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100 Voices: Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Crow, Arikara and American Eye-witness accounts of the Battle of the Little Bighorn

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Anson Mills's Story of the Battle
A 3rd Cavalry officer's account of the Battle of the Rosebud

From a speech by General Anson Mills to the Order of Indian Wars annual banquet in 1917.

Note

ON THE BATTLE OF THE ROSEBUD

Anson MillsBy General Anson Mills

About 9:30 or 10 o'clock, General Crook, being with Captain Henry's squadron, signalled a halt. Van Vliet's squadron... was in the rear of Henry, and Chambers' battalion... was in the rear of Van Vliet, and the packers were in the rear of Chambers. My squadron of four troops of the Third was in the advance on the right bank, followed by Captain Noyes with five companies of the Fifth... Everything was quiet, the day was beautiful, clear, calm and very warm. All had unbridled and were grazing for perhaps half to three-quarters of an hour, when my colored servant observed he heard shouting, and knowing that his ears were better than mine, I advanced up the hill... until I got to a high piece of ground, when looking north I saw on the crest of the horizon about two miles distant, great numbers of moving objects, looking somewhat like distant crows silhouetted on the clear sky above the horizon. I soon came to the conclusion that they were Indians in great numbers.

The friendly Indians were supposed to be in advance to find the enemy for us. General Crook and the troops on the left bank of the river were prevented from seeing anything to the north by the rising bluffs between them and the approaching Indians. I am satisfied that I was the first person to observe the coming hostiles.

They were, when I first saw them, from two to three miles distant, coming at full speed towards us and cheering. I immediately sounded the alarm, directing some of my squadron to mount, and calling out to General Crook, who was playing cards with some of his officers, that the Sioux were rapidly approaching.

He ordered me to report to him with my squadron at once. When I met him after crossing the stream, which was very boggy, I told him we were about to be attacked by a large force, and that the Indians were coming from due north. He told me to march rapidly and as soon as I got to higher ground to take the bluffs and hold them. I did so. What orders he gave to others I have never known. There are members of the Third Cavalry here, and they would probably correct me if I made mistakes. In all of this fight I do not remember to have received a single order except from General Crook personally or his Adjutant, Major Nickerson.

I marched as rapidly as I could through the rough and broken rocks, and as soon as I got on smoother ground gave the command "front into line," and sounded the charge. There were two prominent rocky ridges, the first about a half mile from where I met General Crook, and the second probably about a half mile further on. When I reached the first ridge the leading Indians were there but gave way. There were large boulders at its foot, some large enough to cover the sets of four horses. I dismounted and directed the horse holders to protect them behind these rocks, advancing the men to the top of the ridge where the boulders were smaller but of a size to protect one or two soldiers, and appeared to be just what we wanted to fight behind. We met the Indians at the foot of this ridge, and charged right in and through them, driving them back to the top of the ridge. These Indians were most hideous, every one being painted in most hideous colors and designs, stark naked, except their moccasins, breech clouts and head gear, the latter consisting of feathers and horns, some of the horses being also painted, and the Indians proved then and there that they were the best cavalry soldiers on earth. In charging up towards us they exposed little of their person, hanging on with one arm around the neck and one leg over the horse firing and lancing from undernearth the horses' necks, so that there was no part of the Indian at which to aim.

Their shouting and personal appearance was so hideous that it terrified the horses more than our men and rendered them almost uncontrollable before we dismounted and placed them behind the rocks.

The Indians came not in a line but in flocks or herds like buffalo, and they piled upon us until I think there must have been one thousand or fifteen hundred in our immediate front, but they refused fight when they found us secured behind the rocks, and bore off to our left. I then charged the second ridge, and took it in the same manner and fortified myself with the horses protected behind the larger boulders and the men behind the smaller ones.

These Indians lived with their horses, were unsurfeited with food, shelter, raiment or equipment, then the best cavalry in the world; their like will never be seen again. Our friendlies were worthless against them; we would have been better off without them.

In the second charge my trumpeter, Elmer Snow's horse became unmanageable, and he could not halt him but continued through the Indians receiving a wound shattering the bones of both forearms, but guiding his horse with legs only he described a circle of several hundred yards, returning to us and throwing himself on the ground. [Note: here is Lt. John Bourke's utterly modest account of saving Snow (he makes no mention of himself).]

On our right we were absolutely protected by the jagged and rough places down to the Rosebud Canyon, so we were most fortunate in securing this position.

On examining my front after taking the first ridge, I found that one of my troops, Captain Andrews, was missing, and learned that Colonel Royal had cut him off and directed that he report to him, as he was moving to the left with Captain Henry's squadron. We could see little of the left, as the ground depressed and the rough rocks obscured vision of what was going on by either the Indians or Henry's, Van Vliet's and Royal's commands.

I observed about this time two troops which I afterwards learned were Van Vliet's... on the South Bluff, and later saw them proceed in a northwesterly direction towards where we could hear firing from Henry's and Royal's commands.

Soon after I took the first bluff the infantry took position on my left and Captain Noyes with his five troops arrived and was placed in reserve by General Crook in our rear and left, and the infantry joined on the ground lying on my left. General Crook held his position near my squadron, between my squadron and Noyes', during the entire battle, but I had little communication with him save when he came to me to give orders, and I knew little of what was going on until finally most of the Indians left my front. About 12.30 he ordered me to take my command of three troops and ordered Captain Noyes with his five troops to report to me, and proceed with the eight down the canyon and take the village which he said he had been reliably informed was about six miles down the canyon.

Henry, who was one of the best cavalry officers I ever knew, moved off....

This canyon was about six miles long. I was directed to follow it until I came to the village, and take it, and hold it until he came to my support with the rest of the command. I obeyed the order until I reached the vicinity of the village when I heard a voice calling me to halt, and Major Nickerson, the Adjutant General, directed me to return at once to General Crook. Some of the officers advised not. "We have the village," they said, "and can hold it." Nickerson then came across the stream. I asked him "are you sure he wants me to go back," he replied he was.

The canyon had opened here so I found I could climb the rocks and get out...

I returned about 2.30 and found General Crook in about the same position I had left him and said "General, why did you recall me? I had the village and could have held it." I never saw a man more dejected. He replied, "Well, Colonel, I found it a more serious engagement than I thought. We have lost about fifty killed and wounded, and the doctors refused to remain with the wounded unless I left the infantry and one of the squadrons with them." He said, "I knew I could not keep my promise to support you with the remainder of the force."

The General had assembled the hospital around him and the infantry, also two battalions near him. In visiting my wounded Captain Henry heard my voice and called me. I did not know until then that he had been wounded, and going to him found his breast all covered with clotted blood, his eyes swollen so he could not see and a ghastly wound through both cheeks under the eyes. I said, "Henry, are you badly wounded?" and he replied, "The doctor's have just told me that I must die, but I will not," and he did not, although nine out of ten under such circumstances would have died. Henry and I were rival captains in the same regiment but always friends.

Though the Third Cavalry had less than one-half of the soldiers engaged, their loss in killed and wounded was about four-fifths, principally of Henry's and Van Vliet's squadrons and Andrews' company of mine, that of Vroom's company being the greatest in proportion, this owing to their isolated exposure on level ground where the Indians could pass through them.

The officers then mingled and talked over the fight. I learned that Royall with Henry's and Van Vliet's squadrons and my troop E had gone to the extreme left where the ground was open, and that when the 1,000 or 1,500 Indians had refused to fight in the rocks they had swung around and overwhelmed them, charging bodily and rapidly through the soldiers, knocking them from their horses with lances and knives, dismounting and killing them, cutting the arms of several off at the elbows in the midst of the fight and carrying them away.

They then swung around and passed over the halting ground we had made at 9:30 in the morning, capturing some horses and killing an Indian boy left there. We then all realized for the first time that while we were lucky not to have been entirely vanquished, we had been most humiliatingly defeated, and that the village which Custer was to meet only seven days later, 14 miles west on the Little Big Horn, contained probably 15,000 or 20,000 souls, perhaps 4,000 or 5,000 warriors, and that perhaps only half of them had met us in battle, and that had my command remained at the village not one of us would have returned.

In fact I, with General Crook, visited this village site in our fall campaign, and he told me I ought to have been thankful to him for returning me from that canyon as they were as well or better equipped to destroy me as they were to destroy Custer and his command, and here I want to pay tribute to both Colonel Custer and Captain Henry. I knew both as long as they lived, and have been acquainted with nearly all prominent cavalry officers during my service, and they were always in my mind typical cavalry soldiers of the U.S. Army. I always resented criticisms that were made against Custer by men from General Terry down, who had little or no knowledge of Indian warfare. While a good man, Terry was not familiar with Indian warfare.

The next day we returned to our camp on Goose Creek where General Crook and all of us made very brief reports of the battle, having little pride in our achievement. General Crook asked for reinforcements, and went into camp awaiting them, meanwhile we amused ourselves by hunting and fishing in the Big Horn Mountains, both General Crook and I being very fond of hunting we spent much time in the mountains and some two days later, after the Custer engagement, I and my Lieutenant Schwatka, went to the peak of the Big Horn Mountains, the northernmost point, thinking we might observe something in that direction, it being about 35 or 40 miles to the Rosebud. About 2 p.m. we observed a great smoke and realized that there had been a fight. Returning to camp in the night we reported to General Crook. About June 30th I with my squadron being the outpost on the lower Goose Creek observed at sunrise some smokes which created suspicion, and looking down the valley I saw three mounted men coming towards me which I -first thought were Indians, but later discovered that they were white men on mules, Private James Bell, William Evans, and Benj. F. Stewart, Company "E," 7th Infantry (who were awarded medals on December 2, 1876), and I rode to them. They handed me a dispatch from General Terry to General Crook stating that Custer and his command had been massacred and that they had been sent by General Terry to carry his message to General Crook. Crook was in the mountains hunting. I carried the dispatch to Colonel Royal, commanding the camp, who opened it and read the dispatch, which horrified the assembled officers.

He ordered me with my full company to carry it as rapidly as I could to General Crook, and after climbing about 18 miles in the mountains I found him returning with his pack mules loaded down with elk, deer and big horn sheep. He read the dispatch and while all of us were horrified and suppressed with mortification and sympathy for the dead and wounded there was with all, particulary in General Crook's expression, a feeling that the country would realize that there were others who had underrated the valor and numbers of the Sioux.

While Gen. Crook was a cold, gray-eyed and somewhat cold-blooded warrior, treating his men perhaps too practically in war time, there yet ran through us a feeling of profound sympathy for his great misfortune, while at the same time we had a still more profound sympathy for the other gallant, more sympathetic Custer - at least, most of us. There were some there, I regret to say, who had ranked him and over whom he was promoted, that would insinuate, "I told you so," and for these sentiments the majority of us had no respect.

Finally, we were joined by General Merritt and the entire Fifth Cavalry, and the fall campaign ensued. After its termination I was returned to the command of Camp Sheridan, my former post, and was directed by General Crook to enter into communication with Chief Touch the Clouds of the Minneconjous, whose tribe still remained hostile, and I proposed to approach him through Spotted Tail and try to induce him to surrender. He approved, and I fitted up Spotted Tail with about thirty of his friendly Indians, rations and pack mules, and he proceeded to the camp of Touch the Clouds, and after some protracted negotiations induced him to return and surrender at a given time, about thirty days in advance, stipulating, however, that he was to be received with honors when he joined Spotted Tail's band. This reception, according to Indian tradition, consisted of the following program:..


The Papers of the Order of Indian Wars, compiled and edited by John M. Carroll, The Old Army Press, 1975, p 4 - 12

NOTE:

After enlisting in the Union Army during the Civil War, Anson Mills designed and patented the woven ammunition belt which made him wealthy. He later also fought in the Indian Wars, retired as brigadier general and returned to El Paso as United States Boundary Commissioner where he reestablished the Mexican border on the island of San Elizario and straightened the Rio Grande by severing the Córdova banco.


This is a FREE EXCERPT from Bruce Brown's
100 Voices

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"Who Killed Custer -- The Eye-witness Answer" by Bruce Brown cover

Who Killed Custer? + 100 Voices
by Bruce Brown
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Who Killed Custer? -- the book that revolutionized Little Bighorn studies -- hotlinked to 100 Voices -- the largest and most complete collection of eye-witness accounts of the Battle of the Little Bighorn anywhere, in any form! Includes Who Killed Custer? Audio Book too!


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