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George Herendeen's Story of the Battle
THE STATEMENTS OF GEORGE HERENDON
GEORGE HERENDON, a scout sent by General Terry with General Custer's column, relates the following as his experience in the recent battle. He was sent by General Terry from the mouth of the Rosebud with General Custer's command to carry despatches to Terry from Custer:
"Bismarck, D. T. July 7, 1876
"We left the Rosebud on the 22d of June at twelve o'clock; marched up the Rosebud about twelve miles and encamped for the night. On the morning of the 23d we broke camp at five o'clock and continued up the Rosebud until nine o'clock, when we struck a large lodge pole trail about ten days old and followed it along the Rosebud until toward evening, when we went into camp on the trail. On the morning of the 24th we pulled out at five o'clock and followed the trail five or six miles, when we met six Crow Indian scouts, who had been sent out the night previous by General Custer to look for the Indian village. They said they had found fresh pony tracks and that ten miles ahead the trail was fresher. General Custer had the officers' call sounded and they assembled around him, but I did not hear what he said to them. The scouts were again sent ahead and moved along at a fast walk. We moved at one o'clock, and, while the officers were eating their lunch, the scouts came back and reported that they had found where the village had been quite recently. They moved again, with flankers well out to watch the trail and see that it did not divide. About four o'clock we came to the place where the village had apparently been only a few days before, and went into camp two miles below the forks of the Rosebud. The scouts all again pushed out to look for the village, and at eleven o'clock at night Custer had everything packed up and followed the scouts up the right hand fork of the Rosebud.
"About daylight we went into camp, made coffee, and soon after it was light the scouts brought Custer word that they had seen the village from the top of the divide that separates the Rosebud from Little Horn River. We moved up the creek until near its head, and concealed ourselves in a ravine. It was about three miles from the head of the creek where we then were to the top of the divide where the Indian scouts said the village could be seen, and after hiding his command, General Custer, with a few orderlies, galloped forward to look at the Indian camp. In about an hour Custer returned and said he could not see the Indian village, but the scouts and a half-breed guide, "Nuch Bayer," [AKA Mitch Bouyer or Mitch Boyer] said they could distinctly see it some fifteen miles off. While General Custer was looking for the Indian village the scouts came in and reported that he had been discovered, and that news was then on its way to the village that he was coming. Another scout said that two Sioux war parties had stolen up and seen the command; and on looking in a ravine near by, sure enough fresh pony tracks were found. [Note: He Dog said that a Sioux named Fast Horn was one of the Indians they saw that morning.] Custer had "officer's call" blown, gave his orders and the command was put in fighting order. The scouts were ordered forward and the regiment moved at a walk. After going about three miles the scouts reported Indians ahead, and the command then took the trail. Our way lay down a little creek, a branch of the Little Horn, and after going about six miles we discovered an Indian lodge ahead, and Custer bore down on it at a stiff trot. In coming to it we found ourselves in a freshly abandoned Indian camp, all the lodges of which were gone except the one we saw, and on entering it we found it contained a dead Indian. [Note: Feather Earring reported the dead Sioux warrior was Old She Bear, who had died of wounds he received at the Battle of the Rosebud eight days before.] From this point we could see into the Little Horn valley, and observed heavy clouds of dust rising about five miles distant. Many thought the Indians were moving away, and I think General Custer believed so, for he sent word to Colonel Reno, who was ahead with three companies of the Seventh regiment, to push on the scouts rapidly and head for the dust. Reno took a steady gallop down the creek bottom three miles to where it emptied into the Little Horn, and found a natural ford across the Little Horn river. He started to cross, when the scouts came back and called out to him to hold on, that the Sioux were coming in large numbers to meet him. He crossed over, however, formed his companies on the prairie in line of battle, and moved forward at a trot but soon took a gallop. The valley was about three-fourths of a mile wide. On the left (was) a line of low, round hills, and on the right the river bottom, covered with a growth of cottonwood trees and bushes. After scattering shots were fired from the hills and a few from the river bottom and Reno's skirmishers returned the shots [Note: according to all the Indain accounts, the Indians were taken by surprise as Crow King relates, and their first responce -- carried by One Bull at Sitting Bull's behest -- was to ask for parley], he advanced about a mile from the ford to a line of timber on the right and dismounted the men to fight on foot. The horses were sent into the timber, and the men formed on the prairies and advanced toward the Indians. The Indians, mounted on ponies, came across the prairies and opened a heavy fire on the soldiers. After skirmishing for a few minutes, Reno fell back to his horses in the timber. The Indians moved to his left and rear, evidently with the intention of cutting him off the ford. Reno ordered his men to mount and move through the timber. Just as the men got into the saddle the Sioux, who had advanced in the timber, fired at close range and killed one soldier. Colonel Reno then commanded the men to dismount, and they did so, but he soon ordered them to mount again and moved out on to the open prairie. The command headed for the ford, pressed closely by Indians in large numbers, and at every moment the rate of speed was increased, until it became a dead run for the ford. The Sioux, mounted on their swift ponies, dashed up by the side of the soldiers and fired at them, killing both men and horses. Little resistance was offered, and it was a complete rout to the ford. I did not see the men at the ford, and do not know what took place further than a good many were killed when the command left the timber. Just as I got out my horse stumbled and fell and I was dismounted, the horse running away after Reno's command. I saw several soldiers who were dismounted, their horses having been killed or having run away. There were also some soldiers mounted who had remained behind. I should think in all there were as many as thirteen soldiers, and, seeing no chance to get away, I called on them to come into the timber and we would stand off the Indians. Three of the soldiers were wounded, and two of them so badly they could not use their arms. The soldiers wanted to go out, but I said no, we can't get to the ford, and, besides, we have wounded men and must stand by them. The soldiers still wanted to go, but I told them I was an old frontiersman, understood Indians, and, if they would do as I said, I would get them out of the scrape, which was no worse than scrapes I have been in before. About half of the men were mounted, and they wanted to keep their horses with them, but I told them to let the horses go and fight on foot. We staid in the bush about three hours, and I could hear heavy firing below in the river, apparently about two miles distant. I did not know who it was, but knew the Indians were fighting some of our men, and I learned afterward it was Custer's command. Nearly all the Indians in the upper end of the valley drew off down the river, and the fight with Custer lasted about one hour, when the heavy firing ceased. When the shooting below began to die away I said to the boys, `Come on, now is the time to get out.' Most of them did not go but waited for night. I told them the Indians would come back and we had better be off at once.
"Eleven of the thirteen said they would go, but two stayed behind. I deployed the men as skirmishers and we moved forward on foot toward the river. When we had got nearly to the river we met five Indians on ponies, and they fired on us. I returned the fire and the Indians broke and we then forded the river, the water being breast deep. We finally got over, wounded men and all, and headed for Reno's command, which I could see drawn up on the bluffs along the river about a mile off. We reached Reno in safety. We had not been with Reno more than fifteen minutes when I saw the Indians coming up the valley from Custer's fight. Reno was then moving his whole command down the ridge toward Custer. The Indians crossed the river below Reno and swarmed up the bluff on all sides. After skirmishing with them Reno went back to his old position which was on one of the highest points along the bluffs. It was now about five o'clock and the fight lasted until it was too dark to see to shoot. As soon as it was dark Reno took the packs and saddles off the mules and horses and made breastworks of them. He also dragged dead horses and mules on the line and sheltered the men behind them. Some of the men dug rifle pits with their butcher knives and all slept on their arms. At the peep of day the Indians opened a heavy fire and a desperate fight ensued, lasting until ten o'clock. The Indians charged our position three or four times, coming up close enough to hit our men with stones, which they threw by hand. Captain Benteen saw a large mass of Indians gathering on his front to charge, and ordered his men to charge on foot and scatter them. Benteen led the charge and was upon the Indians before they knew what they were about, and killed a great many. They were evidently much surprised at this offensive movement, and I think in desperate fighting Benteen is one of the bravest men I ever saw in a fight. All the time he was going about through the bullets, encouraging the soldiers to stand up to their work, and not let Indians whip them.
"I forgot to state that about ten o'clock in the forenoon, and soon after Benteen made his charge, the men began to clamor for water. Many of them had not tasted water for thirty-six hours, and the fighting and hot sun parched their throats. Some had their tongues swollen and others could hardly speak. The men tried to eat crackers and hardtack, but could not raise enough saliva to moisten them. Several tried grass, but it stuck to their lips, and not one could spit or speak plainly. The wounded were reported dying from want of water, and a good many soldiers volunteered to go to the river to get some or perish in the attempt. We were fighting on the bluffs, about 700 yards from the river, and a ravine led down from the battlefield close to the river's edge. The men had to run over an open space of about 100 yards to get into the head of the ravine, and this open space was commanded by the Indians on the bluffs. The soldiers, about fifty strong, dashed over the open plateau and entered the ravine. They rushed down it to the mouth and found it closely guarded by a party of Indians posted in the timber across the river. The water could be approached to within about thirty feet under cover; but then one had to step out on the river bank and take the Indian's fire. The boys ran the gauntlet bravely. Some would dash down to the river with camp kettles, fill them, and then take shelter in the bend of the ravine, behind the rocks, and there canteens were filled and carried up the hill. Before all the men and wounded men were supplied one man was killed and six or seven wounded in the desperate attempt. One man had the bone of his leg shattered by a ball, and it has since been amputated. [Note: here is Mrs. Spotted Horn Bull's cheerful recollection of the water brigade slaughter.]
"About two o'clock the Indians began drawing off, but kept skirmishing until late in the afternoon, and near dark all drew off. We now got water for the animals, many of them being almost dead, and they were put to graze on the hillside.
"In the evening. Colonel Reno changed his position and fortified the new one, it being higher and stronger than the old one. We expected the Indians would renew the attack next day, but in the morning not an Indian was to be found. Every one felt sure that Crook or Terry was coming to our relief, and Colonel Reno sent out runners. About ten o'clock the glad intelligence was received that General Terry, with a large column of troops, was moving up the valley, six miles distant, and the head of his column soon came in sight."
In reply to questions, Mr. Haynden said:
"I went in with the scouts on the left of Reno's line. There were about sixty of us, thirty-five being Ree Indians, six friendly Sioux, six Crows and the rest white men. I saw Bloody Knife, a Ree scout, throw up his arm and fall over, and I think he was killed. The two cavalry soldiers I left in the timber when I went out I have no doubt were killed, as they have not been seen since. [Note: actually Lt. DeRudio and Pvt. O'Neill survived.]
"I saw Lieutenant McIntosh soon after he fell. He had his horse shot under him early in the action, and at the time he was killed he was riding a soldier's horse. He was shot on the river bank while riding back to the ford.
"I saw Lieutenant Hodgson also. His horse was shot and he was wounded. His horse fell into the river near the opposite bank of the ford, and to help himself up the steep bank Hodgson caught hold of a horse's tail and had got up the bank when an Indian sharpshooter picked him off. Custer's packs were with the rest, and the Indians did not get any of them. Neither did they get any mules. Most of Custer's horses were shot in the action, and I do not believe the Indians got over 100 animals by the fight.
"I think some of our men were captured alive and tortured. I know the colored scout Isaiah [Isaiah Dorman] was, for he had small pistol balls in his legs from the knees down, and I believe they were shot into him while alive. Another man had strips of skin cut out of his body. Hordes of squaws and old, gray-haired Indians were roaming over the battlefield howling like mad. The squaws had stone mallets and mashed in the skulls of the dead and wounded. Many were gashed with knives and some had their noses and other members cut off. [Note: see how Monahseetah protected the Custer brothers' bodies.] The heads of four white soldiers were found in the Sioux camp that had been severed from their trunks, but the bodies could not be found on the battlefield or in the village. Our men did not kill any squaws, but the Ree Indian scouts did. The bodies of six squaws were found in the little ravine. [Note: Gall relates how Reno's troops killed his wife and his children at the outset of the battle; this is the famous "my heart was bad" quotation.]
"I think the Indian village must have contained about 6,000 people, fully 3,000 of whom were warriors. The Indians fought Reno first and then went to fight Custer, after which they came back to finish Reno. The same Indians were in all the attacks. I think the Indians were commanded by Sitting Bull in person. There were eight or nine other chiefs in the field.
"I saw five chiefs, and each one carried a flag for their men to rally around. Some of the flags were red, others yellow, white and blue, and one a black flag. All the chiefs handled their warriors spendidly. I think Crazy Horse and his band were in the fight. The Indians must have lost as many men in killed and wounded as the whites did.
"Custer's men made a good fight, and no doubt killed a great many Indians. I don't think a single man escaped from Custer's part of the field. They were completely surrounded on every side by at least 2,500 warriors."
The Custer Myth: A Source Book of Custerania, written and compiled by Colonel W.A. Graham, The Stackpole Co., Harrisburg, PA 1953, p. 257 - 260
NOTE: George Herendeen (also spelled Herendon, Herndon and other ways) was a white Army scout assigned by General Alfred Terry to accompany Custer's Seventh Cavalry in June 1876 for the purpose of keeping Terry -- Custer's commanding officer -- informed of Custer's movements. Herendeen's letter was written July 7, 1876 -- 13 days after the Battle of the Little Bighorn -- and published by the Helena Herald the next day.
Herendeen's account of the Battle of the Little Bighorn is important for a raft of detailed, first-hand observations
The latter shows that Custer knew the Indians weren't running away from Reno, as Half Yellow Face originally reported to Custer. Instead, the free Sioux and Cheyenne were swarming to attack Reno -- information that Crow scouts Hairy Mocassin, White Man Runs Him and Goes Ahead also reported to Custer.
That meant Custer knew he himself had to attack immediately to keep the much larger Indian force off balance and proivide Reno's 112 men the support he promised -- otherwise he had sent Reno on a suicide mission.
And this in turn underlines the fact that the ONLY plausible explanation for the 20-minute delay after Custer initially charged the huge village was that Custer was shot trying to cross the river -- as White Cow Bull described, and Pretty Shield confirmed -- and was no longer commanding his men.
See Astonisher.com's Who Killed Custer - The Eye-witness Answer for more info...
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