at most, 11⁄2 miles long. It was a large camp, certainly, but it was not several miles long and unconquerable.

Sitting Bull Set Up an Ambush

It is said that the Indians knew Custer and the 7th Cavalry were coming, and set a trap. They did no such thing. Pretty White Buffalo said that no one expected an attack; the young men were not even out watching for the soldiers. “I have seen my people prepare for battle many times,” she said, “and this I know: that the Sioux that morning had no thought of fighting.”

Moving Robe was digging wild turnips with other women several miles from camp when she saw a cloud of dust rise beyond the bluffs in the east. She saw a warrior riding by, shouting that soldiers were only a few miles away, and that the women, children and old men should run for the hills in the other direction.

Antelope Woman (Kate Bighead) was bathing in the river with many others. Scores of naked men, women and children were in the river and not expecting a battle. Neither were many others playing or fishing along the stream. Everyone was having a good time, said Antelope, and no one was thinking about any battle.

Low Dog said the sun was about at noon, and he was still asleep in his lodge. He awoke to the shouts of soldiers, but thought it was a false alarm. “I did not think it possible that any white men would attack us,” he said.

After breakfast, White Bull left his wife’s lodge and went to tend the horses with no thoughts of any approaching danger. When he heard a man yelling an alarm, he climbed a hill and could see the soldiers approaching. He jumped on his best horse and drove the ponies back to camp.

Standing Bear awoke late that morning. While they ate breakfast, his uncle said, “After you are through eating you had better go and get the horses, because something might happen all at once, we never can tell.”

Before they could finish eating, there was a commotion outside, and Standing Bear learned his uncle’s premonition was correct. The soldiers were coming. They had been surprised.

Wooden Leg had been to a dance the night before, and slept late that morning. He and his brother Yellow Hair went to the river and found many Indians splashing in the water. The brothers found a shade tree and dozed off. Suddenly an old man called out: “Soldiers are here! Young men, go out and fight them.”

Red Feather slept late that morning and awoke to the words: “Go get the horses – buffaloes are stampeding!” Indians began dashing into the camp with the ponies. One, known as Magpie, shouted, “Get away as fast as you can, don’t wait for anything, the white men are charging!” Red Feather could see soldiers firing into Sitting Bull’s camp. Some Hunkpapas and Oglalas, caught up in the early panic, ran away.

Runs the Enemy heard that soldiers were coming, but did not believe it. He sat back down with the men and continued smoking. Rain in the Face admitted the soldiers came to the valley without warning. “It was a surprise,” he said.

Sitting Bull, the chief who was said to have masterminded the ambush by the Indians, was caught up in the confusion. When the soldiers attacked, his young wife, Four Robes, was so frightened that she grabbed only one of her infant twins and ran to the hills. When asked where the second child was, she realized she had left it behind, and raced back to the lodge to retrieve it. Later, the one left behind received the name Abandoned One. This was not the household of a man who supposedly knew soldiers were coming and set a trap for them.

It is apparent from the Indian reactions that Custer had surprised the camp. There was no ambush. Custer’s approach was successful. In spite of attacking in broad daylight, he did surprise the village.

Custer’s Tactics Were Faulty

It is said that Custer foolishly divided his force and allowed the regiment to be defeated in detail. Yet, using part of a force to fix the enemy in front, and sending another portion to envelop the flank is a standard tactic of professional armies. While Major Marcus Reno attacked the southern end of the village, Custer made a flank march to the north along the river bluffs. The Indians, snapping out of their initial surprise, counterattacked Reno and chased him across the river to the east bank. When they climbed the bluffs, they had another surprise: Custer was already beyond them, 11⁄2 miles north and closer to the village than the Indians were.

White Bull went up the bluffs where he saw something of great importance. “Where we were standing on the side of the hill we saw another troop moving from the east toward the north where the camp was moving,” he exclaimed.

One Bull found a vantage point on the hill and saw more troops coming from the south, leading what appeared to be pack mules. But a bigger problem was the troop force to the north. Soldiers were already beyond the Indians and were heading toward the other end of the camp.

American Horse was in the valley while Reno’s survivors climbed the hill. When he turned to the river, he heard a man’s voice calling out that more bluecoats were moving to attack the lower village, American Horse’s own people. He spun his horse around and quickly headed north.

Fears Nothing reached the river and heard an Indian on the east bank calling that more soldiers were coming down from behind the ridge. He rode up the bluffs to see for himself and clambered back down. Once in the valley, he galloped north toward the mouth of Medicine Tail Creek.

Runs the Enemy noticed two Indians waving blankets on the eastern bluffs. Crossing over with another Indian, he heard them yell that the soldiers were “coming, and they were going to get our women and children.” He continued to the crest and the sight shocked him. “As I looked along the line of the ridge they seemed to fill the whole hill,” he said. “It looked as if there were thousands of them, and I thought we would surely be beaten.” Runs The Enemy raced downhill, across the river and back down the valley.

Wooden Leg had climbed a hill north of Reno’s hilltop position when another Indian cried out: “Look! Yonder are other soldiers!” Peering downriver, Wooden Leg saw them on the distant hills. The news spread quickly, and the Indians began to ride after them to meet this other threat.

Short Bull was busy driving Reno out of the valley and into the hills. He never noticed Custer until Crazy Horse rode up with his men.

“Too late! You’ve missed the fight!” Short Bull called to him.

“Sorry to miss this fight!” Crazy Horse laughed. “But there’s a good fight coming over the hill.”

Short Bull looked where Crazy Horse pointed. For the first time he saw Custer and his men pouring over a hill. “I thought there were a million of them,” he said.

“That’s where the big fight is going to be,” Crazy Horse predicted. “We’ll not miss that one.”

Many Indians who chased Reno up the bluffs also realized that there were more soldiers already north of them, in a position to interpose themselves between the warriors and the village. Moving along a ridge above Medicine Tail Coulee, less than two miles away, was Custer’s Battalion. It was a shock. Custer had surprised them not once, but twice. His tactics were working.

Custer Was Killed at the River

One of the major misconceptions of the Little Bighorn fight is that Custer was shot down in a midstream charge while crossing the river. The idea stems from two sources: one was the Lakota White Cow Bull, and the other was two Crow scouts who were not there. Many other Indian eyewitnesses who were there never said anything of the sort.

Two Moon said that Cheyenne guards were already posted on the east bank when Custer rode down. In addition, many Lakotas had already crossed to the east side. Warriors were across the river, some going upstream and some downstream, trying to get on each side of the soldiers.

Yellow Nose said he and his companions were already on the east side of the river when the soldiers first fired at them.

From the east bank of the river, White Shield saw that the troops were heading straight for them, and he believed they would break through and get across the river. When the Gray Horses (Company E) got close to the river, they dismounted, and both sides fired at each other.

Bobtail Horse said the soldiers began shooting as they neared the ford leading to the camp. He said: “Let us get in line behind this ridge and try to stop or turn them. If they get in camp they will kill many women.” Bobtail Horse said that his “party had not advanced toward Custer, but were on the bank of the Little Horn on the same side as Custer.”

The soldiers advanced, but, “the ten Indians were firing as hard as they could and killed a soldier,” Bobtail Horse explained. The man’s horse ran on ahead, and Bobtail Horse caught it. The soldiers finally stopped. This all happened on the east bank.

Red Hawk was fighting Reno’s men, but went north in time to see a second group of soldiers coming down the ridge in three divisions. They did not make it to the river, he said. The first division only got to a point about one-half to three-quarters of a mile from the water.

Lone Bear said the soldiers got near the river, dismounted and began leading their horses, but they never got to the river. Lone Bear watched as large numbers of warriors, both mounted and on foot, crossed over to the east bank and started after Custer before he reached the stream.

More warriors indicated the confrontation occurred east of the river. Kill Eagle said, “The Indians crossed the creek and then the firing commenced.” Wooden Leg said that the first three Cheyennes to cross the river were Bobtail Horse, Roan Bear and Buffalo Calf, and they fired on Custer while he was “far out on the ridge.” He Dog said 15 or 20 Indians fought the troopers from the east side of the stream – near the dry creek, but not near the river. Standing Bear also said that the Indians crossed the river as soon as Custer came in sight. They took position behind a low ridge and were reinforced rapidly as more warriors crossed over. “There was no fighting on the creek,” Standing Bear said. Bobtail Horse, who was right there, indicated without hesitation that they were all on the east bank, on the same side as Custer. Two years after the fight, Hump, Brave Wolf and Ice told 5th Infantry Lieutenant Oscar F. Long that the Indians crossed the river before Custer could possibly have forded. They had already gained a small hill on the north side of the Little Bighorn and placed themselves between Custer and the river.

It is clear from the explanations of the Indians who were there that Custer’s soldiers never got across the river, or even into it; the Indians were already on the east (north) bank fighting them. Where do we get the idea that Custer was killed in the river? Mostly from White Cow Bull. His story has caused more mischief than almost any of the tales that have been circulated about the battle.

It is only White Cow Bull who supposedly said that he and Bobtail Horse shot a buckskin-clad soldier in the river. Neither Bobtail Horse nor any of the other Indians who were there mention anything of the sort – they don’t even say White Cow Bull was there. Yet, White Cow Bull says that he, almost single-handed, stopped a full-scale cavalry charge in midstream. No other Lakota or Cheyenne saw it. They were not fighting on the river, but east of it. White Cow Bull’s story is just that – bull.

The Crow scouts Goes Ahead and White Man Runs Him reportedly told stories of Custer dying in the river. Goes Ahead’s tale comes from his wife, Pretty Shield, who was not there either, but said little other than Custer drank too much and rode into the river and died. White Man Runs Him did not see Custer, but heard later that Custer was hit in the chest by a bullet and fell into the water. From such tales grew the myth that Custer was killed at the river. It did not happen.

Crazy Horse’s Ride to the North

One standard tale of the battle involves the legendary ride of Crazy Horse. The story goes that Crazy Horse, with his tactical genius, judged the situation in a flash, gathered hundreds of his warriors, went north down the valley, crossed the river, swung east and swept down on an unsuspecting Custer from the north, completely surprising and overwhelming the befuddled commander.

Many historians and novelists have followed this scenario: Cyrus Brady, George Hyde, Charles Kuhlman, William Graham, Mari Sandoz, Edgar Stewart, David H. Miller, Stephen Ambrose, Henry and Don Weibert, James Welch, Robert Utley, Evan Connell, Jerry Greene and Doug Scott. A slight variation on this theme comes from Richard Fox; he has Crazy Horse approaching from Deep Ravine. With all those historians concurring at one time or another over the years (some have since modified their interpretation), the story must be true.

It is not.

How did it really happen? Again, the warriors who were there told us where Crazy Horse went. After fighting Reno, Crazy Horse and Flying Hawk went back to the village to drop off some wounded warriors. They immediately went to Medicine Tail Ford, where Short Bull and Pretty White Buffalo saw Crazy Horse crossing the river. He was next located in the area of Calhoun Hill by numerous Indians who fought with him that day, including Foolish Elk, Lone Bear, He Dog, Red Feather and Flying Hawk. White Bull rode from the bluffs where Reno had retreated, directly north on the east side of the river. He approached Calhoun Hill from up Deep Coulee and worked around the hill where he joined Crazy Horse and his men, already fighting. Had Crazy Horse gone on his mythical northern sweep, or done half the deeds ascribed to him, he could not have been fighting near Calhoun Hill in this phase of the battle.

Crazy Horse was very reticent about speaking to white recorders. His spokesman, Horned Horse, said that the soldiers’ assault was a surprise. The Indians had no plan of ambush. Crazy Horse believed Custer mistook the women and children stampeding in a northerly direction down the valley for the main body of Indians. The warriors merely divided into two groups, one staying between the noncombatants and Custer and the other circling his rear.

That is all there is to it. Only after the collapse of the Calhoun-Keogh position did Crazy Horse continue north where he may have, finally, confronted the last of Custer’s men making their stand on the far knob of the ridge. Or maybe not. Flying Hawk indicated that during the final phase of the battle, Crazy Horse jumped on his pony and chased off after one of the last fleeing troopers. Crazy Horse likely had nothing at all to do with the final fight on Last Stand Hill. He did not make a several mile sweep down the valley and hit Custer near Last Stand Hill from the north, and he did not attack from up Deep Ravine.

Much of this incorrect story stemmed from Gall. Edward Godfrey recorded him as saying, “Crazy Horse went to the extreme north end of the camp.” He turned right and went up a very deep ravine and “he came very close to the soldiers on their north side.” Remember, however, that the northern end of the camp was at Medicine Tail Coulee, not three miles farther, as many white historians believed, and “north” to most Indians, is “east” to white observers.

Why did we get it so wrong? It developed from a number of factors: different terrain perceptions between Indian and white, white exaggeration of the village size, poor critical examination of the accounts and a reluctance to take the time to re-research the primary sources. An incorrect premise was accepted and perpetuated with each telling, and Crazy Horse’s ride has drifted out of the realm of history and into the land of fantasy.

There Was No Last Stand

Of late there have been archaeological studies that have shined new light on some of the mysteries of the battle. One of them, by Richard Fox, has taken the stance that the Custer battle had “no famous last stand,” and that the Last Stand is a myth, determined mainly because of artifact clustering patterns and because some men ran toward the river at the end of the fight. Certainly, there was no Last Stand as in the 1941 movie They Died With Their Boots On, but there was a stand.

Good Voiced Elk said, “No stand was made until the soldiers got to the end of the long ridge….”

Flying By rode Battle Ridge to the north where he saw bodies of the soldiers who had been killed all the way along his path. As far as he could see there had been only one stand, and it was made in the place where Custer would be killed, down at the end of the long ridge.

Lone Bear said the fight on Custer Hill was at close quarters, and, “There was a good stand made.”

Gall neared the end of the ridge where the last soldiers were making a stand, he said, and, “They were fighting good.”

Lights said the stand made at Custer Hill was longer than anywhere else on the field.

Two Eagles said the most stubborn stand by the soldiers was made on Custer Hill.

Red Hawk said the bluecoats were “falling back steadily to Custer Hill where another stand was made,” and, “Here the soldiers made a desperate fight.”

Iron Hawk saw 20 mounted men and about 30 men on foot on Last Stand Hill. “The Indians pressed and crowded right in around them on Custer Hill,” he said. But the soldiers were not yet ready to die. Said Iron Hawk, “They stood here a long time.”

He Dog participated in the chase that broke the soldiers’ line, and helped drive the fleeing troopers along the ridge. At the far end, Custer’s men were putting up a good fight.

Red Hawk said that only after making a desperate fight on Custer Hill did the remaining soldiers retreat downhill.

Flying Hawk said they kept after the fleeing soldiers until they got to where Custer was making a stand on the ridge. There “the living remnant of his command were now surrounded.”

Although impressions of the stand’s time length and degree of intensity vary among the observers, the fact that it took place cannot be erased. Soldiers defending the northern portion of Custer’s field inflicted most of the Indian casualties – the best defense was not made at Calhoun Hill. The time spent in their fight and the results of their shooting are all the evidence we need to show that they defended their ground tenaciously. An interpretation claiming that few government cartridges were found on Custer Hill cannot change this. Although some soldiers ran from Custer’s Hill, they did hold their ground and fight from their position as long as they could. The participating warriors called it a Last Stand. Deal with it.

28 Soldiers Died in Deep Ravine

Recent visitors to the battlefield may have walked down the Deep Ravine Trail to its end and read the interpretive sign. The sign perpetuates another myth: that about 28 soldiers died within the steep-walled gully. It has several quotes from Indians and soldiers who said they saw bodies in the ravine. What are not listed are the statements from eyewitnesses who said that few, if any, bodies were there.

Interpretation should be based on historical and physical evidence whenever possible. Battle relics and bones have been found virtually on every part of the Little Bighorn Battlefield. Where they have not been found is in the trench of the Deep Ravine. When the archaeological record shows no sign of bodies, it ought to be matched with the appropriate historical record – that there were few, if any, bodies in the Deep Ravine. It is incredible that diametrically opposed historical and archaeological interpretations are presented as facts.

Since there is no physical record of soldier bodies in Deep Ravine, the interpretive sign should contain the appropriate historical commentary.

The Oglala warrior He Dog, said, “Only a few soldiers who broke away were killed below toward the river.”

Lone Bear said Custer Hill was “the first and only place where the soldiers tried to get away, and only a few from there.”

Waterman said, “A few soldiers tried to get away and reach the river, but they were all killed.”

Flying By said that “Soldiers were running through [the] Indian lines trying to get away…only four soldiers got into the gully by the river.”

Two Moon explained that Custer’s men “stayed right out in the open where it was easy to shoot them down. Any ordinary bunch of men would have dropped into a watercourse, or a draw.”

Red Hawk tellingly reported, “Some of the soldiers broke through the Indians and ran for the river, but all were killed without getting into it.”

Iron Hawk said that at the fight’s end, “We looked up and the soldiers all were running….The furthest headstone shows where the second man that I killed lies…probably this was the last of Custer’s men to be killed….there was only one soldier sneaking along in the gulch.”

Probably the clearest white voice that denies bodies in the Deep Ravine came from eyewitness Lieutenant Charles F. Roe, who was there right after the battle, and whose job it was to return to the field in 1881, rebury the bodies on the ridge and place the stone monument above them. In a letter to Walter Camp in 1911, responding to Camp’s persistent, incorrect questions about bodies in the ravine, Roe finally said: “I put up the markers near the deep ravine you speak of. There never was twenty-eight dead men in the ravine, but near the head of said ravine, and only two or three in it.”

What can we gather from all this? There were many participants who saw what happened at the Little Bighorn, and we should not discount their stories in favor of speculation from those who did not see the events – neither those who lived in the 19th century nor those who make their livings by writing stories today. It is difficult to debunk the old legends, however. Myths die hard – even when hundreds of eyewitnesses have already told it like it was.

Historian Gregory Michno, who writes from Longmont, Colo., is a frequent contributor to Wild West. His much acclaimed books Lakota Noon: The Indian Narrative of Custer’s Defeat and The Mystery of E Troop: Custer’s Gray Horse Company at the Little Bighorn are recommended for additional reading, along with Lakota Recollections of the Custer Fight: New Sources of Indian-Military History, by Richard G. Hardorff, and Wooden Leg: A Warrior Who Fought Custer, by Thomas B. Marquis.

Editors’s Note: See a discussion of sabers at the Little Bighorn in For Want of a Saber the Battle was Lost.

296 Responses to Ten Myths of the Little Bighorn

  1. Will Atwood says:

    ” The time spent in their fight and the results of their shooting are all the evidence we need to show that they defended their ground tenaciously. An interpretation claiming that few government cartridges were found on Custer Hill cannot change this.”

    Could it not be said in an equally accurate statement that:
    All the interpretation in print cannot change the fact that few government cartridges were found on Custer hill?
    Seems strange to ignore physical evidence from archaeological science on page 6 and then use the same archaeological evidence to support the contention that few or no bodies were found in the Deep Ravine.

    • Alan Johnson says:

      Your comparison is not faIr, though. There are zero pieces of human remains found in various test holes in Deep Ravine. 28 bodies would leave 5,768 bones.

      As far as LSH vs Calhoun Hill. Michno is merely stating that Scott does not have enough data to support a theory that there was more fighting on Calhoun Hill. Millions more have visited LSH as opposed to Calhoun Hill. Virtually every visitor goes to LSH, relatively few to Calhoun Hill. In the monument’s early years, there was unrestricted gathering of relics. In fact the battlefield was long ago robbed of most battle artifacts. There wasn’t even a road in the monument’s early years from LSH to Calhoun Hill , which is nearly a mile distant. Because of this, relic hunters had much more opportunity to strip LSH of copper casings from the Springfields.

      Comparing the relative few casings found in the 1980s and 1990s is meaningless as far as determining where the fighting was heavier.

      • Alan Johnson says:

        One correction. I mixed up archeologists. Michno was addressing Fox’s conclusions, not Scott’s.

    • andrew woolf says:

      Fields of fire, and their patterns moving forward over the course of a battle, can be charted with a great degree of accuracy, by analyzing the unique firing pin marks imprinted on spent cartridges.
      Those examined at the Ford area of the LBH River show scant evidence of any type of coordination at all- and plenty of evidence of random discharges of weapons ‘wild firing’ in multiple directions at once- in the ground, in the air, etc.
      The direction of fields of fire is likewise random at LBH, and given the former speaks more of a Company in the throes of confusion and panic of men being caught by surprise by an overwhelming amount of foe, rather than the far more popular image of an organised and impressive ‘last stand.’
      The ballistic evidence at LBH also supports the eyewitness accounts of Braves that Custers Troopers ‘stampeded like Buffalo’ in response to the onslaught of warriors that overwhelmed them.
      A last note of interest: contemporary archeological analysis of the LBH site also shows that far less rounds were even fired than expected, given the last stand theory. This is also supported by Indian accounts of the cartridge belts (a prized item of booty) taken from Troopers bodies after the battle. The Indians reported that most of the belts they recovered still had live cartridges in them. This would seem to indicate also more of a panic reaction, than a ground standing response from Custers men.

      In addition, the physical amount of rounds expended at the site, is disproportionatly low

  2. Lew Frank, USMC (ret) says:

    Mr. Michno,
    I understand that you are a published author and expert in Custer’s battle at the Little Bighorn. Therefore, I’m hoping you may provide an explanation regarding the conversational and confrontational style used in your article. It’s rather surprising to read something so juvenile from a published author. Frankly, sir, I would be embarrassed by such an effort. Grammatically, you have made a few errors which should have been amended during routine editing.

    Scholastically, your research is wonderful but incomplete. Your sources appear to be primarily native Americans; their reliability as eyewitnesses is tenuous, yet you fail to even mention this fact. Many of these testimonies were provided years after the battle, at a time when memories tend to obfuscate the realities.

    Sorry for the criticism. Or, as you so eloquently wrote, “Deal with it.” Seriously, did your teenage son write this for a class?

    • gene Moore says:

      As a former Hospital Corpsman and American Indian buff I find it interesting that a Maine would question the veracity of the elite warriors that fought at the Greasy Grass.
      As I am sure that you are aware, History is written by the victors. In this particular battle, that was the warriors of the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe.
      Custer, like Fetterman years before, seriously underestimated the caliber and determination of his enemies, with predictable results. his only previous experience with attacking an Indian village occurred on the Washita in what is now Oklahoma. The village he attacked was under the leadership of Black Kettle, a well-known peace advocate among the Cheyenne and a survivor of Chivington’s atrocities at Sand Creek in Colorado.
      When facing capable and determined fighting men and boys defending their homes and families, Custer got his ass handed to him.

  3. Joakim Casemyr says:

    I have to say that I was very interested when I first saw this article but have to agree with above posters. I was rather disappointed by the way it was written and the rhetoric used.

    I have read many history books over the years and many articles on this site. I’m afraid this article is sub par to anything I have read so far.

    My instincts asked me if it was april first.

  4. Ron Atley says:

    I, too, agree with the other posters. This article is trite at best, and I’m rather shocked that it would even be published on this site. I don’t think I’ll bother to look at this site in the future.

  5. CDB says:

    One additional myth often posed about this battle-The Indians used bows and arrows, with Custer’s men better armed with rifles. The fact that many of the indians were armed with better weapons (some with repeating arms) and outnumbered their blue coated foes were the primary factors in the battle’s outcome. The poor performance of the black powder cartridges that the cavalrymen used, and the unfortunate tendancy of their single shot spencers to jam when hot (brass couldn’t be extracted after firing) contributed to the problems faced by the troopers. BTW, If Custer’s tactics were as good as the author portrays here…why did he lose?

    • Robert Dean says:

      Sorry to correct you CDB, but the Spencer was a seven shot repeating rifle, not a single shot. And while a few soldiers may have had a Spencer carbine most of these soldiers were carrying the Springfield and Sharp’s single shot carbines. And it was the Springfield that was notorious for jamming when trying to eject the shell. This was time consuming as the soldiers had to dig the shell out with a knife.

      • RobertKLR says:

        When I was issued my M-16 way back in the ’70s I was told by “experts” it was a jammer and was unreliable yet it performed flawlessly and never let me down. Yet whenever I relate that I’m always accused of not being smart enough to know a good rifle from a bad rifle (yet I qualified as an expert rifleman in the Marines 4 years in a row). Fact is I never saw an M-16 fail to perform. I think the “knife digging thing” with the Springfield rifles was because some soldiers had poor habits when caring for their rifles. As for the Indians and their guns Nelson Miles and others pointed out the Indians didn’t even try to take care of their guns since very few ever had any training on how to do that and there were very few people who could or would repair an Indian’s rifle. They would use them till they quit then go beg, borrow, buy or steal another. Miles also pointed out the Indians’ lack of skill at long range shooting (beyond 200 yds) and how they never had any training at that either. Miles used the poor long range marksmanship of the Indians against them by always trying to engage them beyond that distance and the tactic was very successful. The Indians would expend a lot of their ammo shooting at the dirt and never coming close to hitting anything else.

      • Richard H. says:

        The M-16 you were issued in the 1970 was not of the original specification issued in 1963. Yours had the improve chamber. Specifically the chroming of the chamber. They did that due to extensive issues with cartridge retraction. Then they implemented a heavy cleaning program as there were still issues with carbon buildup under heavy rapid fire. So, your premise is incorrect.

      • robertklr says:

        @ Richard H. … My M16 had no chrome chamber. You make no sense.

      • Richard H. says:

        RobertKLR said: “My M16 had no chrome chamber. You make no sense.”

        Well Sir, it really does not matter if you don’t think the extensively documented history of the M16 makes sense to you or not. The issues with extraction and the eventual chroming of the chamber in 1968 (and later the entire bore) are well documented.the real issues was caused by a powder problem but chroming the chamber was part of the cure. As I stated, eventually they would also chrome the bore but that was about corrosion issues. If this was 1970 it is almost guaranteed that your rifle had it too as all m16 were to have been done by then. Who knows, maybe they had not gotten around to yours. lol As you think my comment “makes no sense” it is simply more likely you just don’t know what you are talking about. Anyone who truly knows the history of the M16 certainly knows what a chrome lined chamber is and why it was utilized. How about you just read up on it…try google. Or does learning of what you speak “make no sense”?

      • Gene Moore says:

        The problem with the Spencer extracting was not due to a fault in the rifle, it was due to the ammunition that the men had been issued. The cartridge cases were made of a softer metal, a copper alloy, rather than brass. The shells would stick in the bore of the rifle because of the black powder residue left behind from previous shots. The very good extractor for the Spencer was strong enough to rip off the head of the cartridge case, leaving a tube of casing in the chamber, preventing another cartridge from being loaded in the chamber until the stuck tube of metal was removed. Not something a trooper needed to be trying to repair during the battle.

    • Gene Moore says:

      The problem with the M-16 was also partially an ammunition problem. Initially, the rounds were loaded with the same kind of gunpowder used in the M-14. This caused a problem with the gas-operated cycling system since the powder did not burn as efficiently in this application. The original AR-15, the rifle that the M-16 was derived from, originally had a chromed bore and chamber. Kennedy’s Whiz Kids didn’t understand the purpose of the chroming and eliminated it as a cost saving measure. The combination of the wrong propellant type and the arrogance of politicians are what caused the stoppages with the M-16, not any design flaw by Stoner.

  6. WAYNE FLINT says:


  7. napi mclendon says:

    you have been talking about the battle of the greasey grass,and assume that the oral history of whites is horrable,so indian oral history must be worse,,,biggates

  8. Frank Eskridge says:

    I am a little taken aback by the strongly negative comments on this article. I found it to be interesting and informative, and I did not see the grammatical errors that one commentator mentioned. I agree that the term “Custerphobe,” was probably inappropriate in the context of a “myth buster”-style discourse that purports to set the record straight, since it suggests the author has an agenda. It would have been nice to have a map or two so that one could see the locations referenced. Otherwise, good job.

  9. Monette Bebow-Reinhard says:

    I too agree with most people here. As someone studying and putting together my own article on what went wrong and why Custer lost, I felt this article lost the mark on many levels. The biggest problem was, as noted, that Custer did everything right, but no reflection on why he lost. I suggest in my article that the loss was deliberately calculated by the government as a whole – or for those who hate conspiracy theories – that the government was too stupid to know how many Indians had combined in protection of the Black Hills. Custer believed all the reports at the time that there would be no more than 800 to 1,000 Indians out there and felt he could make them run, the way he always had. He was wrong, this time.

    By the way any Indian version is as valid as any white’s. But they relate things differently, each with a different perspective. That has to be taken into account.

  10. Bill Jordan says:

    I believe Spencers were actually repeating rifles…Custer’s troops were probably armed with a mix of Springfields, Sharps and perhaps a few Remington Rolling Blocks…these were indeed single shots and very prone to jamming…particularly when overheated from rapid firing.
    Regards from a retired Cavalry Colonel, and former troop commander in 4/7th Cavalry, Korea, 1973…Garry Owen

    • Alan Johnson says:

      Custer’s troops were armed with the 1873 Springfield trap-door, breech-loading, single-shot carbine, and the Colt 45 pistol. A few officers had their personal weapons with them. Also First Sergeant John Ryan, had his own rifle. The 7th carried Sharps in the 1860s. But in the 1870s, the Army changed to the Springfield.

  11. Ross says:

    There are obviously some commenters on here who don’t know a thing about the so-called “Custer’s Last Stand”. If you don’t know how Custer lost after all the literature on him, then you shouldn’t be commenting.

    I’m sure this article was written for people of all ages. That would include grade school children. But, then, there are some on here who don’t know why Custer lost that probably benefitted by the simplicity of the article. Maybe the will go on to read something at a bit higher level.

  12. Ken Stasiak says:

    I was very open to a “New” idea reguarding the 28 odd missing bodies of deep ravine, and was hop9ing Greg Michno’s book could have been better developed. When you have vivid recollections from Benteen, McDougal, and others stating emphatically that they saw and counted those men lying in a heap at the bottom of such a steep-sided ravine, and a trail of dead leading right to it, it is indeed a far cry to try to establish them being covered in somthing as shallow as cemetary ravine. Sorry Greg, I think you are way out -of -bounds on this one and just wanted to get out another book.

  13. William Hale says:

    Custer did everything right, he used the best tactics and he surprised the indians, in a village that you state categorically was not unconquerable, yet somehow your brilliant lt col not only got himself killed(which is his right) but he got all of his men killed uselessly. How can you possibly square those things up?

    By the way, the village WAS unconquerable for both Reno AND Custer, the facts have proven that to everyone except a Custer-phile like the author.

  14. Ken Stasiak says:

    There are some who feel that Custer may have been killed or seriously wounded on the onset of the fight causing severe demoralization. It is a picture most of us “Custer” buffs can’t grasp.I think the village could have been captured,or should I say the non-combatants could have been taken, and that is probably what drew Custer’s contingent so far to the north. Custer was probably at first elated when Reno was occupying the fighting men at the south end of the Villiage. He thought he had smooth sailing!What could the warriors have done if the wives,children and old ones were surrounded by armed cavalrymen? Picture the Indian’s exodus of flight, and Custer’s men persuing them until they themselves were swallowed up by really angry warriors.

  15. Ann says:

    Willaim, according to Kill Eagle (an Indian in the Camp of Sitting Bull), a man named Ridgely (a white captive who witnessed the battle) and Curly the Upsaroka scout…the battle began at two o’clock and continued until the sun went down behind the hills.
    Custer lived until nearly all his men were killed or wounded(the last man killed reported to have been Adjutant Cook who rode a white horse). Custer took a bullet to the left side and sat down pistol in hand: another shot struck him and he fell over. He was apparenly not wounded prior to the first shot to the side since Curly went to him in a lull in the fighting when he saw that the party was to be entirely cut to pieces, he approached the General begged that he would permit him to show a way of escape which his powerful thoroughbred could easily have aided him to accomplish. Custer dropped his head upon his breast and after a moment of thought looked at Curly, motioned him away with his hand and went back to die with his men. Had he been wounded I beleive Curly would have mentioned it. In addition, concerning weapons. Custer refused General Terry’s offer of a battery of Gatling guns, saying it might embarrass him.

    He was basically intending to hold position until the rest of Gen.Terry’s, Gen. Crook’s and Colonel Gibbon’s forces arrived. Reportedly, Terry’s troops numbered 600 cavalry and 400 enfantry. Crook’s troops consisted of 47 officers, and 1000 men. Gibbon marched with 450 cavalry and infantry. Had Reno and Benteen done their duty it is quite probable the the Indians could have been kept in check until General Terry arrived.
    Apparently, they had enough man and fire power to prevail…but Shit Happens.

    • Longjohn says:

      Custer got his ass whooped because he was riding down on women and children living in peace in a camp on their own lands which were not ceded … This was the summer camp for our Religious Rites that had just concluded

      75 years later and he’d have been charged with a War Crime although he’d already would have been in prison for his War Crimes at Washita …

  16. Roger Borroel says:

    From this article it seems that the “battle” was just a rout till the last of Custer’s troopers reached the end of the ridge. Hmmm….seems a lot like the Alamo “battle” where almost half of the Alamo “garrsison”(about 125 “defenders”) jumped the walls of the Alamo compound into the surrounding countryside, only to be killed by Mexican lancers!

  17. Charlie Eyster says:

    I have to agree with most of Michno’s article. However, as I have come to realize from my 3 visits to the battlefield and reading some 40 books on the subject. No one has the answer to what really happened, but many have theories about what happened. One big question that has not been answered for me is why one of the most respected and bravest and aggressive calvary soldier in the Civil War never actually attacked the village. And as a disciplanarian why his 5 troops were so unorganized in the end. One answer for me is that Custer was incapacitated at Medicine Tail Coulee ford. Probably with the chest wound . This had a ripple affect on the command and resulted in little evidence of an organized defense by the command other than at Calhoun Hill. I know that many have Custer not part of the troops approaching MTC ford, but what else other that Custer going down could have stopped the attack on the village. Particularily since by all Indian accounts the ford was lightly defended. And where better to divide the warriors from the rest of the village fleeing.

    • Alan Johnson says:

      There is no evidence that Custer was killed early, save a little bir of testimony about a buckskin clad man shot at MTC. Virtually all the officers wore buckskin. Custer had buckskin pants, but a blue shirt.

      But the biggest evidence that Custer did not die early is that his body was found with headquarters. Keogh was senior captain and would have assumed command if Custer were killed or incapacitated. Yet Keogh was found with his Company I. There were experienced officers and NCOs with Custer’s command. Death of a commander does not render his men leaderless and useless.

      In addition, brass casings from Custer’s Remington were found with his body, a strong indication he was fighting from that position. A few were collected and given to Libby Custer.

  18. John Koster says:

    I found Greg Michno’s article on the Ten Mistakes about the Little Bighorn to be an excellent introduction to the subject and — obviously — a springboard to controversy. Two contributions of my own to some of Michno’s detractors: Ridgely, who claimed he saw the battle, was obviously lying — he was cutting hay in a different part of Montana on June 25 and his account is ludicrous in parts. Ridgely has the Lakota burning six captives alive and claims that Sitting Bull was a half-breed — both nonsense; Curley the Crow scout never got anywhere near Custer Hill. Curly told Walter Mason Camp — and Curley’s relatives confirmed to me almost a century later — that he left the column at the same time as Daniel Kanipe, Custer’s next-to-last messenger, and well before Giovanni Martini, Custer’s final messenger. Conversely I think that the 28 dead men found in the Deep Ravine were pretty much evidential fact. Leaving out the question of the “last ditch,” the rest of Michno’s article is just about perfect. My entire research staff concurs — well researched, well written, a solid contribution to “Wild West.”

  19. Aja Barnett says:

    I am a high school senior and I guess you would say a history geek. I have read historical books throughout my lifetime and I would have to agree with other commentors. The article’s narrative voice is TO strong.

    In historical articles, one has to watch what he says and presents BOTH sides of the agrument. One also has to take in account that Native Americans never wrote their history down; they would tell their children or their children’s children. AND there are over thousands of Native Americans languages alone, so translation could’ve been lost and other things.

    This article is good, but there should be both sides of the argument and it’s very opinionated which is a bad thing in an artcile.

    Please excuse my spelling mistakes ^_^

  20. John Koster says:

    NB — “Thousands” of American Indian languages is mild hyperbole — there were probably about 300 in the days of Eurpean contact. Only three — Lakota, Cheyenne, Crow and Arikara — would have been a factor at the Little Bighorn.Also, worth noting is that Little Bighorn accounts were generally told to officers or reporters within the participant’s lifetime — many errors came not from the Indians but with reporters trying for a bigger headline. One problem that does exist is the each Indian tended to describe his own part in the fighting rather than trying for a comprehensive picture. The archeology of Richard Fox and Doug Scott broadly confirms the accuracy of what the Indians had to say. The shady stories about a “Siouz ambush”, grass braided together and visual descriptions of Custer’s Last Moments came mostly from white pe0ple who weren’t there.

  21. Dale Decker says:

    Personally, I found the article to be too the point. That said, it would have reflected better on the author and this magazine had the sarcasm and rather juvenile comments (ie: Deal with it, etc) been deleted before the article went to press.

    What I also find interesting is that there appears to be 2 main schools of thought: Those who love Custer and those who despise him. Even after all this time, anything written about Custer or the Little Big Horn is sure to get some response.

    While not a bad thing by itself, it also can be as detrimental to those who are merely seeking the truth as totally discounting the Indian accounts on one hand, and totally discounting the whites accounts on the other. My guess is the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

  22. PETER says:

    I have been studying the general since I was an impassioned boy. I am 51 now and have written several academic papers on the man since. One particular question continues to plague me : why has so little been made of Renos intoxication in the feild, as was testified to in the militarys investigation of the days events? In what appears to be one of the most critical moments of the day, Reno lost the battlefeild initiative and subsequently ignorred repeated commands from Custers order for packs/support and Capt. Thompsons plea to heed them with his own column. As with any calamity, the buck stops at the bosses feet. And Custer was in charge. But the military swept a great deal under the rug at the time to not tarnish the images of many still in the regiment. We all tend to focus so much on Custer on that day because of his aura. But he was, even with the civil war record he had, ultimately human, and was colosally failed that day by the two men he required his own zeal and tenacity from–Reno & Benteen. I’ve always wondered why Custer kept Benteen in his command as well. The man loathed his leader and that is a cancer in an army unit. All their fault? Of course not. Could they have made a major difference? Obviously. The reconstruction of june 25th 1876 on the Little Bighorn River begins with motives, just like any current investigation. Find the truth by following the particapents motives and witnesses records. The rest is forensics. The complete picture is probably one that lines up everything that possibly could go wrong in the chain of command, and ultimately did. Churchill said that all the best laid plans of battle dissolve in seconds once the fray has begun. The only thing that keeps it from falling apart is unit cohesion. But then, if that had happened Custer may have become president, as many know. THAT is where any sane man would have drawn the line….LOL….

    • Clark Wilkins says:

      I may be six years late with your answer but Reno’s intoxication on the field had little to do with his decision making. He was a highly experienced soldier and understood the flaw of Custer’s plan and had no faith in it before he even crossed the creek. A correct West Point advance would have placed Benteen on the left with three companies, Reno in the center with three companies, and Keogh (or Yates) on the right with three companies leaving Custer in the rear behind Reno with three companies and the pack train as the “strategic reserve”. It would have allowed Custer to support the advance of either Benteen, Reno, or Keogh/Yates as needed. This was not done and Reno knew it wasn’t done. Instead, Custer took the reserve and went off on his own attack on the right with Yates/Keogh. This was completely unsound. Clearly Reno discussed with Custer this lack of a strategic reserve because he left with Custer’s assurance that he would “support him with the whole outfit”. And Reno was not so stupid as to believe Custer. Reno had his adjutant, Hogeson, assigned to Company B which escorted the pack train. Company B was not part of Reno’s command but a part of Custer’s command and is why Custer’s command numbered five companies instead of six.

      There appears to have an argument between Custer and Reno over Company B and which of them would control it. Both officers seem to have seen Company B as their own personal strategic reserve. It was placed pretty much halfway between them but that was not enough for Reno. He had his adjutant assigned as it’s second officer. He clearly understood Custer might order it up to support him (Which Custer did.). To prevent that, he had his adjutant assigned to Company B.

      In the end, both officers ordered Company B and the pack train to support them but with Reno winning out.

      Therefore, Reno understood that the only help he had behind him was Company B and that it might not be there. He conducted his command accordingly. Twice, the Indians showed up on his left flank, once in the field and once in the timber. Both times he went into immediate retreat in order to prevent himself from being surrounded which, if that happened, Company B would neither arrive in time (if at all) or with with sufficient force for rescue. Faced with that, Reno was in full reverse in just 25 minutes. Was he drunk?

      If he was, he knew EXACTLY what to do. He crossed the creek to create a defensive obstacle and then took the highest defensive ground, executing both perfectly. And then he ordered Company B and the pack train to join him when Benteen knew that Custer had ordered it.

      He then kept Benteen with him and ordered Captain Weir not to assist Custer. Was he a coward or was he doing to Custer exactly what Custer was trying to do to him – Only he did it first and more successfully?

      • Clark Wilkins says:

        Correction: Although Hodgson was from Company B and he was its second officer and he was Reno’s adjutant, he was actually with Reno and not with Company B and the pack train.

  23. Jeff Helmer says:

    Having been employed as an interpretive ranger at the site for 10years, I had the opportunity to both meet Mr. Michno and discuss the myths that he advances.

    While many of you may not like his rather brusque approach, no two people (including all Sioux and Cheyenne participants) saw the total action, and could not be on all parts of the field at one time. Mr. Michno offers the most plausible analysis circumstances of the pertinent event.

    Actions were occurring simulatenously on Calhoun Ridge, Calhoun Hill, and the Keogh sector (among many), and with black powder smoke, screaming, and loose animals running amok, I defy anyone (this includes Custer and Crazy Horse) to give me exact information on what specifically was happening with any of the subordinate commands or bodies of warriors.

    Mr. Michno illustrates, if you read it, that a commander makes decisions based upon the information known to him at the time, or in a very fluid action like the Little Bighorn, what some of his scouts thought the village was doing, where it was going, etc. In retrospect, some of it looks foolish, but at the time the decision was rendered, it was made on sound reasoning.

    Custer was playing a dangerous hand on 25 June 1876, and there was little latitude for failure. I assume that at least one of has made a decision in your own life (based upon the best information and research available), that later bit you in the ass. Or are you all smothered in millions from your winnings on the stock market?

    • joe says:

      good one!

      • D says:

        I’ve read this article several times over now and must say I don’t agree with how some of these people are commenting.(Including the one that comments about the “grammatical” errors.) I think this is one of the better articles on Custer.

  24. David Welch says:

    Custer’s biggest mistake was not accepting the offer of taking four companies of the 4th Cavalry with him. It would have augmented his force by about 200 troopers. In addition, the 4th would have been eager for a fight and formed an aggressive battalion, perhaps even being sent on “the scout” that Benteen took his lazy time on. You can bet that if Benteen and Reno where BOTH attacking the village with six companies instead of three while Custer circled behind the initial attack wouldn’t have cut and run so fast. Plus, the 4th would have had employed much more haste in getting to the field of combat.

    That said, let’s give the Native Americans credit. They were fighting to protect the lives of their old people, women and children. They fought hard and well in terrain perfectly suited to their style of fightinng. But Custer did surpirse the camp not once but twice. A larger attacking force with reinforcements arriving 30 minutes sooner might have just tipped the balance in Custer’s favor and allowed him to capture a large group of fleeing non-combatants, thus ending the battle with a lot fewer troppers being killed and a lot fewer Native Americans getting killed and harassed until the following spring.

  25. Muhamad says:

    Most of this makes no sense. Of course there was a “Last Stand” no matter who named it that as described in your own article. We you flee so far, turn to fight because you can’t go any further THAT is your last stand.
    Lt. Rose got to the battle ground 5 years after the fact; how do you with any good sense take the number he gave as being in the revine as the acurate body count? That’s just stupid.

  26. marshall schultz says:

    I think this was a wonderful, very informitive article. The light of truth is yet to be shined on this tragic time in our history.
    A cover up? Definatly. Avoidable? Absolutly, but before the job is givin to the army. The one thing here in this article that jumps out at me is just how close Custer came to “winning”! But for a couple of incidents that could have gone either way, the battle was lost. ( this one among many others) In my opinion factors were as follows: Indian bravery and fighting prowess, Reno’s cowardice, Benteen’s hatred, lack of tactical cohesion on the part of the troopers due in large part to poor training and too many
    “feriners”! Custers ego, and lastly destiny! Weaponry was not an issue. The 7th was armed to the teeth

  27. jack hamar says:

    Hey. It doesn’t matter. The Indians won. I salute them. Nobody will ever know or care exactly when Custer bought it. He was a putz, bottom of his class, in love with himself. Stop glorifying him. Get a life. You people, whose grammar and spelling is atrocious, I might add, probably dress up in 7th Calvary outfits every weekend to play make believe like little six year olds. He deserved to die just as much as Jesse James or Billy the Kid deserved to die. Unless you were actually there I don”t care to hear your opinions because that is all they are.

    • Alan Johnson says:

      LOL, you are 61 years too late to talk to someone who was “there.” I imagine many would find your pursuits to be juvenile, too. And for what reason were you reading posts on this forum, if you found them so trivial?

  28. NorPlains says:

    Jack-o…it’s Cavalry, not Calvary…ugh.


    “One additional myth often posed about this battle-The Indians used bows and arrows, with Custer’s men better armed with rifles. The fact that many of the indians were armed with better weapons (some with repeating arms) and outnumbered their blue coated foes were the primary factors in the battle’s outcome. The poor performance of the black powder cartridges that the cavalrymen used, and the unfortunate tendancy of their single shot spencers to jam when hot (brass couldn’t be extracted after firing) contributed to the problems faced by the troopers. BTW, If Custer’s tactics were as good as the author portrays here…why did he lose?”

    By CDB on Mar 10, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    The standard issue rifle for Custer’s troopers were .45-55 (.45-70) single-shot Springfield carbines. They were indeed loaded with 55 grains of black powder. Black powder is very fouling and it is conceivable that after firing many rounds they may have had functioning problems. As another poster above noted, some few may have had Sharps single-shots and it is reported that Custer himself may have had his Remington rolling block which I believe was in .50-70 caliber, which was the standard military cartridge before the adaptation of the .45-70. The Indians had everything from bows and arrows to Sharps single-shots to muzzle-loading muskets to repeating Winchesters, Henrys, and Spencers. All BTW loaded with black powder cartridges. Generally, I think the Indians had more firepower. And of course they had wayyy more in numbers of combatants. Even the best laid plans and strategy is not enough if you are so significantly outnumbered and outgunned. CDB actually answers his own question within his post.

    For what I consider the best theory as to how the Custer part of the battle unfolded, his movements, his strategy, and finally, a movement that he made based on his interpretation of the troops he saw on Weir Point, which most probably caused the unraveling of his command, read the book: Sole Survivor, by Douglas W. Ellison. In his book it is Mr Ellison’s contention that it was actually 1st Lt. Algernon Smith (Co. E) who was shot at Medicine Tail Coulee. And yes Mich Bouyer sent Curley away before the Custer fighting began, although he was able to later report Custer’s movements prior to his leaving.

  29. doug hogan says:

    i agree with the people who reacted negatively to the several “deal with it” comments. this type of writing is extremely off-putting, even if the author is correct in his analysis.

    one analysis of the battle that i read stated that a major reason for the defeat was that cavalry is almost useless once it is fighting on foot (1 out of 4 troopers has to hold horses) and that the terrain worked against the 7th because of all the ridges and gullies.

    i think that we should rely heavily on physical evidence in analyzing the battle — eye-witness testimony is often unreliable.

    every military person involved, including custer, made decisions that can be seen as mistakes in retrospect. However, the general who finally defeated the sioux respected custer when he realized that custer was one of the few men in that sector who actively pursued the indians.

  30. doug hogan says:

    the general who was quoted about custer was gen. nelson miles, one of our great military leaders. he basically mopped up the sioux after custer’s defeat.
    despite all of the criticisms of custer’s tactics, the main difficulty the US army faced was in trying to catch up to the indians, who were generally more mobile. custer’s tactics were based on this viewpoint — his main fear was that the sioux would get away, not stand and fight.

    gen. miles defeated the sioux by persistently following and attacking them during the winter time, when the indians lost their mobility.

  31. Kenneth Mark Hoover says:

    I find it amusing how so many people are quick to denigrate eye-witness testimony and accounts from Native Americans who were actually at the battle, while clinging desperately to their cherished hokum about this battle.

    Just because historical fact challenges your Hollywood-myth belief-system coupled with white approbation, doesn’t make it any less accurate. Historical fact isn’t interested in your feelings or what you think is right or what should be.

    You are entitled to your own opinions, you are not entitled to your own facts. This article lays out in detail myths that have been perpetuated throughout the years. If that upsets your world-view, well, too bad. Get over it.


  32. Chris Kent says:

    Some excellent sustenance Mr. Michno and much to chew on. Ten is a good number and will capture one’s attention, though not convinced 2-3 of these myths remain at the level you insist. But one must have 10, and 10 you produce.

    I have no problems with the flippant comments closing several of your myths, as I’ve read enough blogs and Internet articles to know such attitudes are the norm. It antagonizes, rattles and polarizes. I’ve read 10-15 books on this battle and assume others have a similar level of knowledge on this historic event. But after reading several comments above, I realize I am once again wrong. Several of the myths bandied about, which must date back to the 19th century, are cartoonish in level, revealing a complete lack of understanding on this engagement and the Native Americans who participated. White captives witnessing the Last Stand, some burned at the stake while children fired red hot arrows into their bodies, is the stuff of blood thirsty pulp fiction and Lone Ranger radio serials.

    Anyway, the image of Crazy Horse riding north, gathering warriors as he rode along like an ever increasing, deadly snowball preparing to smash Custer’s foray, is part of the legend of this battle capturing the imagination of students and tourists. The image is one of several reasons this battle fascinates the world. We can scoff and snort and sneer at the portrait, but without it, would people be as interested in this 1876 event? Would as many people buy your books? Which Native American accounts do we believe and which do we throw away? And why?

    You mention this extraordinary encampment of militant warriors was not unconquerable, and yet, were they conquered? Crook retreated after the Rosebud battle, and all indications were he was rattled to the bone. He certainly did not conquer them. Reno retreated to a hilltop and was close to being routed before Benteen’s arrival, so he did not conquer them. Custer and all of his men were cut, shot and beat down within an hour. He most certainly did not conquer them. So the very fact they carried the week and the day without defeat, means they were, in fact, unconquerable.

    Custer may have indeed made some very strong and intelligent military moves while on the battlefield. And yet, if he had made strong and intelligent moves, shouldn’t he have been successful? The fact he and every man with him were killed is evidence his decisions were poor. He underestimated the size of this enormous camp, evidence of this being his fateful decision to separate his men prior to battle. Furthermore, surprising the camp in such a manner, if anything sealed his doom. The Native Americans instinctively reacted, attacked and swarmed, thus Custer was routed quickly.

    I’ve read so much information on what his scouts did or did not say I grow dizzy from all the conflicting information. By most accounts, these scouts were terrified and knew the size of this village was considerable. To attack at midday, when men and horses were exhausted from a fast, overnight march, and then to separate his men in such a fashion, was foolhardy. It’s hard to imagine scouts would have recommended such action. And there were so many scouts, some fighting, others not, that I suspect there were as many opinions as teepees on the river. Custer attacked this village as if he was reliving Washita. But this encampment was 10 times the size of that village. And as historical results show, it was indeed unconquerable.

    I could go on with several additional points you’ve made in your attempt to revise not only the legend, but many facts. No matter. You have written some interesting points – many of which are false – and in several cases you have sculpted a picture to fit your needs. Such is the fascination of this battle. This is still good work.

  33. Vitalij says:

    With so much conflicting information I cannot how you can take the stand you have?

    Indigenous and none Indigenous, victor and the vanquished, all make conflicting accounts of what happened.

    Regards to blame as C/O Custer is to blame. If the fate of Custer instead had been the fate of Reno, Custer would have been blamed. I can remember senior staff saying that IF Custer had survived he would have been court martialed.

    As C/O I can only see Custer at fault for the overall command and preparation.

    1) It was he who had his command rush to LBH, tiring man and horse alike.

    2) He had no idea how much he had pushed man and horse because he always had a spare during a march, a luxury other ranks did not have.

    3) He made the decision to attack. OK his intention, it is said, is to wait until next day but his advisers said to attack now (this has puzzled me for some time…for it seems although the scouts etc are said to have advised an early attack,,,they also seemed reticent about attacking at all..preparations for possible death were made by many)

    4) He did not support Reno with the whole outfit, as he said he would.

    5) His eventual deployment was to spread out to provide effective fire and support.

    6) His battalion assignments meant that there could be no real mutual support between himself and the Reno/Benteen Battalions.

    7) People criticize the other two battalions for not marching to the sound of the gunfire? Is this not what Custer did? When Reno was engaging was not Custer seen in the distance traveling AWAY from Reno? Should he not have traveled to the sound of Reno’s guns?

    8) Custer let his ego overtake common sense. The Indians would have waited, even if they struck camp there was enough troops in the field to deal with it. Sure warriors on ponies travel fast…but women and children do not…that is all the troops really needed!!!

    It is my belief that Custer intended to let Reno get the bloody nose while he captured the women and children…who obviously would head away from the Reno attack. In fact there are tales of Sitting Bull running away with his family at this point.

    Hammer and anvil people say? I think the reason Custer was seen riding away was because his intent was to capture the women and children.

    If he had no intention of supporting Reno then why say he would? If he changed his plan he should be telling his battalion commanders.

    I believe as the village was stretched out longer then Custer believed, he had further to travel to operate his capture plan. Meaning he was getting further from any support he may need.

    Because of the length of the village I think the Custer end of it may have only just started moving out to attack Reno, so when Custer got there it was not just women and children…maybe not a lot of warriors but enough to get Custer thinking and be delayed. Maybe he realized that his 210 guys couldn’t escort a few thousand women and children.

    Washita was probably in the back of the Native American minds, so when word reached the other end of the camp no doubt they thought that the troops were after the women and children.

    This prevented Reno from being annihilated but meant Mr Custer had to contend with a mighty, mobile army, who knew the terrain and used the long grass and brush as effective camouflage.

    Much is made of lack of ammunition, in the blame Benteen culture. Custers battalion had about 210 x 100 rounds between them of carbine ammo. That’s 21,000 rounds plus something like 24 pistols rounds a man at 5,040 rounds in his Battalion.

    Now obviously men died and Native Americans did pick up guns and ammo. Also many horses were lost with up to 50 rounds a man lost. But just to say that if every round of the 21,000 rounds of carbine ammo were exhausted in this 3 hour battle you speak of..that gives a rate of fie of 116 RPM for the whole command or 1 round every 1.8 minutes for the individual trooper. Research has shown me that a competent troop could fire 10 RPM meaning all the ammunition, including that on the horse…would give him 10 minutes of continuous fire.

    If ammunition were an issue then the battle could not have lasted 3 hours. For close quarters all they had was maybe knife and a Springfield or Colt club!!!

    The battlefield archaeology suggests that about 3% of cartridges were found to have been ‘jammed’ and manually ejected. However, I do wonder if accounts of soldiers holding up their carbines was more about a jammed weapon used as a club? I would suspect that in the later part of the battle fighting was the most intense so weapons would jam more frequently and…here’s a thought….if the warriors were in number and very close you would not have time to clear it…you club one warrior, one kills you and takes your jammed weapon. It maybe the only time it jammed in the whole battle..but we will never know. I think it telling that after LBH the cases went over to brass :(

    Of course it is possible that Custer went somewhere for a picnic, then came back 2 3/4 hours later and fired off all the ammo!!! But there is no way 100 rounds would allow a troop to shoot for 3 hours in an intense life or death fight.

    Personally, I do not think it was a complete immediate destruction I think he rode around and tried to find a way out of it.

    As for a last stand. Stupid point. Any battle surely has the last of the command realizing that they are about to die, so make good account. Even when Varus and three Legions were defeated by Arminius, the last few guys out of 20,000 fought and fought until the Germanic tribes let them go with honor.

    Almost any battle you research you find an area of rout and an area of a stand..or two. I read a Native American account that said there were 5 ‘stands’, which I always thought they fell by the company?

    As for Benteen and Reno. Benteen did ask Martini for more information regarding Cookes message but his English was not to good. I know the Custerphiles say this is an excuse!!! Regardless of what anyone else thought the message read, it is what Benteen thought it to mean. Bring packs? What the pack train? Or just ammo? I am unsure of the weight of the .45 55 (or 70) but a contemporary weapon the Martini Henry used by the British gave a total ammo weight of 4.8 kg per 100 rounds, so at that sort of figure the total ammo reserve was @ 50 rounds a man is over a 1,000 US pounds…just for Custers Battalion!!

    I have always assumed that it meant take the pack animals with the ammo to Custer….but if it is supposed to mean Benteen take the ammo, then with his own reserve getting close to 2,000 pounds of munitions had to be carried. Also I believe they are carried in boxed stores? How are they carried on a horse? However you look at it, to carry extra weight maybe 10lbs a horse, who were very tired animals by now seems crazy…especially given that they left sabers behind as too much weight.

    Whatever Benteens motives for not joining Custer, if Custer with FIVE companies couldn’t reinforce Reno (as Custer said he would) or make his way through the Warriors, what chance would a smaller command of THREE companies (maybe 4 with B in attendance) have traveling through the warriors, burdened by either extra ammunition weight or slow mules?

    If the Custer fight was the ordered disciplined event it is said to be and his battalion were an efficient fighting force, in a defensive position, why did he lose? If Custer, allegedly a better officer, with more troops than Benteen couldn’t hold off the Indians how could a moving Benteen?

    Fact is the same warriors who beat Custer, fought the so called inferior Benteen, Reno command. They survived and he didn’t. I believe they weighed up the situation and made a good fortified defense. Tactically they done the best they could with what they had.

    Custer had his troops too spread out for fire support and concentration. They were to far away from other battalion support. People say he was just ’15 minutes gallop away’. Yes but Benteen had a 1,000 plus warriors in the way!!!

    I believe Benteen did not know where Custer was, went to Reno, saw the situation and decided to stay put. Of course there is talk about hearing the Custer fight and not going to aid him. The guy was miles away, with warriors between them and him. When Weir went out they realized it was over by then.

    Custer had disregarded orders many times before, like some say Benteen did. Custer also left men behind to their own fate, as they say Benteen did.

    Does anyone seriously think that Benteen deliberately left Custer to die?

    If Benteen and Reno were flawed it is up to their commander to whip them in shape…and know how much he can trust them. If he couldn’t trust them surely wouldn’t they had been better where he could keep his eye on them?

    They do say Custer had mood swings and maybe that is indicative of some psychological issue? He certainly seemed a different man at officers briefings towards the end.

    He wanted glory, live or dead I believe. There was a reason why the columns were due to link up together…the number of hostiles expected.

    I know Terry gave Custer a bit of a free reign…but was there not an instruction telling him NOT to split his command?

    I do believe that there is a lot of the story we are not being told…but it is not the tale of rivalry and betrayal between US 7th officers.

    I believe that the weapon choice was an issue, especial copper cases. The Springfield was a good rifle but I think its main reason for acquisition was saving ammo and cheapness….a lot of them were just conversions of older weapons.

    Also marksmanship and shooter training was practically none existent, this taken into account of the fact that many shooters aim high…and rolling terrain makes it difficult to judge range.

    Carbines had no bayonet (nor ramrod!!) and with no saber all the troops had was a club!!! The pistols, being gate loaded were pretty much pointless at close quarters…having to gate eject and reload after discharging…accounts do tell of troops firing six and throwing them away a picking up the carbine, as it was quicker than holstering the pistol…leave alone loading it!!!

    I do think that Benteen, Reno and Weir had more to say, than they did…but what is speculation. Weir puzzles me. He died a shocked, distraught alcoholic shortly after if I remember? After he went out to look for Custer…he made his observations returned with the others and we hear no more of him. What did he see that so shocked him? Was it the realization that Custer, whom he highly regarded, was in the final stages of defeat and the realization that had they gone to join him it may have been his fate to. Or was he haunted because he didn’t join him?

    It is indeed a very interesting tale..whatever the truth of it…..it is a shame Commanche couldn’t talk!!! I find equal fascination with the British defeat at Islandlwana. I do hope to visit either or both fields one day…

    You know what gets me is that each time there is a documentary or book on LBH it is always polarized with a viewpoint, with selective quoting. Wouldn’t it be nice to get advocates of most major theories together and talk through what they do and do not agree with? Hmmm could be another battle though !!!

  34. veritas says:

    While I agree that the author could be scholarly in his tone, many of the poster seem just as guilty in their response. If the author is a Custer defender, then many of the posters seem to me to be History Channel Revisionist.

    My main point oif agreement with the author is regarding the “archeology” of Dr. Fox. Mr. Foxs analysis is impressive, it should be highly valued, BUT it can not be take as Gospel. If this were a crime scene rather than a battlefield, no jury would convict on Foxes analyis. Foxes “forensic analysius” overlooks that eveidence has been tampered with PARTICULARLY around the bodies of the 7th Cavalry men: they were buried, disinterred and rebuired, people have been walking abouth the areas where they fee (because they were marked) far mor than the firing positions of the American Indians. The area has been in weather for for over 125 years and has been the scene of brush fires. So you can make “Interesting Observations” (and they add to the puzzle), but they are they have their limits, limits the NPS choses to ignore, my belieif, for political expediency.

  35. Lew Frank says:

    It comes down to this: None of you know what happened. Michno’s opinions are exactly that. This is proven based on the fact that there will never be any agreement. on the actual events. No amount of research will validate or disprove any of your claims. You take one point and extrapolate it to reach a conclusion. That’s okay and acceptable since this is an open discussion. But we all need to face the fact that we’ll never know, and all of our little opinions are so much dust in the wind.

    What I object to is juvenile writing by a professional author. The entire “deal with it” smacks of an insecure man who is afraid of being discovered, of others seeing his scholarship as retreaded material. “Deal with it” is something I would expect from an uneducated man, not a published author. It’s really an embarrassment to all of us.

  36. Jerry Sauer says:

    Come on now let’s be real! If the tribes wer e surprised by Reno and the coward did not follow his orders tocause panic and confusion on the south end it was doomed for failure. Imay be wrong but there is a great advantage for cavalry to be mounted when Reno dismounted his men not only did he decrease his force by having each fourth man hold horses he turned his men into infantry. I to this day cannot believe that Benteen could not hear firing of some kind and had plenty of time to help George I believe George said “Be Quick” another officer disobeying a written order .Like I said a let’s be real if everyone would of followed orders it very well could of turned out different. THank you.

    • Gene Moore says:

      I suspect Reno did not press his attack because he knew that Custer had a habit of abandoning patrols that he sent into combat. Custer did it at the Washita with the result that the members of the patrol were never seen alive again. Of course they probably ran into the Dog Soldiers who were riding up from the lower villages to assist in the defense of the village under Black Kettle, a pacifist among the Cheyenne.
      Just like Custer did at the Greasy Grass, with the same result

  37. Steve Murphy says:

    To say Custer did not disobey orders is ludicrous.

    First, he was clearly told NOT to follow the trail directly toward the Little Bighorn. “…proceed up the Rosebud until you ascertain definitely the direction in which the trail above spoken of leads. Should it be found (as it appears almost certain that it will be found to turn towards the Little Horn, he thinks that you should still proceed southward, perhaps as far as the headwaters of the Tongue, and then turn towards the Little Horn, feeling constantly, however, to your left, so as to preclude the possibility of the escape of the Indians to the south or southeast by passing around your left flank….”

    You can say he was given certain latitude, “…the Department Commander places too much confidence in your zeal, energy, and ability to wish to impose upon you precise orders which might hamper your action when nearly in contact with the enemy…” He was more than 20 miles from the village when HE CHOSE to disobey and follow the trail directly toward the Little Bighorn. That cannot possibly be construed as “nearly in contact”.

    Also, per the order…”The Department Commander desires that on your way up the Rosebud you should thoroughly examine the upper part of Tullock’s Creek, and that you should endeavor to send a scout through to Colonel Gibbon’s column, with information of the result of your examination.” He was given a scout (George Herendeen) for that specific purpose. He did NOT do it; and here there is no ambiguity nor is there any “latitude” for changing the orders.. Additionally, that would have been a golden opportunity to send word to his commanding officer that he had absolutely changed the plan without any knowledge or consent from his commanding officer or the cooperating unit(s).

    I am not “throwing stones” or “kicking a dead lion” as Gen. Miles said. I am merely pointing out that orders were clearly not followed. Was that the cause of the defeat? Can’t say, but it surely set things in motion and the commanding officer and cooperating units no longer had any knowledge of the actions of the 7th Cavalry and were in no position to suport them.

    • Robert says:

      Your allegations of disobedience are thin. If you looked at the organization for Combat you will immediatley recognize that the main effort was with Custer. (If you dont understand how an org for combat is developed you need to ask a qualified military person). Additionally The orders were written without foreknowledge of the actual location of the Indian Camp and are clearly ramblings of a commander guessing where they could be. The main goal of the whole campaign was to destroy or capture the majority of Indians that were not on the reservation. After locating the main trail why bother to keep searching all the places Terry was guessing they may be? This is like making a list of where your lost car keys are, finding them at the second place you listed, but then looking at the rest of your list to make sure your car keys are not there also. No commander worth a crap would do that. The idea that the Custer column and and Terry/Gibbon Column were to cooperate requires extreme imagination. Given the distances involved, the lack of knowledge on the location of the objective and no “real time” communication reveals this concept as pure impractability. I think it was just good luck that Terry came upon Benteen within a day and a half of battle. Had custer chased around to all the other places Terry had in his orders it may have been a week or more before the two columns would have met. One thing custer did fail to do is send out his messenger scout. I can forgive him for that since it would have been a “one shot” deal and he would have wanted to send on the most current/best information possible. When would that be? When he finally came into contact with the village he probably decided to wait until the engagement was over and let Terry know how it turned out. If terry really intended to cooperate his column with custers he should have required daily status reports by messenger but that would have been impractical. There were not enough scouts to accomplish this requirement and using troops (probably a detail of 4 with 1 NCO) would have depleted the Custer command of at least a company by the time he got to the little big horn. Lets not forget these kinds of details would probably get lost or be easy pickings for a larger indian hunting party roaming around. After all is said and done I am not sure what value these messages would have been given that the distance between the commands was at least several days apart. In short the Terry order was totally inadequate for any kind of cooperative effort, custer was on his own and he knew it.

  38. History Buff says:

    After re-reading the article and the numerous posts I must point out that there seems to be some misguided concept that Cavalry fought on horseback all the time. That is not the case. It makes great Hollywood visuals with the gallant cavalry charging to the rescue. Cavalry, by this time had to fight almost exclusively on foot (Look at Farnsworth’s debacle at Gettysburg to see a prime reason. The Brits at Balaclava could tell you why also). The horse was transportation; not a weapon. The 7th didn’t even bring their sabres to save weight and the troopers were BARELY trained in how to fire their weapons at stationary targets while standing still on the ground, let alone trying to hit moving targets (that are shooting back) from the back of a charging horse! Basically, Cavalry was a scouting and screening force that could move quickly, cover ground, and become (very) light infantry. The Indians fought Cavalry with some success throughout the west from pre-Red Cloud’s War until the end. They rarely, if ever tried to take on infantry if they could avoid it and had very few successes when they did.

    Also, repeating weapons do not necesarily mean better weapons. The Henry and Winchester Rifles of the time were basically firing pistol rounds at about 1/2 to 2/3 the range and power of the .45-55 Carbine (the disparity becomes even greater compared to the .45-70 rifle which the Infantry carried). Which means that the soldiers should have been able to hold them at bay with the superior range of their weapons (200 soldiers with 100 rounds each is 20,000 rounds on hand even without the “pacs”. Even at the most outlandish estimates of indian numbers it should have been plenty to at least buy time). Unfortunately, the terrain allowed the indians to close the distance and appear then disappear then reappear… negating this advantage; combine this with the indians going after the horses and horse holders thus depriving the troopers of 1/2 of the ammunition and 1/4 of the manpower available (HMMM, which side’s tactics were working better???). If, as accounts say soldiers threw away pistols because it took too long to holster them, or used the carbine as a club because they didn’t have time to re-load how do you think they could re-load the 12 plus rounds in a Winchester??? At best, they would have become single shots or clubs at the pivotal moments. Also, while a gun is generally superior to a Bow and Arrow; in this case, the arrow, not being a line of sight weapon could be “lobbed” into formations from behind ridges and the bow does not give off a tell-tale puff of smoke when fired making it even harder to see where the shots came from.

    The research in this article seems superficial and the very selective use of some eye-witness testimony and quotes taken out of context and simply ignoring other eye-witness testimony, quotes and sources that don’t support the authors desired outcome makes this article just another bunch of opinion and revisionist history packaged as a study of the battle.

  39. Willie says:

    Mr Murphy:

    Custer didn’t disobey anything !

    You omitted the part of Terry’s order that said he desired for Custer to conform to the orders “unless you shall see sufficient reason for departing from them”. Evidently, he saw “sufficient reason” to depart from the orders (which didn’t say anything about waiting til he was within 20 miles of the village).

    As a result, he was FOLLOWING Terry’s order.!

  40. Willie says:

    On Page 6, Para 1, Gregory Michno states that: “”North to most Indians is East to white observers” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . HUH ?

    Never heard that before and could not understand it, so I asked five different Indians, 2 Crow, 2 Cheyenne and 1 Lakota – all “old timers”, about it at the Battlefield Reenactment last week. 3 of em said they didn’t have a clue what it meant, 1 just shook his head & walked away, and 1 just stared at me as if to say “whatcha been drinkin’, wasichu ?”

    Anyone know what it’s supposed to mean ?

  41. Lew says:

    Myth 11: Giovanni Martini was really named Giovanni Martino. And his life involved much more than simply being Custer’s bugler and the last white man to see him alive. A most excellent piece has been written about him and it’s a page turner! See link:


  42. Ken says:


    I am curious to know if ANYONE HERE might happen to know if anyone is interested in purchasing John Mulvany’s masterpiece “Custer’s Last Rally”?

    I have on good authority that the current owner is looking to monetize some pieces from his private collection.

    If so, please contact me here via this post:

  43. Dave says:

    Many have asked, “If Custer’s tactical decisions were right, why did he lose?” When the tactical decision to divide his force (which was normal and successful on many occasions), he could only command the other elements via messenger. He sent messages with strict orders. “Come up. BE QUICK”. No one ever “came up”. To begin the battle Custer ordered Reno to attack the village. This was the first order given in the battle. Reno never attacked the village. He galloped close to the village then broke off the attack. This action allowed the villagers to divert and attack Custer.

    His tactical decisions were sound. The implementation of his orders was avoided. Benteen and Reno combined had MORE men than Custer. Had Custer’s orders been obeyed, there might have been a different result. We will never know. But, why is it so hard to agree that “if” something different happened…there might have been a different result?

    The author said, “Deal with it”. Oh my! Let’s ignore all he said because he offended someone. Truth be told, the truth was told. Never did the author claim Custer WOULD have won. Rather, he MIGHT have. Fine article.

  44. Alan Johnson says:

    I liked the article. It provides a thumbnail sketch of opinions Michno has published before. Those who fault this article for being not detailed enough should remember that it is a magazine article, not a book. If one wants to see Michno’s documentation, there are many pieces available.

    I suggest one start by reading “Lakota Noon” and “The Mystery of E Troop.” Among contemporary Custer scholars, the bulk of Michno’s points here are well accepted. Probably the most controversial is his opinion that there are not 28 missing bodies buried in Deep Ravine.

    Michno makes a strong point that archeological surveys have not yet found a single piece of human remains there. There are 206 bones in the human body; multiply that by 28 supposed bodies in Deep Ravine and that makes 5,768 bones. It is huge that not a single bone or fragment thereof has been found in test holes drilled in likely parts of Deep Ravine.

    Is this fact conclusive? No, because not all of the ravine has been surveyed. Many would like to see the ground surveyed below refuse that was piled at one point in the past. So the entire ravine has not yet been eliminated as a burial site. But the absence of any remains from multiple test holes drilled in likely places of the ravine is certainly supportive of Michno’s argument. As far as testimony from soldiers in the burial party, it is contradictory. Michno points to statements that would support his theory. Those who argue with him can point to other testimony that seems to indicate the burials could not be any place other than Deep Ravine. As far as Deep Ravine is concerned, Michno’s is a minority view, but still worthy of consideration.

    Let me address the argument of whether Custer did or did not blunder in this battle. There seems to be a common argument out there that holds that since his immediate command was annihilated, that Custer must have blundered. Earlier posts have argued that “if Custer did everything right” (as they seem to think Michno is saying) then how come he lost?

    This seems to come from a common holding in the white man’s view that Indians should not have been able to wipe out five companies of cavalry in the field. Therefore it could only result from one of two things, or both; Custer blundered, or there were way too many Indians. Too many people do not want to give the Indians credit for the victory on their own merits. So to these folks, The Lakota and Cheyenne only won because Custer gave the game away.

    Michno points out that Custer’s tactics, a charge to divert and fix Indian fighters in one direction while employing a flank attack, is not strange or foolhardy on its face. While we don’t know what exactly Custer was thinking, that much is obvious from what we do know. We also know that he did not attempt his flank attack. What little skirmishing was done at MTC, does not indicate a serious attempt to ford the river there.

    We also know that Custer eventually wound up in the high ridge that forms the battleground; that’s where the bodies were found. We also can surmise that whatever Custer intended to do from that point, he thought he needed Benteen’s three companies and additional ammo to do it. He sent two messengers to hurry Benteen and the packs. We know exactly what the last message said; Benteen saved it for us. And we know that neither Benteen’s battalion nor any extra ammo made it to Custer.

    So it’s a safe assumption or educated guess that Custer deployed along the ridge to wait for Benteen and the ammo. Should he have been waiting there? It’s easy to judge in hindsight. He and his command wound up dead, therefore anything else he might have done could hardly have come out worse.

    But we have to judge Custer by what he knew at the time he made his decisions. What he did “know“ killed him.

    He and every other officer who planned that campaign knew one thing: Indians, contested by a significant force of the US Army would flee, fighting only a rear guard action while the village escaped. All you need to do is read the diaries and letters of all the other officers and men who participated in the planning and execution of the 1876 campaign.

    They all thought the problem would be to fix the Indians in one place to bring them to battle. That’s what was on Custer’s mind when he planned first to approach the village by stealth at night and attack the morning of the 26th. At that same time, Gibbon’s command would be waking up nearby on the Little Big Horn, for those that think that Custer’s driving reason for the attack was to cut Gibbon out of the action. Fleeing Indians was what was also on his mind when belief that the command had been discovered caused him to push up the attack to as soon as he could get there on the 25th.
    But something funny happened on the way to catch fleeing Indians. They didn’t flee. They fought an offensive action instead of a defensive action. Custer had every reason to think he could pause and be only slightly molested on that ridge. His experience and the experience of every other officer on that 1876 campaign told him so. But he and every other officer were wrong. Crook and his officers had only learned this lesson one week before, but could not or did not pass this information to the other columns.

    The Indians did everything right. They improvised on the spot. As individual fighters that didn’t answer to a central command, this battle was tailor-made for them. They had individual flexibility on their side at precisely the time the soldiers’ inflexible combat doctrine had failed. The lucky accident of the terrain allowed them to move very close by stealth. Moving in close took away the advantage Custer had with his Springfields. Without the ability to sneak close, Custer’s men could have held the warriors at bay and out of range of their less powerful weapons. Those much-vaunted repeaters held by some 200 of the Indians had far less range than Custer’s rifles and were less accurate at long distance. Moving in close changed the advantage to the rapid fire of the repeaters.

    Custer’s men had no effective weapons for hand-to-hand fighting. When the warriors closed with the soldiers, the advantage was all to the Indians. And they had the superior motivation. They were fighting for their homes and families, who would have been in direct peril had they failed
    Did Custer get his men killed? I could make a stronger argument that Grant and railroad barons, along with mining interests got Custer and his men killed, by their unprovoked drive to chase the winter-roaming Indians from ground they were legally living on, all to make way for illegal mining of the Black Hills and the building of a transcontinental railroad along the Yellowstone River.

    • Clark Wilkins says:

      While a well thought out post, there are some points I disagree with. First, Custer did ride down MTC. To claim he did so to take up a defensive position there is dis- proven by the fact that he did not do so. It was an offensive maneuver that was called off. Second, while Companies C, L, and “I” are in defensive positions, Companies E and F are not as demonstrated by the lack of skirmish lines or even a definable defensive position and very little ammunition expended. Third, the distance between Companies E and F from Companies C, L, and “I” is too great to create a mutually supportive defense. Companies C, L, and “I” have all the characteristics of a rear guard action for Companies E and F which continued north. Fourth, there is no evidence at all that Custer stopped to await reinforcement though he did send for such. None of the five companies dug in as Reno did on his hilltop. Companies C, L, and “I” maintained the ability to withdraw north at all points in time (And eventually did so.). Company L was in position to see that no reinforcements were coming for Custer to wait for. Even before Custer reached MTC, he had apparently watched Reno’s force being routed (Which occurred, from beginning to end, in just 25 minutes.). Therefore, Custer had reason to believe said reinforcements would not be coming.

      And then, without the pack train and without the requested reinforcements, he went on the offensive by riding down to the ford at MTC. If anyone chooses to argue this was a defensive maneuver I await their correction.

      This poster made mention that “Custer’s men had no effective weapons for hand-to-hand fighting.” I doubt he intended that meaning as Custer’s men were equipped with revolvers for precisely that purpose (In fact, Custer’s men were far better equipped for hand to hand fighting than the Indians even if limited to only six shots.). He did, however, recognize that Custer’s carbines out ranged Indian repeating rifles who corrected for that by closing the range in the grass. He failed to mention, however, the Indians had Sharps rifles (as Keogh discovered) which out ranged the cavalry carbines.

      The poster briefly touched on Indian tactics of retreating before superior force but, even when doing so, maintaining a force (rear guard) between the retreating women and children. And, at the LBH, that’s exactly what they did. They maintained a force between Reno and the village. And, when Custer tried to ford at MTC, they maintained a force between him and the village. And, when Custer pulled back and moved north, Indians moved north along the LBH River to stay between him and the village. Eventually, with Companies C, L. and “I” in defensive positions and Custer failing to advance, the Indians were emboldened to go on the attack. The moment the Indians began to move forward, it was the end for Custer (In fact the evidence suggests he may have already been hit in the chest at this point.).

      Did he get his men killed? Absolutely. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have died that day. Was it his fault? Absolutely! Custer knowingly advanced while the center of his line (Reno) was being crushed and routed. If anyone wants to argue that Custer was advancing to a defensive position, let him do so.

      Was Custer incompetent? Not really. As has been pointed out, Custer had to act on what he knew and he knew three things. First, he knew a “whole bunch of Indians” had been diverted away from the village by Reno and that was exactly what he planned for and wanted. While the Indians were diverted, he rode down MTC. Why? To repeat his earlier success versus Black Kettle. If he could get to the women and children victory would be his. This was the second thing he knew. Posters here wonder why Custer didn’t ford MTC. The answer is simple. Check your watches, gentlemen. Reno was driven off the field while Custer watched (To make sure Reno diverted the majority of the Indians to him.). Reno was back across the river in 25 minutes, most of which time Custer watched without moving north.

      But the Indians did not pursue Reno across the river. The 13 soldiers left in the woods by Reno who rejoined Reno 3 hours later encountered and engaged only five Indians. Where were the others?

      Riding north.

      And for how long had they been riding north?

      Apparently ever since Reno had crossed the river (No Indians crossed after him.). The time? 25 minutes since Reno formed his first skirmish line in front of the village.

      And, with Custer having watched Reno’s battle, pretty much the whole time he was riding down MTC, the Indian warriors were riding north to intercept him at the ford. All he had to do was turn his head left to see them coming. And, if they reached the ford at the same time he did – well – that could get ugly. This would become the third thing he knew. The Indians were unexpectedly coming back.

      At this point Custer ceased to attempt to cross the ford at MTC and rode NE to the high ground where he set up Companies C, L, and “I” as a rear guard under Captain Keogh to delay the mob of approaching Indians. He’s not thinking about a pack train. He’s thinking about that SECOND thing he knows. He’s not planning a defense. His positions are wrong for that. He’s planning a VICTORY. His positions are right for that. Custer was still on the offensive.

      His maneuver was actually a well known Civil War battlefield maneuver taught at West Point. It was believed to be a very low risk maneuver (or so he would have thought). However, the maneuver did have a weakness that West Point knew (You can’t have the enemy moving between you and your objective but, according to West Point texts then that’s not supposed to happen or you shouldn’t be doing it.).

      But I digress from my intention. I notice that none of the arguments here ever make mention that Custer had brought reporters along to follow him. Custer was engaging in a publicity stunt. Instead of attacking the village by the book (which would have succeeded) he came up with the “hammer and anvil” tactic using himself as the hammer and Reno as the anvil. As mentioned by others, there were simply too many armed Indians (or too few soldiers) to make this plan work. But, had that not been the case, Custer would have forded MTC, captured the women and children, and WON. A simple case of numbers got in his way.

      Custer’s battle plan was ruthlessly self centered (and Reno knew it) and almost entirely political. Although Custer’s decisions were far from stupid, it’s doubtful he would have made them had there been no reporters present. He knew he wasn’t going to achieve advancement by his scores at West Point. He would have to do so by brave and daring accomplishments in the field. For that, he needed reporters with him and then he had to do something brave and daring.

      The reader should ask himself why Major Reno didn’t have a single reporter with him?

      And the answer was simple. Custer led them to believe the real story would be with him and not Reno. Reno was just a sideshow, a feint attack. The camera was to be on Custer and he had to deliver.

      The author of this “Ten Myths” article obviously has no military training or he would recognize that the same number of Indians who wiped Custer out in an hour failed to wipe out Reno and Benteen, with roughly the same amount of men, when given fourteen times the time to do so. The major reason for this massive difference of outcomes is that Reno and Benteen engaged the enemy from a defensive position with companies in a mutually supporting circle so that they could not be out flanked. Whereas Custer, with only two fewer companies, was outflanked EVERYWHERE.

      Reno and Benteen fought a fixed battle. Custer fought a MOBILE battle. The author of this article doesn’t know it, but he described it. It wasn’t until the final fifteen minutes that Custer went on the defensive on LSH. The “Ten myths” author recounts Indian descriptions of the soldiers suddenly fighting harder. They were no longer in a mobile situation. It was “stand or die”. They had simply chosen the wrong time and place to do it.

      Sorry for the long rant. I probably sound like I think I was there. No. I wasn’t.

      • Clark Wilkins says:

        I need to correct my post. While Custer was aware that Reno had been routed, he knew it by Mitch Boyer and not by personal witness. However, by personal witness he had seen Reno charging the village as he rode over “Reno Hill”. It was 300 yards past this point that he sent for the pack train as he could also see the village.

        He then resumed his northerly advance and stopped at Weir Point (As witnessed by Curly and DeRudio.). At this point, Reno had retreated to the woods and Custer could personally witness things had gone wrong for Reno. He left Mitch Boyer to continue to watch and resumed north. The time? Probably somewhere between 3:45 and 3:50.

        Custer proceeded down Cedar Coolie to where it joined MTC and stopped there, looking back at Mitch who waved his hat. This signal by Mitch coincided with Reno’s retreat from the woods or between 3:50 and 3:55. It was unlikely a signal to indicate Reno had been routed since Custer and his brother Tom received it positively by waving back and Custer’s men cheered. Rather it was likely the signal from Boyer was that the Indians had not spotted Custer’s movement north and they remained absorbed with Reno’s troops. For Custer, this was good news. He proceeded down MTC.

        But Mitch Boyer quickly caught up and talked with Custer at about 4:00 PM, undoubtedly informing him of Reno’s defeat. In Custer’s “Hammer and Anvil” plan, there was no longer an anvil. So Custer made an instant decision to divide his troops. He would send Companies E and F on ahead to cross at MTC and become the new “Anvil” while he took Keogh’s command north to come down further downstream as the new “Hammer”. As a result, three companies left the coolie and rode north, uphill, over exposed ground.

        OK! Notice the time. Custer’s decision to send Keogh’s men north out in the open corresponds to almost exactly when the Indians stop attacking Reno. It’s 4:00 PM. Almost all Indian accounts indicate Custer was not seen until he took three companies uphill and out of the coolie towards Calhoun Hill. And then they all forgot about Reno and headed north.

        Something went very wrong very fast with this plan of Custer’s. The Indians had to ride north from Reno Hill. This should have taken time. I have not calculated the time for the Indians to get there but, apparently, the shooting began around 4:20. Companies E and F have one mile to go and 20 minutes to do it. At their fastest speed (7.5 mph) they were 8 minutes away from the ford. They should have beaten the Indians by 12 minutes.

        But, by the time E and F reached the ford, they changed their minds. There’s only reason to do this.

        Too many Indians.

        E and F did not want to be facing the village north across the river with that many armed Indians behind them (12 minutes south). Anyone here want to volunteer to be in Custer’s new southern “Anvil”?

        But it wasn’t just going wrong for E and F. Keogh’s Companies C, “I”, and L are certainly not aligned as a “Hammer”. Instead, they are aligned in a classic defensive front with two companies on the line (C and L) and one in reserve (“I”). Keogh has gone from an offensive formation to a defensive formation (One that E and F would ride through.).

        All this and, so far, no shots have been fired! The battle has not begun.


        Custer has spent the last twenty minutes reversing roles. Instead of E and F being on the south side of the village, they’re being relocated to the north side of the village. And companies C, L, and “I” have gone from offensive to defensive in order to cover for companies E and F withdrawing back up the hill. Because, if E and F don’t make it up that hill in 12 minutes, they are in deep trouble.

        There was no choice but to cover them.

        On paper, it was brilliantly done. Company C is positioned to prevent any Indians from coming up either Deep Ravine or Calhoun Coulee. Company L commands the high ground against the Indians approaching from the south. Company “I” is positioned to reinforce either one and is far enough back to indicate Keogh knew the danger of “Greasy Back Ridge”. These guys were pro soldiers.

        But there’s a problem with the terrain. Company C and Company L are too far apart to defend the space between them (called “Mutual support”.). Somebody had to be put out there in the space between them and form a skirmish line over open ground. Anyone given this duty, in the 20 minutes they had, should have either dug a hole or shot their horse to form a breastwork.

        They did neither one. They didn’t dig holes. There wasn’t time. And the reason there wasn’t time was because they had gone from an offensive, north bound hammer, to a defensive front. That takes time. And the amount of time they had to make this transition was the amount of time it took for companies E and F to turn around and start back from the ford.

        But, in the time they had, it was brilliantly done.

        Yet they still had time to shoot horses to form breastworks between Companies C and L. Yet it didn’t happen.

        And it didn’t just happen here. On the northern “defense” not one single horse was ever shot by either Company E or F for use as a breastwork. The six horses found there shot as breastworks all came from Company C. Company E and F’s horses were all shot by the Indians.

        So we see that, until Company C was routed to Last Stand Hill, nobody was shooting horses. Why not?

        Because they were expecting to remount them.

        This is not rocket science. Keogh’s company “I” was holding horses for C and L. Company E’s horses were being held (And were successfully stampeded). F’s company horses were being held (until their holders were killed.). Absolutely nobody thought to kill a horse for cover in an area with NO COVER until six riders of Company C arrived at LSH. This is why the mystery remains. What idiot thought they could defend LSH? It only took two Indians to surround it.

        At that point there were maybe 40-50 men left alive of the entire 7th Cavalry. Only then did the 7th go from MOBILE thinking to STATIC thinking.

        Up until then, they planned to MOVE. As I have mentioned before, Companies C, “I”, and L are all engaged in a CLASSIC rear guard action. They are delaying the enemy with a plan to withdraw north.

        Companies E and F are not in defensive positions at all. There is no such thing as the “South Skirmish Line”. It was the invention of a civilian in 1951. Apparently, he and all his followers thought that the 7th Cavalry burial detail that were actually there could not recognize a skirmish line when they saw one.

        They had twenty minutes to prepare a static defense. They didn’t. As a result, from the first shot fired to the last was probably 40 minutes. They died executing a classic military maneuver, one that Custer performed three times that day, twice successfully. He just couldn’t make it work a third time.

        And – No. I wasn’t there. It can be found in any West Point textbook of the period.

  45. Ross Osborn says:

    There is that old saying, and it works here. “It’s rough to remember your goal was to drain the swamp, when you’re up to you ass in aligators.’

    I feel that Custer and crew jumped in over their heads, but he led the jump.

    Simper fi, dog face.

  46. Otter says:

    We must all remember that the Indians picked-up the spent cartridges. Just because no cartridges were found on Last Stand Hill, doesn’t mean that no stand was made at this point. Many men died on this hill and many Indian women were stripping and hacking up the bodies. It onlt stands ro reason that they would have picked-up most of the cartridges.

  47. Otter says:

    If Benteen would have followed the order, “bring packs, be quick”, Custer might have made it. One can only assume that Custer meant, bring ammo and get here fast. Benteen, who was jealous of Custer and hated him, choose to believe that the message was meant for the officer in charge of the pack train and not him. So he continued slowly and even stopped to water his horses. After reading the Reno Inquiry, I blame Benteen for not following orders. Custer’s trail, by Reno’s report, was next to where Reno retreated to and Benteen would have easily found it. By being quick, he would have seen Reno in the woods, BEFORE the retreat, and would have been able to follow Custer’s trail. They should have hung Benteen for not following orders and causing the death of the commanding officer.

    • SharonH says:

      I could not agree with you more. What part of that message did Benteen not understand? Martini’s lack of language skills had nothing to do with it; the short, curt sentences speak for themselves.

      The Reno Inquiry was a joke. Men were afraid to come forward and speak about his (Reno’s) extreme intoxication for fear of repercussions. In between testimonies, all the big wigs involved joked and drank together-a “good ol’ boys’ club” if ever there was one.

      Even the map presented at the inquiry had been tampered with. Everything was done to exonerate both Reno and Benteen and put the blame on the man who could not defend himself-Custer. That Benteen was not punished for his disobedience is to me one of the biggest injustices in our military history.

      Regarding Captain Weir, as mentioned by another poster-it appears that he was extremely distraught by Benteen’s refusal to go to Custer’s aid and for the rest of his life probably could not live with the thought of what he may have seen as a preventable massacre. He did become a severe alcoholic and was certainly suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress until the end of his life a few months later, a broken shell of a man.

      I am not a huge fan of Custer in any way, but that short note speaks volumes. Benteen was no coward, as shown by his subsequent actions, so one is left to ponder his motives in choosing to stay put. Certainly his almost pathological dislike of Custer (and vice-versa) must be factored in.

      As an aside, the mental toll this battle took on so many of the survivors is sad indeed and indicates the horror of that day. We will never know the true extent of the psychological damage suffered by those who “survived”. A very sad story for everyone concerned.

      • fred says:

        Sarah H

        I like your perspective. My comments are under “Fred” and one under Robert.

        Do you have anything published?

    • Gene Moore says:

      If Benteen had followed the order, he and his men would have simply added to the scavenger’s feast.
      The cavalry troopers were too tired, poorly armed and outnumbered to have done anything but what a large portion of them did, die.

      • fred says:

        You may be right but about the result but that is not how the Army works. You get an order and you follow it. Benteen is lucky he did not get court martialed.

  48. David Custer says:

    The outcome of this battle, started over a thousand miles away. A corrupt Pres Grant,and his stalwart cronies, were upset, that Custer had testified against Sec of war Belknap, and got him fired, which he deserved. Grant set out to arrest Custer,and to destroy his character. Why then, did he allow Custer, to go on this excursion? hmm…
    Why was Custer refused,his original request for officers, and given Benteen instead? Benteen was slow to come, with his firepower. It wouldnt have mattered? How then, was Benteen able to withstand the concentrated attack for days after the battle, with half the men?
    Cavalry not important? Of course it is, and Reno should never have dismounted.But, he didnt have many men, his scout was killed before him, brains splattering on him, and if he was drunk,I can understand his lack of clarity. His retreat up the hill, instead of staying on flat land, was probably the correct one. Benteen, no doubt heard the fight, and his slow response, caused many to die. When he caught up with Reno, had he moved quickly to Custers aid,the story may have ended differently. How long he argued with captain Weir,before Weir left alone with his men, I just dont know. Benteen had the firepower, and was content to stay put. It is certain, that he was very happy to see Custer dead. He had wanted to duel him earlier. Grant was also happy, as Custer had arrested his son, for being drunk. Custer was a democrat,in a republican world. The stalwarts got the revenge they wanted, and continued to plunder the American people. The whistleblower was dead, and the captains of industry,free to carry on, as they do to this day.The legend of Custer, and his deeds, are of a fighter in the civil War, an Indian fighter,but his unknown greatest deed, was his fight against the corruption in the high places,against the powers that be.

    • John Koster says:

      Good point, Dave. Whatever else, Custer provided some very useful testimony against William Worth Belknap and the other crooks who were stealing from the Indians and the soldiers alike. His testimony was well documented and the signed statement he presented was a useful party of the evidence again Belknap.

      John Koster

  49. J.Vance says:

    As a historian that has read various accounts of the famed Custer event(s), this is a unique and perspective that the author valiantly (no pun intended) attempts to defend. However, the article’s premises and arguments have assumptions that, upon examination, reveal that the central defense put forth of Custer’s actions does not run counter to the many more historical opinions of Custer as a man, whose weakness, among other things was hubris. As example, the author ostensibly sets out to defend Custer’s charge (raid?) as a “good thing” by arguing that Custer did not disobey his superior officer, that he listened to his scouts, and the Indian Village was not immense. The author would like unsuspecting readers to assume that because of these and other “facts”, Custer did the right thing. The problem is, however, that even if he, Custer, did not disobey his superior officer and DID listen to his native American scouts for intel, this does not prove that Custer did not also suffer from fatal pride, which–the bulk of established and credentialed historians–attributed to his demise. (I do not care how heavily armed you were in those days, a group of 300 against 1500 IS/WAS an immense village and something that should have given a leader pause–whatever persuation from others). If the author addressed similar issues that I raise here, he would be well on his way to producing a piece of good historical analysis. However, it was an interesting read.

  50. Dion Penn says:

    I am a Full-Blooded Lakota Native American (Rosebud Sioux Enrolled to be exact). I was told the story of the Battle of the Little Big Horn thru word of mouth tradition…..Regardless of How badly the battle went for the 7th Cavelry,……Y’all need to understand that the “Indians” were there NOT causing any problems for anyone,……they just wanted to be in gathering in their own way and traditions……..The way things went for the soldiers policy of treating the Indians during these raid or attacks,……were to take out ALL of em’!! Men ,women and children………It is true the Indians DID NOT know of any plans of attack and really did not expect one unless there was ALOT more troops to show up. The battle itself was to have only last about 5 minutes, the Indians rode thu the soldiers 2 times and it was over……Mostly of the “Killing ” was from “hand-to Hand” combat that the Indians inflicted on them and quite a few indian warrior accounts of running toward the soldiers finding many of them ALREADY dead. But I mainly put this due to as facinating to history buffs ( yours truly ), The Warriors and Women whom faught back on that fateful day were doing only what any normal Family human being would do,……they were defending their families and their right to survive from those that had already demonstrated that they should not even exist………..Besides that, there was the Wounded Knee Massacre when the 7th Cavarly killed over 300 men ,Mostly women and children in South Dakota in 1890……It was more of they were Murdered!!! Especially since a little over 30 U.S. soldiers were killed by their own guns in the “haste” of the beginning of the slaughter………It is a fact that 90% of my people have been wiped out thru out the years,……..soooooo when it comes to the Battle of the Little Bighorn,…….The Indians were greatly under estimated by a Glory hungry ” arrogant Commander ( His Fault),….DEAL WITH IT.

    • A. Magoo says:

      Right on. I concur !

    • fred says:

      Hey Dion

      Ya right, the Sioux were living in “peace, love and harmony” in the american west. The fact of the matter was the Sioux were the “bullies” attacking anyone they found vulnerable rationalizing that if someone was weak they either deserved to die or at least have their horses stolen from them. Notice how both Custer and Crook had large numbers of Indian allies with them, allies because they were always at war with the Sioux as well.
      So 14 years after the LBH the Sioux are still at war and want to start things up again with their ghost dance. I noticed you left out the part where the Sioux were asked to surrender their weapons but didn’t. When the 7th searched their personal belongings for the modern weapons that they claimed they didnt have the shooting started killing many of the soldiers involved with the search. The Army responded with cannon fire on the mass of indians involved, a consequence that the Sioux have a responsibility to share.
      Abhoring the killing women and children is a European construct that you use to make naive whites feel guilty. The truth is the Sioux did the same thing as a matter of routine. The Wounded Knee Massacre was nothing more then the Sioux reaping what they had sowed.

  51. Bobby Kerns says:

    I find the Battle of The Little Big Horn facinating.I also like to read about other people’s thoughts. My theory is that if Reno would have held his position in the timber and Custer would have attacked in force at Medicine Tale Coulee Benteen would have arrived soon enough with the pack train not far behind.The Indians could not have fought on two fronts without command structure. Wherever Benteen showed up at he would also have caused confusion among the Indians.However when Reno lost control for whatever reason my thoughts are and he stated that he expected Custer to support him from the rear. I’m sure it wasnt Reno’s first time to be drinking on a battlefield rather I think it was common in those days.By not engaging the Indians in force Custer himself did not give Reno expected supprt. If Reno had not lost his head and Custer would have attacked in force in support I believe the outcome would have been entirely different!

  52. Joe kelly says:

    Dionn did you see the Vanguard episode on Pine Ridge Reservation most rapes in the United States. Sioux will never change..

  53. Jim says:

    Let me say, that I just got into this Custer/LBH thing recently. Knew only the stuff they taught me in school until I bought “Custer’s Luck”. Wow, couldn’t believe how false my previous beliefs were.
    For those of you who thought this was a mission doomed to failure, I must disagree. After reading several first-hand accounts, when Reno was seen charging with his battalion, nearly ALL the indians fled. So why dismount? Heck, history should’ve shown Reno that when a cavalry force faced a much larger body of indians, a mounted charge had always caused the enemy to scatter. Only when they dismounted, did more warriors start to approach, but not within 300 yards. Reno, then moved his troops into the trees…a very defendible position since it was in a natural depression and afforded much cover for the troopers. In this position he was still a huge threat to the indian encampment. Sitting Bull actually ordered the camp to break since he thought Reno’s position was too strong.
    So Reno decides to bail from this great position and flees to the hills. The interesting thing here is, when the troops mounted up and started to ride, the indians actually started to flee since they thought they were going to be the focus of a cavalry charge. As soon as they realized that it was actually a retreat, they turned and killed something like 33 of the fleeing troops…
    So basically, what I am saying is Myth #11: The Indians planned to stay and fight. Nope, only when Reno took flight and lost all initiative did the natives get emboldened and start on the offensive.
    As for Custer not coming to Reno’s support with the rest of the force, no he did not since he was never given a chance. He waited in the hills for Benteen to show up. He spread out the force that he directly commanded, in my opinion, since Boston just passed Benteen and probably told George that Benteen should be here in a few minutes. Some say Benteen didn’t know where Custer was located? Boston found him probably by following the dust the horses kicked up, but Benteen couldn’t do the same? Hell, why not ask the guy who just handed you the order?
    Benteen shows up on Reno Hill MINUTES after Reno’s men arrive there. Reno takes off for a half hour or so to find a dead friend. With no enemy around, why didn’t Benteen assume command and lead the four hundred plus soldiers to Custer, or even, attack the village like Reno’s original order? There were no braves to slow them down. Sitting Bull stated that he didn’t have warriors around Reno Hill at this time since all he needed were squaws to deal with Reno’s men.
    Sorry for the rambling folks, but this stuff is addictive!


  54. emma says:

    Custer was a butcher and it is a pity he didn’t suffer a more painful death

    • Todd says:

      I agree. The plan was to kill all the natives and Custer even said that there would be plenty for us to kill. The plaque at the indian side of the hill says: they came to attack our village what would you do? We protected ourselves and killed them all. Sitting Bull.

  55. mike says:

    Hey fellas,I have a question; Long time ago probably after the fire I read a piece in National Geographic about a body of a trooper being found half buried in the bank of the river or ravine. Had photos and all, they called him Mike. Does anyone know what I’m talking about and can point me in the right direction to research it a little thanks

  56. bobby kerns says:

    I believe Mike was found along the Reno retreat route on the river bank.

  57. mike says:

    Thanks Bobby. I can’t find nothing about him on any site yet.Got any ideas? would you know about what year the piece came out in national Geo? thanks mike

  58. bobby kerns says:

    Mike i’m trying to locate material on him i’ve got some , also have you done web search? I’ll let you know what I find.

  59. marcus says:

    I have a question. It appears to me that the advances of both Reno and Custer were checked by heavy gunfire and Curly stated that the gunfire was so rapid it sounded like ripping cloth. That is a lot of ammunition. How is it that the defenders of the camp were that well supplied?

  60. bobby kerns says:

    I don’t think Reno or Custer either one were checked at first by heavy gunfire. I think Reno with out any experience fighting Indians was surprised there were Indians coming to fight rather than fleeing his charge all he was ever told was that the Indians would flee.They did not this alone rattled him for him to then halt his charge at this point gave the Indians courage and time to rally from a desperate situation to a force to reckon with! Then across the river Custer for some reason stopped being aggressive another blunder! I do believe a student of the battle has to seriously ask why? I myself believe only because they must of had something critical happen only the loss of leadership could explain this!Think about it Reno is engaged and you stop at the river at a crossing under light resistance out of the question for Custer. He had to be the one that was shot at the river!This would explain their having to pull back and regroup. Waiting on Benteen is not what you do with a battle already unfolding only if your leader is incapacitated might you!This has to be what happened!The ripping of the blanket shooting happened later during the collapse of Custers 5 companies!

  61. Jim says:

    Two problems with Custer being shot at the river. First, the person claimed to have been shot was described as wearing buckskin jacket. It was noted by a witness from the 7th that Custer had taken off his jacket and tied it to the back of his saddle. Second, upon finding Custer’s body, the ground near his body was littered with .50-70 brass from his Remington no. 1 rolling block.
    Why didn’t Custer charge the village? Maybe he did?! Serveral Indian accounts place soldiers in the village and torching tepees. Also, remember that Boston met up with him and probably told him Benteen was just a few minutes behind him. But honestly, it really is anybody’s guess what happened after Martini left with his message to Benteen. After reading all of Custer’s accomplishments during the Civil War, it is tough for me to assume he made dumb mistakes since tactically he was always pretty sharp.


  62. bobby kerns says:

    Jim I think that you have good points.I too have read the accounts of the Remington brass around his body and him on top of other troopers I also have not read or have forgotten about him taking his buckskin jacket off interesting!My problem is he wanted surprise on his side found a crossing and then would lose his advantage by pulling back to wait on Benteen?He had prior never seemed to care about odds was always very aggressive he had to know he would lose his advantage.I have studied, read about, twice been to the battle site want to go again.bought every book about the battle I can find I’ve have had a lifelong fascination with the battle i’m 53 and still cannot figure out for sure what went so wrong and why.Just have theories and appreciate everyone else’s.

  63. […] times Ten Myths of the Little Bighorn I found this to be pretty interesting. It must have been some fight, soldiers following orders, a […]

    • Clint says:

      I’ve read Gregory Michno’s comments and found them on the whole to be both interesting and accurate (except for the one that describes an Indian’s sense of direction that “north” is “east”. Maybe there is a better explanation for the direction confusion; but as it is described, it sounds quite odd). Yes, his style may appear somewhat defensive, but don’t confuse style with accuracy or insight.

      There are so many misconceptions and misinterpretations about the events surrounding that day, no single theory of what actually happened will be accepted by most people. The fact is, we will never know. But certain conclusions can be drawn from what we do know.

      Custer’s tactics have been brought into question. Surprisingly, I did not read any reference to The Battle of Washita River, which I believe Custer used as a template for the Battle of the Little Big Horn. For those of you unfamiliar with this battle, in November 1868, Custer and his seventh cavalry attacked a large encampment of Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, Comanche, and Kiowa-Apache bands, that ran ten to fifteen miles along the Washita River. It was estimated this entire encampment was almost as large as the one at the Little Big Horn eight years later, about 6,000 total occupants.

      Custer divided his troops into four separate units, surrounded the Cheyenne lodges of Black Kettle and in the early morning hours, he launched a surprise attack on the village. Within a relatively short amount of time, his men had control of the village and had captured 53 non-combatants, women, children and the elderly. Unknowingly to Custer, this Cheyenne village was only one of several large ones strung along a wide oxbox in the river, running for ten or more miles. Now, alerted, hundreds of warriors from the other villages were approaching them for the north and east. Custer quickly formed a defensive line and prepared for what looked like a major confrontation with a large hostile force.

      But when the rest of the encampment’s warriors saw Custer’s men with the Cheyenne non-combatants, they turned away and fled, presumably unwilling to risk injury or death of their captured kinsmen. The Battle of Washita River of 1868 was hailed as the first substantial U.S. victory in the Southern Plains War, and it helped force a significant portion of the Southern Cheyennes onto a U.S.-assigned reservation. Custer was an instant sensation, recapturing some of his Civil War glory after suffering a court martial for AWOL and a year of inactivity from the year before.

      Largely from his actions at the Washita River, Custer gained a reputation as the best Indian fighter in the West. But this victory did not come without controversy. Twenty-one soldiers were killed at The Battle of Washita River, and all but one came from a small detachment led by Major Joel Elliott. During the battle, Major Elliot became separated from his three companies (a reference to how in the heat of battle, confused troop movements and hasty decisions become the rule and not the exception). Seeing some Cheyenne Indians escaping on horseback, Elliot gathered nineteen men and rode in pursuit, against Custer’s orders not to leave the Cheyenne village.

      Elliot and his men ran headlong into the hundreds of approaching Indians from the upsteam villages, and were wiped out to a man in a single charge. Custer came under criticism from some of his own officers because in the face of a large hostile force he chose to withdraw without knowing the fate of Major Elliot. One of these officers was Captain Frederick Benteen, a close friend of Elliot’s. Benteen never forgave Custer’s actions that day, viewing Custer’s withdrawal as an “abandonment” of Elliot and his men. Ironically, some historians have speculated when Benteen received Custer’s terse “Bring packs, be quick” message, he remembered Custer’s treatment of Elliot, and was in no particular hurry to accommodate him.

      Historians, in particular James Donivan, have speculated the Custer’s experience at The Battle of Washita River served as a template for his actions at the Battle of the Little Big Horn eight years later. His template was: (1) surprise the village, (2) divide forces to attack from more that one direction, (3) quickly locate and capture the non-combatants.

      Unfortunately for Custer, repeating success on the battlefield is often an elusive goal. For one thing, although the encampment at the Light Big Horn was slightly larger than the one Custer had encountered at Washita, it was much more concentrated, with much shorter distances between the individual villages. The reason for this was simple: approximation to neighboring villages was predicated on one thing: available grass. These encampments had Indian ponies numbering in the thousands. Each pony needs a certain amount of grazing area. In November, the grass was much sparser along the Washita that it was in July along the Little Big Horn; therefore, the villages were more spread out.

      The shorter distances of the neighboring villages along the Little Big Horn mean all the warriors could react quicker at the first signs of attack. Unlike 1868, in 1876, this factor played against Custer’s strategy. Also, Custer sent Reno and his command to attack the village and keep them occupied while he planned to enter it from the opposite side, presumably to locate and capture non-combatants. Reno’s premature exit from the battlefield left many warriors now able to react to the new threat from Custer’s men approaching from the banks to the north.

      It has also been speculated that Custer had some issues negotiating a quick trail from the ridge down to the river where in intended to cross and enter the encampment. If this were so, this was time Custer simply didn’t have to give. Between the concentration of villages, and the lack of a sustained attack to draw attention away from them, now the entire warrior population was able to focus exclusively on Custer’s 208 men.

      How close Custer actually got to the river is open to speculation. But it is sure that at some point he realized his plan to capture non-combatants was compromised and he withdrew to the ridge again, this time cutoff and surrounded by vastly superior forces. At this point his tactics went abruptly from taking the offensive, to being defensive. Benteen would not arrive at the last minute; indeed Benteen’s command had rejoined Reno’s and would venture no further.

      I believe Custer’s strategy and tactics were sound, given what he knew at the time. He realized how important the element of surprise was, and at the urging of his Indian scouts, acted decisively to take advantage of it. By all accounts, the initial attack by Reno was met with complete surprise. Obviously, Reno’s failed charge compromised this strategy greatly. Not having a closer and a more reactive Benteen certainly did too.

      If Reno could have sustained his attack longer, it is entirely plausible Custer could have entered the village largely undetected and captured enough non-combatants that caused the Indians to simply withdraw in the direction of Terry’s approaching forces. But military plans often go awry, and when they do all sorts of things happen. Custer and his men paid a terrible price when they did. I think there’s enough blame to go around, from the War Department’s actions of placing a under-strengthen, under-trained troop in the field, with carbines that performed poorly, to Terry, Custer, Benteen, and Reno. Custer deserves some criticism, but certainly not the lion’s share. Most of it came down to a combination of many factors that just happened to meet up that day in Southeastern Montana.

      • Gene Moore says:

        Interesting interpretation of the Washita massacre. Somethings that were not mentioned.
        1. Black Kettle was an advocate of peace with the whites and attempted to surrender using a United States Flag as a symbol. He and his wife were both shot in the back trying to flee.
        2. Custer sent a patrol in the direction of the villages farther down the river that he later never supported or even looked for when they did not return. I suspect this figured quite largely in the decisions of Reno and Benteen.
        3. Custer had the captured horse herd slaughtered, convincing the warriors riding in support of Black Kettle’s village that he was insane, and therefore protected by the spirits.

  64. PFC Rex Rooney uscp retired says:

    Custer fought at the little big horn he put himself and his brave me in harms way. The authors of all these books and magazine should be ashamed they probrably never rode a horse or saw a real Indian but they write about a great battle and forget this was the closing of the west for the Indians and the white man was coming .. To bad all these authors can’t see this and instead of writing about this sit down and write about your own lost battles and see how we like that rcr

  65. Sharon H says:

    “Custer fought at the little big horn he put himself and his brave me in harms way.”

    Any battle will qualify as putting the men under your command “in harm’s way”. Custer did as he was commanded. He also had leeway to do what he determined was he thought was best at the time. He did not have the advantage of modern communications, nor was he aware that shortly before, a battle that presaged that of the Little Big Horn had already occurred. I’m sure if he did, Custer would have approached the situation differently and have had a more concise understanding of the strength and size of the Indian camp.

    These authors you seem to despise have done a ton of research, using mainly primary sources from both sides. What else can one do, without the benefit of a time machine? Whether I agree with a particular author or not, I have to acknowledge that he or she has spent a huge amount of time trying to recreate this terrible event.

    P.S. It is hard to take anyone seriously whose post contains so many misspellings and grammatical errors. Also, have you even read any of these authors’ works?

  66. Jim says:

    As an Englishman reading both the article and the responses I would like to contribute the following.
    There are grammatical errors in the piece.
    “shined new light” should of course read “Shone new light”
    SHINE (verb) shine, shines shone
    A lot of the comments would appear to be inherently racist in nature- why on earth do people disbelieve the Native American history of the battle ?
    Not only were they there but they won.
    “History is written by the victors”

    • Sharon H says:

      Your question about “disbelieving” Native accounts shows that you know little of the tradition of oral history and also the nature of the warriors themselves. It seems that those who were in the battle and gave their accounts of what happened provided a very contradictory picture of affairs. Also, warriors contended with each other for bragging rights. How many have claimed “I was the one who killed Custer!” when in reality the fighting was so fast and furious that it was probably impossible to ever know who ended his life.

      True, many people back East refused to hear their side of the story. But not everyone felt that way. After matters had settled down, reporters especially were very intrigued by the Lakota and Cheyenne versions of the battle. IMO probably the best account has been given by the Crow scouts, who had corrected misconceptions about the locations of various events.

      In any case, you are also not taking into account that as time went on some of the warriors were telling the whites what they thought they WANTED to hear, not what exactly happened. Many were anxious to please the authorities in hopes of getting better treatment for themselves and their people. You must take all this into account before using that tired old “racism” label.

      For that matter, white accounts often are wildly all over the place. And by the time of the Reno inquiry, it appears that “facts” changed dramatically to put certain individuals in a better light and vilify Custer, who of course could not defend himself.

      If you want to read Indian accounts of the battle, try Michno’s “Lakota Noon”. Remember that what they say must be taken at face value and also that, with time, memory fades and also plays tricks with events. This is true for both sides of the story.

  67. thomas k says:

    i think it was a good piece of work . most of which i have read befor. i read anything on the custer fight ,just read the river and the horse men . good book .. the truth is we will never know what happend at the little bighorn in 1876 . just like we will never know what happend at the alamo. i guess no matter what is said or written i will allways believe that the troopers at the lbh made a last stand . in a way every one that was there made a last stand .

  68. The Big Guy says:

    Another myth is that John Martin’s name was Giovanni Martini. It was Giovanni Martino before he changed it prior to enlistment.

    • Ted Ford says:

      Excellent site (re: Custer’s Bugler)! Some great pics and a terrifically interesting story.

      • Sharon H says:

        Just checked it out–great site. I appreciate when people take an interest in the “lesser names” of this famous event. What an interesting life he had!

  69. fred says:

    The thing I liked about this article is that the author put toghether a lot of the first hand accounts into something coherent. Several weaknesses are still evident and probably will never be known. The most obvious is the engagement at Blummers ridge. If an Indian Narrative could be linked to that location i think it would put most of the Custer part of the battle into perspective. Just saying “they were on the East bank” leaves room for a lot of interpretation. Too bad the NPS can’t borrow the cartridges and cases found at the Blummer ridge site and conduct a forensic examination with the hope of linking the results with other movements on the battlefield.
    The criticism over the lack of government bullets on last stand hill is not conclusive. Last stand hill was the most visited place on the battlefield and subject to decades of people collecting anything they could find. Couple that with the big hole dug for the collection of bones plus the road and parking lot construction disturbances I dont think we can make any conclusions from the evidence gathered there.
    Custers plan of attack fell apart like all plans do. In 1943 the the 8th AF attacked a ball bearing factory in Germany with two bombing elements. The first element of bombers took off followed by a second element some 20 minutes later. The idea was the Germans would commit thier fighters against the first group and while they landed and refueled the second element could bomb unmolested. The problem was the second element was delayed for about an hour providing time for the Germans to refuel, rearm and re-engage resulting in large losses for both bomber elements. They would have been better off going all at once. The same for Custer. He would have been better off going in all together.

  70. gari says:

    My interpretation is that Custer told Reno to attack and that he would support him with the whole outfit. Reno attacked and Custer did not come.

    Reno, not experienced in Indian fighting, without his commander coming to support, retreats and digs in.

    Benteen gets the message, hears Reno’s defence, heads there, in time to stop the Reno command from being annihilated. Reno’s battalion was virtually ineffective by now and could possibly be annihilated and Benteen stays to support, by now the pack train has arrived. As I see it, if Custer with a larger command of five companies couldn’t handle the Indians then why would Benteen risk his three?

    As I see it, if the Indians could have annihilated Custer’s five companies in defensive positions then Benteen’s mere three – on horse – would have been easily dealt with. If Benteen had gone to Custer, he would have also been wiped out and then finally so would have the beleaguered Reno.

    I have no doubt that Benteen staying with Reno ensured that the entire 7th Cavalry deployed at LBH that day was not annihilated.

    I doubt we will ever know what really transpired that day, the battleground has had over a century of weather, construction and souvenir hunting, and eye-witnesses – from both sides – are unreliable. I do find it distastefully racist the way White people disregard ALL Indian accounts as unreliable, while cherry-picking White accounts to support a position. We haven’t moved on too much really have we….

  71. fred says:


    Your claim that white people have ignored Indian accounts and the corresponding accusation of racism is without merit.
    Refer to the cooments made by Sharon H. above. There are plenty of Native american accounts from the time period but like all accounts suffer from human frailties. Consider the lack of knowledge regarding the bodies in “deep ravine.” The Indians report “shooting down” on soldiers and the white survivors talk of “pushing dirt down from the sides” to bury the dead but no archealogical evidence supports these narratives. Are the archeoligists racist just because their findings cannot find these bodies?
    Your accusation of racisim is just an excuse to dismiss the validity of someones arguement because you are too lazy to research the facts.

  72. david wicker says:

    How can people like gregory michno make hard and fast assertions
    on what happened that day,as if he has some sort of undisputable knowliage.Have an opinion by all means greg but do not arrogantly
    talk as if its your way or the highway.Apart from the obvious,that all
    of custers command perished,NO ONE,not even you greg,knows for
    sure what happened that day.Custer may well have not been killed
    or wounded at the river crossing,but then again he could have been.You dont know,i dont know,and quite frankly,nobody knows.
    Have your own opinions by all means greg,but if you were the only fountain of knowleage on this subject,everything else ever written
    about it would be invalid.Just a little humility old sport never goes astray. regards to all david

  73. Waldo says:

    That all sounds like a very complicated plan for not knowing the size of the village, its exact location, the number of warriors, or anything about the geography along the east side of the river leading to the village. I don’t see how Custer could have hoped to attack the village anywhere near simultaneously with Reno given the much more difficult terrain he had to travel to get to a crossing point. If Reno had not halted his attack on the village, it seems to me he either would have panicked the whole village into flight or been wiped out in close quarter fighting in the village. Either way, the decisive action should have been pretty much over by the time Custer would have been able to cross the river from east of the village. My personal guess is that Custer underestimated the numbers of warriors and their willingness to fight. Perhaps he’s not to blame for this, however, given what he’d been told and past experience. Regardless, this underestimation of the Indians led him to take high risk/high reward decisions. He gambled for glory and lost.

  74. Johnny says:

    The evidence indicates where Custer made his ‘last stand’ but not that he or his group were the last ones to die and there are many possibilities. This programme gives a good idea of what happpened but the exact run of events will never be absolutely known.


  75. mike says:

    i am Cheyenne… but anyhow … this guy is a nut that in his world Cheyenne and soux did not have the
    right to bear arms we were defending ourselves from terrorism from another land… and that is the truth… deal with it…..ROLMFAO…. and this is just another form of the word his-tory his way…

  76. Joe Little Bear says:

    I am Crow and I wish to state the Sioux stole our land and that is why we supported the soldiers and Custer as scouts. The Sioux and Cheyenne were terrorist who wiped out whole villages of Crow. They do not belong in the Black Hills.

    • fred says:

      Thanks for your input Joe Little Bear. It annoys me to no end that the Sioux portray themselves as innocent victims in the war on the plains when in fact they were just recieving what they had dished out to the other tribes for hundreds of years (taking land and exterminatation of opponents). Granted the European immigrant changed the dynamics of the whole place but at least there has been peace for everyone since the 1890’s. In the grander scheme of things there is not a people group on earth that has not been over-run by another people group at one time or another. Only in this country can people find money in harboring resentment.

      • Sharon H says:

        Yes, this has been true throughout the history of mankind all over the world. It is just the nature of things. A people are overrun and conquered. Then another group comes along and the cycle begins again.

        The current trend to blame the evil whites is ridiculous. It is just history repeating and repeating itself. I believe it is in the genes of homo sapiens everywhere.

        As Joe Little Bear stated, the Sioux had driven the Crows from their land. Previous to that, the Chippewas had done the same thing to the Sioux, forcing the latter out onto the plains where they encountered the Crow. A lot of people who aren’t that much into history don’t realize the Sioux were actually a woodlands tribe and their famous (and very interesting) culture was relatively new and lasted for just over 150 years.

    • John Koster says:

      Joe Little Bear? Two Crow friends on the Crow Reservation say that Little Bear is a Cheyenne name and that they don’t know anybody named Joe Little Bear on the Crow reservation. A Cheyenne of that name married into the Crow Nation many years ago but is now deceased. Sr, Richard Littlebear is a genuine Indian but he is Cheyenne, not Crow. Can you furnish some proof of your tribal status such as which clan you belong to, where you live, and how your family name is pronounced in Crow? My Crow friends may be mistaken, but this looks like a vulgar hoax and should not be tolerated among honest and decent people simply because it is convenient or comforting to Custer fans. I heard from Tom and Suzie Yellowtail and Sarge Old Horn, all Crow, what they as modern Indians thought of Custer and what they thoiyght of the “Sioux” and Cheyenne. The sentiments in the quiote were described in similar terms.

  77. fred says:

    Concur with your assessment with regard to N. Miles. After the LBH the Indians scattered. All the Army columns stayed in the field throughout the rest of the summer looking for them and found nothing until Slim Buttes sometime in the fall, and then only a small part of the original village was engaged. Nelson Miles primarily relied on his walk a heaps (infantry) and successfully employed a few pieces of artillery as opposed to the hollywood version of the Calvary.

  78. Joe Little Bear says:

    My family is from Crow Reservation as am I. I worked my summers as a youth in Garryowen which has the gas station and the once private museum.I left at 18 to join the Army and have served my 20 years and now live in another state. I do not need to place my family tree on this board as I have not seen anyone else do so and you insult me by even making such a racist statement as to prove who I am and where I was born. 1st If these people you mention told you their names you must own a time machine.2nd you would know that our language is not being passed down as much as it should be and less then 70 % speak it any more. Can you furnish evidence to me your not another Sioux from Pine Ridge. If you need to rely on deceased friends to give you information it seems to me that you are a Sioux or pushing the Sioux agenda to take more of the Crow land. I see your Pine Ridge Reservation still has a high crime rate and the highest rapes in the USA. Maybe my friends who live by there can tell me more. I make a statement and you call me out to prove who I am. You are not worth my time. I know Sarge Old Horn we consider a traitor who is big in Russel Means autobiography a name the Sioux like to throw around so you have given yourself away with that name mentioned in Russel Means autobiography.And Tom Yellowtail died in 1993 so I sure would like to know how you heard from him. Susie Yellow Bear was married toTom in my grandparents times the 1920’s.Susie died in 1981 so I think you are full of lies and I challenge you to prove to me how you are talking to our people who have been dead for years.When you heard that Tom Yellowtail was one of our Medicine men and Sun Dance leader you should have checked first to see if he was alive. I am done with you now as you have insulted my tribe and my family by your lies . I do not pretend to have learned my language fluently as I work in cattle. And any of you readers on this board can check on Tom and Susie Yellowtail just google Tom Yellowtails name as this fool has done. Thing is he didnt read enough about him to know that he has been dead many years and so has his wife. Another Sioux insult to take the dead and speak of them as in the present. You will suffer badly in the afterlife for what you have said today. Now maybe you people can understand more of why we do not like the Sioux. Joe DAX PIT SE The word for Bear that my brother has told me. See Im an American I read and speak English.

  79. John Koster says:

    Tom Little Bear: Your credentials are entirely in order. I of course knew that Tom and Suzie Yellowtail were both deceased. Suzie, I believe, died at Thanksgiving dinner and Tom was distraught. Tom was a medicine man who wore a crew cut and a peace medal and Suzie was the first Crow RN. Suzie and Tom lived at guests at my house for about 10 days during the 1970s and she used to answer the door, wrapped in a traditional blanke and braids, and say \John’s not home\ accompanied by my 120-pound malemute dog. The locakl police have been leery of me ever since. I assure you I did not look them up on Google. We helped them round up food and clothing donations and once sent about seven boxes. I considered it rent on America, since I am not a Sioux.
    Suzie did not much like Russell Means either, but when a white man who exploited Indians once expressed his disdain for Means and the Sioux, Suzie told me quietly: \.He hates tghem becvauise they stand up for themselves better than other Indians do…\ They are not afraid to disaghree or to be disagreeable.
    Sarge Old Horn, at about the same time, was active with the Cleveland office of the American Indian Movement and we often discussed what you might call media events. His belief was that all contemporary Indians should focus on problems with the government and public images. I worked in a large newspaper office in those days and whenever Indians in semi-traditiona; clothing and hair styles came in to talk, the white and black people were all terrified…
    It’s been a long road but you are entitled to your opinion as I am to mine. I think drastic hostility between modern Indians is a dangerous anachronism. Now thay you have absolutely confirmed that you are a genuine Indian, I hope you will use this and other web sites to express your honest opinions as you have here.

  80. I'm 5th cousin of G.A.Custer says:

    If you want the real story find out who the president was at the time and his relationship with both Custer and the indians. Next discover how the indian nation really felt about Custer. Then find out what was taken from Custer by the indians. Finally ask yourself why the government covered up the truth all these years right to date. Oh by the way, G.A. Custer is my cousin on my father’s side and I am part indian on my mother’s side by one band on grandma’s side and a different band on my granddad’s side.

  81. Joe Little Bear says:

    They took every thing he owned except his socks a spur and a lower boot. I met the Custer ancestors in Michigan and none have ever stated they have Native American family. Only one Custer male lived.

  82. Harry Prothero says:

    Indians invented reloading…there was a strict law against selling centerfire military ammo to them…reloading rimfire presented the problem of lining up the 44 rim with the percussion cap inserted in a hole punched near the edge of the cartridge… The tubular mag on the Henry would have made this dubious, while using in an1872 open top the cartridge could be better oriented and probably done… Probably not necessary tho as rimfire was not under the same restriction and could be purchased…the 45 colt and 45-70 on the otherhand with a hole punched on the center and a small stone inserted as an anvil for the percussion primer worked reliably…the brass was therefore valued by the Indian and simply picked up on the battlefield!

  83. Mike Griffith says:

    I think it’s a mistake to place so much trust in the findings from archaeological excavations that were conducted decades after the battle took place. By the time these excavations were carried out, many thousands of people had long since visited the battlefield and had picked up cartridge cases and other items from it. So just because no casings were found on a certain hill or in a certain ravine does not prove what did or did not happen there.

  84. Paul Jacobs says:

    A core principle of warfare is the concept of superior force at the point of contact. One does not attack a superior force with inferior force and expect to achieve a positive result. So the question is, were Custer’s tactics sound? Although he did not know the size of the force against him, his scouts had made it clear to him that the Indians were present in large numbers and warned him that he lacked sufficient strength, even while some urged him to attack. When he divided his force, he had to know that at no point were his separate parts greater than the whole of the force he was meeting. And given the fact that Reno, with only three companies was sent into contact some time before his own five companies made contact he could have anticipated that Reno, with inferior force at the point of contact might be repulsed and defeated. Despite the fact that he apparently achieved surprise, Custer could not have been counting on surprise to assist him; remember, he had been coonvinced that the Indians knew he was present and that surprise had been lost. Thus, he committed a cardinal error: he split his forces so that nowhere at the point of contact did he have superior force against an enemy he assumed was alert to his presence. His tactical dispositions were based upon previous experience against a surprised enemy. That assumption did not apply here. And even if it did, the assumption that history would repeat itself still violated the basic tactical rule.

  85. Gene Moore says:

    Custer’s tactics were flawed. He based them on his only previous experience of attacking a large indian village, his raid on Black Kettle’s village on the Washita in Oklahoma.
    Black Kettle was a strong advocate of peace with the whites, as were all the members of his village, they were not warriors. Nor did they want to be.
    Sitting Bulls warriors not only did not want to make peace with the whites, they had already soundly defeated one of the patrols sent against them that summer. They knew that they could defeat the whites in a head to head battle, they had already done it once.
    Custer’s worst mistake that day was going into battle in the first place, his men were tired and his judgement was badly skewed. He and his men were dead as soon as they came into sight of the village.

  86. Michael Custer says:

    You are incorrect about Black Kettle’s warriors. Although he was an advocate for peace all historical accounts of the Washita say he could not control his warriors who raid in western Kansas.

    • Michael Custer says:

      Concerning comments 80 and 81. The young man can be a fifth cousin because he and George have a common ancestor. I am a fourth cousin three times removed. Nevin Custer was the only male Custer to have survived and his male children became Army officers.

  87. Gene Moore says:

    Sorry Mike,

    I spent the first 44 years of my life living in western Kansas, Ford and Hodgeman counties to be exact. My maternal grandmother was a child and young woman during the last quarter of the 19th century. Her father, my great-grandfather, homesteaded the area in the late 1860s. I am very well-versed in the history of the area, both the white and non-white versions.
    Custer attacked a peaceful village of Tsisstas camped on the Washita. He apparently targeted this specific village, Black Kettle was known to display an American flag in front of his lodge after the Sand Creek Massacre. This village was targeted because it was known to be Black Kettle’s. There were at least five other \hostile\ villages camped along the river both up and downstream of Black Kettle’s. At best, there were less than 30 actual warriors in the village when it was attacked.
    Custer captured in the neighborhood of 200 women and children and used them as a shield to retreat after he sent a patrol after some fleeing villagers that was annihilated by a party of warriors riding to the support of the attacked village. He also captured most of the horse herd for the village that he ordered destroyed. The Indian warriors who witnessed the slaughter were so appalled by this atrocity that they broke off contact with Custer fearing that he was insane and that they might suffer the ill-effects of remaining in contact with him.

    • Ed Custard says:

      You seem to have conflated Sand Creek and the Washita regarding the American flag. Black Kettle had been told by the commander of the fort nearest Sand Creek to fly the American flag, as indication that his band was one of those that had been sheltered peacefully by the fort. Col. Chivington ignored this and attacked anyway as his local militia were hungry for blood. Why would he later fly a flag at the Washita even though it had afforded him no protection whatsoever at Sand Creek?

      Through several decades of Custer reading and research I’ve seen no evidence that Black Kettle’s village on the Washita was targeted because it was his village. The orders Sheridan issued to Custer specified no destination beyond the broad general area of operation in their search for those responsible for hostile raiding. The 7th Cavalry attacked Black Kettle’s village on the Washita because that is where the trail they were following led.

      The 7th Cavalry captured 53 women and children at the village, not 200. There are no totals regarding the number of warriors in the camp with which there is any agreement. The totals that have been indicated by various sources range from your low of less than 30 to more than 100.

      Major Elliott chose to pursue fleeing Cheyenne during the battle on his own, not at Custer’s order, yelling out \here’s to a brevet or a coffin.\

      No doubt the Cheyenne were horrified by the destruction of the pony herd, which numbered nearly 800. This was U.S. Army policy at the time throughout the west. A herd of 1500 – 2000 ponies was later destroyed by Ranald MacKenzie’s forces in the aftermath of the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon. Credit Sherman and Sheridan for this approach.

      • Gene says:

        Black Kettle continued to display the U. S. flag in front of his lodge, even after Chivington and his Colorado and New Mexico “90 day wonders” attacked his village at Sand Creek, apparently hoping that Chivington’s attack had been an aberration not an actual planned assault by the U. S. Army.
        In any case, the flag was used to identify a specific target, one that would provide the lest armed resistance to an assault.

  88. Peter says:

    If the village had 1200 lodges then there were 3000-3600 warriors that Custer had to deal with. Do your research….2.5-3 warriors per lodge was quite common. Add to this 100-200 wickiups on the river that were filled with young men from the rez who arrived for the summer hunt….and I estimate full warrior strength around 3500. Thank you very much. Other than that, I think Michno did a good job on the article.

  89. Gene Moore says:

    My research disagrees somewhat with yours, you have used the US cavalry’s equation to estimate the number of warriors per lodge. A similar equation was used by the US military to estimate body counts in Vietnam, it was proven to be wildly inaccurate in that conflict.
    The figures supplied by the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe chroniclers of the incident put the figure closer to 2500.
    I suspect that the cavalry significantly over-estimated the opposing force, completely understandable considering the outcome. The various tribes probably were a little short on their counts as well, most tribes only worked in multiples of ten, meaning anything more than 100 was considered ‘many’.
    In any case, Custer showed poor judgement by attacking a group of indeterminate size with a relatively small group of exhausted and not well armed men.

  90. Gene Moore says:

    The European tactic of superior force at the point of the attack did not fare too well in use against indigenous peoples. The \Horns of the Bull\, used by the Zulu in their battles against the British as well as the Fetterman Massacre in Red Cloud’s war, where Crazy Horse used a similar tactic against Fetterman, would argue against the logic of that.
    The battle styles and tactics in use by the Europeans where often considered foolishly expensive in the lives of their soldiers by the \savages\ that they fought against.

  91. Tony Hoeppner says:

    Mike, thank you for being straight up! I am a firm believer that the native (whatever tribe) always told the truth because thats always the way. I don’t believe many white accounts because of this and that of that person can and will decieve for oneself to be more than should be, ect. At the start of the battle, the natives where not trying to do anything but live their lives but the white soldiers where there to wipe out. So sad of the facts but look at Wounded knee and other engagements….. ‘The white man came to fight, we gave it to them’ I believe! Just think how many natives have died that didn’t have to!!!!! So, please know that most natives who has a hate towards others, I can see why if they do!!!, because the whites are wrong!!! Tony Hoeppner

  92. […] Note: For additional Little Bighorn information, see Ten Myths of the Little Bighorn and Battle of the Little Bighorn – Were the Weapons the Deciding […]

  93. garylloyd says:

    This author’s immaturity and bad attitude — Deal with it! is better suited for a Justin Bieber chatroom

  94. RobertKLR says:

    I’m reading the \Recollections of Gen Nelson Miles\ and I think Michno’s article is mostly in agreement with what the General writes. Sheridan and Terry both considered Custer to be a very capable officer, one of the best in the field. Miles writes that Custer acted within his orders and properly in battle. The General says Custer and his troops were seasoned and successful soldiers, veterans of over 40 battles with the Indians, many hotly contested. They were certainly no stranger to a desperate fight. Miles went to the scene shortly after and conducted their own investigation. He didn’t think much of Reno’s account of the order of battle after that but considered the Indians accounts to be accurate enough. He also brings up the issue of friction, corp wide, between officers over intelligence concerning the Indians. Friction that went all the way to the top including the White House. Furthermore he certainly considered Reno’s RCOI a whitewash of the whole thing.

    Honestly, from what I know so far it looks like the battle lasted a while because the troopers and the Indians both were in a real desperate fight.

  95. Dan says:

    Ok so no matter what account we go with, there’s going to be holes in the story, and sadly, we will never get an exact truth about everything that happened that day. We will only be able to make speculations based on the stories and evidence that we’re given.

    My question is this. If Custer truly followed orders, and the camp truly was manageable, and there were truly a manageable amount of warriors, then why did he get laid out with his survivors running in disarray?

    If Custer had realized his plight, why could he have not rode hard and withdrew to a better position to assist Reno with the warriors on the southern flank?

    Why was Benteen not brought up to support? Am I missing something here? There’s so many damn holes in the story that it’s hard to paint a solid picture of what happened and that’s outright frustrating.

    I’ve been studying Little Bighorn for years, and the sequence of events changes slightly every time. It’s so hard to get a clear picture of this fight.

    Based on my interpretations from study on this matter, Custer foolishly thought he could hold them off on an isolated hill with ZERO cover! How Custer felt he could make a fight there is beyond me. You need a defensible area before you can set up a solid defense. An open hill with no cover and no flank protection is just begging to take it from behind.

    I do know that the Cavalry Springfield’s were weapons plagued with extraction issues. If this was known at the time, why would Custer have even allowed that weapon in his unit? A muzzle loading, civil war era rifle that rarely malfunctioned would’ve been better than the new breech loading rifles he carried. I’ve read that after the battle, many of the Springfields were found with half extracted casings that had sheared off heads (case head separation). This is caused by using a metal too soft for the job. It gets hot and literally welds itself into the gun, and then the extractor pulls the head off, effectively disabling that weapon until somebody takes the time to manually extract the case. If you’re busy fighting, you’re probably not worried about a rifle with a stuck case. You would chuck it and get a functioning rifle. The problem was many of the troopers were experiencing this, and so I can presume their fire was not as heavy as it could’ve been. Once again, if his position was compromised, why he did not mount up and ride is beyond me. Why he allowed his horses to be scared off, sealing his fate, is beyond me. Why they left their sabers behind is beyond me. If somebody can explain these things, then please do.

    Was there really resentment toward Custer for abandoning men at the Washita, or is that just speculation? If it is true, then part of me thinks they left him out there to rot like he did to those poor souls at the Washita river.

    I can understand not wanting to drag along Gatling guns, as they probably wouldn’t have been much of a help anyways due to the rapidly changing troop dispositions. Heavy weapons generally cannot keep up with fast-moving cav units.

    I believe that Custer must have forgot he was Cavalry, not line infantry. Line infantry are trained and equipped to stand and fight to the last man and bullet. That’s their job. Infantry carry lots of ammo, and use massed fire to hold the line. A Cav unit is supposed to scout, skirmish, and mostly use their mobility to chase, or to fall back from an advancing enemy.

    Couldn’t Custer have fired a few volleys, remounted, fell way back, dismounted, fired from range, and kept doing that until he stopped getting rushed by them?

    Ok so I know that if Custer would’ve stuck around to slug it out on the south end, the women, children, and ponies would’ve all made it safely upriver. This would’ve negated the whole purpose of going to the Little Bighorn in the first place. I know that Custer had to be aggressive to an extent to prevent a tiresome and resource-burning pursuit across the great plains. I know Custer knew he had to finish it there or he would not have enough supplies to continue and most likely would’ve lost the command and reputation that he held so dear.

    Personally though, I think Custer didn’t fall back soon enough. He sat on that hill ineffectively trading lead in a completely indefensible position, while indians closed in on him with short range, fast firing Henry’s.

    Custer surely would’ve known about the Henry’s in the battle once it commenced. Any good commander knows what weapons his enemy has just by how they’re maneuvering and the amount of fire coming from their lines. This is part of the reason why burst fire from machine guns is paramount especially at the start of a modern battle. The enemy just wants to see what you got. If you lay off a 100 round burst, they’ll know you’re a gun nest and all focus on you. Not to mention you won’t hit anything, and all your ammo will be gone. Plus you will have more lead falling on you than rain in a typhoon.

    Once Custer discovered the Henry’s and their effectiveness at short range, he should have (in my opinion) done what a cavalry unit was designed to do. Fall back, and skirmish at range, using the Springfield for what it was intended for. Long range (albeit slow) fire to keep an enemy pinned or harass a flank. Skirmish lines are not intended to hold their position, but fire, and fall back when the enemy starts to close in. The job of the skirmisher is to wither the enemy down both in numbers and morale, but also in physical exertion from pursuit of the skirmish lines. Once to the main line, the enemy is already blooded, tired, and most likely confused, allowing the line infantry to unleash a murderous volley that would almost guarantee a break and rout.

    Somebody please explain to me why these suggestions would or would not have worked, and if there was a way for Custer to have survived and accomplished his mission at the same time. If he could have, please explain what he should have done.

    Thanks all!

    • Clark Wilkins says:

      I enjoyed your post. Your observations of why Custer didn’t get out of there have some validity. The problems with the concept of “dismount – fire – retreat” is that US cavalry horses were too slow to maintain distance from Indian ponies. It’s why the Indians caught up with Reno’s horses in just a very short distance. Reno never had a chance to dismount before reaching the river, firing a volley, and then remounting. It was the inability to stay ahead of the Indians that made Reno’s retreat such a route.

      Nonetheless you made a very good point when you wrote “Based on my interpretations from study on this matter, Custer foolishly thought he could hold them off on an isolated hill with ZERO cover! How Custer felt he could make a fight there is beyond me. You need a defensible area before you can set up a solid defense. An open hill with no cover and no flank protection is just begging to take it from behind.”

      Custer had sufficient military knowledge to know this was a really STUPID position from which he could last only minutes. It’s why there’s so little brass here. He didn’t last long. The often claimed reply that tourists picked them all up afterwards and that’s why it wasn’t found would have required yet another fire to expose the brass for the tourists to find.

      LSH was primarily defended by Company F. But it isn’t just their brass that’s missing. So is Company E’s and there were no tourists to pick over Company E’s.

      The reason for the lack of brass by both companies is obvious by the terrain – No cover. Without cover, life is short. You have seen the flaw others don’t.

  96. Gene Moore says:

    The best that I can come up with in regard to the command dynamics was that Custer was almost certainly sent ahead as some kind of assessment tool. He was not, at the time, very popular with the upper echelons of either the military or the current administration. If he had won, they would have a hero to show the public, if he lost, a martyr. A no-lose scenario for most of the higher-ops involved.

    From all accounts, Custer was a my way or the highway commander. It appears that Reno and Benteen were not. In effect, Custer was ‘fragged’ by them and most of the men not directly under his command at the time.

    Custer’s tactics and troop dispersal were almost identical to the ones that he used on the Washita. The tactics were just barely successful there, when fighting against a village of Cheyenne bent on peace with the whites. The warriors at the Little Bighorn were ‘professional’ fighters and hunters who definitely did not want peace with the whites and had beaten them on several other occasions. Add to that the fact that his men and mounts were exhausted and the outcome is hardly surprising. Tired men make bad decisions.
    Weapons, in this instance, were not nearly as important as they would seem. The Springfield was a highly accurate and dependable weapon, when provided with up-to-standard ammunition. This was not the first time that the army was provided with substandard rounds, nor would it be the last. The Indians used whatever weapon that they could lay hands on. Virtually all of the warriors were well-versed in the use of any weapon from a stone club to the various repeating rifles. They all knew that the kind of weapon that they had mattered less than the skill and determination of the man wielding it.
    In the final analysis, Custer was outnumbered, out-thought, and out-fought. Not even Sun-Tzu could have won under those conditions. But Sun-Tzu would never have placed himself or his men in that position in the first place.
    Custer followed his orders. The last one that he received before setting out to locate the village was: \Leave some for the rest of us\. He did and they were armed with Springfield carbines.

    • Dan says:

      Custer violated just about every rule in Sun Tsu’s Art of War. The first and most critical of which was he did not listen to rational thought from his other more competent commanders. The second was he had very little true knowledge about the disposition or condition, armament, etc. of his foe. This I believed sealed his fate.

      Perhaps a more competent commander would have made more of an effort to gather more intel?

      Perhaps after gathering this intel, would a more prudent commander have even attacked or just let them go?

      What if Custer had been more cautious and risked letting the enemy go instead of attacking against the odds?

      Moreover, given what you know about the battle and chain of events, how would you have fought this battle? Would you have fought this battle, or just observed from a distance?

      What happened to the indians after the battle? Did they stay to fight the main body of the Army? Did they move?

      The actions after the battle are cloudy to me. I know there was a smaller action to the southeast at a place called Rosebud 8 days before the Little Bighorn action. At Rosebud General Crook noticed the skill of the indian cavalry and dismounted warriors. They attacked in a fierce and coordinated manner, and kept reforming to come back into the fight. They were also very skilled in locating and exploiting gaps in the US lines. That right there should’ve sent a cold message to Custer to cool his ego lest he wind up vulture meat.

      Having known cavalrymen during my time in the Army, they told us that the problem with ground infantry is we tend to draw too much attention. As a scout, stealth and mobility are what keeps you alive. Scouts are usually light and mobile, so most likely not carrying the heavy weapons like an infantry unit would. I’ve always seen scouts as “shoot n’ scoot” types who skirmish, but don’t stick around for a drawn out battle.

      It seems like Custer had a feeling of superiority over the savages. Never ever underestimate your enemy, this is basic stuff in officer school from what I’ve heard. Maybe the fact that Terry even sent him up there was to get him out of his hair. He probably figured that with the way Custer was, it would only be a matter of time before he paid for it with his life.

      Custer sounds like a Captain I had when I was in Iraq. That man got 3 of our guys purple hearts for taking a convoy route that had not been cleared by engineers since the invasion three years prior! Moreover, he had other routes he could’ve taken that had been cleared and had the cover of other coalition traffic. That’s just another example of blatant incompetence. They do walk among us, and I’m afraid Custer was one of them.

      Is there anything else about this battle that has come to light in recent years, or are we sort of at a forensic trail that has gone cold?

      • Ed Custard says:

        Crook never bothered to send word to General Terry and the rest of the units in the Sioux Campaign of 1876 that he had been in a serious fight the likes of which had never before been seen in the history of the Indian wars. At the time, Major Reno and a detachment of the 7th Cavalry were on a scout only 35 – 40 miles up the Rosebud. Instead he simply turned his men back to Goose Creek in Wyoming, where he and his men went trout fishing and hunting for a few weeks.

  97. Dan says:

    Let’s face it. The story is broken and full of holes. I’ve been studying this battle for many years and each time I read a new account, or switch to a new source, the course of the battle and events change somewhere in some manner. The truth is, this battle has been tainted by so much speculation, lies, and half-truths that we will never know what truly happened out there that day. Based on my findings, what occurred can safely be attributed to incompetence, betrayal, and arrogance on the parts of Reno, Benteen, and Custer.

    Custer was foolish enough to get spotted in the first place, and foolish enough to ruin his reputation by letting Joel Elliot hang at the Washita. The camp Custer attacked at the Washita was mostly peaceful Cheyanne who were looking to have a truce with the whites. He rode into them anyways, then left Elliot to hang.

    The force Custer fought 8 years later at the little bighorn was a camp of fierce and experienced warriors hell bent on war with the whites and not looking for any kind of peace. Had the 7th truly been able to “hold their own against the savages” then they would have. Some accounts go as far as to say a relief was attempted by Weir, but shortly after he left Benteen and Reno’s perimeter, he was sent scampering back to Benteen’s lines. If that’s the case then the 7th was out muscled and out fought fair and square. An account like that puts Custer in the category of foolish bravery and complete lack of respect for a totally capable foe. Something Custer fanboys are not willing to readily recognize.

    Let’s not forget that the 7th did not drive the Indians from the field. They held onto their perimeter, getting attacked off and on throughout the night and into the next afternoon. To me that sounds like a desperate holding action, not an attack. So the end result was the same. Custer failed his mission anyways, and did so at the cost of 262 lives. So are Reno and Benteen completely to blame for this scenario? Custer fanboys love to say so, but they fail to put Custer’s failings under any kind of scrutiny. Anything Custer may have screwed up was first started by Reno and Benteen… Give me a break! I’ve heard this crap so much it’s sickening.

    Some people view Custer as a god, and will do anything to try to debunk anything that says otherwise. There are people who think Custer was a pile of horse dung and will do everything to try to debunk anything that says otherwise. So I think that since the story seems to morph into a bias depending on what side you talk to, I will conclude that this battle has become more of a folklore tale than actual fact. Wanting to believe something so bad will cloud your judgment to objectively analyzing information. What about the Indian accounts? Don’t they get a say in what happened?

    Some Indian accounts put Custer as being ambushed while riding down to the river, and not actually being shot IN the river. There were some warriors who stated that there were more than enough warriors to handle both attacks, and that had Custer attacked in force and from one direction they still could not have killed all the warriors, even if they did choose to let the women and children go. That account would suggest incompetence and a gross underestimation of one’s foe. It isn’t a surprise when we find that most Custer fanboys only cite Army and 7th Cavalry sources. Gee, I wonder why.

    So based on what I’ve read from all sides, I can come to the conclusion that it was a chain of things that went wrong, one problem started during the Civil War, when Custer started believing he was a combat god.

    So in conclusion, it was a matter of incompetence on Reno and Custer’s part, betrayal on Benteen’s part, and complete arrogance on Custer’s part. The only ones I hold truly innocent in this battle are the soldiers and the pack mules. Lord knows they were only following the orders of the aforementioned leaders. Leaders who I believe all failed them in some way or another. The 7th Cavalry would not have been a unit I would’ve wanted to be in in those days.

    I will never visit this battlefield. What’s the point? Why would I pay to get a narrative from a park service when I can’t be sure that story is even correct?

    Let’s just leave it as it is. Little Bighorn, win or lose, didn’t change anything in the end. We were hell bent on taking those resources ever since they had been discovered by Lewis and Clark. Oh and the fact that Lewis was mysteriously murdered on his way to deliver his top secret findings to the president in person is another course for study. I feel that the American history that we’ve come to know and hold dear couldn’t be further from the truth. We Americans love to believe we’re perfect in every way and that we couldn’t possibly be outsmarted or outfought. An attitude that has gotten us whipped more times than not.

    To me the Little Bighorn will go down as a perfect example of what happens when you mix up a deadly cocktail of arrogance and gross incompetence among leaders. The lives of the soldiers lost was the cost of these mistakes, as is usually the case.

  98. Johnny says:

    Good point Dan (on firing and falling back), and one I haven’t heard before. Sounds like a good delaying tactic while waiting for Benteen?
    My opinion on leaving the sabers behind was that it was in general being considered at that time less an effective weapon than the revolver, since the revolver had better range (although limited) and made more noise, thus making it better suited as a shock force weapon. And I doubt many of the insufficiently trained cavalrymen could match up in hand to hand combat carrying a sword against warriors who were highly skilled in that kind of fighting with their traditional hand weapons.

    • Dan says:

      The “falling line” tactic as I always knew it from my Army days was where a unit would tactically withdraw when a fight was futile so as to salvage what was left of a failed attack. One group would cover fire while the other fell back and reloaded. The theory “live to fight another day” is what keeps armies marching on and winning wars. If a commander was willing to take 50% casualties, sure he might win a Pyrrhic victory, but then his army would be unable to campaign further, and his expedition would be finished.

      I feel Custer acted way too brash given the logistical situation, even if there was a sense of urgency. To be urgent and brash on the battlefield is to be dead. Ground combat is actually slower than one would think. It’s not like a deafening crescendo of fire as you would’ve found during WW1 or WW2, and then only in major engagements numbering tens of thousands.

      I can see why the sabers were left behind.

      So bottom line, even though I wasn’t there, all I have to say is complacency kills, and good intel can mean the difference between success or losing a unit altogether.

  99. Gene Moore says:

    In general, I would agree with your comments Dan, with two notable exceptions.

    The fire and fall back tactic does work extremely well, when the opposing force can be limited by terrain or tactics to focusing their attack from one or two directions.

    The Plains Indian Tribes did not use those kind of tactics. Each warrior fought as an individual, not as a cog in a machine. They did not need to have their fire ‘directed’, each warrior knew how to exploit the terrain and their opponents’ weaknesses almost instinctively.

    When you are totally surrounded by highly efficient fighters, there can be no ‘tactical withdrawal’. Another example of the US military using the tactics of the last war to fight the most recent one.

    Leaving the sabers behind was a mistake. The most elite of the Plains Indian warriors, the Lakota Crazy Dogs and the Tssistas Dog Men for example, considered it cowardly to simply shoot an enemy and ride on. In their hierarchy of courage, touching armed and unwounded enemy took much more courage than simply shooting the same enemy from behind a rock.

    Having the sabers would have provided the troopers with effective hand to hand weapons against these elite warriors, who no doubt took a heavy toll amongst the best fighters that Custer had. The elite warriors would have sought out the best fighters on the other side to test themselves against.

    The downside of carrying sabers on horseback is the very distinctive noise that they generate as the troop moves. Since the Indians already knew that there were soldiers in the vicinity, noise discipline was not really a matter of primary concern.

  100. RobertKLR says:

    The Indian fighting tactics Billy Dixon, Charles Goodnight, Kit Carson and Buffalo Bill Cody describe all seem to be in line with Custer. They all participated in similar actions. The bold surprise attack seemed to be the preferred plan. There’s lots of stories of cavalry, ranger and militia units routing larger Indian forces uses the same tactics. The Indian response to this tactic usually was to try to get between soldiers and the women and children and buy time for them to escape. The army’s response to that was to press the charge, break through the Indian line and attack the village. This required coordination, each unit had to be in place, on time and know its job. That is where General Miles had issues with Reno but not Custer. But I guess that doesn’t really add anything as to how Custer’s fight unfolded and ended.

  101. Gene Moore says:

    Let’s take a look at your Indian fighting experts that you cited. Billy Dixon was a professional bison hunter, not a soldier. Charles Goodnight was a professional cattleman. Kit Carson was a fur trapper and scout for both the military and civilian expeditions. I have head a story that indicates he shot and killed a mule, thinking the animal’s ears were feathers sticking up from an Indian’s head. William F. Cody was a professional hunter and shameless self-promoter. None of these men had any formal military training in tactics, although they all did have connections to the military during their lives. None of them had attended officer school. Custer did, although he did graduate at the bottom of his class from West Point. He also had a disturbing tendency to leap before he looked.

    General Miles’ comment could just as easily have been intended to focus public attention on continuing the campaign against the Indians as to exonerate Custer. Neither Reno or Benteen were convicted of any wrongdoing at the Little Bighorn.

    The tribes at the Little Bighorn had just completed religious ceremonies intended to increase their spiritual and metaphysical power. Crazy Horse and his followers had just returned to the camp after beating back one of the other columns sent against them that summer. The whole village knew that they were the primary target for any US troops in the area. Why would they be afraid of one troop led by a madman?

    As White Man Runs Him said when he released the other Indian scouts before the engagement. \You are lucky, you will live, I get to die with him.\ White Man Runs Him was killed during Reno’s retreat after the initial attack, which Custer failed to support, was repulsed. That was were the battle was lost, not where Custer and the members of his detachment were killed.

  102. RobertKLR says:

    Gene, Goodnight was also a Texas Ranger during the Civil War and fought in many Indian battles, and Cody, Carson and Dixon were extremely experienced in Indian fighting and often consulted by schooled officers as to what tactics would best suit the situation. Carson also accompanied and even commanded commanded more than a few military expeditions.

  103. Gene Moore says:

    I believe I did say that they all had associations with the military, that does not mean they were tacticians. However, none them had the caliber or PROFESSIONAL military tactics training that Custer, Benteen, and Reno had. They might have been good Indian fighters, but they were not military tacticians.

    At the Little Bighorn, Custer, a poor tactician at best, could not adapt when his opponent did not immediately break and run. His opponents were not fighting a delaying action so that others could escape. This was their home ground, they had nowhere to retreat to, physically or emotionally. They were caught between Custer and extinction as far as they were concerned. Custer should have realized that the stakes had changed and adjusted his tactics accordingly. From the result, I’d have to say he didn’t.

    You must be from Texas, the Rangers were, originally, a band of outlaws and hired guns recruited to fight against the Spanish, Comanches, and Kiowa before the Civil War. Their reputation was do more to their skills with Samuel Colt’s revolver than any military or tactical skill. Kind of like Quantrill’s Raiders in the border skirmishes between Kansas and Missouri.

    • RobertKLR says:

      I can see you are entrenched in your point of view to the point of being insulting to someone who has a different point of view and you’re assesment of the Texas Rangers leads me to believe you’re just a troll. Good day sir.

      • Gene Moore says:

        Actually, I’m a shaman and Dreamer.

        I apologize for tarnishing you image of your heroes. That was not my intention. From your reaction to my comments I would have to say that your beliefs run as deeply as mine. This is not a bad thing, but beliefs color perception and the truth is always a matter of perception for men.

        Until the end, you defended your truth ably and well.

  104. Gene Moore says:

    Just a couple of things.

    In recent years there have been several surveys of the battlefield using metal detectors to detect concentrations of expended rounds. Such a map would, and has been proven to, not only locate very accurately where skirmishes and stands took place but would also make it possible to track the movement of specific weapons through the use of ballistics. There is no way for us to know now who carried most of these identified weapons, but we can know where they were used.

    In more than 44 years of hunting, fishing, and hiking on the Great Plains, I have found exactly 1 set of biological remains in a draw, arroyo, or ravine. I believe that there are three reasons for this.

    One most animals, humans included, have an instinctual aversion to closed-off horizons, meaning they would avoid such a place if at all possible.

    Two, plains predators and scavengers tend to try to travel unseen, making a ravine a major highway for them. Most other plains animals do the same. What effect do you suppose a large herd of bison moving the confined space of Big Ravine would have made on skeletal or nearly so human remains?

    Three, how many honest-to-God gully washing thunderstorms do you suppose rolled over the battlefield in the century and a half plus since the battle. Ravines are made by fast flowing water cutting into the earth at high speed. Any bones or bone fragments that started in the ravine could be tens of miles downstream by now, if not farther. At best, there may only be four or five bone fragments left in the entire course of the ravine. That is a needle in a haystack.

    There are indications from the historical, Native American, accounts and the expended round mapping of the battlefield that a significant number of troopers fled toward the ravine.

    As the old Rolling Stones song says, You can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need. How much more do you need, realistically?’

  105. Harry says:

    The accuracy of the forensics assumes no one picked up brass… Brass is easy to spot for the squaw who picked over the remains… Center fire brass was valuable, the indian could not legally get it and invented reloading… I beleve the amont of goverment brass was inaccurate because of that… I have hunted for years snd pickked up boxes of brass without a metal detector…
    The rim fire brass was harder to reload and the cap had to be positioned on the rim tequiring it to be oriented, hard to do in a tubular magazine… It was probably harder to spot as the Indisn was on the move… A last stand would have made piles of brass to be picked up!
    You have no way of proving that brass is not missing, stick to a bison hoof or whatever!

    • Hahn says:

      Indians invented reloading??? And the source proof for that would be? Indians could readily trade for, purchase, steal centerfield ammo just the same way as the acquired centerfield (repeating and single-shot) rifles! And gunfire rifles (and specifically the Spencer) had primer compound around the rim (just like .22 bonfire cartridges) and Spencer’s did not have to have their cartridges “lined up” in their loading tube!

      • RICHARD H says:

        I hate to admit it but Indians reloading ammo was in fact an issue. I don’t buy that they invented it but they did DO IT. See: General Order 13 by the Secretary of War dated February 16th 1876. This ordered troops to make sure any empty cartridges left behind be damaged or destroyed specifically to stop the Indians from re-using them.

        Ref: http://milpas.cc/rifles/ZFiles/Misc/.45-70%20Government.htm
        (it is about half way down the page)

  106. Ed Custard says:

    Joe, I realize this is not likely to reach you as it’s been a year since you posted, but surely you realize that it isn’t necessary to be descended directly from a specific person or their immediate family member in order to be that specific person’s relative.

    There’s more to the Custer family tree than George’s surviving brother Nevin’s offspring alone. It’s certainly possible that Mr. 5th cousin speaks truthfully.

    I am George Armstrong Custer’s 4th cousin 4x removed. His 3rd great grandfather was my 7th great grandfather. How my surname became established as Custard I do not know, but I have discovered three consecutive great grandfathers who all used the spellings Kuster, Custer, and Custard at one time or another on various forms of documentation, the original family name being Kuster.

    • Ed Custard says:

      The above was intended as a reply to Joe Little Bear’s comment #81, to which for some reason it was not attached.

      The comment, which replied to a poster who indicated he was G.A.C.’s 5th cousin and also had American Indian heritage:

      “They took every thing he owned except his socks a spur and a lower boot. I met the Custer ancestors in Michigan and none have ever stated they have Native American family. Only one Custer male lived.”

  107. Dave Hill says:

    I think Custer really expected the Indians to scatter and flee in small groups (as they typically had done when confronted with large numbers of soldiers in the past due to unsustainable loss of men) and his battle strategy was one of containment using an extended but tragically thin dispersal of his troops as a net. The 7th did not want to spend the rest of a hot, uncomfortable summer chasing small bands of Sioux around the Black Hills, so Custer hastened to attack to prevent the expected escape attempt. Unfortunately, the Indians turned and fought and easily won the battle. Custer’s only hope would have been not to split his command, but to attack as a unit.

  108. […] is now famous as “Custer’s Last Stand” or some-more ordinarily “The Battle of Little Big Horn,” was a push that was partial of a […]

  109. […] is now famous as “Custer’s Last Stand” or some-more ordinarily “The Battle of Little Big Horn,” was a push that was partial of a […]

  110. […] inquiry admitted. Implications there. -a review Here is Michno discussing some of his thoughts: Ten Myths of the Little Bighorn I think the modern estimates of the NA force is more accurate than the 3-4 thousand the old […]

  111. Khe Sanh says:

    Reference the narratives of troopers after the battle who reference the bulwark of dead cavalry horses around Last Stand positions.

    Also LTC Custer followed accepted tactics and followed his orders.

    Remember he died faithful to his oath in the uniform of the Army of the US of America.

    He was true hero of the War Between the States having survived numerous cavalry charges leading from in front of his attacking troopers.

    Garry Owen LTC Custer.

  112. Gene Moore says:

    I thought I made clear that expended rounds were used to indicated positions on the battlefield. This does not mean empty brass cartridge cases, rather it refers to the cartridge slugs that impacted the earth when fired at soldiers or Native American positions. With the exceptions of rounds that lodged in flesh, all of these rounds would have penetrated into the earth and not been accessible to the hooves or feet of roving animals. These concentrations of slugs indicate where human targets were located during the battle, not necessarily where combatants were shooting from.

  113. Gene Moore says:

    Custer died because he got himself and his troops into an untenable position.
    To be brutally honest, there are really only two rules in war. Stay alive and do whatever is necessary to do so. Dead men win nothing.
    Custer made a lot of foolish decisions in his career, this one killed him and a significant portion of the men who entrusted their lives to him.
    A true warrior spends every day preparing for battle and prays every night that his day was wasted.

    • Hahn says:

      Maybe the best comment here. Period.

      It boiled down to G. A. Custer’s ego and ambition (was actively working political angles, not always behind the scenes either, for high elected office) and reckless desire for glory.

      As a kid (which was a long time ago), Custer was one of my several (historical) military heroes – as was Robert E. Lee. As I gained my own military experience and history, especially military history (detailed, multiple source history), I noted how my list changed drastically (no more Custer, no more Lee)!

      In effect, G. A. Custer was primarily ruled by that ego, ambition, and desire for glory.

      Deal with it.

  114. Tony Hoeppner says:

    Thank you Longhorn!!! I wasn’t there in 1876 but from the survivors of this battle showed, soldiers died because they wanted a fight. Its one thing to go after armed men, but another for women and children with the aged. I believe after Custer first attacked, many natives rallied to organize the slaughter that happened. I believe the soldiers did fight hard but did not realize that they where led to their fall by being tricked. Yes, tricked and they deserved to die because they where going to slaughter the innoncent. Led to believe that they could make a break so the soldiers ran and then realized that the trap was set. I believe that Custer was hit early and was alive to almost the end, brother Tom close at hand when the battle was over. Since Custer was usually in command from beginning to end shows that this time it might’ve been brother Tom who kept the fallen George close at hand but Tom was no George….. I only surmised the situation of why the command was wiped out…..

    • Gene Moore says:

      Tom Custer had already been awarded TWO Congressional Medals of Honor when the battle that his died in was fought. George Custer never received a medal of honor, despite the fact that they were given out quite freely during the Civil War when compared to later conflicts.
      If Tom had been in command, I believe the Army would still have lost, but there would have been far fewer trooper casualties. Tom had already proven his courage, twice. He would have been more concerned with preserving his command, not personal glory.

  115. gary says:

    That is the most common sense view of these comments, and pretty much the bottom line. Reno was apparently drunker then a skunk, And Benteen was playing his little game of I don’t like you so I’m not coming to the party till I’m good and ready. Custer may have been a primma donna, but in the world of 19th century mounted cav that was a good thing. He proved his value to many of his superiors during the civil war.

  116. Shamus says:


    Actually, in 1876, all firearms still used black powder, whether the gun was a single shot muzzleloader, or a modern gun that used metallic cartridge ammunition—including the state-of-the-art firearms that won the west—Henrys, Winchesters, and Colt SSAs. To repeat: they may have used metallic cartridges, but the powder was still black powder.

    Smokeless powder wasn’t invented until 1884, but it wasn’t used right away because, at the time, the metallurgy in building firearms wasn’t advanced enough that it could withstand the increased pressures of the new smokeless power.

    I believe that smokeless powder didn’t commonly replace black powder until around 1899, but the new powder was only to be used with firearms built with the newer, improved, steel that was engineered to withstand the higher pressure of smokeless powder. Of course, the older firearms still had to use the slower burning, lower pressure black powder.

  117. Shamus says:

    Robert @ 37.1 You wrote, \Had custer chased around to all the other places Terry had in his orders it may have been a week or more before the two columns would have met.\

    One very good reason for Custer finishing the assigned scout on his way to the LBH is that nobody knew if they were going to find one huge village, or a number of smaller villages in the general area. Logistically, it would be easier to feed smaller villages than having hunters hunting to feed 8,000 people all hunting in the same area.

  118. Shamus says:

    Willie @ 40

    You wrote: “On Page 6, Para 1, Gregory Michno states that: \\North to most Indians is East to white observers\ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . HUH ?

    Never heard that before and could not understand it, so I asked five different Indians, 2 Crow, 2 Cheyenne and 1 Lakota – all \old timers\, about it at the Battlefield Reenactment last week. 3 of em said they didn’t have a clue what it meant, 1 just shook his head & walked away, and 1 just stared at me as if to say \whatcha been drinkin’, wasichu ?\

    Anyone know what it’s supposed to mean ?”

    I don’t claim to be right, but I do have two plausible explanations, if we’re talking about the LBH battle specifically, and not just how Indians saw directions in general.

    Most maps of the battle are tilted 90 degrees to the left so it is easier to view the battle from left to right, or vice versa. Looking at the map from that orientation, it’d be easy for an Indian, who speaks a different language than English, to have the mind-set that, if you’re standing in the middle of the Indian village, West is on your left, East is on your right, North is directly in front of you (remember, East is North?), and South is at your back.

    Another plausible explanation could be the following: with the noon day sun at your back, you’re pretty much looking due north (sure, not magnetic north, but north as far as an Indian was concerned, and as far as I’m concerned, for that matter). Now add the fog of war to the equation where you’re recalling (picturing) the battle in your memory.

    You can feel the noon day sun at your back, as you’re repeatedly rising up, taking a shot at the soldiers, and then ducking down and taking cover, but in actuality, the sun is at 4:00 or 5:00 PM in the late afternoon. Now if you think of the sun at your back, and if left is West (but in actuality it’s north), then directly in front of you would be North (but in actuality, East, or at least, mostly East).

    I’m not suggesting that an Indian didn’t know his directions, but imagine with the language barriers, and possible mistakes with an interpreter, and possible faulty memories as to a moment in time while you’re right in the middle of combat, where your senses stop briefly to notice the time of day, it’s not that much of a leap to have a discrepancy between what the mind recalls as the time of the battle vs the actual time of the battle. With that in mind one can see that East “could” be North.

  119. Robert Ditmore says:

    While I found this article to be very interesting, I do have a number of issues with it; I will speak to only one, and that is the apparent bias. As a historian, one of the first things I look for when reading a historical account is bias. Mr. Michno’s rhetoric is disappointing to say the least; however, when a historian uses remarks such as “deal with it” when answering a critic, I have to question that historians reliability and integrity. It appeared to me the entire article was a defense of Custer, and anyone disagreeing with Michno’s viewpoint just needed to learn to “deal with it.” I found it all very unprofessional!

    • erique says:

      There is certainly Custerphile bias, when I was young Custer was a hero of mine, as I grew up and learned about the guy, I realized by belief in him was greatly flawed, as was his character…

      The Custer should never have split his command, leave alone have them too far apart to support one another.

      The author has made several errors, the main one, for me, is Custer’s appreciation of the size of the village, Custer could not see the village when the scouts did, how can Custer have known how big it was? Seems pretty certain Custer sent Reno in to take the heat off of Custer’s attempt to capture women and children, when Custer rode in and found that what he thought was the end of the village was in fact the midpoint, he then ‘knew’ how big the village was, and that he was in trouble.

      Something that gets me is this constant nonsense about the number of Native combatants, no one ever includes the women and children, who were also throwing stones and scaring horses…

  120. erique says:

    @ Sharon H, much of the ‘contradictions’ people like you find in Native oral traditions are because the accepted White man’s view of the battle is wrong…you forget that much of what has been handed down has been filtered through time and the want to not embarrass Libby Custer, White supremacy and the military.

    Fact is, not one White survived, and until modern forensic examination techniques were applied any interpretation was formed by emotion and loss of pride, and was most certainly not objective, of course the fantasy of the heroic Custer and the Last Stand are contrary to Indian tales of events…on one side we have the White man’s fantasy, and on the other the Native man’s observations.

    I think it racist and idiotic to assume that Native American testimony is completely wrong…

  121. SharonH says:

    \Racist\! Oh, I’m scared….Did I say Indian testimony was completely wrong? A lot of their accounts don’t add up because the narrators were in different positions, tried to outdo each other as far as who was the bravest warrior or made the most kills etc. I don’t think you even read a lot of my posts. I know that facts were laundered to protect the sensibilities of Mrs. Custer, among other reasons. I find few people who believe that Custer was not mutilated like everyone else. Yet that is what they wanted Libbie to believe.

    White man’s fantasy and Native man’s observations–curious choice of words. Who is the ‘racist\ here?

  122. Gene Moore says:

    Of course this is about racism. It’s also about territory, religious beliefs, and political ambition. The only thing left out of this episode that I can see is redheaded women.

    Truth is a matter of perception, nothing more. Libby Custer knew exactly what happened to her husband. By that time she had spent many years on outposts in the west. She obviously loved her husband, but she was just as obviously an intelligent woman. I have no doubt that she not only knew that the Native Americans mutilated fallen enemies, she also knew why the did so. If Custer had not been mutilated, it would have meant that none of the Lakota, Cheyenne, or Arapaho present thought he was a threat to them in the afterlife.

    Interesting note, most battle mutilations would have been carried out by what most soldiers would have considered non-combatants, women, children, and the elderly. Most of the elite Native American warriors present would have considered the desecration of corpses cowardly. In fact, most of the Plains Indian warriors ranked killing an enemy as one of the lowest form of battle honor.

  123. josh says:

    I feel that these neo-Braves will one day be held up to the same magnifying glass that neo-Confederates are held to now. Americans seem to all have what I call \Pocahontas syndrome\ in which people think all American Indians lived in a utopia. And they never had any wars, slavery, or gender inequality. And white people showed up and ruined it all.

  124. Gene Moore says:

    On the contrary, the common names for several Indian tribes were actually the word for ‘enemy’ in some other Native American tongue. The example that springs to mind immediately is Apache, which is derived from the Navano word for enemy. By the way, they are the Dineh, not Navajo.

    For this discussion, the Lakota, Tsisstas, and Arapahoe that went against Custer at the Greasy Grass had been dislocated to the west by other tribes that had been dislocated by the whites when they first colonized the eastern seaboard.

    Neither the people of European descent or those of North American descent were tight or wrong, they were different. Unfortunately, history seems to indicate that the people of European descent were more intolerant than those of North American descent. Interesting becasue most o the whites originally came here to avoid some kind of discrimination in their home county.

    There was plenty of fighting going on here before the whites arrived. However most of the tribes warred for property or personal glory, not to eliminate the other tribes. In fact, several western tribes judged their status by how powerful their enemies were.

    In military terms, Custer was using Napoleonic tactic to fight a guerrilla war, That didn’t work in Vietnam either.

    • Hahn says:

      Amen to that last.

      Not in Vietnam. Not in Iraq. Not in Afghanistan (may have been working in Phase One, but then we ran off to Iraq and gave away all our gains and when we came back – Phase Two – we brought the unworkable Iraqi strategy / tactics with us!).

  125. Joe Kelly says:

    The only war crimes committed were by the Sioux and Cheyenne. Your ignorance of the Plains wars show. Every Battle that the US Army engaged the Indians on the plains, won and held the field, they TOOK Prisoners including Slim Buttes a camp filled with items taken from the dead 7th wounded and dead. Sand Creek, and Washita prisoners taken. Washita was a village where a white captive woman repeatedly raped by Cheyennes had her throat cut and head split open by ax so the soldiers could not save her, your friends the Cheyenne then picked up her 3 year old captive son and holding him by the feet smashed his head into a tree to kill him.Every battle the Sioux and Cheyenne held the filled they tortured and murdered every living soldier. That is a war crime. Get your facts straight.

    • Gene Moore says:

      Actually, there were no war crimes committed at the Greasy Grass by the defenders of the villages. Aside from scalping, which the whites taught them to do for bounty, anything done by the Native Americans was standard combat tactics for them and were a function of their various personal religious beliefs.
      No prisoners were taken at Sand Creek in Colorado, nor were any taken at Wounded knee. In both instances the Army’s sole intent was to kill all the Indians. The phrase; kill them all, nits make lice. was used at Sand Creek by Col John Chivington, the man in charge of the troops that massacred the Cheyenne there. He allowed his troopers to wear hatbands made of scalped female genitalia when they returned to Denver after the massacre.

  126. steven says:

    The thing that was funny was one of the opening comments, that all we need do is listen to the Indians’ accounts to discover the truth! That is exactly the reason we can never know the truth. Everyone always wants to make himself look good. A one sided account is bound to be highly biased. A smart man once said, there are three sides to every story: my side, your side, and the truth!

  127. fred says:

    if it wasn’t for double standards you would have no standards at all.

    Standard combat tactics, is that a new Geneva convention rule. The fact is the Native Americans thru out their existence tortured their enemies because they got a thrill out of it, a thrill with made up religious beliefs attached. If scalping came from white man the Indians sure took to it fast, even in areas where bounties were unheard of. While the sand creek massacre was condemned by the Federal Govt the Indians at the little big horn had a wild night of celebration on the night of the 25th. So the sand creek Indians flew a flag and expected peace. No such luxury was ever offered to any white living in the area to keep Indians from killing them, which is why Chivington and the troops attacked so mercilessly. BTW there were sand creek survivors.

  128. larry kurtz says:

    face it custer got is ass kicked get over it by the way no one was there that is alive today so how do you know what happened if you here what the ones that were there have to say and do not like it suck it up custer lost the end

    • Richard H says:

      I will admit, I normally do not like the grammar police. However, could you throw in a capitalization, possibly a comma and at least one period in your scholarly and extensively researched treatise on the value of the study of history? Even considering the content of your post, I suspect such action could affect how much people value your comments. Though, I may be incorrect.

      • Michael Custer says:

        I agree with Richard. If you are going to put a comment on some kind of discussion use some basic rules of grammar.

  129. Gene Moore says:

    Unfortunately for the truth, history is always written by the victors, who never do anything wrong. How many losers get interviewed extensively after the game? Not too many.
    Scalping originated in this country during the battles between the various fur trading companies as a way to intimidate the other companies and to ensure that \their\ Indians protected \their\ trapping grounds. The Spanish paid bounties for scalps from specific tribes that were especially troublesome. Wonder how they determined what tribe a particular scrap of hair came from?
    Even the nations that signed the various Geneva Convention Treaties failed to abide by them. Hopefully I don’t need to remind you of the number of treaties made and broken with the Native Americans. That could take several more pages.
    There are just two rules in war, the first is to stay alive. The second is to do whatever is necessary to comply with Rule Number One.

    • Michael Custer says:

      Your statement is an oversimplification of the issue. Atrocities committed by the winner or loser are atrocities in any context. Killing and mutilating wound soldiers is an atrocity and can’t be excused as a cultural standard. There are a lot of cultural standards these days that do not stand up to the test of decency and morality. Of course you are correct that the European Americans can’t take the high ground given some of the things they did. Your two rules of war justify any behavior in combat and I disagree with it totally.

  130. Michael Custer says:

    \wounded soldiers\…not \wound soldiers.\

  131. Gene Moore says:

    Any attempt to apply standards of decency or conduct to war is inherently foolish in the extreme. Wart is not some great endeavor, it is humanity at its basest level. which is survival, pure and simple. There is an old saying that goes that there are no atheists in foxholes, there aren’t any Mother Theresas either.

  132. Michael says:

    War is terrible but I wouldn’t say any attempt to apply standards of decency or conduct is inherently foolish. Anything that mitigates the horrors of war should be supported. Standards for prisoners and wounded soldiers can save thousands of lives. Your black and white views of these issues are extreme and not correct.

  133. Francis says:

    I think the thing we should remember was alcoholism was virtually a way of life for most officers and men, reading about the Reno/Benteen defence and shortly after, folks like Weir and French were obviously hitting the bottle, IIRC Weir spent some time with Reno under cover sharing a bottle at one stage.

    I always admired French for the cool he showed removing jammed cartridges whilst under fire and giving the weapon back to the men…then read somewhere that not only did he drink, he was no stranger to opium either lol

    Reno obviously considered Hodgson a confident and drinking partner when he was looking for him when Benteen arrived, like a boozy mate looking for his drinking partner after a night out..

    As I see it, everyone else could drink and not much be noticed about it, but Reno was supposed to be in command, whereas company officers only had to concern themselves with their immediate command’s welfare and war-fighting ability, Reno would have to make strategic and tactical decisions, which he didn’t…I think he essentially fell apart due to two main factors, the thought Custer had abandoned him and having Bloody Knife’s blood and brains splattered on him -sure, Reno was a vet, but you can never tell when a man will break, and his use of alcohol didn’t help matters!

    Ultimately, Custer was in charge, he decided to attack when he did, as commander it is up to him to decide; he obvious preferred to wait but was encouraged to attack under advice…which I find strange from a man who seemed to act on instinct and self-belief.

    1) Custer was the one who decided to attack
    2) Didn’t support Reno as he said he would
    3) Split his command

    His decision could have led to the command being wiped out completely, imo.

  134. Francis says:

    Yes, but I believe he was bipolar and willing to take risks no one else would at times, the reason he was successful in the Civil War because he undertook very dangerous tasks recklessly but with that quality people call ‘luck’ he was mostly unscathed…even Custer alludes to luck being the quintessential element of his success, I believe that he believed his luck, believed his own publicity, ever read ‘My Life on the Plains’? Full of dangerous things he done where the end result could have been death, from chasing down a buffalo alone to entering Indian camps virtually unescorted and unprotected -true, for the noble aim of peace, but still reckless giving his perception that the ‘Red man’ cannot be trusted.

    It is my belief that other officers knew his limitations and were not impressed, knew that all he had achieved was by luck and not planning; must have been disappointing for people to hear of the ‘Boy General’, this marvellous saviour of the Union and of civilization, this Messianic figure, who was so obviously flawed and just an egotist.

    He was bottom of his class as an officer cadet, he knew he couldn’t out-think or out-class other officers, all he had was reckless daring…and paid the price.

    As for Benteen, as I lad I thought he let Custer down, I was very definitely a Custerphile, but growing up I am not now, Benteen suggested keeping the command intact, Custer ignored this advice, yet having decided to split the command, then decides -against his previous thoughts on resting the day- to attack a village of unknown size and with no coordination; at least at Washita he had his men in position before attacking the peaceful village lol Even then, he had not learned the lesson, Washita was a bigger camp than he knew…same thing happened on June 25th 1876.

    I’m sure Benteen saved the 7th, Custer with 5 companies couldn’t hold the Natives, Benteen and his 3 wouldn’t have gotten near to Custer through all those Indians, once Benteen too was disposed of, Reno’s little command would be history too.

    If it were not for Benteen, we’d all be talking about how on 25th June 1876, the whole of the 7th was wiped out…

  135. Francis says:

    My belief is that Terry had to allow Custer and his experience dictate his column’s actions, so I believe that Terry’s instructions were deliberately ambiguous so as to cover his butt, also, his words:

    “…which might hamper your action when nearly in contact with the enemy. “

    “…nearly in contact with the enemy” what does that mean? It certainly isn’t carte blanc to attack the enemy whenever you see fit…in my mind Terry would have specifically ordered or even suggested to Custer in his orders that he attack the Natives…which he plainly does not.

    Custer listened to his scouts, but not Benteen when he said bout keeping the command intact when going against large numbers of hostiles, people go on about Benteen’s dislike for Custer, but it seems obviously reciprocated.

    Fact is, Custer didn’t know how big the village was, he also didn’t know where the braves all were, were they sleeping in, were they out hunting, they could have just as easily have been on their way back and taken the mule train and all the supplies, couldn’t they?

    The actual size of the village didn’t matter, there were more than enough braves to cause Custer mischief, and al so people forget the part that many squaws played in the battle, from scaring horses to finishing off the wounded, or in some cases actively seeking out and shooting troopers. This has puzzled me for years, folks always seem to only mention the 1,000 or so men of fighting age, when many accounts mention women and children also getting stuck in.

    Custer’s tactics were faulty, he repeated the mistake of Washita in not knowing the village size, sure Custerphiles say he was out to capture the women and children for the distasteful purpose of using them as a human shield, like many say he done at Washita…except that at Washita he had his WHOLE command in contact with the enemy, he didn’t send a third of his strength on a fool’s errand like Benteen, he also synchronised the attack; at LBH he sends in Reno, tells him he’ll be supported, fails to support him, fails to tell him what is going on, and then expects the third of his company he sent away to come running to help him out of a fix he created.

    Whether Benteen ‘dawdled’ or not, Custer was the one who sent him away from the intended contact with the enemy, that he sent for Benteen and not Reno, says that he knew Reno was in no position to assist Custer, why wasn’t Custer out to support Reno?

    To me, two critical decision changes were his downfall; 1) deciding to rest up, and then on the advice of others decides to attack -this obviously went against his then instinct to rest his command and 2) his decision to not come and support Reno as he said he would -and not advise Reno of the change or the intended method of support.

  136. Nik says:

    The point for everyone is….. Custer LOST!!!
    And no matter how hard anyone or any group tries…. You will NEVER be able to prove what happened by using archeological techniques….. Those bodies have been scattered and reenactments have taken place so many times…..
    Should have brought those boys home immediately….

    • Gene Moore says:

      Mutilated corpses, late June, heat wave, no caskets or coffins, no embalming facilities, that would have been an inspiring sight… and smell upon arrival at the nearest fort, which was several days ride away. Wagons full of corpses would travel much slower than mounted troops. By the time that the corpses arrived at the nearest facility where they could be embalmed, the would have been nothing more than maggots, soup, and dis-articulated bones. Better to bury them on site and return for the bones at a later time.

    • robertklr says:

      Yes, Custer lost his life but Reno still held the field after the Indians left. Didn’t you notice that?

  137. Gene Moore says:

    Si wgat? The only rason that Reno was there was because he’d lost so many mounts and his command was too badly shot up for him to go anywhere. He had the field because no one else wanted it.

    • robertklr says:

      Nik makes a post telling everyone the obvious … like no one knew Custer lost? Then Gene Moore butts in and has to play the Mr. Obvious game also. What are you going to tell us next Mr. Obvious, the Earth is round? We can all play that silly game. Nic, go read Nelson Mile’s book “Serving the Republic” and you’ll learn something about what Custer’s contemporaries felt about him. Moore, butt out.

  138. Gene Moore says:

    Actually, the Earth is a lopsided sphere, not round. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, the smart ones learn from the opinion of others. Opinions are like rectums they usually only work for one person. Have a nice day Bobbie, and learn something.

  139. EricR says:

    The Powder river country was not Lakota land. It was stolen from the Crow. Just like the Lakota took the hills from the Cheyenne, who had driven out the Kiowa. The biggest, most aggressive dog won the fight. I love native history but the Lakota origin stories from the Black Hills that they had occupied, at that time (LBHB), less than 150 years are laughable. They were bullies, just like the Blackfeet before disease ravaged the tribe.

  140. erique says:

    Sharon H, not racist, but the truth.

    The White’s version of events can only be fantasy, none of them survived, OTOH, the Indigenous folks witnessed events and lived to tell the tale.

    What is racist with that? Facts are facts, not racist, maybe White pride was hurt so much it is still painful today?

    • Richard H says:

      So, while the majority of seven companies “under Major Marcus Reno and Captain Frederick Benteen survived”, you still claim there were no white survivors? Hmmmm….somebody is missing something. Yet you state: “The White’s version of events can only be fantasy, none of them survived, OTOH, the Indigenous folks witnessed events and lived to tell the tale. ” I think there may be an issue with your facts sir.

  141. erique says:

    \oh please\ what?

    Is that the best your intellect can muster to counter my comment?

    Says more about you than it does about me :)

  142. erique says:

    Gregory Michno,

    “The participating warriors called it a Last Stand. Deal with it ”

    They also called it a rout, and a battle that lasted as long as a hungry man eats his dinner…

    Have you heard of ‘cherry picking’ and confirmation bias?


    Please tell me you are not a scholar?

  143. Gene Moore says:

    The land \belonged\ to whichever tribe or group that defended it successfully. That concept was the same between the Native Americans and the people of European descent. In this particular instance, the people already in control of the area simply defended it successfully against people who wanted to take it from them

  144. Gene Moore says:

    It may seen a bit obvious, but neither Reno and Benteen’s commands actually could see what was happening with Custer’s command. They could see dusts and black powder smoke rising, but they could not see any of the whites actualy in the battle. They might have been able to see Native American individuals or groops moving about in that direction, but the topography, smoke, and dust would have masked the doomed men. In fact, Reno and Benteen actually allowed a small patrol to set off in the direction of the Stand. The patrol encountered heavy resistance within a short distance and retreated to the defensive position that Reno had established and Benteen had supported. No futher attempts were made to find out what had happened becuse the assembled tribes placed the defensive position under seige soon after. A reasonable conclusion would be that the seige reinforcements came after the last of the troopers with Custer had beendealt with.

  145. BobG says:

    Science can trace the movements, but what was on the minds of the soldiers will never be known. I think one reason for the lack of ammunition found may be that the horses were spooked and the troopers carried their supplies on the horses. When it comes to the size of the force the odds would be in the favor of the tribes. It is only speculation on my part, but I wonder if Custer would have taken the same action had he known Gen. Crook was defeated the day before.

  146. Hahn says:

    I see that there’s a degree of emphasis on lack of bones found in The Ravines years (decades) later.


    Assuredly the US Army – now controlling the immediate post battle site – did NOT leave bodies scattered around the battlefield, but concentrated them at least to some moderate degree for an at least temporary burial.

    Plus prior to abandoning the battlefield, the Native Americans mutilated and looted corpses extensively so one would believe that many bodies were moved / dragged from their immediate falling place. Also, it would be likely that troops not immediately killed or wounded severely would have tried dragging themselves back away from depths of ravine. (And, IMO, the position isn’t whether 28 – or whatever number – of troops were killed deep into the ravine, but that there’s a good degree of evidence, even by author’s own Native American eyewitnesses, that some definite number of troops made a desperate attempt to withdraw via that route and were cut down… either before the ravine, at the mouth of the ravine, or at least some into the ravine… so what? It is a logically military action in the concept of being overrun and speaks poorly of no one).

    Speaking of Native American eyewitnesses, it should also be remembered that these \interviews\ (in some cases more like interrogations) were not done a few days later or a few weeks later (read on the post battle methodology of S. L. A. Marshall for a most favorably correct process), but some time later – in some cases years later. Even more importantly, it should be remembered that these eyewitnesses, originally the battlefield victors, were ultimately the LOSERS of the war and are being interviewed by \the winners\… and that eyewitnesses – especially if the for all extent custodial \bad guys\ are most of those eyewitnesses – well, it is prevalent for those type eyewitnesses to say (to a large extent) what they believe the interviewer WANTS to hear. For example, look at strictly the author’s own eyewitnesses (cherry-picked of course, but then most regular historians do that to conform with their agenda – great ones don’t as they approach the historical item with no preconceived agenda). Basically none agrees with another in major details or even most details… in some cases in hardly any details.

    And that – as one who after some interesting military experiences long ago – spent a roughly 30 year career in metropolitan law enforcement – I can assure you is a major problem with eyewitnesses!

    I have seen quite a bit of disparagement as to forensics on several comments, with one as I recall even making a comparison with forensics (of which archeological findings would fall under) and eyewitness statements and indicating how a jury would give no credibility to the forensics in this case due to the eyewitnesses. And yet the truth is completely the opposite. Juries despise cases built solely on eyewitnesses and BEG for physical evidence (forensics). I never knew a case where in trial forensic evidence did not trump eyewitnesses… or often just the existence of forensics positive to their side cause one side or the other to take action so that there was no trial (i.e., the prosecutor dropping charges or the defense attorney seeking a plea when lab results, especially if new evidence, came back). And ascertaining eyewitness credibility (from usually 2nd hand and worse sources most often) so long after the fact is extremely difficult, to say the least.

    Simply factual observations from several decades. As Daniel P. Moynihan so aptly, everyone is entitled to their own opinions but no one is entitled to their own facts!

    Which is something that great historians realize. Great historians are combinations of detectives, scientists, forensic experts, archeologists, and anthropologist! Determine eyewitness credibility (do they have agendas or bias, is their eyewitness account recent to the event, is their account first hand or filtered through other reporting sources, what inconsistencies exist between their account and that of others, what inconsistencies exist in their own version, just what could they have even possibly seen – or is it just things that they heard, etcetera). What is the technicalities of forensics (physical evidence), were recognized testing processes employed. Likewise with archeological findings. To what degree was there contamination, were recognized practices employed. And as to anthropology, does the knowledge exist that gives the (any) historian a sufficient understanding of the people’s and region(s) involved… or are they viewing from a modern interpretation of a non modern event.

    Great historians are combinations and absorptions of all of those.

    This author has an interesting story. A story that addresses many \points\. But too often with what is an over reliance on non primary source (quite old) eyewitness accounts (which, as compared to other readings are clearly cherry-picked, and often not even in agreement with one another), uses \his\ eyewitnesses to then be the \proof\ of the other eyewitnesses being \untruthful\, and with great animosity refuses any physical evidence.

    An interesting read?


    A good historian?

    Maybe (difficult to ascertain from one read).

    A great historian?

    As based on this… No.

  147. Hahn says:


  148. SharonH says:

    As we now know, eyewitness testimony is the least accurate. Interesting studies have been done showing how different people will remember the same event to the point where even, for instance, the color of shirt a perp was wearing will be seen differently by witnesses. It’s just how the brain works. I think TV has given the wrong impression about this type of testimony in their fictional crime shows. Add in the amount of time that passes, and memories become even more weak as the mind tries to fill in the gaps. As far as this battle, it is true for both sides.

    It is hard to go back into the mindset of those times where Custer loomed so large in the public’s eye (and imagination). So much about him was fabricated, exaggerated–he was almost a golden-haired demigod to many.. His fall was unthinkable and IMO it sadly was a shallow victory for the Indians. It inflamed the public as well as the military and the thirst for even more Indian blood in revenge grew exponentially.

    The Indians had quite a few \I killed Custer\ stories, each wanting to take the glory for his demise. My opinion is that a lot of them didn’t even know or care at that point who they were killing. Their goal was to wipe out the enemy, period.

    We will never know the truth of what happened that day. But that is what makes history so fascinating. It is the chase, rather than the kill, that is so intriguing and adventurous.

  149. BobG says:

    I agree Sharon. A lot of the opinions during the times were expounded upon by the reporters both in the field and at home. No doubt it did much to instill fear and anger. Few citizens even knew what were in the treaties let alone how they were broken. Reporters on the scene relied on statements made by the soldiers and no doubt some attempted to embellish the facts in their favor. The same happens even today.

  150. Gene Moore says:

    In actuality the truth of the matter is quite simple. Custer located a large village of \hostile\ Indians and attacked it. Because of poor decisions and tactics on the part of Custer, a significant portion of his command was destroyed in the ensuing fight. Because of his pseudo-mythical status at the time the public refused to admit that he had simply screwed up. That belief has survived to today.

  151. BobG says:

    I agree with your comments. Even moments after and event people disagree on what happened and when. I’m not sure how well all the troopers were trained since many went AWOL and fresh troops moved in to replace them. Usually young boys and many under false names I suppose to escape some sort of trouble. Also there was an influx of German immigrants escaping compulsory military duty in their homeland that wound up serving in the Indian territories. Even Sergeant Windolph was claimed to be sharp of mind by the authors of \I Fought With Custer\ and the old Sergeant even admitted their were differences between Reno and Benteen when recounting the action. There has been so much written about the battle that it’s hard to tell what happened. No doubt it was intense with some feeling panic and fleeing and others keeping a cooler head or just frozen in fear and died where they stood. Officers trying to scream out orders over the din of battle would be almost impossible to hear at a short distance. The Indians did not fight in any assembled order and their fleeing was seen as cowardice by the commanders who trained under rules of engagement. They were able to remove their dead and wounded from under the noses of the soldiers
    without notice. I would think after a day in the hot sun that knowing if an arrow, bullet or a club was the cause of death. The one question that puzzles me is that they all claimed Custer was not mutilated as the others. The only way to know for sure is to exhume his remains from West Point (if they are his) and examine them.

  152. Robert (RMP) says:

    Pertinent fact—-Custer finished last in his class at West Point(as did George Pickett) Lucky to not be dismissed from the Point, he was promoted quickly in the Civil War because he was, daring, fearless, reckless, effective and lucky. Most young cavalry officers with those attributes did not live long.

    He was, by all accounts, overconfident, vain, and arrogant.

    With those qualities, no surprise that the old maxim rang true for him——\he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword\what.

  153. Joe Snuffy says:

    I think many of you are being too critical of the author. I enjoyed this article.

  154. Larry G. Leslie says:

    I agree, the stream would have had multiple storms to move any evidence of bones to be found. The only real order carried out came
    from President Grant, his hatred of the native born Indians were known for many years. We all know he had a political agenda and was pressured by railroad investors to end the Indian wars quickly.
    G.A.C. nor did the War Dept. at that time put an ounce of thought or real planning as well. I have no doubt of Custer’s courage, his record speaks for itself. George’s compulsive personality to put himself on a pedestal was his doom. Even his wife Letty admitted
    he was a very impatient man and always believed his rank and status should have been much higher then it was. Custer’s 7th cavalry was going to be the first and last of the Indian battle that day regardless of what condition they were in on a forced march. Custer was in such a hurry to claim victory that extra supplies would simply slow him down from being the first to succeed over all superior officers. His disregard of scouting reports only fed the flames of glory. A waste of human lives came as a huge price that also would lead to a total political cover up and finger pointing even to this day. Just my humble opinion.

  155. M. Griffiths says:

    Are there any references for the Indian accounts that were talked about in this article? I’m writing a paper on this and would appreciate a look at the original accounts that are mentioned

  156. Charles says:

    If you will go to the Wyoming State Fairgrounds, and go in the Museum there, you can look the story up in the newspaper archives there. The Calvary did not tell the story until Elizabeth Custer died,. The Cheyenne found Custer mortally wounded, but still alive. They hated him so much, they wanted to kill him in the most insulting way imaginable. They had an obese squaw, who’s husband was killed by Custer’s men, come to where Custer was laying and had her sit her bare butt on his face and smother him to death. It is in the paper, in the archives.

    • smcmacken says:

      Charles, you are obviously a very gullible person.

      • Charles says:

        The whole story is documented. WHy would you say I am gullible. Is it because the true story insults the story you want to believe?

      • smcmacken says:

        Would love to see the documentation (or copies thereof), Charles. Please provide the evidence.

      • Charles says:

        It is in the archives, behind plastic, in the Museum at Douglass, at the Wyoming State Fairground. All you have to do is go look.

      • smcmacken says:

        That’s my intent.

      • Charles says:

        The Museum is a large wooden building, 2 story with a basement. When you go in the entrance, the first room is full of the newspaper pages. They are in large plastic sleeves, and are on racks that allow you to flip the pages like pages in a book. The article I am quoting, was on the right hand side, toward the back wall. It has been 10 years since I was up there, but I doubt anything has changed. You should be able to call someone and ask them if they still have the newspapers uncased in plastic, that you can browse through. I loved the rest of the museum, as well. The basement was mainly a firearm museum.

      • Hawkeyeproud says:

        Custer had bullet wound in his left temple. Did he kill himself?

      • Charles says:

        Yep, a warrior used Custer’s head for target practice, as his death.

      • If you are going to pretend to take yourself seriously through out your pious assertations you could at least take the time to check your own grammar. I cannot take you seriously as some whom is supposedly keen to such historical accounts as you claim to be when you write like such a indigent derelict. You are many things I imagine Charles but a scholar is not one of them. Your obituary may someday be placed under glass as well in a museum but it shall read only a single word friend. Undoubtedly, ‘NINCOMPOOP!’, in the boldest lettering imaginable. The kind that dissolves under flash of course. Such an exciting time to be alive really with Charles the Great here to educate us all in the dimness he radiates. Where is that guy with the Kool-Aid from earlier? Is he still here? Do you think I could I have a glass please? Thank you so much.

      • Charles says:

        Con cannibal, you are an idiot or a troll. You know nothing of me, nor anyone else here. I have visited the battlefields and museums, as well as read the accounts of people there.

      • well thats a horse of different color then. let’s not fight anymore. do you think you can take me to the museums and battle places so i can read things too and get sure of it all then? i can fit on your lap prolly. not as big as my verbose let’s on in real life i’m afraid. pretty please can i?

      • Charles says:

        They will not allow pictures, as they said the flash could be harmful to the old newspaper.

      • smcmacken says:

        For now I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt, Charlies. Allow me to do a little research and get back to you.

  157. devildoc68 says:

    This article really cites no one except the authors belief and it seems the standard white mentality of the battle. There are other interviews with Native People who were at that battle conducted in the 1930’s and listed in David Humphreys Millers collection entitled ‘Custer’s Fall, The Native American side of the Story. Custer was an ego driven man who led his soldiers to their death and had a fitting end to his failed thinking and aspirations to become president.

  158. MrAltoids says:

    It’s amazing how stories can be changed and embellished over time in order to favor an opinion. Custer was an idiot. Last in his class at military school, yet somehow leading a regiment of soldiers that followed orders and his command to charge into an encampment of thousands of Natives. Dress it up any way you like, he was a moron and he got what he deserved.

    • Dustin Hills says:

      An idiot who won engagement after engagement in the Civil war and defeated JEB Stuart at Gettysburg. Also, he was respected by many because he was a leader, a good one. At least for the purpose of cavalry command. At Little Bighorn, he was trying to cut off the women and children to use them as bait for a possible surrender of the Sioux and Cheyenne. he wasn’t far from accomplishing this when Gall, Two Moons and Crazy Horse lead warriors across the river to cut him off. Was he reckless? Yes. An egomaniac? Yes. An idiot? Far from it.

      • Swift Kik Keyborardist says:

        Totally agree, Custard won battle after battle by taking risks and attacking, at Little Big Horn he simply did what he had always done. If you take risks and challenge the odds and win you are a hero but it you take those same risks and odds and lose you’re an idiot. Custard was no idiot, he was an American hero. Prior to Custard’s defeat the East was had a growing sympathy for the Indian but when news of Custards death came the attitude changed and the Army soon defeated the remaining Indians.

      • Ken Kaplan says:

        Whatever he was, in his treatment of the Indians he was no hero.

      • Carole Moore says:

        He was a product of his time. He was sent to Montana Territory to send Sitting Bull et al to the reservation. He didn’t want to kill them. Everyone at that time saw the Indians as Red Savages.

      • Jake Johnson says:


      • John W. Shreve says:

        I’m with you on Custer, but why do you spell his name like a desert?

      • Jake Johnson says:

        For his service against slavery in the Civil War, he is to be lauded, but it’s hard for me to see him as a hero, given his attacks on the Native Americans.

      • Charles says:

        At the Battle of the Greasy Grass (so named by the victors), he was not trying to cut off women and children. He only saw a small encampment of perhaps 100 total Indians. Due to his foolishness and impetuous actions, he failed to know that almost 5000 Indians camped down the river.

  159. Mike Renz says:

    The more I read about Custer the more I loath him. His slaughter of women and children at Black Kettles camp on the Washita in Oklahoma was horrific. Moreover, he abandoned Major Joel Elliot and his detachment during the “battle” and they were all killed by Kiowa, Arapaho and additional Cheyenne camped east of Black Kettle. Custer’s actions were beyond disgraceful. The Washita was no battle field. It was a groups of families trying to save their wives and children from a pre-dawn, un-provoked attack… Black Kettle was a Peace Chief who felt the only way to survive was to comply. It was outrageous to attack him, especially after Sand Creek. As an American, I was disgusted to see how Washita is presented as some great battle – it was a damn war crime. Native still come and leave tributes out of respect for those who were murdered there. I say this as a conservative who comes from a family with a long military tradition, dating to before the Civil War.
    Custer’s grave should be a latrine.

    • Scott Wallace says:

      Yes -Custer assembled the army by himself and slaughtered native americans (more than other US soldiers-riduculous). Did you know he lost his command right before the Little Bighorn because he testified on behalf of the native americans that the US-Grant’s brother- was stealing their food, starving them and was the reason they were leaving the reservation. Phil Sheridan had to convince Grant to;et Custer come along. BTW- The slaveholder south’s General Lee first sent his request to surrender to Grant through Custer who had trapped him at Appomatics. Custer was a soldier first and as a citizen testified against his boss to Congress.

  160. Swift Kik Keyborardist says:

    Custard was certainly was no idiot especially on the battlefield. William (Buffalo Bill) Cody, John (Wild Bill) Hickok and even Grand Duke Alexie of Russia are among the many who were proud to count Custer as a good friend. Custard had more courage than most, he went alone unarmed into a hostile Indian camp to talk Indians. Also contrary to what you may believe Custard did not hate Indians, in fact he lobbied for Indians with President Grant in DC. Custard also had charged superior forces of Indians and chased them off, he was an experience leader who understood Indians. Custard was also considered a hero and held a celebrity like status in America, news of his defeat and death hid hard in the East and changed attitudes from a more passive treatment of the Indians to a more deliberate need to curtail them.

    • Jim Turner says:

      Custer was an arrogant narcissist whose men hated him. He promoted himself shamelessly and had political ambitions, even thinking he could be President.
      He never fought a real battle with Indians that was successful, only killing women and old men at Washita. The myth that he was a great leader was mostly due to luck and accidental good fortune. He was last in his class, and was punished several times for disobeying orders. He hated being out West, where he was exiled for his failures.
      No, Custer was nothing like we were told all these years, mainly due to his wife touring the country after his death inventing his legacy of lies. As history is always revised for political reasons, he had to be a hero to the public, rather than be exposed as a fool who wasted men’s lives for his own selfish reasons.
      The people you mention were merely used in photo shoots set up to perpetuate his image. He even took a newspaper reporter with him on his last ride. Unfortunately for him, the reporter got to see Indians up close before he died.

      Custard? Don’t even know your hero, but maybe a better description of that lout.

      • Swift Kik Keyborardist says:

        Better do a little better job on researching your history – James Butler Hickok was a scout for Custer – see Hickok’s own bio – Custer was personal
        friends with Grand Duke Alexie of Russia and served as a guide and host for the Grand Duke hunting party in the US – also check out Bill Cody’s bio for his relationship with Custer. The battle at Little Big Horn may have been a victory for the Indians but it led directly to their ultimate defeat – check out the Indians Wars and other historical documentations – it wasn’t long after the battle that even Sitting Bull came back from Canada to surrender and go to the reservation. Custer’s exploits in the Civil War are well documented he went from 2nd Lt to the youngest Major General in the Union Army and was by far the greatest Calvary commander in the Union Army, and yes he earned it with victory after victory. Custer was even invited and present for the surrender of Robert E Lee. In the Civil War he was greatly admired and always led from the front, Custer defeated Jeb Stuart who was consider to be Lee’s right hand and the number one Confederate Calvary commander. After the Civil War the entire US Army was reduced to a total of 30,000 mostly unskilled men. In the west it’s true many of his men disliked but that is mostly because he endeavored to make them better soldiers. Yes he was arrogant and he would wear clothing that made him stick out, everyone could see exactly where he was – but that also made him a
        better target. Due to the Army’s reduction Custer’s permeant rank after the Civil War was reduced to Captain, but Generals Sherman and
        Sheridan wanted him in the west and he was commissioned at Lt Col. As for victories in Indian battles Custer had one of the best records in the Army – his courage was never doubted. Even the Indians admired his courage when he personally went into a hostile village with only an Indian scout to negotiate, reckless and risky but that was Custer. Custer was considered one of the Army’s most skillful and successful Indian fighters that’s why they sent him to find the Indians. In most encounters the warriors would flee the camp when attacked leaving the women, children and the old which frustrated the Army, Custer’s decision to try to surround the camp to prevent the warriors from fleeing was a sound decision. Custer was always reckless but that is what made so successful – When you are reckless; take chances and win you are considered great but when you do the same thing and lose you are considered and idiot and fool – Custer lost a Little Big Horn but he was doing what he had always done and that time his luck ran out. It is true that his wife did a great deal to enhance his image but Custer was already a folk hero before his defeat and his defeat and that is what changed Eastern attitudes from sympathy toward the Indian to anger and hastened the total defeat of the Indians.

      • Jim Turner says:

        Boy, did you drink the Kool aid. It’s not what you know, it’s what you know that is wrong.

      • Charles says:

        Study history.

      • Charles says:

        Custer had a history of winning battles against women, children and old men, while the men were off hunting or raiding. Custer has a history of bravado in BS situations, and of promoting himself. He was commissioned to Brigadier General during the War of Northern Aggression, and demoted afterwards. He got his whole command killed at The Battle Of The Greasy Grass, due to his foolishness and false sense of greatness.

      • David Welch says:

        War of
        Northern Aggression!!??! Oh, I get it… you’re a revisionist redneck! Custer
        was a man of his times. ALL the officers in his era were mindful of politics.
        The ONLY way to get a promotion was through battlefield victories and political
        connections. And the only battlefield was the Indian Wars. Custer did not
        abandon Elliott. That glory-hunter was already dead by the time Custer started
        marching toward the Indian villages in a bluff that worked and allowed the 7th
        cavalry to extricate itself from a dangerous situation. Custer PREVENTED the
        wholesale massacre of women and children (Sheridan wanted him to kill every Indian
        – EVERY Indian). It was indeed unfortunate that Black Kettle, who was a leader
        with foresight of what was to come from the White Invasion, who was, once
        again, the target, Nonetheless, evidence in the village proved young men there
        had been making raids, as was typical of Cheyenne culture on one’s path to
        manhood and tribal honors and respect. Custer’s mistake at the LBH was not
        accepting the offer of Major James Brisbin and his 2nd Cavalry. Given Benteen’s
        assignment to veer left, the 2nd Cavalry would have been much quicker getting back
        into the thick of the fighting than the renowned Custer-hater Benteen, and
        would have moved with all haste to support Custer. Reno, drunk, scared or…
        whatever his condition, would probably have succeeded in his charge had he been
        supported/augmented by Benteen in the opening phases of the battle. He would
        have been able to drive the Lakota and Cheyenne into a panic where Custer and
        his men would have caught them in a vice. It was a bold plan that just
        needed a little more punch – and more energetic leadership from Benteen and
        Reno. But Reno stopped his charge, retreated to the trees, where he could have
        held out for an extended period of time (as proved by Custer in his 2-hour
        skirmish against Crazy Horse during the 1873 Yellowstone expedition – where,
        BTW, there were no old men, women and children. But Reno, having never faced
        Indians before, panicked and began issuing a series of confusing orders before
        basically announcing that it was every man for himself. This allowed the mass
        of Warriors to do most of the killing in Reno’s battalion while allowing scores
        of warriors to meet Custer’s threat at Medicine Tail Coulee at a critical
        juncture. Given 30 minutes more, Custer’s vanguard would have been able to affect a river crossing and get into the village and behind the warriors, capture
        prisoners and bring the battle to an end. In the long run, it would have been
        less heartache for the Lakota. Custer surprised the Indians not once, but twice
        during broad daylight. No other officer ever accomplished such a feat. But
        let’s be clear, Custer lost that day because the Indians won. They changed
        their tactics that day and caught not just Custer but the entire Army off guard
        (See Crook’s defeat on the Rosebud two weeks earlier.). It was a great victory
        for the Lakota and their allies fighting against an aggressor on their own land
        after a treaty was broken by a corrupt white government led by US Grant and his
        cronies. Custer is the scapegoat because he didn’t survive to defend himself.
        Was Custer a great leader? Perhaps not, but he didn’t just become a fool after
        having a remarkably successful career during the Civil War. His tactics were
        sound at the LBH, the Lakota and Cheyenne were just better that day.

      • Jake Johnson says:

        The “War of Northern Aggression”???? Really?

      • Chick says:

        That is what it was. I bet you thought it was about slavery. The slavery issue was only used to stir up the populace, to attack the south, so that they could get their hooks in the cotton industry, which was the biggest money maker of the time. Then, after the war was over, Lincoln was not going to allow the “Reconstruction Period”. This period actually was just robbery legalized, and was going to finally allow the big money people behind stirring up the war, to get their hooks into the cotton industry, by taking the cotton plantations from the rightful owners. When Lincoln was not going to allow the Reconstruction Period, and just let everyone go back to leading their normal lives, the big money had him assassinated. Read, “The South Was Right” by Walter Donald Kennedy.

      • John W. Shreve says:

        It cracks me up when a military leader is criticized because his troops don’t like him. Anyone who’s been in the military can confirm that a bigger bunch of complainers never existed. Thankfully, our forces pull together and fight as a unit. You might fight your squad leader in a bar, but you’ll take his orders and maybe save him or be saved by him in combat.

      • Scott Wallace says:

        Custer’s desertion rate was similar to other commands. Custer’s reputation was “at least you will actually fight and probably win”. How he has been scapegoated by the US Government first and now SJW is chilling. People should focus on real scandals like why was there no attempt to communicate with him and come to his aid for 1-2 hours despite written orders and all the indians having withdrawn from Reno and Benteen. Nelson Miles (you know the one who got Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and Geronimo to surrender) said it best- “it’s easy to kick a dead lion” and ” we shall not see the likes of him again”.

      • Brian Keith Graham says:

        Jackson was considered to be R E Lee’s Right hand. Stuart was like a son to Lee and the best cavalry commander in the war.

      • Charles says:

        Jim Turner. You are correct. That is why the Indians hated him so much.

      • So you have asserted to speak for all the American indigenous native tribes of the past in your own great stand no doubt in declaration of their great hate for a single man? Using weasel words and stroking your own ego in pompous chiding tone doesn’t grant you any dignity nor does it deem you correct in anything you have put forward in your backwards logic more akin to a tantrum than concourse. You took a US college course and scrolled the Wikipedia pages for an hour. Wow. Big man you are here providing such clarity over what was cloudy before your arrival. Fact is most all we can do is conjecture and take into account mere statements of which there are many. And boy do they conflict at times but the fact stands that after a century we are here speaking of this man in such bombastic stride really speaks to something of a magnificent proportion in what was Custer’s built character I feel. You have no room to judge some one of his stature at all friend. You play the foe but I am not biting as you are too bitter. I cannot take someone serious who pretends to stand for an entire culture of people whom got the raw end of the deal no doubt as the Native American has, but then goes on to refer to them as ‘Indians’ still in his own self immolated passionate heat. Sit down and stifle. History has enough flame wars already. You are no brazen bull here. Only the scat dried upon the dead grass. Don’t make such an ass of yourself in public places please. Some of us get sick at the smell. Thank you kindly enough. Good day… to be Custer’s ghost! Oi.

      • Charles says:

        Wikipedia is not where I got my info. I had my info long before the WWW.

      • Yeah and the world was flat long before it became round. You speak weasel words into a rusty old soup can just to hear the echo of your own voice I am sure of this and nothing else. Have at it then Chuck.

      • Charles says:


      • Alaya says:

        So many experts here….. not….Many Native Americans prefer to be called Indians and use the name themselves….Sir, no reason to be so acrimonious,

      • First off we know we are all here to flick fangs and juggle wits so it goes and we are all guilty of being a bit sardonic I would hope. I wasn’t making the apex point about what to call a group of people that are lumped into one category that they really wouldn’t be. I don’t like to use the term Indian as it is moronic and dim witted in our current day. My friends who live in India are Indians not tribal Americans. I ain’t mad either this is just how I stumble about friend. I also don’t care about Custard I’m just saying that all warriors usually have more in common than one would think. Rumor and gossip is the ugly hateful thing that has the most sin likely. Doesn’t matter though. I agree with you friend that I have never met an American Indian who gave a rats ass what you called him as long as you said it with common respect. I always thought Injuns was a sweet sounding name. Really I am just here to wrestle with words. I don’t care either way at all about Custard or everyone else here being a schadenfreude or trying to put on their PC pajamas in hopes it gets them lucky down the road with a hot little SJW. There I said it. Honestly blame Aldous Huxley for the Native American thing and when it comes down to sides here on this post then screw Custer I ride with Hahk O Ni or the Mad Hearted Wolf. Hehe. Look that up. The man and legend as well as our ode in noise to him. Undoubtedly you will mostly hate it but I love you all still anyways. Especially Chuck up there. He is king Troll imho. Adios baby dicks! Play nice please.

      • Wong Hoong Hooi says:

        “……even thinking he could be President”. Haha, in the light of today (August 2017), was that thought so preposterous??

    • BlackBarry says:

      I like to eat Custard. Custer? Different story.

    • Charles says:

      Swift Kik Keyboardartist, I can tell how much of an expert on Custer you are, as you cannot even spell his name correctly. haha.

    • Brian Keith Graham says:

      Custar(d) got what he deserved.

      • As we all do when the day comes. You choose to fight in a war and die, well, that isn’t too surprising then. So your point is a dull one. Though seemingly filled with a fetid spite. Perhaps a guilt you have been taught. Who knows… or who cares really. All I know is that you have custard on your face. Smile. ☻

  161. Ken Kaplan says:

    Wow. According to this account, Custer was a genius who actually won the battle. how did we get it so wrong? Karma’s a b**** isn’t it for the genocidal maniac?

    • Ken Kaplan says:

      I suggest you view “battlefield detectives-Custer’s Last stand” on You Tube. The Forensics and archaeology debunk much of this article. Custer vastly and arrogantly underestimated enemy troop size, strength and tactics. Therefore splitting his command was foolish with men who were tired, malnourished, and probably not full professional soldiers. (many in their teens). The Indians outnumbered him in weaponry (rifles. pistols) 4-1. We must remember that in setting up a skirmish line. 25% of his force was inoperable because they had to hold the horses.

      If his tactics “seemed to be working” it was because, as usual, he was going after women and children when the full force of warriors caught up to him. He had chosen bad ground to fight as the Indians used the cover of the ridge to get closer. The key to his destruction was the Indians weapon of choice, over 200 repeating rifles, which gave them a huge tactical advantage over the Cavalry Springfield. The repeating rifle got off 13 shots in 30 seconds to the Springfield’s 4. Once the enemy got within 200 yards it was all she wrote. The right flank completely disintegrated.

      As for a “last stand” both evidence and eyewitness accounts say over and over the soldiers went into a panic as their skirmish line was destroyed, often firing into the air. If retreating into small clumps of desperate fearful men is a “last stand”, so be it.The defenders of the Alamo had better odds than the 7th Cavalry.

      As for the ravine, although bodies have not been found, both eyewitness accounts and forensics of great numbers of Indian cartridges on the hill surrounding itself suggest soldiers fled there. What, did the enemy fire into dirt for fun?

      Custer vaingloriously, arrogantly and greedily put his men in a position to fail. He terribly underestimated or ignored the possibility of enemy troop strength, arms capacity, will to win or die. Conventional tactics as suggested by the author were meaningless due to these factors. Reno was probably shocked at the ferocity of the counter assault leveled at him, capable or not.

      When all attention was turned to Custer, it was a a matter of time. Even if Benteen, who probably realized the enormity of the moment and was wetting his pants, had arrived, it would have been a terrible fight. Maybe, maybe some would have gotten away but they would have been shredded. There would be no cavalry victory that day facing a foe fighting desperately for their families and way of life.

      This is an author’s attempt to deal with straw man arguments and to cover up the fact that George Armstrong Custer sacrificed the lives of his men for the sake of his astonishing hubris and the terrible drive of his perverted ambition. Custer was the one who leaked the fact of gold in the black hills and destroyed the treaty that Grant made 6 years before. He got what he deserved.

      I feel sorry he took so many with him, and I feel sorry for the tragedy that was white America’s genocidal extermination of the Plains Indian way of life.

      Perhaps we can excuse that also?

      • Ken Kaplan says:

        Another view.

        “The following day, Custer made the fateful decision that would forever be remembered as the turning point in his short life: disregarding Terry’s orders to continue to scout the Rosebud, he followed the growing Indian trail into the Valley of the Little Bighorn.

        Upon arriving at the native encampment, Custer split his command much as he had at Washita years earlier. In the Washita Valley, the 7th Cavalry had converged on a village of perhaps 50 teepees; at Little Bighorn, at least 1,000 lodges were present in the valley. Custer barely escaped the Washita Valley. He would not leave the Valley of the Little Bighorn alive.

        At the Washita, Custer’s attack had been synchronized for a simultaneous assault from four directions. But at the Little Bighorn, he committed his forces piecemeal, in an uncoordinated attack ill conceived for a village of such immense proportions. First, Major MarcusReno’s charge was repulsed with disastrous results. Then, Custer’s own
        charge through Medicine Tail Coulee was met by Chief Gall at the cost of his entire battalion. Benteen, dispatched by Custer along the south fork of the Little Bighorn River, arrived in time to regroup Reno’s shattered battalion and probably save the remains of the regiment.

        In this role, Benteen will forever be remembered. Nearly 125 years later, historians continue to debate Benteen’s role in Custer’s Last Stand. While some assert that he allowed his personal prejudice in his relationship with Custer to influence his response to Custer’s call for his advance, no evidence exists to substantiate such a claim. Instead,
        much evidence exists to suggest that Benteen was responsible for preventing further death and destruction resulting from Custer’s ill-advised attack.

        Benteen’s arrival on Reno’s besieged position northeast of the village signaled a turning point in what could well have resulted in the destruction of the entire regiment. Reno was
        visibly shaken and disoriented and his battalion was on the verge of total collapse. Benteen quickly organized defenses for the two battalions. He personally directed construction of breastworks, ‘in full view of the Indians, making no effort whatever to seek shelter.’

        Given the size and scope of the native force encamped along the Little Bighorn, it is doubtful that Benteen could have successfully relieved Custer’s battalion. Unwittingly caught between the pincers of Gall and Crazy Horse, Custer’s command fell in much the same manner as Elliot’s much smaller command had at Washita — separated, isolated, and with unmitigated violence. The miracle of the Little Bighorn is that any portion of the regiment survived, and that mainly due to the timely and heroic intervention of Captain Frederick W. Benteen.”


      • Carole Moore says:

        I don’t think he disregarded orders. He was given carte blanche to act as Custer always did…impulsive and a winner. Terry was a bureaucrat, not a fighter. He knew exactly that Custer would act first. In fact, the last exchange between them as Custer left was Terry saying “Leave some spoils for us!” (meaning victories at getting the Indians rounded up) and Custer replying “No, I will not!”…
        This is why Terry wanted Custer reinstated to the 7th cavalry by Ulysses Grant after Grant had a fit of pique over Custer’s testimony at the corruption involving cavalry trading which implicated Grant’s own brother.

      • Charles says:

        Custer was an idiot and a fool.

      • Charles is an expert in these fields. Trust him completely. ☻

      • Nick Sepulvado says:

        I agree with you except for one thing. If Benteen was able to form a skirmish line and fight off the Indians like he did, then if he would have joined Custer as he was requested to, then many of them probably would have survived.

      • Englisc says:

        You’d be a fine cheerleader for those defending a way of life Shlomo if you and Barbara Lerner Specter weren’t so eager to destroy white people’s. And CUSTER got what he deserved?

  162. I was about 10 when I first walked the Custer Battlefield with my father. Just walking the ground and looking at the markers, I thought it looked like a rout. It fascinated me that Custer’s reputation didn’t match what I saw, so I’ve read a lot about it since. I think the key to Custer is his reaction to the Crow scouts changing out of their uniforms into native dress. Custer asked Mitch Boyer, the translator, what they were doing. Boyer told him they were changing clothes to get ready to die. Custer told Boyer to dismiss them for being defeatists. Custer was blinded by the visions of glory leading to the presidency dancing in his head. Custer was going to roll the dice, no matter what the odds. The facts that came to light with the spent brass archaeology in the mid 1980’s make clear how big a mistake that was. The Indians had at least 200 repeating rifles. Custer’s men had only breach loading single shot carbines. The Springfield carbines had a greater range than the Indian’s Winchester, Henry and Spencer repeating rifles and carbines, but their rate of fire was about 20% of the Indians’ guns. Custer’s men were outnumbered, outmaneuvered and outgunned. Whether Reno panicked or not, his retreat was the only thing that kept the rest of the Seventh Cavalry from being wiped out. It gave Benteen a rallying point, enough men to hold out and a position to fortify. Given what we know now, I don’t see how anyone can argue that Custer’s plan was smart, that Reno should have continued his attack on the village or that a reinforced counter attack from Weir point could have saved Custer and his remaining men. There is no way any of those alternatives would have worked against over 200 repeating rifles. All of these alternatives would have been suicide for the entire regiment, instead of just Custer’s men.

  163. I remember seeing somewhere that Reno said he ordered the retreat at the Little Bighorn because the pattern of fire reminded him of an ambush Reno saw fighting John Singleton Mosby, the Confederate guerrilla, in the Civil War. I promised the guide at the Mosby House a citation, but I can’t find it. If any of you know where it is, please respond to this comment with a link. Thanks.

  164. JP B says:

    America needs heroes. History is often spun to that end. In the imortal words of
    Col. Nathan R. Jessep You can’t handle the truth

  165. Michael Miner says:

    I find it interesting that all you armchair military geniuses condemning Ltc. Custer seem to know more from over a 100 years away in history, than people who knew him personally know. The hubris of these posts is embarrassing to read. I will trust that Gen. McClellan would have detected any character flaws in the close contact he had while Custer served as his aide-de-camp. Or for that matter, any of the other officers he served. Aside from pissing off President Grant (for implicating his brother in a crime, and arresting his drunken son), most officers seemed to approve of him, including Generals Sheridan and Sherman. But please, by all means, continue to disparage a man you never met – and contradict some of the greatest military minds of the 19th Century as you do so.

  166. Piquerish says:

    This was a fascinating read, and it exemplifies the fog of war that persists and drifts down through the ages. As long as men tell tales, men will disagree.

  167. Larry Miller says:

    You can take the words of Indians with a single grain of salt as they were well noted for fibbing.

  168. Tom Butler says:

    Any Commander who employs tactics which result in the near annihilation of his unit, is using faulty tactics.

  169. Warren Baker says:

    I have a disagreement about tactics. I say this with only a cursory knowledge of the battle, but an extensive and applied knowledge of tactics. It seemes to me, that although Custer did attempt to fix and envelope the enemy, he had no plan for communication. Custer lost command and control as soon as he took his contingent beyond the defilade of the ridge. He lost sight of Reno, had know idea what was happening with Reno, and the limited knowledge I have indicates no attempt by Reno or Custer to maintain communications. Reno had been routed and forced to retreat, establish a defense and fight for his life. Custer was flanked at that moment. Weir’s attempt to breakout failed. Also, Custer either lied to Reno, or over estimated the situation when he told Reno that he would be supported. You cant support and adjacent unit from the defilade of a ridge. Further, if the Indians were surprised twice, clearly they adapted more redaily to the situation. Frankly, Custer appears to have been a rigid tactician. Have I misinterpreted anywhere?

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