- Historic Sites
Echoes Of The Little Bighorn
June 1971 | Volume 22, Issue 4
The tribes had split up after their victory at Little Bighorn. White Cow Bull never saw Meotzi again after that summer. Perhaps because of her, he never took a wife. After that day in Montana I saw the old man several times at Charlie Thunder Bull’s cabin near Oglala, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, making three portraits of him before his death in 1942.
One of my proudest possessions is an old single-trail war bonnet, mounted entirely on elk leather, which belonged to Silling Bull’s “lighting nephew,” Chief Joseph While Bull. I have documentation that he wore the headdress during the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
I first met the Chief, then a grizzled old veteran of nearly ninclv, in the mid-1930’s. Since he spoke no English, all our many conferences were carried on in Sioux and sign language. My most memorable meeting with him took place in 1939 at his log house in the Indian settlement at Cherry Creek, on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
Throughout most of his lifetime White Bull was, without doubt, l lie most illustrious warrior of the entire Sioux nation. Twenty-six years old at the time of the Custer light in 1876, he had already taken part in nineteen battles, raids, and skirmishes ten against white men, one against government Indian scouts, the others against Indian enemies. His first notable engagement was in the Fctterman light in 1866. Prior to the Battle of the Little Bighorn, he had counted seven coups (six of them “firsts”), killed three enemies, wounded another, taken two scal[)s, shot three enemy horses, rescued six wounded comrades, recovered a dead body under enemy fire, captured forty-live enemy horses, and been hit twice by enemy bullets. At least one horse had been shot from under him in battle. He meticulously kept this “honor count” in an old ledger, which he eagerly showed me. Page after page of this personal military history was illustrated with White Bull’s own colored drawings, executedintheold Indian style and murh like those formerly painted on hides.
He was a powerfully built old fellow, conveying even in later life an impression of great physical strength and stamina. His hair, gathered in loose tresses at the ear lobes, was nearly white. His prominent nose sprawled slightly leftward as though it had been broken. His most arresting feature, however, was his intense, almost animallike expression of fierce pride: and his eyes, while showing signs of milky blue in the pupils (as olten occurs among Indians of advanced age), were alert and piercing. He had a haunting habit of chuckling, even laughing, when recounting the more gory details ol his sanguinary career:
I am the only one left «leicht scalp-shirt men |head chicls ol the Miniconjou tribe. My lather was Makes-ltoom. hereditary chid ol my tribe. My mother was Good Leather Woman, sister of Sitting Hull, so the u;rcai chid was my uncle.
My original name given me in boyhood was Bull-Standing-Wilh-Cow. After my first fight against government Indian scouts in the Powder River country, when I was fifteen years old. I was given my grandfather’s name, White Bull, by another uncle named Slack Moon.…
At the Little Bighorn. White Bull, armed wilh a seventeen-shot Winchester, fought lirst against Keno’s loree and then rode off to join the battle against Custer:
Little bunches of Lakotas and Cheyennes were riding into the ravine. I rode up to where two Lakotas and two Cheyennes were sitting their horses, waiting to charge the soldiers. I shouted to them:
“Only Heaven and Earth last long;!”
I rode past them up the ravine. They took courage and followed me. We were behind the soldiers as we got up on the ridge, and we began to shoot at them. Some of them got off their horses and hid behind them to shoot back at us.
Lakotas were riding all around, shooting at the soldiers, who didn’t u;o any farther along the ridur. I axle around the ridge and dodged the bullets until 1 met a party of warriors with Craxy Horse. He was a chief of the Oglala and a brave fighter. He wore plain while buckskins and let his hair hant; loose with no leathers in it. He had white spots painted here and there on his face for protection in battle, and it was said he was bulletproof.
The soldiers were divided into two bundles. I galloped my pony in between the two bunches and kept close to his neck until I rode clear around one of the bundles and circled back to Craxy Horse. I shouted to him:
“Hoka hey, brother! This life will not last forever!”
I started to circle the soldiers a^ain. This time C.raxy Horse and the others followed. Some of the soldiers ran like scared rabbits, and we rode after them. One soldier was riding a black horse. A Lakota on foot shot him. and he fell oil the horse. I ran up to strike him with my quirt.
One of the soldiers blew on a bugle. The others began to get on their horses. I dared Crazy Horse to lead a charge against them. He refused, so I rode out alone and came up behind a soldier on a bay horse. I grabbed his coat and pulled him out of his saddle. He tried to shoot me, but his rifle fired into the air; he fell screaming to the ground. I rode down two soldiers and lashed them with my quirt. Crazy Horse struck both of these men after I did.