- Historic Sites
Echoes Of The Little Bighorn
June 1971 | Volume 22, Issue 4
A Hunkpapa warrior named Good Bear Boy was riding alongside me and was suddenly shot off his horse. Black Moon fell about the same time. He was dead, but Good Bear Boy was only wounded. I ordered a warrior named Looking Elk to rescue him, but Looking Elk didn’t hear me. Good Bear Boy tried to crawl back from the river.
I saw many soldiers struggle across the river and climb out on the far bank. They ran to a high butte [now called Reno Hill], and from there they kept shooting at us. Some of them dug holes [trenches] in the ground and got into these holes or behind their saddles so we couldn’t hit them. I ordered warriors to surround the butte so the soldiers couldn’t get away. I wanted to starve them out. A Lakota told me later that the warriors kept those soldiers there all nicht. Finally, the soldiers began to get crazy for water. The Lakotas (Teton Sioux] wouldn’t let the soldiers go to the river to drink or get water to take back up to their holes in the ground. Two or three of them tried to crawl down to the river, but our warriors shot them.
Bullets were Hying all around, but I saw that Good Bear Boy wasn’t able to crawl back to camp. He was shot through both thighs and bleeding heavily. So [ jumped of! my pony long enough to help Good Bear Boy climb on, then I leaped up behind him. I heard my pony scream. A bullet had struck his hindquarters. I took Good Bear Boy bark to camp and saw that his friends took care of him. As I left him, I saw three soldiers running on foot toward the river. They had gotten away from us earlier in the fight. I charged after them, and they ran very fast. I wanted to ride them down, but just then 1 heard my uncle s voice.
“O, come back, my son!” he shouted.
Sitting Bull had seen the blood of Good Bear Boy and my pony all over my legs and thought I was wounded. Then he said: “Let them go! !,et them live to tell the truth about this fight!”
I obeyed. We let the three soldiers escape. My uncle looked worried.
“Nephew, you are wounded. Go to the women and have your wounds treated.”
So I laughed, saying I wasn’t wounded and telling him about Good Bear Boy.
“You have done well. You put up a good light. Now go help defend the women and children and old ones. More soldiers may come.”
I did as he ordered and joined our people west of the camp. Soon after I reached them, I saw more dust across the river. A second band of soldiers was riding down a coulee toward the ford by the Miniconjou camp circle. Another alarm went up. I saw a handful of warriors racing (o the lord to meet them. Then more warriors left the soldiers surrounded on the butte and galloped over to head off this second attack. They chased these new soldiers out of the coulee and up onto a long ridge. More of our warriors, mostly Oglalas and Gheycnncs, were waiting for these soldiers at the end of the ridge and caught them in a trap. They were all wiped out in a short time. My brother White Bull later said the leader of this second band of soldiers was Long Hair G’fcster. White Bull was nghting the soldiers on the ridge and he can tell you about thai part of the battle.
Reno’s troops, reinforced by Captain Frederick W. Bentcen’s detachment and a pack train of ammunition, were kept surrounded on the butte throughout (hat night and until noon the following day. Had the Indians attacked them in force, from all directions, there is little doubt that the remainder of the yth Cavalry would have been wiped out to a man. As One Bull told me, however, Sitting Bull ordered the warriors to stop fighting:
“ Henala! Enough!” my uncle shouted. “Those soldiers are trying to live, so let them live. let them go. If we kill all of them, a bigger army will march against us.”
The old man sat cross-legged in the Montana sun, posing for me with his gaunt shoulders draped in an ancient trade-cloth blanket, gnarled ringers clutching a cottonwood cane. It was hard to imagine that his scraggy hands had once been dexterous with firearms, or that his watery eyes, with bluish, washed-out irises, had been among the keenest of any warrior’s who had fought in the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
We were camped that August day in 1938 at the Crow Fair. His name was Joseph White Cow Bull. An Ogîala Sioux from Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, he had come to have a last look at the battlefield before he died.
His name seemed somewhat anomalous in combining the bovine sexes. It made better sense in Sioux than it did in English. Ptebloka Ska indicated a male of the white man’s semidomesticated longhorn cattle, which some interpreter, lacking fluency in English, had evidently mistranslated. White Cow Bull, I learned, had earned the name at age fourteen by shooting a stray longhorn bull with a single arrow.
My first portrait sketch of him completed, I loaded the old man in my car and headed south out of camp on U.S. Highway 87, by-passing the entrance to G’fcster Battlefield and National Cemetery so he could first see the site of the great Indian village where he had camped sixty-two years earlier. I realized that time and cultivation by the semiagricultural Crow must have caused considerable changes in the look of the land. White Cow Bull nonetheless soon managed to point out where the wide ramp circles, each a half mile in diameter, had sprawled along the Little Bighorn River.