Yellow Nose's Story of the Battle
YELLOW NOSE'S STORY
[Geary, Oklahoma, 1911]
YELLOW NOSE SAID TO BE THE INDIAN WHO KILLED CUSTER ... The belief [is] firmly held among the old warriors of the Northern Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes in Oklahoma that Custer was slain by Yellow Nose, a Ute Indian now living on his allotment on the North Canadian River, near the town of Geary, Ok. The Indians have believed this for thirty-five years. Yellow Nose, who is not a boaster, merely says that he killed a man, an officer, who, other Indians said, was Custer. Yellow Nose had not seen Custer prior to the battle. [Note: Yellow Nose ranks #11 on the Astonisher.com Who Killed Custer List.]
This man, whose tribesmen so resolutely state he took Custer's life, is now about 57 years old and well preserved, save that he has been blind for many years from a blow across the forehead in the Little Big Horn fight, which eventually destroyed his eyesight. His body is scarred with many wounds received in battle. He will open his shirt and point to a hardened spot on his chest where a bullet tore through him when McKenzie's [sic] men gave battle in Powder River canyon. Yellow Nose was peering over an embankment, not suspecting that any danger was near at hand, when he was shot from ambush.
When Yellow Nose was 4 years old he was captured from his people by the Northern Cheyennes, one of whose women he married. He was a scout under General Lawton at Fort Robinson and later was given similar employment at Fort Reno. On the plains country he met the French-Cheyenne scout, Edward [sic] Guerrier, and their friendship brought Yellow Nose to Oklahoma in the early 70s. There was a constant passing to and from of the Northern and Southern Indians in those days.
Yellow Nose tells a circumstantial story which old warriors in Oklahoma support with their own testimony and evidence that he was the man who killed Custer. A number of Southern Cheyennes from Oklahoma were visiting the Northern Cheyennes at the time of the battle and took part in the engagement. They brought numerous relics from the battlefields to Oklahoma. In the neighborhood of Cantonment, Ok., may still be found guns taken from the dead troopers of the Seventh Cavalry. For a number of years George Bent, a mixed-blood Cheyenne who lives at Colony, Ok., owned Custer's pocket compass' given to him by Bull Head, a Southern Cheyenne. Bent sold the compass in 1879 to George Reynolds of the Indian trading firm of Lee & Reynolds, then at Camp Supply, Ok. As the story runs among the Oklahoma Indians, Custer and his men were first decoyed to the locality broken by ravines by Long Sioux and a companion. Long Sioux lives near Cantonment.
When the grass began greening on the plains in the spring of 1876, Yellow Nose started with his wife to visit her relatives in the North. Throughout the Sioux and Northern Cheyenne country there was great unrest among the Indians, and it was apparent that war was at hand. Yellow Nose lingered until it was unsafe for him to attempt to journey home, as small bands of Indians were in as great danger of losing their lives as were white men, if caught traveling through the country. About the middle of June war parties began bringing in reports of the presence of troops in the Tongue River country, and Yellow Nose went several times with scout parties to observe the soldiers. Finally the Indians gave battle on the Rosebud, and then retired in the direction of the Little Big Horn, Yellow Nose moving with them.
A report spread among the Indians that troops were advancing with Shoshone scouts, and inasmuch that General Crook had retired to the southward, the Indians expected the advance from that direction. To their utter surprise the troops came from the east under the command of Custer. There was much bitterness against Custer among the Indians because of his alleged massacre of the Black Kettle village of Southern Cheyennes, on the Washita River, in Indian Territory, now Oklahoma.
The village of the different tribes stretched for several miles along the west bank of the Little Big Horn. Yellow Nose went from village to village on the night of June 24 to see the dancing. Strict orders had been given by the war chiefs forbidding the firing of guns in camp, as the near approach of the troops was to be made known by two mounted warriors, who were to ride at full speed and fire two shots as they passed each village.
The battle was on Sunday, a warm, bright day. Farthest down the river was the camp of the Northern Cheyennes, where stood the lodge of the great war chief Crazy Horse. About noon, Crazy Horse, Yellow Nose and other Indians were in the river bathing when the firing of guns was heard up the river. [Note: Red Horse also said the battle began "about noon."] Reno and his men had crossed the Little Big Horn and were charging the upper villages, only to be beaten back in confusion and under such circumstances as came near dishonoring Reno.
Yellow Nose does not speak nor understand the English language. What he said in recounting his experiences was translated by his friend, Edward Guerrier, the old scout. Here he plunged into the detail of his narrative. Yellow Nose was confident that the Sioux would have destroyed Reno had they [the Sioux] not charged so quickly and eagerly in defense of their women and children, who thereby were given time to scramble onto ponies or flee on foot and escape westward. Had the Sioux held back and let Reno come further down the river they could have surrounded him and cut him off from the hills in which he afterwards found refuge.
Yellow Nose and his companions were delayed in rallying to the alarm, owing to the absence of their ponies, which had been driven away to graze. By the time they got their mounts they discovered another body of troops eastward across the river. The Cheyennes divided, some going to resist Reno while others, including Yellow Nose, crossed the Little Big Horn where a small stream or gulch debouched from the east.
Climbing to a promontory formed by this gulch, the Indians saw troops advancing toward them along the crest of the divide that ran back from the Little Big Horn. Yellow Nose was mounted on a fleet, wiry pony in advance of his companions, whom the soldiers evidently thought were few in numbers, as the crossing was difficult at this point. The mistake of the soldiers became quickly apparent when Indians were seen literally springing from the ground. The galloping cavalrymen pulled down to a trot. The Cheyennes were not so well armed as the Sioux, who carried quantities of ammunition fastened around their waists, chests and arms.
The soldiers fired first from their horses, dismounting only after they saw that the Indians were not intimidated. The regimental band began playing to the astonishment of the Indians, but the musicians threw away their instruments for guns.
The soldiers changed from a stand to a retreat as they were crowded upon by increasing and overwhelming numbers. Yellow Nose said that they made three stands. It was the purpose of the Indians to get in the rear of the troops and gain the east slope of the ridge. This the soldiers bravely resisted, and in their fury to dislodge the troops the Indians precipitately exposed themselves to a galling fire in the open. It was not until the close of the fight that the soldiers were driven to the west slope of the ridge.
At first the soldiers knelt and took deliberate aim, each fourth man holding the horses. "Some stood up and shot like this," said Yellow Nose, leaning far forward and clutching an imaginary gun. As the confusion, perhaps despair, increased after the retreat from the first stand, each soldier took possession of his own horse, possibly to be better able to escape if the battle went against them.
Yellow Nose declared that this merely hastened the disaster that followed. The held horses grew wild with fright, and their rearing and plunging made it impossible for the soldiers to shoot with steadiness and accuracy, many pulling the trigger while their guns pointed straight above them. Riderless horses stampeded in every direction, leaving their dead behind, and were caught by the Indians and taken across the river.
Yellow Nose had never seen Custer. He twice encountered the man whose body was found after the battle and identified by the Indians as that of Custer. Yellow Nose had shot a trooper, and, in accordance with Indian custom, was running forward to strike the body with a stick, which in the Cheyenne language is called "koos." The soldier called for help when he saw his enemy bearing down upon him, and several mounted comrades rushed to his rescue. One of these men fired at Yellow Nose at such close range that his eyes and face are still speckled with the [black] powder. The bullet missed Yellow Nose, wounding his horse in the neck. Yellow Nose was struck a heavy glancing blow across the forehead with the gunsight, blinding him for a moment and filling his eyes with blood.
This same man who had fired at him was next seen by Yellow Nose at a small mound on the ridge and on foot, with about thirty men gathered around him. He was bareheaded and armed only with a pistol. As the Indians bore down upon this group, a number of the soldiers apparently lost courage and ran to lower ground, close to the base of the mound. The officer shouted loudly to the men and drew nearer to them when he found that they did not hear him or were unwilling to obey him.
The appearance of this man was so striking and gallant that Yellow Nose decided that to kill him would be a feat of more than ordinary prowess. Yellow Nose was armed only with an old cavalry saber, having lost his gun. This saber had belonged to a boyhood friend, a Shoshone, at whose death his mother had given the saber to Yellow Nose. The battle had gone against the soldiers so heavily at this point that the officer stood finally alone. With saber drawn, Yellow Nose rode headlong at his enemy, prepared to cut him down at a stroke.
Already wounded, and trembling with fright, Yellow Nose's pony bolted when the officer fired at close range with a small pistol, but missed both man and horse. Getting his pony in hand again, Yellow Nose charged a second time, and again the officer fired and the pony sprang aside and beyond him. Determined to get within striking distance, Yellow Nose gathered himself for a third onslaught. As he drew near, the pistol was not fired-it was empty. He came squarely upon the officer, who bent his knees as it to ward off the blow of the uplifted saber. Yellow Nose struck him with terrible violence on the back of the head and the man sunk to the ground in a heap.
Indian Views of the Custer Fight: A Source Book, by Richard G. Hardorff, The Arthur Clark Co. Spokane, WA 2004, p 97 - 106
NOTE: Yellow Nose was truly a force in the Custer Fight, but actually the eye-witness record says the man who killed Custer was probably the Sioux warrior White Cow Bull (see Who Killed Custer -- The Eye-witness Answer for more info.) Here is White Cow Bull's description of Yellow Nose in action at the Little Bighorn.
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