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Lazy White Bull's Story of the Battle
LAZY WHITE BULL'S ACCOUNT
DURING MAY and June, Sitting Bull's great camp was hunting on the Rosebud and the Little Big Horn, and all this time Sitting Bull kept scouts out. But for a long time they had nothing to report. By the middle of June, the game and the grazing on the Rosebud had become exhausted and the camps were moving back to the Little Big Horn looking for buffalo. On the evening of June 16, the tipis were pitched on Reno (Ash) Creek, between the Rosebud and the Little Big Horn. That night, Cheyenne scouts came in and reported the valley of the Rosebud black with soldiers. General George "Three Stars" Crook was coming from Fort Fetterman, Wyoming, with more than a thousand white soldiers and two hundred and sixty Indian Scouts -- Crows, Shoshoni, Rees [Arikaras] -- a force of more than thirteen hundred men.
Makes-Room was attending a meeting in the Cheyenne camp when the scouts came in. He hurried back to his own camp circle and spread the news. All the Sioux began to prepare for battle. They expected a hard fight.
White Bull put on a pair of dark blue woolen leggins decorated with broad stripes of blue-and-white beads, and beaded moccasins to match. Before and behind he hung a long red flannel breech-cloth reaching. to his ankles, tucked under his belt over his regular loin-cloth. He put on a shirt, and over his right shoulder he hung the thong which supported the small rawhide hoop, to which was attached four small leather pouches of medicine (earth of different kinds), a buffalo tail, and an eagle feather. This was his war-charm. It hung under his left arm. Around his waist, like a kilt, he placed his folded black blanket and belted it there with his cartridge-belt containing a hundred cartridges. He borrowed a fine war-bonnet from his brother-in-law, Bad Lake.
This bonnet had a long tail of eagle feathers reaching to the ground. The feathers began at the crown of the head and went straight down the back. There were no feathers around the head on this bonnet. All the way down the tail this bonnet was colored red and white alternately-seven white feathers, then four red, and so on. These red feathers commemorated wounds received in battle. A man who wore such red feathers dared not tell a lie or he might be wounded.
This bonnet had no protective power: White Bull wore it for its beauty. If he were to be killed, he wished to die in these fine war-clothes. Otherwise those who saw him lying on the battlefield might say: "This was a poor man. He must not have been a good warrior. See how shabby he lies there." Besides, such fine war-clothes made a man more courageous.
White Bull took his seventeen-shot repeating rifle, which he had purchased from an Agency Indian at Fort Bennett [along the Missouri River in Dakota Territory]. Then he went out and saddled a fast horse. He tied an eagle feather in its forelock and tail and fastened an imitation scalp made of woman's hair to his bridle-bit. Only horses which had been used to ride down an enemy could wear such a decoration. Then White Bull rode over to [his uncle] Sitting Bull's tent where the warriors were gathered.
Almost a thousand warriors had assembled -- Cheyenne, Oglala, Minniconjou, Sans Arc, Brule, Hunkpapa. It was late at night when they set out. They rode until nearly daybreak, then stopped, unsaddled, and let their horses rest. At daybreak they saddled up and rode on until they came near a big hill. There they halted again and sent scouts forward to the top of this hill to look for the troops. When these scouts had traveled halfway to the hilltop, Indian Government scouts appeared there, and firing was heard.
The whole war-party whipped up their horses and charged for the hill. There they found a Sioux wounded, and a horse killed. They rode over the hill and saw five Government scouts dashing downhill to the troops. They charged these five men, shooting all the time, and wounded one of them. Still they pressed on, following the five scouts, close to the soldiers. [Note: here are accounts by Capt. Anson Mills, Lt. John Bourke, Lt. Henry Lemly and Frank Grouard of the memorable initial charge by the Sioux and Cheyenne army at the Battle of the Rosebud.]
The soldiers advanced, firing at the Indians. A Cheyenne had his horse shot under him. The Sioux who rode with him were all surrounded and killed. They got caught between two bodies of enemies. It was a hard fight.
White Bull was not much given to singing war-songs, but as he advanced into that fight he was inspired to sing a song composed on the spot:
Friends, try your best.
There was a brave Cheyenne wearing a war-bonnet and red leggins who led the attack. White Bull kept trying to get in front of this brave man, but could not; the Cheyenne had the better horse. But as the Government scouts and the soldiers came charging back, White Bull stood his ground and the Cheyenne retreated past him. White Bull was out in front at last. The enemies kept coming, and in the lead dashed a brave Shoshoni [army scout]. He was riding a fast bald-faced sorrel with white stockings. His horse's tail was tied up in red flannel and a red flannel strip was tied about its neck. This Shoshoni had a cartridge-belt and a repeating rifle. He came straight for White Bull.
On came the Shoshoni, and White Bull sped to meet him. When he came near, the Shoshoni fired twice -- but missed. White Bull pumped two bullets into the right foreshoulder of the sorrel horse and dropped it. He ran the Shoshoni down and lamed him in the right leg, then wheeled away to join his comrades in retreat.
Afterward White Bull learned from the Crows that this Shoshoni was one of the bravest of their warriors. This Shoshoni was still living a few years ago: he may be alive today. This was considered one of the bravest of White Bull's many deeds, and, when President Coolidge visited the Black Hills and White Bull was chosen to make the address of welcome for the Indians, the Chief was pointed out as The-Man-Who-Lamed-the-Shoshoni.
It may be interesting to know White Bull's opinion of the various enemies he fought with: Says he: "The Rees are good fighters. The Flatheads fight well on foot with guns, but if you once get them to running, they sure do run. The Crows and the white soldiers are about the same at longrange shooting, but in hand-to-hand combat the Crows are more dangerous. But of all the enemies I have fought, the Shoshoni are the bravest and best warriors."
It was back and forth that day. All day long the Indians of both sides charged back and forth [on] horseback and not a few were killed on both sides. The troops lost nine men killed and twenty-one wounded. Of White Bull's immediate friends, Little Crow, Black Bird, Sitting Bear, and Little Wolf perished.
There were many thrilling rescues. White Bull's brother, One Bull, saved Yells-at-Daybreak (His-Voice-is Loudest-at-Daybreak, sometimes translated Rooster). White Bull himself saved Hawk Soldier after he was shot from his horse. He carried him back to his uncle. In another part of the fight a horse was shot and the Indian rider was pinned down. His leg was caught under the dead horse. White Bull ran forward and protected him until he could get his foot free and escape.
There was a Cheyenne in this fight named Sunrise. [Note: Sunrise was also known as Black Sun.] He was painted yellow all over and wore a stuffed waterdog [salamander] tied in his hair for a war-charm. He was shot through the belly from behind and lay helpless. White Bull dismounted and ran forward under fire. He seized the Cheyenne by the wrists and dragged him back to safety. The Cheyennes still honor White Bull for saving this man. Sunrise died after they got him back to camp. Because of his war-charm some of the Sioux remember him as Water-Dog. [Note: Here is Cheyenne warrior Little Hawk's account of the most famous rescue at the battle of the Rosebud -- Buffalo Calf Robe Woman's rescue of her brother, Chief Comes In Sight. Here is Cheyenne war chief Young Two Moon's account of Cheyenne warrior White Shield saving his life. And here is John Bourke's rescue of Trumpeter Snow, and Humpy's rescue of Sgt. Van Moll.]
This was one of the hardest fights White Bull ever saw. It lasted all day, but when it was over "Three Stars" took his troops and hit the trail back to his base. The Sioux and Cheyennes rode home, leaving scouts behind to watch "Three Stars" movements.
Two days later the Sioux returned to the battlefield. They found the body of a government scout there. Some say the Indians dug up the bodies of the white soldiers buried there, but White Bull knows nothing of this.
There is one strange thing about the Three Stars' battle. A certain Cheyenne rode into the fight, singing: I do not wish to be an old man.
This day is mine to die.
That Cheyenne was killed in the fight. White Bull is puzzled to know how the Cheyenne knew he was to die that day. He says he never saw an Indian throw his life away deliberately in battle or commit suicide in a fight.
Lakota and Cheyenne: Indian Views of the Great Sioux War, 1876 - 1877, compiled, edited and annotated by Jerome A. Greene, University of Oklahoma Press 1994 p 15 - 21
According to Richard G. Hardorff, Lazy White Bull's name in Lakota actually translates as Lazy White Buffalo. He was also known as White Bull and Joseph White Bull. His parents were Makes Room and Pretty Feather Woman, and thus Lazy White Bull was a maternal nephew of Sitting Bull, and brother of One Bull. He should not be confused White Bull, the Northern Cheyenne leader (also known as Ice Bear or just plain Ice).
Lazy White Bull fought in the actions he describes -- at both the battles of the Little Bighorn and the Rosebud -- and he was a major hero at the Rosebud when he rescued mortally wounded Cheyenne warrior Black Sun. But Lazy White Bull also sometimes claimed the brave deeds of others as his own.
At the Battle of the Little Big Horn, for instance, He Dog remembered how Crazy Horse led the charge that split Custer's right flank, Red Feather told of how Crazy Horse rode between two split portions of Custer's embattled troops, and Left Hand said Crazy Horse "was the bravest man I ever saw." Lazy White Bull, however, claimed Crazy Horse was a coward and he -- Lazy White Bull -- was the one who performed this brave act, even though no one else reported seeing him do it.
Lazy White Bull also claimed to have killed Long Hair, which wasn't true either, based on his own testimony that the officer he killed near the end on Last Stand Hill did not have a mustache. White Bull's claim that he killed Custer is not in the 1930 interview, but it is in the one conducted a decade or more later. Here is Richard Hardorff's succinct dissection of the false claims made by Lazy White Bull, and Walter Campbell on his behalf.
Based on both the eye-witness accounts of the battle, and the subsequent developments on the battlefield that day, however, it appears that Custer was killed or seriously wounded at the very outset of the Custer Fight, probably by White Cow Bull at the river before Custer's troops were fully engaged in the battle. Later, in the confusion of the final moments of the battle, it is impossible to say who may have been riding a sorrel horse. Click here for Astonisher.com's Who Killed Custer -- Top Ten List.
White Bull did honestly excel in one area though. With Amos Bad Heart Bull, he was among the leading pictographic artists among the Sioux during the early 20th century.
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