- Historic Sites
High Eagle The Many Lives Of Colonel Tim Mccoy
June 1977 | Volume 28, Issue 4
Maybe in another life. That’s what he meant. I could talk to them, understood them, felt as they felt, knew what they were thinking. For that reason, I suppose, that’s how I got along with them so well.
Is it true you helped set the record straight on Custer’s Last Stand by interviewing Indians who had fought at the Little Bighorn?
Yes. General Scott and I went out and we took with us the last two living scouts who had guided Custer into the Little Bighorn. We followed Custer’s march, where he camped, everything he did, got the whole story from those scouts, right up to the beginning of the fight. Of course, they turned and went back; they didn’t want to have any part in what was going to take place, because they could see it. They tried to warn Custer, but you couldn’t tell him anything.
Then, I was the first one to dig out the fact that there were five Arapahoes in that fight. I dug that out one night sitting in a powwow with a bunch of Arapaho Indians down along the Little Wind River. They started telling me that Old Water Man was in that fight. I sort of scoffed at it because every Indian and his brother was in that fight. Practically all of them killed Custer. When they described Custer and described the fight, you could tell they didn’t know what they were talking about. So I was a little bit dubious about it, but they said Water Man and Left Hand, who were still alive, were both in that fight. So I took a stick of sagebrush and cleared a space on the ground and I drew the Bighorn River and the Little Horn and I started asking questions of Water Man. Where was the village? Where did Custer come from? And so on and so on … and by God he knew. So I arranged then to get him in to get his story rather than having to tell it myself. I arranged to have him come into the town of Riverton, Wyoming, and one night I got a hold of Left Hand. I didn’t get them together, you see. I brought Water Man in one night and Left Hand another night, and in order that no one would have to take my word for it, I got an interpreter and court stenographer and I did one of these question/answer things that we’re doing here and I got a transcript of this whole blasted thing. So I got it from Water Man one night and Left Hand the next night. And I could tell they knew what they were talking about.
In a recent book, the point is made that many of Custer’s men committed suicide out of a pathological fear of being captured by the Indians, and apparently the Indians watched on bewildered as Custer‘s troops killed each other and themselves. What do y ou th ink of that?
I don’t buy that at all. Those fellows were too damn busy even to try to kill themselves.
Too busy fighting?
Ha! Too busy trying to make their damn rifles work.
What do you mean?
Toward the end of the Civil War we had gotten a new rifle, the first of the repeating rifles for the Army. It was called the Spencer and it had atubularmagazine that you pushed into the butt. It fired seven shots and that was the first repeating rifle or carbine. The Cavalry was armed with it first. The Indians used to say about it: “That gun, you load it on Saturday, it shoots all week.” You see, it held seven shots. It was used very successfully by Custer’s division. They were armed with it at Appomattox, for instance, so that the fire power for that one outfit was as much as Lee had in his whole army. But after the war, when somebody wanted to adopt that carbine for the Cavalry, these old fuddy-duddies in Washington, the old-timers in the War Department, said: No, no, these fellows don’t know how to handle arms well enough and they’d shoot away too much ammunition. So they went back to the old trap-door Springfield rifle and carbine. It was single shot. You had to throw open the trap door and it was supposed to eject the shell. Well, the shells that they used in those Civil War guns, both the rifle and the carbine, were copper, and copper is fairly soft. It would expand in the chamber of the gun, and when the shell was ejected the ejector would tear the rim offthe cartridge, and the fellows at the Custer fight, as the Indians told me, had their knives out trying to pry these shells out of their guns.
So that they could reload?
Right. Old Left Hand told me that he came up the hill and this soldier was wounded and he handed him his gun, wanted to surrender to him. They didn’t understand. You don’t surrender to an Indian. And Left Hand said he took the gun, but he couldn’t use it because the shell jammed in the chamber.
What do you mean, you don’t surrender to an Indian?
Well, because they don’t understand surrender. You either fight or you die.
They didn‘t take prisoners?
No, they weren’t taking any prisoners there.
The Arapahoes were the Indians you knew best. What is their condition today?