Bruce Brown's 100 Voices...
An Anoymous Sergeant's
CROSS AND DOUBLECROSS
THE CUSTER FIGHT.
A New Story of the Little Big Horn Massacre.
Allegations of a Guide's Treachery.
The Indians Warned and Enabled to Prepare an Ambush.
Interesting Incidents of the Battle.
Evidence that White Men Were With the Redskins.
Bismarck, D. T., July 31, 1876 A letter written by a sergeant in the Sixth Infantry, dated Yellowstone Depot, July 15, has the following interesting points in relation to the Custer massacre. You will note a new theory of Custer's attack and defeat which is at least plausible; but to the letter:
The impression prevails here, as well as above, that Custer was given away treacherously by a half-breed guide he had with him, by the name of Billy Cross, and every circumstance, so far as ascertained, tends to confirm the impression that the guide had an understanding with the Indians beforehand, and treacherously led Custer's command into a snare, where they were all massacred, with the exception of one Crow scout and two guides, named respectively Girard [Fred Gerard] and [Billy] Jackson. [Note: not much of this is actually true. Regarding Billy Cross, see below. Regarding the scouts who did and did not survive, see The Twisted Saga of the Unsung Seventh Cavalry Scouts.]
Cross, with the Indian scouts that came from Lincoln with Custer, deserted the command shortly after the fight began, and nothing was heard of them until they came into this camp, about 100 miles-four days' travel-from the scene of conflict. Had they joined Gibbon or Reno, the latter of whom was in close proximity and the former no more than twenty-five or thirty miles away, and informed the one or the other of Custer's situation the lives of at least some of the brave men who perished might have been saved.
They came in two distinct parties. Cross and one party about two o'clock in the afternoon of the 28th of June, and another party of about nine or ten more, leading surplus ponies, in about five hours after. When their stories were compared they were found to want in harmony in several very essential details. Most of the Indians' cartridge frills were full and none of them had expended more than two or three rounds. This, in connection with their contradictory stories, created in the minds of many, myself included, doubts as to their courage and honesty toward Custer on this occasion, and I for one find it difficult to eradicate this impression from my mind. Most all of them are mere boys, and one of them gave evidence the other day that he was deficient in courage, and he is doubtless a fair criterion by which to judge the whole. Parties who have arrived from Terry since with dispatches inform us that the men who were fortunate enough to escape this dreadful carnage, the Crow scout especially, charge these Indians with cowardice, and say they ran away at the beginning of the fight.
They also say that the night before the fight this Cross was sent out to scout and reconnoitre and was gone ten or eleven hours; that he returned in the morning and informed General Custer that the village was a small one and he would encounter but very little difficulty in obtaining an easy victory. [Note: Charles Varnum and White Man Runs Him gave no indication that Billy Cross was on this scouting expedition, which numbered a dozen people. And if Cross was along, he clearly did not play an important role since no one else spoke of him. Besides, Half Yellow Face encouragingly told Custer that the Indians were running away at the beginning too.] Custer, who is said by his men to be very impulsive, without first satisfying himself as to the truth or falsity of the report, mounted his command and gave the command forward. The command came in sight of the village within an hour and a half and he gave the order to charge it, which was gallantly done, but no resistance was met with until they arrived at the other side of the village location, when they received a terrific volley, which put an end to many a noble fellow's existence, and the troops then found themselves in the centre of a large camp of many villages and completely surrounded by the red devils. [Note: actually, the Anonymous Sixth Infantry Sergeant is distorting and compressing events here somewhat. It's true that Custer's charged on sight of the village, and true that they were met with fire from the opposite shore when they reached the river, but there were less than a dozen Indian defenders on the other side, so after briefly scouting for a better alternative, Custer attempted charge across the Little Bighorn at Medicine Tail Coulee, where he was shot by White Cow Bull. See Who Killed Custer -- The Eye-Witness Answer for more info.]
At this spot the grass and brush were found tied and knotted, so as to impede the progress of the horses, and the Indians and some of the villages were screened from view by a sort of wicker breastwork of willow brush, behind which these red sleuthhounds of hell could quietly pick off any of the soldiers without endangering their own precious hides. All retreat being cut off there was nothing to do but go forward. Custer then designated a knoll for his command to rally at, which they did, breaking through the bronze wall of savages like a streak of barbed lightning and gained the knoll, where they made the last stand, all hands fighting desperately, as men only can fight whose lives are at stake and where the fight became a hand to hand conflict.
The squaws made themselves conspicuous, knocking in the skulls with a heavy club with a stone at the end of it, and mutilating in divers other ways, too sickening to mention, every soldier that fell.
The breastworks referred to, and the knotted grass especially, presented every indication of having been freshly done, and that the Indians were fully informed and aware of Custer's intentions toward them, and had accordingly made every necessary preparation for giving him a warm reception. Everybody was scapled and otherwise mutilated, excepting General Custer and Corporal Tiemann, whose scalp was partly off and who had the sleeve of his blouse with the chevron uplaid over it in a peculiar manner. This enabled a good many men of the Seventh cavalry, who are here dismounted, to detect one of the participants in the fight on the Indians' side in the person of Rain-in-the-Face, who was in the guardhouse last winter and chained to a corporal, also a prisoner at the time. Not even a button was removed from Custer's uniform, while his brother and the rest of the officers were terribly mutilated.
Reno's command was several miles away from the scene of Custer's fight, but was not aware of his having been engaged until after the battle was all over and General Gibbon had arrived with this command to reenforce him! To the timely arrival of Gibbon with his "Dough boys" is due the salvation of Reno and his command, for they were also surrounded and fighting desperately and with very slight hope of ever coming out alive.
To the coolness and bravery and foresight of Colonel Benteen, of the Seventh cavalry, at the beginning of Reno's engagement, is due the salvation of Reno and the greater portion of his command. He now occupies the very enviable position of idol in the esteem of those who were engaged with him and came out with their lives. One of the wounded of Reno's command, who is in the hospital here, says that at one time during the fight they heard the advance sounded on the trumpet from Indians; they all rose up, thinking it was Custer coming to reinforce them, and cheered lustily; when the Indians let forth a derisive yell at them, fired a terrible volley and made a charge which they repulsed, as they did several others that were made in rapid succession.
The Indian loss was very heavy, and it is said that after the battle was over, when Gibbon's and Reno's commands were burying the killed, they were found piled up like cordwood, so effective was the fire of the soldiers. Many more of the Indians were tied to their ponies and thus their bodies were carried off, and others were carried away by their friends.
The carbines of our cavalrymen, with breeches similar to our infantry guns, are represented to be almost useless after the first and sixth rounds have been fired from them, the spring refusing to throw the shell, thus necessitating the use of the ramrod to eject it.
Great complaint is also made of the cartridges, many of them hardly having enough powder in them to force the ball from the socket of the shell.
There is quite a number of white men with the Indians, English having been spoken in their ranks plentifully during the engagement. One of the Indians that was shot by Reno's men attracted peculiar attention, and upon going up to him he was found masked, and upon removing the mask the features of a white man were disclosed, with a long, gray, patriarchial beard. This individual was seen several times by Gibbon's command, in charge of small parties of Indians, but they never could get close enough to him to make his acquaintance, so they took him to be an Indian sporting false whiskers for a blind. But when he was pointed out on the field, dead, they recognized him as the same individual. A bugler who was dishonorably discharged in 1869, from the Second infantry, is said to be with them, and it is supposed that he is the one who blew the call on the trumpet.
The Custer Myth: A Source Book of Custerania, written and compiled by Colonel W.A. Graham, The Stackpole Co., Harrisburg, PA 1953, p 356 - 357
This Anonymous Sixth Infantry Sergeant did not fight at the Little Bighorn, but arrived shortly afterwards with Gibbon's troops.
His account of the battle is therefore secondhand -- heard from participants shortly after the battle -- and fairly distorted in some respects. For instance, the centerpiece of his story -- the charge of treachery against Billy Cross -- is almost certainly pure poppycock.
He also speaks of an ambush or trap set for Custer which resembles the story told by Foolish Elk but contradicts what everybody else said in certain particulars. (Everybody else said there were only a handful of Indian defenders there when Custer's men charged to the banks of the Little Bighorn.)
The Anonymous Sixth Infantry Sergeant's comments on the battlefield afterwards, however, are based on eye-witness observation. The "breastwork" of woven grass and branches he saw by the river at Medicine Tail Coulee is therefore particularly interesting.
No other eye-witness account mentions this "breastwork." It could be some sort of horse corral arrangement, but it could also possibly explain another mystery of the battle. Foolish Elk said Crazy Horse scrambled a party of Cheynne decoy / scouts on the morning of June 25, 1876, when he learned that Custer's troops were at the Crow's Nest at dawn.
Foolish Elk said these Cheyennes lured Custer's men at full gallop down Medicine Tail Coulee to the banks of the Little Bighorn across from the Cheyenne camp. The question then arrises, "why lure the soldiers to that location, across from the Cheyenne camp?" An Anonymous Sixth Infantry Sergeant's account may shed light on this, indicating that the Sioux and Cheyenne may have made some preparations for a trap there.
The eye-witness accounts of White Cow Bull, Bobtailed Horse, White Shield and He Dog all indicate the ford at Medicine Tail Coulee was very thinly defended when Custer's men arrived on the banks of the Little Bighorn, but maybe the "breastwork" described here helped conceal White Cow Bull, Bobtailed Horse and the few other defenders, thereby pushing the story to its inevitable climax. See Who Killed Custer -- The Eye-Witness Answer for more info.
For more information on Custer's scouts, please see The Twisted Saga of the Unsung Seventh Cavalry Scouts.
-- Bruce Brown