Taken from "Custer's Last Stand" by Mort Kunstler

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June 25th: "We will find enough Sioux to keep us fighting two or three days"

 

 

Subchapters

First Camp and the Crow's Nest Second Camp and the March to the Divide The Descent to the Little Big Horn

 

First Camp and the Crow's Nest

As dawn broke the morning of June 25th the 7th Cavalry was camped perhaps 8 miles short of the divide between the Rosebud and Little Big Horn. Lt. Varnum, at the Crow's Nest with a number of scouts and guides, was awakened after a short sleep to be told they had found the smoke of a village and a large pony heard. He could not see the pony heard but did see two tepees on the branch of a creek that wended its way toward the Little Big Horn. About 4:45 a.m. he sent a dispatch to Custer advising him of what was seen. About that time they also saw the campfires of the regiment some miles off.

Soon after the two scouts, Red Star and Bull, had left with the note from Lt. Varnum, two Indians were spotted by the remaining lookouts, about a mile and a half to the west. They were headed toward Davis Creek. Believing they might see Custer's campfires, Lt. Varnum, along with Mitch Boyer, Charley Reynolds and two Crows, went to ambush the two Indians. They lost the trail, however, while others remaining at the lookout saw the pair heading down Davis Creek toward the regiment. Six to ten other Indians were also spotted in the surrounding area by the lookouts around this time, and the scouts began to worry that the idea of concealing the regiment for a day would not work.

Red Star reached the camp close to 8:00 a.m. Bull having a slower horse. Red Star was met by Bloody Knife and they were both joined by Custer and Fred Gerard. Custer asked Red Star what they had seen, then read Varnum's note. He then made a remark to Bloody Knife, referring to Capt. Tom Custer, that "Your brother there is frightened, his hear flutters with fear, his eyes are rolling from fright at the news of the Sioux. When we have beaten the Sioux, he will then be a man". In reply to this spoof Bloody Knife responded "we would find enough Sioux to keep us fighting for two or three days". Custer apparently laughed and said he believed they'd get through them in one day.

Taking Red Star, Bloody Knife, Gerard and two Rees, Custer immediately left for the Crow's Nest. Upon arrival, Custer could not see the herd or the village (which would have been behind the ridges along the east side of the stream anyway), nor the smoke which would have told of its existence. Perhaps with the sun being further up in the sky by this time the smoke from the village would have been harder to see. In any event, Custer was assured by Mitch Boyer that they had seen evidence of the village. 

Gerard indicated they saw what looked like a small village moving upstream toward the large village. This gave those at the lookout pause. Was the village trying to escape? It is more likely this was a small group of Indians just arriving in camp, but whether this was discussed is not known. In any event, the news of the Indians seen around the Crow's Nest was mentioned at this time. This upset Custer. He then led the entire party on a quick ride back to the regiment. However, instead of having to return 8 miles to the camp, he found them only a mile or so short of the divide. After Custer left the camp for the Crow's Nest, the entire camp had moved forward around 8:45 a.m. and had encamped a second time shortly after 10:00 a.m. All this was done without Custer's knowledge.

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Second Camp and the march to the Divide

Adding to the problem of the unordered movement, Custer was soon told that packers had left a load of hardtack on the back trail. Sgt. William Curtis and some troopers had ridden back to retrieve the hardtack and had engaged in some shots with a group of Indians trying to break open the boxes. In addition, George Herendeen had tried to take a quiet nap about 150 yards from the camp but was seen by a couple Indians who then fled. It was now obvious to Custer that the regiment had been discovered. His plan to lay in concealment for the day would not work. By the next morning the Indian camp may be gone.

Custer immediately ordered another officer's call. He told them about the village, about their camp being discovered, and stated that if they waited until the 26th there would be no Indian village to attack. He ordered an attack be initiated immediately. He ordered one non-com and six privates per company be assigned to the company pack mules, and the companies be readied for action. They would be assigned their position on the march based upon when each company reported itself ready. Captain Benteen immediately replied his company was ready and all companies responded in short manner. Custer also informed the scouts they should prepare for war. By 11:45 a.m. the column was on the march. It crossed the divide around noon and halted just over the crest about 12:07 p.m.

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The descent to the Little Big Horn

At this halt on the west side of the divide Custer made his battle assignments:

  •  Major Reno:        Assigned a battalion of 3 companies comprising companies A, G and M, numbering 11 officers, 129 men and 35 others. 
  • Captain Benteen: Companies D, H and K, or 5 officers and 110 men. 
  • Lt Col. Custer:     Companies C, E, F, I and L, or 13 officers, 200 men and 8 others 
  • The pack train:     In charge of Lt. Mathey, was to be escorted by Company B under Captain MCDougall. This fourth contingent numbered 2 officers, 127 men and two others.

There was an uncertainty. It could not be said for sure where the village was, although the horse herd had been seen on the ridges along the west side of the Little Big Horn valley. Nor could it be known whether there were additional villages, nor whether the village(s) was on the move. With this in mind, Custer ordered Captain Benteen to move his battalion to the left to scout the upper reaches of the river to ascertain whether there were any Indians in that vicinity. Benteen was instructed to proceed and also send an officer to the first line of bluffs to see what could be seen, and then the battalion was to return immediately to the command.

While Benteen moved off to the left, Custer and Reno's battalions moved to what is now known as the middle fork of Reno Creek; Custer taking the right bank and Reno the left bank. Shortly thereafter it became evident that Benteen may not be able to see much by only going as far as the first line of bluffs. Custer then sent Chief Trumpeter Henry Voss to Benteen with permission to go to the 2nd line of bluffs, if necessary, and later sent a Sergeant-Major with instructions to go even further if needed. However, Benteen was to follow the balance of his orders as stated.

Around 4 1/2 miles out from this stop Custer and Reno passed a morass and then neared a Lone Tepee another 3 miles further out. This tepee (Lt. Varnum had earlier claimed seeing two tepees from the Crow's Nest and other accounts also laid claim to two tepees) was near the junction of the Middle and South Forks of Reno Creek. Before reaching this junction Custer called Reno's battalion over to his side of the stream. Upon reaching the Lone Tepee they discovered it contained a body of an Indian warrior, and was on the site of a deserted village (from which the Indians had attacked Crook on the Rosebud on June 17th). At this time, Lt. Hare, and others, saw pony herds and Indians about 5 miles in the distance. Hare promptly gave this news to Custer. Custer then ordered Major Reno and his battalion to take the advance and move on toward the Little Big Horn. Custer would follow. They both moved off at a trot. It is now around 2:15 p.m.

Meanwhile, Benteen dawdled. His battalion reached a stream now named No-Name Creek around 1:20 p.m. and traveled down it toward Reno Creek. His battalion only reached Reno Creek, near the morass about 2:32 p.m., after the Custer/Reno battalions had already past the Lone Tepee 3 miles closer to the Little Big Horn over 15 minutes earlier. On arrival, Benteen stopped his battalion to water their horses. Then, discovering that the pack train was almost reaching the morass, he set out again on Custer's back trail at a walk.

Boston Custer, who had been assigned to the pack train, left that unit shortly before it reached the morass and overtook Benteen's battalion just as it was leaving. He continued on with the intention of catching up to Custer and his battalion. Benteen didn't reach the Lone Tepee until around 3:12 p.m., the pack train until 20 minutes later. Boston Custer reached that location by 2:45 p.m.

Custer and Reno reached a flat between the Middle and North Forks of Reno Creek around 2:43 p.m. Crow Scouts (who had been in the advance) reported that a couple Indians had seen them and were now alerting the village. Custer then ordered Major Reno and his battalion to move down Reno Creek to its mouth at the Little Big Horn, and charge after crossing that larger stream. He would be supported by Custer.

It took Reno another 10 minutes to reach the ford on the Little Big Horn near where Reno Creek empties into that stream. The battalion then took another 10 minutes to water their horses, and they began their charge to the Indian camp shortly after 3:00 p.m.

Instead of following Reno's trail to the ford, Custer turned right to a ford over the North Fork. There he stopped to water his horses. At this point Adj. Cooke, who had ridden with Reno to the ford at the Little Big Horn, returned to report that the Indians are attacking Reno. Custer then ordered his battalion to move down the right (east) bank of the Little Big Horn toward bluffs that line the river. This march began shortly after 3:00 p.m.

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