Bruce Brown's 100 Voices...
An extract from
EXTRACT FROM LT. CLARK'S 1877 REPORT
"On June 17th the Indians were camped on a small tributary of the Little Bighorn River about 18 miles above the place where Gen. Custer's troops found them on the 25th. They had at this time about 1200 standing lodges and 400 wickiups, or brush shelters, and numbered about 3500 fighting men.
"After driving Col. Reno's forces across the river, most of the Indians left his immediate front and went down to join those who were fighting Gen. Custer's column-which came down and made an attempt to cross at the mouth of the little stream (Medicine Tail?) and finding it impossible, turned up the ridge, then turned again as the trails leading down to the ford were reached. The Indians had massed in the ravines and opened such a terrific fire from all sides that the troops gave way; the Indians rushed in and made it a hand to hand conflict. The troops attempted to rally once or twice, but were literally overwhelmed with numbers, and in a few moments not one was left to tell the story.
"The temporary respite gave Reno time to gather his forces on a sort of bluff and partially intrench himself. The Indians, believing they had him anyway, in a measure abandoned the attack for the night, and besides, they had a large number of dead and wounded on their hands to care for. If Reno had attempted to succor Custer's forces he would most surely have met their fate. The next day (27th) the approach of Terry's column was discovered, and as Gen. Custer had fallen upon them so much more quickly than they anticipated, they hurriedly broke camp, leaving much of their camp equipage behind them. The timely arrivai of this force saved Reno's party.
"In this fight about 40 Indians were killed and a very large number wounded. They say the white soldiers fought bravely and desperately, and gave instances of personal gallantry which created admiration and respect, even in their savage hearts; but it is impossible to positively identify the individuals from their imperfect descriptions. I am convinced, however, that none were taken prisoners and subjected to torture as has been represented. The Indians say that many of the dead soldiers' carbines were found with shells stuck fast in the chambers, rendering them useless for the time being.
"The small number killed is due to the fact that an Indian has a wonderful faculty of protecting himself, and unless he is shot through the brain, heart or back, there is no certainty at all about his dying, for since I have seen many Indians who have been shot in all manner of ways through the body and still enjoying excellent health, I have been convinced that of all animals they are superior in point of tenacity of life, magnificent horsemen and fine shots-doing about as good execution on the backs of their thoroughly-trained speedy and hardy ponies as on the ground, accustomed from their earliest youth to take advantage of every knoll, rock, tree, tuft of grass, and every aid the topography of the country affords to secure game; and their education completed and perfected by constant warfare with other tribes and the whites, each warrior becomes an adept in their way of fighting, needing no orders to promptly seize, push and hold any opportunity for success, or in retreating, protecting themselves from harm. Each tribe is organized by accident or pleasure into several different bands, each band having a chief, but his powers and authority are, in a great measure, limited by the will and wishes of his people.
"Great prominence has been given Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull in this war, the good fighting strategy and subsequent masterly retreats being attributed to them, whereas they are really not entitled to more credit or censure than many others, so far as plans and orders were concerned; but they headed two of the worst bands on the Plains, and were the two fiercest leaders the Sioux nation has produced for years.
GENERAL SHERIDAN'S COMMENTS
"There is much interesting information in this report, and Lieut. Clark's description of the capabilities of the Indian for offensive warfare is very accurate; but the narratives of the Indians should be read with a considerable degree of allowance and some doubt, as Indians generally make their descriptions to conform to what they think are the wishes of those who interview them.
"As to the number of Indians in the fight, and the number killed, accounts greatly differ. Thert certainly were enough Indians there to defeat the 7th Cavalry, divided as it was into three parts, and to totally annihilate any one of these three detachments in the open field, as was proved in the destruction of one of them and its gallant commander. The reasons given why Major Reno should have remained where he was driven, on the top of the bluff, that he afterwards fortified and held, are very good; but there are other reasons no less strong. For instance, he could not abandon his wounded, who would have been slain by the enemy, and furthermore, he had no knowledge of the whereabouts of Custer nor of the straits he was in, and it is natural to presume that he supposed Col. Custer would return to his support when he discovered the superiority in numbers of the Indians, in order that the regiment might be reunited.
"The history of the battle of the Little Bighorn can now be told in a few words. The Indians were actually surprised, and in the confusion arising from the surprise and the attempt of the women and children to get out of the way, Col. Custer was led to believe that the Indians were retreating and would escape him; furthermore, from the point he left Major Reno he could see only a small portion of the Indian encampment, and had no just conception of its size, consequently he did not wait to close up his regiment and attack with its full strength, but, ordering Major Reno to attack the village at its upper end, he started directly down the stream on the further side of the bluffs which concealed the river from his view, and hid him from the Indians, with five companies of the 7th Cavalry. Upon reaching a trail that led down to the river, opposite about the middle of the village, he followed it down nearly to the stream, and then, without even attempting to cross (for no bodies of men or horses were found upon either side of the stream near the ford), he went back for a few hundred yards and started directly up the line of the fatal ridge where his body and the bodies of his command were afterwards found, with the evident intention of going to the lower end of the-village and crossing and attacking the Indians there. It was upon this ridge that he was completely surrounded and his command annihilated. There are no indications whatever that he attempted to go back and rejoin Major Reno. Had he done this after reaching the ford above named, Capt. Benteen, having in the meantime joined Major Reno, he would have had his whole regiment together, and could have held his own, at least, and possibly have defeated the Indians. If the Indians had really known that he was coming, they would have gone out to meet him, as they did to meet Gen. Crook only eight days before, in order to let the women and children and the village get out of the way. Again, if Col. Custer had waited until his regiment was closed up and crossed it at the point Major Reno did, and had made his attack in the level valley, posting some of his men in the woods, all the Indians there could not have defeated him. I do not attribute Col. Custer's action to either recklessness or want of judgment, but to a misapprehension of the situation and to a superabundance of courage.
"Enclosed herewith a statement of the battle of the Little Bighorn made to the C. O. at Cheyenne Agency by "Red Horse," a Sioux Indian, who evidently took part in the action, and whose statement of the number killed and wounded of the Indians is greatly in excess of that named by Lieut. Clark's informant.
P. H. SHERIDAN, Lieut-Gen. Commanding.
The Custer Myth: A Source Book of Custerania, written and compiled by Colonel W.A. Graham, The Stackpole Co., Harrisburg, PA 1953, p 115 - 117