"...We all went over the divide and camped in the valley of [the] Little Horn. Everybody thought, "Now we are out of the white man's country. He can live there, we will live here." ... I went to water my horses at the creek, and washed them off with cool water, then took a swim myself. I came back to the camp afoot. When I got near my lodge, I looked up the Little Horn towards Sitting Bull's camp. I saw a great dust rising. It looked like a whirlwind....I saw flags come up over the hill to the east....Then the soldiers rose all at once ....the Sioux rode up the ridge on all sides, riding very fast. The Cheyennes went up the left way. Then the shooting was quick, quick ....We circled all round...swirling like water round a stone.... Soldiers in line drop, but one man rides up and down the line - all the time shouting. He rode a sorrel horse with white face and white fore-legs. I don't know who he was. He was a brave man.... All the soldiers were now killed, and...were left where they fell. We had no dance that night. We were sorrowful."
- Two Moons, Northern Cheyenne.
The Northern Cheyenne are allies of the Teton Lakota. They, too, oppose the Smoky Hill and Powder River roads, which drive away the game from the northern Plains. They, too, defended themselves along the Little Bighorn River against General Custer. They were there when Custer died. And they will pay. In the winter of 1876, Dull Knife's camp is attacked by the United States Army. The following year, the Northern Cheyenne are removed to a reservation in Oklahoma. But the agency is infested with malaria, and the promised food supplies are never issued. The Cheyenne starve.
"Our men did not want to fight. They wanted to be left alone so they might get food and skins to provide for their families....But we were not allowed to live in quiet. When the snow had fallen deep, a great band of soldiers came. They rode right into our camp and shot women and children as well as men....We who could do so ran away... my husband and our older son kept behind and fought off the soldiers ....I saw him fall, and his horse went away from him. I wanted to go back to him, but my two sons made me go on away with my three daughters. From the hilltops we Cheyennes looked back and saw all of our lodges and everything in them being burned into nothing but smoke and ashes....I was afraid of all white men soldiers.
It seemed to me they represented the most extreme cruelty. They had just killed my husband and had burned our whole village. There was in my mind a clear recollection of a time...when they had killed and scalped many of our women and children in a peaceable camp [at Sand Creek]....At that time I had seen a friend of mine, a woman, crawling along the ground, shot, scalped, crazy, but not yet dead. After that, I always thought of her when I saw white men soldiers."
- Iron Teeth, Northern Cheyenne.
"We were *always* hungry; we *never* had enough. When they that were sick once in a while felt as though they could eat something, we had nothing to give them....When winter came we went out on a buffalo hunt and nearly starved; we could not find any game...the children died of a disease we never knew anything about before; they broke out in blotches and dots all over, their noses would bleed and their heads split open....
- Wild Hog, Northern Cheyenne.
The Cheyenne are told that if they do not like Indian Territory, they can return to their old homes. This is only rhetoric. No Cheyenne is allowed off the reservation boundary - not even to hunt - without permission. A hot September wind gusts across the southern Plains. The Cheyenne have decided how they will die; the agent will be robbed of the glory. A slow train of several hundred sick and weakened Cheyenne under Little Wolf and Dull Knife head resolutely north, preferring death by the soldiers who will follow, than the slow agony of sickness and starvation.
Thirteen hundred soldiers and civilians swarm after them, and America is electrified with the news that the Northern Cheyenne have "broken out." They are on the run. The Cheyenne drop from soldiers bullets; the chase ends with surrender at Fort Robinson, Nebraska. But still the Cheyenne refuse to return to Indian Territory. In a tiny prison cell thirty feet square are the Northern Cheyenne - forty-three men, twenty-nine women, and twenty children. Daily the harsh question, "Will you return south?" Daily the quiet answer, "No." Food is cut off. Then water. For eleven days, the Cheyenne do not eat. For three days, they do not drink. There is nothing to do but sit, huddled on the cold prison floor, in dignity.
"All we ask is to be allowed to live, and to live in peace....We bowed to the will of the Great Father and went far into the south where he told us to go. There we found a Cheyenne cannot live. Sickness came among us that made mourning in every lodge. Then the treaty promises were broken and our rations were short.... to stay there meant that all of us would die... [so] we thought it better to die fighting to regain our old homes than to perish of sickness. Then our march was begun. The rest you know....You may kill me here; but you cannot make me go back. We will not go. The only way to get us there is to come in here with clubs and knock us on the head, and drag us out and take us down there dead."
- Tahmelapashme (Dull Knife), Northern Cheyenne.
presented in new book By Richard Pyle,
Associated Press, 09/20/99 02:03 NEW YORK (AP)
The faces staring out from the page are leathery, chiseled, emotionally opaque. The names Goes Ahead, White Man Runs Him, Yellow Robe, Iron Hawk resonate as war cries and gunfire once did across the treeless hills of eastern Montana. These Indians were there when Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and some 200 U.S. cavalry troopers met death at Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876. They were the Crow and Arikara scouts who rode with Custer and the Sioux and Cheyenne braves who destroyed him that hot Sunday afternoon.
Just as the outcome permanently tarnished Custer's reputation, it left the Indians a bitter legacy that for some has lasted 23 years, says Herman J. Viola, author of a new book that looks at the famous battle from the Indians' point of view.
"None of the four tribes involved find any comfort in the events of 1876," says Viola, curator emeritus of the Smithsonian Institution. "The Crow and Arikara not only feel betrayed by the government they sought to help, but today they are more often seen as traitors for helping the cavalry hunt down their traditional enemies."
Viola continues: "The Cheyenne and Sioux, on the other hand, suffered terribly for their victory. In fact, elderly descendants of the Cheyenne and Sioux who were present at Little Bighorn still fear some sort of retribution awaits them if their family connection to Custer's demise is revealed."
Viola's book, 'Little Bighorn Remembered, the Untold Indian Story of Custer's Last Stand,' will appear next month. It includes many obscure and previously unpublished details about the most famous event of the 19th-century Indian wars. Among these are the Cheyenne oral legend that Custer's death was retribution by the Everywhere Spirit or God for breaking a promise never to attack the tribe and that some of Custer's troops may have drunk whiskey just before the battle. The book also includes a new reconstruction of Custer's movements at Little Bighorn by National Park Service archaeologist Douglas Scott and the first publication of all 41 drawings of the battle by Sioux chief Red Horse, which Viola calls a "Native American Bayeux Tapestry." The overriding theme is the conflict among the Plains tribes that transcended war with the Army Crow and Arikara versus their traditional enemies, the Sioux and Cheyenne. "This is not the Indians against the cowboys this is Indians against Indians," Viola said in an interview.
"I am very excited about this book,'' says Joseph Medicine Crow of Lodge Grass, Mont., a tribal historian who at 86 may be the last living person to have known anyone present at the battle of Little Bighorn. Medicine Crow's great-uncle, or 'grandfather in the Indian way,' was White Man Runs Him, an imposing 6-foot-6 warrior who was one of the six Crow scouts with Custer that day and survived only because Custer released the scouts from duty. As a boy, Medicine Crow listened as White Man Runs Him and four other former scouts told stories of their relationship with the flamboyant soldier they called Son of the Morning.
In the book, Medicine Crow says the Crows' friendly ties with the whites were based on a 100-year-old tribal prophecy that resistance meant eventual disaster and an 1825 treaty that was consummated by the ritual touching of a knife blade to tongues. "This was a sacred oath that will be kept forever," Medicine Crow says. He adds that in later years, when asked to help the army fight the Sioux and Cheyennes, the Crows saw themselves as using rather than being used by the whites. "Crow survival was at stake. The Crows believed then and still believe that they honorably used the white man as allies in their continuing intertribal struggle with their worthy traditional enemies," Medicine Crow says.
While the Sioux led by the famous Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse have always overshadowed their Cheyenne allies, the Arikara are "the real forgotten people" on the other side, says Viola, although they lost three scouts killed and the Crows none. Even after 123 years, fear and suspicion persist, Viola says. "Old, old Indians still are afraid to talk about Little Bighorn," he says. "They still think the government is going to punish them. They say, 'you don't know the government.'"
This is especially true with Cheyennes, who according to rumors may still have Custer memorabilia paper money, weapons and battlefield artifacts hidden away, he said. Among the more talkative Cheyennes was the Rev. Joseph Walks Along, a Mennonite preacher who recalled his grandfather, Yellow Robe, 12 at the time, saying the Indians didn't expect a fight until they saw the soldiers weren't carrying a flag of truce.
"Grandpa told us that prior to the battle, at a different place, Custer had told the Cheyennes that as long as the cavalry carried a white flag and the American flag, they would be coming in peace. On that day, Custer did not come in peace," said Joseph Walks Along.
In 1908, four surviving Custer scouts returned to Little Bighorn with Edward S. Curtis, a famed scholar-photographer on Indian culture. Curtis died in 1925, and his unpublished papers were rediscovered in 1988 by a son, then 95, who sent them to the Smithsonian. Based on those writings, the Smithsonian's curator emeritus of military history, James Hutchins, contributes a chapter to Viola's book. He adds new details to the familiar story of how Custer divided his force into three parts and ordered his second-in- command, Major Marcus Reno, to attack the Indian encampment. The Crow scouts criticized Custer for ignoring their warnings that the Sioux- Cheyenne enemy were too numerous and for failing to ride to Reno's aid. When the scouts donned tribal regalia, to die as Indians, Custer let them go.
As they joined Reno, according to White Man Runs Him, "we looked back and saw Custer still fighting," on a distant slope to the north. They did not know until later that the sun had set for 'Son Of The Morning Star'. Three Arikara scouts with Reno were killed, but the Crows survived. Most continued to serve with the military. While Custer was acclaimed a fallen hero, Reno was publicly vilified for his actions at Little Bighorn. Hutchins says Curtis believed the Crows' account of Custer's action but took the advice of his friend President Theodore Roosevelt not to publish a story that "makes Custer out both a traitor and a fool."
"Thirty years after the event it is necessary to be exceedingly cautious about relying on the memory of any man, Indian or white," Roosevelt wrote. "Such a space of time is a great breeder of myths." In a foreword, Gerard Baker, a former Park Service superintendent of the Little Bighorn battlefield, says modern-day critics who deride the Crows and Arikaras for siding with the government forget that the Plains tribes were already at war with each other and some needed help to survive.
"Indians today often look back at Little Bighorn and see only the harmful results of the Indian alliance with the U.S. Army," writes Baker, whose Indian descendants include Arikara. "Hindsight is always 20-20, but our ancestors did not have crystal balls."
All through the summer of 1868, roving bands of Cheyenne warriors terrorised the settlers of Kansas and Colorado, killing 124 people. As winter approached, they began trickling back to the security of Black Kettle's camp in Indian Territory - to collect annuities from the government and rest up for the winter.
Following the disastrous campaigns of 1867, Sherman had replaced Hancock with his old colleague Phil Sheridan: an abrasive, hardbitten cavalry officer who swore almost con- tinuosly, and who believed, like sherman, in the doctrine of total war.
- General Philip Sheridan.
In the autumn of 1868, Sherman and Sheridan called from disgrace the one field commander they knew had the temperament, and the motivation, to destroy Indian resistance on the southern Plains. In October, before his year's suspension had come to an end, George Custer rejoined the Seventh Cavalry in Kansas, drilled them to perfection, then marched south into Indian Territory - determined to redeem his tarnished reputation. This time there would be no distractions, no delays.
On 23 November, the Osage scouts employed by the Seventh picked up the trail of an Indian camp, moving south over the snow-covered prairie. At midnight on the 27th, the regiment almost stumbled into Black Kettle's village, on the banks of the Washita River. Custer had no idea how many Native-Americans lay before him, who they were, or how many were hostile or friendly. It was too dark to see the white flag of truce that Black Kettle had fastened to the top of his lodge.
"In my mind, the battle of the Washita illustrates the ambiguities involved in warfare between the United States Army and all the Indians of the West ... Black Kettle was the leading peace chief of the Cheyenne - there's no question about that - but Custer found his village by following the trail in the snow made by a war party of his young men returning from a plundering raid on the Kansas settlements."
- Robert Utley, writer and historian.
Dividing his regiment in four, Custer attacked the village from all sides at first light, while the band played 'Garry Owen'. But in the icy dawn air, the mouthpieces froze and the music stopped. As the Cheyenne rushed, panicked and screaming, from their lodges, Custer's men cut them down, firing and hacking at anything that moved. Black Kettle and his wife were shot in the back as they tried to flee across the Washita, and died face down in the icy water. The bloodshed was coming to an end when Cheyenne and Arapahoe reinforcements began to arrive. Abandoning a portion of his command, Custer ordered his men to slaughter the 800 ponies they had captured, and had the bugler sound 'Retreat', instead of standing up to what would otherwise have been more of a fair fight. A reporter from the 'New York-Tribune' compared the scene to a slaughter yard.