James Swisher.

How I know, or Sixteen years' eventful experience online

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the command of that section of the regiment which
survived; the statements of various officers in the same
command; the evidence of Curly, an Upsaroka scout,
who alone survived the massacre, and some unsatisfac-
tory accounts from the enemy. From all these sources,
and a careful examination of the trails and battle-
ground, the following facts are proved:

On the 22d, Custer marched his command about
twelve miles up the Rosebud, and encamped. On the
23d, they continued up the Rosebud for about thirty-
five miles, perhaps a little less. On the 24th, they ad-
vanced rapidly twenty-eight miles, and, finding a fresh
Indian trail, halted for reports from scouts. By night
they had received full reports, and, about 9.30 p. M.,


Custer called the officers together and informed them
that the Indians were in the valley of the Little Horn,
and that to surprise them they must cross over from
one stream to the other in the night. Accordingly
they moved off at n P. M.; but, about 2 A. M. of the
25th, the scouts gave notice that the command could
not get across the divide before daylight; so halt was
made, provisions prepared, and breakfast eaten. Right
here, apparently, Custer's original plan failed. It would
seem to have been his intention to repeat the Washita
battle, and attack at sunrise. By 8 A. M., the command
was nearing the Little Horn. Here the regiment was
divided. Major Reno took command of companies M,
A and G; Captain Benteen of H, D and K; Custer re-
tained companies C, E, F, I and L, and Captain Mc-
Dougall, with company B, was placed as rear-guard
with the pack-train. As they moved down the creek
toward the Little Horn, Custer was on the right bank,
Major Reno on the left bank, and Captain Benteen
some distance to the left of Reno, and entirely out of
sight. As near as can be determined the command
had marched some ninety miles since leaving Terry;
but it is claimed by some that this last night and fore-
noon march was much longer than reported.

About noon they came in sight of the Indian camp,
on the opposite side of the river, which at that point
runs a little to west of north, with a considerable bend
to the north-east. Enclosed within this bend, on the
left (west) side of the stream, began the Indian camps,
which continued thence a long way down the Little



Horn. As the command now enters the battle in
three divisions, we must consider them separately. As


far as Custer's plan can be known, it was for Reno to
cross, attack the upper end of the Indian camp, and


drive them down stream, if possible; at any rate, to
employ the warriors fully, while Custer himself, to be
re-inforced by Benteen, should gallop around the bend
of the Little Horn and down some distance, then cross,
and attack from that side. It was evident that the
time for a complete surprise was past. The last order
Reno had from Custer was: "Move forward at as
rapid a gait as you think prudent; charge afterwards,
and the whole outfit will support you." Pursuant
thereto, Reno with his command took a sharp trot for
two miles down the stream to a convenient ford; then
crossed, deployed with the Ree scouts on his left, and
opened the battle, the Indians retiring before him about
two and a half miles. And here comes in the first
doubtful proceeding. Reno says: "I saw that I was
being drawn into some trap. * * * j could not see
Custer or any other support, and at the same time the
ground seemed to grow Indians. They were running
toward me in swarms, and from all directions." He
retired a little to a piece of woods, dismounted, had
his men fight on foot, and advanced again. He says
that the odds were five to one, and he saw he must
regain high ground or be surrounded. Accordingly he
remounted his men, charged across the stream, some
distance below where he had crossed before, and hur-
ried to the top of the bluff, losing three officers and
twenty-nine men killed and seven men wounded in
this operation. In fact, nearly his entire loss occurred
in this retreat, men and horses being shot from behind.
It would seem to a civilian, who has, perhaps, no right


to criticize an Indian fight, that it would have been far
cheaper, and more nearly in accordance with his orders,
to stick to the woods on the west side, and fight it
out for a few hours. The surgeon present says there
was only one man wounded before Reno abandoned
the timber.

We turn now to Benteen. That officer, having
been ordered to the extreme left while marching down
the affluent toward the Little Horn, was necessarily
several miles off when the rest of the command turned
to the right and down the Little Horn. Finding no
Indians, he re-crossed the affluent and marched down
the trail left by Custer. About three miles, as he says,
from where Reno first crossed, he met a sergeant car-
rying orders to Captain McDougall to hurry up the
pack-train; a little further on he met Trumpeter Mar-
tin with an order from Custer, written by Adjutant
McCook, and the last he ever penned, which read:
"Benteen, come on; big village; be quick; bring packs."
About a mile further on he came in sight of the Lit-
tle Horn, and saw Reno retreating up the bluffs. He
also saw "twelve or fifteen dismounted men fighting
on the plain, the Indians there numbering about nine
hundred!" About 2.30 p. M., he came up to where
Reno had gathered his forces on the right blufi\ The
division of the regiment into three battalions was made
at 10.30 A. M.; Benteen says that his scout and return
to the main trail occupied about one hour and a half,
bringing it to noon. How he consumed the time from
then till 2.30 p. M., none of the reports inform us. The


distance traversed could not have been over five miles,
if we can trust any thing to the military map. It also
appears from the report that Boston Custer, brother of
the General, had time to come to the rear and pack-
train, get a fresh horse, and go back to Custer, passing
Benteen, and be killed in the final slaughter. The
reports by various survivors seem to leave us in
ignorance of much that we would like to know.

It was now near 3 P. M., and as senior major, Reno
had in command his own and Benteen's battalions, and
the company guarding the pack-train: Companies A,
B, D, G, H, K, and M, numbering 380 men, com-
manded by Captains Benteen, Wier, French, and Mc-
Dougall, and Lieutenants Godfrey, Mathey, Gibson,
Edgerly, Wallace, Varnum and Hare. With them was
Surgeon Porter. These officers are restrained, to a
great extent, by military courtesy, but as far as their
statements have been made public they indicate that
there was no very determined effort made to aid Cus-
ter. Major Reno waited on the bluff awhile (length
of time not settled yet), then moved slowly down the
stream, and sent Captain Weir with his command to
open communication with Custer. Weir soon returned
with the information that the Indians were coming en
masse; and, in a little while after, Reno's force was
furiously attacked. We learn at this stage of the
report that it was now 6 P. M. It seems impossible to
stretch any action of which mention is made so as to
cover the time between three and six. And yet it
appears from an examination of the ground, that Cus-


ter could not, at three, have been more than three
miles away. And, in the interim, the little squad of
dismounted men whom Benteen saw across the river,
had beaten off the Indians opposed to them and suc-
ceeded in reaching Reno without loss I But Reno's
command was attacked, as aforesaid, about 6 p. M.;
held its ground with the loss of eighteen killed and
forty-six wounded, and had the enemy beaten off by
9 P. M. There is every evidence that Reno behaved
with coolness and bravery, and Benteen with proper
activity, during this battle; and still the report does
not inform us as to the exercise of those qualities
earlier in the afternoon.

And where all this time was Custer? The trail,
the heaps of dead, and the few accounts from eye-wit-
nesses tell a plain story. He came at high speed to a
ford of the Little Horn, which would have brought
him about the middle of the Indian camps. But in
this short space of time the Indians had vanquished
Reno, and their whole force was there to oppose him.
He gave back from the ford, and the Indians followed
in overwhelming numbers. They were now on the
way he had come, and he continued his retreat along
the bluffs down the river. He had in his command
but four hundred and twenty men, and the Indians
must have numbered nearly two thousand. Who can
tell the agony of that terrible retreat and last desperate
struggle? When the command had reached a point
nearly a mile from the ford, Custer evidently saw that
a sacrifice was necessary to save, if possible, a rem-



nant of his command. To this end he chose his
brother-in-law, Lieutenant James Calhoun; with him
was Lieutenant Crittenden, their company having been
selected to cover the retreat. They were found in
line all dead together, the officers in their proper places
in the rear, the company having died fighting to the
last man.

A little further on another desperate stand was
made. Then a mile from the scene of Calhoun's
death, on the ridge parallel with the stream, Captain
Keogh's company made a stand to cover the retreat.
Keogh had evidently nerved himself for death. He
was an old and able soldier. He was an officer in the
Papal service when Garibaldi made war upon the Pope,
and had served in the army of the Potomac during the
war. Down went he and his company, slaughtered in
position, every man maintaining his place and fighting
desperately to the last.

Custer, with the remnant of his command had taken
up his position on the next hill. Curly, the Upsaroka
scout, tells us that he ran to Custer, when he saw that
the command was doomed, and offered to show him a
way of escape. General Custer dropped his head, as
if in thought, for one moment, then suddenly jerking 1
it up again he stamped his foot, and, waving Curly
away with his sword, turned to rejoin his men. In
that brief interval of thought he had decided to die
with his men rather than attempt to escape. There
had been a short lull in the fight, while the Sioux were
maneuvering for a better position. The firing now



re-commenced with more fury than ever. Curly
dashed into a ravine, let down his hair so as to re-


semble a Sioux as much as possible, mounted a horse,
and joined in the next charge; but watched his oppor-


tunity to put on a Sioux blanket, and in the heat of
the battle slipped away.

Custer had now made his last stand. It was on
the most commanding point of the ridge; and there,
with Captain Yates, Colonel Cook, Captain Custer, Lieu-
tenant Riley, and thirty-two men of Yates' command,
he fought desperately to the last. One by one his
companions fell around him. Nearer and nearer came
the Sioux, like hounds baying a lion, dashing around
and firing into the command on all sides. Finally, the
whites made a sort of barricade of their dead horses,
and again for a few minutes held the savages at bay.
Then Rain-in-the-Face, bravest Indian in the North-
west, gathered his most trusty followers for a hand-to-
hand charge. Custer fought like a tiger. With blood
streaming from half a dozen gaping wounds, he killed or
disabled three of the enemy with his saber, and when
his last support was gone, as he lunged desperately at
his nearest enemy, Rain-in-the-Face kept his oath and
shot the heroic commander dead.

But the battle was not over. Captain Custer and
Captain Smith tried to cut their way back to the river,
and in the ravine leading that way twenty-six men
were found dead. The heroic remnant made their last
stand near the river, and there every man was found
dead in position, every officer in his place, every wound
in front. The awful tragedy ended with the day.
General Custer lay dead on the hill. Beside him lay
Colonel Tom Custer, who enlisted as a private at six-
teen, was an officer at nineteen, and had been twice


decorated for bravery in action. In the same slaughter
died two more of the family. Boston Custer, forage-
master of the Seventh Cavalry, had sought the open-
air life of the plains to ward off a tendency to con-
sumption, which early manifested itself. He avoided a
lingering death by a heroic exit, fit subject for epic
poem or thrilling romance. And there was young
"Autie" Reed, a mere boy, named after General Cus-
ter himself, his nephew, son of the older sister, who
had, in fact, reared the General. It was cruel that he,
too, should die in this fearful massacre. Autie was
just out of school, and was eager to go on the plains
"with Uncle Autie." To please the lad Custer had
him and a class-mate appointed herders, to drive the
cattle accompanying the column. He had come with
his uncle on this last scout, and here met with his death,
equally brave with the bravest. Lieutenant James
Calhoun, the remaining member of this relationship,
had married Maggie E. Custer, the General's only
sister, in 1872; and in every emergency showed him-
self worthy of adoption into this brave family. Cheered
on by his voice, every man of his company died in
place. With him was Lieutenant Crittenden of the
Twelfth Infantry, a mere boy, just appointed, but cool
as a veteran through all the terrible scene. A whole
brotherhood of brave officers were cut off; for Custer
had gathered around him a circle of choice spirits, who
admired his dash, and emulated his bravery. There was
the Adjutant, Col. Wm. W. Cook, a Canadian by birth,
who had enlisted in the Twenty-fourth New York


Cavalry at the beginning of the war, and risen to be
its Colonel. And Captain Yates, who enlisted as a
private at sixteen and worked his way up. They used
to call his company the " band-box troop," they were
so neat in their dress and equipments; but every man
of them died at his post. The last commander of all
was Captain Algernon E. Smith, who won renown at
the storming of Fort Fisher; was wounded, and for
his bravery made brevet Major. But, perhaps, the
s-addest loss of all was that of Lieutenant William Van
W. Riley. He was of heroic stock. His father, an
officer in the navy, went down with his ship in the
Indian Ocean a short time before William was born.
He left his widowed mother for this expedition, and
died in company with all the brave men who then made
their last fight. The night fell upon all these brave offi-
cers and three hundred men, lying dead upon the field.
A full history of the battle is not yet known. This
I say, despite the fact that military reports have been
made by the commanders, and published by authority.
But they leave much unknown. In a quiet way there
has been much crimination and re-crimination; one
party has accused Reno and Benteen of cowardice or
disobedience; the other, including General Grant, has
charged that Custer exceeded his orders and sacrificed
his command. Without adopting the extreme view
of either side, this would seem to a civilian about the
correct state of the case: The regiment attacked a
force of Indians outnumbering the soldiers two or
three to one, and well armed, ready for fight, well


posted, in broad day, when me-n and animals were
fatigued, and so insured defeat; then, Reno and Ben-
teen, seeing that retreat was a certainty, thought best
to keep out of the fight, perhaps supposing that Custer
would, in like manner, retreat after a brief skirmish.
I cannot see that victory would have been possible in
any event no matter if the whole force had attacked
at once, as originally intended.

This disaster, of course, spoiled the original plan.
General Gibbon came up with re-inforcements, and the
Indians moved. Successive minor battles and skir-
mishes followed, by which, though no one great victory
was gained, the hostiles were slowly worn out and
scattered. Many of the braves made their way back
to the agencies, others retreated to less accessible posi-
tions in the mountains, and Sitting Bull, with a remnant,
retreated into British America, whence, at this writing,
negotiations are pending to have him removed. The
war in that section is dying out, but a few words addi-
tional may be appropriate of the Indians in general.
A glance at a map of Aboriginal America will show
that very few of the Indian nations have retained their
original locations; but it must not be judged therefrom
that numerous tribes have become extinct. The Indian
population of this country, at the landing of Columbus,
has been greatly exaggerated. It is demonstrable that
all that part of the United States east of the Missis-
sippi never contained a half million of Indians; some
authorities say a quarter of a million. It is apparent,
at a glance, that a country like Ohio will sustain four


hundred times as many people in the civilized as in the
savage state. When men live upon game and the
spontaneous products of the earth, it must be a fer-
tile land indeed, which will sustain an average of one
person to the square mile. When we pass to the
Indian of the plains the original population was sparser
still. But there we find some of the races on the soil
where first discovered. The Sioux have steadily con-
tracted their eastern border, while maintaining their
western border intact. But if, leaving history, we take
tradition, we find that the Indian tribes have been
engaged for centuries in a series of migrations, the
northern ones, as a rule, slowly pushing southward.
As all our mountain chains run north and south, it
follows that the people of this country cannot grow
into distinct races as in Europe, where different cli-
mates and soils are partitioned off by natural barriers.
Hence the Indian, from Manitoba to the Gulf of Mexico
is one; hence, too, half a million men of the West
rose in arms to prevent the mouth of the Mississippi
being "held by an alien government." Of the Indian
migrations, the best authenticated are those of the
Shoshonees and Sioux, which are referred to in the
following legend, as related to the interpreter by Susu-
ceicha, a Sioux chief:

"Ages past the Lacotas (or Dakotas, i. ., Sioux) lived
in a land far above the sun of winter.

" Here, then, the Shoshonee had all, but these basins
were yet full of water, and the buffalo ranged even to
Salt Land (Utah).


"Ages passed. The Shoshonees gave place to the
Scarred Arms (Cheyennes). The Lacotas came toward
the sun and fought long with the Scarred Arms. A
great party came far into the inner plain (Laramie)
and fell into a snare, all were killed by the Scarred
Arms but six; these hid in a hole in the mountain.

" They built a fire and dressed their wounds; they
hoped to stay many days till the Scarred Arms left
the plain. But a form rose from the dark corner of
the cave; it was a woman old as the red mountain
that was scarred by Waukan. Her hair was like wool;
she was feeble and wrinkled. She spoke:

" ' Children, you have been against the Scarred
Arms. You alone live. I know it all. But your
fire has waked me, and the full time of my dream has
come. Listen:

" ' Long ago the Shoshonees visited the Lacotas;
the prairie took in the blood of many Lacota braves,
and I was made captive. The Shoshonees brought
me here, but I was not happy. I fled. I was weak.
I took refuge in this cave.

"'But look! Where are the Shoshonees? The
Lacotas will soon know them, and bring from their
lodges many scalps and medicine dogs. They have
fled before the Scarred Arms. One-half crossed the
snow hills toward sunset; the other went toward the
sun, and now hunt the buffalo east of the Ispanola's
earth lodges. But my eyes were sealed for ages till
my people should come. The Scarred Arms have
long thought this land their own, but it is not. Wau-


kantunga gives it to the Lacotas; they shall possess the
land of their daughter's captivity. But why wait ye?
Go, gather your warriors and attack the Scarred Arms.
Fear not, their scalps are yours.'

" The warriors did return. They found the Scarred
Arms a.t the foot of the mountain, and drove them
to the South. Our grateful braves then sought the
mountain to reverence the medicine woman, who told
them so many good things. But woman and cave
were gone. There was only a cleft in the mountain
side from which came a cold stream of water. Then
the Lacotas made peace with the Scarred Arms.
Each year our warriors visit the Shoshonees for scalps
and medicine dogs, and each of our braves, as he
passes the old woman's spring, stops to quench his
thirst and yield a tribute of veneration."

The Shoshonees not only have a legend answering
to this, but name the various times when the Coman-
ches, Arapahoes, and Apaches seceded from the main
body. Thus, this great colony of the Athabascan
race, slowly moving southward, has sent off branches
right and left, from the Saskatchewan to the Rio
Grande and Gulf of California.

It would surprise some people who have been
indignant over the death of Custer and his companions
to learn how small, comparatively, is the number of
hostile Indians. A strip of five hundred miles wide,
from the Missouri to the Pacific, is rarely visited by
hostiles; and at no time, for the past ten years, have
more than one-fifth of the race been in arms or even


threatening. All the border States, except Texas, are
free from hostiles. Of the nine Territories, only three
have been seriously troubled since 1867, and the three
Pacific States have had even a longer exemption. Within
that time Indian hostilities have been confined to three
districts. First, and greatest, is that strip of mountain,
forest, and desert, including all Northern Wyoming,
South-eastern and Eastern Montana, and a small por-
tion of Western Dakota. Next are the highlands of
Western Texas, raided by the Comanches and their
allies; and, lastly, that part of New Mexico and Ari-
zona dominated by the Apaches. To judge how con-
temptible a performance an Indian war is, how small
the glory in proportion to the aggravation, be it noted
that the whole Apache race numbers less than eight
thousand, and cannot possibly mount two thousand

If it be decided that the three hundred thous-
and Indians in the United States (or rather the two
hundred thousand wild ones) are to "die off," then by
all means let a "feeding policy" be pursued; it is so
much cheaper to kill them by kindness than by war.
Since 1860 the average cost of killing Indians has
been about five hundred thousand dollars each. One-
tenth of that amount would stuff one to death. If, I
say, the theory of final extermination be adopted, the
most Christian and, by all odds, the cheapest plan
would be this: Let central depots be established along
the Pacific Railway and at other accessible points, and
give general notice that every Indian who will come


there and live shall have all the bread, meat, coffee,
sugar, whisky and tobacco he can consume. The last
man of them would be dead in ten years, and at a cost
not exceeding twenty per cent, of the killing price.
Since the Mormons began the feeding policy with their
nearest Indian neighbors, the latter have died off much
more rapidly than when at war. They can't stand
petting any more than a rabbit.



[From WESTERN WILDS, by permission.]

FIVE million Americans are asking this question.
They will take Greeley's advice and go West;
but are as yet undecided as to locality. Let us, there-
fore, briefly note the good and bad features of various
sections. Imprimis, then, there is no paradise in the
West; no region where one will not find serious draw-
backs in climate, soil or society.

If you like a middle northern clime, there is no
better place than southern Minnesota and the adjacent
parts of Dakota. These have one great advantage
over northern Iowa: the vacant land is still in the
market at government prices; in Iowa it has been
granted too extensively, and railroads and speculators
owrr too much of it in large bodies. In the long run
they lose money by holding it in this way; they would
do well to sell and invest elsewhere; but they have not
found that out yet. By and by the residents will learn

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Online LibraryJames SwisherHow I know, or Sixteen years' eventful experience → online text (page 19 of 21)