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

Reno's Valley Fight

Where is Custer?

Bringing up the rear

Reno Hill and the Weir Advance

Reno's Valley Fight

Shortly after 3:00 p.m. on June 25, 1876, Maj. Marcus A. Reno began his charge on a large Indian village, located approximately 2 1/2 miles further downstream from the ford where his battalion had just crossed the Little Big Horn. Some of the scouts broke off toward the stream to capture horses being watered there. Other scouts headed toward the western hills with the same intention. Companies A and M rode abreast while Company G rode in reserve. Shortly after beginning his charge members of his unit saw Custer on the bluffs across the river on at least three occasions, the last at Weir Point around 3:30 p.m.

As his charge gained momentum, it became obvious that the village was not in flight but warriors were gathering to fight. Alarmed at the growing number of warriors confronting him, Reno called a halt to the charge after approximately 2 miles being covered, and had his men dismount and deploy in a skirmish line. The line's right flank bordered on timber along the river. The Indians, however, moved out of a ravine in Reno's front toward the scouts on Reno's left flank. After approximately 10 minutes Reno realized that his left flank was in danger of being turned. He then ordered the skirmish line to move into the timber where there was cover provided by the trees, brush, and an old river bank. It was now a little past 3:30 p.m.

The Indians began to surround the battalion on all sides. Firing grew heavy. It became clear that the battalion could not sustain itself for long in this new position. Reno decided it was time to seek a better position atop the hills across the river. Reno ordered the command to form in a clearing. As Reno mounted his horse, an Indian bullet struck Bloody Knife ( who was sitting his horse immediately next to Reno) in the head, splattering blood over Reno. Reno became confused and dismounted, then immediately remounted and began to lead his men out of the timber. A number of men were left behind having not heard the order to retreat over the din of battle. Reno was at the head of the column as it broke from the timber, heading south and toward the river. The retreat quickly became a route with Indians following and firing in to the column, and attacking riders with lances and clubs. Many were killed or injured as the column clogged the area where they crossed the stream. Others were killed or wounded as they climbed the bluffs along the east bank of the river. As the remnants of Reno's command reached a hill along the bluffs of the Little Big Horn, they numbered 7 officers and 84 men. The casualties would number 40 killed and 13 wounded. The scouts were still in the valley fighting off Indians or herding captured horses, and others who had not made the retreat were still in hiding in the Timber on the west bank. It was now shortly after 4:00 p.m.

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Where is Custer?

As Reno began his charge down the valley of the Little Big Horn, Custer moved his command north along the east bank of the river toward the bluffs that commanded that stream. About 1 1/2 miles north of his stop at the North Fork of Reno Creek, Custer stopped his command and climbed to a high point which overlooked the valley below, now known to be Reno Hill. This had to be his first sighting of the Indian village, and it had to come as quite a shock. Reno's battalion was moving down the valley toward the village. But the village wasn't on the move although some lodges were probably being broken down and some residents had to be fleeing the approaching enemy.

Returning to his command, he immediately dispatched Sgt. Kanipe of Company C, at 3:15 p.m., with a message for Capt. MCDougall to hurry the pack train. Meanwhile, Custer continued to move his command downstream along the bluffs lining the river. The column soon entered a coulee which runs from the bluffs along the eastern side of Weir Point and enters Medicine Tail Coulee about 1 1/2 miles from where Medicine Tail Coulee enters the Little Big Horn. Again stopping his command, Custer ascended the bluff to this high point. He was accompanied by Mitch Boyer and his four Crow scouts. This was the 3:30 p.m. sighting mentioned above. It was close to the time when Reno ordered his skirmish line to redeploy in the timber. Shortly before, Custer had released his guide and scouts from further duty. Both Mitch Boyer and Curley declined. Custer returned to his command , leaving Boyer and Curley on Weir Point. Custer immediately ordered Adj. Cooke to write an order to Capt. Benteen to bring the packs, that a large village had been sighted. Cooke wrote the message and gave it to Trumpeter John Martin who left immediately on the column's back trail. Custer then moved the column and headed it further down Cedar Coulee to its juncture with Medicine Tail Coulee, at which point Boston Custer arrived with news of Benteen's battalion and the pack train. He likely indicated they would arrive shortly. The command then headed down Medicine Tail Coulee another 3/8 mile and again halted when Boyer and Curley rejoin the command. They may have brought news of Reno's retreat out of the valley. At this time Custer divided his battalion into two wings; placing Capt. Myles Keogh in charge of one wing with Companies C, I and L, and Captain George Yates in command of Companies E and F. It is now shortly after 4:00 p.m.

The three Crows, Goes Ahead, Hairy Moccasin and White Man Runs Him left Custer shortly before 3:30 p.m. after being released from duty, and headed down their back trail. Sighting some Indians along the river they fired on them briefly, then continued upriver. Passing Reno Hill before Reno and the remnants of his command arrive at that point, the Crows met up with Benteen's battalion and returned with him to Reno Hill. Upon finding that the other two Crows had not returned from the valley, they left for home around 4:45 p.m.

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Bringing up the rear

Benteen had continued to dally. After leaving the Lone Tepee at about 3:12 p.m. he met Sgt. Kanipe about a mile further down the creek. Kanipe gave him a verbal message from Custer, then proceeded on the back trail to the pack train. Just prior to meeting Kanipe, Benteen had come upon a number of Ree scouts who had been herding horses captured during the valley fight.

Trumpeter Martin arrived a little over ten minutes after Kanipe (which places this meeting at close to 4:00 p.m.) with the order from Custer. At this point Benteen was probably at the flat where Custer had given his 'charge' order to Reno. He followed Custer's trail toward the bluffs and soon met the 3 Crows who had left Custer at Weir Point. Continuing on, his battalion arrived at Reno Hill at approximately 4:20 p.m., 20 minutes after Reno's arrival. Note: It was Custer who had summoned Benteen by written order, but Benteen halted his march upon meeting with Reno. The pack train doesn't arrive at Reno Hill until closer to 5:30 p.m.

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Reno Hill and the Weir Advance

At Reno Hill things had been in a state of confusion and disorder. While some formed a picket line facing the river others tended the wounded. Upon the arrival of Capt. Benteen and his battalion the Captain showed his written summons from Custer to Maj. Reno. Instead of marching to locate and support Custer (as the orders required) they decided to await the arrival of the pack train. Maj. Reno then absented himself by descending to the river in order to retrieve the body of Lt. Benjamin Hodgson, Co. K, who was killed climbing the bluff. He was joined by soldiers with canteens who braved the Indians in the valley to obtain water. Reno didn't return to the hill until 4:50 p.m.

During his absence Capt. Benteen took charge of the defenses, reinforcing the picket line with his own command. Close to the time when Reno absented himself to search for Lt. Hodgson, heavy firing began to be heard from downstream. This firing was heard by several officers and men, (although both Reno and Benteen, along with Lt. Wallace claimed to not have heard it) and took the form of volley fire. It continued off-and-on for close to 45 minutes. Other events that occurred during this time included the arrival and departure of various scouts, and the departure of a large segment of the Indians who had chased Reno's command to the heights, after the heavy firing began downstream. Others stayed within rifle distance of the hill and continued to rain fire on the troops there.

Upon returning to the hill, Maj. Reno sent Lt. Luther Hare, 2nd in Command of Scouts, on Benteen's back trail to bring some ammunition mules in as quickly as possible. Hare returned around 5:12 p.m. Meanwhile, Capt. Weir , Co. D, wanted to leave immediately for the sound of the firing downstream but Reno preferred to wait on the pack train. They had a rather heated discussion about this issue, however, about 4:55 p.m., additional volleys caused Lt. Weir to mount his horse and ride downstream. He was soon followed by his entire Company. Reno then sent Hare after Capt. Weir with instructions for Weir to contact Custer's battalion, if possible. Shortly thereafter, Capt. Benteen and his battalion left on Capt. Weir's trail.  Capt. Weir and Lt. Hare arrived at the point which bears the Captain's name at approximately the same time; about 5:25 p.m. Capt. Benteen's command arrived about 10 minutes later. Shortly after Benteen's arrival at Weir Point, Maj. Reno and his command belatedly left Reno Hill, also for Weir Point.

At Weir Point the arriving commands saw "...many horsemen over on the distant ridge with guidons flying". This came from Cpl. George W. Wylie (Co. D). Weir mounted to go to Custer but Sgt. James Flannagan, who had been viewing the scene with magnifying glasses said they appeared to be Indians and Weir dismounted again. What firing was heard was scattered and it appeared that the Indians were firing toward the ground. This was now around 5:30 p.m. One hill was covered with Indians standing around. Lt. Edgerly had taken Co. D over to the north slope of Weir Point. Seeing that the Indians had discovered his command upon the slope, Capt. Weir instructed Edgerly to move the company to a less exposed position. Edgerly did so just as Capt. Benteen arrived with his command. By this time the firing two miles away had almost ceased and the Indians were turning their attention to the soldiers on Weir Point. While this was occurring, Lt. Hare returned toward Reno Hill to report to Maj. Reno. Capt. Benteen then ordered his Co. H to return to Reno Hill, leaving Companies D, M and K still at Weir Point. It was now 5:45 p.m. Capt. Weir and Companies D and M then trotted back to Reno Hill while Co. K under Lt. Godfrey and Lt. Hare acted as skirmishers to cover the retreat. By 6:00 p.m. a defense perimeter was being established at Reno Hill.

It becomes clear that all fighting from Custer's battalion was over by 5:30 p.m.

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