Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

Scott1967

First Sergeant
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
This is both the frustration and the fascination of LBH for me.

You would be hard pressed to find a single event at LBH, even when described by eyewitnesses, that is in agreement on the details.

For example, and not trying to be grisly here, I would expect the description of the type and location of wounds on George and Tom Custer to be consistent and precise based on the number of people that saw their bodies. Yet reading Richard D. Hardorff's excellent 'The Custer Battle Casualties' one sees how they were found, the description of wounds, how they were buried, and who buried them differ in many eyewitness accounts. Even accounting for Victorian sensibilities to tone down the horror of their descriptions this is surprising to me. Though of course there is still heated debate on the nature of President John F. Kennedy's wounds by eyewitnesses.

There are many other like circumstances re: LBH which could be cited.

I've read that eyewitness testimony is not always embraced by trial attorneys for a similar reason; that many see and describe the same event very differently. Making you wonder if it is the same event. Though I have no idea if this is true.
I totally agree historians like to court controversy in order to shall we say to sell books I mean if it was all the same it would be I have read one guess I don't need to read the rest.

Eyewitness Indian accounts are hazy at best many accounts directly after the battle are toned down I feel as they were afraid of repercussions by the US govt , However in the early 20th century we start to see embellished accounts as that fear ebbed.

A classic example of this is the Crows Nest where Custer's crow scouts claim to have advised him not to attack that was their account directly after the battle the Crow not wanting to take the blame for advising Custer wrong but as we all know that changed years later to them overwhelmingly convincing Custer to attack even egging him on and taunting him to attack.

This makes sense because the Crow did not know how many Sioux were encamped they also thought they had been spotted and the element of surprise gone , They were there for a reason to get rid of the Sioux and court the US into giving them their old land back simply not attacking did the Crow no favours just plain common sense imho.
 

tmorr

Private
Joined
Sep 4, 2020
This is both the frustration and the fascination of LBH for me.

You would be hard pressed to find a single event at LBH, even when described by eyewitnesses, that is in agreement on the details.

For example, and not trying to be grisly here, I would expect the description of the type and location of wounds on George and Tom Custer to be consistent and precise based on the number of people that saw their bodies. Yet reading Richard D. Hardorff's excellent 'The Custer Battle Casualties' one sees how they were found, the description of wounds, how they were buried, and who buried them differ in many eyewitness accounts. Even accounting for Victorian sensibilities to tone down the horror of their descriptions this is surprising to me. Though of course there is still heated debate on the nature of President John F. Kennedy's wounds by eyewitnesses.

There are many other like circumstances re: LBH which could be cited.

I've read that eyewitness testimony is not always embraced by trial attorneys for a similar reason; that many see and describe the same event very differently. Making you wonder if it is the same event. Though I have no idea if this is true.
Indeed! It’s also unfortunate that the Indian accounts, even though chronicled relatively early on by Walter Camp, were largely discounted for years as unreliable. Gregory Michno’s “Lakota Noon” is a fantastic contemporary read based primarily on the Indian testimonies and well worth the time if you’re into the mysteries of LBH.
 

SandiD

Private
Joined
Aug 18, 2021
Location
Somewhere in the Hudson Valley
I've read that eyewitness testimony is not always embraced by trial attorneys for a similar reason; that many see and describe the same event very differently. Making you wonder if it is the same event. Though I have no idea if this is true.
Not only do you have different accounts of the same event by different people, sometimes things get transcribed/recorded in such a way that it makes you wonder about the event. I had that experience with an interview where what was written down and published was not how I described the event.
 
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Lincoln56

Corporal
Joined
Jul 24, 2016
Location
Texas
Eyewitness Indian accounts are hazy at best many accounts directly after the battle are toned down I feel as they were afraid of repercussions by the US govt , However in the early 20th century we start to see embellished accounts as that fear ebbed.
Agree that, with respect to the Indian accounts, fear of repercussions was present. As was poor communication / translation.

For soldiers, particularly officers, individual reputations to protect and confidence and trust in the organization they represent to be upheld.

we start to see embellished accounts

This sentence could make for a fascinating thread topic on its own.

Agree regarding embellishment but of course this is human nature at work.

Certainly not limited to LBH but true for probably every other instance in history with recollections recorded years, maybe decades later. While I believe accurate accounts are possible despite the passage of time, I also agree with many historians that choose to only harvest and use recollections recorded the closest to the occurrence of the event in question due to no time for reflection or discussion with ones peers that might change what was observed.

As you point out, it is interesting to see how the same story from the same source changes over the years of telling. IMO this is one of the reasons why Curley has so many detractors. I give more credit to a consistently told story, be it from reading history or living in the present. I do feel there is value in recollections from years after, especially if these are the only ones available. Preferably one can pair these with others recorded at the time of the event. With LBH you have much immediate correspondence in the form of letters from the soldiers to families in the weeks after; the Indians passed their observations to their families and recorded them on pictographs. At a later time, researchers contacted both soldiers and warriors to record their observations.
 

dgfred

Corporal
Joined
Apr 13, 2020
Another problem is names of places. Calhoun Hill is not Calhoun Hill to the Indians for instance.

Problems with wounds and area killed:
-Indians not sure who was who so didn't stay long mutilating. They had other things to do- Reno & Benteen, organize to move, scout for other enemy units, etc
-Much damage might have been done by women, kids and younger warriors.
-Bodies might have been moved and such.
-Elements, scavengers, etc
-an eye-witness account might be from a mile away, half mile, etc
-it wasn't like a clean-up detail can just stand around looking at wounds and such... with officers all around.

*I have always wondered if Custer was hit in the torso first and 'if' he or someone else finished him off. The whole thing is just terrifying to think of how the men were feeling those last few minutes with death/horror all around them... and very likely no chance to survive it.

Dang
 

Lincoln56

Corporal
Joined
Jul 24, 2016
Location
Texas
it wasn't like a clean-up detail can just stand around looking at wounds and such... with officers all around

My reference to the inconsistent description of the wounds is referring only to the accounts of officers present on last stand hill that were standing around, within feet of the deceased, as the enlisted men were preparing for burials. At the risk of sounding like a certain past politician, "what difference, at this point, does it make?", the point only is those literally right there within feet those present differ in their descriptions and are inconsistent, whether intentional or due to the passage of time, etc. So on other events without the nearness how accurate are the events described. Agree that eyewitness testimony from a distance off affects the credibility.
 

Lubliner

Captain
Forum Host
Joined
Nov 27, 2018
Location
Chattanooga, Tennessee
My reference to the inconsistent description of the wounds is referring only to the accounts of officers present on last stand hill that were standing around, within feet of the deceased, as the enlisted men were preparing for burials. At the risk of sounding like a certain past politician, "what difference, at this point, does it make?", the point only is those literally right there within feet those present differ in their descriptions and are inconsistent, whether intentional or due to the passage of time, etc. So on other events without the nearness how accurate are the events described. Agree that eyewitness testimony from a distance off affects the credibility.
I have personally been aware that the mind will sometimes edit what we see and behold, especially when it is horrific and traumatic. It happens to me, and I am sure others likewise.
Lubliner.
 

JulieM

Cadet
Joined
Dec 15, 2020
My ancestors were involved on the Indigenous side, and have passed down the stories of what happened at Greasy Grass.
Love this:

Expired Image Removed

Inspired by Native pictograms:

View attachment 286944
This is known as Ledger Art, and is our way of capturing our history in a visual form. We didn't have a written language, per se, so this is how we recorded our history for the future generations.
 
Joined
Mar 10, 2015
Location
Pa
A few more..
View attachment 313094
Sitting Bull's pictograph of the vision that he had of soldiers falling into the Indian camp upside down that he had during the Sun Dance. This is at Deer Medicine Rocks.

View attachment 313095
My friend and co-author Jim Hessler and me at Sitting Bull's pictograph at Deer Medicine Rocks. This was the highlight of both trips.
View attachment 313096
The Morass, on Custer's final approach to the battlefield.
View attachment 313097
Medicine Tail Ford on the Little Big Horn River. The other side of the river is Crow land and is private property that belongs to the Real Bird family.
View attachment 313098
Last Stand Hill from the path to the Deep Ravine.

Gettysburg LBG Jim Hessler and I are nearly ready to begin writing a complete battlefield guide to the Rosebud and LBH battlefields.
Thanks to all for posting the great pics! I was at the Custer house in ND and couldn't convince the rest of the fam to venture to LBH! Needless to say, I had thoughts of taking them hostage, but succumbed to the corn palace in Mitchell, IA! LBH still on the bucket list!
Also, it strikes me how similar, although larger that Last Stand hill looks to wounded knee, which I can attest gives you the same eerie feeling you all mention that have been to LBH! Thanks again for teaching!!
 

FZ11

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 4, 2011
Location
Dallas
I suppose the last chance for Custer to escape South was when Reno ran for the Bluffs. We know Custer could have done so at the time he sent Martini back. What do others think?
 

dlofting

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 13, 2013
Location
Vancouver, BC, Canada
I suppose the last chance for Custer to escape South was when Reno ran for the Bluffs. We know Custer could have done so at the time he sent Martini back. What do others think?
Probably....unfortunately once he headed towards Medicine Tail Coulee he had no idea what Reno was doing. IMHO one of Custer's biggest mistakes was not being in a position to command all of his regiment, rather than just the one battalion.
 

Scott1967

First Sergeant
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
Probably....unfortunately once he headed towards Medicine Tail Coulee he had no idea what Reno was doing. IMHO one of Custer's biggest mistakes was not being in a position to command all of his regiment, rather than just the one battalion.
You make a valid point but in reality Custer could not be everywhere at once , He plan was to surround the Village and not allow any Indians to escape in order to do that he had to split his command and choose which part to command he obviously chose his best companies to be team Custer along with his brothers and brother in law imho.
 

Lubliner

Captain
Forum Host
Joined
Nov 27, 2018
Location
Chattanooga, Tennessee
I watched a video last night that was a tour given by one of the Crow ancestors of Custer's scouts. He said he firmly believes Custer headed to the north end hoping to capture many of the women and children. Once these were caught, they would be used as a shield against the warriors, and as had been accomplished in another fight, the warriors would put down their weapons. Custer knew this strategy had worked before, and likely was trying it again, but he mistook the size of the camp and came in near it's middle, instead of its northern boundary.
Lubliner.
 

dlofting

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 13, 2013
Location
Vancouver, BC, Canada
You make a valid point but in reality Custer could not be everywhere at once , He plan was to surround the Village and not allow any Indians to escape in order to do that he had to split his command and choose which part to command he obviously chose his best companies to be team Custer along with his brothers and brother in law imho.
He did have to split his command but would things have turned out differently if he had positioned his headquarters somewhere like Weir Point, given command of the battalion to Keogh and kept the 4 parts in supporting distance of each other.
 

Irishdragoon

Cadet
Joined
Aug 12, 2020
After the American Civil War, Custer reverted back to the rank of captain and briefly considered leaving the military. He was offered the position of adjutant general in the Mexican army of Benito Juárez, who was then battling Emperor Maximilian, but was blocked from accepting it by the State Department. An advocate of President Andrew Johnson's reconstruction policy, he was criticized by hardliners who believed he was attempting to curry favor with the goal of receiving a promotion. In 1866, he turned down the colonelcy of the all-black 10th Cavalry (Buffalo Soldiers) in favor of the lieutenant colonelcy of the 7th Cavalry. History tends to mix-up facts about this infamous man.
On the Buffalo Soldier business. I believe in either Utley's or Ambrose's bio of Custer (possibly both), there is a letter Custer wrote shortly after the war requesting he not be assigned Black troops. He asserts it as a preference and not as a "deal breaker". To current researcher's knowledge, there is NO evidence that he was assigned to Black troops only to turn them down.

Yeah, there is a lot of misinformation about the guy.
 

Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
I watched a video last night that was a tour given by one of the Crow ancestors of Custer's scouts. He said he firmly believes Custer headed to the north end hoping to capture many of the women and children. Once these were caught, they would be used as a shield against the warriors, and as had been accomplished in another fight, the warriors would put down their weapons. Custer knew this strategy had worked before, and likely was trying it again, but he mistook the size of the camp and came in near it's middle, instead of its northern boundary.
Lubliner.
He pulled that stunt at the Washita.
 

FZ11

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 4, 2011
Location
Dallas
I watched a video last night that was a tour given by one of the Crow ancestors of Custer's scouts. He said he firmly believes Custer headed to the north end hoping to capture many of the women and children. Once these were caught, they would be used as a shield against the warriors, and as had been accomplished in another fight, the warriors would put down their weapons. Custer knew this strategy had worked before, and likely was trying it again, but he mistook the size of the camp and came in near it's middle, instead of its northern boundary.
Lubliner.
Yes, by moving North of MTC and, adjacent to the village, Custer opens up the MTC ford and route for the Indians to enter the field on his Flank and Rear. Still, at some moment, perhaps, he could have made a run en mass to the South. jmo
 
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