Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Custer Battle's Army survivors were saved and one lived to nearly 100

Tepees make a colorful photo at the entrance to the Visitor Center and  memorials at the Little Bighorn Battlefield. 

Both Custer and Sitting Bull are honored in a memorial at Garryowen.


It doesn’t seem possible that it was seventy years ago this June 25, 1946, that I last saw General Custer.  No, that isn’t quite exact; that was the last time I saw him alive, for two days later I looked down on his body, lying white in the Montana sun. That was June 27, 1876. And the following day, I helped bury him and his brother, Captain Tom Custer. … It was hard digging on that high ridge that bordered the Little Big Horn.....-- Charles Windolph, last Army survivor of Custer Battle.


WELL OF COURSE there were survivors at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
Thousands of Indians lived to tell the tale.
But as a kid growing up in Montana, I was told there were no survivors.  No Army survivors among the soldiers Custer kept by his side when he divided up the companies. That's what we should have been told.
Charles Windolph lived to age 98
and recorded his memories of the
infamous battle's aftermath. 
AMONG THE OTHER men who fought with Custer's colleagues, Benteen and Reno, a man named Charles Windolph lived to nearly a century and told what he saw of the Seventh Cavalry's demise.
Windolph died at age 98, on March 11, 1950, the last survivor of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. He passed away at Lead, South Dakota, leaving a vivid first-person account of the military disaster that wiped out George Armstrong Custer and 265 of his troopers.
Indian men participate in a drum ceremony honoring their lost ancestors,
during the 139th Battle of the Little Bighorn Anniversary activities recently.
WINDOLPH HELPED bury the bodies of his fallen comrades on a blazing hot June day, up on the hill where Custer’s luck ran out. He described the scene in a book, "I Fought With Custer," published 71 years later:
"Custer was lying a trifle to the southeast of the top of the knoll – where the monument  is today. I stood six feet away holding Captain Benteen’s horse while he identified the General. His body had not been touched, save for a single bullet hole in the left temple near the ear, and a hole on his left breast. … His brother Tom lay  a few feet away."
A native American memorial was begun in the 1990s and stands asproud
testimony to the warriors lost during the battle to remain on  their land.

REPORTERS SAID the elderly cavalryman's mind so many years later was “as clear as a bell and his memory was prodigious.” Published by a father and son writing team in 1947, the Frazier and Hunt book tells the dramatic story of Windolph’s experiences with the Seventh Cavalry and Custer. 
We noted the 139th anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn this year, paying our respects to both fallen soldiers and native American for their bravery, even though foolish decisions by Custer led to the death of many.
A Park Ranger at the monument shows where Custer and his men fell. 

YES, THERE WERE survivors of the two-day siege on the Little Bighorn, but they were not among the five companies who stayed with Custer.  Those 265 men were all lost. But Reno's and Benteen's companies had survivors and after a slow two-day march, the wounded soldiers from the Battle of the Little Bighorn reached the steamboat Far West.
THE VESSEL had been leased by the U.S. Army for the 1876 campaign against the "hostile" Sioux and Cheyenne Indians. Naturally, they were reluctant

his survival to that steamboat and its captain. For he and other more gravely wounded soldiers would probably not have survived a horseback ride to North Dakota and medical assistance. to be herded to reservations.
(To be continued Saturday)

UP NEXT: On June 28, Captain Grant Marsh of the steamboat Far West and several other men were fishing a mile from the boat when a young Indian on horseback approached. “He wore a dejected countenance,” one man wrote. By signing and drawing on the ground, the Indian explained that many were dead but there were survivors. They would make their way in two days to the boat which took them to medical help. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a fresh look at travel, nature, the arts, family and more.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Good reporting. I, too, was taught the "no survivors" myth. Naturally, the Indians had plenty of people to tell the tale. We are headed your way next month and look forward to viewing the Indian memorial, which we've not seen.