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Fighting Indians in the 7th United States Cavalry : Custer's favorite regiment online

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holder held eight horses. Until the Indians were made to
taste quite freely of our lead they displayed unusual bold
ness, frequently charging up to our line and firing with
great deliberation and accuracy. Captain Moylan exer
cised command along the entire line ; Lieutenant Custer
commanded the center; my adjutant, Lieutenant James
Calhoun commander the right ; and Lieutenant Charles A.
Varnum, the left, The first Indian killed was shot from
his pony by "Bloody Knife," the Crow who acted
as my guide and scout. Soon after, Private Charles
P. Miller, of A troop, Seventh Cavalry, succeeded in send
ing a carbine bullet directly through the body of a chief
who had been conspicuous throughout the engagement.
At the same time it was known that our firing had dis
abled many of their ponies, while owing to our sheltered
position the only damage thus far inflicted upon us was
one man and two horses wounded, one of the latter shot
in three places.

Finding their efforts to force back our line unavailing,
the Indians now resorted to another expedient. By an
evidently preconcerted plan they set fire in several places,
to the tall grass which covered the ground in our front
hoping by this means to force us back to the rear, and
thus finish us at their pleasure. Fortunately for us there
was no wind prevailing at the time, while the grass was
scarcely dry enough to burn rapidly. Taking advantage


of the dense curtain of smoke which rose from the burning
grass, the Indians, by following the course of the flames,
could often contrive to obtain a shot at us at a compara
tively close range ; but my men, observing that there
was no danger to be apprehended from the slowly advanc
ing flames, could frequently catch an opportunity to send
a shot through a break in the curtain of smoke, and in this
way surprised the Indian by the adoption of his own

The fight began at 11:30 A. M., and was waged without
cessation until three o clock, all efforts of the Indians to
dislodge us proving unsuccessful. The Indians had become
extremely weary, and had almost discontinued their
offensive movements, when my ammunition ran low. I
decided to mount the squadron and charge the Indians,
with the intention of driving them from the field.

Captain Moylan promptly had his men in the saddle,
and throwing twenty mounted skirmishers, under Lieuten
ant Varnum, the entire squadron moved forward at a trot.
No sooner did the Indians discern our intentions than, de
spite their superiority in numbers, they cowardly prepared
for flight, in which preparation they were greatly hastened
when Captain Moylan s squadron charged them and drove
them " pell-mell " for three miles.

Five ponies killed or badly wounded were left on the
battle ground or along the line of their flight. So rapidly
were they forced to flee that they abandoned and threw
away breech-loading arms, saddle equipments, clothing,
robes, lariats, and other articles comprised in an Indian

Among the Indians who fought us on this occasion
were some of the identical warriors who committed the
massacre at Fort Phil. Kearney, and they no doubt intend
ed a similar program when they sent the six warriors to
dash up and attempt to decoy us into a pursuit past the
timber in which the savages hoped to ambush us. Had we
pursued the six warriors half a mile farther, instead of
halting, the entire band would have been in our rear.

So far as the troops attacked were concerned, the
Indians, to off-set their own heavy losses, had been able


to do us no damage except to wound one man and two
horses ; but unfortunately two non-combatants, Veter
inary Surgeon John Hosinger, Seventh Cavalry, and Mr.
Baliran, of Memphis, Tenn., in endeavoring to come from
the main column to join the squadron in advance, were
discovered by the Indians during the attack, and being un
armed were overtaken and killed almost within view of
the battle-ground. Fortunately the Indians were so pressed
as not to be able to scalp or otherwise mutilate the

On the 8th instant we discovered the trail of a large
village, evidently to which the party that had attacked us
on the 4th belonged. The course of the trail led up the
Yellowstone, and apparently was not more than two days
old. Acting under the authority of the Brevert-Major-
General commanding, I ordered my command, consisting
of four squadrons of the Seventh Cavalry, in readiness to
begin the pursuit that night. The Brevert-Major-General
also directed the detachment of guides and Indian scouts
under Lieutenent Daniel H. Brush, 17th Infantry, to report
to me for temporary service. Leaving all tents and wag
ons behind: and taking with us rations for seven days, we
started in pursuit at 10 o clock on the night of the 8th in
stant, having waited until that hour until the moon should
enable us to follow the trail. Following the trail as rapid
ly as the rough character of the country would permit >
daylight next morning found us nearly thirty miles from
our starting-point. Concealing horses and men in a ravine
a halt of three hours was ordered to enable the horses to
graze and the men to obtain refreshments. Renewing the
march at eight o clock, the pursuit was continued without
halting until noon, when, to avoid discovery, as well as to
obtain needed rest for men and animals, it was decided to
conceal ourselves in the timber, and await the cover of
night to continue the pursuit.

Starting out at 6:30 P. M., the trail was followed rapid
ly for six miles, when, to our disappointment, we discov
ered that the Indians had taken to the river, and crossed
to the east side. In following their trail to this point it
was evident that the movement of the Indians was one of


precipitate flight, the result of the engagement on the 4th.
All along their trail and in their camping-places were to be
found large quantities of what constituted Indian equip
ments, such as lodge-poles, robes, saddle equipments,
arms, and cooking utensils In a hastily abandoned camp
ground nearly two hundred axes, besides a great many
camp-kettles and cups, were found.

My entire command was disappointed when the trail
showed that the Indians had crossed to the other side, par
ticularly as our rapid marching had carried us to the point
of crossing, the evening of the day on which the last of
the Indians had crossed over, so that one more march
would have enabled us to overhaul them. Bivouacking in
in a belt of timber on the river bank, we waited until day
light to begin to attempt to cross the command over the
river, which at this point is about six hundred yards wide.
At early dawn the entire command forded the river to an
island located in the middle of the channel ; but our diffi
culties in the way of crossing here began, as the volume
of water and the entire force of the current were to be
encountered between the island and the opposite bank
the current here rushes by with a velocity of about 7 miles
an hour, while the depth of the water was such that a horse
attempting to cross would be forced to swim several hun
dred yards. Still as we knew the Indians had not discovered
our pursuit, and were probably located within easy strik
ing distance of the river, it was most desirable that a
crossing should be effected. To accomplish this, Lieuten
ant Weston, Seventh Cavalry, with three accomplished
swimmers from the command, attempted to cross on a
log-raft, carrying a cable made of lariats. The current was
so strong that Lieutenant Weston s party were unah,le to
effect a landing, but were swept down the river nearly two
miles, and then forced to abandon the raft and swim
to shore.

Lieut. Weston, with characteristic perserverance and
energy, made repeated attempts afterwards to carry the
cable over, but although succeeding in reaching the oppo
site bank in person, was unable to connect the cable with
the shore. Almost the entire day was spent in these un-


successful efforts, until finally a crossing in this manner
had to be abandoned. I then caused some cattle to be
killed, and by stretching the hides over a kind of basket-
frame prepared by the Crow guide, made what are known
among the Indians as bull-boats ; with these I hoped to be
able to connect the cable with the opposite bank at day
light next morning, but just at sunset a small party of
Indians were seen to ride down to the bank opposite us
and water their ponies. They discovered our presence,
and at once hastened away. Of course it was useless now
to attempt a surprise, and the intention to cross the river
the following morning was abandoned.

At early dawn the next day (the llth instant), the Indi
ans appeared in strong force on the river bank opposite
us, and opened a brisk fire upon us from their rifles. No
attention was paid to them until encouraged by this they
had collected at several points in full view, and within
range of our rifles, when about thirty of our best marks
men, having posted themselves along the bank, opened a
well-directed fire upon the Indians and drove them back to

In the meantime strong parties of Indians were report
ed by our pickets to be crossing the river below us, their
ponies and themselves being so accustomed to the river as
to render this operation quite practicable to them. Cap
tain French, commanding the right wing, was directed to
watch the parties crossing below, while Colonel Hart, com
manding the right wing, posted a force to discharge this
duty with regard to parties crossing above. It would haye
been possible, perhaps, for us to have prevented the Indi
ans from making a crossing, at least when they did, but I
was not only willing but anxious that as many of them
should come over as were so disposed. They were soon
reported as moving to the bluffs immediately in rear of us
from the river. Lieutenant Brush was directed to employ
his scouts in watching and reporting their movents a
duty which they discharged in a thorough manner.

While this was transpiring I had mounted my com
mand and formed it in line close under the bluffs facing
from the river, where we quietly waited the attack of the


Indians in our front. The sharp-shooting across the river
still continued, the Indians having collected some of their
best shots apparently armed with long-range rifles and
were attempting to drive our men back from the water s
edge. It was at this time that my standing orderly, Private
Tuttle, of E troop, Seventh Cavalry, one of the best
marksmen in my command, took a sporting
Springfield rifle and posted himself, with two other men,
behind cover on the river bank, and began picking off the
Indians as they exposed themselves on the opposite bank.
He had obtained the range of the enemy s position early
in the morning, and was able to place his shots wherever
desired. It was while so engaged that he observed an
Indian in full view near the river. Calling the attention
of his comrade to the fact, he asked him " to watch me
drop that Indian," a feat which he succeeded in perform
ing. Several other Indians rushed to the assistance of
their fallen comrade, when Private Tuttle, by a skilful and
rapid use of his breech-loading Springfield, succeeded in
killing two other warriors. The Indians, enraged no
doubt at this rough handling, directed their aim at Private
Tuttle, who fell pierced through the head by a rifle bullet
He was one of the most useful and daring soldiers who
ever served under my command.

About this time Captain French, who was engaged
with the Indians who were attacking us from below, suc
ceeded in shooting a warrior from his saddle, while several
ponies were known to be wounded or disabled. The Indi
ans now began to display a strong force in our front on
the bluffs. Colonel Hart was ordered to push a line of
dismounted men to the crest, and prevent the further ad
vance of the enemy towards the river. This duty was
handsomely performed by a portion of Captain Yates s
squadron. Colonel Hart had posted Lieutenant Charles
Braden and twenty men on a small knoll which command
ed our left. Against this party the Indians made their
first onslaught. A mounted party of warriors, numbering
nearly two hundred, rode boldly to within thirty yards of
Lieutenant Braden s position, when the latter and his com
mand delivered such a well-directed fire that the Indians


were driven rapidly from that part of the field, after hav
ing evidently suffered considerable loss.

Unfortunately Lieutenant Braden received a rifle-ball
through the upper part of the thigh, passing directly
through the bone, but he maintained his position with
gallantry and coolness until he had repulsed the enemy.
Hundreds of Indians were now to be seen galloping up
and down along our front, each moment becoming bolder
owing to the smallness of our force which was then

$ !> Believing the proper time had arrived to assume the
offensive, orders to this effect were accordingly sent to
Colonel Hart and Captain French, the two wing com
manders. Lieutenant Weston was directed to move his
troop, L, up a deep ravine to our left, which would convey
him to the enemy s position, and as soon as an opportuni
ty occurred he was to charge them, and pursue the Indians
with all the vigor practicable. Immediately after, Captain
Owen Hale was directed to move his squadron, consisting
of E and K troops, in conjunction with L troop, and the
three to charge simultaneously. Similar dispositions were
ordered in the center and right. Lieutenant Custer, com
manding B troop, was ordered to advance and charge the
Indians in front of our center, while Captains Yates and
Moylan moved rapidly forward in the same direction.

Before this movement began, it became necessary to
dislodge a large party of Indians posted in a ravine behind
rocks in our front, who were engaged in keeping up a
heavy fire upon our troops while the latter were forming.
It was at this point that the horse of Lieutenant Hiram H.
Ketchum, Acting- Assistant- Adjutant-General of the expe
dition, was shot under him. My own horse was also shot
under me within a few paces of the latter.

The duty of driving the Indians engaged in sharp-
shooting entrusted to Lieutenant Charles A. Varnum,
Seventh Cavalry, with a detatchment of A troop of the
Seventh Cavalry, soon forced the Indians back from their

Everything being in readiness for a general advance,
the charge was ordered and the squadrons took the gallop


to the tune of "Garryowen," the band being posted im
mediately in rear of the skirmish line. The Indians had
evidently come out prepared to do their best, and with no
misgivings as to their success, as the mounds and high
bluffs beyond the river were covered with groups of old
old men, squaws, and children, who had collected there to
witness our destruction. In this instance the proverbial
power of music to soothe the savage breast utterly failed
for no sooner did the band strike up the cheery notes of
" Garryowen," and the squadrons advance to the charge,
than the Indians exhibited unmistakable signs of commo
tion, and their resistance became more feeble, until finally
satisfied of the earnestness of our attack they turned their
ponies heads and began a disorderly flight. The cavalry
put spurs to their horses and dashed forward in pursuit,
the various troop and squadron commanders vying with
one another as to who should head the advance. The ap
pearance of the main command in sight, down the valley,
at this moment, enabled me to relieve Captain French s
command below us, and he was ordered to join in the
pursuit. Lieutenant Mclntosh, commanding G troop,
moved his command up the valley at a gallop, and pre
vented many of the Indians from crossing. The chase was
continued with the utmost vigor until the Indians were
completely dispersed, and driven a distance of nine miles
from where the engagement took place, and they were
here forced back across the Yellowstone, the last pony
killed in the attack being shot fully eight miles from the
point of attack.

The number of Indians opposed to us has been estimat
ed by the various officers engaged as from eight hundred
to a thousand. My command numbered four hun
dred and fifty, including officers and men. The
Indians were made up of different bands of Sioux, princi
pally Uncpapas, the whole under command of " Sitting
Bull," who participated in the second day s fight, and who
for once has been taught a lesson he will not soon forget.

A large number of Indians who fought us were fresh
from their reservations on the Missouri river. Many of the
warriors engaged in the fight on both days were dressed


in complete suits of the clothes issued at the agencies to
the Indians. The arms with which they fought us (several
of which we captured in the fight) were of the latest im
proved patterns of breech loading repeating rifles, and
their supply of metallic rifle-cartridges seemed unlimited,
as they were anything but sparing in their use. So amply
were they supplied with breech-loading rifles and ammu
nition that neither bows nor arrows were employed
against us. As an evidence that these Indians, at least
many of them, were recently from the Missouri river
agencies, we found provisions, such as coffee, in their
abandoned camps, and cooking and other domestic uten
sils, such as only reservation Indians are supplied with.
Besides, our scouts conversed with them across the river
for nearly an hour before the fight became general, and
satisfied themselves as to the identity of their foes. I
only regret that it was impossible for my command to
effect a crossing of the river before our presence was dis
covered, and while the hostile village was located near at
hand, as I am confident that we could have largely reduced
the necessity for appropriating for Indian supplies for
the coming Winter.

The losses of the Indians in ponies were particularly
heavy, while we know their losses in killed and wounded
were beyond all propertion to that which they were en
abled to inflict upon us, our losses being one officer badly
wounded, four men killed, and three wounded ; four
horses killed and four wounded.

Careful investigation justifies the statement that in
cluding both days battles, the Indians losses will number
forty warriors, while their wounded on the opposite bank
of the river may increase this number.
Respectfully submitted.

[Signed,] G. A. CUSTER,

Lieutenant-Colonel 7th Cavalry,
Brevet-Major-General, U. S. A., Commanding.



On Scout to Little Big Horn Accompany Officers to Battle.

field Where Custer and All His Force Were Killed

Skeletons Strewn Over Scene of Battle,

ABOUT fourteen months after " Ouster s Last
Charge," on the Little Big Horn, while our force was
on Tongue River, I was included in a detail ordered
on a scout into the Big Horn country, and also to act
as escort of a few officers who wished to see the
battlefield where Custer and his men met death.

Some say that the distance from Tongue River,
near the mountains, to the battlefield, does not exceed
twenty -five miles ; others place the estimate at thirty
and none over thirty-five but we, after two long and
hard days ride from the head of the Little Horn in
the mountains, a point nearer than Tongue River, at
present General Miles s headquarters, carefully com
pute the distance to be at least forty -five miles.

Beginning with the noble table-land upon which
we stood, the ground gradually and gently fell to
wards the river, straightening out as level as a floor*
and with both sides clearly defined by the sparsely
shaded streams and the bluffs.

Beyond the water appeared the rugged embank
ment, extending from the south (where Reno held his
force while Custer and his command were struggling
in " the jaws of death,") to the limit of vision on the
north, standing perpendicular, save an occasional gap
through which some trickling stream contributed its
mite to the general volume of the Little Horn, or
through which entrance to the fords are made, and
through which we must ride if we would gain the
other side.


Still farther back, towards the Rosebud, the silent
timberless, sandy Wolf Mountains loomed high, cast
ing a mild and pleasing shadow over the landscape,
while at the other extremity of the valley the gradual
divides, rich with verdure and bright-hued with full
blown flowers, completed as beautiful a scene as the
eye of an artist ever rested on, or the hand of a mas
ter ever transferred to canvas.

At last, after a weary march, and not without
the many little incidents which go to liven up, and
sometimes to still further depress the drooping spirits
of man and beast, we arrived at and entered the site
of the old Indian village, hard by which General
Custer and his men were trapped and slaughtered.

This camping place was about four miles long, a
half-mile wide, and located by the river side, upon a
depressed table-land with a thin growth of timber,
which at one time extended all over the bottom, but
the felling of the trees by the squaws to secure the
bark for food for ponies during the winters, had left
the central portion of the strip almost barren.

At the southern side, we passed through a dense,
bushy grove, covering three or four acres, where the
squaws and papooses were concealed when Custer
approached, and and until the Cavalry were securely

Beyond this the ground presented a strange spec
tacle. Teepee and lodge poles were as thick as
they could stand, while all about camp equippage and
hides were scattered in confusion.

An outstanding feature was the great quantities of
leggins lying about, and the only explanation is, that
the Indians discarded them for articles of clothing
taken from the dead soldiers.

Farther down we saw six burial scaffolds, and on
the ground beneath them were the bones of as many


Indians, the skull of one of them having been pierced
by and still containing a rifle bullet.

It was nearly dark when we reached the lower
ford, about half-way through the abandoned Indian
village, where we camped for the night, wet, cold,
hungry and greatly fatigued. Supper was quickly
prepared, and after eating and taking a short smoke,
we spread our wet blankets on the ground, and all
turned in for the night ; but not to sleep, for coyotes
and wolves kept up their horrid din, as though angry
at being deprived of their accustomed nightly hunt
for scraps of muscle and flesh on bones scattered

We had been lying down some time, when a yell
rent the air, and Jack Healey sprang to his feet shout
ing " snakes !"

Jack, while nearly asleep, had felt a cold, slimy
something crawl over his face, and then followed the
warning cry of " snakes !"

We were soon on our feet, quickly replenished the
dying fire, and with sabers in hand began to hunt for
the unwelcome intruders. No snakes were found,
but we found lizards, hundreds of the slimey green
things, and the slaughter continued until the last one
found was dead. Then we tried our blankets again
but dread of another attack by the repulsive things
did not allow us to fall asleep. Soon another man
felt one of the reptiles crawling over him, and then
all arose and there was another slaughter of lizards.
Sleep was out of the question. So we lay and sat
around until morning dawned.

After a hasty breakfast we passed on over the
battlefield, where a little over one year ago, General
George A. Custer and three hundred brave troopers
of the Seventh Cavalry, while in the line of duty,
were massacred by between three and four thousand
Indian warriors under the immediate command of


Sitting Bull, Not one of the hostiles having part in
that masacre has ever been called to account for the
awful deed. Worse than that, some of these very
same savages, are now fed and supported by the gov
ernment they fought against, and are the forced
associates and companions of members of the Seventh
Cavalry !

The bodies -of our dead had never been properly
buried. All these months had passed, yet the little
band whose brave deeds of heroism will ever remain
a matter of history, have not received decent burial.
Their bones, divested of clothing by the heartless and
brutal savages, and of flesh by wolves and other ani
mals, lie bleaching on the ground where they fell>
a said result of the failure of Major Reno to give

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Online LibraryAmi Frank MulfordFighting Indians in the 7th United States Cavalry : Custer's favorite regiment → online text (page 10 of 11)