Wednesday, July 10, 2024

The Grisly Epilogue of the Battle of the Little Bighorn


On June 25, 1876, at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, five companies of the U.S. Seventh Cavalry, under the direct command of George Armstrong Custer were wiped out. 


White Wolf, who was in the fight, said that afterwards a lot of young men searched the soldiers’ pockets. That square green paper money was in them. Later when the children were making toy mud horses, they used the money for miniature saddle blankets. Silver money was also found from which the Cheyennes made silver buckles.


Other warriors including Wooden Leg, Little Hawk and Bobtail Horse found bottles of whiskey on dead troopers.

On June 27, 1876 the cavalry discovered the remains. 

Lieutenant E.S. Godfrey reported

The marble white bodies, the somber brown of the dead horses and the dead ponies scattered all over the field, but thickest on and near Custer Hill, and the scattering tufts of reddish brown grass on the almost ashy white soil depicts a scene of loneliness and desolation that "bows down the heart in sorrow." I can never forget the sight: 

Captain Tom Custer  was found near the top of the hill, north, and a few yards from the General, lying on his face; his features were so pressed out of shape as to be almost beyond recognition; a number of arrows had been shot in his back, several in his head, one I remember, without the shaft, the head bent so that it could hardly be withdrawn; his skull was crushed and nearly all the hair scalped, except a very little on the nape of the neck.

General Custer was not mutilated at all; he laid on his back, his upper arms on the ground, the hands folded or so placed as to cross the body above the stomach; his position was natural and one that we had seen hundreds of times while taking cat naps during halts on the march. One hit was in the front of the left temple, and one in the left breast at or near the heart.

Boston, the youngest Custer brother was found about two hundred yards from "Custer Hill." The body was stripped except his white cotton socks and they had the name cut off.

Occasionally, there was a body with a bloody undershirt or trousers or socks, but the name was invariably cut out. The naked mutilated bodies, with their bloody fatal wounds, were nearly unrecognizable, and presented a scene of sickening, ghastly horror! There were perhaps, a half dozen spades and shovels, as many axes, a couple of picks, and a few hatchets in the whole command; with these and knives and tin cups we went over the field and gave the bodies, where they lay, a scant covering of mother earth and left them, in that vast wilderness, hundreds of miles from civilization, friends and homes, to the wolves!"

Trumpeter Giussepi Martini saw a heap of dead men in a deep gully between Custer and the river. Martini said that one of the first sergeants with whom some of the men had left their pay for safe keeping had about $500 in paper money torn up and scattered all over his body.  He also reported that one of Adjutant Cooke’s sideburn was scalped off, skin and all.

Seventh Cavalry scout George Herendeen added, "The heads of four white soldiers were found in the Sioux camp that had been severed from their trunks, but the bodies could not be found on the battlefield or in the village."

Lieutenant Charles Roe of the Second Cavalry, said, "we found in the Indian village a white man's head with a lariat tied to it, which had been dragged around the village until the head was pulled off the body."

Survivor Jacob Adams recalled, "troopers were lassooed from their horses and dragged to the center of the village, where they were tied to trees and burned to death that night within sight of their comrades of Benteen's division, who were helpless to rescue them. After the battle, John Ryan said, "we found what appeared to be human bones, and parts of blue uniforms, where the men had been tied to stakes and trees."

Of the five guidons carried by Custer's troops at the “Last Stand” only one was immediately recovered, concealed under the body of a dead trooper.  That trooper was Corporal John Foley, who was trying to escape on horseback.  Foley was pursued by Indians and shot himself in the head before he was overtaken. The recovered flag later became known as the Culbertson Guidon, after the member of the burial party who recovered it, Sergeant Ferdinand Culbertson.

The Culbertson Guidon was sold by Sotheby’s auction house to a private collector in 2010 for $2.2 million.

Custer’s Last Stand Re-examined 


Custer’s Last Stand Re-examined

Tuesday, June 04, 2024

Private William C. Slaper’s account of Reno’s Charge at the Battle of the Little Bighorn

 Reno's retreat

Soon commenced the rattle of rifle fire, and bullets began to whistle about us. I remember that I ducked my head and tried to dodge bullets which I could hear whizzing through the air. This was my first experience under fire. I know that for a time I was frightened, and far more so when I got my first glimpse of the Indians riding about in all directions, firing at us and yelling and whooping like incarnate fiends, all seemingly as naked as the day they were born, and painted from head to foot in the most hideous manner imaginable.

We were soon across the stream, through a strip of timber and out into the open, where our captain ordered us to dismount and prepare to fight on foot. Number Fours were ordered to hold the horses, while Numbers One, Two and Three started for the firing line.

Our horses were scenting danger before we dismounted, and several at this point became unmanageable and started straight for the open among the Indians, carrying their helpless riders with them. One of the boys, a young fellow named Smith, of Boston, we never saw again, either dead or alive.

In forming the firing line we deployed to the left. By this time the Indians were coming in closer and in increasing numbers, circling about and raising such a dust that a great many of them had a chance to get in our rear under cover of it -- where we found them on our retreat!

It was on this line that I saw the first one of my own company comrades fall. This was Sergeant O'Hara. Then I observed another, and yet another. Strange to say, I had recovered from my first fright, and had no further thought of fear, although conscious that I was in great peril and standing a mighty good chance of never getting out of it alive.

The Indians were now increasing in such hordes and pouring such a hot fire into our small command, that it was getting to be a decidedly unhealthy neighborhood for Reno's command. In a short time word came to retreat back to the horses in the timber. We got back there about as quickly as we knew how. In this excitement, some of the horseholders released their animals before the riders arrived, and consequently they were "placed afoot" which made it exceedingly critical for them. It was said that before Reno gave the order to mount and retreat, he rode up to Capt. French and shouted, "Well, Tom, what do you think of this?" Capt. French replied, "I think we had better get out of here." Reno thereupon gave the order, although I did not hear it. Neither did I hear any bugle calls or other orders or commands of any sort. I could hear nothing but the continual roar of Indian rifles and the sharp, resonant bang-bang of cavalry carbines, mingled with the whoops of the savages and the shouts ' of my comrades.


E-Book (2)

Friday, May 24, 2024

Charles A. Mills (author)

 From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Charles A. Mills is an author and historian with a passion for uncovering hidden stories from the past. He has written several books related to the history of Northern Virginia and its intriguing legends and lore. Some of his works are:
“Virginia Legends & Lore”: In this book, Mills delves into the fascinating tales that have been passed down through generations in Virginia. These legends include stories about the “wild Spanish ponies” of Chincoteague, General Braddock’s lost gold, the Mount Vernon Monster, and even the Richmond Vampire. The book also covers historical figures like Revolutionary War heroes and Annandale’s Bunny Man. Mills weaves together secret societies, hidden knowledge, and cosmic mysteries, providing readers with an engaging journey through Virginia’s rich folklore.1
“Hidden History of Northern Virginia”: Another work by Charles A. Mills, this book uncovers lesser-known aspects of the region’s history. From forgotten events to intriguing characters, Mills sheds light on the hidden stories that have shaped Northern Virginia over time.
“Historic Cemeteries of Northern Virginia”: Mills explores the final resting places of Northern Virginia in this book. He delves into the history, architecture, and stories behind various cemeteries, revealing the lives of those buried there. The book provides a unique perspective on the region’s past.2
“Treasure Legends of the Civil War”: Mills has also written about treasure legends associated with the American Civil War. These tales involve hidden caches of gold, silver, and other valuables, often intertwined with historical events and mysteries.
“Virginia Time Travel”: Beyond his books, Mills is the producer and cohost of the cable television show “Virginia Time Travel.” The show reaches approximately 2 million viewers in Northern Virginia, making history accessible and engaging for a wide audience.3
Charles A. Mills’s dedication to uncovering hidden gems from the past has made him a valuable contributor to the understanding of Virginia’s history and folklore. His works invite readers to explore the mysteries and legends that continue to captivate our imaginations.4

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The Legend of Apache Tears

 Apache Tears

Apache tears are rounded pebbles of obsidian found in Arizona.  The name "Apache tear" comes from a legend of the Apache tribe.

In 1872, a band of raiding Apache horsemen were ambushed by a United States Cavalry force from Picket Post Mountain.  This small band of Pinal Apaches lived high atop a mountain then known as Big Picacho.  The outnumbered Apaches were caught off guard in a dawn attack. Seventy five Apache warriors were killed in the initial attack, while the remaining Apache warriors rode off the side of the mountain, now known as “Apache Leap,” rather than surrender.

Relatives of those who died gathered a short distance from the base of the cliff and mourned their loved ones. Legend says their sadness was so great that their tears were imbedded into black obsidian stones. When held to the light, they are said to reveal the translucent tear of the Apache. Found in great abundance near Superior, just a short distance from historic Apache Leap, the Apache Tears are said to bring good luck to anyone who has them in their possession.

The sadness of the families was so great, that the Great Spirit turned their tears into black stones so that the warriors would never be forgotten.  Legend says that whoever owns an Apache tear will never cry again, for the Apache women have shed their tears in place of yours.

Friday, May 17, 2024

The Lost Dutchman’s Mine: Fact or Fiction?


Sorting out fact from fiction is the great challenge for anyone interested in searching for the Lost Dutchman’s Mine.

There was a Jacob Waltz, “the Dutchman.”  Waltz was born in Germany around 1810, and immigrated to America in 1839.  Waltz arrived in New York City, but quickly made his way to goldfields in North Carolina and Georgia.

Waltz did not strike it rich in either North Carolina or Georgia, but he learned a valuable lesson, that he had to be a citizen of the United States in order to stake a claim.  Waltz filed a letter of intent to become a citizen on November 12, 1848.

Gold was discovered in the newly annexed territory of California in 1849. The California fields eclipsed the gold fields of the East, and Waltz, like every other prospector, headed west.

Waltz worked as a miner in California for eleven years. On July 19, 1861, in the Los Angeles County Courthouse, Jacob Waltz became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

Waltz left California in 1863, with a group of prospectors bound for the Bradshaw Mountains of the Arizona Territory. Waltz’s name appears on a mining claim filed in Prescott, Arizona Territory, on September 21, 1863.

Waltz moved to the Salt River Valley (an area near Phoenix and the Superstition Mountains) in 1868. 

It was now that Waltz began his trips into the mountains surrounding the Salt River Valley.  Did Waltz discover a rich gold mine or cache on one of these prospecting trips? Witnesses who knew Waltz, say Waltz prospected every winter between 1868 -1886. Waltz died in Phoenix, Arizona Territory, on October 25, 1891, in the home of Julia Thomas. Waltz gave Julia Thomas clues to the location of a mine on his deathbed.  Waltz is buried in the Pioneer Cemetery, in downtown Phoenix.

Jacob Waltz, the “Dutchman,” was dead. But the clues he left as to the location of his mine remained alive in the dreams of Julia Thomas. Julia had looked after Waltz before he died, and was the first of a long line of hunters for the Lost Dutchman’s Mine.  Julia sold all of her worldly possessions to finance a fruitless search for the mine.

Many historians believe that Julia Thomas gave an interview to Pierpont C. Bicknell, a freelance newspaper writer and prospector, shortly after her return from the Superstition Mountains in September of 1892.

It is with the coming of Pierpont C. Bicknell that things become murky.  Prior to Bicknell’s arrival, there was little public mention of the Lost Dutchman’s Mine.

On November 17th, 1894, an article by Pierpont C. Bicknell describing a lost gold mine offering unlimited riches was published in the (Phoenix) Saturday Review. Bicknell wrote during the age of “yellow journalism” when newspapers reveled in stories based on sensationalism and crude exaggeration.  Bicknell did not disappoint.

Bicknell whetted the appetite of the would-be treasure hunters and made the search seem relatively simple.  He wrote, “The district designated is not extensive. It lies within an imaginary circle whose diameter is not more than five miles and whose center is marked by the Weaver's Needle, a prominent and fantastic volcanic pinnacle that rises to a height of 2500 feet.

The legend of the Lost Dutchman’s Mine might have withered into insignificance had it not been for the mysterious death of Adolph Ruth, an amateur treasure hunter, in the summer of 1931.

The same year, a group of folklore-loving boosters founded the “Dons of Arizona” to promote the colorful folklore of the state, including the Legend of the Lost Dutchman’s Mine.  In 1945, Barry Storm published Thunder God’s Gold, which was made into a major motion picture Lust for Gold in 1948, starring Glenn Ford as Jacob Waltz.  In 1949, the Peralta Stones were unearthed, giving a further boost to the legend.  In 1964, Life magazine did a spread on the

Peralta Stones, giving yet further credence to the legend.

Whether true or not, the Lost Dutchman's Mine is the most famous treasure legend in American history. The Lost Dutchman's story has been written about at least six times more often than the story of Captain Kidd's famous lost treasure.  According to one estimate, eight thousand people annually make some effort, however half-hearted, to locate the Lost Dutchman's Mine.

Arizona Legends and Lore

Thursday, May 16, 2024

The Lost Dutchman's Mine and the Peralta Stones

 For over fifty years after the death of Jacob Waltz, treasure hunters followed the ambiguous clues that the Dutchman left behind as to the whereabouts of his mine. Something significant changed in 1949 when the so-called Peralta Stones were discovered in the desert.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

The Dutchman's Curse: Mysterious Deaths in Arizona's Superstition Mountains


Over six hundred people have lost their lives in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona, some under very mysterious circumstances.  In 1892, Charles Dobie became the last known death caused by an Apache in the Superstitions.  I stress the words “last known” because of the legend of the “Black Legion,” a secret group of militant Native Americans, which supposedly did and does protect the sacred burial grounds in the mountains.

Legends of the Superstition Mountains

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Native Americans wipe out U.S. Army command (Not Custer)


On December 23, 1835, one hundred and ten men under the command of Major Francis Dade left Fort Brooke (present-day Tampa), to reinforce and resupply Fort King (present-day Ocala).   Relations between the United States and the Seminoles in Florida had grown increasingly hostile as the U.S. Army tried to forcefully relocate the Seminole to reservations in Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma).

Major Dade knew he might be attacked, but having crossed several rivers and the thicker woods, he felt relatively safe and called in his flanking scouts in order to increase the speed of the marching column. Major Dade had no idea of the number of enemies he might be facing or where they might be.  His column was now completely blind.  Meanwhile, Seminole scouts watched the troops in their sky-blue uniforms every foot of the way.

The troops marched for five quiet days until December 28, when they were just south of the present-day city of Bushnell. Suddenly, they withered under a volley of fire delivered by one hundred and eighty hidden Seminole warriors.  Major Dade and half of his men were brought down immediately.

No organized defense was made.  The cannon was discharged several times, but the men around it were quickly shot down.  Most of the soldiers, still in two single file lines, were quickly killed.   Only three U.S. soldiers were reported to have survived the attack.

Lack of intelligence about the enemy, combined with the enemy’s use of terrain and the element of surprise account for this U.S. Army defeat.

History's Ten Worst Generals

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Virginia Witch Trials


    The most famous American witch trials occurred in Salem Massachusetts from 1692-1693, but Virginia had its own witches and witch trials.  All right-minded people in the American colonies took the existence of witches for granted.  The Devil was always a real and present danger.  Despite being on constant alert and ever vigilant, Virginians did not experience the same degree of hysteria with regard to witches that gripped the Puritans of Massachusetts.  For one thing, clerical influence was much a less factor in Virginia, where the clergy rarely participated in witchcraft trials.  Unlike New England’s witch trial courts, where the accused had to prove their innocence, in Virginia, the accuser had to demonstrate the accused was guilty. Nineteen witchcraft trials were held in Virginia during the 17th century.  Most ended in the accused witch being acquitted.  In a 1656 case a man was convicted of witchcraft and sentenced to whipping and banishment.  There was no death penalty for witchcraft in Virginia.  The last witchcraft trial in Virginia took place in 1802.

   Virginia’s most famous witch, the so called “Witch of Pungo” was one Grace Sherwood, a forty-six-year old married woman from Princess Anne County.  Grace was married to James Sherwood, a planter. The couple had three sons: John, James, and Richard.  The family lived in Pungo (today part of Virginia Beach).  Grace Sherwood was a strong woman, a healer and herbalist, and someone with an affinity for nature and animals.  She did not suffer fools easily.  Here, at that time, was a sure formula for trouble with the neighbors.  And trouble she got. 

   In early 1697, Richard Capps accused Grace of casting a spell that caused the death of his bull.  The court found insufficient evidence of witchcraft and the charge was dismissed.  The Sherwoods sued Capps for slander.  This case also went nowhere.  The following year, John Gisburne accused Grace of casting a spell on his pigs and cotton crop.  This resulted in another case of insufficient evidence, and another failed defamation suit on the part of the Sherwoods.  The year 1698 was a busy one for Grace Sherwood.  Having beaten back the accusations of John Gisburne, later in the year she was accused by Elizabeth Barnes of having assumed the shape of a black cat.  As a demonic cat, Grace was accused of having entered the Barnes’ home in the night, where she proceeded to jump over the bed and whip Elizabeth Barnes.  The witch then left through the keyhole.  Not surprisingly, this resulted in another case dismissed, and another failed defamation suit on the part of the Sherwoods.

   Things remained quiet for a number of years, until in 1705 Grace Sherwood was involved in a fight with her neighbor Elizabeth Hill.  Sherwood sued Hill and her husband for assault and battery and was awarded monetary compensation in December 1705.  This ruling by the court did nothing to calm tempers.  On January 3, 1706, Elizabeth Hill accused Grace Sherwood of witchcraft, of having used her satanic powers to cause a miscarriage. In March 1706 the court ordered Sherwood’s house to be searched for waxen or baked figures that might indicate she was a witch.  No luck here, the search produced nothing.  The court next authorized a jury of twelve women to look for marks of the devil on Grace Sherwood’s body. The forewoman of this jury was the same Elizabeth Barnes who had previously accused Sherwood of witchcraft.  This group discovered marks of the Devil, oddly enough.

   Despite this overwhelming evidence, authorities remained reluctant to declare Grace Sherwood a witch.  Authorities in Williamsburg, the colonial capital, considered the charge against Sherwood too vague and ordered the local court to examine the case in greater depth.

   By July, Grace Sherwood was worn out with travelling from her farm to court and thus consented when the court offered her a trial by ducking.  The procedure here would involve binding Grace and throwing her into the river; if she sank, she was innocent, but if she floated, she was clearly a witch. 

   Grace Sherwood’s protestation that, “I be not a witch, I be a healer,” fell on deaf ears.  People had come in from all over the colony to watch the spectacle.  The crowd began to chant, “Duck the witch.”  A spot on the Lynnhaven River, now known as Witchduck Point, was chosen for the test.  Grace Sherwood was securely bound, rowed out into the river, and thrown from the boat.  She rose to the surface.  Proof positive that she was a witch.  The court, with an over-abundance of judicial caution, decided to give Grace a second chance to demonstrate her innocence.  The sheriff was ordered to tie a thirteen-pound Bible around her neck. Grace was rowed back to the middle of the river and thrown from the boat.  Weighted down by the Bible, she sank, but somehow managed to untie herself and return to the surface.  She was definitely a witch, if there ever was one.

   Grace Sherwood was convicted of witchcraft and sentenced to imprisonment. Freed from prison by 1714, Grace returned to her home and lived peacefully until her death in 1740. Some neighbors said the Devil took her body.  Others pointed to the increase in unnatural storms and loitering black cats after her death.  Locals killed every cat they could find, which then lead to an infestation of rats in 1743. 

   Grace Sherwood lies in an unmarked grave in a field near the intersection of Pungo Ferry Road and Princess Anne Road in Virginia Beach.  To this day, local residents tell of a mysterious moving light that appears each July over the spot where Sherwood was thrown into the water.  Is it possible that this is the restless spirit of Grace Sherwood?  Perhaps, but not everyone is convinced that Grace Sherwood was a witch.  The Governor of Virginia granted her a pardon on July 10, 2006.  Additionally, a statue of Grace Sherwood was erected on Independence Boulevard in Virginia Beach. Grace is shown alongside a raccoon, representing her love of animals, and carrying a basket containing garlic and rosemary, in recognition of her knowledge of herbal healing.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Tombstone Legends


Tombstone owed its creation to the discovery of silver.  The mines sat in the richest productive silver district in Arizona.  The population of Tombstone grew from 100 to around 14,000 in less than seven years.

Tombstone had four churches, a school, two banks, three newspapers, and an ice-cream parlor, which sat amidst 110 saloons, 14 gambling halls, and numerous dance halls and brothels.  The town is best known as the site of the “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.” At about 2:30 p.m. on Oct. 26, 1881, the Earp brothers, Wyatt, Virgil and James along with Wyatt’s pal Doc Holiday, representing the law, shot it out with an outlaw gang known as “The Cowboys.”  Three of the outlaws were killed. During the next five months, the gang struck back. Virgil Earp was ambushed and maimed, and another of the Earp brothers, Morgan, was murdered. Wyatt, Warren Earp, Doc Holliday, and others formed a posse that killed three more Cowboys whom they thought responsible.

After the shootout in Tombstone, and after leaving Arizona, Wyatt Earp was often the target of negative newspaper stories that disparaged his reputation.  Some regarded him as little better than a murderer.  This all changed with a heroic biography published in 1931, Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal by Stuart N. Lake. The book became a bestseller and created Wyatt Earp’s reputation as a fearless lawman. Since then, films, television shows, and works of fiction further added to the fame of Wyatt Earp.

Two months after the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, on December 26, 1881, the Birdcage Theatre opened in Tombstone.  The theater was owned by William Hutchinson. Hutchison originally intended to present respectable family shows but found that he could make more money by catering to a rougher crowd. The walls of the Bird Cage were riddled with gunshot holes from the frequent shootouts.  The theater also did extra duty as a saloon and brothel.

Performing under the stage name “Fatima”, Fahreda Mazar Spyropoulos, better known to history as “Little Egypt” got her start at the Bird Cage.   Spyropoulos popularized the form of dancing, which came to be referred to as the "Hoochee-Coochee", or the "shimmy and shake.”  We now call this belly dancing.  There is a larger-than-life sized painting in the Bird Cage, which Spyropoulos donated, entitled "Fatima". It bears six patched bullet holes; one can be seen above the belly button and there is a knife gash in the canvas below the knee.

Arizona Legends and Lore