- Historic Sites
Echoes Of The Little Bighorn
June 1971 | Volume 22, Issue 4
The soldiers who were still alive got off their horses and lay down to shoot. I charged through them twice. They were firing up in the air and acted as though they were drunk. A brave Lakota rode up and chased away their horses. Soon bays and sorrels and grays were running everywhere. Many Lakotas stopped shooting and began to chase these loose horses. I caught a sorrel horse. Just after that my pony went down with bullets in his shoulder and ribs. So I had to fight on foot.
One soldier fired his rifle at me, then threw it at my head. He tried to wrestle with me. I had a bad time keeping him from getting my rifle. He began hitting me on the face. Then he grabbed my long hair in his hands and tried to bite my nose off!
White Bull laughed, stroking his nose.
Two Lakotas came running up and began hitting this soldier with their war clubs. He let go of me. I knocked him down with the butt of my rifle. He was a brave man and put up a good fight—except that he tried to bite off my nose.
Not many soldiers were left alive by this time. We surrounded them and kept shooting them down. They acted like drunk people. Some of them shot wildly into the air, not hitting any of us. The Army was crazy to have sent such a small band of soldiers against us, anyway. They could never have beaten us in that fight.
One soldier still alive toward the last wore a buckskin coat with fringes on it. I thought this man was leader of the soldiers, because he had ridden ahead of all the others as they came along the ridge. He saw me now and shot at me twice with his revolver, missing me both times. I raised my rifle and fired at him; he went down. Then I saw another soldier crawl over to him. The leader was dead.
By the middle of the afternoon all the soldiers were dead. The fight lasted only a short time.∗ All of us were crazy. We had killed many soldiers. They had attacked us and meant to wipe us out. We were fighting for our lives and homeland. Cries of victory went up. Our women came through the timber by the river and began to strip the dead soldiers.
Lacking clocks or watches, Indians then told time by the sun’s position. All Indian informants agreed that the action against Ouster’s command on the ridge occupied the time it took for the sun to travel the width of the shadow of a tepee pole across the ground. By actual measurement this turned out to be almost exactly twenty minutes.
Some of the sisters and wives and mothers of slain warriors cut the bodies of the soldiers to pieces. They were crazy with sorrow. Two old women took the clothes off a wounded soldier, who pretended to be dead. When he was naked, one of the women started to cut off something he had. He jumped up and tried to fight the women. One of them tried to stab him with her knife while he was trying to get away from the other one. Then a third woman came up and stabbed the soldier. [The old man laughed.] He really died that time!
Some of the Lakotas said they found whiskey bottles on the soldiers after the fight.∗∗The soldiers had acted like drunk people.
Troopers carried rations of whiskey in their canteens, but probably lacked enough to get hard-drinking troopers intoxicated.
My cousin Bad Soup [Bad Juice] was stripping the soldier I thought had been the leader and held up the buckskin coat. He looked in the pockets of the coat and brought out some papers with pictures on them [maps]. In one of the pockets he found coils of long yellow hair. But the dead leader had his hair cut short.
“ Onhey! ” Bad Soup cried. “That man there was Long Hair Custer. He thought he was the greatest man on earth, but he lies there now. And he cut his hair so he would not be scalped!”
He was the leader who had tried to kill me. But I had killed him…
The old man looked both relieved and vaguely troubled. After several moments he said: “I never told this to anyone before. I was afraid the white men would hang me or lock me up for a long time, if they knew I had killed Long Hair. Hecetuyelo . So be it.”∗∗∗
White Bull apparently told the late Stanley Vestal much the same story. See Vestal’s article, “The Man Who Killed G’fcster,” in AMERICAN HERITAGE, February, 1957.
In the Custer fight alone White Bull had counted seven coups, killed two soldiers in hand-to-hand fighting, and captured two guns and twelve horses. Before leaving the field, he took two pairs of trousers from dead troopers, which he later presented to his father. All told, it was an enviable record of reckless courage—probably unexceeded by any other Sioux or Cheyenne warrior at the Little Bighorn.
White Bull and other leaders decided not to follow Sitting Bull and other Sioux into “Grandmother’s Land” (Canada, ruled, of course, by Victoria, R.L). Instead, the Miniconjou surrendered to white military authorities and became “agency Indians” at Cheyenne River.