Little Bighorn

Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn continued from previous page.

From Wyoming Tales and Trails

This Page: The Battle of the Little Bighorn, Reno and Benteen's fight.



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Custer's Battle-Field (June 25th 1876), Surveyed and drawn under the personel supervision of Lieut. Edward Maguire, Corps of Engineers U.S.A. by Sergeant Charles Becker Co. "D" Battalion of Engineers.

In 1873, the War Department issued instructions that an engineer was to map every reconnaissance. Thus, a topographic engineer was included within each of the three main columns converging on northern Wyoming and southern Montana. Lt. Maguire was included in Terry's column, but accompanied Col. Gibbon after Terry and Gibbon separated. The above map was drawn on June 27, while others buried the bodies of Custer's units. The map was then included in an appendix to Maquire's annual report and was later published in Mercator's World Magazine. The bodies of officers were marked by upright stakes or boards reflected in the above map. See next photo.


Grave of Lt. J. G. Sturgis, 1877, photo by Stanley J. Morrow.

Lt. Sturgis was the son of Gen. Samuel Sturgis, after whom Sturgis, S. Dak., is named. The series of photographs on this and the next page depicting graves and horse bones have been attributed to both Sheridan stationery store owner Herbert A. Coffeen (1868-1916), based on a copyright notice, and to Miles City photographer Laton Alton Huffman (1854-1931). Both sold copies of the photographs. Coffeen, as will be observed, was 9-years old at the time of the photos and did not arrive in Wyoming with his parents until the 1880's. Huffman arrived in Montana in 1878 to be the post photographer at Fort Keogh. The photographs were, in fact, taken by Yankton, Dakota Territory, photographer Morrow. Morrow (1842-1921) arrived in Dakota Territory following the Civil War and worked for a period of time for photographer Orlando Scott Goff. In 1876, Morrow documented Gen. Crook's "horsemeat campaign".


Grave of Unknown, 1877, photo by Stanley J. Morrow.

Reno came upon the Indian encampment, and found himself outnumbered by a host of Sioux to his left and rear. The horses of two unfortunate troopers bolted and they were carried into the Indian forces to meet their fate. Thus, Reno and his men were forced to take refuge in a grove of trees within a bend in the river. There a number of men were killed or wounded including his scout, Bloody Knife, whose brains splattered onto Reno's face and jacket. Earlier Bloody Knife, an Arikara scout, had foreseen his own death when he signed to the sun with his hands, "I shall not see you go down behind the hills tonight."

Bloody Knife

Bloody Knife was described by Mrs. Custer in her 1885 Boots and Saddles: Or Life in Dakota with General Custer as her husband's favorite scout. Bloody Knife acted as a guide and scout in Gen. Stanley's 1873 Yellowstone Expedition as well as Custer's 1874 expedition into the Black Hills. Mrs. Custer recalled in her book:

Bloody Knife was naturally mournful; his face still looked sad when he put on the presents given him. He was a perfect child about gifts, and the general studied to bring him something from the East that no other Indian had. He had proved himself such an invaluable scout to the general that they often had long interviews. Seated on the grass, the dogs lying about them, they talked over portions of the country that the general had never seen, the scout drawing excellent maps in the sand with a pointed stick. He was sometimes petulant, often moody, and it required the utmost patience on my husband's part to submit to his humors; but his fidelity and cleverness made it worth while to yield to his tempers.

Fron the grove, faced with annihilation, Reno was forced to remount and retreat to some bluffs about a mile away. At the edge of the trees, Custer's interpreter Isaiah Dorman's horse was killed, falling on Dorman pinning him beneath. Dorman's remains were later found. They had been singled out for especially heinous mutulation with body parts amputated and stuffed in his mouth. Not much is known of Dorman. He was of approximately age 55 and first appeared in 1865 near Bismark, Dakota Territory, where he was employed as a woodcutter for Durfee and Peck. He was married to a Sioux to whom he was known as Azinpi. Later he carried mail and was employed as an interpreter for surveyors for the Northern Pacific. It is speculated that he may have been an escaped slave, possibly from either Texas or Louisiana. This is, however, pure speculation based on his last name. In the organization of the 1876 Campaign, Custer requested his services.

In the retreat, Lonesome Charley Reynold's horse also fell. Reynolds, as was Dorman, was pinned beneath the horse and was killed. A year later, Philetus W. Norris, Superintendent of the Yellowstone National Park, had Reynold's remains exumed. Unable to find any relatives of Reynolds, Norris had Reynolds reinterred in Norris's own family plot in Detroit. Reynolds and Norris had become friends during the Ludlow expedition to Yellowstone which Reynolds had guided.

Bloody Knife, 1873 Yellowstone Expedition, photo by William R. Pywell.

William Pywell (1843-1887) was the official photographer for the 1873 Expedition. Before setting up his own studio in Washington City, he had studied under Alexander Gardner in the Brady Studios.

In the retreat it was necessary to ford the river. There, again, Reno's men met a murderous wave of fire. But the Indians did not follow beyond the river and the remnants of Reno's units found refuge on the top of what is now known as Reno Hill. Reno in a report on July 5, explained:

I deployed, and, with the Ree scouts on my left, charged down the valley, driving the Indians with great ease for about two and a half miles. I, however, soon saw that I was being drawn into some trap, as they would certainly fight harder, and especially as we were nearing their village, which was still standing; besides, I could not see Custer or any other support, [This is a significant statement. Custer had promised Reno that he would be behind Reno with full support of the "whole outfit." In fact, Custer, as indicated had gone off on his own.] and at the same time the very earth seemed to grow Indians, and they were running toward me in swarms, and from all directions. I saw I must defend myself and give up the attack mounted. This I did. Taking possession of a front of woods, and which furnished, near its edge, a shelter for the horses, dismounted and fought them on foot, making headway through the woods. I soon found myself in the near vicinity of the village, saw that I was fighting odds of at least five to one, and that my only hope was to get out of the woods, where I would soon have been surrounded, and gain some high ground. I accomplished this by mounting and charging the Indians between me and the bluffs on the opposite side of the river. In this charge, First Lieut. Donald McIntosh, Second Lieut. Benjamin H. Hodgson, Seventh Cavalry, and Acting Assistant Surgeon J. M. De Wolf, were killed.

I succeeded in reaching the top of the bluff, with a loss of three officers and twenty-nine enlisted men killed and seven wounded.


Site of Reno's retreat across the Little Bighorn. Reno Hill on the right. Woodcut from 1886 photo by D. F. Barry. Century Magazine, 1892.

Next page: Custer's battle.