Wild West Discussion - December 2011 | HistoryNet

Wild West Discussion – December 2011

10/9/2011 • Wild West Discussions

How do you rate the performance of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer at the November 27, 1868, Battle of the Washita (near present-day Cheyenne, Okla.), including the way he handled the loss of Major Joel Elliott and his small party of volunteers?

13 Responses to Wild West Discussion – December 2011

  1. Richard Pruitt says:

    Custer’s plan was effective in severely hurting the Cheyennes. It did not prevent flight, so I refer to it as a Hammer/Anvil without the anvil! Custer failed on the tactical level because he did not conduct a recon of the area. Just down Sand Creek were two large villages of Comanche and Kiowa. These villages mobilized and started to come after Custer.

    Custer should not have sent such a small group of men with the Major. It was a job for at least one or two Troops. If Custer could not send them, once again his plan was flawed.

    What stopped the Hostile reaction to Custer’s attack was when he destroyed the food, horses, and camp equipment of the Cheyenne. There was then no reason for the Comanche and Kiowa to keep coming.

    Richard Pruitt

  2. Dave says:

    Custer was noting more than a blow hard . He was good at two things 1
    Blowing his own horn and 2. Getting people killed

  3. Terry Johnson says:

    Custer followed the trail of Indian raiders to Black Kettle’s camp. He didn’t scout to see if their tracks led thru the camp or stopped there. Nor did he scout for any other camps in the area.

    Given the severe weather conditions he had found the camp he thought the raiders were from. The attack at dawn from all 4 sides from such a long distance made the outcome of the battle very quick.

    Major Elliot disobeyed orders and pursued fleeing Indians that led to his deathand his men.

    Custer did what he had to do to save the rest of the regiment. Distroying the horse herd, winter supplies, and village. Taking the captives back to the supply camp. This kept the mounting Indians from the other camps from attacking.

    Sending more troopers out to find Major Elliot and his men could have cost the regiment more men and possibly turned the victory into a defeat. I think Custer made the right decision..

  4. Matt Robertson says:

    This may not be the best place to send this question, however, the Swartz photograph on pg.16 in the December 2011 issue is my question. Do all three of the men in the picture look like the same man? Where is the left toe of the man on the right in the light colored jacket? Where are the feet of the man in the top-hat? Could it be an early example of clever photography and the product of a master of his trade?

  5. Donna Donnell says:


    Thank you for the question on The Gambler’s photograph by John Swartz.

    I do not have the original cabinet card, but do own a high quality digital from the original.

    In reversing the photograph from sepia to black and white and magnifying, the gentleman on the right possesses all ten toes on his left foot. The top of his shoes are a light color, probably beige, the style of the day. As for Mr. Top Hat, thanks for not asking about his beard, I can assure you he has at least one leg.

    The Swartz brothers practiced early photograph manipulation, either inserting person/s or objects in a form of cut and paste or hand painting on the plate.

    John “was” a master of his trade. Of the three brothers, his specialty was portraits. The Wild Bunch just so happened to walk into the gallery of one the best photographer’s, not just in Fort Worth, but in the country. They sure couldn’t complain they didn’t get their money’s worth and then some!

    Thank you for enjoying this treasure!

    Donna Donnell

    • Matt Robertson says:

      Thank you Donna for your examination of the photo and your reply. I am still vague however about the photo. Are the men in the photo all the same man? I am clear now that I was wrong about their missing appendages, but was I right on the other part about trick photography? Thanks.

  6. Donna Donnell says:


    My observation is all three men have different ears and hairlines. Thus three different men. Ears are considered a part of the body which do not change, less’n you are boxer with a poor winning record.

    Best regards,

    Donna Donnell

  7. Steve McCarty says:

    Custer was a fan of the double or even triple envelopment, a simultanous attack from two or three, or even more sides. This he must have concluded would lead to panic, leaving no place to run to, then surrender.

    The general also used this plan at the Little Big Horn. It did not work. We say today that one should not divide one’s forces in front of a superior enemy. Custer on the other hand understood the power of surprise. He was an audacious leader and not, IMO vain glorious. He was about a quick attack with follow up support and then a fierce battle in depth. He was therefore a stand and fight kind of guy after first demoralizing his enemy using “shock and awe!” It is often overlooked, when studying Custer, that his tactics were very successful during the Civil War and he was a popular leader. He won battles and the only one that he lost badly was his last.

  8. Steve McCarty says:

    Concerning Custer’s treatment of Elliot. I have been over the

    ground. I stood on the flat rock that Custer must have stood on

    when he ordered the killing of the 600 head of horses. From that

    vantage point the battle field arrays out in front of you. The trees obscure the river. There are high bluffs on the other side, about two miles to your front. It was from those far bluffs that the 7th attacked. Elliot’s unit was off to your right as you stand there facing the bluffs and the place where the Indian camp was. Elliot was seperated from Custer’s POS by about two miles of mostly flat open ground. As he faced Custer’s POS he must have been attacked from behind. He had held his ground to stop an Indian retreat, which was what he was ordered to do. He must have dismounted giving one in four the reigns of the horses which was doctrin.

    Elliot must have been overwhelmed during the battle down in the riverbed. I doubt that Custer heard the fire from Elliot’s men because of the fire from his. I also suspect after walking the ground that Custer could not have saved Elliot. He being dead when the battle in the bottoms was over, and Custer was busy killing horses and burning the Indian’s impedimenta.

    Benteen, it is said, started hating Custer at Washita, over Custer’s abandonment of Elliot. No one was abandoned. Elliot was already dead when Elliot demanded that they go out after him.

  9. Steve McCarty says:

    As I recall standing at the Washita site, I cannot recall if any of Custer’s staff heard volley fire from Elliot’s men. Did Benteen hear any? I cannot recall. If Elliot did fire volley requesting Custer’s aid, and Custer heard it, then he would have been duty bound to go to Elliot’s aid, just as Benteen was duty bound to go to Custer’s aid at the Little Big Horn. We know that Benteen and Reno heard Custer’s volley firing.

    Did Benteen ignore Custer’s call for help just as Custer and ignored Elliot’s? I do not know. Maybe someone here does.

    Nor can I recall exactly how far Elliots unit was from Custer’s main body, but it was not a long drive by car and the road from Custer’s POS goes right by the Elliot markers. I would guess the distance is about equal to that between the Reno stand and the Custer death site at the LBH. Two to four miles.

    Should Custer have divided is force at Washita? He certainly thought so and he had been in many more battles that we have, and he did have extensive experience how to deploy mounted cavalry. He was too successful to be stupid. People tend to laugh at Custer thinking him the fool we see in the film “Little Big Man” he was not. He was a serious, dedicated leader of fighting men and he was one of the most successful men to do it. One must consider his many successes of the Civil War to take the measure of the man and evaluate his leadership skills.

  10. Ron Hunter says:

    I find it interesting that at the Washita, Custer with 700 troops felt the need to evacuate to keep from being overwhelmed.

    Too bad he didn’t execise the same caution with far fewer troops at the Little Big Horn.

  11. Steve McCarty says:

    After the Battle at Washita was over, Custer was encumbered by approx. fifty prisoners, mostly female and their children as well as a number of the 7th’s wounded, including Cpt. Albert Barnitz, who was shot in the body and not expected to live. (He did however!)

    Hampered as he was, and probably low on ammunition, I do not think that Custer believed that he was ready to fight another battle. Two bands of Indians showed up, and while I don’t know how many there were, probably in the hundreds.

    It was cold. Custer’s men had left their heavy coats up on the bluffs which they had been ordered to remove just prior to their charge into the village.

    Custer rounded up his men and the prisoners and marched them past the surrounding Indians, and nary a shot was fired.

    At the Little Big Horn Custer believed that he had plenty of men to defeat the Indians. “Oh, I think we’ll get through them in a day.” He was recorded as saying just before the battle.

    If Reno and Benteen had done as ordered Custer might have won the day. The Indians panicked when Reno started his charge. C believed that they would still be in a state of panic when he joined up with Reno at the north end of the encampment. Then when Benteen arrived with McDougle and the “pacs” which would have included extra ammunition and food they would have been able to sustain their attacks on the now disorganized enemy.

    Didn’t happen that way of course. Benteen and Reno did salley forth towards Custer’s POS but it was too late. It was well over an hour after they heard Custer’s volley fires. He and his men were most likely dead when Weir, Reno, Benteen and the others peeked over the ridge about two/three miles from Custer’s POS.

    Could Custer have won that day? I think so. But he underestimated the capabilities of his subordinate officers. Benteen, a brave man hated Custer and Reno who was not so brave didn’t care one way or the other about his fearless leader. I also think that Reno was quite drunk. Not that that mattered much.

  12. Steve McCarty says:

    Custer had with him the brother of a women who was being held captive in the village. Upon the attack the women and her baby were murdered. This proves that at least some of the Indians in that camp were not all that nice and they had accomplished some depredations.

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