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.
Thanks to Philip Sheldon and his family for sharing the program for the 1898 Cadet Officers Dance held at the University of Wyoming in 1898 when Captain Charles A. Varnum was there.
Cadets signed up to dance with the young women (above). Charles Varnum and his wife were on the Reception Committee (below).
This item belonged to Philip’s grandmother Bessie, who was the daughter of George C. Crager, a well-known scout during the Indian Wars period. Bessie was born in May 1882, so she would have been almost sixteen at the time of the dance.
Bessie attended the dance with her mother, Mary Elizabeth Lee (“Mollie”) Willoughby Crager Schalk, whose marriage to Crager had ended in 1882. She married C. F. Schalk in 1888. However, she reverted to the name Crager in the mid-1920s and, upon her death in 1939, she was buried as Crager.
Mollie was the younger sister of Jim “Kid” Willoughby who was a headline performer with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Jim Kid probably made at least one show tour with his brother-in-law, George Crager.
A Novel by Lorin Lee Cary
Bloomington: AuthorHouse, 2009
Available as an e-book ($7.95), paperback ($13.95) or hardcover ($22.95)
I do not normally enjoy historic fiction, but I did enjoy this book. Rather than try to portray Custer in some “pretend” scenario, full of over-contrived descriptions of him, this book takes a quick glimpse of Custer through the journal of an unidentified member of his inner circle and runs with a modern story of whodunit and charm.
The story begins in Hardin with an Indian who has the journal. He sends it to his college student niece, Sally Wolf, in hopes she can discover its apparent value. The protagonist, Walter Reeves, is the niece’s history professor who has inner conflicts concerning his marriage and his career. Walter gets the necessary remedy for the boredom in his life as he finds himself entwined in a journey involving burglary, kidnapping, and murder. Along the way are a militia group, determined to protect Custer’s reputation, and radical Indians, all trying to get their hands on the journal.
The author, Lorin Lee Cary, is a retired history professor who has taken his knowledge and humor on a fun ride. Die-hard Custer fans will find some minor faults, but the book is a good read. It may be a good peripheral introduction to the Custer story for their less-enthused family and friends this Christmas.
Times and statements in bold are based on John S. Gray’s tables in Custer’s Last Campaign: Mitch Boyer and the Little Bighorn Reconstructed, compiled by Diane Merkel with comments (regular font) from members of the Little Bighorn History Alliance Message Boards with their sources in parentheses.
June 25, 1876
12:30: The main column left the Busby camp on a night march under Custer.
2:50: 1st Lieutenant Charles Varnum 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 = MST – 13 minutes to allow for sun transit at 12:13 at Busby and Crow Agency, MT. On a clear, moonless night, the first streaks of day appear at 1:55 local time. A pocket watch like Wallace’s can be read at 2:45 AM. It is daylight at 3:00 (Reno Court of Inquiry [hereinafter RCOI]: Wallace, Moylan, Benteen). Visibility is clear to the horizon by 3:18 although you cannot read print until 3:30. (All based on personal observation from the divide.) Wallace’s Official Report stated the night march ended about 2:00 (Federal View, p. 65). Godfrey (diary, p. 10) stated they halted the night march about 2 o’clock. Herendeen (RCOI) stated they marched until probably 2:00. Peter Thompson (Magnusson, p. 95) stated, “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.”
3:40: Two Crows saw the Sioux village at the Little Bighorn for the first time. From accounts by Red Star and Little Sioux, this could have been as early as just after 3 AM. It would be easily visible by 3:00 local time (personal observation).
3:50: Varnum was awakened for the climb to the peak. This would have been no 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 AM.
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 AM. Varnum (Northwestern Fights and Fighters) said 4:45 or 5:00. Translated to local time, that is closer to 3:30, more likely since Girard and the Ree scouts said 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 HQ time so he sent the messenger at 3.40 AM. This fits with the messenger arriving as reported by the Rees as the sun was rising; i.e., 4.13 AM.
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 two hours claimed here. Cf. note above: Girard and Rees put it at 4:00-4:09 (Girard, Once Their Home, p 263; Arikara Narrative, p 149).
7:30: Custer read Varnum’s note, indicating that a village had been spotted in the Little Bighorn Valley.
7:45: Sergeant Curtis 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, Red Star, Little Brave, and Bob Tailed 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 round the camp before 5am to tell troop commanders that the column would not march at the standard 5 AM but to be ready by 8 AM. This would have been the time Custer expected to return from the Crow’s Nest. Custer departed at or soon after 5 AM for the Crow’s Nest and arrived there as reported by White Man Runs Him at 6 AM (Custer Myth, p 15). Varnum recalled that Custer arrived from the coffee camp with the column, not before it. Herendeen and 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. Edgerly (“Narrative,” Research Review, 1986, p 5) says George Custer went up to the Crow’s Nest about 9 AM, “when the column halted, the command having previously halted from 2 to 5, without unsaddling” (Herendeen in 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: Curtis 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 AM under Tom Custer and met the irate 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. Curtis’ 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 Curtis’ news.
10:35: Custer-Varnum party arrived at the Halt 2 camp. Cheyennes were spying. There is some evidence (De Rudio, Hare via Camp) 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 reliably, 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, and Varnum agreed that the column was halted 1/4 to 1/2 mile east of the divide.
Noon: Command passed the Crow’s Nest and crossed the Divide. There is substantial testimony that the time for this event was significantly earlier. From comments above, it is not impossible that it was.
12:05: Command at Halt 3; Custer assigned the battalions. This is Wallace’s Halt 2, about 1/2 mile west of the divide. McDougall stated (RCOI): “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 HQ St. Paul time — and Godfrey said definitely, “Our watches were not changed,” (RCOI) — Wallace’s 12:05 is approximately equal to 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 (Memory & Cognition 15.6, 1987, pp 518-20).
12:12: Custer-Reno battalions left the divide half to descend to Reno Creek. 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 packtrain left the divide half 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 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. Knipe and 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 packtrain 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 packtrain 3/4 mile above. Boston Custer joins them. Benteen (Custer Myth, p 180) recalled being at the morass at 1:00 PM. 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. 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 HQ time, then Reno crossed Ford A near 1:00, consistent with recollections of Girard, Porter, Knipe, and Taylor. Gray added 43 minutes and at least two miles between Reno’s crossing of the creek and fording the Little Big Horn.
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. Hare (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. William Jackson (William Jackson, His True Story, 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 and the village.
3:15: Sgt. Daniel Kanipe left for Capt. Frederick Benteen and the packtrain.
3:17: The packtrain 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 the 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, Mitch Boyer, and Curley left the bend on a sidetrip to Weir Peak.
3:26: Three Crows left the halted command at the bend of Cedar Coulee (off-trail). Goes Ahead Tepee 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: DeRudio 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, and encountered stragglers left behind Custer’s column (Custer in ’76, pp 180-1; Arikara Narrative, pp 115-6).
3:32: The packtrain 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 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 meets 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 packtrain 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) 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 the time of sunrise near 4:00 AM local time and full dark at 9:00 PM, 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 1:00-4:00. It is, per Hardorff, extremely unlikely that Crook, who was headquartered in Omaha, should have set his command watches to San Francisco time. HQ is where the general is, and the general had been in the field (Douglas, Wyoming, approximates HQ) for more than a year. HQ time is what the general says it is. Why set watches an hour and a half off daybreak or 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. Bob-tail Bull (Ree) and Little Brave (Ree) 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. 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: 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. William Baker (1/2 Ree), 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. 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 PM as per the Official Army Report or 3:45 PM which was Wallace’s HQ time estimate based on his testimony at RCOI, which he miscalculated as being 4:00 PM. 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 PM 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 Hodgson’s body.
4:27: The packtrain halted at the flat to close up. 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 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 Capt. Thomas B. Weir to ask to move downstream.
4:57: The packtrain was at the North Fork and took Custer’s trail.
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 Varnum and Reno.
5:02: The packtrain met Lieutenant Hare who had orders for the ammunition packs. Reno ordered Varnum to bury Hodgson, but they were awaiting tools.
5:05: Weir and Company D departed Reno Hill in search of Custer.
5:10: 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: Benteen departed Reno Hill with Companies H, K, and M to join Weir.
5:25: McDougall, Company B, and 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 has 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 for van 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 packtrain 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 packtrain arrived at Reno Hill.
6:10: Godfrey, 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).
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? Fred F. Gerard and William Jackson (Ree, 1/4 Blackfoot), who had been left in the timber, arrived at Reno Hill.
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.
2:00: The rear guard arrived at the Powder River base camp
7:00: The horse herders arrived at the Powder River base camp.
Custer in the Movies
By Michael L. Nunnally
Hollywood has attempted the Custer/Little Bighorn saga a number of times usually with disastrous results. Facts have never really mattered to tinsel town and early movies were full of fictitious characters and absurd situations. Several attempts in recent years have been quite good but one major problem lies in the fact that Hollywood has always felt compelled in making George Armstrong Custer either a hero or villain. A true historical bio has never been accomplished. His image in more recent years has been based on the political climate in America rather than any actual historical facts. The battle scenes in the first Custer movie, Custer’s Last Stand filmed in 1909, were later used in several other silent movies on the subject. Custer’s Last Stand featured in a number of early TV shows including the Twilight Zone, Have Gun Will Travel, Branded and many others. In 1967 Custer appeared in his own TV show Custer starring Wayne Maunder. Much of the information contained here comes from two excellent articles by Custer film historian Paul Gagliasso. I don’t claim this list is a definitive list but rather a good starting point into the subject at hand. Corrections or additions are welcome.
d (director) w (writer) c (cast)
The Badlands of Dakota Universal Pictures 1941 B&W When Wild Bill Hickok (Dix) steals saloon keeper Bob Holliday’s (Crawford) girl trouble begins. Featuring an array of Western legends including Hickock, Calamity Jane and George Custer (Addison Richards). Entertaning Western.
d Alfred E. Green w Gerald Geraghty
c Robert Stack, Ann Rutherford, Richard Dix, Francis Farmer, Broderick Crawford, Andy Devine, Addison Richards
Bob Hampton of Placer Bob Neilan Productions 1921 B&W Based on the novel and character created by Randall Parrish. The adventures of Bob Hampton (Kirkwood) with General Custer (Dwight Crittendon) on the Little Big Horn. A very young Howard Hawks served as asst. director. Filmed in Montana and Arizona.
d Marshall Neilan w Marion Fairfax
c James Kirkwood, Wesley Barry, Marjorie Drew, Dwight Crittendon, Pat O’Malley, Noah Berry
Bugles in the Afternoon Cagney Productions 1952 Technicolor A scouting part led by Schaffer (Milland) into Sioux country supplies General Custer (Sheb Wooley) with much needed information on the hostile Indians.
d Ray Rowland w Harry Brown, Daniel Mainwaring
c Ray Milland, Helena Carter, Hugh Marlowe, Barton McLane, George Reeves, Sheb Wooley
Campaigning With Custer Bison Motion Pictures 1913 B&W (Lost film) c William Clifford, Sherman Bainbridge, Val Paul, Clarence Burton
Chief Crazy Horse U-I 1955 Technicolor Crazy Horse (Mature) leads his tribe against Custer at the Little Bighorn. Low budget treatment with cheesy last stand. Standard Hollywood stuff. Captain William J. Fetterman makes an appearance. James Millican plays Gen. George Crook and had also played Custer in 1951’s Warpath.
d George Sherman w Franklin Coen, Gerald Drayson Adams
c Victor Mature, Suzan Ball, John Lund, Ray Danton, David Janssen, James Millican
Crazy Horse Turner Pictures 1996 color Made for TV movie about the famous Sioux warrior. A very good attempt.
Written by Robert Schenkkan who played Captain Thomas Weir in 1991’s Son of the Morning Star.
d John Irvin w Robert Schenkkan
c Michael Greyeyes, Ned Beatty, John Finn, Peter Horton, Wes Studi, August Schellenberg, Daniel O’Haco
Custer’s Last Fight Bison 101 1912 B&W The only surviving copy ends in the middle of the battle. Some of the battle sequences are known to have been used in other movies. Filmed in the hills near Malibu using the famed 101 Ranch and ranch hands as extras. Francis Ford (Custer) served as both star and director of the movie. Grace Cunard played Mrs. Custer. Re-released in 1925 as Custer’s Last Raid. Ford was the older brother of famed director John Ford and in later years appeared in a number of the younger Ford’s pictures in walk on parts. Francis Ford later appeared in another Custer picture, 1941’s They Died With Their Boots On, directed by Raoul Walsh. Ford appeared in an astonishing 479 motion pictures and is best remembered as the sick old man who gets out of bed to watch the town’s big fight in The Quiet Man directed by brother John.
d Francis Ford w Richard V. Spencer
c Francis Ford, Grace Cunard, William Eagle Shirt, V. Barney Sherry
Custer’s Last Raid This 1925 movie was the same movie as Custer’s Last Fight released in 1912 (above).
Custer’s Last Scout Bison Motion Pictures (as 101 Bison) 1915 B&W (Lost film) Alfred Lorenzo Chapman toured the country making personal appearances at carnivals and fairs signing autographs and telling his extraordinary story of witnessing Custer’s Last Stand. Hollywood recognized a good tale when they saw one and cast Chapman as the ‘scout’ in the movie based on his incredible story. Listed as Scott Chapman in credits. One of Hollywood’s early attempts at the Custer saga. Clifford had starred in Campaigning With Custer two years before and stock footage from that movie could have been used in Custer’s Last Scout. No copies are known to exist. Check your attic. Directed by Henry MacRae who directed some of the first Tarzan pictures.
d Henry MacRae w (?)
c William Clifford, Marie Walcamp, Scott Chapman
Custer’s Last Stand Selig Polyscope Company 1909 B&W (Lost Film) Believed to have been shot in Selig’s Chicago studio it is considered the first movie on the Custer/Little Big Horn story. Some later Custer movies may have contained stock footage of the battle scenes taken from the movie. Film no longer exists.
d Francis Boggs
c Hobart Bosworth, Bett Harte, Fran Walsh “The cast includes three Sioux who were present at the actual event in 1876 that the film is based on. The producer had hoped to gain historical information from them, but said later that “the most we could get out of them was that the fight was over so quickly that they could remember little about it.” The Internet Movie Database (IMDb)
“American Film Institute Catalog of Film Beginnings 1893-1910 erroneously credits Tom Mix in the cast of this film; it’s a Selig West Coast production made before Mix came to California and before he entered films.” IMDb
Custer’s Last Stand Stage and Screen 1936 B&W Another of Hollywood’s earlier attempts on the famous last stand. A gold prospecting Indian attempts to warn Custer (Frank McGlynn, Jr.) of danger. Starring William Farnum who was the brother of Dusty Farnum, who played Gen. Custer in 1926’s The Flaming Frontier. Elizabeth Custer (Ruth Mix) makes an appearance.
d Elmer Clifton
c William Farnum, Rex Lease, Reed Howes, Jack Mulhall, Frank McGlynn, Jr., Ruth Mix
Custer of the West Cinema/Security 1967 Super Technirama A fat Custer fights Hollywood Indians. Shaw, sporting a bad wig, is totally miscast as George Armstrong Custer. Shaw’s then wife Mary Ure plays Elizabeth Custer. Dreadful stuff. Writer Bernard Gordon and the production department did very little research into the actual event. The worst of the Custer films and a terrible Western to boot. Filmed in Spain. Did I mention it was dreadful?
d Robert Siodmak w Bernard Gordon
c Robert Shaw, Robert Ryan, Jeffery Hunter, Mary Ure, Ty Hardin, Lawrence Tierney “Fairly ambitious bio of famed general suffers from script that doesn’t quite know how to characterize him.” Leonard Maltin
The Flaming Frontier Universal 1926 B&W One of the earliest attempts on Custer’s Last Stand and the Pony Express. Supposedly filmed with a staggering $400,000 budget in 1926, the 50th Anniversary of the Custer fight. Shot in California with Umatilla and Cayuse Indians as extras. Several veterans of the Battle of the Little Bighorn attended the New York premiere among which was 85 year old Brig. Gen. Edward Godfrey. Elizabeth Custer declined an invitation.
d Edward Sedgwick w Charles Kenyon, EdwardJ. Montagne
c Hoot Gibson, Ann Cornwall, Dustin Farnum (Custer)
The Glory Guys Levy-Gardner-Laven 1965 color An Indian hating army general with political aspirations leads his men against overwhelming hordes of Indians. Sound familiar? Filmed in Durango, Mexico, this was a thinly veiled version of the Little Bighorn story. The fort was later used for Chisum.
Written by a young Sam Peckinpah.
d Arnold Levin
c Tom Tyron, James Caan, Slim Pickens, Senta Berger, Harve Presnell
The Great Sioux Massacre Columbia/FF 1965 Eastmancolor Major Reno (Cotton) and Captain Benteen (McGavin) are court-martialed after Custer’s Last Stand. Standard Hollywood treatment of history. Actor Phil Carey (Custer) played Capt. Keogh in 1958’s Tonka. Average at best.
d Sidney Salkow w Fred C. Dobbs
c Joseph Cotton, Darren McGavin, Phil Carey, Nancy Kovack, Julie Sommars, Michael Pate
Little Big Man Stockbridge/Hiller/Cinema Center 1970 Technicolor Based on Thomas Berger’s novel in which the sole white survivor of Custer’s Last Stand tells his life story. Filmed near the actual battlefield on the Crow Reservation in Hardin, Montana. Custer and his soldiers in the movie appear as the bad guys. Unlike the character in Berger’s novel Penn’s Custer is a racist fool with no redeeming qualities and as ridiculous as any character in Blazing Saddles. The battle scenes are well done although Custer’s attack on the village is closer to Reno’s valley fight which isn’t shown. Chief Dan George was nominated for best supporting actor. “General, you go down there…if you got the nerve!”
d Arthur Penn w Calder Willingham novel Thomas Berger
c Dustin Hoffman, Martin Balsam, Faye Dunaway, Chief Dan George, Richard Mulligan, Jeff Corey
The Plainsman Paramount Pictures 1936 B&W Wild Bill Hickok (Cooper) attempts to stop an Indian uprising started by gun-runners. Buffalo Bill and George Custer (Miljan) throw in their support to Hickock but this DeMille movie lacks a good script.
d Cecil B. DeMille w Courtney Ryley, Frank J. Wilstack
c Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur, James Ellison, Charles Bickford, Helen Burgess, John Miljan
“About as authenticate as Blazing Saddles but who cares–it’s still good fun.” Leonard Maltin
Red Tomahawk A.C. Lyles/Paramount 1967 Technicolor Deadwood, South Dakota goes on the alert after Custer’s defeat on the Little Bighorn.
d R.G. Springsteen w Steve Fisher
c Howard Keel. Joan Caulfield, Broderick Crawford, Scott Brady, Wendell Corey, Richard Arlen, Tom Drake
The 7th Cavalry Producers-Actors Corporation 1956 Technicolor An army captain who missed the Little Big Horn battle tries to redeem himself by volunteering for burial detail. Capt. Benteen (Michael Pate) and Maj. Reno (Frank Wilcox) make an appearance. Filmed in Mexico.
d Joseph H. Lewis w Peter Packer, Glendon Swarthout
c Randolph Scott, Barbara Hale, Jay C. Flippin, Frank Faylen, Denver Pyle, Harry Carey, Jr.
The Scarlet West Frank J. Carroll Productions 1925 B&W (Lost Film) Cardelanche (Robert Frazier), an Eastern educated Indian, returns to his people and is rejected. He saves a cavalry detachment and is promoted to captain and falls in love with the post commander’s daughter (Clara Bow). When his people massacre Custer Cardelanche realizes he can no longer live among the whites and returns to his people leaving his love behind. Elizabeth Custer (Ruth Stonehouse) is the only real person portrayed in the film. No copies of The Scarlet West are known to exist. Ruth Stonehouse was one of the few women involved in the actual business end of the film industry at the time–she co-owned Essanay Films studio along with actor ‘Gilbert M. ‘Broncho Billy’ Anderson’ and businessman George K. Spoor and made over 100 films for the company.
d John G. Adolf w Anthony Paul Kelly
c Robert Frazier, Clara Bow, Robert Edeson, Walter McGrail, Ruth Stonehouse
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon RKO/Argosy 1949 Technicolor Retiring cavalry officer must deal with Indian uprising. Beautifully written and acted Ford film with all of the Ford ingredients including real Indians. Not really a Custer movie but at one point in the movie Wayne’s character Capt. Brittles talks about the deaths of Custer, Tom Custer, Myles Keogh at his wife’s grave.
d John Ford w Frank Nugent, Laurence Stallings
c John Wayne, Joanne Dru, John Agar, Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., Victor McLaglen, Mildred Natwick, George O’Brien, Arthur Shields
Sitting Bull UA/W.R. Frank/Telvoz of Mexico 1954 Eastmancolor A cavalry officer befriends the legendary Sioux leader (J. Carroll Naish) after the massacre of Custer (Douglas Kennedy ) on the Little Bighorn. Average grade B Hollywood western. Sidney Salkow went on to direct another Custer movie 1965’s Great Sioux Massacre.
d Sidney Salkow w Jack de Witt, Sidney Salkow
c Dale Robertson, Mary Murphy, J. Carrol Naish, Iron Eyes Cody, Douglas Kennedy John Litel
Son of the Morning Star Republic Pictures 1991 color Made for television account based on Evan Connell’s bestseller book on the Battle of the Little Bighorn. As near to fact as Hollywood has ever come to the actual event and the only Custer picture to show the principal characters. Both the Custer and Reno fights are well done. Script written by Harrison Ford’s then wife Melissa Mathison. An excellent attempt at the real event. “Tonight we go home by a road we do not know.”
d Mike Robe w Melissa Mathison
c Gary Cole, Rosanna Arquette, Stanley Anderson, Rodney Grant, David Strathairn, Michael Medeiros, Edward Blatchford, Tom O’Brien, Terry O’Quinn, Nick Ramus, Tim Ransom, Dean Stockwell, Robert Schenkkan
They Died with Their Boots On Warner 1941 B&W Dashing Errol Flynn as dashing George Armstrong Custer and his death at the Little Bighorn. Custer sacrifices his command to stop Crazy Horse (Quinn) and a corrupt Indian agent (Kennedy). Of little historical value and rather silly but loads of fun and incredibly charming. Flynn considered this his favorite movie role. Filmed in the rolling hills of Warner Studio’s back lot of Lasky Mesa in Agoura, CA. All American Indian athlete Jim Thorpe appears as an extra. The flame that lit the candle for thousands.
d Raoul Walsh w Wally Kline, Aeneas Mackenzie
c Errol Flynn, Oliva de Havilland, Arthur Kennedy, Anthony Quinn, Sidney Greenstreet, Charles Grapewin, Gene Lockhart, Hattie McDaniel, Francis Ford.
“Studio head Jack Warner was a notorious spendthrift who didn’t like the expense of sending a film company out to a distant location. Still, no film had more influence on the public’s perception of Custer than this 1941 epic, until the cynical ‘Little Big Man’ came along in 1970.” Paul Gagliasso, Old West Journal, Winter 2000
Tonka Walt Disney 1958 Technicolor Disney’s story of Comanche, the noble steed of Capt. Keogh (Phil Carey) and sole survivor of Custer’s Last Stand and his many adventures. One of the first movies to portray Custer in a negative light which was quite surprising coming from Uncle Walt. Movie tagline: The Untold Story Behind the West’s Strangest Legend. d Lewis R. Foster w same
c Sal Mineo, Phil Carey, Jerome Courtland, Rafael Campos, H. M. Wynant
Warpath Paramount Pictures 1951 Technicolor John Vickers joins the Seventh Cavalry seeking revenge for his fiancée’s murder. Filmed on the Crow Reservation, Hardin, Montana. James Millican (Custer) later played Gen George Crook in 1955’s Chief Crazy Horse.
d Byron Haskin w Frank Gruber
c Dean Jagger, Edmond O’Brien, Forrest Tucker, Harry Carey, Jr., James Millican (Custer).
Custer in the Movies list compiled by Dan Gagliasso, LBHA Research Review, Volume V, No. 2, Summer 1971 Errol Flynn’s Custer & The Test Of Time by Louis Kraft, Research Review, The Journal of the Little Big Horn Associates-Vol. 13, No. 2. Summer, 1999 Following The Custer Movie Trail. By Dan Gagliasso. Old West Journal, Winter 2000 The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) Leonard Maltin’s 2007 Movie Guide. Penguin Books. Silver Screen: greatest silent film about Custer by Dan Gagliasso. Greasy Grass, Vol. 16, May 2000 Custer: the Man, the Myth, the Movies by John Langellier. Stackpole, 2000. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0102962/usercomments Son of the Morning Star comments
Bates, Also Known As Murphy, Has Three Graves in Sturgis
By Jack McCulloh
Pictures by Scott Nelson
The geography now South Dakota, in 1874, was an empty, blank space on the maps. The highway into this unknown territory was the Missouri River. The post Civil War U.S. Army had troops in camps along the river. Fort Union was one of the major Army forts and was walled with “drive up” windows and a room for trading furs with the Indians. Security dictated Indians not be in direct contact with troops and families inside the fort. The fort in 1874 was commanded by General William Hazen, George Armstrong Custer’s nemesis clear back to West Point when Captain Hazen ordered Custer court-martialed. The fort was where the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers join and run south together.
Southwest of present South Dakota, the Army bought a trading post that became Fort Laramie. Its mission was to supply, rest, repair, and protect the thousands of wagons and people traveling on the Oregon and Mormon Trail. Population in the United States was exploding and everyone with influence in the Territory wanted the Army involved in protection from Indians.
President U.S. Grant’s administration in 1868, by agreement with Red Cloud, abandoned army camps protecting the Bozeman trail to gold fields in Helena, Montana. The treaty agreed buffalo could be harvested by the Indians for seven future generations. (1)
A series of treaties with Indian bands was needed to allow railroads, telegraph lines, roads, and trails to gold rushes to California and Montana, and to the coal mining needed to supply the Transcontinental Railroad and homesteaders moving West up to the 100th meridian. People were moving into blank spots on the map seeking the dream of owning land. What was later labeled “The Great American Desert“, after a generation of starvation, was just on the west side of the Missouri River.
General Phil Sheridan was the driving force behind organizing a massive expedition into this territory in western South Dakota, explore and prepare a map and report on the country around Bear Butte. Sheridan was anxious to have a military post to control the Indians who were not agreeing to go onto a reservation. (2) Crazy Horse was one of those leaders who would not quit the freedom he had always lived.
Sheridan sold President Grant on letting him use the 7th Calvary, stationed at Fort Abraham Lincoln at present day Mandan, North Dakota, for the exploration. Across the river at Bismarck was the end of the rail and telegraph lines. Sheridan had the option to use the railroad and Fort Laramie troops but he did not want to stir up the Indians in the area from Fort Laramie to the Black Hills. There were reporters from Chicago and New York on the trip and many other population centers.
The 1874 exploration in the wilderness is memorialized in modern maps of South Dakota. There are over forty-nine map locations: Ludlow, SD (Chief Engineer on the trip); Tilford, SD (Commander of Fort Rice and head of infantry on the trip), Custer peak, and even “Turk head” rock (after one of the hunting hounds the General brought along) because of the exploration.
Scott Nelson, Pierre, SD (3), is making a serious effort to find and photograph the grave sites of members of the 7th Calvary buried in South Dakota. Many were on the 1874 exploration and others enlisted after the trip and were in the Battle of the Little Bighorn in June 1876. Some served in building Fort Meade in 1877. The army base was located by Sheridan when public pressure arose from the massive numbers of people seeking fortune in the Black Hills due to the reports of gold from the 1874 expedition.
Locating the graves of the 7th Calvary veterans in South Dakota is a challenge. Joseph Bates is an example. Soldiers of the time may or may not have used their given name and often used different names when they enlisted or re-enlisted.
On the east end of Sherman Street is Bear Butte Cemetery, so named because it has a magnificent view of near by Bear Butte, which has a gravestone purchased by the G.A.R. marked Joseph Bates.(4) Also in the Bear Butte Cemetery is a smaller military marker (5) which reads Jno. Murphy inside the G.A.R. and on top of the gravestone is an attached silver plaque of about 3 inches by 4 inches engraved:
Jos C. Murphy
Ernest C. Gottschalk, 97, was the one who attached the metal plaque to the headstone. The inscription “ECG -97″ stands for Ernest C. Gottschalk and 97 is the year he placed the plaque on the tombstone (1997). Before it was engraved by Gottschalk, the silver plaques were the standard marker used to identify grave sites before a headstone was placed in the cemetery. From 1986 Gottschalk, who lived at Vale, S.D., made a project of finding grave sites in many counties in the northwestern part of the state that were no longer marked. He kept records of the graves he found and re-marked them. He filed his findings with county offices in Lawrence, Meade, Butte, Harding, and Ziebach counties, which have booklets of information listing his findings by cemetery (6).
Ernie Gottschalk was given a Certificate of Recognition from the South Dakota State Historical Society Board of Trustees in December 1993 “for documenting burial sites.” These certificates are given out from time to time for meritorious acts in the history field.
Gottschalk depended heavily on pioneer papers of the area, most of which are only available on microfilm in local libraries. Gottschalk died in 1997.
On the west end of Sherman Street in Sturgis is the Catholic St. Aloysius cemetery. It’s about three miles straight west from Bear Butte cemetery.
Joseph Bates has the only military marker in one section of the Catholic cemetery. He was a survivor of the Battle of the Little Bighorn valley and the hilltop fights.
Bates obituary said:
“Joe Bates is dead. And the verdict of the coroner’s jury is ….he took Paris green with suicidal intent. No blame is attached to anybody, as Bates repeatedly said he was all right, and wouldn’t have a doctor. The coroner’s jury decided he died by his own hand.
Deceased served in M Troop, 7th cavalry, and was first sergeant for some time. He has been around Fort Meade ever since the post was established, and was a laborer or teamster in the quartermaster’s department for years. He had only one ear, having lost the other at Fort Lincoln…He was driving an ambulance when the team ran away and he fell under the vehicle, one wheel cutting the left ear off clean, but doing him no other harm. Bates was buried yesterday afternoon, and Calvin Duke post members, G.A.R. followed his remains to the grave.” (7)
Bates was born in Rhode Island and re-enlisted in 1870 at age 31 in Carlisle, Penna. He deserted in 1872, was apprehended in 1873, and joined Company M by Special Order issued by the Headquarters Department of Dakota in 1874. He is not listed as Bates on the 1874 trip into the Black Hills area but John Murphy is listed as a private in 17th U.S. Infantry (commanded by Major Lewis G Sanger) and 7th US Calvary(Commanded by 1st Lt. Donald McIntosh) (8)
Bates was 55 years old when he died. His military record shows when he was 40 years old the post surgeon certified Bates “as incapable of performing the duties of a soldier because the nearly 27 years that I have known this man he has been on Sick Report or in the hospital. Half the time for inebriation bordering on delirium…..He is useless as a soldier and unfit for that profession”
Bates service records listed him as Joseph C. Murphy in L, 1st Massachusetts Calvary in 1863 rising to the rank of 1st Sergeant. After the Civil war he re-enlisted as Joseph Bates and was assigned to the 7th Calvary.
He may have suffered from shell shock/combat fatigue. In those days alcohol or addiction to morphine was the only way soldiers could deal with this problem. Many soldiers were sent to insane asylums or committed suicide. Bates’ long military service and memories of action at Little Bighorn with Company M may have been too much for him. (9 & 10) He was discharged in 1877 after the post surgeon at Fort Rice, Dakota Territory, issued his report.
Civil War records say that John Murphy was a Captain in Company L of the 1st Massachusetts Calvary; his death is listed as September 11, 1893, and his headstone was supplied by the Vermont Marble Company for the Bear Butte Cemetery in Sturgis, S.D. (10)
This research is presented with the hope someone has information that will answer questions that still remain.
1. People who have not read the Treaty of 1868 still claim it says “so long as grass grows and water flows.” No agreement with Indians – or Treaty – during Presidents Grants eight year administration has any such language or guarantee.
2. President Grants’ policies for Indians of the time; a. Sanctuaries (Reservations) b. annuities and c. re-location. d. Peace e. time lines.
4. Section 2, lot 43, Bear Butte Cemetery. The GAR was active in providing financial assistance to veterans with no family and no money.
5. Section 2, lot 45, Bear Butte Cemetery
6. Angela M. Ross, Meade County Register of Deeds, Sturgis, S.D. – E. Mail – email@example.com – keeps on file in her office the material Gottschalk filed with Meade County by cemetery of graves he found and marked with these plaques. Ross reports Gottschalk filed with many counties information specific to the county where he filed the report. He also did some marking of graves in Wyoming. The legality of marking 300 graves and changing markings on headstones with aliases used by veterans, based on obituaries published, for over 10 years is an open question.
7. Sturgis Weekly Record, September, 1893
8. In the book Private Theodore Ewert’s Diary of the Black Hills Expedition of 1874 – edited by John M Carroll and Dr. Lawrence H Frost – No Joseph Bates is listed in the roster of the Command and civilians. John Murphy is listed as a Private in Company G, 7th US Cavalry, and command of 1st Lt Donald McIntosh. John Murphy is listed as a private in Company G. 17th US Infantry under command of Major Lewis G Sanger. No Joseph G Murphy, John Murphy, or Joseph Bates is listed in the roster of civilian teamsters
9 & 10 Book – Men with Custer – Biographies of the 7th Calvary – 25 June, 1876 by Kenneth Hammer -E Mail communication with John A. Doerner, Chief Historian, Little Big Horn Battlefield, November 14, 2007. – John_Doerner@nps.gov
11. The NPS Soldiers and Sailors web site lists Joseph c. Murphy. It lists two John Murphy’s in the 1st Mass. Calvary.
Jack McCulloh, Larry Owen, and Joe Sanders all of Rapid City started tracking as a hobby and a way of hiking in the Hills every week including skiing Terry Peak. the Custer Trail in the Black Hills with a GPS in 1994. After the publication of this research McCulloh started guiding groups to sites visited by the 1874 Exploration and conducting community education classes on the 1874 expedition.
Scott Nelson describes himself as a Custer buff.
Trumpeter John Martin (Giovanni Cristostimo Martino) in a photograph taken by D.F. Barry shortly before or after his retirement from the U.S. Army in 1904. Martin’s uniform bears six service stripes corresponding with his thirty years of continuous service and three medals. The latter likely relate to his expertise with particular weapons such as marksmanship and sharpshooter.
From Pat Ditch, a great granddaughter, and Seventh Cavalry records, we know that he had hazel eyes, dark hair and stood 5’ 6”. In many accounts, he is described as bright and cheerful, an amazing trait in consideration of the many wars he experienced.
Excerpt from “John Martin (Giovanni Martino): Custer’s Bugler”
by Leonardo Solimine
Leonardo Solimine has discovered that Martin’s Italian surname may have been Martino rather than the long-accepted Martini. Read his exceptional biographic essay here.