Echoes Of The Little Bighorn

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We saw the soldiers in the coulee were getting closer and closer to the ford, so we trotted out to meet them. An old Shahiyela named Mad Wolf, riding a rack-of-bones horse, tried to stop us, saying:

“My sons, do not charge the soldiers. There are too many. Wait until our brothers come back to help!”

He rode along with us a way, whining about how such a small war party would have no chance against a whole army. Finally Bobtail Horse told him:

“Uncle, only Earth and the Heavens last long. If we four can stop the soldiers from capturing our camp, our lives will be well spent.”…

At this point I interrupted White Cow Bull, suggesting that we try to get closer to the crossing known as Miniconjou Ford. He agreed it would refresh his memory on a few details to go, so I eased the car down a dusty lane between cultivated fields until we reached the river. He sat in silence a long moment before resuming his narrative. Then he spoke in low tones, the Sioux words resonant in the morning quiet:

The Sans Arc and Miniconjou camp circles were back from the ford. We found a low ridge along here and slid off our ponies to take whatever cover we could find. For the first time I saw five Sioux warriors racing down the coulee ahead of the soldiers. They were coming fast and dodging bullets the soldiers were firing at them. Then Bobtail Horse pointed to that bluff beside the ford. On top were three Indians that looked like Crows from their hair style and dress. Bobtail Horse said:

“They are our enemies, guiding the soldiers here.”

He fired his muzzleloader at them, then squatted behind the ridge to reload. I fired at them too, for I saw they were shooting at the five Sioux warriors, who were now splashing across the ford at a dead run. My rifle was a repeater, so I kept firing at the Crows until these Sioux were safely on our side of the river. They had no guns, just lances and bows and arrows. But they got off their ponies and joined us behind the ridge. Just then I saw a Shahiyela named White Shield, armed with bow and arrows, come riding downriver. He was alone, but we were glad to have another fighting man with us. That made ten of us to defend the ford.

I looked across the ford and saw that the soldiers had stopped at the edge of the river. I had never seen white soldiers before, so I remember thinking how pink and hairy they looked. One white man had little hairs on his face [a mustache] and was wearing a big hat and a buckskin jacket. He was riding a finelooking big horse, a sorrel with a blazed face and four white stockings. On one side of him was a soldier carrying a flag and riding a gray horse, and on the other was a small man on a dark horse. This small man didn’t look much like a white man to me, so I gave the man in the buckskin jacket my attention.∗ He was looking straight at us across the river. Bobtail Horse told us all to stay hidden so this man couldn’t see how few of us there really were.

The “small man” was evidently Mitch Bouyer, half French, half Sioux, who had married into the Crow tribe and served Custer as scout and interpreter for the Crow scouts.

The man in the buckskin jacket seemed to be the leader of these soldiers, for he shouted something and they all came charging at us across the ford. Bobtail Horse fired first, and I saw a soldier on a gray horse (not the flag carrier) fall out of his saddle into the water. The other soldiers were shooting at us now. The man who seemed to be the soldier chief was firing his heavy rifle fast. I aimed my repeater at him and fired. I saw him fall out of his saddle and hit the water.

Shooting that man stopped the soldiers from charging on. They all reined up their horses and gathered around where he had fallen. I fired again, aiming this time at the soldier with the flag. I saw him go down as another soldier grabbed the flag out of his hands. By this time the air was getting thick with gunsmoke and it was hard to see just what happened. The soldiers were firing again and again, so we were kept busy dodging bullets that kicked up dust all around. When it cleared a little, I saw the soldiers do a strange thing. Some of them got off their horses in the lord and seemed to be dragging something out of the water, while other soldiers still on horseback kept shooting at us.

Suddenly we heard war cries behind us. I looked back and saw hundreds ol Lakotas [Sioux) and Shahiyela warriors charging toward us. They must have driven away those other soldiers who had attacked the Hunkpapa camp circle and now were racing to help us drive off these attackers. The soldiers must have seen them too, for they fell back to the far bank of the river, and those still on horseback got off to fight on foot. As warriors rode up to join us at the ridge a big cry went up.

Hoka hey! ” the Lakotas were shouting. “They arc going!”

I saw this was true. The soldiers were running back up the coulee and swarming out over the higher ground to the north. Bobtail Horse ran to his pony, shouting to us as we caught our ponies.

“Come on! They are running! Hurry!”

He and I led the massed warriors across the ford, for the others knew we had stood bravely to protect the village and willingly followed us.