Archive for the ‘Little Bighorn Battlefield’ Category
One of the articles in the Summer 1956 issue of Montana: The Magazine of Western History was a reprint of a 32-page booklet that was copyrighted in 1936 and presented with permission of the widow of its author, Wallace David Coburn. “The Battle of the Little Big Horn” was an account of a story told by Major Will A. Logan (below) who had been the superintendent of the Agency at the Belknap Indian Reservation in Milk River, Montana, and who had just been named the first superintendent of the new Glacier National Park, a position he held in 1911 until his death in 1912.
Logan told his story to a small group with the admonition that it be kept secret, but he further instructed that “on the death of Mrs. Custer this story must be given to the public.” Libbie Custer died in 1933, so the story was kept secret for over two decades.
As with most accounts of the battle, mistakes are apparent throughout the narrative. In addition, this narrative is similar to “Sole Survivor” accounts in that it is questionable if Logan was even there. Logan stated he was 17 years old at the time of the battle, but he was born in 1856, which would have made him 20. He said he was a scout for the Seventh Cavalry but that his father, Captain William Logan, had him transferred to Gibbons’ command prior to the battle. He claimed that General Terry sent him out into the night on June 25th with instructions to find Custer and deliver new written orders and information about their movements.
To make a long story short, Logan claimed to have been the first white man to witness the aftermath of the battle. He said he witnessed the celebrations of the Indians and heard intermittent firing from the area now known as Reno-Benteen. When asked of the condition of George Custer’s body, he replied, “Stripped naked, scalped, mutilated, and with more arrows sticking in him than in the body of any other man on the battlefield, with the possible exception of that of his brother, Colonel Tom Custer.” While the condition of George Custer’s body as described is likely, other details, such as saying they had they “met their doom with smoking rifles and dripping sabers in their hands,” are known to be false.
Logan ended his story with a tribute to the “last man.”
Like the flame of a coal blazed his eyes. His teeth glistened like a fighting grizzly, while from his lips a war-cry came that was weird and strange, making the marrow thicken. In his right hand gleamed a cavalry saber, his left gripped the butt of an empty six-shooter.
Hurling the revolver into the face of a big brave, the white man then commenced to cleave his way through the line. With lightning strokes the saber flashed, dealing sudden death to three more of the bolder braves.
Back rolled the red waves of desperate red fighters, leaving the white brave alone for an instant . . . he looked up at the red sun . . . laughed and said something . . . then laughed again as the red tide swept back over him stilling his courageous heart forever.
His slayers claimed that they never touched his body for he was so brave that they wanted the signs to remain . . . to show others how this warrior of warriors had fought and died.
Who was the last man according to Logan?
Captain Myles Keogh.
Lieutenant Edward Maguire of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reached the site of the Battle of the Little Bighorn on the morning of June 27, 1876. In his Annual Report dated July 10, 1876, he tells the story of the Seventh Cavalry from the day they left Fort Abraham Lincoln on May 17 through the initial burials. His was the first official report of the battle, and his four conclusions have stood the test of time.
Within the published report was a map drawn by Sergeant Charles Becker at Maguire’s direction that measures approximately 17.5 inches high by 15 inches wide. In order to see the markings more clearly than shown above, the map has been scanned as four images of high resolution. You may wish to save and print the four quadrants at actual size (select “landscape” for the orientation) and piece them together. The four sections are not perfect, but they should serve the purpose of viewing the map and its markings while reading Maguire’s report. You should be able to zoom in on them if you prefer not to print them.
By Jack Pennington
I have just finished reading Nathaniel Philbrick’s book, LAST STAND. I thought it was very interesting and well written from a literary standpoint, but from an analytical perspective it portrays the same accepted view of the battle. I do recommend it as required reading for the overall coverage and personnel highlights.
In my books and articles I have brought out the “cover-ups” that resulted from the Reno Court of Inquiry, and were necessary in protecting Major Reno, Captain Benteen, other officers and the Army. The main cover-ups could be listed under the headings of timing, sightings, and orders.
What is difficult for me to understand is how contemporary writers such as Philbrick can ride over the battlefield, read the books and articles he claims to have done, and still not question or make any essential connections. The following are examples related to one period of time:
(1) As Reno reached Ford A he sent a message to Custer which supposedly said the Indians were strong to his front. Reno starts down the valley, and Philbrick mentioned several times how Reno is unaware of the Indians because he can’t see their camp. According to the message Reno sent Custer, the Indians had to be aware of Reno’s troops, and we know if they were that there would be warriors harassing his troops all the way down the valley in order to protect and give time for their village to flee or prepare. This doesn’t raise a question to Philbrick or too many other writers whether the Indians coming down the valley could actually have been what Reno’s message was about. If writers put together Custer’s orders as reported by Reno’s orderly Davern and Custer’s orderly Martin, might they not assume that Reno’s message was more apt to have asked if he should wait for Benteen? Later, of course, he couldn’t say this, and so used a similar message to the one Girard said he sent in his attempt to trap Reno.
(2) Reno moves down the valley and he wasn’t able to see the village or any number of Indians coming to meet him. He realizes that the Indian camp is around the bend and he can see warriors and a great amount of dust being raised. Reno sets up a skirmish line. There are those that believe he should have attacked, but most believe he was wise not to. His reason was sound since he didn’t see any of his promised support coming. According to Reno he was looking for this support from behind and that it would be Custer. Shouldn’t the orders Custer gave as reported by Reno’s and Custer’s orderlies raise the question that Reno might have been looking for Benteen coming from behind, while hoping for some sign of Custer as he flanked the village?
(3) If Reno was waiting for Benteen and a sign that Custer had launched his flanking attack, why didn’t Reno say that was the reason he didn’t continue his attack and instead set up a skirmish line? Reno was right in waiting for the support or the rest of the attack to materialize, but he couldn’t say that for he knew it would mean that he knew there was a plan of attack. Reno and Benteen had to say they had no orders except for Reno to move against the village and he would be supported. Reno could have moved into the timber but he could not have justified fleeing the timber. This would definitely have been a court-martial offense. Any statement would also mean that Benteen would have been sent orders, undoubtedly carried by Sgt. Major Sharrow, and that Benteen should hurry to the Little Big Horn and enter the attack in support of Reno.
(4) Timing, as I have tried to bring out in my writings, was a major cover-up at the Reno Court. There had to be a timing cover-up because of the following: Major Reno’s report after the battle that he “charged” to the bluff and met Captain Benteen at 2:30 p.m. The accepted version as brought out by Philbrick is 4 p.m. I wish Philbrick and other writers would answer the question asked Reno by General Rosser. Rosser: “You do not state, but I have the impression from some of the accounts sent in from the field, that you began your skirmish with the Indians about half past twelve to one o’clock, and that you recrossed the river and occupied the bluff about two o’clock. Now, to the reporter of the New York Herald you state that you made a reconnaissance in the direction of the Custer’s trail about five o’clock. The Indians appear to have withdrawn from your front as soon as you recrossed the river. Why then could you not have gone in pursuit of Custer earlier?”
I have never been able to figure out how most writers know there were cover-ups at the Reno Court, but they will not accept Reno’s and Custer’s orderlies as to the orders Custer gave or Reno received, and by inference were sent to Benteen. No, they are enlisted men and Reno said his orders were only to attack the Indian village and he would be supported by Custer whom he thought would be following him. Benteen said he didn’t receive any orders except to go to some unknown valley, and I guess sit there after he got there. Davern had said Reno’s order was that Benteen would be on his left. Benteen should have reached the Little Big Horn valley south and west of Ford A and when moving to aid Reno would have been on his left. Martin said Custer in his order to Reno said he was going down to the other end and drive the Indians. The whole regiment would then be aiding Reno and in Custer’s circling movement Benteen would be in the center.
Shots were heard from the Custer field soon after Reno’s troops had reached the ridge. Could the 4 o’clock time have come about because Reno and Benteen could not justify a wait of two and one half hours while Custer’s men were getting slaughtered? Benteen had orders to come to Custer’s aid. The five o’clock time was too well known and accepted to change it to 4 o’clock, so the 2:30 time was changed to 4 o’clock. Going to check on Lt. Hodgson’s body would not have sufficed, nor would attempting to string out the time the packs arrived since there were too many reports that ammunition packs were not that far behind Benteen. However, changing the meeting to 4 o’clock, along with the need to take care of the wounded, waiting for the packs, and then moving at five o’clock, could be accepted. Changing the 2:30 time to 4 o’clock meant that earlier officer’s times had to be changed and enlisted men’s and Indians’ ignored.
Orders, timing, and sightings were cover-ups at the Reno Court of Inquiry that were necessary to prevent Reno and Benteen from court-martials, and protect the Army’s good name. I won’t get into the “accepted” picture of how the “attack minded” Custer, at a time when the Indian village was in a state of panic and the need to coordinate his attack with Reno’s was essential, is sitting around Medicine Tail Coulee, feinting at the Indians, waiting for Benteen, having conferences, and planning strategy.
I guess when I read accounts of the battle I’m still too concerned, and it is hard for me not to express my opinion. Although I have been critical of other writers, I know without their interviews and writings I could not have formed my views of the battle.
Early History of the Custer Battlefield
and Park Superintendents, 1893 – 1958
by Michael L. Nunnally
In the years following the 1876 battle, the Custer Battlefield began a rich history of its own. The battlefield languished for a number of years until 1893 when A.N. Grover was appointed as the park’s first superintendent and guardian. Grover and a number of his early fellow superintendents faced a number of hardships in the wild and remote area of Montana. Lack of running water, shelter and the haunting isolation were the most common complaints. A great deal of praise must go to these early superintendents, known among the Crows as the “ghost herders,” and their families for their contributions to the National Park Service. Most of the information contained here comes from Don Rickey, Jr.‘s History of Custer Battlefield published in 1967. Dr. Rickey served as area historian at the park from 1955 to 1960.
1876: The Battle of the Little Bighorn.
1877: Reburial of soldiers and removal of officers.
1879: Cordwood monument built on Custer Hill. Custer Battlefield becomes a National Cemetery.
1881: Burial of Fort Phil Kearney dead on Custer Hill. Granite monument erected on Custer Hill.
1886: The Tenth Reunion of the battle drew a handful of notables including Capt. Frederick Benteen and son, Capt. Thomas McDougall, Dr. Porter, Capt . Edward Godfrey, Curley and Gall.
1890: Marble markers placed for locations of U.S. Troops.
A. N. Grover: July 11, 1893 to April 24, 1906. The first park superintendent A.N. Grover was a retired military man. With his wife and daughter in tow Grover assumed the first superintendent job at the battlefield in 1893 and was faced with extremely harsh living conditions residing in a tent until a temporary house could be built. Upon arriving at his new position Grover learned that the superintendent’s chief duty appeared to be keeping a fragile peace between local ranchers and local Crow Indians who were constantly at odds with each other over cattle herds which roamed free in the area and the timber which bordered the battlefield on the Little Bighorn River. Cattle had to be constantly herded off the national cemetery and the problem continued to plague a number of subsequent superintendents.
1894: Stone house built for custodian storage.
W. H.H. Garrett: April 25, 1906 to March 24, 1909.
Oscar Wright: March 25, 1909 to July 27, 1910. In 1910 Superintendent Wright set a stone marker for Lt. Porter whose body was never found. Wright had no evidence on the location of Porter’s death and simply chose a random spot for its location. Wright also set stone markers for Lt. Hodgson and Lt. Sturgis. Numerous questions from tourists made Wright realize that an official version of the battle was needed. “…a definite and accurate account of the Custer massacre…is desired at this place, as it would explain to visitors the facts connected with this historic event…I find nothing official in this office to guide or instruct a Superintendent intelligently along this line.”
G.W. Thomas: July 28, 1910 to June 15, 1912.
James McGowan (Acting): June 16, 1912 to July 18, 1912. McGowan acted as interim superintendent until Daniel Dommitt arrived to take over the position.
Daniel Dommitt: July 19, 1912 to December 13, 1913. Dommitt was a retired military man who had served in the 1876 campaign and had first viewed the battlefield several days after the battle when he arrived with the Terry-Gibbon column. Like his predecessors he complained of the hardships and isolation of the park and was at constant war with relic hunters and vandals who were constantly at work chipping away at the stone makers and monument. The Custer marker had to be replaced several times and a large number of other markers were severely damaged and had to eventually be replaced. Several photographs taken at around this time period show the severity of the problem.
Eugene Wessinger: December 20, 1913 to August 22, 1929. During his sixteen year tenure at the park Wessinger dealt with a number of problems including the continuing problem of vandalism to the stone markers which were being chipped away as souvenirs at an alarming rate. In 1915 Wessinger recommended to his superiors that “…a neat iron fence, high enough to keep anybody out, be paced around the markers of Custer’s last stand.” In a letter to Elizabeth Custer in 1924 Wessinger stated that the summer attendance at the battlefield was “about 10,000 people.” In December 1923, Senator Walsh of Montana introduced a bill in congress calling for the building of a structure for the comfort of the public.
Ever anxious to please the increasing tourists, or perhaps as a diversionary action to stop the vandalism of the markers, Wessinger began the practice of seeding the battlefield with empty cartridge shells which were taken from the Ft. Custer firing range. The practice continued for a number of years. In 1924 Gen. Charles King sought to have former Private Theodore Goldin appointed as the park superintendent but his action was blocked by General Edward Godfrey who believed Goldin had made several deliberate false statements about his role in the battle. During Wessinger’s administration the battlefield hosted two of the largest events in the park’s history, the 1916 celebration and the 1926 event which celebrated the park’s 50th Anniversary.
1925: Mrs. Thomas Beaverheart, the daughter of an Indian named Vehoenxne who was killed in the battle, made a request for a marker for her father to be placed upon the battlefield. The request went unanswered.
1926 Fiftieth Anniversary: No other event in the park’s history attracted such a large crowd and gathering of actual participants than the 1926 Anniversary and reunion. The crowd was estimated at over 50,000 people for the three day event. Both soldier and Indian veterans of the battle gathered for one last meeting of the famous battle. Former Sioux warriors shook hands with former cavalrymen led by Gen. Edward Godfrey. Also in attendance were scores of veterans and Indians from other Indian wars and battles. Some of the more notables in attendance were: Army veterans of the battle– Charles Windolph, Gen. Edward Godfrey, W.E. Morris, William Slaper, Peter Thompson, Theodore Goldin and Daniel Newell. Indian veterans of the battle: White Bull, Shoot Walking, Young Hawk, Little Moon, Red Tomahawk, Wm. Wolf Moon, Two Moon, White Moon, Big Beaver, Black Crain, Bob Tail Horse, Powder Face, Big Nose, White Horse, Black Whetstone, Chief Little Wolf, Beaver Heart, Dog Friend, Pine, Hollow Wood, Limpy, Sun Bear, Kills Night, Just Walks. Also: L.A. Huffman-post photographer for Miles, Thomas LeForge-scout. The 1926 event also featured the reburial of a soldier christened the “unknown soldier.” A bizarre footnote to the event was the appearance of W.C. Lockwood, a man who had posed for years as a veteran of the battle. Lockwood managed to acquire a veteran’s badge and appears in several photographs standing with veterans of the battle.
Joseph Morrow: December 2, 1929 to January 22, 1930. Morrow was unable to endure the isolation factor of the area and resigned after one year.
Alex Naylor (Acting): January 23, 1930 to August 3, 1930. Naylor was appointed on an interim basis to feel the vacancy created by Morrow.
1930: The Ft. Phil Kearney burials located on Custer hill were moved to the Custer Cemetery.
Victor A. Bolsius: August 4, 1930 to June 8, 1934. Notable achievements during Bolsius’s tenure included the planting of 13 trees in 1931 and 25 red cedar and 150 blue spruce trees in 1933. Although trees had been planted in preceding years it was under Bolsius that the Custer Cemetery took on its present day tree-lined appearance.
1931: The iron fence requested under Wessinger’s administration was finally erected on Custer Hill.
1932: Lt. John J. Crittenden’s body which had remained buried where he fell during the battle was moved to the cemetery to make room for a road to accommodate the growing number of tourists.
Harvey A. Olson: June 9, 1934 to July 14, 1938 Under Olson the park’s first pamphlet was printed (6 pages) and Battlefield Ridge road was graded. Olson encouraged William White 85, an Indian Wars veteran, to conduct tours of the battlefield for tourists. White had been a soldier under Gibbon and assisted in the burial of the Custer dead. A non-paid position his salary was funded by the sale of Marquis’s books and tips from tourists. White’s interpretation of the battle turned out to be less than accurate and his age limited him as a guide.
1938: U.S. Army grades Battle Ridge road graded.
William O. Mickle: July 15, 1938 to April 8, 1939 Charley Reynolds marker erected.
Fulton Grigsby: April 9, 1939 to November 21, 1940.
Harold Montague: December 22, 1939 to November 30, 1940.
Edward S. Luce: January 6, 1941 to May 1, 1956. Major Edward S. Luce was an actual veteran of the 7th Cavalry having served from 1907 to 1910. Prior to arriving at the battlefield Luce spent several months in training at the Arlington National Cemetery and in 1941 he became the first National Park Superintendent. Perhaps no other superintendent was more qualified for the job than Edward Luce who had a deep interest in the battle. “During Major Luce’s early years in the 7th Cavalry,” former park historian Don Rickey, Jr., said, “he spent much time working up the history of the regiment as a troop clerk in regimental headquarters.” Luce’s passion for the Custer fight earned him the reputation as an authority on the battle and in 1938 he published, Keogh, Comanche and Custer. His wife, Evelyn Luce, also a gave a large amount of her time in administrative duties at the park. A number of noteworthy achievements and events happened under Luce’s leadership.
1941: Horse Cemetery-while laying a new drain pipe on Custer Ridge workers uncovered a number of horse bones, part of the battle debris buried long ago by cleanup details from Fort Custer.
1943: Nye-Cartwright Ridge discovery.
1947: Robert Utley hired as seasonal guide.
1949: Custer Battlefield handbook written by Luce and Evelyn published and sold for 15 cents.
1949: Edgar J. Stewart served as seasonal interpreter. Dr. Stewart would later write Custer’s Luck, considered by many scholars as one of the more comprehensive studies of the battle.
1951: The 75th Anniversary of the battle. The last surviving Sioux warrior from the battle, Dewey Beard (Iron Hail), attended the event. Jacob Horner, the last surviving 7th Cavalryman of 1876, was expected to attend but ill health forced him to cancel.
1952: New visitor center opens on June 25.
1954: Battle Ridge road paved.
1955: Don Rickey, Jr., becomes area historian. Author of History of Custer Battlefield.
1958: Wooden marker placed on the battlefield indicating where Lame White Man was killed.
Sources and suggested reading:
Brust, James, Brian C. Pohanka, Sandy Barnard- Where Custer Fell. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2005.
Rickey, Jr., Don – History of the Custer Battlefield. Old Army Press, 1967.
Swanson, Glen- Custer and His Times. Swanson Productions, Inc., 2004.
Upton, Richard (Editor)- The Battle of the Little Big Horn & Custer’s Last Fight. El Segundo, CA., 2006.
Utley, Robert – Custer and Me. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004.
Utley, Robert – Custer and Me. Article. True West magazine, May/June 2001.