"As scarce as truth is, the supply has always been in excess of demand." — Josh Billings

Setting the Record Straight: ‘Mitch Boyer at the Little Bighorn’ by Bruce Brown

Boyer was one of 19 Americans whose bodies were never found…

Mitch Boyer
Mitch Boyer, head scout and interpreter for the 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. His body was never found.

NOTE: I recently perused the Wikipedia account of Mitch Boyer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, and it was SO FULL OF ERRORS that I decided to share what the eye-witness record of the battle — contained in 100 Voices from the Little Bighorn — says about when, where and how Boyer died during the battle…

— Bruce Brown

HALF FRENCH and half Santee SiouxMitch Bouyer (or Boyer) was married to a Crow woman, and served George A. Custer‘s Seventh Cavalry as both Chief of Scouts and the interpreter for the Crow scouts.

A man of many names, Bouyer was called Ka-pesh (Kapesh) or Ca Pay by the Crow scouts, possibly an early use of the now common Americanized corruption of the Italian, capisci, meaning “understand.” Or possibly not.

In Indian Views of the Custer Fight: A Source BookRichard Hardorff says Bouyer was “known by the Lakota name of Kapi,” which Hardorff defined as “Hammering Out (as in the pounding iron by a blacksmith).”

Crow chronicler Pretty Shield called him Two Bodies, while George Herendeen called him Nuch Bayer, and SoldierRed Bear and the other Arikara scouts called him Man-with-a-Calfskin-Vest (more on this in a moment).

100 Voices from the Little Bighorn by Bruce Brown
100 Voices from the Little Bighorn by Bruce Brown, Amazon Kindle Edition.

According to the eye-witness account of John McGuire, “Custer had kept Bouyer [scouting] ahead of column [as the Seventh Cavalry approached the Little Bighorn]. Bouyer said he had told Custer there must be a very large village ahead and Custer said: “Show them to me,” meaning he would believe it only after he would see them.”

Bouyer told McGuire, “There are too many [Sioux and Cheyenne] for this outfit, and if we get up to them they will recognize me and that will be the last of Bouyer. Nevertheless I have been drawing $10 per day from the government and intend to stick it out.” [Note: By comparison, Seventh Cavalry troopers were paid $13 a month, or less than 50 cents a day.]

Pretty Shield said the Sioux shouted out to Bouyer as he rode to rejoin Custer for the last time after dismissing the Crow scouts from further service to the Seventh Cavalry, warning him to go back or he would die.

White Man Runs Him credited Bouyer with saving his life when Bouyer carried Custer‘s order to set the scouts free just before the battle. “If it wasn’t for Mitch Boyer most likely I would be there with Custer buried, but Mitch Boyer told us to go back.”

According to both Pretty Shield and White Cow Bull, Bouyer was riding beside George A. Custer at the head of the attack formation when the Seventh Cavalry charged across the Little Bighorn at Medicine Tail Coulee at the beginning of the Custer fight. Pretty Shield said Bouyer was shot and fell in the river after Custer was shot and fell in the water, but White Cow Bull didn’t see this through the drifting smoke of gun fire.

Both Seventh Infantry scout Thomas LaForge and Arapaho warrior Sage, or Well Knowing One, told a story that seems to fit like a piece in a jigsaw puzzle with the story told by White Cow Bull and Pretty Shield.

The Twisted Saga of Custer's Unsung Scouts by Bruce Brown
The Twisted Saga of Custer’s Unsung Scouts by Bruce Brown, Amazon Kindle Edition.

Essentially, Sage and LaForge said Bouyer was badly wounded at the river, but did not die, and LaForge added that Bouyer was shot in the back, which could explain why White Cow Bull didn’t see it — it happened after gunsmoke had obscured the river and Custer‘s men were pulling back to the far shore.

LaForge and Sage said Bouyer subsequently struggled to the edge of the river at Medicine Tail Coulee, where he was discovered by the Sioux after the battle. Bouyer begged to be killed and was accommodated, after which the Sioux threw his body into the river. Sage spoke of two wounded Americans found at the edge of the river who were killed by the Indians — Bouyer and “a soldier with a bugle and a carbine.”

Bouyer‘s signature calf-skin vest was found by the river at Medicine Tail Coulee after the Battle of the Little Bighorn, but his body was never found. The grave marker that the U.S. Park Service has erected for Bouyer in the Deep Ravine on the Little Bighorn Battlefield is false in both fact and implication.

Click here for eye-witness accounts of Bouyer’s death at the river.

Click here for more information on the 19 Seventh Cavalry dead whose bodies were never found.

— by Bruce Brown

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