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been shot in his back, several in his head, one I remember, without the shaft, the head bent so that it could hardly be withdrawn; his skull was crushed and nearly all the hair scalped, except a very little on the nape of the neck.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