Foolish Elk's Story of the Battle, #1
FOOLISH ELK of the Brule band related to me the following account of the battle as he saw it. Because of a minor wound that he had received in the engagement against Crooks [Gen. George Crook] on the Rosebud he was in too weak a condition to take part in the attack on Custer. This is his version:
"I was weak so I sat in the doorway of my lodge and from there I saw all the commotion that was going on in the village. Warriors were hastily leaping on their ponies and riding away. The women also were making hasty motions as they packed their possessions in order to be ready for sudden flight. Warriors, I had never seen so many, all of them were well armed and their ponies were in mettlesome condition. While I was occupied in this manner and expecting at any time to see or hear something momentous happen, I heard gun shots coming from the upper end of the village followed by war whoops. These firearm reports coming from a direction opposite where our braves had been massed for an attack confused my mind and later I found out what had happened. The Hunkpahpahs and Minnekanwojues had frustrated an attack on their village by two detachments under Major Reno and Captain Benteen. As my attention began to focus on what was happening towards the upper end of the village I was suddenly startled into looking toward the East again where the events that I had waited for began to outline themselves. As I shaded my eyes with my hand, I could see emerging from the direction of the hazily outlined hills a long column of bobbing forms moving into the river bottom. A trumpet blared and they began to gallop. When I first saw them they were about 10 arrowshots away (3000 yards). As they again appeared in view I saw that they were barely close pursuit of several warriors who were just barely managing to keep ahead of them. These, I learned later, were the Cheyennes who had rushed out earlier to meet the approaching troopers and who, in accordance with the instructions of Crazy Horse, were deliberately leading them into an ambush exactly as he had planned. [Note: White Cow Bull and George Bird Grinnell described the exact same scene, with Custer's men coming fast in hot pursuit of a handful of fleeing Indians, but they both said the fleeing Indians were Sioux, and it was no ambush -- there were less than a dozen Indian defenders when Custer tried to charge across the Little Bighorn and attack the Indian village. However, an anonymous Sixth Infantry sergeant, who was an eye-witness to the condition of the battlefield immediately afterwards, said the Americans found a "wicker breastwork of willow brush" set up to screen the village and "impede the progress of the horses" at Medicine Tail Coulee, so perhaps Crazy Horse and the Cheyenne had set a trap at Medicine Tail Coulee for use if they needed it, but then didn't have time to man the defenses as the situation developed. See Astonisher.com's "Who Killed Custer -- Top 10 List" for more info.]
"However, I did not know this at the time and sat there in tense anxiety expecting at any moment to see the village over-run by troopers. Just as I was begining to feel, let us say immensely wan, I heard the Sioux war cry (Hokahe) ring out from the river bottom, and soon afterwards a swarm; of warriors appeared and began to attack the ranging column from three sides. Crazy Horse with a mixed band of Ogalalas and Brules met the foremost van of troops head on and then, dividing into two streams they rode on towards the rear of the column, slashed at it from both sides as they did so. Suddenly, and at a given signal, the reformed Cheyennes rushed in and proceeded to belabor and shoot down the disconcerted members of the first group. In the meantime another band of warriors came furiously riding in from the south. In a short time I could see through the extending cloud of dust that almost entirely covered the raging scene that the whole column was caught in a trap and completely surrounded. In fact the leading group had been cut off by the charging warriors from the rear detachment, and these latter were being driven in the direction of another band of Indians who were coming at them from the north and who were not far from the lower end of the village. I witnessed this encounter at close range and saw the separated group immediately disposed of in a very short time. Towards the east, though the main battle had become indistinct, and because of intervening ridges, I was only able to get a hazy view of our warriors as they rode into and then out again from the scene of conflict. This encounter lasted longer than the skirmish to the north, but very soon the din and commotion began to die down and braves on lathered mounts appeared emerging from the direction of the battle. Some of these galloped off toward the north and others came riding into the village; it was from these that I learned of the exceptional disaster that. had befallen the entire command. (Wicunkasotapelo) "We killed them all" remarked one of the group."
Custer's Conqueror by William J. Bordeaux, Smith & Company 1944 p 57 - 58
There were two warriors named Foolish Elk at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, one an Oglala and the other a Brule. Here is another account of the Battle of the Little Bighorn by the Brule Sioux warrior Foolish Elk.
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