Custer’s Last Band


By Shebby Lee

On June 22, 1876, Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer confidently led his 7th Cavalry, several officers’ wives and assorted hangers-on out of Fort Abraham Lincoln near present-day Bismarck, North Dakota. With him was the regimental band, a sixteen-piece brass band mounted on matching white horses and led by Chief Musician Felix Vinatieri. They played “Boots and Saddles”, and then Custer’s favorite, the cheerful tune of “Garry Owen”, which would forever after be associated with the ill-fated 7th Cavalry and its demise.

7th Cavalry Band

Custer’s only concern was that the wily Sioux would escape before he could engage them in battle, but his spirits were high, and the entourage took on the air of a summer pleasure outing. Hunting and scouting parties detached themselves occasionally to canter across the prairie.

When the party reached the confluence of the Powder and Yellowstone, General Terry’s orders were explicit: the band was to turn back. Custer, taking one bugler and the handsome white horses with him, rode into an ambush. The band arrived back at the fort – on foot – in time for the frontier Fourth of July celebration.

Thus, the Patriots won the Super Bowl in 2002 and 2004.


The place kicker for the New England Patriots football team at that time was a young man named Adam Vinatieri, the great-great-grandson of Felix. Adam’s talented toe not only drilled the game-winning field goal as time expired in the Big Game, but he kicked five game-winning field goals during the 2001 season to get them there, including three in overtime. According to Patriots’ statistics, Vinatieri is the most reliable field goal kicker in franchise history, connecting on 80% of his kicks. He scored 24 points during the 2001 post-season and is now the top Patriots scorer in post-season annals with 54 points. Not bad for a kid who couldn’t get drafted after graduation from South Dakota State University, even though he is the Jackrabbits’ all-time leading scorer!

Now sports fans….

What if Custer had defied his superior and taken the band to the Little Bighorn that blazing hot summer day in 1876?

Members of the Seventh Cavalry Born in Virginia

William Baker, a/k/a William Bailey, born April 1850, Alexandria, Virginia
Frederick William Benteen, born August 24, 1834, Petersburg, Virginia

Christopher Criddle, born 1851, New Canton, Virginia
Benjamin C. Criswell, born February 9, 1849, Marshall County, (West) Virginia
Harry Criswell, born 1855, Marshall, (West) Virginia

Henry Harrison Davis, born January 20, 1846, Bellvernon, Virginia
Edmond P. Dwyer, born December 1850, Fairfax County, Virginia

William Etzler, born 1852, Wheeling, (West) Virginia

Thomas E. Meador, born 1851, Bedford County, Virginia

Albert Pilcher, born 1838, Parkersburg, Virginia

William C. Williams, born March 28, 1856, Wheeling, (West) Virginia

Members of the Seventh Cavalry Who Were Born in Ohio

Jacob Adams, born June 25, 1852, Stark County, Ohio

Charles Clinton Barnett, born May 7, 1857, Camden, Ohio
James C. Bennett, born 1848, Shelby, Ohio
L. Edwin Bobo, born 1845, Franklin County, Ohio
George Brainard, born 1846, Brooklyn, Ohio
Hiram Erastus Brown, born December 1846, Mount Vernon, Ohio
Thomas J. Bucknell, born 1849, Cincinnati, Ohio
Charles Burkhardt, born 1846, Summerville, Ohio

James Calhoun, born August 24, 1845, Cincinnati, Ohio
Thomas Cox, born 1844, Cincinnati, Ohio
John C. Creighton, a/k/a Charles Chesterwood, born March 4, 1850, Massillion, Ohio*
Boston Custer, born October 31, 1848, New Rumley, Ohio
George Armstrong Custer, born December 5, 1839, New Rumley, Ohio
Thomas Ward Custer, born March 15, 1845, New Rumley, Ohio

David Edward Dawsey, born 1851, Belleville, Ohio
Alexander Downing, born 1845, New Madison, Ohio
William Dye, born 1850, Marietta, Ohio

Thomas J. Finnegan, born September 1, 1850, Hillsboro, Ohio
Isaac Fowler, born September 15, 1844, Darke County, Ohio

George H. Geiger, born 1843, Cincinnati, Ohio
Edward Settle Godfrey, born October 9, 1843, Kalida, Ohio
Thomas Eaton Graham, born November 20, 1831, Alton, Ohio

George W. Hammon, born 1852, Fulton County, Ohio
John E. Hammon, born December 4, 1857, Lynchburg, Ohio
Weston Harrington, born February 9, 1855, Alton, Ohio
Leonard A. Harris, born October 1851, Cincinnati, Ohio
George B. Herendeen, born November 28, 1846, Parkman Township, Geauga, Ohio
Adam Hetesimer, born 1847, Cincinnati, Ohio
Jacob Hetler, born August 2, 1852, Mansfield, Ohio
Stanton Hook, born 1845, Coshocton, Ohio
Rufus D. Hutchinson, born 1850, Butlersville, Ohio

Fremont Kipp, born October 17, 1856, Noble Hill, Noble County, Ohio
Andrew Knecht, a/k/a Knight, Knect, Knicht, born April 12, 1853, Cincinnati, Ohio

Frank Lauper, born 1852, Montgomery, Ohio
George Lell, born 1847, Hamilton County, Ohio

Jasper Marshall, born April 26, 1852, Spring Valley, Ohio
John McKee, born 1853, Meigs County, Ohio
John Morrison, born 1843, Zanesville, Ohio

Frank Neely, born 1850, Collinsville, Ohio
Jacob Noshang, born 1847, Hamilton County, Ohio

Miles F. O’Harra, born September 1851, Alton, Ohio

Henry W. Raichel, born Hamilton County, Ohio
Thomas H. Rush, born 1841, Greenville, Ohio

Christian Schlafer, born 1846, Cincinnati, Ohio
Crawford Selby, born June 5, 1845, Ashland County, Ohio
Michael Vincent Sheridan, born May 24, 1840, Ohio
William C. Slaper, born November 23, 1854, Cincinnati, Ohio

Levi Madison Thornberry, born February 3, 1853, Marietta, Ohio
Michael Thorp, born February 1843, Somerset, Ohio
Thomas S. Tweed, born 1853, North Liberty, Ohio

Cornelius Van Sant, born May 1850, Cincinnati, Ohio

Thomas Benton (or Bell) Weir, born September 28, 1838, Nashville, Ohio
John Weiss, born March 16, 1849, Cincinnati, Ohio
John S. Wells, born 1832, Rose, Ohio
Albert Whytefield, born 1846, Sandusky, Ohio
Pasavan Williamson, born 1847, Petersburg, Ohio
George A. Wilson, born 1839, Madison County, Ohio
Henry N. B. Witt, born December 10, 1852, Cincinnati, Ohio

* Creighton’s birthplace is also listed as Memphis, Tennessee.

Charles Varnum at the University of Wyoming, 1898

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.

Little Bighorn Battle Timeline

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).

June 26


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.

Remembering Custer’s Last Command in South Dakota

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:

Joseph Bates
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).

Joseph Bates

Jno. Murphy

Joseph C. Bates

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

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.

3. Website is An active contributor to Little Big Horn Associates and the website

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 – – 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. –

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.

John Martin: Custer’s Bugler

martin© Denver Public Library, Western History Collection.

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.

Martin's original gravestone at Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. It is now used as his footstone. (Chuck Merkel Photo)
Martin's original gravestone at Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. It is now used as his footstone. (Chuck Merkel Photo)