- Historic Sites
Last Ghastly Moments At The Little Bighorn
A Cheyenne historian whose grandfather was in the battle sheds new light on the slaughter of Custer and his troopers
April 1966 | Volume 17, Issue 3
So the suicide boys were the last Indians to enter the fight. Wolftooth said they were really watching for them, and at last they rode out down below. They galloped up to the level ground near where the museum is now; some turned and stampeded the gray horses of the soldiers. By then they were mostly loose, the ones that had not been shot. The rest of the boys charged right in at the place where the soldiers were making their stand, and the others followed them as soon as they got the horses away.
The suicide boys started the hand-to-hand fighting, and all of them were killed there or were wounded and died later. When the soldiers started shooting at them, the Indians above with Wolftooth came in from the other side. Then there was no time for the soldiers to take aim or anything. The Indians were right behind and among them. Some soldiers started to run along the edge under the top of the ridge, and for a distance they scattered, some going on one side and some the other. But they were all killed before they got far.
At the end it was quite a mess. They could not tell which was this man or that man, they were so mixed up. Horses were running over the soldiers and over each other. The fighting was really close, and they were shooting almost any way without taking aim. Some said it made it less dangerous than fighting at a distance; then the soldiers would aim carefully and be more likely to hit you. After they emptied their pistols this way, there was no time to reload. Neither side did. But most of the Indians had clubs or hatchets, while the soldiers just had guns; they were using those to hit with and knock the enemy down. A Sioux, Stinking Bear, saw one Indian charge a soldier who had his gun by the barrel, and he swung it so hard he knocked the Indian over and fell over himself.
Yellow Nose was in there close. He saw two Indian horses run right into each other—the horses both fell down and rolled, and he nearly ran into them himself, but managed to turn aside. The dust was so thick he could hardly see. He swung his horse out and turned to charge back in again, close to the end of the fight, and suddenly the dust lifted away. He saw a troop flag [guidon] not far in front of him. Over on the other side some soldiers were still fighting, so he galloped past and picked the flag up and rode into the fight, and he used it to count coup on a soldier.
After the suicide boys came in, it did not take long: half an hour perhaps. Many have agreed with what Wolftooth said, that if it had not been for the suicide boys, it might have ended the way it did at the Reno fight. The Indians all stayed back and fought there; no suicide boys jumped in to begin the hand-to-hand fight. The Custer fight was different because these boys went in that way, and it was their rule to be killed.
Another thing many of the Northern Cheyennes said was that if Custer had kept going—if he had not waited there on the ridge so long—he could have made it back to Reno. But he probably thought he could stand off the Indians and win.
Everyone always wanted to know who killed Custer. I have interpreted twice for people asking about this, and whether anyone ever saw a certain Indian take a shot and kill him. But all the Indians say too many people were shooting; nobody could tell whose bullet killed a certain man. There were rumors some knew but would not say anything for fear of trouble. But it was more like Spotted Blackbird said: “If we could have seen where each bullet landed, we might have known. But hundreds of bullets were flying that day.”
After the Indians had killed every soldier, my grandmother’s brother, Tall Bull, came across the river and said, “Get a travois fixed. One of the dead is my brother-in-law, and we will have to go over and get his body.” It was my grandfather, Lame White Man. So they went across to where he was lying. He did not have his war clothes on; as I said, he had not had time. And some Sioux had made a mistake on him. They thought he was an Indian scout with Custer—they often fought undressed that way. And his scalp was gone from the top of his head. Nearby was the body of another Cheyenne, one of the suicide boys.
I heard the Sioux lost sixty-six men and the Northern Cheyennes just seven, but there might have been more. The Indian dead were all moved from the battlefield right away.
Many Indians were up on the battlefield after it was over, getting the dead or taking things from the soldiers. I asked Grandmother if she went. Women were up there as well as men. But she said the fight was still going on up above with Reno, and many women were afraid to go near the field. They thought the soldiers might break away and come in their direction.
White Wolf (also called Shot in the Head), who was in this fight, said that afterwards a lot of young men searched the soldiers’ pockets. That square green paper money was in them, so they took some. Later when they were making mud horses, they used the money for saddle blankets. Silver money was found too. The Northern Cheyennes made buckles out of it.
The camp broke up the next day after the battle. Some people even left that evening to move up near Lodge Grass. Some of the warriors stayed behind to go on fighting with Reno, but they did not stay more than a day. They knew other soldiers were in the country, and they were out of meat and firewood. They split into many groups, some following the river, and others going up Reno Creek and to other places.