The Battle of the Little Big Horn
Ron Wild relates the story of Custerís Last Stand.
LATE IN 1875 an order went out from President Ulysses S. Grant in Washington to the various hostile Indian tribes that they were to report to reservations and Indian agencies no later than 31 January 1876. The Cheyenne and Sioux tribes disregarded the order and as a result the Yellowstone Expedition set out on 17 May 1876 from Fort Abraham Lincoln in the Dakota Territory under the command of Brigadier General Alfred H. Terry. The purpose of the expeditionary force was to find Chief Sitting Bullís encampment and to bring him to heel. Normally Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer would have led the entire expedition himself but he had incurred the displeasure of President Grant and was only allowed to accompany the expedition at the insistence of General Terry.
General Terryís force planned to meet up with a force from Fort Ellis, Montana under Col. John Gibbon and a second force from Fort Fetterman, Wyoming commanded by General George Crook. The overall plan was to trap the Indians in a three-way pincer. General Crook became involved in a disastrous battle of his own and failed to appear at the pre-arranged meeting place. General Terry decided to ride with Col. Gibbon who was in charge of a heavy Gatling gun (an early machine-gun) division. He gave Lt. Col. Custer explicit instructions to lead the Seventh Cavalry up the nearby Rosebud River to arrive no sooner than 26 June to allow Gibbonís troops, slowed by the Gatling Gun Division, time to take up their positions.
Custer paid little heed to General Terryís instructions and soon after departing up the Rosebud, headed directly for the valley of the Little Big Horn making forced marches late into the night and starting again before dawn. With his Seventh Cavalry troopers trail-weary and his horses exhausted, Custer reached the valley early in the afternoon of 25 June and made plans to attack the Indians immediately. Custerís Indian scouts warned him that Sitting Bullís camp was too large for him to take on with his small troop but Custer thought that his Seventh Cavalry could whip any Indian war party. Custer divided his troops into three separate commands placing 125 men under Captain Benteen with instructions to move towards the foothills and fight any Indians that he found. A second battalion under Major Marcus Reno was sent to engage the Indians in the village across the Little Big Horn with Custer to follow up with his battalion and provide whatever support was needed.
Custer received confirmation that the Indian camp was indeed very large and stretched for three miles along the banks of the Little Big Horn. When Captain Renoís battalion engaged the Indians across the river, Custer received intelligence that the Indians were escaping towards the other end of the valley and rode his battalion hard to head them off. Approaching the other end of the Indian village on the banks of the Little Big Horn, Custerís 264 troopers ran headlong into Crazy Horse and Sitting Bullís forces, estimated at 3,000 strong.
Sitting Bull himself did not fight but directed the Indian forces, many of whom were equipped with repeating Winchesters while the Seventh Cavalry troopers only had single shot carbines. The Indian forces charged head on and then flanked Custerís battalion and slaughtered them to a man. The troopers became so desperate during the fierce half-hour engagement that they shot their own horses to act as shelters. They were however able to inflict severe casualties on the Indians. George Armstrong Custerís body was found on the pinnacle of a hill where he had made his last stand, the flag of the Seventh Cavalry flying over him.
Part of the above account of the battle of the Little Big Horn is from an article appearing in the Leavenworth Weekly Times of 18 August 1881 and is a rare eyewitness account by Sioux Chief Crow King.