A History of the Sioux War, and a Life of Gen. George A. Custer, with a Full Account of his Last Battle/Chapter 17

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search




A treaty having been made with the Indians and peace restored, the 7th Cavalry enjoyed a long season of rest. In the autumn of 1870, it was broken into detachments and distributed to different posts. Custer, with two companies, was assigned to a post at Elizabethtown, Ky., 40 miles from Louisville, and in this isolated place he remained two years. During this period of inaction he engaged in literary pursuits and wrote an account of his life on the Plains. He also joined in a buffalo-hunt given on the Plains in honor of the Russian Grand Duke Alexis, and after the hunt he and Mrs. Custer accompanied the Duke in his travels through the Southern States.

In March, 1873, the 7th Cavalry was ordered to Dakota, and in May was encamped at Fort Rice far up the Missouri. Here also were assembled other soldiers, and in July the so-called Yellowstone Expedition, commanded by Gen. D.S. Stanley, started out on its mission, which was to escort and protect the engineers and surveyors of the Northern Pacific Railroad. The march was westward to the Yellowstone and up its valley, accompanied part of the way by steamboats. The country was rough and broken, and the wagon trains were got forward with much difficulty. It was Custer's custom to go ahead every day with a small party of road-hunters, to pick out and prepare the most suitable road for the train.

On the 4th of Aug., when opposite the mouth of Tongue River, as Custer and his advance party of about 100 men were enjoying a noon-day siesta in a grove on the bank of the river, they were aroused by the firing of the pickets. A few Indians had made a dash to stampede the horses which were grazing near by, and failing in this, were riding back and forth as if inviting pursuit. The soldiers speedily mounted, and Custer with 20 men followed the Indians, who retreated slowly, keeping out of the reach of shot.

After going nearly two miles the retreating Indians faced about as if to attack, and simultaneously, 300 mounted warriors emerged from a forest and dashed forward. Custer's men immediately dismounted, and while five of them held the horses, the remainder, with breech-loading carbines, awaited the enemy's charge. Several rapid volleys were sufficient to repulse the Indians, and cause them to take shelter in the woods from which they came.

Just then the remainder of Custer's men came up, and the whole force retreated to the resting place they had so lately vacated. The horses were sheltered in the timber, and the men took advantage of a natural terrace, using it as a breastwork. The Indians had followed them closely, and now made persistent but unsuccessful attempts to drive them from their position. Being defeated in this, they next tried to burn them out by setting fire to the grass. After continuing their assault for several hours, the Indians withdrew at the approach of the main column, and
Custer and the fresh troops chased them several miles.

The same day, two elderly civilians connected with the expedition were murdered while riding in advance of the main column. Nearly two years later, Charles Reynolds, a scout subsequently killed at the battle of the Little Big Horn, while at Standing Rock Agency, heard an Indian who was "counting his coups," or in other words rehearsing his great achievements, boast of killing two white men on the Yellowstone. From his description of the victims and the articles he exhibited, Reynolds knew that he was the murderer of the two men.

The name of this Indian was Rain in the Face. He was subsequently arrested by Captains Yates and Custer, and taken to Fort Lincoln where he was interviewed by Gen. Custer and finally confessed the deed. He was kept a close prisoner in the guardhouse for several months, but managed to escape, and joined Sitting Bull's band. It is thought by some that he was the identical Indian who killed Gen. Custer, and that he did it by way of revenge for his long imprisonment. There seems to be no real foundation for this theory; but the "Revenge of Rain in the Face" will probably go down to posterity as an historical truth, as it has already been immortalized in verse by one of our most gifted poets, who seems, however, to have overlooked the fact that Gen. Custer's body was not mutilated.

A week after the affair on the Yellowstone a large Indian trail was discovered leading up the river, and Custer was sent in pursuit. On arriving near the mouth of Big Horn River, it was discovered that the enemy had crossed the Yellowstone in "bull boats." As Custer had no means of getting across, he camped for the night. Early the next morning he was attacked by several hundred warriors, some of whom had doubtless recrossed the river for that purpose. Sitting Bull was commander of the Indians, and large numbers of old men, squaws, and children were assembled on the high bluffs and mounds along the river to witness the fight. After considerable skirmishing Custer ordered his troops to charge, and as they advanced the Indians fled, and were pursued some distance.

In these two engagements our loss was four men killed, and two were wounded. Custer's horse was shot under him. There was no further trouble with the Indians, and the expedition returned to Fort Rice about the 1st of October. Later in the autumn, Gen. Custer was assigned to the command of Fort Lincoln, on the Missouri River, opposite the town of Bismark.

In the summer of 1874, a military expedition to explore the Black Hills was decided on, and Gen. Custer was selected to command it. The column of 1,200 troops, escorting a corps of scientists, etc., started from Fort Lincoln, July 1st, moved southwesterly about 250 miles to the Black Hills, and then explored the region. No trouble was experienced with Indians, and the expedition returned to Fort Lincoln in September.

Mrs. Custer had accompanied her husband to the Plains when he first went thither, and excepting when he was engaged in some active campaign or both were East, she shared with him the hardships, privations, and pleasures of frontier life. Mrs. Champney, speaking of her in the Independent, says:—"She followed the general through all his campaigns, her constant aim being to make life pleasant for her husband and for his command. General Custer's officers were remarkably attached to him; to a man they revered and admired his wife. She was with him not only in the idleness of summer camp-life, when the days passed in a dolce far niente resembling a holiday picnic; but in ruder and more dangerous enterprises she was, as far as he would permit, his constant companion."

When Gen. Custer was ordered to Fort Lincoln Mrs. Custer went there with him; that retired post was their home for the remainder of his life, and when he started out on his last campaign she parted with him there.