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100 Voices: Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Crow, Arikara and American Eye-witness accounts of the Battle of the Little Bighorn

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First New York Times Stories
The story of the Battle of the Little Bighorn
as the New York Times covered it

From the New York Times, July 6, 1876.







19th century newboyThe dispatches giving an account of the slaughter of Gen. Custer's command, published in THE TIMES of yesterday, are confirmed and supplemented by official reports from Gen. A. H. Terry, commanding the expedition. On June 25 Gen. Custer's command came upon the main camp of Sitting Bull, and at once attacked it, charging the thickest part of it with five companies, Major Reno, with seven companies attacking on the other side. the soldiers were repulsed and a wholesale slaughter ensued. Gen. Custer, his brother, his nephew, and his brother-in-law were killed, and not one of his detachment escaped. The Indians surrounded Major Reno's command and held them in the hills during a whole day, but Gibbon's command came up and the Indians left. The number of killed is stated at 300 and the wounded at 31. Two hundred and seven men are said to have been buried in one place. The list of killed includes seventeen commissioned officers.

It is the opinion of Army officers in Chicago, Washington, and Philadelphia, including Gens. Sherman and Sheridan, that Gen. Custer was rashly imprudent to attack such a large number of Indians, Sitting Bull's force being 4,000 strong. Gen. Sherman thinks that the accounts of the disaster are exaggerated. The wounded soldiers are being conveyed to Fort Lincoln. Additional details are anxiously awaited throughout the country.

* * *
Details of the Battle





Chicago, July 6. - A special to the Times tonight from Bismarck, recounts most graphically the late encounter with the Indians on the Little Big Horn. Gen. Custer left the Rosebud on June 22, with twelve companies of the Seventh Cavalry, striking a trail where Reno left it, leading in the direction of the Little Horn. On the evening of the 24th fresh trails were reported, and on the morning of the 25th an Indian village, twenty miles above the mouth of the Little Horn was reported about three miles long and half a mile wide and fifteen miles away. Custer pushed his command rapidly through. They had made a march of seventy-eight miles in twenty four hours preceding the battle. When near the village it was discovered that the Indians were moving in hot haste as if retreating. Reno, with seven companies of the Seventh Cavalry, was ordered to the left to attack the village at its head, while Custer, with five companies, went to the right and commenced a vigorous attack. Reno felt on them with three companies of cavalry, and was almost instantly surrounded, and after one hour or more of vigorous fighting, during which he lost Lieuts. Hodgson and McIntosh and Dr. Dewolf and twelve men, with several Indian scouts killed and many wounded, he cut his way through to the river and gained a bluff 300 feet in height, where he entrenched and was soon joined by Col. Frderick Benteen with four companies. In the meantime the Indians resumed the attack, making repeated and desperate charges, which were repulsed with great slaughter to the Indians. they gained higher ground than Reno occupied, and as their arms were longer range and better than the cavalry's, they kept up a galling fire until nightfall. During the night Reno strengthened his position, and was prepared for another attack, which was made at daylight.

The day wore on. Reno had lost in killed and wounded a large portion of his command, forty odd having been killed before the bluff was reached, many of them in hand to hand conflict with the Indians, who outnumbered them ten to one, and his men had been without water for thirty-six hours. The suffering was heartrending. In this state of affairs they determined to reach the water at all hazards, and Col. Benteen made a sally with his company, and routed the main body of the Indians who were guarding the approach to the river. The Indian sharpshooters were nearly opposite the mouth of the ravine through which the brave boys approached the river, but the attempt was made, and though one man was killed and seven wounded the water was gained and the command relieved. When the fighting ceased for the night Reno further prepared for attacks.

There had been forty-eight hours' fighting, with no word from Custer. Twenty-four hours more of fighting and the suspense ended, when the Indians abandoned their village in great haste and confusion.

Reno knew then that succor was near at hand. Gen. Terry, with Gibbon commanding his own infantry, had arrived, and as the comrades met men wept on each other's necks. Inquiries were then made for Custer, but none could tell where he was. Soon an officer came rushing into camp and related that he had found Custer, dead, stripped naked, but not mutilated, and near him his two brothers, Col. Tom and Boston Custer. His brother-in law, Col. Calhoun, and his nephew Col. Yates, Col. Keogh, Capt. Smith, Lieut. Crittenden, Lieut. Sturgis, Col. Cooke, Lieut. Porter, Lieut. Harrington, Dr. Lord, Mack Kellogg, the Bismarck Tribune correspondent, and 190 men and scouts. Custer went into battle with Companies C, L, I, F, and E, of the Seventh Cavalry, and the staff and non-commissioned staff of his regiment and a number of scouts, and only one Crow scout remained to tell the tale. All are dead. Custer was surrounded on every side by Indians, and horses fell as they fought on skirmish line or in line of battle. Custer was among the last who fell, but when his cheering voice was no longer heard, the Indians made easy work of the remainder. The bodies of all save the newspaper correspondent were stripped, and most of them were horribly mutilated. Custer's was not mutilated. He was shot through the body and through the head. The troops cared for the wounded and buried the dead, and returned to their base for supplies and instructions from the General of the Army.

Col. Smith arrived at Bismarck last night with thirty-five of the wounded. The Indians lost heavily in the Battle. The Crow Scout survived by hiding in a ravine. He believes the Indians lost more than the whites. The village numbered 1,800 lodges, and it is thought there were 4,000 warriors. Gen. Custer was directed by Gen. Terry to find and feel of the Indians, but not to fight unless Terry arrived with infantry and with Gibbon's column.

* * *
Confirmation of the Disaster






Chicago, July 6. - At the headquarters of Lieut. Gen. Sheridan this morning, all was bustle and confusion over the reported massacre of Custer's command. Telegrams were being constantly received, but most of them were of a confidential nature and withheld from publication. It is known that the unfortunate command broke camp on the North Rosebud on June 22 for the purpose of proceeding in a direction which would bring it to the point named about the 25th, at which place a bloody fight is reported to have taken time. The following dispatch, the last received at headquarters in this city previous to the news of the massacre, confirms the accounts given to the extent of showing that Custer intended to go to that place.

Camp on the North Rosebud, June 21, 1876.

Lieut. Gen. P.H. Sheridan, Commanding Military Division of the Missouri, Chicago: No Indians have been met with as yet, but traces of large and recent camp have been discovered twenty or thirty miles up the Rosebud. Gibbon's column will move this morning, on the north side of the Yellowstone, for the mouth of the Big Horn, where it will be ferried across by the supply steamer, and whence it will proceed to the mouth of the Little Horn, and so on. Custer will go up the Rosebud tomorrow with his whole regiment, and thence to the headwaters of the Little Horn, thence down the Little Horn.

Brigadier General Commanding.

A dispatch received at the quarters of Gen. Sheridan this morning at 11 o'clock confirms the first reports received. The dispatch states that the forces were falling back, and that the wounded had been sent to Fort Lincoln. No details were given, but the officers at headquarters regard it as a full confirmation of the engagement reported. In reply to an inquiry as to whether the attack was made by Gen. Custer of his own accord, or under orders from the department, an answer was given that Custer made the charge of his own volition. A still later dispatch from Lieut. Kinzie, of the Seventh Cavalry, was received asking that he be transferred from the department where he is now on duty to the scene of action. This is also regarded as another confirmation of the bloody massacre reported. Gen. Custer's family are at Fort Lincoln, to which point the wounded are being conveyed.

So far as an expression in regard to the wisdom of Gen. Custer's attack could be obtained at headquarters, it was to the effect that Custer had been imprudent, to say the least. It is the opinion at headquarters among those who are most familiar with the situation, that Custer struck Sitting Bull's main camp. Gen. Drum, of Sheridan's staff, is of opinion that Sitting Bull began concentrating his forces after the fight with Crook, and that no doubt, Custer dropped squarely into the midst of no less than ten thousand red devils and was literally torn to pieces. The movement made by Custer is censured to some extent at military headquarters in this city. The older officers say that it was brought about by that foolish pride which so often results in the defeat of men. It seems that a few days before Gen. Terry had offered four additional companies to Custer, but that officer refused them.

The information at headquarters further is to the effect that Gen. Gibbon with his force was known to be moving up to Custer for the purpose of reinforcing him; and that he knew of this, and knew that Gibbon would arrive by the following day after the engagement. I have it on as good authority as one of the leading officers at headquarters, that Custer had been ordered by Terry to make a march toward the Little Big Horn and to form a junction with a column of infantry that was moving diagonally across the country to the same point. The two columns were then to cooperate and make an attack. Instead of marching from twenty to thirty miles per day, as ordered, Custer made a forced march and reached the point of destination two or three days in advance of the infantry; then finding himself in front of the foe he foolishly attempted to out his way through and punish the red devils.

* * *
Miscellaneous Dispatches




St. Louis, July 6. - A telegram from Gen. Ruggles at St. Paul to Capt. Green Hale, commanding the cavalry at the arsenal here, gives the following as the names of the officers killed in the fight between the Sioux and Gen. Custer's command: Gen. Custer, Col. Custer, Col. Yates, Col. Keogh, Col. Cook, Lieut. McIntosh, Lieut. Hodgson, Lieut. Smith, Lieut. Porter, Lieut. Calhoun, Lieut. Reilly, Lieut. Sturgis, and Lieut. Harrington is missing.

Gen. S.D. Sturgis, in command of this post, received a telegram this afternoon from Assistant Adyta. Gen. Ruggles, at St. Paul, Minn., notifying him that his son was killed in the fight between the Sioux and Gen. Custer's command.

Salt Lake, July 6. - The citizens here are very much excited over the Custer massacre, and several offers have been made to the Secretary of War to raise a regiment of frontiersmen in ten days for Indian service.

San Francisco, July 6. - A dispatch from Virginia City reports great excitement at Custer's death. A meeting has been called to organize a company.

Toledo, July 6. - A special to the Blade from Monroe, Mich., the home of Gen. Custer, says the startling news of the massacre of the General and his party by Indians created the most intense feeling of sorrow among all classes. Gen. Custer passed several years of his youth at school in Monroe, and his parents have resided there many years. The town is draped in mourning, and a meeting of the Common Council and citizens was held this evening to take measures for an appropriate tribute to the gallant dead.

* * *
The Causes and Consequences




Washington, July 6. - The news of the fatal charge of Gen. Custer and his command against the Sioux ,Indians has caused great excitement in Washington, particularly among Army people and about the Capitol. The first impulse was to doubt the report, or set it down as some heartless hoax or at least a greatly exaggerated story by some frightened fugitive. At the second thought the report was generally accepted as true in its chief and appalling incidents. The campaign against the wild Sioux was undertaken under disadvantageous circumstances owing to the refusal of Congress to appropriate money for the establishment of military posts on the upper Yellowstone River. Gen. Sherman and Gen. Sheridan both asked for these posts, which, in case of anticipated troubles would give the troops a base of supplies about four hundred miles nearer the hostile country than they could otherwise have. The posts desired would have been accessible by steamboats on the Yellowstone, which would have conveyed men and supplies. The House Committee on Military Affairs unanimously recommended their establishment, but the Committee on Appropriations refused to provide in their bills the necessary means. This is regarded as the immediate cause of the disaster. The remote cause was undoubtedly the expedition into the Black Hills two years ago in violation of laws and treaties, authorized by Secretary Belknap and led by Gen Custer. If there had been a post at the head of navigation on the Yellowstone the expedition would doubtless have proceeded thence against the Indians in one invincible column. The policy of sending three converging columns so many hundred miles against such brave and skillful soldiers as the Sioux has been the cause of some uneasiness here among the few who have taken the trouble to think about the facts and prospects. The Sioux seem to have understood clearly the plan of attack, and threw themselves with their whole force first against Gen. Crook's column and now against Custer's, and both times inflicted serious disaster. The feeling was common today that the campaign is a failure, and that there must follow a general Indian war, promising to be costly in men and money. The Sioux are a distinct race of men from the so-called Indians of the Southwest, among whom the army found such easy work two and three years ago. The Sioux live by the chase and feed chiefly upon flesh.

The Southern Indians are farmers and eat fruits and vegetables, the latter are at their worst cruel, cowardly robbers. The former are as much like the brave and warlike red men representing by The Last of the Mohicans as ever existed outside the covers of fiction and romance. This difference between the foes in the North and Southwest seems not to have been well counted upon, nor provided for, and formed, as it might, prudently, no restraint upon the reckless fatal charge of the 300. If the tale told by the courier Taylor is true, the charge has scarce a parallel in the history of civilized or savage warfare.

The massacre of Major Dade and his command in the Florida war is alone comparable with it in American history. The reason for an expedition against the Indians this Summer is not well understood, nor has any satisfactory explanation been published. The wild Sioux had never been willing to live upon the reservations marked out for them, and the understanding has been that they were to be whipped into submission, and compelled to live like Red Cloud and Spotted Tail, with their bands, about the Government agencies. The question of the policy and right of the war will now be renewed and discussed, and, indeed, is discussed today. Those who believe in the policy of the extermination of the Indians, and think the speedier the better its accomplishment, look upon the condition of war as inevitable, and are for pouring thousands of troops into the Indian country and giving them a terrible punishment. This class is small, even in the Army, where the policy of extermination is not popular save with a few high and restless officers. The invasion of the Black Hills has been condemned over and over again by the peace party, and there are very many who can truthfully say, "I told you so." From that unwarranted invasion the present difficulties have gradually sprung up, so that an expedition that originally cost a hundred thousand dollars perhaps, must lead to an expenditure of millions, which will advance civilization in no way, except by the destruction of the uncivilized. The Army, if the present campaign wholly fails, is in no condition to renew hostilities with sufficient force, and there is little reason to expect Congress will this session provide for an Indian war. Thus by force of circumstances a continuation of the war would probably be with the Government forces upon the defensive, protecting as far as possible agencies and settlements. There is another result that some hope for. It is the union of the three columns of troops and the delivery of a blow against the Indians that will place them at the mercy of the Army and compel them to sue for peace. The chances are, however, so far as the information now at hand may be relied on, that the Government forces are much too small in number, reduced as they are by two battles, to meet the powerful and exultant Sioux.

Until advised of the particular five companies of the Seventh Cavalry with which Custer charged the Sioux, with results so disastrous to his command, the War Department will not be able to furnish the list of casualties. From the dispatches printed today, based on the information furnished by Muggins Taylor, the scout, it is inferred that Capts. Thomas W. Custer and Myles Moylan, and Lieut. James Calhoun, of the Seventh Cavalry, and Lieut. A. B. Crittenden, of the Fourth Infantry, were among those killed. Capt. Custer was a brother of Gen. Custer, Calhoun was his brother-in-law, and Moylan was brother-in-law to Calhoun. Gen. Custer had but one brother in the Seventh Cavalry. The report that the General and his two brothers were killed doubtless arose from the relationship described between Custer, Calhoun, and Moylan. Crittenden was the son of Col. Crittenden, of the Seventeenth Infantry, and grandson of the late John J. Crittenden, of Kentucky. At his own request he was detailed for active service against the Indians and assigned to the Seventh Cavalry. The only dispatch received today at the War Department was one from Adjutant Gen. Crum, of Sheridan's staff, stating that Gen. Terry telegraphed from camp on Lone Horn River, under date of July 2, confirming the report of the fight on June 25 and the death of Gen. Custer. Terry's dispatches were sent to Sheridan at Chicago, and forwarded from there to Philadelphia, where Gens. Sherman and Sheridan now are.


On July 6, 1876 -- three days after the Bozeman Times broke the story and one day after the Helena Herald wire story ran in East Coast papers -- the New York Times published this fusilade of articles on the Battle of the Little Big Horn. The Times put up a brave show, but actually it played catch up with the New York Herald from start to finish: the Herald had the "good fortune" from a news standpoint to have one of its correspondents (Mark Kellogg) killed with Custer, and in the following weeks the Herald -- not the Times -- published the stories of Lt. Charles DeRudio, Major Marcus Reno, Col. Frederick Benteen and others.

* * *

Here is the first news account of the Battle of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, which appeared in the Helena Herald on July 4, 1876, along with Crow scout Curley's crucial first account of the battle, which appeared in the Helena Herald on July 15, 1876. Here's W.A. Graham's account of how Helena beat Bozeman with the news; here's the New York Times' coverage of the battle; and here's T.R. Porter's account of how the Sioux also scooped the Americans.

Mysteries of the Little Bighorn by Bruce Brown #1

Mysteries of the Little Bighorn by Bruce Brown #2

Mysteries of the Little Bighorn by Bruce Brown #3

Mysteries of the Little Bighorn by Bruce Brown #4

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