Sioux War Chief Takes Us There, 133 Years Ago This Month
On Greasy Grass Creek was the main camp of the hostiles at that time. I was one of the head council men in that camp. My lodge was situated in the center of the camp. The Uncpapas (Hunkpapas) Yanktonais and Santees were camped northeast of us, on the right, facing the battlefield. The Minneconjous, Sans Arcs, Two Kettles and Brules formed the center. On the left to the west were the Ogalallas and Cheyennes. On the morning of the attack myself and several women were out about a mile from camp gathering wild turnips. Suddenly one of the women called my attention to a cloud of dust arising in the neighborhood of the camp. I soon discovered that the troops were making an attack. We ran for the camp, and when I got there I was sent for at once to come to the council lodge. I found many of the council men already there when I arrived. We had no time to consult one another as to what action we should take. We gave directions immediately for every Indian to take his horse and arms; for the women and children to mount their horses and get out of the way, and for the young men to go and meet the troops.
Among the latter was an officer who rode a horse with four white feet. The Indians have fought a great many tribes of people, and very brave ones, too, but they all say that this man was the bravest man they had ever met.
I don’t know whether this man was Gen. Custer or not; some say he was. I saw this man in the fight several times, but did not see his body. It is said he was killed by a Santee, who still holds his horse. [Note: This was Noisy Walking.] This officer wore a large-brimmed hat and a buckskin coat. He alone saved his command a number of times by turning on his horse in the rear in the retreat. In speaking of him, the Indians call him “The man who rode the horse with four white feet.” There were two men of this description, looking very much alike, both having long yellowish hair. [Note: actually, none of the Custer brothers was wearing long hair on June 25, 1876.]
Some time before this fight, we were camped on the Rosebud, but we moved, crossed over and struck a tributary of Greasy Grass Creek and went into camp on the west bank. An Indian started to go to Red Cloud agency that day, and when a few miles from camp he discovered the dust rising. He turned back and reported that a large herd of buffalo was approaching the camp. The day was very warm, and a short time after he reported this, the camp was attacked by troops, who had followed our trail down the tributary and crossed Greasy Grass Creek a little above where we did, and above the mouth of this tributary. They [Reno’s men] attacked the upper end of the camp where the Hunkpapas were. The women and children fled immediately down Greasy Grass Creek a little way and crossed over. The troops set fire to the lodges. All the warriors then rallied and attacked this command in an overwhelming force, and drove them in confusion across the creek. They forced them back over a place below where they first crossed. The creek was very high and swift, and several of the troops were drowned.
After driving this party back [Reno’s men], the Indians corralled them on top of a high hill and held them there until they saw that the women and children were in danger of being taken prisoners by another party of troops [Custer’s men] which just then made its appearance below. The word passed among the Indians like a whirlwind, and they all started to attack this new party, leaving the troops on the hill. From this hill to the point where the troops were seen below it was open ground all the way, with the exception of the small tributary I spoke of before. While this last fight was going on, we expected all the time to be attacked in the rear by the troops we had just left, and when we found they did not come, we supposed they had used up all their ammunition. As soon as we had finished this fight, we all went back to massacre the troops on the hill. After skirmishing around awhile we saw the walking soldiers coming. These new troops making their appearance was the saving of the others.
The Indians can’t fight walking soldiers; they are afraid of them, and so we moved away.
The attack was made on the camp about noon. The troops, it appears, were divided, one party charging right into the camp. We drove them across the creek. When we attacked [Custer’s] party, we swarmed down on them and drove them in confusion. The soldiers became panic-stricken, many of them throwing down their arms and throwing up their hands. No prisoners were taken. All were killed; none left alive even for a few minutes.
These troops used very few of their cartridges. I took a gun and a couple of belts off two dead men. Out of one belt two cartridges were gone; out of the other, five. It was with the captured ammunition and arms that we fought the other body of troops. If they had all remained together they would have hurt us very bad. The party we killed made five different stands. Once we charged right in until we scattered the whole of them, fighting among them hand to hand. One band of soldiers was right in rear of us; when they charged we fell back and stood for one moment facing each other. Then the Indians got courage and started for them in a solid body. We went but a little distance, when we spread out and encircled them. All the time I could see their officers riding in front, and hear them shouting to their men. It was in this charge that most of the Indians were killed. We lost 136 killed and 160 wounded. We finished up this party right there in the ravine.
The troops up the river made the first attack skirmishing. A little while after, the fight commenced with the other troops below the village. While the latter fight was going on, we posted some Indians to prevent the command from forming a junction. Some of the young men took the clothing off the dead and dressed themselves in it. There were several among them who had citizen clothing. They went up and attacked the other command that way. Both banks of the river were very steep and difficult of ascent. Many of the troops were killed while crossing. When they got on the hill, they made some kind of fighting words, and the fight was then carried on at a distance, the young men sometimes charging close up. The fight continued at long range until the walking soldiers came. There are many little incidents connected with this fight, but I don’t recollect them now. I don’t like to talk about that fight. If I hear any of my people talking about it, I always move away.
We kept moving all summer, the troops being always after us. They stopped following us near the mouth of Powder River.
From the report of Col. W. H. Wood, Commanding Post, Cheyenne Agency, February 27, 1877, Headquarters Military Division of the Missouri.
Editor’s note: Red Horse was a Minneconjou Sioux war chief. His account of the Battle of the Little Bighorn exists in two versions that derive from the same telling. This, the second, appears edited for clarity and readability by Col. W. H. Wood or some other party, and at times paraphrases. It adds missing elements, though, not recorded in the other version, yet alters language in at least one case that is unflattering to the soldiers. Red Horse, for example, said soldiers trying to surrender wanted to be taken prisoner and were acting “foolish.” Though there are no other textual alterations so egregious, Wood, or another editor, apparently chose not to include this deragatory but significant characterization of the defeated troops, whom the Sioux, a people who extolled courage in battle, executed without hesitation on that day 133 years ago at the Little Bighorn. A suggestion to the reader: reread Red Horse’s account slowly, gleaning the action taking place between the lines. This was combat of a most brutal nature, frequently hand to hand, the Sioux fighting for their way of life, their women and children, and on their own ground. Notice also, encoded in Red Horse’s account, his people’s tactical battlefield acumen. Consider then visiting the battlefield this month, where the Indian and Custer memorials now stand, and where ghosts of yesteryear haunt the once blood soaked prairie.