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August DeVoto's Story of the Battle
THE AUGUST L. DEVOTO NARRATIVE
Description of the Reno Fight
ON THE 22nd of June, 1876, the 7th United States Cavalry was camped on the Yellowstone River, near the mouth of the Rosebud Creek.
That afternoon General Custer, in command, left General Terry and started up the Rosebud, to go and make short work of Sitting Bull and his band of Indians. We had no wagons to haul supplies, so [we] used pack mules; we had about one hundred and fifty mules. We soldiers did the packing and took care of the mules.
We traveled up the Rosebud all that day until nearly dark. The next day, the 23rd, we started out at about five o'clock in the morning, and travelled all that day until dark. The morning of the 24th, we started upstream and struck the Indian trail, which was getting larger and larger as we went along. That afternoon we got near the head of the Rosebud. We camped there that night. We broke camp that night between twelve and one o'clock; it was so dark that I could scarcely see the man riding in front of me. His mule had some camp kettles strapped on the pack saddle, and I followed the noise made by the kettles hitting against the saddle. We travelled that way until about daylight and then halted for a rest. We slept about an hour.
The morning of the 25th we started out again. My troop, Troop B, was in the advance, Captain T. M. McDougall in command. After we had arrived within about ten miles of the Indian camp, we halted for about a half hour rest. Here the Officer's Call was sounded. This must have been the time General Custer made his final plan of attack on the Indians, taking five troops with him under his immediate command, assigning three troops to Major Reno, three troops to Captain Benteen, and one troop [as] rear guard (Troop B). Before the command moved, the men from each troop were detailed to take charge of the pack train of mules. I was one of the ten from my troop. Inasmuch as my troop had been advance guard our mules were placed ahead of the pack train.
General Custer and his five troops went on ahead, also Major Reno and Captain Benteen. It seems the plan was to get the Indians between two fires, for Reno crossed the river above the Indian camp and made the first attack with the three troops under his command. Custer with his five troops went farther west. The Indians, of which there was a very large number, must have dismounted and concealed themselves in the dry ravine, for when we buried Custer and his men I noticed there were no dead Indian ponies.
Getting back now to the starting place with the pack mules, as I stated before, we were ahead of the train, and kept moving pretty lively. We passed a tepee in which there was a dead Indian. Presently we began to hear firing. Soon afterward we met a Crow Indian coming from the direction General Custer had gone. He could not talk much English. We asked him how about the soldiers. He made motions with his hands, saying, "Much soldiers down," no doubt meaning soldiers killed. [Note: This was almost certainly the Crow scout Curley, who was the only Crow travelling alone at that point].
We next met a soldier from Custer's command. Custer had sent him with a message to Major Reno. It seems the fight had not yet started when Custer sent him, as he said nothing about it. [Note: this was probably Daniel Kanipe since the other trooper who carried Custer's last order, John Martin, left Custer's command a few minutes later and saw Custer's men under heavy attack on the east side of the river as he sped away.]
Presently we were in plain view of the Indian camp. We were on a hill and the Indian camp looked beautiful in the green valley. After travelling a little closer we could see Major Reno and his command slowly climbing up the hill. I went over to a man of G Troop by the name of [Hugh] McGonigal [sic] and asked him what had happened. He said Major Reno had retreated from the Indians and had lost a considerable number of men. He said Lieutenant McIntosh had been killed and that Lieutenant Hodgson was missing. The doctor had been killed just as he reached the top of the hill. He was the first of the command that I had seen dead.
In the meantime Captain Benteen came along with his three troops, also the pack train, and finally B Troop, the rear guard. Shortly after the rear guard came up a lieutenant from A Troop [Charles A. Varnum], Sergeant [Benjamin C.] Criswell, two other men and myself were detailed to go find Lieutenant Hodgson. We had gone about halfway down the hill towards the river when an orderly came and told us to come back. When we got back D Troop started out in the direction General Custer was supposed to be. The whole command had been strung out when D Troop came back at a charge gait. The officers must have noticed that we were being surrounded. We moved east about half a mile and the command was dismounted. The ground was well chosen. We were close to the edge of the hill and had a good look-out toward the river on the south and east, and north and west was open country. That gave the Indians no place for concealment; besides there was a sort of depression in the ground which gave protection to the horses and mules. Almost before the troops were formed the fight commenced. It kept up until dark. Shortly after the firing ceased someone sounded taps, but not from our camp. This must have been a ruse of the Indians to make us believe that Custer was camped nearby. When we buried Custer's men we found his chief bugler's body about a mile away from Custer's battlefield, all alone and stark naked. His body was in a kneeling position and his back was stuck full of arrows. [Note: this was Henry Voss. See Who Killed Custer -- The Eye-Witness Answer for more info.]
On the morning of the 26th, the fight commenced at daybreak and was swift and furious. We fought until about noon. I believe the Indians were getting short of ammunition about this time. Our wounded men began calling for water and about a dozen of us volunteered to go to the river and get it. We went down to the river, the ravine protecting us from being exposed to the Indians. When we got to the bottom of the ravine there was an open space of about twenty feet to the bank of the creek. This was very dangerous as it gave Mr. Indian an excellent chance to shoot from his place of concealment on the opposite side of the creek. We each carried as many canteens as we possibly could. It takes quite a little time to fill a canteen, besides we knew it would mean sure death to stand by the bank to fill them. However, one of the boys had carried down a big camp kettle. The thought struck me that it would be much safer to wade in the stream and get the kettle full of water, and then run back under cover to fill the canteens. I did this. One man by the name of [Michael P.] Madden attempted to fill his canteen at the creek and was shot in the leg. His leg was amputated the next day by Dr. Plumer [Henry R. Porter]. I think that was the Doctor's name. The only other doctor we had had been killed, as before stated.
Along about four o'clock in the afternoon the Indians moved away. We did not follow them. That evening we watered the horses and mules for the first time since the fight, took up more ground, and had bacon, coffee and hardtack, the first since the morning of the 25th.
The next day, the 27th, some of us were detailed to go over Reno's battleground and find the missing or dead. I with Sergeant Criswell and three other men went to look for Lieutenant [Benjamin H.] Hodgson. We found his body on the bank about twenty feet from the water. His body was naked. He had been shot in the temple and groin. Nearby were several dead members of G Troop. One, I remember, was Sergeant [Edward] Botzer, First Sergeant of G Troop. We laid Lieutenant Hodgson's body across our carbines and carried it to camp. We dug a grave, wrapped his body in a blanket, and buried it on the hill. We planted a sapling there to mark his grave.
All this time we did not know what had become of Custer and his men, never thinking that he and all of them had been slaughtered. Along about noon we saw a cloud of dust in the west and thought the Indians were coming back. We were prepared to receive them, but discovered that it was General Terry and his command. They brought us the sad news that Custer and his men had all been killed. The next day we went over the battlefield and buried them. It was sickening and sad.
Afterwards we went over the ground where the Indian camp had been. There were two tepees left standing full of dead Indians. As we rode past I looked in. They were piled up like cordwood. One of them looked to me very much like a white man. I could not see his face, but his legs looked white. I had no chance to go in and make a close investigation.
We then skinned a lot of dead horses and mules and cut the hide in narrow strips, chopped down a lot of young saplings, and made litters. In the evening we put a mule in front and one behind, and put litters on the animals' backs, two men leading them. In this manner we took the wounded, about fifty, to the mouth of the Little Big Horn River where the steamer Far West was waiting to take the wounded to Fort Abraham Lincoln. We travelled all night on the banks of the Big Horn. After sending the wounded away we travelled down the Big Horn River to the mouth of the Yellowstone. We crossed the river here in a boat and camped at what was called Fort Pease. Here we got new supplies. We then travelled on down until we got opposite the Rosebud. Here we again crossed the Yellowstone River and drew clothing and rations and started out again. On our second day out we met General [George] Crook's command. Buffalo Bill, his Chief Scout, was with him.
The 7th Cavalry and Crook's command moved together for about three days, when they discovered that the Indians had disbanded and some had gone into Canada. The two commands then separated, the 7th Cavalry going to the mouth of the Tongue River on the Yellowstone. We camped here about three weeks.
This ends the expedition of the Little Big Horn, except about one week after we made a short trip down the river to Standing Rock, and took a lot of ponies away from the Indians, and drove them to Fort Lincoln.
Indian Views of the Custer Fight: A Source Book, by Richard G. Hardorff, The Arthur Clark Co. Spokane, WA 2004, p 203 - 209