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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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FORTY-FOURTH CONGRESS, FIRST SESSION

SENATE EXECUTIVE DOCUMENT

No. 81

SERIAL VOLUME 1664

_______________

MESSAGE

from the

PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES,

transmitting,

In compliance with a Senate resolution of July 7, 1876, information made available in relation to the hostile demonstrations of the Sioux Indians, and the disaster to the forces under General Custer.

____________________________________

July 13, 1876 --- Read, ordered to lie on the table, and be printed.

____________________________________

To the Senate of the United States:

I have the honor to transmit herewith a report from General W. T. Sherman, together with Indians made any hostile demonstrations prior to the invasion of their treaty reservation by the gold-hunters; whether the present military operations are under the treaty of eighteen hundred and sixty-eight or of punishing them for resisting the violation of that treaty; and whether the recent reports of an alleged disaster to our forces under General Custer in that region are true.

ATTEST:

GEO. C. GORHAM. Secretary,
By W. J. McDONALD, Chief Clerk.

____________________________________

Ulysses S. GrantWAR DEPARTMENT
Washington, July 8, 1876.

To the PRESIDENT:

To enable you to answer the inclosed resolution of the Senate of July 7, I have the honor to submit the following brief statement of facts as exhibited by the records of this Department:

The Sioux or Dakota Nation of Indians, embracing various tribes, as the Yanktons, Yanctonnais, Brules, Ogallalas, Minneconjous, Sans Arcs, Two Kettles, &c., have long been know as the most brave and warlike savages of this continent. They have for centuries been pushed westward by the advancing tide of civilization, till in 1868 an arrangement or treaty was made with them by a special commission named by Congress, whereby for certain payments and stipulations they agreed to surrender their claim to all that vast region which lies west of the Missouri River and north of the Platte, to live at peace with their neighbors, and to restrict themselves to a territory bounded east by the Missouri River, south by Nebraska, west by the 104th meridian, and north by the forty-sixth parallel, a territory as large as the State of Missouri. The terms of this treaty have been liberally performed on the part of the United States, and have also been complied with by the great mass of Sioux Indians. Some of these Indians, however, have never recognized the binding force of this treaty, but have always treated it contempt, have continued to rove at pleasure, attacking scattered settlements in Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, and Dakota, stealing horses and cattle, and murdering peaceful inhabitants and travelers.

On the 9th of November, 1875, United States Indian Inspector E. C. Watkins made an elaborate report to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, in which he uses this language:

"I have the honor to address you in relation to the attitude of certain wild and hostile bands of Sioux Indians in Dakota and Montana that came under my observation during my recent tour through their country, and what I think should be the policy of the Government toward them. I refer to Sitting Bull's band and other bands of the Sioux Nation under chiefs or "head-men" of less note, but no less untamable and hostile. These Indians occupy the center, so to speak, and roam over Western Dakota, and Eastern Montana, including the rich valleys of the Yellowstone and Powder Rivers, and make war on the Arickarees, Mandans, Gros Ventres, Assinaboines, Blackfeet, Piegans, Crows, and other friendly tribes on the circumference.

From their central position they strike to the East, North, and West, steal horses, and plunder from all the surrounding tribes, as well as frontier settlers and luckless white hunters or emigrants who are not in sufficient force to resist them."

After describing at great length their character and supposed numbers, given at a few hundred, he says:

"The true policy, in my judgment, is to send troops against them in the winter, the sooner the better, and whip them into subjection. They richly merit punishment for their incessant warfare, and their numerous murders of white settlers and their families, or white men wherever found unarmed."

The force estimated as necessary to whip them was one thousand men. This communication was submitted by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Hon. Edward P. Smith, to the honorable Secretary of the Interior, Z. Chandler, who in turn submitted it to the then Secretary of War, General Belknap, for his "consideration and action."

In subsequent communication of the Secretary of the Interior, of December 3, 1875, to the Secretary of War, occurs this language:

"I have the honor to inform you that I have this day directed the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to notify said Indians (Sitting Bull and others outside their reservation) that they must remove to the reservation before the 31st day of January, 1876; that if they neglect or refuse so to remove, that they will be reported to the War Department as hostile Indians, and that a military force will be sent to compel them to obey the orders of the Indian Office."

On the 1st day of February the Secretary of the Interior further notified the Secretary of War:

"The time given him (Sitting Bull) in which to return to an agency having expired, and the advice received at the Indian Office being to the effect that Sitting Bull still refuses to comply with the directions of the Commissioner, the said Indians are hereby turned over to the War Department for such action on the part of the Army as you may deem proper under the circumstances."

During all the stages of this correspondence, the General of the Army and his subordinate commanders were duly notified, and were making preparations for striking a blow at these hostile savages, an enterprise of almost insurmountable difficulty in a country where, in winter, the thermometer often falls to forty degrees below zero, and where it is impossible to procure food for man or beast. An expedition was fitted out under the personal command of Brig. Gen. George Crook, an officer of great merit and experience, which, in March last , marched from Forts Fetterman and Laramie to the Powder River and Yellowstone Valleys, struck and destroyed the village of Crazy Horse, one of those hostile bands referred to by Indian Inspector Watkins, but the weather was found so bitter cold, and other difficulties so great arose, that General Crook returned to Fort Laramie in a measure unsuccessful so far as the main purpose was concerned. These Indians occupy parts of the Departments of Dakota and Platte, commanded by Generals Terry and Crook, respectively, but the whole is immediately commanded by Lieutenant-General Sheridan, who has given the matter his special attention. Preparations were then made on a larger scale, and three columns were put in motion as early in May as possible, from Fort Abe Lincoln, on the Missouri River, under General Terry; from Fort Ellis, in Montana, under General Gibbon; and from Fort Fetterman under General Crook. These columns were as strong as could be maintained in that inhospitable region, or could be spared from other pressing necessities, and their operations are not yet concluded, nor is a more detailed report deemed necessary to explain the subject-matter of this inquiry.

The present military operations are not against the Sioux Nation at all, but against certain hostile parts of it which defy the Government, and are undertaken at the special request of that bureau of the Government charged with their supervision, and wholly to make the civilization of the remainder possible. No part of these operations are on or near the Sioux reservation. The accidental discovery of gold on the western border of the Sioux reservation, and the intrusion of our people thereon, have not caused this war, and have only complicated it by the uncertainty of numbers to be encountered. The young warriors love war, and frequently escape their agents to go on the hunt, or warpath, their only idea of the object of life. The object of these military expeditions was in the interest of the peaceful parts of the Sioux Nation, supposed to embrace at least nine- tenths of the whole, and not one of these peaceful or treaty Indians have been molested by the military authorities.

The recent reports touching the disaster which befell a part of the Seventh Regular Cavalry, led by General Custer in person are believed to be true. For some reason as yet unexplained, General Custer, who commanded the Seventh Cavalry, and had been detached by his commander, General Terry, at the mouth of Rosebud, to made a wide detour up the Rosebud, a tributary of the Yellowstone, across to the Little Big Horn and down to the mouth of the Yellowstone River. The wounded were carried back to the mouth of the Big Horn, in the Yellowstone River, which is navigable, and where there were two steamboats, one of which was sent down the river to Fort Abe Lincoln with the wounded, and to communicate these sad facts.

General Terry is therefore at the mouth of the Big Horn, refitting, and will promptly receive re-enforcement and supplies, and will resume his operations immediately.

Meantime, General Crook had also advanced from Fort Fetterman, and on the 17th of June, eight days before General Custer's attack, had encountered this same force of warriors on the head of the Rosebud, with whom he fought several hours, driving the Indians from the field, losing nine men in killed; one officer and twenty men wounded. General Crook reports his camp as on Tongue River, Wyoming. Re-enforcement and supplies are also enroute to him, and every possible means have been adopted to accomplish a concert of action between these two forces, which are necessarily separated, and are only able to communicate by immense distances around their rear.

The task committed to the military authorities is one of unusual difficulty, has been anticipated for years, and must be met and accomplished. It can no longer be delayed, and everything will be done by the Department to insure success, which is necessary to give even an assurance of comparative safety to the important but scattered interests which have grown up in that remote and almost inaccessible portion of our national domain.

It is again earnestly recommends that the appropriation asked for repeatedly by General Sheridan, of $200,000, be made, to build two posts on the Yellowstone, at or near the mouths of the Big Horn and Tongue Rivers.

Inclosed herewith please find copies of General Terry's report, just received by telegraph since the preparation of this letter.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. D. CAMERON, Secretary of War.

______________________________

[TELEGRAM]

Philadelphia, July 8, 1876

General William T. Sherman, Washington, D.C.:

The following just received from Drum, and forwarded for your information,

----------

Chicago, Ill., July 7, 1876 --- 1.10 a.m.

General P. H. Sheridan, U.S.A.,
Continental Hotel

The following is General Terry's report, received late at night, dated June 27:

"It is my painful duty to report that day before yesterday, the 25th instant, a great disaster overtook General Custer and the troops under his command. At 12 o'clock of the 22nd instant he started with his whole regiment and a strong detachment of scouts and guides from the mouth of the Rosebud; proceeding up that river about twenty miles he struck a very heavy Indian trail, which had previously been discovered, and pursuing it, found that it led, as it was supposed that it would lead, to the Little Big Horn River. Here he found a village of almost unlimited extent, and at once attacked it with that portion of his command which was immediately at hand. Major Reno, with three companies, A, G, and M, of the regiment, was sent into the valley of the stream at the point where the trail struck it. General Custer, with five companies, C, E, F, I, and L, attempted to enter about three miles lower down. Reno, forded the river, charged down its left bank, and fought on foot until finally completely overwhelmed by numbers he was compelled to mount and recross the river and seek a refuge on the high bluffs which overlook its right bank. Just as he recrossed, Captain Benteen, who, with three companies, D, H, and K, was some two (2) miles to the left of Reno when the action commenced, but who had been ordered by General Custer to return, came to the river, and rightly concluding that it was useless for his force to attempt to renew the fight in the valley, he joined Reno on the bluffs. Captain McDougall with his company (B) was at first some distance in the rear with a train of pack mules. He also came up to Reno. Soon this united force was nearly surrounded by Indians, many of whom armed with rifles, occupied positions which commanded the ground held by the cavalry, ground from which there was no escape. Rifle-pits were dug, and the fight was maintained, though with heavy loss, from about half past 2 o'clock of the 25th till 6 o'clock of the 26th, when the Indians withdrew from the valley, taking with them their village. Of the movements of General Custer and the five companies under his immediate command, scarcely anything is known from those who witnessed them; for no officer or soldier who accompanied him has yet been found alive. His trail from the point where Reno crossed the stream, passes along and in the rear of the crest of the bluffs on the right bank for nearly or quite three miles; then it comes down to the bank of the river, but at once diverges from it, as if he had unsuccessfully attempted to cross; then turns upon itself, almost completing a circle, and closes. It is marked by the remains of his officers and men and the bodies of his horses, some of them strewn along the path, others heaped where halts appeared to have been made. There is abundant evidence that a gallant resistance was offered by the troops, but they were beset on all sides by overpowering numbers. The officers known to be killed are General Custer; Captains Keogh, Yates, and Custer, and Lieutenants Cooke, Smith, McIntosh, Calhoun, Porter, Hodgson, Sturgis, and Reilly, of the cavalry. Lieutenant Crittenden, of the Twelfth Infantry, along with Acting Assistant Surgeon D. E. Wolf, Lieutenant Harrington of the Cavalry, and Assistant Surgeon Lord are missing. Captain Benteen and Lieutenant Varnum, of the cavalry are slightly wounded. Mr. B. Custer, a brother, and Mr. Reed, a nephew, of General Custer, were with him and were killed. No other officers than those whom I have named are among the killed, wounded, and missing.

It is impossible yet to obtain a reliable list of the enlisted men killed and wounded, but the number of killed, including officers, must reach two hundred and fifty. The number of wounded is fifty-one. The balance of report will be forwarded immediately."

R. C. DRUM,
Assistant Adjutant-General

P. H. Sheridan,
Lieutenant General


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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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