Indian Wars

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About This Site

Custer's Last Fight, Engraving by A. R. Waud, undated

For information as to Waud see discussion under Yellowstone.

Custer's Last Stand, Engraving by F. Otto Becker, 1895

Of the various renderings of Custer's Last Stand, however, the one which is regarded as most accurate is E. S. Paxson's version shown below. In the painting there are over two hundred figures, many identifiable. Paxson accummulated photographs of the individuals involved including the Indians. Additionally he personally interviewed persons involved in the last campaign, including Two Moon.

Custer's Last Stand, Edgar Samuel Paxson, 1899

In the above painting, Paxson accurately depicts Custer's hair, as well as Uniform.

On May 10, 1876, President Grant opened the Philadelphia Exposition, intended to celebrate the centennial of the United States and its progress. It would also bring back a feeling of confidence in the country. Thus, it would help relieve the recession in which the country found itself. The Exhibition, covering over 27 acres, was attended by all of the "movers and shakers" of the time. There, Professor Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated his newly invented "harmonic telegraph" to the Emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro II. In the Japanese Pavillion there was displayed a wonder vine, kudzu, which promised to bring swift shade to arbors and trellises. Dominating the Exposition was the Hall of Machinery and dominating the Hall of Machinery was the giant two and a half story tall Corliss Engine which provided the power for the exhibits.

President Grant and Emperor Dom Pedro II greet citizenry from platform of Corliss Engine, Philadelphia Exposition, 1876, Harpers Weekly.

Among others in attendance at the grand celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the country's independence were the two chief military officers of the nation, William T. Sherman and P. T. Sheridan. On July 5, hints that a major military disaster had overtaken parts of the 7th Cavalry began to appear in the Press. A Salt Lake City newspaper carried such an account. The account, however, was based on a report in the Helena [Montana Territory] Herald, which, in turn, was based on second and third hand statements made by Indian scouts. Thus, the accounts were unreliable. An official correspondent was accompaning Custer's expedition, and, accordingly, had anything occurred, it assuredly would have been reported. Very late, however, on the evening of July 6, the staccato dots and and dashes of the telegraph, tapped out a chilling message from the Bismarck [Dakota Territory] Tribune:

General Custer attacked the Indians June 25, and he, with every officer and man in five companies were killed. Reno with seven companies fought in intrenched [sic] positions three days. The Bismarck Tribune's special correspondent was with the expedition and killed.

And yet, since no reports had been received by the War Department, the account was still believed to be overstated. For if true, it would be the worst defeat ever suffered by an American military unit in the Indian Wars; worse, indeed, than the massacre of Captain [Brevet Major] Francis L. Dade and his men at the Battle of Wahoo Swamp, in 1835. Captain Dade was being sent from Fort Brooke (present day Tampa, Florida), to relieve a seige by Indians of Ft. King (present day Ocala). There was, however, no seige, and Capt. Dade's expedition was in response to miscommunication.

The last report which had been received from the Bismarck Tribune's special correspondent, Marcus H. "Mark" Kellogg (1833-1876), in June recited, "* * * by the time this reaches you we will have met and fought * * * with what results remains to be seen. I go with Custer * * * ."

Mark Kellogg

Over the next 22 hours fron the first report by the Tribune, two telegraphers transmitted over 55,000 words to eastern newspapers describing the disaster. But perhaps, it was an exaggeration, for still no report had been received by the War Department, for as noted by the New York Times, "Gen. Sherman thinks that the accounts of the disaster are exaggerated. The wounded soldiers are being conveyed to Fort Lincoln. Additional details are anxiously awaited throughout the country." Nevertheless, even without details, the fingers of blame began to be pointed. The Times reported that it was "the opinion of Army officers in Chicago, Washington, and Philadelphia, including Gens. Sherman and Sheridan, that Gen. Custer was rashly imprudent to attack such a large number of Indians."

In the opinion of the Times, the fault was clear:

The campaign against the wild Sioux was undertaken under disadvantageous circumstances owing to the refusal of Congress to appropriate money for establishment of military posts on the upper Yellowstone River. Gen. Sherman and Gen. Sheridan both asked for these posts, which, in case of anticipated troubles would give the troops a base of supplies about four hundred miles nearer the hostile country than they could otherwise have. The posts desired would have been accessible by steamboats on the Yellowstone, which would have conveyed men and supplies. The House Committee on Military Affairs unanimously recommended their establishment, but the Committee on Appropriations refused to provide in their bills, the necessary means. This is regarded as the immediate cause of the disaster.

Still nothing had been heard by the War Department from General Alfred H. Terry headquartered on board the Steamboat Far West. Congress, of course, took action. On July 7 it passed a Resolution requesting a report.

Next page: The report from General Terry.