(Cont. from last week)Then the interpreter, the man that the Indians called the ‘white man,’ shouted out in Sioux and said: ‘Custer is not in this division; he is in the other.’ I then ordered all my men to come on and attack the other division. They did so, and followed me.
“The soldiers of this division fired upon us as soon as we got within range, but did as little harm. When we got quite close and were going to charge them, a great storm broke right over us, the lightning was fearful, and struck a lot of the soldiers and horses, killing them instantly. I called out to my men to charge the troops and shouted out: ‘The Great Spirit fights with us - look how he is striking the soldiers down!’ My men saw this and they rushed upon the troops, who were mixed up a good deal.
“About forty of the soldiers had been dismounted by the lightening killing and frightening their horses and these men were soon trampled to death. It was just at this time that we charged them, and we easily knocked them off their horses and then killed them.
“In this way we killed all of this division, with the exception of a few who tried to get away, but were killed by the Sioux before they could get very far. All through the battle the soldiers fired very wild and only killed 25 of the Sioux.
Custer Killed in First Attack“I did not recognize General Custer in the fight; I thought I did, but am not certain about it. I believe Custer was killed in the first attack, as we found his body, or what all the Indians thought was Custer’s body, about the place where it was made. I do not think there is any truth in the report that he shot himself. I saw two soldiers shoot themselves. The Sioux were following them and in a few moments would have caught them, but they shot themselves in the head with their pistols.
“The body which all the Indians said was General Custer’s had its hair cut short. There were 709 Americans killed. We counted 707 carbines. Two might have fallen in the creek.
“There I have fought the battle all over again to you, and this I have never done since the time I fought it out in earnest with General Custer.”
When asked if he knew where Reno was, Sitting Bull said he had no idea and that he had never seen Reno at all.
It will readily be seen that there are many discrepancies in the old chief’s narrative. There are many writers, as well as other Indian leaders who question Sitting Bull’s bravery and action in the battle, stating that he did not lead his men to the front, but remained in his tent. His exaggeration of the number of men in Custer’s command, is more than likely a simple effort to overestimate the magnitude of the victory. Be it only a part based on facts, it is nevertheless true that much of the Sioux leader’s narrative coincides with the data presented by some of our leading historians.
Was Reno A Coward?It will be noted that Sitting Bull in his narrative, stated he did not see Reno and did not know where he was. This, however, has little bearing on the standing of Reno and Benteen and their individual commands in the famous battle.
To those thousands of Americans who have traversed the battleground, it is a difficult matter to conceive where it could have been at all possible for these two leaders to have accomplished the task that had been allotted to them by their commander, General Custer. Both Custer and Reno were entirely unfamiliar with the ground the latter would be forced to cover in this contemplated offensive, and they were also, as has been hereinbefore pointed out, ignorant of the overwhelming odds against which they were to match forces.
American history may always classify Major Reno as a coward for his failure to go to the assistance of Custer but his classification is a grievous injustice in the minds of most historians today, as well as of a number of those today surviving who were attached to the forces of Generals Crook and Terry. An example of this fact was a few years ago, set forth by Tom Newcome, a veteran scout and trapper, who helped bury Custer’s men.
Newcome, at that time, reviewing his experiences of the Indian campaign days, said as follows of the battle and the part which Reno played therein:
“It was an utter impossibility for either Major Reno or Major Benteen to go to the assistance of General Custer.
All Over Soon“In the first place, the first which annihilated Custer and his men was over almost as soon as it began. In this connection, while at a reunion years ago, I asked Chief Gall, who led the Indians participating, how long the battle took. He replied: ‘While the fight lasted the sun stood still.’ By this he meant that the fight was over so quickly that no change in the position of the sun was noticeable.
“There are the true facts in connection with the memorable battle. Custer was in charge of a regiment of the Seventh cavalry. Following trouble in the Black Hills they were coming down the Little Big Horn river. Renegade Indians from all over the northwest, from distant points even in Canada, had been assembling at the call of the chiefs of the Sioux all summer. I have Chief Gall’s word for it that the forces opposing Custer numbered approximately 12,000. They were drawn from all of the tribes of the northwest.
“From runners, the Indians knew of the position and strength of all the United States forces, and they were determined to make a stand. They thought they could stand off the United States army, and they came pretty near doing it, too.
“The Little Big Horn was running full and Custer found it impossible to cross it so when near the site of the subsequent battle, he divided his regiment into three battalions, sending one battalion under Reno about 10 miles up the river and a second under Benteen five miles up. The scouts were all with Benteen, so Custer was surrounded almost before he knew of the proximity of the Indian band. A skirmish line, which he had thrown out, was slaughtered almost instantly, monuments now marking the spots where the men of this line fell. The Indians were plentifully armed with Winchester rifles, most of which was popular with the Indians. They closed in on Custer and his band, and it was all over in a very brief time.
“In the meantime Reno, who was to cross the river and come down the other side, couldn’t effect a crossing, and he started back toward Benteen. Benteen and his men got across and were engaged by the Indians. Reno came down and followed Benteen.
“They were forced back across the stream and Reno, when he got down, followed Benteen up the hill, there they dug themselves in. There was constant firing and they couldn’t hear the firing between Custer and his assailants. No word came to them of the battle, and they couldn’t possibly have gotten down to the scene of the battle in time to have helped if they had received word. Reno and Benteen did extremely well to save their own commands from being killed. They lost numerous men as it was. Both were brave, able leaders, and not cowards.
“On June 14, 1876, I was camped with General Crook on the Tongue river. We were fighting most of the time and had several men killed on the day of the battle. Captain Guy V. Henry being wounded on that day. We got to the Custer field a day or two later and helped bury the dead.”
Whatever the difference of opinion may have been, the present generation would be much better pleased that these be forever cast aside; for, today, both races have been inseparably joined by the bonds of a mutual understanding and we celebrate now the peace and prosperity that is the heritage of the people of the West, made possible, in no small sense, by the sacrifices of such trailblazers as Custer and Reno. Print this post