PILGRIMAGE TO CUSTER
by Jackie Jura, 2023
(my commentary in blue)
(you can listen using text-to-speech on your device)
4.CUSTER MASSACRE AT GATES OF HELL
...cont'd from 3.LAST WORD ON CUSTER FROM FRONT
It being Sunday, June 25th -- the exact day Custer died (and Orwell's birthday) -- it was free admission to the Battlefield. After passing through the entrance gate we were immediately flashed back in time to 1876 by the sight of a ferocious-looking Indian dressed to the nines in war regalia -- similar to what would have welcomed Custer here 140 years ago. But at least this one was friendly, or pretended to be. I suspected by his costume that this Indian represented Cheyenne Dog Soldiers, who Custer described as "the worst of all Indians; the most mischevious, blood-thirsty and barbarous band of Indians that infest the Plains".
We were just in time for the Ranger Talk and pulled up chairs and listened as he explained the background of the battle from both sides -- from the Indian version and the white-man version. This dual perspective, or bending over backwards not to offend or be labelled "racist" is something I'd noticed yesterday during the re-enactment at Greasy Grass. Even the Crows, who were on Custer's side during the war, and on whose land the Greasy Grass and town of Garry Owen (Custer's favourite song) now sit, seemed to have allied themselves with their former enemies, the Sioux and Cheyenne. The Indian announcer of the re-enactment seemed to "speak as one" for all tribes playing the "blame game" against white man for "stealing their land" even though Indians have been warring against and stealing each other's land long before the pilgrims arrived in 1620 on the Mayflower. During the colonization of America Indians fought with and against whites in the Spanish, French, Dutch, Swede and English wars of conquest.
"...The year 1540 was a crucial turning point in American history. The Great Indian Wars were incited by Francisco Vazquez de Coronado when his expedition to the Great Plains launched the inevitable 350 year struggle between the white man and the American Indians. From that point forward, the series of battles between the United States and the Native American Indians began where blood was shed and ultimately tens of thousands of lives were lost on both sides..."
"...The ferocious Iroquois warrior in this 1787 engraving is equipped with snow shoes and armed with a globe-headed club. He carries an enemy scalp draped over his musket... The painted Iroquois warrior prepares to "take the hair" of his Indian captive."
Above is a map showing the history of Indian tribes in America, highlighting the tribes in the Plains. General Nelson Miles, who fought alongside Custer during the Civil War, and who led the final Plains Indian War battles against the "hostiles" in 1876 to 1881, talked about the inevitability of Indians losing their nomadic, buffalo-hunting way of life. In his personal recollections in 1896 Miles wrote: "The wave of civilizaion was moving over the western horizon. Its onward march was irresistable. No human hand could stay that rolling tide of progress. The pale faces moved over every divide; they cordelled or pushed their boats up every river. They entered every valley and swarmed over every plain. They travelled in wagons and prairie-schooners, on foot or horseback. Herding their little bands and flocks of domestic stock, they built their homes on every spot of ground that could be made productive."
From the official NATIONAL PARK LITTLE BIGHORN BATTLEFIELD handbook below's a description of the Indian warrior as he'd evolved to by Custer's time. The artist has depicted the Indian standing on a bluff overooking the Little Big Horn valley at the village from the same vantage point Custer saw it for the first time.
"...For Sioux males, war was both sport and ceremony, part of the very fabric of tribal life. It was a way to acquire property, especially horses, and to win glory and respect by performing brave deeds in combat. The Sioux went to war to capture horses from their enemies and to protect and defend their hunting grounds. There were 2 types of forays: horse raids, in which the object was to steal into an enemy village and make off with its horses. and war parties, which were usually mounted for revenge or tribal defense. Horse raids might number from a few warriors to 15 or 20. War parties were usually larger, perhaps as many as a hundred warriors plus a few boys for menial chores and a few women for cooking. Before the advent of the white man on the plains in the 1830s, fighting between tribes was usally small and sporadic. A warrior won honor in combat by 'counting coup'. A coup was an act of of daring: striking an enemy, victory in hand-to-hand combat, saving a friend in battle, stealing a horse. It entitled a warrior to wear an eagle feather on the back of his head and distinctive marks on his clothing. Enough coups and a warrior had a war bonnet, which he wore in battle to show his ability. A warrior usually went on the warpath (if not into battle) with an impressive amount of gear: a bow and arrow, a knife, a shield, sometimes a lance, and a parfleche in which he carried extra moccasins, war paint, ceremonial items, a pipe and tobacco, war clothing (including a bonnet and coup feathers, if he had them), and jerky and pemmican. Warriors at the Little Big Horn also carried rifles."
In the morning, while visiting the bookstore before coming to the battlefield, I'd mentioned to a lady working there that at the re-enactment I'd noticed a pro-Indian, anti-white bias. She, having attended many re-enactments over the years, agreed with me. And what is more, she said, was that some Indians were so disrespectful of the soldiers that they were blatantly "counting coup" on the headstones of the dead. I was totally shocked that this desecration would be allowed.
The Indian plays innocent victim through a powerful lobby of puppet-masters in government who rile up the white masses against their own people to mindlessly pound the Indian drum for them. This Indian racket was happening in Custer's day and he wrote about it and fought against it, literally and physically, to his dying day. Custer called their diatribe "verbal ejaculation". Custer, all his life, was what you would today describe as "politically incorrect" and he made enemies in the highest places because of it. I'll discuss this further in a future chapter. We sure could use a Custer now.
I also noticed, during the re-enactment and the Ranger Talk, that the gory details of Custer's and the 7th Cavalry's deaths was never mentioned, ie the word "massacre" was avoided. This, to me, is a form of "cover up" of what really is important about what happened at the Battle of Little Big Horn. Having read Custer's book, which was published in 1874, two years before his death, I knew how enraged Custer was about the depredations and massacres the Indians had been getting away with by the press suppressing the truth from the American people. Custer wrote about, in great detail, what he himself had witnessed and gave his reason, saying: "I am particular in giving time, place etc of each occurence so that those who hitherto have believed the Indian to be a creature who could do no wrong may have ample opportunity to judge the correctness of my statements".
I have Custer's 1874 book MY LIFE ON THE PLAINS in two versions -- abridged and unabridged - and will be referencing both. The unabridged pages, with their larger print, are easier to read than the small, dense print of the unabridged. Also you can listen to the entire book read aloud at Librivox.
"...The character given to the Indian by Cooper and other novelists, as well as by well-meaning but mistaken philanthropists of a later day, is not the true one; the Indian is not the innocent, simple-minded being represented as more the creature of romance than reality, imbued only with a deep veneration for the works of nature, freed from the passions and vices which must accompany a savage nature... Cooper, to whose writings more than to those of any other author, are the people speaking the English language indebted for a false and ill-judged estimate of the Indian character... It is to be regretted that the character of the Indian as described in Cooper's interesting novels is not the true one... We, as a people, with opportunities enlarged and facilities for obtaining knowledge increased, have been forced by a multiplicity of causes to study and endeavor to comprehend thoroughly the character of the red man. So intimately has he become associated with the Government as ward of the nation, and so prominent a place among the questions of national policy does the much mooted Indian question occupy, that it behooves us no longer to study this problem from works of fiction, but to deal with it as it exists in reality.
"...Stripped of the beautiful romance with which we have been so long willing to envelop him, transferred from the inviting pages of the novelist to the localities where we are compelled to meet with him, in his native village, on the war path, and when raiding upon our frontier settlements and lines of travel, the Indian forfeits his claim to the appellation of the noble red man. We see him as he is, and, so far as all knowledge goes, as he ever has been, a savage in every sense of the word; not worse, perhaps, than his white brother would be, similarly born and bred, but one whose cruel and ferocious nature far exceeds that of any wild beast of the desert. That this is true no one who has been brought into intimate contact with the wild tribes will deny...
"...It may be asked, what had the Indians done to make this incursion necessary? They had been guilty of numerous thefts and murders during the preceding summer and fall, for none of which they had been called to account. They had attacked the stations of the overland mail route, killed the employees, burned the stations, and captured the stock. Citizens had been murdered in their homes on the frontier of Kansas; murders had been committed on the Arkansas route. The principal perpetrators of these acts were the Cheyennes and Sioux... The various tribes from which we had greatest cause to anticipate trouble had during the winter, through their leading chiefs and warriors, threatened that as soon as the grass was up in the spring a combined outbreak would take place along our entire frontier, and especially against the main routes of travel....
"...The Box family consisted of the father, mother, and five children, the eldest a girl about eighteen, the youngest a babe. The entire family had been visiting at a neighbor's house, and were returning home in the evening, little dreaming of the terrible fate impending, when Satanta and his warriors dashed upon them, surrounded the wagon in which they were driving, and at the first fire killed the father and one of the children. The horses were hastily taken from the wagon, while the mother was informed by signs that she and her four surviving children must accompany their captors. Mounting their prisoners upon led horses, of which they had a great number stolen from the settlers, the Indians prepared to set out on their return to the village, then located hundreds of miles north. Before departing from the scene of the massacre, the savages scalped the father and child, who had fallen as their first victims. Far better would it have been had the remaining members of the family met their death in the first attack. From the mother, whom I met when released from her captivity, after living as a prisoner in the hands of the Indians for more than a year, I gathered the details of the sufferings of herself and children....
"...Mrs Box and each of the three elder children were placed on separate horses and securely bound... The mother was at first permitted to carry the youngest child, a babe of a few months, in her arms, but the latter, becoming fretful during the tiresome night ride, began to cry. The Indians...snatched it from its mother's arms and dashed its brains out against a tree, then threw the lifeless remains to the ground and continued their flight... After travelling for several days this war party arrived at the point where they rejoined their lodges... Each night the scalp of the father was hung up in the lodge occupied by the mother and children... In accordance with Indian custom upon the return of a successful war party, a grand assembly of the tribe took place. The prisoners, captured horses, and scalps were brought forth, and the usual ceremonies, terminating in a scalp dance, followed. Then the division of the spoils was made. The captives were apportioned among the various bands composing the tribe... No two members of the family were permitted to remain in the same band, but were each carried to separate villages, distant from each other several days' march. This was done partly to prevent escape....
"...No pen can describe the painful tortures of mind and body endured by this unfortunate family. They remained as captives in the hands of the Indians for more than a year, during which time the eldest daughter, a beautiful girl just ripening into womanhood, was exposed to a fate infinitely more dreadful than death itself. She first fell to one of the principal chiefs, who, after robbing her of that which was more precious than life and forcing her to become the victim of his brutal lust, bartered her in return for two horses to another chief; he again, after wearying of her, traded her to a chief of a neighboring band; and in that way this unfortunate girl was passed from one to another of her savage captors, undergoing a life so horribly brutal that, when meeting her upon her release from captivity, one could only wonder how a young girl, nurtured in civilization and possessed of natural refinement and delicacy of thought which she exhibited, could have survived such degrading treament... The facts relating to their cruel treatment were obtained by me directly from the mother and eldest daughter immediately after their release... The treatment of the Box and Fletcher families is not given as isolated instances, but is referred to principally to show the character of the enemy with whom we were at war. Volume after volume might be filled in recounting the unprovoked and merciless atrocities committed upon the people of the frontier by their implacable foe, the red man...."
"...General Sheridan determined that, while devoting full attention to the Kiowas, Comanches, Apaches, Arapahoes and Southern Cheyennes to be found south of the Arkansas, he would also keep an eye out for the Sioux, Upper Cheyennes and Arapahoes and the "Dog Soldiers" usually infesting the valleys of the Upper Republican and Solomon rivers. The "Dog Soldiers" were a band of warriors principally composed of Cheyennes, but made up of the turbulent and uncontrollable spirits of all the tribes. Neither they nor their leaders had ever consented to the ratification of any of the treaties to which their brothers of the other tribes had agreed. Never satisfied except when at war with the white man, they were by far the most troublesome, daring and warlike band to be found on the Plains..."
"...How painfully, almost despairingly exciting must have been this ride for life! A mere handful of brave men struggling to escape the bloody clutches of the hundreds of red-visaged demons, who, mounted on their well-trained war ponies, were straining every nerve and muscle to reek their hands in the life-blood of their victims. It was not death alone that threatened this little band. They were not riding simply to preserve life. They rode, and doubtless prayed as they rode, that they might escape the savage tortures, the worse than death which threatened them. Would that their prayer had been granted!... When within a mile of the stream I observed sevaral large buzzards floating lazily in circles through the air, and but a short distance to the left of our trail. This, of itself, might not have attracted my attention seriously but for the rank stench which pervaded the atmosphere, reminding one of the horrible sensations experienced upon a battle-field when passing among the decaying bodies of the dead.... Hastening in common with many others of the party a sight met our gaze which even at this remote day makes my very blood curdle.
"...Lying in irregular order, and within a very limited circle, were the mangled bodies of poor Kidder and his party, yet so brutally hacked and disfigured as to be beyond recognition save as human beings. Every individual of the party had been scalped and his skull broken -- the latter done by some weapon, probably a tomahawk... Even the clothes of all the party had been carried away; some of the bodies were lying in beds of ashes, with partly burned fragments of wood near them, showing that the savages had put some of them to death by the terrible tortures of fire. The sinews of the arms and legs had been cut away, the nose of every man hacked off, and the features otherwise defaced so that it would have been scarcely possible for even a relative to recognize a single one of the unfortunate victims. We could not even distinguish the officer from his men. Each body was pierced by from twenty to fifty arrows, and the arrows were found as the savage demons had left them, bristling in the bodies. While the details of that fearful struggle will probably never be known, telling how long and gallantly this ill-fated little band contended for their lives, yet the surrounding circumstances of ground, empty cartridge shells, and distance from where the attack began, satisfied us that Kidder and his men fought as only brave men fight when the watchword is victory or death. As the officer, his men, and his no less faithful Indian guide had shared their final dangers together and had met the same dreadful fate at the hands of the same merciless foe, it was but fitting that their remains should be consigned to one common grave. This was accordingly done. A single trench was dug near the spot where they had rendered up their lives upon the altar of duty. Silently, mournfully, their comrades of a brother regiment consigned their mangled remains to mother earth, there to rest undisturbed, as we supposed, until the great day of final review....
"...The Indians began their periodical depredations against the frontier settlers and overland emigrants and travellers early in the spring of 1868, and continued them with but little interruption or hindrance from any quarter until late in the summer and fall of that year... The Indians continued as usual not only to elude the military forces directed against them, but to keep up their depredations upon the settlers of the frontier... The frequent massacres of the frontiersmen and utter destruction of their homes created a very bitter feeling on the part of the citizens of Kansas toward the savages, and from the Governor of the State down to its humblest citizen appeals were made to the authorities of the general government to give protection against the Indians, or else allow the people to take the matter into their own hands and pursue retaliatory measures against their hereditary enemies.... As pretended but not disinterested friends of the Indian frequently acquit the latter of committing unprovoked attack on helpless settlers and others, who have never in the slightest degree injured them, and often deny even that the Indians have been guilty of any hostile acts which justify the adoption of military measures to insure the protection and safety of our frontier settlements, the folloiwing trabular statement is here given.
"...b. One of these 3 women was outraged by 13 Indians, who afterward killed and scalped her, leaving a hatchet stuck in her head. They then killed her 4 little children
c. 15 of these persons were burned to death by the Indians, who attacked the train to which they belonged
d. Mrs Bassett, being weak and unable to travel, was stripped, and together with her child (2 days old) left on the prairie. Mr Bassett was murdered
g. These 14 children were afterward frozen to death while in captivity..."
"...This statement is taken from official records on file at the headquarters Military Division of the Missouri and, as it states, gives only those murders and other depredations which were officially reported, and the white people mentioned as killed are exclusive of those slain in warfare. I am particular in giving time, place etc of each occurence so that those who hitherto have believed the Indian to be a creature who could do no wrong may have ample opportunity to judge of the correctness of my statements. Many other murders by the Indians during this period no doubt occurred, but, occurring as they did over a wide and sparsely settled tract of country, were never reported to the military authorities."
~ end quoting from My Life On The Plains by Custer ~
I have a fascinating book, DOG SOLDIER JUSTICE, that makes a point of speaking from the Pioneer perspective, not the Indian perspective. It's a history of the Indian depredations the white people suffered and their attempts for compensation from the federal government -- and also heroic stories of escape and rescue -- including by Custer's 7th Cavalry.
"...On December 10, 1868 the command arrives at the [November 27th} Washita battleground. The next day they discovered the bodies of Elliott's small detachment of soldiers, missing since the Washita fight. All seventeen men were stripped naked and horribly mutilated.... About six miles down the river from where Black Kettle was killed, soldiers found two more bodies, a young pioneer mother and son. Clara Blinn and her two-year old son, Willie had been captured on October 9, 1868, east of Fort Lyon in the southeastern part of Colorado Territory. Like Susanna Alderdice would endure less than a year later, Clara suffered several weeks of captivity before being killed at her moment of rescue. And like Susanna, Clara's story was especially sad... In addition to losing his wife and son as captives, Richard Blinn lost $500.00 in cash, a man's silver watch and woman's gold watch, valued together at $150.00, all the family apparel, jewelry, beds and bedding valued at $800.00, all household provisions and furniture worth $800.00, and one sorrel gelding horse valued at $150.00... On November 7, Clara now four weeks into her ordeal, was able to sneak a note out of the Cheyenne camp by way of a half-breed Indian trader who was visiting the Indians. It was a pitiful plea for rescue. Little did Clara know that she had but twenty more days to live... Clara's powerfully moving plea for rescue died in the harsh cold along the Washita River, where the frozen bodies of her and her son were discovered near the creek in an abandoned Indian encampment on December 11, two weeks after being brutally murdered sometime during the Washsita battle at Black Kettle's camp. Clara was shot through the forehead, her scalp completely removed, and her skull horribly crushed. Two-year old Willie 'bore numerous marks of violence' and had his 'head crushed by a blow against a tree'... After finding the bodies of Clara, Willie, and Major Elliott and his men, Custer's combined force of nearly 1,700 men picked up and followed an Indian trail near the Washita battlefield...
"...On March 2, Custer, again with ten companies of the 19th Kansas Cavalry and eleven companies of the 7th Cavalry, left to find the remaining Cheyenne village that had not reported to Fort Cobb... No other trail was discovered until March 11, 1869, when another trail was discovered, this one nearly a month old. The column followed the trail and before long it grew larger and fresher, eventually including more than 100 lodges... Using a handful of soldiers as an escort, Custer started in that direction. Many Indians were observed in the timber. Custer motioned for a parly and a party of about fifty warriors came out and slowly approached him. From them he learned the make up of the village. It consisted of serveral bands of Cheyenne. Chief Medicine Arrow informed Custer that more than 200 lodges were directly to his front. Little Robe, with an additional sixty lodges, was several miles farther away. Custer reported: 'Included in the two hundred lodges were nearly all the lodges belonging to the Dog Soldiers: the most mischievous, blood-thirsty and barbarous band of Indians that infest the plains'...
"...Learning of the presence of the Dog Soldiers, Custer at once saw his opportunity 'to administer a well merited punishment to the worst of all Indians'. He soon changed his plans, however, when he learned that the camp included Miss Sarah White and Mrs Morgan. He adjusted his strategy: 'It was then out of the question to assume a hostile attitude at least until the captives were in our possession, or until every peacable means for their recovery had been exhausted. The opening of our attack would have been the signal for their murder by their captors as is very well known'.... Meanwhile, Custer's troops came closer to the village.... Custer ordered his men to arrest what chiefs they could. Four were caught, including two principal Dog Soldier chiefs -- Big Head and Dull Knife. Custer had learned well from Sheridan's earlier action. Having these chiefs as captives gave him bargaining power which he used to the fullest. He promised not to destroy the captured village if those Indians who had just fled, agreed to come to Little Robe's village....
"...Little Robe met with Custer and promised to use his influence and secure the release of the female captives. Nothing happened the rest of that day. Another day went by and still no deliverance of the women. Late that second day, a sub-chief entered Custer's camp, seeking the release of Custer's prisoners. Custer shared the fact that he had waited three days and still the captives were not released. Therefore, 'if by sunset the following day the white women were not delivered up, I would hang to a tree there designated -- three of the men held captive by me and that the following day I would follow and attack the village'... This final threat did the trick...
"...When Custer issued the order not to fire on the Indians, for a bit "there was mutiny in the ranks. The men begged, argued, swore, and some even shed tears in their disappointment. That Custer was able to prevent a fight, successfully rescue the two captives, and then get the recalcitrant warriors to Camp Supply validates the contention that Custer was not an Indian killer who was blood-thirsty for the glory of battle, a view unjustly taken after his unfortunate demise at the Little Bighorn a little more than seven years later...
"...Colonel Richard Dodge graphically summarized the rape experience: 'The rule is this. When a woman is captured by a party she belongs equally to each and all, so long as that party is out. When it returns to the home encampment, she may be abandoned for a few days to the gratificaion of any of the tribe who may wish her, after which she becomes the exclusive property of the individual who captured her, and henceforward has protection as his wife. No words can express the horror of the situation of that most unhappy woman who falls into the hands of the savage fiends. She is borne off in triumph to where the Indians make their first camp. Here, if she makes no resistance, she is laid upon a buffalo robe, and each in turn violates her person, the others dancing, singing, and yelling around her. If she resists all her clothing is torn from her person, four pegs are driven into the ground, and her arms and legs, stretched to the utmost, are tied fast to them by thongs. Here, with the howling band dancing and singing around her, she is subjected to violation after violation, outrage after outrage, to every abuse and indignity, until not infrequently death releases her from suffering... The white woman, naturally and instinctively resists, is 'staked out', and subjected to the fury of passions fourfold increased by the fact of her being white and a novelty. Neither the unconsiousness nor even the death of the victim stops this horrible orgie; and it is only when the fury of their passions has been glutted to satiety that she is released if alive, or scalped and mutilated if dead. If she lives, it is to go through the same horrible ordeal in every camp until the party gets back to the home encampment....'
"...General Custer himself would write regarding the captivity of Morgan and White: 'The story of the two girls, containing accounts of wrongs and ill treatment sufficient to have ended the existence of less determined persons, is too long to be given here. Besides indignities and insults far more terrible than death itself, the physical suffering to which the two girls were subjected was too great almost to be believed. They were required to transport huge burdens on their backs,large enough to have made a load for a beast of burden. They were limited to barely enough food to sustain life; sometimes a small morsel of mule meat, not more than an inch square, was their allowance of food for twenty-four hours. The squaws beat them unmercifully with clubs whenever the men were not present. Upon one occasion one of the girls was felled to the ground by a blow from a club in the hands of one of the squaws. Their joy therefore at regaining their freedom after a captivity of nearly a year can be better imagined than described...'
"...It should not be forgotten that General Custer rescued these women and interviewed them at the time of their rescue. His account, written in 1874, is a first hand account detailing their captivity... Indian captivity in the West was brutal and horrific, and it is simple nonsense to think otherwise..."
~ end quoting from Dog Soldier Justice by Broome ~
In MY LIFE ON THE PLAINS, excerpts of which I scanned and transcribed previously on this page, Custer described the horrific story of the Box family who, in August 1866, were scalped, tortured, killed, captured, beaten, raped, starved etc, by Indians and then sold to the Army to gain their freedom. Custer included their story in his book because he wanted the American people to realize "the character of the enemy with whom we are at war" and how he'd witnessed and heard first-hand from survivors of "the unprovoked and merciless atrocities committed upon the people of the frontier by their implacable foe, the red man".
After their release from captivity after the ransom had been paid, the Box family were taken to Fort Riley, Kansas, where Custer and the newly formed 7th Cavalry were headquartered, prior to Custer's first Indian fight in spring 1867. After hearing their story Custer told his officers that if ever his wife Libbie was under their escort, to and fro joining him on the campaign, and they were in a losing battle against Indians, that they promise to shoot her to death instead of allowing her to be captured. Libbie, and the officers, all agreed with this plan.
The Box family story, and their connection to Custer, is also told in the book A FATE WORSE THAN DEATH, by Gregory/Susan Michno, published in 2007 It describes in detail what the Box family endured.
"...As the Boxes traveled through Kansas, they stopped at Fort Riley, where they met Lieutenant Colonel George A Custer and his wife Elizabeth. Both of them commented on their horrible condition. George and Libbie both understood Mary to say that the Indians dashed Laura's brains out against at tree, that many Indians raped and abused the mother and the oldest girls, and that Ida's feet were severly burned. Said Libbie: 'I could not find any language to repeat what the poor mother and eldest daughter told me of their horrible sufferings during their captivity'. From what Libbie learned from Margaret, she came to believe that Indian captivity truly "was worse than death". The story of the Boxes' ordeal made a lasting impression on the Custers, and it was one of the reasons that the general later ordered his trusted officers that if it ever became inevitable that Libbie would fall into the hands of the Indians, they were to shoot her dead before she could be taken. The Box killings and captures were significant incidents that led to General Winfield Hancock's expedition to the Kansas plains in 1867, and later to the Washita Expedition in 1868..."
Again from MY LIFE ON THE PLAINS here's how Custer describes returning to the Washita battlefield in December 1868 and finding the bodies of Major Elliot and his men:
"...After riding over the ground in the immediate vicinity of the village I joined one of the parties engaged in the search for the bodies of Major Elliot and his men... After marching a distance of two miles in the direction in which Major Elliot and his little party were last seen, we suddenly came upon the stark, stiff, naked, and horribly mutilated bodies of our dead comrades. No words were needed to tell how desperate had been the struggle before they were finally overpowered. At a short distance from where the bodies lay could be seen the carcasses of some of the horses of the party, which had probably been killed early in the fight. Seeing the hopelessness of breaking through the line which surrounded them and which undoubtedly numbered more than one hundred to one, Elliot dismounted his men, tied their horses together, and prepared to sell their lives as dearly as possible... The bodies of Elliot and his little band, with but a single exception, were found lying within a circle not exceeding twenty yards in diameter. We found them exactly as they fell, except that their barbarous foes had stripped and mutilated the bodies in the most savage manner.
"...All the bodies were carried to camp. The latter was reached after dark... A grave was hastily prepared on a little knoll near our camp and, with the exception of that of Major Elliot... the bodies of the entire party, under the dim light of a few torches held by sorrowing comrades, were consigned to one common resting place. No funeral note sounded to measure their passage to the grave. No volley was fired to tell us a comrade was receiving the last sad rites of burial, that the fresh earth had closed over some of our truest and most daring soldiers...."
"...Before internment I caused a complete examination of each body to be made by Dr Lippincott, chief medical officer of the expedition...The following extracts are taken from that report. I have quoted these extracts in order to give the reader an insight of the treatment invariably meted out to white men who are so unfortunate as to fall within the scope of the red man's bloodthirsty and insatiable venegeance. In addition to the wounds and barbarities reported by Dr Lippincott, I saw a portion of the stock of a Lancaster rifle protruding from the side of one of the men; the stock had been broken off near the barrel, and the butt of it, probably 12 inches in length, had been driven into the man's side a distance of 8 inches."
Major Elliot:...2 bullet holes in head, one in left cheek, right hand cut off, left foot almost cut off, deep gash in right groin, deep gashes in calves of both legs, little finger of left hand cut off, throat cut
Sargeant Major Kennedy:...bullet hole in right temple, head partly cut off, 17 bullet holes in back, and 2 in legs
Corporal Mercer:...bullet hole in right axilla, one in region of heart, 3 in back, 8 arrow wounds in back, right ear cut off, head scalped, skull fractured, deep gashes in both legs, throat cut
Private Christer:...bullet hole in head, right foot cut off, bullet hole in abdomen, throat cut
Corporal Carrick:...bullet hole in right parietal bone, both feet cut off, throat cut, left arm broken
Private Clover:...head cut off, arrow wound in right side, both legs terribly mutilated
Private Milligan:...bullet hole in left side of head, deep gashes in right leg, left arm deeply gashed, head scalped and throat cut
Corporal Williams:...bullet hole in back; head and both arms cut off, many and deep gashes in back
Private Dooney:...arrow hole in region of stomach, thorax cut open, head cut off and right shoulder cut by a tomahawk
Farrier Fitzpatrick:...bullet hole in left parietal bone, head scalped, arm broken, throat cut
Private Myres:...several bullet holes in head, scalped, 19 bullet holes in body, throat cut
Private Sharpe:...2 bullet holes in right side, throat cut, one bullet hole in left side of head, one arrow hole in left side, left arm broken
Unknown:...head cut off, body partially destroyed by wolves
Unknown:...head and right hand cut off, 3 bullet and 9 arrow holes in back
Unknown:...scalped, skull fractured, 6 bullet and 13 arrow holes in back, 3 bullet holes in chest
~ end quoting from My Life On Plains by Custer ~
Blessedly, as Custer had done for others and for posterity, one of his devoted 7th Cavalry men wrote a first-person account describing the atrocities and tortures suffered by Custer and his men once their ammunition ran out and the cavalry they were waiting for to come, never came. I'll be using passages from his book, written in 1917 but undiscovered until 1995, throughout my journey. Here's how it's described on the flap: In 1872 17-year-old William O Taylor, barely five feet tall, enlisted in the army at Troy, New York. Almost immediately he was assigned to the 7th Cavalry. Taylor served in all of General George Armstrong Custer's western campaigns from 1873 to 1876... The memories of being with Custer at that singular event in American history obsessed Taylor for the rest of his days. The result is this moving personal and revelatory memoir..."
"...Soon after five o'clock on the morning of the 28th of June, 1876, the remnant of our Regiment swung into the saddle... Our errand now was to seek our comrades who had died with Custer, and pay our last respects by a scant and hasty burial. After riding north perhaps a little over one and a half miles, we came to an elevation from which a part of the battlefield could be seen. A bleak, dreary place, where, aside from a little coarse grass, nothing grew but an abundance of wild sage and a variety of cactus called prickly pear. Over it there seemed to hang an atmosphere of sadness and desolation, and little wonder that there was, for from every body on that bloody field but a few hours before had gone forth in vain most anxious looks and prayers for our appearance, which would have meant so much, the salvation of many lives... Most of the bodies were on the slope of the ridge but there were quite a number scattered between the river and the ridge, and how white they looked at a distance, like little mounds of snow... We had little in way of grave digging implements, one spade to a company... so the decent and proper burial of over two hundred bodies was not possible in the limited time at our disposal. The most that could be done was to cover the remains with some branches of sagebrush and scatter a little earth on top, enough to cover their nakedness, a covering that would remain but a few hours at the most when the wind and rain would undo our work, and the wolves whose mournful and ominous howls we had already heard would scatter their bones over the surrounding ground...
"...None of the bodies that I saw had any clothing on whatever and nearly all were mutilated in a terrible, and in some cases most disgusting manner. This was the case all over the field, with very few exceptions, General Custer and Captain Keogh being the only one that I heard of, these two I did not see... Heads crushed to an unrecognizable mass by stone war clubs, arms and legs slit with keen knives, parts of the bodies dismembered, and trunks cut open, and many with arrows left sticking in them. Nothing whatever of the belonging of man or horse was left on the field that I could see, squaws had swept it clean. The sagebrush, broken and trampled by the horses and ponies of the contending forces, gave forth a strong odor which, mingled with that of the swollen and fast decomoposing remains of horses and men, was sickening in the extreme...
"...Lieutenant Nowland of I Troop of the Seventh...is said to have marked the resting place of many of the officers by driving into the ground a stake, into the head of which had been forced an empty cartridge shell containing the name of the party it was designed to mark. I did not see any such work done nor is the statement verified by First-Sergeant John Ryan of M Troop, who had charge of the detail that buried General Custer and his brother, Captain Thomas W Custer... Sergeant Ryan in whose company I served for four years, wrote to me: 'The body of General Custer although perfectly nude was not mutilated. He had been shot in 2 places, one bullet had entered his body on the right side and passed nearly but not quite through, the second bullet, and undoubtedly the fatal one, passed through his head entering close to the right ear and coming out near the left ear. Under his body was found four or five brass cartridge shells which, with a lock of his hair, was afterwards sent to his widow...
Custer on horseback viewing bodies of massacred comrades July 1867
(spiritually eulogising exactly the scenario at his own death 9 years later)
"Silently, mournfully, their comrades of a brother regiment consigned their mangled remains to mother earth,
there to rest undisturbed, as we supposed, until the great day of final review."
"...It was a very difficult matter to identify the body of Captain Tom Custer. He lay some ten or fifteen feet from the General and had been most shockingly mutilated. He had been split down through the center of his body and through the muscles of his arms and thighs, his throat was cut and his head smashed flat. When found he lay on his face.... A careful search was made for the letters T.W.C. in India ink on his arm and although the arm was cut and somewhat blackened, the letters were found, and the body identified. A grave about 18 inches deep and wide enough for two was dug, and wrapped in some pieces of shelter tents and blankets. The bodies of General Custer and his brother Captain T.W. Custer were laid therein, a little earth placed on them, a basketlike affair torn from an Indian travois was laid upside down over the grave and some stones laid on the edges in the hopes of keeping the wolves from digging it up, and the burial of General Custer was done." But one other body was placed in a grave by Sergeant Ryan's party, and that was Lieutenant W.W. Cooke. He was identified by his long black side whiskers, one of which had been taken off for a scalp... He was the Regimental Adjutant and a long time friend of General Custer. It has always seemed rather strange to me that the remains of General Custer were not brought along with the wounded and shipped with them on the steamer Far West, to Fort Lincoln. There was plenty of salt and strong canvas to wrap the body in, and the steamer was but a few miles away. The Indians carried away many of their dead, why could not the white man do as much for one as distinguished as General Custer?..."
~ end quoting With Custer on Little Big Horn by Taylor ~
...cont'd at 5.HOMAGE TO CUSTER AT LAST STAND
1.JOURNEY TO CUSTER'S LITTLE BIG HORN
2.CUSTER ALT-HISTORY BIG HORN VICTORY
3.LAST WORD ON CUSTER FROM FRONT
4.CUSTER MASSACRE AT GATES OF HELL
5.HOMAGE TO CUSTER AT LAST STAND
6.CUSTER ON BOZEMAN & DEADWOOD
7.CUSTER GOLD BLACK HILLS & RUSHMORE
8.STATUES OF PRESIDENTS & CUSTER
9.CUSTER'S GETTYSBURG ON THE PLAINS
10.CUSTER & SITTING BULL NOT EQUALS
11.CUSTER AT HOME AT FORT LINCOLN
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