Left Hand's Story of the Battle
I WAS BORN in what is now called Powder River country. My father's name was Cherry.
I am part Blackfoot and part Cheyenne, but have always lived among the Arapahoes. When I was a small boy, I always used my left hand instead of my right, and as that was strange for an Indian, I was called Left Hand. That has always been my name.
I was in the battle of the Little Bighorn where General Custer was killed. There were four other Arapahoes with me. That was a long time ago, but I remember it as if it were but yesterday.
The Arapahoes were camped at Fort Robinson, and four other young bucks, Yellow Eagle, Yellow Fly, Waterman and a Southern Arapahoe, who was sometimes called Green Grass, and I left the camp to go on a war party for Shoshones. [Note: Waterman names the fifth Arapaho as Well-Knowing One [Sage.] We trailed north toward the country of the Crows, and one day met a small band of Sioux, who told us that their village was on the Little Bighorn, and that the Sioux were going to have a big sundance and that we must go with them. They thought we were scouts for the white soldiers, and watched us very closely. We went along with them to their camp, which was in the valley of the Little Bighorn, and as we approached the village, a number of Sioux came out to meet us. They took our guns away from us, and said they were going to kill us because we were scouts for the white soldiers. The next morning Two Moon, Chief of the Cheyennes, went to the Sioux Chiefs and told them that we were Arapahoes, and that they must give us back our guns and set us free, which they did, but they watched us closely so we could not get away. The second day we were in the Sioux camp they moved farther down the river, and it was the day after this that the battle took place.
The first attack [Maj. Reno's men] was made at the south end of the village when the sun was there (position indicating about 9:00 A. M.). The soldiers fired a few shots, but when we rushed toward them, they became frightened and started back across the river. Many of them lost their horses and had to swim across. They climbed up on a high ridge and built a barricade. There were many soldiers killed there. The Sioux were all around them.
When the sun was straight up (about noon) we heard shooting at the lower end of the village, and knew it must be more soldiers. I went down through the village and crossed the river with a large party of Sioux and Cheyennes. We Arapahoes had all gotten separated during the first fight.
The soldiers were up on the ridge and the Indians were all around them. There was lots of shooting all around, and the Indians were all yelling. Everyone was excited. I saw an Indian on foot, who was wounded in the leg, and, thinking he was one of the Crow or Arikara scouts with the soldiers, I rode at him, striking at him with a long lance which I carried. The head of the lance was sharpened like an arrow. It struck him in the chest and went clear through him. He fell over a pile of dead soldiers. Afterward I found out he was a Sioux, and the Sioux were going to kill me because I had killed their friend. One Sioux tried to take my horse away from me, but I would not give him up. Everyone was excited. The hills were swarming with Indians, all yelling and shooting. Many of the Indians had bows and arrows. As I came up on the ridge, one soldier, who was on the ground, handed me his gun. I took the gun and did not kill him, but some Sioux who were behind me killed him. I went back and took his belt, which had many cartridges in it.
Once I saw Custer. He was dressed in buckskin. It was almost at the end of the fight. He was standing up and had pistols in his hands shooting into the Indians. I did not see him again until it was all over. I walked around and saw him lying there. He was dead. Most of the soldiers were all dead, but some still moved a little. When the sun was there (pointing to a position indicating about 3 P. M.) all was over, not a white man was alive. The Sioux scalped a great many, then the squaws crossed the river and took all the soldiers' clothes. What they did to the dead soldiers I do not know, because I went back across the river to camp and joined the other Arapahoes. Some of the Indians went back and fought the soldiers who were barricaded on the ridge at the south end of the camp, but I did not go with them.
The next morning the Sioux broke camp and started for the mountains. We heard that some soldiers were coming up the river, and the Indians were scared. That night after they had made camp and it was dark, we four Arapahoes crawled out to the pony herd, and each mounting a pony, slipped away. We travelled as fast as we could back to Fort Robinson where the Arapahoes were. During that fight I counted thirteen coups. I was dressed in a shirt and breech-clout. My medicine was a piece of buffalo hide made into a cross with two feathers in it, which I wore in my hair.
Custer was a very foolish man to fight the Sioux at that time. He did not have many men, and the Sioux and Cheyenne were as thick as the grass on the hillside. I do not know how many there were, but I have never seen so many Indians together at one time. There were only a few Sioux and Cheyenne killed, and these were buried on the ground on the west bank of the river where the camp was. Not a man of Custer's command escaped, all were killed.
I was a young man then and there were lots of Indians. The white men used to trade us guns for buffalo robes, but now it is all changed. Many moons ago a great medicine man told us that if we would dance a certain dance for a long time, the buffalo would come back, and the Indians would again be free and happy, but that was not true. The Indian is like a prisoner on his reservation. The buffalo are all gone, the antelope are gone, and now we old men can only sit by the fire, sing our war-songs and dream of the past.
The Custer Myth: A Source Book of Custerania, written and compiled by Colonel W.A. Graham, The Stackpole Co., Harrisburg, PA 1953, p 111 - 112
Left Hand was one of five Arapahoes who fought with the Sioux and Cheyenne at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Here are eye-witness accounts of the battle from two other Arapahoes -- Sage and Waterman -- plus Cheyenne war chief Young Two Moon's account of how they came to be there.
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