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The George Armstrong Custer Collection of the
Monroe County Library System

Custer in the News
In Monroe County and throughout the United States


(Monroe Evening News, July 25 & 27, 1925)

Monroe folks are interested in the history of General George Armstrong Custer, famous Indian fighter who lived here in his youth and the following story, "Custer's Last Battle" written by L.M. Prill, famous lecturer on "Buffalo Bill's Country" is very interesting. The writer is a distant relative of the famous General and throws a new light on the final great Indian fight in the Northwest. The article was taken from the current number of "The Sample Case". The article follows:

June 24 commemorated the forty-ninth anniversary of the Custer Massacre, the terrible Indian victory which took place in Southern Montana in 1876. While this event is rather modern history details are still more or less unknown to the average person.

Various reasons can be advanced for this seeming ignorance. The battle in which General George Armstrong Custer and his entire command were annihilated took place in a section of the West which was devoid of settlement at the time. The scramble to absolve officers involved in the expedition created much controversy at the time and is still being agitated. It is only of recent years that Indians who took part in the massacre have thrown any light on the subject having a fear that their misdeeds would be punished. And those who were directly concerned never lived to recite their part in the affair - their lips were suddenly sealed in death.

Without going into the history too far in advance of the massacre the reader must be prepared somewhat. The massacre was one of the most terrible in Indian warfare and the thought is had as to confusing this history of prolonging the controversy that has arisen in the War Department and the press of the country. Custer and his men all died in battle. They may rest in peace.

Government treaties made with the Indians gave the latter vast domains in the West. The Indians felt they had a right to the country and when gold was discovered in the Black Hills they resented the intrusion of the Whites. Instead of respecting the treaty with the Indians, soldiers were sent to protect the invading miners and settlers.

Strife became common and orders were issued to round up all Indians and place them on reservations. Commonly it was felt among the leading chiefs that they were being wronged and many battles were fought prior to the battle on the Little Big Horn.

All through these troublesome times the Indians were well equipped with ammunition. The Government kept both infantry and cavalry at various forts in order to subdue the savages but traders on river fronts were exchanging firearms for furs and pelts at every opportunity.

The massacre on the Little Big Horn meant the death of Custer and five troops of the Seventh Cavalry, but in all fairness it may have been termed anything but a massacre. The Indians were fighting their last big battle in an endeavor to protect their rights, their lands, their freedom. Custer's command was the one picked to make this last big stand in Montana and apparently he was designed for sacrifice. He did his duty, obeyed orders given him and if he did feel he was discharging an unjust duty he obeyed orders from his superiors.

The Little Big Horn river meanders through a valley which is from a half to two miles wide; flowing in a north and westerly junction with the Big Horn River 15 miles below the battlefield. On the right hand side of the stream, or more plainly, eastern side, high hills rise in two terraces. These hills are barren of trees and are cut apart in many places by deep gulleys or ravines. Along the river is much timber and it is plain today there is less underbrush than at the time of the massacre.

General Custer and the Seventh Cavalry marched about one hundred miles in three days, starting at the mouth of the Big Horn River where it empties into the Yellowstone. General Terry in command of General Custer and his troops, was operating from this point, having brought his infantry this far on the river boat "The Far West".

He had proceeded west from Bismarck, N.D.; General Gibbons east from Fort Ellis (where Bozeman, Mont. Now stands) and General Crook from Fort Fetterman (east of Casper, Wyoming), all three commands were thus dispatched with the idea of surrounding the Indians, but the plan failed.

Crook had a skirmish with the Indians shortly after crossing where the state line now exists. He retreated and fell back one day's march. If he had succeeded in holding his ground, the one day's march in a forward direction would undoubtedly have place him in a position so as to have participated in the battle of Little Big Horn.

As noted before, Terry held his infantry at the mouth of the Big Horn river, about a hundred miles to the north; while Gibbons did not arrive at that point until several days after the battle was over.

The march was made by Custer, followed up the Tongue river and crossed west over the divide of the hills and south of the battle field. Many have called this march a "forced" one, as the day before the battle 40 miles were made, and after resting only a few hours, the call to again proceed was given before daylight.

Scouts gave news of a large Indian village, so camp was broken and at daylight the valley of the Little Big Horn was cited and the plan of action formulated.

Custer planned to keep in plain sight on the high hills and march along the crest to the north. Benteen and his men were to proceed across the valley to the hills paralleling the river and see if any more Indians were camped on the other side of the valley. Later he was to rejoin Major Reno and attack the southern end of the village, which extended about three miles up and down the Little Big Horn valley.

This village was larger than anticipated by Custer, or even his Crow Indian scouts, of whom there were six. Historians have estimated various numbers but Indians who participated in the battle state that there were 17,000 in camp there. About 2,000 tepees comprised the village and 6,000 men and boys constituted the fighting strength. It is only fair to believe this number was correct.

Many different tribes of the Sioux and friends were camped together and not a thought of a battle was in their minds as they had been enjoying the great buffalo hunt and merrymaking had been general. The way the village was scattered along the river bottom denoted they were not looking for trouble.

Custer rode along the hill in full sight and the Indians watching this movement began to mass their warriors at the lower end of the village, not knowing Reno and his soldiers were at the rear.

Reno appeared at the proper time and threw the Indians into a panic. A concerted defense was hastily made and Reno called a retreat and ended by dismounting his men in the timber. Later a mad dash was made through the river and up a ravine to the hills. Several soldiers lost their lives before the skirmish was over.

Historians all agree that it was over two and a half hours before Benteen rejoined Reno at this point. It was not recorded where he was in the meantime. He was an inexperienced Indian fighter and this was his first real participation in Western warfare.

At about the time Reno started his fight, Custer began a march down into the valley at the north end of the village. A part of the men reached the bluff immediately above the river, but a retreat was called and the sacrifice in life began. The frenzied Indians were ... bluff, and creeping over the brim, they began a forward movement at the same time others who had flanked either side of Custer's men began to close in on the scattered groups of soldiers.

The battle was a short one and Custer's signals of alarm and messages to Reno were unavailing as they were never heeded. Custer not only fired signals for help, but also sent couriers asking for reinforcements and ammunition. It is claimed by the Indians that less than an hour after they had made their attack the last soldier had answered the call of death.

The point where Custer fell was the commanding portion of the hill. His body was found reclining against those of some of his valiant soldiers and eye witnesses after the battle claimed he appeared to be sitting among them with a peaceful expression on his face.

He had not been scalped, and Indians assert he was thus respected as - was he not the big chief?. Contrary to the popular conception, Custer did not wear long hair at the time he was killed. He had but lately returned from Washington where he had been called by President Grant and this accounts for his change in style.

Historians who have attempted to uphold the acts of Major Reno have intimated that the reason Custer was not scalped as were the rest of the soldiers, was due to the fact that he had destroyed himself after seeing his command perish. This has been denied by every Indian interview. He was a true soldier and savages knew from past experience that he was just in all his acts. They respected him for what he was - "a Great Chief".

In the immediate group with General Custer were found the body of his brother, Captain Tom Custer and his nephew, Autie Reed. His brother, Boston Custer, civilian, was found in the foreground near the river and his brother-in- law, Lieut. James Calhoun was killed about a quarter mile to the east.

The body of Toms Custer was found to have been terribly mutilated and this was credited as having been done by Chief Rain-in-the-Face. The story goes that Rain-in-the-Face who previously had been arrested by Tom Custer, swore to eat the heart of the white man in token of victory and also as "medicine" to make him brave. This has been denied and especially so by Rain-in-the-Face when he was finally apprehended and punished for participation in his many acts of lawlessness. All soldiers were mutilated, but this was a practice of the savages, in addition to scalping their victims. It is true that all bodies were left nude upon the field as all clothing, guns, and ammunition were taken.

Three days after the massacre, Major Reno ventured on the scene and began to cover the bodies of the slain. No graves were dug, dirt being piled upon the bodies where they were found and identification was made as best the comrades could. To insure this identification, the name of the soldier was written on paper, which was placed in an empty cartridge and this was driven into stakes placed as markers.

General Terry having arrived by this time with the infantry, the body of General Custer was reverently placed in a hasty built coffin and transported overland to "the Far West" and thus the journey was started, which ended by his remains being interred in the Arlington National Cemetery at Washington, D.C.

A year after the massacre the bodies of his entire command were gathered together and placed in one common grave over which a massive monument was erected. The officers were for the most part, taken east at the request of relatives, but the men, the soldiers who braved their lives in order to make the frontier safe live at peace in one of the bloodies spots in the West.

The number killed with Custer was 203; with Reno, 67; making a total of 270 in all. In addition to the men killed under Reno's command 67 were badly wounded.

Today this spot is a national cemetery and over 1,448 other graves were found in the one mile square plot of ground. The bodies of men, women, and children - soldiers and civilians - from 12 forts in Montana and two in Wyoming have been transferred here as the old forts were abandoned by the government.

Ten boys who lost their lives during the past great war are peacefully resting here, and of the many only one grave is that of an Indian. Curley, the Crow scout, who died at the Capital agency in the spring of 1923 requested he be buried with the white brothers with whom he labored, as it had to be, he was buried in the Indian cemetery but almost a year later he was reburied on the battlefield through orders of the War Department. It is unlikely that there will be any more Indians thus honored.

The battlefield is taken care of by Sergeant Eugene Messenger, who has been Supt. For the past 12 years. Sergeant Messenger served in Custer's command and at the time of the massacre was under Reno. He helped in locating the bodies and rehelped in burying the dead. In the following year he again helped in locating the bodies and reburying them in one common grave.

The Custer battle field lies one mile from the main highway known as the Custer Battle Field highway and thousands of tourists visit the historic spot each year.

General George Armstrong Custer was born on December 5, 1839 at New Rumley, Ohio. A the home of his half sister in Monroe, Mich. And being of studious nature he prepared himself so thoroughly he was enabled to pass examinations to West Point at the age of seventeen.

Graduating from West Point with honors in 1861 he entered the army as second Lieutenant in the Fifth U.S. Cavalry and fought in the first battle of Bull Run. Energy and bravery created quick promotion in the army of the Potomac. Custer gallantly leading his men into action and suffering defeat but once.

He received due recognition for his work and was repeatedly brevetted in both the volunteer and regular service after the battle of Gettysburg.

He also fought at Cedar Creek and as a member of Sheridan's corps was present at Waynesboro, Dinwiddle, Five Forks, and other battles. March 13, 1865 he was promoted Brevet Major General in the regular army for meritorious service.

After the Civil War he served at various points in the west and took part in Hancock's expedition against the Cheyenne Indians in 1868 and against the Sioux in 1873.

Custer was a dashing soldier and was popular with his men. He had a commanding presence, being tall and handsome in figure with long flowing blonde hair and brilliantly colored clothing. In western warfare he usually dressed in beautifully make buckskin clothing.

General Custer's private life was exemplary. He had striven for an education and made good. Early in life he made a vow to abstain from all intoxicating liquors and he never used tobacco in any form, nor took the name of the Diety in vain.

Everything was vim and dashing throughout his comparatively short life, and his courtship was one of the truest love affairs known. On February 9, 1864 he was united in marriage with Miss Elizabeth Bacon at his adopted home in Monroe. This union was an ideal one and although he lost his life twelve years later at the age of 37, Mrs. Custer has ever held his memory sacred. She has always made her home at Monroe, Michigan, but at present is living in New York City.

(Monroe Evening News, July 25 & 27, 1925)

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