Red Bear's Story of the Battle
CUSTER HAD ORDERED the charge and he also gave them orders to take the Dakota horses from their camp. The scouts charged down the dry run, and when Red Bear came to the lone tepee, the other scouts were ahead of him and were riding around the lone tepee, striking it with their whips. He did this also. All the scouts stopped at the lodge perhaps half an hour. One of them called out: "There is plenty of grub here." One Feather went into the tepee and drank the soup left for the dead Dakota warrior and ate some of the meat. Just then Custer rode up with [Fred] Gerard and the latter called out to them: "You were supposed to go right on in to the Sioux village." While the scouts were examining the lone tepee, Custer, who was ahead of his troops, overtook them and said by words and signs: "I told you to dash on and stop for nothing. You have disobeyed me. Move to one side and let the soldiers pass you in the charge. If any man of you is not brave, I will take away his weapons and make a woman of him." One of the scouts cried out: "Tell him if he does the same to all his white soldiers who are not so brave as we are, it will take him a very long time indeed." The scouts all laughed at this and said by signs that they were hungry for the battle. They rode on ahead at this, but Red Bear noticed that Custer turned off to the right with his men about fifty yards beyond the lone tepee. Gerard rode on with the scouts here. Young Hawk, Goose, Black Fox, Red Star, Strikes Two, Bloody Knife, Little Sioux, Bob-tailed Bull were with him, also Forked Horn, Red-Foolish-Bear, Boy Chief, Little Brave, and One Feather. They rode hard, charging down to the Little Bighorn and, after crossing it, they were near the camp of the Dakotas. When they got across, they separated again. Six of the scouts turned off to the right sharply, where the Dakotas horses were by the timber. Boy Chief and Red Star were ahead, then followed Strikes Two, Black Fox, Little Sioux, and One Feather. The other party led by Bloody Knife went on toward the point of the Dakota camp. Bloody Knife was far ahead and he brought back three horses toward his party, calling out: "Someone take these horses back to the hill. One of them is for me." Red Bear did not see Bloody Knife because of the dust, but he heard afterwards who it was. In this party were Bloody Knife, Young Hawk, Goose, Forked Horn, Little Brave, Red Bear, Bobtailed Bull, and the two Crow scouts. "Now we all came to the point of the Sioux camp, the guns began to go off and we got off our horses and began to shoot." The Dakotas were shooting at them from the bluffs or hills, lying down out of sight. At this time no one was riding around on horseback. They were less than a quarter of a mile off when they dismounted to fire. Forked Horn was at the point of the timber at one side and called out: "Come on this side." At the ford as they crossed down to the Dakota village, the soldiers caught up with the scouts, and the scouts crossed more at the left and Red Bear saw at his right the soldiers stringing across the river. All was excitement and confusion at this point, he recognized no white soldier or officer. When Bloody Knife called out about the horses, the white soldiers had not yet dismounted. But they were all there with the scouts. The soldiers were dismounting at the time Forked Horn called and Red Bear mounted and rode to him.
At the same time, he saw coming toward the line where Young Hawk stood a Dakota horse, shot in the neck or cheek. As the horse passed along, Young Hawk struck him, saying, "I strike an enemy's horse." The white soldiers were calling and shouting. As Red Bear reached Forked Horn and dismounted, Young Hawk rode up and said to him: "Uncle, I have struck the bay horse and it is mine, and I give it to you. You have a rope, get the horse for your own. "Red Bear replied: "What is the use, we are fighting and I may be killed, and can have no use for it." Then Young Hawk rode back to his place. Just then he saw Little Brave riding from the timber and he said that he had heard from the yelling at the Dakota camp (he knew a little of the Dakota language) that they were about to charge. He said: "Let me fire one shot at the camp, and then let's get back to the hill, for they are too much for us." Now as Little Brave went to fire his one shot on foot, Red Bear held his horse for him. He came back at once and said to Red Bear that the Dakotas were about to charge, and that they had better mount and ride back to timber and then across the river. They started to ride back and as they were going through the bushes toward the river, they received a volley from the bushes in front of them just across the Little Bighorn. The Dakotas were in ambush there, without horses. At this the scouts doubled back again to where they started from. When they rode toward the river, they saw a great mass of Dakota horsemen between the ridge and the river, riding toward the ford, yelling and firing. it was alive with them. Red Bear dismounted when the Dakotas fired and led his horse, a leaning tree struck his saddle horn and stopped the horse. He pulled again and again at the horse's head until finally the horse came on, the saddle girth broke but he did not turn back, though he lost his extra cartridges. Then he tried to mount but twice his canteen, which he carried around his neck, got under him and he fell off. At last he mounted and rode on after Little Brave, who had not dismounted and was by this time far ahead. He soon came out of the timber where he had lost sight of Little Brave. He could see nothing on account of the smoke and dust which filled the air, but somewhere ahead he saw dimly someone riding. Just then he saw ten soldiers on horseback in full retreat toward the timber. At this point there was a deep cut and the horses of the soldiers fell into it and he heard the soldiers calling out, "Whoa, whoa." He swung his horse to the left and escaped falling into the cut and he left the soldiers floundering there with their horses. He followed on after Little Brave until the dark object ahead of him turned to the left. Then he rode straight on thinking that this could not have been Little Brave and he rode past the point where he saw the rider turn to the left. His horse stumbled and fell and threw him off. The horse then ran on toward the river and Red Bear chased him. It was an open place here, a few trees and many rose bushes. A long, dry limb caught in the side of the bridle and dragged behind the horse, and stopped him so that Red Bear could catch him. The hanging rope gave him a hold but the horse was scared and jumped about a good deal. Because he could use only his left hand, he could not stop the horse very well, for he still held his gun in his right hand. Then he saw a Dakota riding toward him up stream on his right, his face was painted, the lower half red and the upper half and forehead yellow as well as the eyes. He shot the Dakota and he fell from his horse, which reared up and wheeled back. By this time he could hear nothing but the steady firing of guns and the shrill whistles of the Dakotas. He followed his horse to the river and saw him swimming about. He leaped into the water and swam to him, caught him by the mane and they went over together. As he climbed out of the water, he saw swimming behind him the horse of the Dakota he had shot. It was a dark bay and his forehead had a white streak on it, around the horse's throat was a string of deer hoofs that rattled as he swam. This horse crossed a little above him. Down stream he saw Little Brave, who had already crossed the river, and he noticed that he was wounded under his right shoulder and the blood was running down in a stream over his white shirt. Little Brave's horse was going on a slow trot toward the ridge, but not upstream toward Red Bear. He went up to where the Dakota horse had landed, intending to drive him down to Little Brave. Just then, up the. bank, through the bushes at his left downstream came the horse of Bob-tailed Bull, the reins and rope were flying, and the tail and mane floating in the wind. The horse was much frightened and ran snorting past Red Bear but a few yards away from him and Red Bear saw that the saddle was all bloody in front. [Note: here is Cheyenne warrior Little Hawk's account of Bob-Tailed Bull's death.] Five or six white soldiers were riding through the bushes at his left, having just crossed the river. The horse of Bob-tailed Bull followed after them, and the Dakota horse he was driving dashed away after the others. (Bob-tailed Bull's saddle was an Indian saddle with a wooden frame covered with raw hide. Bloody Knife was the only one with a government saddle, horse, etc.) Little Brave was still riding on slowly and he waved his hand to Red Bear to go slowly also. The Dakotas were above them on the hills firing down at them. Red Bear thought Little Brave waved his hand at him meaning that Red Bear was to catch one of the horses for him as his own was played out, so Red Bear jumped off and caught at a rope which was dragging through the bushes from one of the two horses, either that of the Dakota or of Bob-tailed Bull. But the horse was badly frightened and though he caught the rope he was dragged about through the bushes, his moccasins being lost in the river, his bare feet were torn by the rose bushes. The horse dragged him up the stream toward the end of the ridge while Little Brave and the soldiers were riding straight toward the firing line of the Dakotas. Finally he let go of the rope and mounted his own horse.
He did not see Little Brave again and he thought the soldiers were all killed. [Note: Little Brave was killed too. Here is Cheyenne warrior Wooden Leg's description of Little Brave's death.] As he rode up to the end of the ridge, he saw many soldiers retreating. Then at their head he saw Reno, with a white handkerchief tied about his head, his mouth and beard white with foam, which dripped down, and his eyes were wild and rolling. The soldiers with Reno took Red Bear for a Dakota and aimed their guns at him, but he rode in close to Reno and struck him on the chest with his open hand, crying "Scout, scout." Reno called out to him in reply: "The Sioux, the Sioux; where?" Red Bear pointed down over the ridge where the Dakotas were. Just then an officer with three stripes gave him some cartridges for his gun, this officer had cartridges in boxes on his arm and as he opened a box the cartridges tumbled out. As the officer gave Red Bear the cartridges, he called to him, "John, John." They then all fired at the Dakotas higher up on the ridge without taking any aim, merely holding the guns up on a slant and firing. Red Bear had a bullet cut his coat at his arm-pit. A Dakota horse, wounded in the haunch, ran toward them and Red Bear tried to catch him.
He got up in order to do so, for they were all kneeling down and firing, but the soldiers shot the horse. Here Reno made a short halt, but he could not hold his men together, they kept falling back all the time, though quite a group stayed here. Then the Dakotas began to fall back and stop firing. The other remounted scouts now came up and formed a group with Reno's men. Seven scouts were missing: Young Hawk, Bloody Knife, Bob-tailed Bull, Little Brave, Forked Horn, Red-Foolish-Bear, and Goose. Red Bear had remounted when he could not catch the horse down on the flat, and the last he saw of Little Brave was his horse and the rider coming on a slow trot. Red Bear rode up to the top of the ridge and saw the Dakota scout, White Cloud, riding up from the river, and he told Red Bear that the Arikara scouts had driven off a number of Dakota horses, and they were to return but they had not yet come back. Then White Cloud said to Red Bear: "Let's go where the scouts are with the horses." White Cloud had one horse he was leading and Red Bear had picked up two where Reno had halted, and he led them. They came to a little hill and from there they saw four riders coming toward them, they thought they were Dakotas and turned to ride back to where Reno was. The riders were really Crow scouts and they seemed to recognize Red Bear, and waved to him that they were friends. He stopped and called the Dakota scout back, for he recognized then the dress o£ the Crow Indian, red shoulders painted on a white shirt. The Crow scouts halted and then they rode together. The Crow scouts said that two of their number had been killed on the ridge and that they were going there and then would come back (the missing Crow scouts were those that escaped with Young Hawk). So the Crow scouts rode on to the ridge and Red Bear and White Cloud waited for them a long time. Then Red Bear said to White Cloud: "The Crow scouts will not return, let us go back to Reno." They went back and found Reno with his soldiers still there. Just then the scouts who had taken fresh horses came back.
The first one to come was Bull-in-theWater, then Strikes Two, then Red Star, Boy Chief, One Feather, Soldier, Stabbed, Strikes-the-Lodge, and Little Sioux. After awhile the other scouts came in with the herd of captured horses, about forty in number; the scouts were Charging Bull, Bull, Red Wolf, and White Eagle."' Where Reno was the soldiers were on higher ground, and the scouts were down the slope about ten rods off. Stabbed was riding about on horseback, making a speech. He said: "What are we doing now, we scouts? We ought to do what Custer told us to do if we were defeated. He told us to fall back to the Powder River where the rest of the scouts are and the wagons and provisions." Pretty Face had already joined them from the pack-mule train and was there also at the time. Red Bear did not see this mule train at all. Pretty Face was probably with the herd scouts on the way back. The white soldiers were partly dismounted in their group, Red Bear did not notice any officers. The scouts were all saying among themselves that seven of them had been killed, for his part he was glad to be among them again. Stabbed told them that part of the scouts were to take the herd of horses on while the rest of them were to stay behind and keep the Dakotas off. So some of the scouts got ready to go on with the horses. They were: Bull-in-the-Water, Charging Bull, Red Wolf, White Eagle, Red Star, Pretty Face, Red Bear, One Feather, and the Dakota scout, Pta-a'-te, and they started back with the herd of horses. Those who stayed behind were: Strikes Two, Stabbed, Soldier, Boy Chief, Strikes-the-Lodge, Little Sioux, the two Dakota scouts, White Cloud and Ca-roo, the half-breed Dakota interpreter, E-esk, and Bull. The ten scouts with the herd of horses had not gone very far when another Dakota scout, Bear-Waiting (Matoksha), came in and joined the scouts, who were detailed to keep the Dakotas back. Red Bear and his other scouts rode along past the lone tepee and when they had left it six miles behind, the sun was just touching the hills. They followed the same trail they had used early in the morning. A little way out Bull joined them; he was sent by Strikes Two with word for them to go a little faster, as he could see the Dakota tents going down, and they thought the Dakotas might chase the herd. From this point Bull went on with them and after sundown Red Wolf and Bull-in-the-Water rode ahead of the herd. It was just getting dark when they heard three shots fired somewhere ahead of the herd. The scouts behind took the alarm, swung around the herd and rode ahead, reaching the valley of the Rosebud when it was too dark to see. The two scouts who had been ahead fell back when they heard the shots and when they reached the herd they agreed that the Dakotas were coming to meet them and that they had better escape. So they picked out fresh horses and rode off ahead. When the scouts who were driving the herd from behind heard the shots ahead, they looked back on the trail and saw a cloud of dust coming, dirt flying as though from the hoofs of many horses, and they thought it must be the Dakotas coming after them. So they took fresh horses also from the herd and rode around and on until they saw the black line of timber. Here they stopped hungry and thirsty, and a big wind struck them there. They waited at the edge of the timber while one of the scouts rode on through, over a cut bank, and found a muddy water hole. He called the rest of the scouts and they led their horses over the bank; the horses slid down. Each scout then set to making his own drinking place with his hands and drinking the water as it filled into the hole. There was not enough water for any of the horses. As they talked among themselves, Whole Buffalo said that he knew the way out, so they followed him to the Rosebud, which they reached at midnight and then on to the present Cheyenne Agency, which they reached at daylight. Then they climbed a high ridge and stopped, below them was the place where the Dakotas had their sun dance (already described). The Dakota scout advised them to stay here all day until the sun went down, because they could see in every direction, back on their trail as well as in front of them. So they stayed here until sundown, some slept while others watched. Then they rode on all night until at daylight they had reached the camp where Bloody Knife had been drunk. They hunted about among the camp leavings and found meat and spoiled crackers, which they had for breakfast. They crossed the Rosebud at the point where they had crossed it on the march. Here they discovered that the scouts led by Stabbed had already crossed ahead of them in great haste. They recognized their party by the tracks of the mule ridden by Stabbed. Then they followed the Rosebud to its mouth and reached the old camp, the last parade ground. Here they found the remains of a fresh camp fire, such as cans for cooking, etc. They decided that it was the breakfast camp of the party ahead, it was now about noon. They went down the bank of the Rosebud and found some boxes of crackers partly spoiled, wet and moldy, but they made saddle packages of these and rode on. The party of Strikes Two saw them and thought they were Dakota Indians and so rode on faster out of sight. They followed the old Custer trail very slowly until they were near the Tongue River and then camped on top of the ridge in the timber. In the morning they reached and crossed the Tongue River and found the place where the soldier had been clubbed to death. On the top of a range they went on and reached the Powder River camp. Here they found the party led by Strikes Two and a company of infantry, with a wagon train. The commander was called Wearer-of-the-White-Hat, he was from Fort Buford. This officer had two interpreters, a half-breed Dakota called The Santee, and a Grosventre called Crow Bear. They told the officer through these interpreters all that they knew about the fight. The officer called the scouts all together and told them to bring in their horses. He picked out two of the best horses for the scouts who were to carry word to the officer who had gone up the Elk River on a steamboat to the mouth of the Big Horn River. He selected Foolish Bear and White Cloud to carry the orders. These two scouts swam their horses over the Yellowstone or Elk River, swimming themselves and pulling a small raft behind them, which had upon it their guns and a small bag with the message in it. These scouts rode to the mouth of the Big Horn and after a time (several days), they came back and called for Strikes Two and Bull-in-iheWater to cross over to them and carry the mail to Fort Buford. Foolish Bear and White Cloud then recrossed the river and joined the other scouts.
He did not see Little Brave again and he thought the soldiers were all killed. [Note: Little Brave was killed too. Here is Cheyenne warrior Wooden Leg's description of Little Brave's death.] As he rode up to the end of the ridge, he saw many soldiers retreating. Then at their head he saw Reno, with a white handkerchief tied about his head, his mouth and beard white with foam, which dripped down, and his eyes were wild and rolling. The soldiers with Reno took Red Bear for a Dakota and aimed their guns at him, but he rode in close to Reno and struck him on the chest with his open hand, crying "Scout, scout." Reno called out to him in reply: "The Sioux, the Sioux; where?" Red Bear pointed down over the ridge where the Dakotas were. Just then an officer with three stripes gave him some cartridges for his gun, this officer had cartridges in boxes on his arm and as he opened a box the cartridges tumbled out. As the officer gave Red Bear the cartridges, he called to him, "John, John." They then all fired at the Dakotas higher up on the ridge without taking any aim, merely holding the guns up on a slant and firing.
The Arikara Narrative of Custer's Campaign against the Hostile Dakotas, June 1876, edited by Orin Grant Libby, State Historical Society of North Dakota 1920 p 121 - 135
For more information on Custer's scouts, please see The Twisted Saga of the Unsung Seventh Cavalry Scouts.
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