Little Bighorn Timeline: June 26-28, 1876

Based on John S. Gray’s tables in Custer’s Last Campaign: Mitch Boyer and the Little Bighorn Reconstructed unless noted otherwise. Several people commented on this timeline when it was originally published on; those comments are in italics.

June 26, 1876


12:04: The horse herders passed Rosebud (Busby) “at midnight.” 

4:00: The rear guard passed Lame Deer Creek “at daylight.” 

4:19: The horse herders arrived at Lame Deer Creek “at daylight” and camped.


5:15: The rear guard arrived at the mouth of the Rosebud “in evening” and camped. 8:00: The horse herders left their camp “at sundown.” 

Time? Interpreter Frederick Girard and Scout William Jackson (Ree, 1/4 Blackfoot) (left), who had been left in the timber, arrived at Reno Hill. 

June 27, 1876


8:00: Black Fox overtook the rear guard at “8 A.M. breakfast.”
11:35: The horse herders arrived at the mouth of the Rosebud. 


5:30: The rear guard camped for the night at the Tongue River. 

7:05: The horse herders camped for the night just short of the Tongue River. 

June 28, 1876


2:00: The rear guard arrived at the Powder River base camp.
7:00: The horse herders arrived at the Powder River base camp.


Little Bighorn Timeline: The Evening of June 25, 1876

Based on John S. Gray’s tables in Custer’s Last Campaign: Mitch Boyer and the Little Bighorn Reconstructed unless noted otherwise. Several people commented on this timeline when it was originally published on; those comments are in italics.

June 25, 1876


5:00: Young Hawk (Ree), Forked Horn (Ree), Red Foolish Bear (Ree), and Half Yellow Face (Crow) arrived at Reno Hill after being trapped on the east bank. White Swan (Crow) and Goose (Ree) who had been wounded and trapped on the east bank arrived on Reno Hill. They met 2nd Lieutenant Charles Varnum and Major Marcus Reno (left).

5:02: The pack train met 2nd Lieutenant Luther Hare who had orders for the ammunition packs. Reno ordered Varnum to bury 2nd Lieutenant Benjamin Hodgson, but they were awaiting tools. 

5:05: Captain Thomas Weir and Company D departed Reno Hill in search of Lieutenant Colonel George Custer

5:10: Scout George Herendeen‘s party noticed that the heavy firing diminished, and they left with 12 troopers. 

5:10-12: Custer’s last heavy firing was heard on Reno Hill. 

5:12: 2nd Lieutenant Hare arrived on Reno Hill in advance of the ammunition mules. 

5:15: Reno dispatched 2nd Lieutenant Hare to the north after Weir with orders to contact Custer. 

5:19: Two ammunition mules arrived with tools. 

5:21: Varnum left to bury Hodgson. 

5:22.5: Captain Frederick Benteen (left) departed Reno Hill with Companies H, K, and M to join Weir. 

5:25: Captaini Thomas McDougall, Company B, and 1st Lieutenant Edward Mathey arrived with the packtrain. Weir’s Company D arrived at Weir Ridge and halted. Both Companies B and D saw that the Custer fight had ended. 

5:29: Herendeen’s party met Varnum’s burial party. 

5:30: The Ree horse herders left Reno Hill for the Powder River. The Ree rear guard left to join the Weir advance party. 

5:32: Herendeen’s party met the Ree rear guard on the Weir advance. 

5:32.5: Hare left Weir Ridge to report to Reno. 

5:35: George B. Herendeen, who had been left in the timber, arrived at Reno Hill. Benteen and Companies H, K, and M arrived at Weir Ridge and halted. All saw the Sioux coming to attack. 

5:35+: Herendeen interpreted for Half Yellow Face and Reno. 

5:40: Reno and his orderly left to join the Weir advance. 

5:42.5: Benteen and Company H left Weir Ridge to find Reno. Hare met and joined the Reno party. 

5:43: Varnum returned from his burial mission and joined Company A. 

5:47.5: Benteen and Company H met the Reno party and halted for 10 minutes during which time they conferred. Hare left the halt with Reno’s retreat order. The impedimenta left Reno Hill for the Weir advance. 

5:50: Hare arrived at Weir Ridge and joined Company K. Companies D, K, and M left Weir Ridge for Reno Hill. 

5:52.5: Companies A, B, G, and the pack train left to join the Weir advance. Reno, Benteen, and Company H left the halt for Reno Hill. 

5:55: The rear guard, chased by the Sioux, passed Reno Hill while heading for the Powder River. 

5:57.5: Reno, Benteen, and Company H met the impedimenta and ordered it back. 

6:00: Reno, Benteen, and Company H arrived at Reno Hill.

6:02.5: Companies D, M, A, B, G and the pack train arrived at Reno Hill.

6:10: 1st Lieutenant Edward Godfrey (left), Hare, and Company K, covering the retreat, arrived at Reno Hill and covered the rear.

6:17: The horse herders passed the lone tepee and slowed down.

6:43: The rear guard passed the lone tepee and slowed down.

7:47: The horse herders saw that the “sun touches hills.”

8:13: The rear guard was six miles beyond the lone tepee.

8:30?: The horse herders heard shots ahead and a pursuit behind them. They lost the trail. The rear guard experienced the final attack by the pursuing Sioux.

8:47: The rear guard passed the divide “before dark.”

9:00: The evening battle at Reno Hill ended at dark.

9:17: The horse herders halted to water, then crossed the divide “in dark.”

11:45: The rear guard passed the Rosebud (Busby).

To be continued. . . .

Little Bighorn Timeline: The Afternoon of June 25, 1876

Based on John S. Gray’s tables in Custer’s Last Campaign: Mitch Boyer and the Little Bighorn Reconstructed unless noted otherwise. Several people commented on this timeline when it was originally published on; those comments are in italics.

June 25, 1876


Noon: Command passed the Crow’s Nest and crossed the Divide. There is substantial testimony that the time for this event was significantly earlier.

12:05: Command at Halt 3; General George Custer assigned the battalions. This is 2nd Lieutenant George Wallace‘s Halt 2, about 1/2 mile west of the divide. Captain Thomas McDougall (left) [in Reno Court of Inquiry: Proceedings of a Court of Inquiry in the Case of Major Marcus A. Reno (RCOI)] stated, “On June 25th, about 11 o’clock a.m., I reported to General Custer for orders. He told me to take charge of the pack train and act as rear guard.” If Wallace’s watch (itinerary) was set to Headquarters St. Paul time — and 1st Lieutenant Edward Settles Godfrey said definitely that “Our watches were not changed (RCOI)” — Wallace’s 12:05 is approximately = 10:45 local time, within 15 minutes of McDougall’s recalled 11:00. Cf. Friedman, recalled time is accurate within one hour excluding the possibility of chance in Memory & Cognition 15.6 (1987): 518-20. 

12:12: Custer-Reno battalions left the divide halt to descend to Reno Creek. Captain Frederick Benteen‘s battalion left the divide halt on an off-trail scout to the left. It is unlikely that all three columns actually set off at precisely the same time but the impact is only a few minutes. 

12:32: The pack train left the divide halt on Custer’s trail. 

1:20: Benteen’s battalion arrived at upper No-Name Creek and turned down it. On a high ridge ahead, 1st Lieutenant Francis Gibson (left) found the Little Bighorn valley empty. Many years later Lt. Gibson expressed doubt that he had actually viewed the correct valley (see interview with Camp).

2:00: Custer-Reno battalions passed No-Name Creek. Reno was called to the right bank.  Sergeant Daniel Kanipe and 1st Sergeant John Ryan, as well as Reno, say Reno was called to the right bank near the Lone Tepee. This subtracts a mile from Gray’s itinerary. 

2:15: Custer-Reno battalions passed the lone tepee. Custer’s battalion left down the right bank of Reno Creek. The scouts reported Sioux in the Little Bighorn Valley. Custer ordered Reno to lead out at a trot. 

2:17: Boston Custer trots ahead of the pack train to overtake Custer. 

2:32: Benteen’s battalion arrived at Reno Creek, 1/4 mile above the mouth of No-Name Creek. They saw the pack train 3/4 mile above. Boston Custer joins them. Benteen (The Custer Myth, p. 180) recalled being at the morass at 1:00 p.m., Godfrey thought 2:00. Assuming Hutchins/Knipe are right about the location of the morass, it is near the mouth of the South Fork. 

2:37: Benteen’s battalion reached the morass to water the horses. Boston Custer trotted on. 

2:43: Custer’s battalion trotted to the flat right behind Reno. The scouts reported the Sioux were alarming the village. Reno was ordered to charge taking Adjutant William W. Cooke (left). Custer sent two scouts to the bluff who joined Reno. 

2:45: Boston Custer passed the lone tepee. 

2:47: At the North Fork, Reno’s battalion crossed to the left bank of Reno Creek.

2:51: Custer’s battalion made a fast walk to the North Fork and halted to water. 

2:53: Reno’s battalion crossed to the left bank of the Little Bighorn River at Ford A where it halted to water the horses and reform. The troops and the scouts saw the Sioux attacking.

2:55: Cooke left to report to Custer. 

2:57: Benteen’s battalion departed the morass as the packtrain arrived. The packtrain halted to water and close up. 

3:01: Cooke reported the Sioux were attacking Reno. Custer’s battalion started down the right bank of the Little Bighorn River, leaving the north fork of Reno Creek. 

3:03: Reno’s battalion left Ford A and started its charge down the left bank of the Little Bighorn River. If Reno crossed Reno Creek near the Lone tepee at 2:00 according to Wallace’s watch, he was about 3-3.5 miles from Ford A. The column proceeded at a trot or “slow gallop” for 15 minutes, again according to Wallace. This would cover about 2 miles at 7.5-8 mph. Wallace said Reno was ordered to attack about 2:15. He took the gallop and covered the remaining mile to the river in about 5 minutes (gallop 9-11 mph in Upton, 1 mile in 6 minutes according to Cooke), and crossed at Ford A at 2:20 in Wallace’s recollection. Using Anders’/Graham’s 1 hour 20 minute difference between local time and official Headquarters time, then Reno crossed Ford A near 1:00, consistent with recollections of Interpreter Frederick Girard, Acting Assistant Surgeon Henry Porter, Kanipe, and Taylor. Gray added 43 minutes and at least two miles between Reno’s crossing of the creek and fording the Little Bighorn.

3:05: Reno’s battalion saw Custer or the scouts on the right bank bluff. 

3:10: Pony captors leave the Reno charge to capture Sioux herd. 2nd Lieutenant Luther Hare (left) (Custer in ’76, p. 65) said he and the Rees rode down the valley while Reno was watering the horses (i.e., crossing river?) and the Rees took off from him about a mile down river. Private William Jackson (William Jackson, William Jackson, Indian Scout: His True Story Told by His Friend,, p.135) said scouts rode out ahead of Reno and turned straight down valley. 

3:12: Benteen’s battalion walked past the lone tepee. 

3:13: Reno’s battalion saw Custer’s battalion at Reno Hill. Custer’s battalion saw Reno charge the village. 

3:15: Sgt. Daniel Kanipe left for Capt. Frederick Benteen and the pack train.

3:17: The pack train left the morass. 

3:18: Reno’s battalion halted and formed a skirmish line. They saw Custer’s battalion on the bluffs, disappearing. Custer’s battalion passed Sharpshooter Ridge and entered Cedar Coulee. Reno’s attack/formation of skirmish line occurred about midday, probably 1:00 pm. 

3:20: Little Sioux (Ree), Strikes Two (Ree), Red Star (Ree), Boy Chief (Ree), One Feather (Ree), Bull Stands in Water (Ree), and Whole Buffalo (Sioux) diverged from Reno’s charge and drove captured Sioux ponies up the bluff. They were joined there by seven stragglers who lagged behind on Custer’s trail and never crossed the Little Bighorn: Soldier (Ree), Stabbed (Ree), Bull (Ree), White Eagle (Ree), Red Wolf (Ree), Strikes the Lodge (Ree), and Charging Bull (Ree). If they left the column at 3:10 (above), how could they diverge from Reno’s charge at 3:20? 

3:23: Custer’s battalion arrived at the bend of Cedar Coulee and halted. 

3:24: Custer, his officers, Guide Mitch Bouyer (left) and Curley left the bend on a side trip to Weir Peak. 

3:26: Three Crows left the halted command at the bend of Cedar Coulee (off-trail). Goes Ahead (The Teepee Book, 2.6, June 1916, p.604) says scouts were told to make their escape at the trenches of the Reno-Benteen site. 

3:28: Custer’s party arrived at Weir Peak and saw the village and Reno skirmishing. 

3:28.5: The three Crows halted on the bluff above Weir Peak. 

3:30: 1st Lieutenant Charles DeRudio (left) saw Custer’s party at Weir Point. Custer’s party saw the concealed route to Ford B and the village. Not possible to identify individual and/or clothing on Weir from valley position. Who DeRedio saw remains open to question. 

3:31: Custer and officers left Weir Peak to return to the command. The Arikara were fired on by the last of Custer’s column as it was disappearing over Weir (on the eastern edge), crossed Kanipe’s route, encountered stragglers left behind Custer’s column. Custer in ’76, 180-1; Arikara Narrative of Custer’s Campaign and the Battle of the Little Bighorn, 115-6. 

3:32: The pack train passed the lone tepee. 

3:32.5: Boston Custer passed Reno Hill. The Reno fight would have been visible for the next five minutes. 

3:33: Reno withdrew the battalion into the timber. The three Crows saw Reno’s skirmish, fired at the Sioux, and left. 

3:34: Custer returned to the halt at the bend from Weir Peak. Trumpeter John Martin (left) left Custer’s battalion at the bend of Cedar Coulee for Benteen. Custer started down Cedar Coulee. 

3:36: Pony captors overtook and passed Sergeant Kanipe. 

3:38: John Martin met Boston Custer at the head of Cedar Coulee. 

3:39: The three Crows halted, had a drink in the Little Bighorn River, and captured five ponies. 

3:40: John Martin saw Reno’s battalion fighting in the timber. 

3:40:5: Benteen’s battalion met the Rees driving the Sioux ponies. 

3:42: Sergeant Daniel Kanipe met Benteen’s battalion with a verbal message from Custer. 

3:45: Little Sioux (Ree), Strikes Two (Ree), Red Star (Ree), Boy Chief (Ree), One Feather (Ree), Bull Stands in Water (Ree), Whole Buffalo (Sioux), Soldier (Ree), Stabbed (Ree), Bull (Ree), White Eagle (Ree), Red Wolf (Ree), Strikes the Lodge (Ree), and Charging Bull (Ree) drove the herd of Sioux ponies back to the packtrain and halted. Pretty Face (Ree) was with the packs until this time. 

3:46.5: Custer’s battalion halted at the mouth of Cedar Coulee. 

3:48: The pack train met Kanipe who had Custer’s message. 

3:49: Boston Custer overtakes Custer’s battalion at the mouth of Cedar Coulee with news. The three Crows continued upriver. 

3:52: Black Fox (Ree) (left) was at the bluffs and joined the three Crows who were given a Sioux pony. 

3:53: Reno ‘s battalion began its retreat upstream. Girard (RCOI) puts this about 2:00. His watch, giving timing of sunrise near 4:00 a.m. local time and full dark at 9:00 p.m., reflects local time fairly closely. Additionally, Girard’s watch times closely match the captured Rosebud watch timing the entire fight from skirmish line to the surround on Reno Hill from 1-4. It is, per Hardorff, extremely unlikely that Crook, who was headquartered in Omaha, would have set his command watches to San Francisco time. Headquarters is where the general is, and the general had been in the field (Douglas, Wyoming, approximates headquarters) for more than a year. Headquarters time is what the general says it is–why set watches an hour and a half off daybreak, noon? 

3:55: Rees switched to fresh Sioux ponies and started back to Reno. Custer’s battalion saw signals by Mitch Boyer and Curley on Weir Ridge. 

3:56.5: Custer’s battalion started down Medicine Tail Coulee. 

3:58: Benteen’s battalion met Trumpeter John Martin at the flat where they heard firing. The three Crows passed Reno Hill and saw Reno’s retreat. 

4:00: Reno’s battalion retreats across the Little Bighorn River. Bobtail Bull (Ree) and Little Brave (Ree) (left) had been killed on the east bank by this time. 

4:02: Benteen’s battalion took Custer’s trail at the North Fork. 

4:04: Custer’s battalion halted in Medicine Tail Coulee where Boyer and Curley joined them. 

4:04:5: The packtrain was overtaken by the Rees who were returning to Reno Hill. 

4:05: Young Hawk’s party was trapped on the east bank bottom by the Sioux and fought. Scout George Herendeen‘s party scrambled back to the timber from the retreat. 

4:06: Benteen’s battalion saw Reno’s retreat at the knoll and halted. 

4:08: Captain George Yates‘ battalion (Companies F and E, off-trail) left the separation halt down Medicine Tail Coulee. Custer’s battalion (Companies C, I, and L) left the separation halt north out of Medicine Tail Coulee. 

4:10: Benteen’s battalion met three Crows and one Ree and left the halt. Reno’s battalion climbed the bluffs obliquely to Reno Hill. Private William Baker (1/2 Ree), Private William Cross (Ree, 1/2 Sioux), Red Bear (Ree horse herder), White Cloud (Sioux rear guard), Ma-tok-sha (Sioux), and Caroo (Sioux) arrived at Reno Hill. Red Bear and White Cloud left to join the pony captors. Herendeen’s party met 12 troopers who had been left in the timber. 

4:15: Red Bear and White Cloud met three Crows and Black Fox and halted to await the return of the Crows. 

4:16: Custer’s battalion arrived on Luce Ridge and halted on the defensive position. 

4:18: Yates’ battalion arrived at Ford B. Light firing over the Little Bighorn began. Custer’s battalion saw and heard the firing. 

4:20: Benteen’s battalion reached Reno Hill and joined Reno’s battalion. Three Crows and Black Fox arrived. The three Crows left to go downstream, passing Reno Hill, to find Reno’s two Crows. Custer’s battalion saw the Sioux coming up Medicine Tail Coulee to attack. (MF, I think the Gray time of 4.20 for Benteen on Reno Hill is completely wrong and the time to be used is either 2:30 p.m. as per the Official Army Report or 3:45 p.m., which was Wallace’s headquarters time estimate based on his testimony at RCOI which he miscalculated as being 4:00 p.m. Gray’s understanding of the time of events by this stage is so wrong that it is not really possible to comment further. There is no primary source evidence to support Gray’s 4:20 p.m. for this meeting.) 

4:23: Yates’ battalion crossed Deep Coulee and arrived on the cutbank unopposed. Custer’s battalion saw Yates start up the west rim of Deep Coulee. 

4:25: Red Bear and White Cloud left for Reno Hill when the Crows failed to return. Custer’s battalion pinned down the Sioux with heaving firing. Young Hawk‘s party and Herendeen’s party heard heavy Custer firing downstream. Reno left in search of 2nd Lieutenant Benjamin Hodgson‘s body.

4:27: The pack train halted at the flat to close up. 1st Lieutenant Edward Mathey sighted smoke. Custer’s battalion left Luce Ridge to meet Yates downstream. 

4:30: Black Fox arrived at Reno Hill. Red Bear and White Cloud arrived for the second time. Young Hawk’s party and Herendeen’s party saw the Sioux leave the upper valley. The three Crows arrived at Sharpshooter Hill and heard Custer’s battalion firing. 

4:32: Little Sioux, Strikes Two, Red Star, Boy Chief, One Feather, Bull Stands in Water, Whole Buffalo, Soldier, Stabbed, Bull, White Eagle, Red Wolf, Strikes the Lodge, Charging Bull, and Pretty Face returned to Reno Hill with the ponies from the lone tepee and were greeted by Red Bear and White Cloud. Custer’s battalion arrived at Nye-Cartwright Ridge. 

4:33: Yates’ battalion ascended the west rim of Deep Coulee. The Sioux attacked its flanks. 

4:38: Custer’s battalion fired at the Sioux on their left flank while negotiating a crossing of upper Deep Coulee. 

4:40: Three Crows arrived at Reno Hill, reporting to Red Star that two Crows were killed.

4:45: Young Hawk’s party left for Reno Hill. Three Crows left for their home village. 

4:46: Yates’ battalion fought on foot to the reunion point. Custer’s battalion joined Yates. 

4:47: The packtrain left the flat and saw the troops on Reno Hill. 

4:50: Reno returned from his search for Hodgson and talked with 2nd Lieutenant Charles Varnum. Curley left Custer’s battalion for the mouth of the Bighorn. 

4:52: Reno dispatches 2nd Lieutenant Luther Hare to speed up the ammunition mules. 

4:55: The sound of Custer’s volleys prompted Captain Thomas B. Weir (left) to ask to move downstream. 

4:57: The packtrain was at the North Fork and took Custer’s trail.

To be continued. . . .

Little Bighorn Timeline: The Morning of June 25, 1876

Based on John S. Gray’s tables in Custer’s Last Campaign: Mitch Boyer and the Little Bighorn Reconstructed unless noted otherwise. Several people commented on this  timeline when it was originally published on; those comments are in italics.

June 25, 1876


12:30: The main column left the Busby camp on a night march under Lieutenant Colonel George Custer

2:50: 1st Lieutenant Charles Varnum (left) and scouts arrived at a pocket below the Crow’s Nest. 

3:15: The main column arrived at Halt 1 on Davis Creek where it was still dark. Local time was Mountain Standard Time minus 13 minutes to allow for sun transit at 12:13 at Busby and Crow Agency, Montana Territory. On a clear, moonless night, the first streaks of day appear at 1:55 local time. A pocket watch like that which belonged to 2nd Lieutenant George Wallace could be read at 2:45 a.m. It was daylight at 3:00 [Reno Court of Inquiry: Proceedings of a Court of Inquiry in the Case of Major Marcus A. Reno (RCOI): Wallace, Captain Myles Moylan, Captain Frederick Benteen]. Visibility was clear to the horizon by 3:18 although you could not read print until 3:30. (All based on personal observation from divide.) Wallace’s Official Report stated the night march ended about 2:00 (Federal View, p. 65). 1st Lieutenant Edward Godfrey (The Godfrey Diary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, p. 10) halted the night march about 2 o’clock (RCOI, Scout George Herendeen) and marched until probably 2:00. “As soon as the first faint streaks of daylight appeared, we moved into a grove where we were ordered to unsaddle and rest for several hours” (Peter Thompson’s Narrative of the Little Bighorn, p. 95).

3:40: Two Crows saw the Sioux village at the Little Bighorn for the first time. From accounts by Red Star (later known as Strikes the Bear) and Little Sioux, this could have been as early as just after 3:00 a.m. Easily visible by 3:00 local time–personal observation.

3:50: Varnum was awakened for the climb to the peak. Not later than 3:15 since Varnum (Northwestern Fights and Fighters, p. 340) said he got to the Crow’s Nest about 2:30, slept 45 minutes and was awakened when it was just daylight, probably closer to 3:00 a.m. 

4:00: Varnum and the scouts study the village in the Little Bighorn Valley. 

5:00: Varnum and the scouts saw the breakfast smoke at the Halt 1 camp. 

5:20: Varnum sent two Ree scouts with a note to Custer who was still at Halt 1. It was possible for Varnum to have sent the messengers significantly earlier; e.g., 4.30 a.m. Varnum in Northwestern Fights and Fighters said 4:45 or 5:00. Translated to local time that is closer to 3:30, more likely since Interpreter Frederick Girard (left) and the Ree scouts say Custer got Varnum’s message at 4:00 or when the sun was just rising = 4:09 local time. Note that Gray’s use of “Halt 1” can be/is somewhat confusing since Wallace uses “Halt 1″ to refer to the halt at the divide and ” Halt 2″ to identify the halt over the divide when Benteen was sent to the left. I now think it possible Varnum was using headquarters time so he sent the messenger at 3:40 a.m. This fits with the messenger arriving as reported by the Rees as the sun was rising at 4:13 a.m. 

5:40: The Crows saw two Sioux west of the Divide. 

6:20: Varnum led a sortie against the two Sioux.

6:40: Varnum returns to the Crow’s Nest, unsuccessful. 

7:10: The scouts saw two Sioux crossing the divide. 

7:20: The two Ree couriers arrived at the Halt 1 camp from the Crow’s Nest. The assumption that the main courier travelled so slowly (less than 3 mph) is very doubtful and the journey time could easily be half the 2 hours claimed here. Cf. note above Girard and the Rees put it at 4:00-4:09 (Girard in Once Their Home, p. 263; Arikara Narrative of Custer’s Campaign and the Battle of the Little Bighorn, p. 149).

7:30: Custer read Varnum’s note, indicating that a village had been spotted in the Little Bighorn Valley. 

7:45: Sergeant William Curtiss left the Halt 1 camp on the back trail in search of a lost pack. 

8:00: Custer’s Crow’s Nest party (Fred Girard, Bloody Knife (left), Red Star, Little Brave, and Bobtail Bull) left Halt 1 for the Crow’s Nest. If the above comments are correct, Custer could have departed at least one and possibly two hours earlier. (I now think Custer rode around the camp before 5:00 a.m. to tell troop commanders that the column would not march at the standard 5:00 a.m. but to be ready by 8:00 a.m. This would have been the time Custer expected to return from the Crow’s Nest. Custer departed at or soon after 5:00 a.m. for the Crow’s Net and arrived there as reported by WMRH at 6:00 a.m. (The Custer Myth : A Source Book of Custeriana, p. 15). Varnum recalled that Custer arrived from the coffee camp with the column, not before it. Herendeen and Packer Benjamin Franklin Churchill made the departure from the early halt at 7:00 or 7:30 (RCOI) Donohue (Fatal Day, p. 20) thought the column left at 6:00. Remembered times are always earlier than Wallace’s official time. The Edgerly Narrative in Research Review (1986), p. 5, says Custer went up to the Crow’s Nest about 9 a.m., “when the column halted, the command having previously halted from 2 to 5, without unsaddling” Herendeen (Custer Myth, p. 262) “About nine o’clock on the morning of the 25th of June and the last day of our march Custer halted his troops and concealed them as well as he could. . . (then he went to the Crow’s Nest) . . . Custer was gone perhaps an hour or an hour and a half.”

8:05: Custer’s party was spotted by two Sioux as seen from the Crow’s Nest. Varnum saw two Sioux meeting Custer’s party. 

8:25: Curtiss party sights Cheyennes rifling through the lost pack. 

8:45: Command under Reno departed Halt 1 camp and moved toward the Crow’s Nest. I now think the column marched at 7:25 a.m. under Captain Tom Custer and met the irate George Custer on his return from the Crow’s Nest as he had ordered the column to stay put (see various Girard accounts). 

9:00: Custer’s party arrived at the Crow’s Nest. 

9:00+: Custer studied the valley and discussed the findings. 

10:07: Custer and the scouts watched the command arrive at the Halt 2 camp on Davis Creek for concealment. 

10:20: Custer’s party left the Crow’s Nest with Varnum’s party. Curtiss’ party arrived at the Halt 2 camp and reported seeing the Cheyennes with the lost pack. 

10:30: Custer and the scouts are met by Captain Thomas Custer with Sergeant Curtiss’ news. 

10:35: Custer-Varnum party arrived at the Halt 2 camp. Cheyennes were spying. There is some evidence (1st Lieutenant Charles De Rudio, 2nd Lieutenant Luther Hare in Custer in ’76: Walter Camp’s Notes on the Custer Fight) that Custer made a second visit to the Crow’s Nest; the time taken for this would not be more than 30 minutes if Halt 2 was near the Crow’s Nest. 

10:50: At officer’s call, Custer decided they will attack. Benteen (RCOI) and Edgerly (Custer Myth, pp. 216, 219) put officers’ call at 10:00, after Custer had been on the Crow’s Nest for about an hour (Research Review, 1986). See also Donohue in Fatal Day, pp. 20-21. Herendeen very early therefore very reliable put it between 10:00-10:30 (Custer Myth, p. 280).

11:45: Command under Custer departed Halt 2 camp and moved down Davis Creek. This departure time assumes the command halted within 0.75 mile of the Divide. It is likely that they were actually at least twice as far as this since participants reported the column as being concealed in a ravine. This would pull forward the departure time by 15 minutes or so. Hare, DeRudio, Varnum agreed that the column was halted 1/4 to 1/2 mile east of the divide.

To be continued. . . .

The Last Man


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.

Edward Maguire’s Report

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.

Read the Report

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.

Upper Left Quadrant
Upper Right Quadrant
Lower Left Quadrant
Lower Right Quadrant 

Nathaniel Philbrick’s book, LAST STAND

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 Battlefield

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.