The Arikaras' Story of the Battle
NARRATIVES OF YOUNG HAWK, RED BEAR, SOLDIER, AND RED STAR, ET AL.
GENERAL CUSTER had told them that he was going on another expedition and that they might be called upon to serve. After his return Young Hawk decided not to serve any more, but his father insisted that he should go. After a time Son-of-the-Star got a letter from Custer asking for more scouts. It was announced that Son-of-the-Star would call a council in his own house and many came. Son-of-the-Star said: "My boys, I have had a letter from a white man asking for some of you boys to serve as scouts." He told them that they would serve under Long Hair (Custer) and they were not surprised at this, for they had heard him say he would go on another expedition, and, besides, Son-of-the-Star had been to Washington. His words were heard by all present and all that was necessary to say was: "I will go." Young Hawk's father said, "I will go and my son, too." Those who promised to go at this time and afterwards enlisted were: Bob-tailed Bull, Stabbed, Charging Bull, Horns-in-Front, Young Hawk, Bull-in-the-Water, Little Brave, Bloody Knife, Tall Bear (High Bear), One Feather, Running Wolf, Red Star, Strikes Two, Foolish Bear, Howling Wolf, White Eagle, Crooked Horn, Strikes-the-Lodge, Scabby Wolf, Pretty Face, Curly Head (Hair), Black Fox, and One Horn. Certain scouts had reenlisted at Fort Lincoln and were already in service. Red Bear was asked to remain by Crooked Horn, so that they could return to Fort Lincoln together and he did so.
[Fred] Gerard took them all over to the office of the commanding officer and he took in Red Bear's permit and coming out soon told them they were to enlist and get clothes and arms. After medical examination was over, Gerard took them into Custer's office where Custer's brother (Tom, the one with the scar on his face) was. He raised his hand and Gerard told the Indians to raise theirs also. Custer soon came in and told them through Gerard that they were the last scouts to enlist and for that reason, since the expedition was ready, they must remain on duty at Fort Lincoln.
Soldier and Bob-tailed Bull met Custer at his camp on the river bank, in his own tent, Gerard was interpreter. Custer said: "The man before me, Bob-tailed Bull, is a man of good heart, of good character. I am pleased to have him here.
I am glad he has enlisted. It will be a hard expedition but we will all share the same hardships. I am very well pleased to have him in my party, and I told it at Washington. We are to live and fight together, children of one father and one mother. The great-grandfather has a plan. The Sioux camps have united and you and I must work together for the Great Father and help each other. The Great Father is well pleased that it was so easy (took few words) to get Son-of-the-Star to furnish me scouts for this work we have to do and he is pleased, too, at his behavior in helping on the plan of the Great Father. I, for one, am willing to help in this all I can, and you must help too. It is this way, my brothers. If I should happen to lose any of the men Son-of-the-Star has furnished, their reward will not be forgotten by the government. Their relations will be saddened by their death but there will be some comfort in the pay that the United States government will provide."
Bob-tailed Bull replied: "It is a good thing you say, my brother, my children and other relatives will receive my pay and other rewards. I am glad you say this for I see there is some gain even though I lose my life."
Custer then said: "No more words need be said. Bob-tailed Bull is to be leader and Soldier second in command of the scouts."
* * *
It was early in the morning when the bugle sounded, and the camp broke up and the march began. The army strung out in order toward the fort. Gerard told the scouts they were to have their own company, and they were the first to parade on the fort grounds.
* * *
The parade ended and the march began, with Custer ahead. There were four Dakota scouts who had been at Fort Lincoln that went along with the Arikara. One of these scouts was Ca-roo, another was Ma-tok-sha, a third was Mach-pe-as-ka (White Cloud), the fourth was Pta-a-te (Buffalo Ancestor). The first camp was on both sides of the Heart River. A drove of cattle went along to furnish beef to the soldiers; he saw them on the first day's march. The white soldiers were paid off at this camp, the scouts did not receive any pay at all for they were just enlisted.
* * *
Two Arikara scouts were sent out ahead, Stabbed and Goose, and they were given a letter to take to the camp across the river. Here there were some Crow scouts, and their interpreter, Man-with-a-Calfskin-Vest [Mitch Bouyer], came across the river to tell them about it. When Custer's army came up to Camp 20, Red Star saw the army across the river, it was already on the march up the Yellowstone. Stabbed and Goose came back and reported to Custer's camp. Camp 20 was the base camp for the infantry, the band, all the wagons, and part of the mules. There was an inspection of the horses of the scouts and of the cavalry here.
* * *
They broke camp and marched on; the band played all the time. Custer and Bloody Knife came by and Bloody Knife said: "The General says we are all marching. There are numerous enemies in the country; if we attack their camp we are beaten, we must retreat in small groups. You scouts must not run away, nor go back to your homes."
The next order was that if our command was broken up into squads or single horsemen that this camp should be the appointed place for reassembling all those that had scattered. For my part my heart was glad to hear the band, as far as we could hear the band played. There were some cannon being brought along. We came to the mouth of the Tongue River and here a camp was made. We marched up on a hill overlooking the Elk River and then down to the mouth of the Tongue River. Right at this point was an abandoned Dakota camp. Here lay the body of a soldier, and all about him were clubs and sticks as though he had been beaten to death, only the bones were left. Custer stood still for some time and looked down at the remains of the soldier.
They found a burial scaffold with the uprights colored alternately black and red. This was the mark of a brave man buried there. Custer had the scaffold taken down and the negro, Isaiah [Isaiah Dorman], was told to take the clothing and wrappings off the body. As they turned the body about they saw a wound partly healed just below the right shoulder. On the scaffold were little rawhide bags with horn spoons in them, partly made moccasins, etc. Isaiah threw the body into the river, and as he was fishing there later, they suppose he used this for bait. They camped here, and next day crossed the Tongue River and went through the bad lands and encamped at the mouth of the Rosebud. There was a steamboat here, and the cannon were taken across the Yellowstone by the steamboat. Here they waited while the scouts went up the river. Two days later the scouts returned and reported a big Dakota trail on each side of the Rosebud. Opposite this camp there was another camp on the other side of the Yellowstone. Six of the Crow scouts and one interpreter came across from that camp. They broke camp and went up the Rosebud River. From this camp Howling Wolf, Running Wolf, and Curly Head were sent back with mail to the base camp. At this camp they issued mules for carrying supplies. The scouts were given five mules to carry their supplies. Here Gerard told us he wanted us to sing our death songs. The Dakota trail had been seen and the fight would soon be on. Custer had a heart like an Indian; if we ever left out one thing in our ceremonies he always suggested it to us. We got on our horses and rode around, singing the songs. Then we fell in behind Custer and marched on, and a halt was soon made. Custer then ordered two groups of scouts to go ahead, one on each side of the river.
* * *
Next morning at breakfast Bloody Knife appeared leading a horse. He had been out all night. Then the bugle sounded and we saddled up, Custer ahead, the scouts following and flanking the army that marched behind. Bob-tailed Bull was in charge, with Strikes Two and others on one side. About nightfall they came to an abandoned Dakota camp where there were signs of a sun dance circle. Here there was evidence of the Dakotas having made medicine, the sand had been arranged and smoothed, and pictures had been drawn. The Dakota scouts in Custer's army said that this meant the enemy knew the army was coming. In one of the sweat lodges was a long heap or ridge of sand. On this one Red Bear, Red Star, and Soldier saw figures drawn indicating by hoof prints Custer's men on one side and the Dakota on the other. Between them dead men were drawn lying with their heads toward the Dakotas. The Arikara scouts understood this to mean that the Dakota medicine was too strong for them and that they would be defeated by the Dakotas.
* * *
On the right bank of the Rosebud as they marched they saw Dakota inscriptions on the sandstone of the hills at their left. One of these inscriptions showed two buffalo fighting, and various interpretations were given by the Arikara as to the meaning of these figures. Young Hawk saw in one of the sweat lodges, where they had camped, opposite the entrance, three stones near the middle, all in a row and painted red. This meant in Dakota sign language that the Great Spirit had given them victory, and that if the whites did not come they would seek them. Soldier saw offerings, four sticks standing upright with a buffalo calfskin tied on with cloth and other articles of value, which was evidence of a great religious service. This was also seen by Strikes Two, Little Sioux, and Boy Chief. All the Arikara knew what this meant, namely, that the Dakotas were sure of winning. Soldier said he heard later that Sitting Bull had performed the ceremonies here in this camp. After they passed this inscription of the two buffaloes charging, they came to the fork of the Rosebud River (about where the Cheyennes are now located). Six of the Crow scouts with their interpreter had been out scouting and they returned at this camp. They reported many abandoned Dakota camps along the Rosebud. The whole army stopped here and ate dinner on a hill. While the scouts were at dinner, Custer came to their camp with his orderly, the one who carried his flag for him. The Arikara were sitting in a half-circle, Stabbed sat at the right of Red Bear. Custer sat down with one knee on the ground and said: "What do you think of this report of the Crow scouts? They say there are large camps of the Sioux. What do you suppose will be the outcome of it all?"
* * *
The other officers came to the fire and stood around it. Custer said again through Gerard: "My only intention in bringing these people to battle is to have them go into battle and take many horses away from the Sioux." At this Custer extended his arms and said he was glad and pleased to have with him on this expedition familiar faces. "Some of you I see here have been with me on one or two other expeditions, and to see you again makes my heart glad. And on this expedition if we are victorious, when we return home, Bloody Knife, Bob-tailed Bull, Soldier, Strikes Two, and Stabbed will be proud to have following behind them on parade marches those who have shown themselves to be brave young men. When your chief, Son-of-the-Star, sees you on this parade, I am sure he will be proud to see his boys." To Gerard, Custer then said: "I want you to tell these young men, these boys, that if we are successful, when we return, my brother, Bloody Knife, and I will represent you at Washington and perhaps we will take you in person to Washington."
The bugles blew and they went on, Bob-tailed Bull ahead. They came upon another abandoned Dakota camp. These camps were large, one-half to one-third of a mile across. It must have rained at this camp for the sod was dug up about the tent circles to carry off the water. At this point they could see, far ahead, the hill called "Custer's Last Look," about twelve miles off. They marched towards these hills for they were to stop merely for supper and then push on all night. This temporary camp was on both sides of the Rosebud and it was very dark after they had eaten supper. From across the Rosebud Crooked Horn called over: "Strikes-the-Lodge, you saddle up and Red Star also with Red Foolish Bear, Black Fox, and Bull." Forked Horn led this party and here Red Bear heard that Bob-tailed Bull was ahead and had been gone since noon. This was the beginning of the night march and they rode all night. At dawn they came to the stopping place for breakfast and they were tired and tumbled off their horses for a little sleep. Bull-in-the-Water and Red Bear had charge of one mule which they were unpacking and the former said: "Let us get breakfast for if we go to the happy hunting grounds we should go with a full belly." In getting water for their breakfast they had to pass through the camp of the soldiers. The soldiers were lying in groups on the ground snoring, for they were very tired, and lay down where they had unsaddled.
* * *
Camp broke up, the horses trotted, and the army stopped at a hill and Custer came down to join them. His orders were to go ahead riding hard and take the Dakota horses. Stabbed rode around on horseback, back and forth, exhorting the young men to behave well and be brave. He said: "Young men, keep up your courage, don't feel that you are children; today will be a hard battle. We have been told that there is a big Sioux camp ahead. We attack a buffalo bull and wound him, when he is this way we are afraid of him though he has no bullets to harm us with." He said these things for he saw many of us were young and inexperienced and he wished to prepare them for their first real fight. He was at some distance when he said this and he was rubbing some clay between his hands. Then he prayed: "My Father, I remember this day the promises you have made to me; it is for my young men I speak to you." Then he called up the young men and had them hold up their shirts in front so that he could rub the good medicine on their bodies. They came up one by one, he spat on the clay and then rubbed it on their chests. He had carried this clay with him for this purpose. The mule train with supplies was left behind and Pretty Face was detailed on the duty of looking after it.
The Custer Myth: A Source Book of Custerania, written and compiled by Colonel W.A. Graham, The Stackpole Co., Harrisburg, PA 1953, p 27 - 31
This excerpt from O.G. Libby's Arikara Narrative details some of the dark forebodings being felt as Custer and the Seventh Cavaly approached their rendezvous with destiny, leading to the scene where Fred Gerard advises the Arikara scouts to sing their death song (Godfrey likewise reported the forebodings of Lonesome Charley Reynolds and the lead Crow scout, Half Yellow Face).
Also, the incident in this section of the Arikara Narrative where black scout Isaiah Dorman uses a dead Sioux warrior's body for fish bait may help explain why the Sioux mutilated Dorman's body so badly.
The photos of Little Brave and Goose are from The Little Bighorn Remembered by Herman J. Viola.
For more information on Custer's scouts, please see The Twisted Saga of the Unsung Seventh Cavalry Scouts.
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For more information on Custer's scouts, please see The Twisted Saga of the Unsung Seventh Cavalry Scouts.