If you have never been to the Little Bighorn Battlefield, you would believe everything thing you ever heard, or saw about the battle, however it’s all Hollywood. My perception of the battle that took place here was all in my mind as I stared out into the open vastness of the landscape before me. How big it was, how hilly it is, and wide-eyed looking at all the little white markers scattered all over the place, indicating where a soldier fell .There are no grand hero’s here, no great charges or last stands to ponder about, just stark reality of it all 150 years ago. The battlefield is on a long sloping hillside going down to the lush green grass next to the Little Big Horn river, about four miles long and a mile wide. Our tour guide Mike took us through the battlefield and educated us on the battle itself, which is somewhat complicated . I will give the short version.
In early summer of 1876, about 7000, Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho, including about 2000 warriors, are camped in a vast village along the green grass of the Little big horn river. Led by Crazy horse, they refuse to go back to the reservation. The army is sent to persuade them to go back by force. Three large groups are sent after them. Around June22, General Custer and about 600 men of the 7th Calvary, are detached from the main body and travel south and east, upon hearing word of a large group of horses down by the meeting of the Rosebud and little big horn river. Custer travels over the Wolf mountains at night, reachs the Rosebud and learns there is also a large village there. Not waiting he travels most of the day to the Little Big horn. His men and most important his horses are dead tired. When he reachs the river, atop a hill , he sees before him a vast Indian village spread out for miles along the river.
At this point it is about noon. Custer decides to attach, he divides his forces into three groups, his, Reno’s and Benteen’s. Custer has about 240 men with him the other two groups a little less each, as the pack mule train miles behind needs protection, so some men are assigned to protecting them .(lucky as it saved there lives). The map below should help in understanding the charges, retreats and demise of Custer. Black line is current tour road, Blue are Custer’s out fit, red are Indian warrior movements
The battle starts right to left. Reno is ordered to sweep down into the southern end of the village. Benteen who is still miles back will not reach the battlefield until late in the afternoon when it is over. Custer upper dotted line, will take his men at a gallop behind the hills, a few miles then comes out and sweeps down to the village. Reno’s men move first and decent the ravine, splash over Bighorn river ,and surprise the village. Lower blue line. Mounted troops shoot into the village, soon a group of warriors halts the charge, troopers dismount and make a skirmish line. More and more warriors apppear. Reno moves his troops into a stand of trees, where his horses are and continues to fire. Soon he is surrounded. Reno who has been drinking most of the day, orders his men to mount and make a run for it. They cross the big horn river and ascend a large ravine, now called Reno- Benteen hill( light green area on right of map). All the while being hunted down by hundreds of warriors, over 40 men are lost. On top of the hill Reno sets up a defensive position and awaits an attack. It does not come, Warriors break off the attack as they are now needed on the other end of the village where Custer has now started his attack. (Large green area left side map)While Reno makes his charge Custer, moved three miles along the hillside, and atop a hill now known as last stand hill, he decides to attack, so he descends the ravines, to the river. Hundreds of warriors stop his advance and he is forced back up the hill, losing a lot of men killed and wounded. Atop the hill 40 or so troopers stagger back for the last stand. Surrounded Custer and his men are inudated with arrows and bullets. Custer is shot in the lower side and left temple, who knows when. The battle started at 3 p.m. and was over by 5p.m. All of Custer’s men and command are killed. Later in the early evening, All along the battlefield, women and older children, kill the wounded, strip the dead of cloths and mutilate there bodies, which was custom so your spirit would go to the great beyond. However Custer and Major Keouh bodies are not mutated, a few Indians recognize them ,full of hate they do not want there spirit to go beyond, they are left alone. The battle however is not yet over. Warriors continue there attack on Reno, Late afternoon Benteen arrives and there position is reinforced. No one has any idea where or what has happened to Custer All night they are attached by warriors in small groups, morning comes and the Indians are seen retreating, a large dust cloud is seen to the north, approaching is the army of Gibbon and Terry. They are the first to see Custer and his men, scattered all over the hill sides. They find Reno and his men in there position, and learn of Custer’s demise. The battle is over. Over 250 troopers are killed, and are all buried where they fell. Less than 100 warriors are killed. Our tour with Mike was a great learning experience for us. Some interesting facts.
Custer severely underestimated the amount of warriors in the village, who had superior fire power with them , like repeating rifles, which a lot of the troopers did not have.
Almost all of Custer’s troopers had never seen combat.
The youngest to fall in the battle was 17 and the oldest was 56.
The Indians only took women and children as prisoners’.
The Indians used pony’s not full size horses like the cavalry, so they were much faster.
To be in the cavalry you had to be no taller than five foot five and weigh no more than one hundred fifty pounds.