Bruce Brown's 100 Voices...
Gall's Story of the Battle, #2
A MORE COMPLETE REPORT
THE STORY OF CHIEF GALL
Fuller Details of the Recent Visit to the Custer Battlefield -- The Old Chief Told the Truth
Many Erroneous Impressions
Corrected -- A Lucky Escape for Those Who Failed to Get There
FORT CUSTER, Mont., Special Correspondence, July 14 -- Much of the history connected with the true fate of Gen. Custer and those who marched with him into the valley of the Little Bighorn on that fateful June morning ten years ago would no doubt forever have remained a mystery had not Gall, the great Sioux chief who commanded on that day, consented to revisit the scene of the terrible disaster, and tell all he knew of it according to the red man's side of the case. Gall was captured at Poplar River in January, 1881, by Col. Guido Ilges, Fifth infantry, since dismissed from the service. He had three hostile villages there (a part of Sitting Bull's great band), and when he became a prisoner the war against the Sioux was virtually over. Gall has been at Standing Rock agency ever since, excepting, of course, the time he has spent junketing around the country as a sort of side show to some of the Wild West combinations, and has-so to speak-become a good Indian, only that he isn't dead yet. Gall is today the acknowledged head of the combined Sioux nation. Sitting Bull seeks to dispute the honor with him, but it is no go; for the Indians know the son of old Jumping Bull better than we do, and so do not take much stock in his fighting abilities. The history of Gall is a very eventful one. He has been at war with the whites off and on for thirty odd years, and the depredations committed by him, not to speak of the lives he has taken, if summed up, would fill many bloody pages in our country's history. This great war chief was once pursued by a detachment of soldiers near Fort Sully, Dak., sent out by Gen. J. N. G. Whistler, commanding that post, for the express purpose of capturing or killing him. He was overtaken on the prairie and killed -- so it was supposed. Some half a dozen bullets had been lodged in his body, and he had been bayoneted as many times. While lying apparently dead on the field, a corporal who "knew him well" was about to give him a final prod with his bayonet when an officer came up just in time to stop the corporal in the act. The pointed steel was poised over Gall's heart, and in another minute the Indian would have been pinned to the ground but for the interference of the officer.
"Let me give him one more punch, Lieutenant, just for luck."
"No," replied the officer, "don't mutilate the dead. Leave him alone where he lies."
Strange as it may seem, that pitiful decision made so long ago sealed the fate of Gen. Custer years later, and that of the flower of the Seventh Cavalry. When the two white men had left the spot the wily redskin crawled off into the bushes, where he remained hid during daylight, and as soon as night came on he lost no time in joining his friends down the river.
He Told the Truth
Any one present with Gall at the Custer battlefield on the morning of June 25 last could see at a glance that the chief was telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. When he stood on the spot from which Custer gazed his last on earth, and glanced up and down the valley of the Little Bighorn, once tenanted with thousands of lodges belonging to his people, one could readily see that the old man was visibly affected, by his solemn mien and the suspicion of moisture in his dark, glittering eye. His gaze remained long and fixed on the little grove of timber which marked the point where Reno made his unsuccessful attack on the upper end of the village.
"My two squaws and three children were killed there by the pale-faced warriors, and it made my heart bad. After that I killed all my enemies with the hatchet."
Many new facts were brought to light by the visit of the chief who was the leading factor in the destruction of Custer and his troopers; and many popular errors were corrected which were about to go down into history as indisputable truths. The new points brought out were: That Sitting Bull personally had little or nothing to do with the fight. He was a medicine man of the Sioux, and was in his lodge at the time making medicine for the destruction of the whites and the success of the reds. As the battle (or massacre, whichever, you please) turned out favorably for the Indians and to the confusion of their enemies, Sitting Bull at once became the great medicine man of all the tribes, and was from that time forth a leading spirit among them. His prowess as a fighter is simply a creation of the white man's brain and nothing else. When the warriors sallied out to attack the troops, he was really left behind to make medicine and to look after the women and children. If he has any latent fighting qualities, or abilities as a great leader, his kinsmen don't know it, nor does anybody else. Crow King (who died at Standing Rock agency a few years ago) was really the adjutant general of the campaign, and Gall was unquestionably the leader who executed the details and led the young bucks on.
Another correction was made of the popular error that Gen. Custer actually reached the Little Bighorn River, entered the same, and was beaten back when in mid stream. The command never did reach the river. In fact, they never came in sight of it again after descending the divide leading into the valley of the Little Bighorn. [Note: this is not true -- a half dozen Indian and American witnesses saw Custer at the river. Gall didn't know Custer tried to charge across the Little Bighorn at Medicine Tail Coulee because he wasn't there at the time; he was busy fighting Reno, and did not join the Custer fight until 15 or 20 minutes later when Custer's men had been driven up onto Calhoun Ridge. See Who Killed Custer -- The Eye-Witness Answer for more info.] Gen. Custer was attacked fully three-quarters of a mile back from the river, near the crest of the ridge lining the coulee he was descending, and was forced back step by step, at right angles to his former course, to the summit now crowned by the battle monument where all finally perished. Gall went with the writer and pointed out the exact spot where Gen. Custer stood in person when he was attacked. The brave cavalry leader, some 300 or 400 yards ahead of his command, and alone with his orderly, was slowly descending this coulee toward the river; but when he came in sight of some Indians off to the left and near the high knoll where Benteen came in sight of the Custer field later on, his pace became slower and his actions more cautious, and finally he paused altogether to await the coming up of the command. This was the nearest point any of Custer's party ever got to the river. Gall says that he (Gall) had three Indians with him, and that he sat down on a mound some six hundred yards away, in full sight of the troops, and watched the soldiers file slowly down the ravine. Little did the poor fellows imagine they were marching to their death. Gall is of the opinion that when Custer slowed his pace and finally halted, the latter began to suspect he was in a bad scrape. From that time on Custer acted on the defensive. Poor Custer! He could have saved his well mounted command by flight, but such a thought was no doubt farthest from his mind in that trying moment. The false supposition that the soldiers were not seen until they crossed the divide was also corrected by Gall, who avers that both Reno and Custer had been watched for some hours before they separated to make their respective attacks. Neither Benteen with his three companies nor McDougall with the pack train had been spied else it had gone hard with them. Still another point was made clear in regard to the possible fortune of the day had the soldiers never divided, but made the attack together in one grand sweep down upon the village. The great war chief set all doubts at rest on this point by declaring that "his warriors were just as many as the grass;" and that the consequent result would have been that all would have been killed instead of only a portion. Therefore, whatever may be said of the cowardice of Reno, it is certain he acted wisely in remaining so close behind his trenches. Gall says that only two companies of Custer's command kept any sort of formation at all and from all that could be gathered from the Indian, coupled with what was read from the ground as from an open page, it would appear that Calhoun's men died fighting as skirmishers, while Keogh rallied his company, which was all killed in a bunch. The other companies broke, were shot down individually as they fled in confusion from the field. Considering the point where Custer was first attacked, it would also seem that Calhoun's and Keogh's troops were the first to fall, being nearest the original point of attack; and that Gen. Custer and the others, retreating step by step, were the last to die on the summit where the monument now stands. As a matter of fact, the true condition of affairs was exactly the opposite. The error would never have been cleared up had not Gall contradicted it flatly and positively. He says Calhoun, Keogh and Crittenden (the latter was with Calhoun and fell with him) were the last ones of all to die. When the broken companies fled in dismay to the high point with the intention of escaping over the other side, they were met by hordes of savages who had swarmed up that coulee, ready for the emergency which really did happen. Therefore, Custer personally and those with him were probably the very first ones to fall in the day, and Calhoun and Keogh, taken on both flanks, jammed in between two galling fires and numerous cross fires, and with all possible avenues of escape cut off, had nothing else to do but fight it out in line until the last trooper had fallen in his tracks. It was made clear that the Sioux, particularly the old men, women and young bucks, held Reno in check, while the Cheyennes did all the bloody work at the lower end of the field. Gall asserts with gravity that the Great Spirit was present riding over the field, mounted on a coal black pony and urging the braves on.
Some of Gall's Statements
The following are a few of the questions put to Gall as he rode over the field, with the answers given verbatim by him.
"How long before all the soldiers were killed?"
The chief made the sign of the white man's dinner time which means noon, and then with his finger cut a half, which would signify half an hour consumed in slaughtering everybody.
"Did the red men shoot guns or arrows?"
"Both. We soon shot all our cartridges, and then shot arrows and used our war clubs." "Did the soldiers have plenty of ammunition?" "No. They shot away all they had. The horses ran away, carrying in the saddle pockets a heap more. The soldiers threw their guns aside and fought with little guns." [pistols]
"Who got the horses?"
"The Cheyenne women. A lot of horses got into the river and I jumped in and caught them." The chief's mind seemed to dwell particularly upon the number of horses they captured rather than the terrible slaughter which took place.
"Did the Itidians fight standing up?"
"No. The soldiers did, but the braves fired from behind their horses. A lot of Indians fell over and died."
"When the soldiers had no more cartridges left what did the Indians do?"
"The braves ran up to the soldiers and killed them with hatchets."
"How many Indians were killed?"
"Eleven down in that creek, (now called Reno Creek) four over there and two in that coulee."
"How many were killed, altogether?"
"Forty-three in all. A great many crossed the river and died in the rushes. They died every day. Nearly as many died each day as were killed in the fight. We buried them in trees and on scaffolds going up Lodge Pole Creek toward the White Rain mountains."
"How many different tribes were in the fight?"
"Uncpapa, Minneconjou, Ogalalla, Brule, Teton, Santee and Yanktonnais Sioux, Blackfeet, Cheyennes, Arapahoes, and a few Gros Ventres." "Who fought first, Custer or Reno?"
"Reno was whipped first and then all with Custer were killed."
Of course the chief did not understand the names Custer and Reno, but he indicated by pointing and other signs whom he meant.
"How soon after Reno charged did Custer come down the valley?"
"We saw all at one time before they separated. When Reno charged, the women and children were moved down stream: and when the Sioux bucks drove Reno on top of the bluffs, everybody came down and fought Custer. All the Indians were mixed up then."
"How soon after Reno charged was Custer attacked?"
No satisfactory answer could be gotten to this important question; but it would seem that as soon as Reno was lodged safely on the hill the whole village massed on Custer at once and annihilated him.
"Did Custer get near the river?"
"Then how came the dead bodies of soldiers on the river's bank where we think the white chief crossed or attempted to cross?"
Gall's answer came without a moment's hesitation.
"They were soldiers who fled down another coulee, crossed the river lower down, were chased up stream again toward the village, driven back into the river, and killed on this side."
"Where was Custer first attacked?"
This and other questions have been answered in the narrative above.
"Did the soldiers fight on horseback or on foot?"
"They fought on foot. One man held the horses while the others shot the guns. We tried to kill the holders, and then by waving blankets and shouting we scared the horses down that coulee, where the Cheyenne women caught them."
"Did you kill any soldiers?"
"Yes, I killed a great many. I killed them all with the hatchet; I did not use a gun."
"Who had command of all the red men?"
"I held command of those down stream."
"I don't know; but some of the Sioux say it was a Crow scout named Bloody Knife."
"Where was Sitting Bull all this time while the white soldiers were being killed?"
"Back in his tepee making medicine."
"Did he fight at all?"
"No; he made medicine for us."
"Did you fight Reno?"
"No; I only fought the white men soldiers down this way."
"Then you know nothing of what happened at the upper end of the village?"
"No, I was down among the Cheyennes looking after horses when the first attack was made on our village."
"Did the old men and boys fight too?"
"Yes, and the squaws fought with stone clubs and hatchet knives. The squaws cut off the boot legs."
"Were there any white men or breeds in your camp?"
"No; we had only Indians."
"Did the soldiers have swords?"
"No, there was only one long knife with them, and he was killed too."
"Who had the long knife?" "I don't know."
"Did you see Curley on that day?" (Pointing out the Crow scout who is the only survivor of all who marched with Custer into the Little Bighorn valley.)
"No; but my braves say he ran away early and did not fight at all."
"Did you take any prisoners, and if so what did you do with them?"
This question was put to find out if possible the true fate of Lieutenants Harrington, Jack Sturgis, Dr. Lord, and about fourteen others whose bodies were not found on the field, nor has anything been heard of them since the morning when the command was divided.
"No, we took no prisoners. Our hearts were bad, and we cut and shot them all to pieces."
"Do you remember seeing Custer, the big chief, after the fight?"
"I saw the big chief riding with the orderly before we attacked. He had glasses to his face (field glasses). During the fight there were too many soldiers scattered all around for me to see him."
"Did any of the soldiers get away?"
"No, all were killed. About fourteen (indicating the number with his fingers) started toward the Wolf Mountains, but the young braves got on their trail and all were killed."
No doubt Harrington, Sturgis, Lord and the other missing ones were of this party endeavoring to escape toward the Wolf Mountains.
"What did you do after all Custer's soldiers were killed?"
"We went back to fight the soldiers on the hill who were digging holes in the ground. We staid there until big dust was seen down the river, when we all moved up Lodge Pole Creek toward the White Rain Mountains.
The Custer Myth: A Source Book of Custerania, written and compiled by Colonel W.A. Graham, The Stackpole Co., Harrisburg, PA 1953, p 89 - 92
Ohiyesa said Hunkpapa war chief Gall was a leader of the Indians' first counter-charge against Reno, which forced the American troopers to abandon their defensive line in the open and fall back to the timber along the river, where Crazy Horse's first charge of the battle hit Reno's men a few minutes later.
According to Santee Sioux warrior Spotted Calf, Gall was one of the war chiefs who met with Crazy Horse the night of June 17, 1876 after his victory at the Battle of the Rosebud. When Gall asked Crazy Horse why he wasn't celebrating, Crazy Horse reportedly replied he expected another battle with the Americans soon.
Gall's accounts of the Battle of the Little Bighorn gave the literature of the great battle two indelible sayings. Concerning Reno's murder of Gall's wife and children at the outset of the battle, Gall said...
"When Reno made his [initial] attack at the upper end he killed my two squaws and three children, which made my heart bad. I then fought with the hatchet."
According to Mrs. Spotted Horn Bull, Gall returned to the Reno fight the next day and station his men along the river, where they were responsible for the particularly savage sniping of Americans who volunteered to go for water described by Medal of Honor winner Peter Thompson and others at the Siege of the Greasy Grass.
Concerning the number of Indian warriors at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Gall said...
"The Indians were in coulees behind and in front of Custer as he moved up the ridge to take position, and were just As Many As the Grass."
Like Curley and Pretty Shield, Gall made a last contribution to the spoken literature of the Little Bighorn. However, Gall was also the source of two long-standing misconceptions about the battle: Gall incorrectly stated (1) that Custer did not ride down Medicine Tail Coulee and try to charge acrosss the Little Bighorn and attack the Indian village, and (2) that the Seventh Cavalry troopers ran out of ammunition. In fact, at least a half dozen Indian and American witnesses saw Custer at the river, and there are likewise many Indian accounts testifying that the fallen American soldiers had lots of ammunition on them.
Here's another account of the battle by Gall.