1 Lt. Col. Custer s Forces, 1874 Panorama of Lt. Col. Custer's Force. IRC, Discovery Education. Web. In this activity, you will review sources that describe the Battle of Little Bighorn. These accounts of the battle are divided into two groups. The first includes accounts that were written in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This group is labeled Then. The second includes more recent accounts of the battle. This group is labeled Now. You will analyze how historians interpret the past and then write an article or create a presentation that analyzes how viewpoints of this battle have changed over time. Additional Resources: Using and Evaluating Sources
2 Analyzing How Historians Interpret the Past This activity provides contemporary and modern accounts of the Battle of Little Bighorn. The early accounts have been labeled Then, and the more recent accounts have been labeled Now. Use the chart on the page that follows each source to help you analyze how historians interpret the past. You should also use the Discovery Education search engine to find additional sources of early and modern accounts of the battle to support your article or presentation. Once you have completed your analysis of the Then and Now accounts of the Battle of Little Bighorn, you will select one of the following products: You are a historian who has been assigned by a historical society to write an article for a journal that analyzes accounts of the Battle of Little Bighorn and how they have changed over time. Your article should describe the sources each account seems to draw on, how point of view and frame of reference have affected each account, and how and why the accounts have changed over time. You are a historian assembling information for a museum exhibit about the Battle of Little Bighorn. This exhibit will compare and contrast early and more recent accounts of the battle. You have been asked to present your research about the battle to the museum board. Use Board Builder to create a presentation that describes the sources each account of the battle seems to draw on, how point of view and frame of reference have affected each account, and how and why the accounts have changed over time.
3 THEN: Description of Events Prior to the Battle of Little Bighorn, 1892 From reports brought in by scouts the day before, General Custer believed there were in front of him 1,200 or 1,500 Indians whom he expected to scatter easily with his 600 troopers. From previous experience he knew them to be cowards, unless they had every advantage, and he doubtless would have had an easy victory but for a combination of circumstances of which he knew nothing. A few days previous General Crook had found a large band of hostiles on the Powder river from whom he had been obliged to retreat, and the Indians, elated at their success, had gone over and joined the village on the Little Big Horn, reaching there only the day before General Custer and the Seventh cavalry arrived on the bluffs across the river; consequently, instead of a few hundred whom they could easily route, when too late the gallant troopers found themselves surrounded by more than 4,000 wild and blood-thirsty savages.... In the meanwhile Custer and Reno had discovered the village, and General Custer dispatched an aid to Benteen, with the order, Benteen, come on. Big village. Be quick. Bring packs. At the same time he ordered Reno to attack the upper end, while he pushed on and struck them at the lower extremity of the village; by thus attacking them at two points at the same time, to demoralize and break up their camp.... Cyclorama of Gen. Custer s Last Fight Against the Sioux Indians, or the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Montreal: Boston Cyclorama Company, HathiTrust. Web.
4 Historical Account: Description of Events Prior to the Battle of Little Bighorn, 1892 (THEN) What sources does this account seem to draw on? How did point of view and frame of reference affect this account? How has the account changed over time? Why has the account changed over time?
5 THEN: Description of Events at the Battle of Little Bighorn, 1892 General Custer's advance to the ford where he hoped to cross the river and attack the camp was much longer than Reno's, consequently Reno had probably retreated before Custer had made his assault. Custer's intention was to sandwich the Indians between the two forces, and hoped, by pressing them on two sides, to demoralize and crush them. His plan is seen to be that of a General. It relieves him from the aspersion of rashness. It must be remembered that Custer had fought Indians many times, and had never been beaten by them, although on several occasions he had encountered more than three times the number of his own troops. He trusted, in this instance, to the fealty of his own officers, the bravery of his soldiers, and his own genius to overcome the mere weight of numbers, as he had so often done before.... General Custer must have been surprised at the magnitude of the village before him; instead of a camp of 1200 or 1500, he saw one of 4000 or It was indeed a magnificent scene that spread itself before him. For a distance of three or four miles up and down the river, and for at least a mile back, lay the many circles of white tepees reflecting the hot rays of the noonday sun.... In the ravine... a large number of troopers were found, who had probably sought shelter there only to be surrounded and shot down in cold blood by the pitiless foe.... The line of retreat was marked by whole companies of the dead.... Lieutenant Smith and his company were found in perfect skirmish line, as though thrown out as, a rear guard to protect the retreat of the balance of the command; but what could they do against such a surging mass of howling demons? Every man soon falls before the rapid firing of the red foe, and with a yell they rush madly up the hill, where they are again held temporarily in check by Captain Tom Custer's men. Finding them fast falling about him, Captain Tom falls back with the few remaining, and Captain Yates guards the rear, only to meet the same fate as his brother officers and their troopers, further down the slope. Meanwhile, hundreds of Indians on their fleet ponies had ridden rapidly around and up the coulies on the further side of the ridge. The top of this ridge is very narrow, with steep ascent on either side, frequently broken, and offering the best of rifle pits for the Indians. Out of these ravines they rushed at the exhausted and disheartened soldiers, firing rapidly and retreating to a safe distance to reload, while hundreds of others took their places. Here fell fearlessly, and fighting to the last, the noble Custer, surrounded by brothers and friends. Cyclorama of Gen. Custer s Last Fight Against the Sioux Indians, or the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Montreal: Boston Cyclorama Company, HathiTrust. Web.
6 Historical Account: Description of Events at the Battle of Little Bighorn, 1892 (THEN) What sources does this account seem to draw on? How did point of view and frame of reference affect this account? How has the account changed over time? Why has the account changed over time?
7 THEN: The Story of the Little Big Horn; Custer s Last Fight, by W. A. Graham, 1926 Accompanied by his brother and the adjutant, and by his nephew Autie Reed, the general [Custer] galloped to the crest of the ridge to look down upon the village.... The village seemed asleep. Save for a few dogs and ponies, lazy in the sun, a few squaws and romping children were all that could be seen. The camp was lifeless, apparently denuded of fighting men. Abruptly he turned to his companions. We've got them, he exclaimed. We've caught them napping. Come on! And wheeling his horse, with a wave of his hat to the waiting troops, he dashed back to the command and, with a cheer, again led them to the north. A mile further on they went, trotting, galloping, all the way, the intervening hills screening them from the village. Then the general, turning to his orderly, said: I want you to take a message to Captain Benteen. Ride fast as you can and tell him to hurry. Tell him it's a big village, and I want him to be quick, and to bring the ammunition packs. Martin checked his horse and was turning when the adjutant cried, Wait, orderly; I'll give you a message," and tore from his book the note which reached Benteen at Martin's hands, some three miles from the lone tepee. When Martin left the column, it was turning toward the river. He was the last man to see Custer alive, except those who rode on, and perished on the ridge. It is known that somewhere between the point where Kanipe left the column and where Martin turned back with Custer s last message, one set of fours dropped out, their horses exhausted. Two at least of these men, Privates Thompson and Watson, both of C Company, joined Reno later in the day. The others were probably killed by the Indians. So far we can follow Custer and his men on their ride to death. Little more is known. The accounts given by the Sioux differ so widely that little satisfactory information can be culled from them. Their stories cannot be reconciled. The field of battle, however, proved that Custer had ridden down the river some five miles from the point at which he diverged from Reno's trail, evidently with intent to strike the Indian village in flank or rear. Whether he attempted to cross the river is unknown; but the fact that several headless bodies of his men were found in the village, nearly opposite the scene of his destruction, would seem to indicate that some of his men may have penetrated the village. But whether in attack or in attempted flight, it is impossible even to conjecture.
8 It is probable that he approached the village from the southeast, emerging from behind the hills and ridges that screened the march of his troops until he turned toward the river, and that he was attacked and overwhelmed before he had time or opportunity to strike the village, which lay on the other side. It was apparent that the brunt of the Sioux attack came from the south, that Calhoun's troop was the first to be struck by the savage mass, and, immediately after, Keogh's. Aside from these two troops, in which officers and men died in their places, in platoon formation, there was no semblance of battle lines anywhere on the field. All was confusion. The tide of battle had swept over Calhoun and Keogh, crushing them by sheer weight of numbers, and, rolling onward, had first enveloped, then engulfed, the other three companies. The great war chief Gall of the Hunkpapas led the main attack, which broke the troop formations and pushed the swirling, fighting, milling mass to the north, until, upon the ridge where now stands the battle monument, assailed in the rear by the Ogallallas under Crazy Horse and Two Moon's fierce Cheyennes, both flanks turned, enveloped by overwhelming numbers on every side and swept with fire from every direction, the gallant Custer and his comrades fell.... As for the body of the dead leader, it was found there white and undefiled. Perhaps there can be employed no better words to bring to a close this story of the Little Big Horn than Bradley's eloquent description of the dead Custer as he lay, like Saxon Harold at Hastings, surrounded by the bodies of his men-at-arms: Probably never did hero who had fallen upon the field of battle appear so much to have died a natural death. His expression was rather that of a man who had fallen asleep and enjoyed peaceful dreams than of one who had met his death amid such fearful scenes as that field had witnessed, the features being wholly without ghastliness or any impress of fear, horror or despair. He had died as he lived, a hero. Graham, W. A. The Story of the Little Big Horn; Custer s Last Fight. New York: The Century Co., HathiTrust. Web.
9 Historical Account: The Story of the Little Big Horn; Custer s Last Fight, by W. A. Graham, 1926 (THEN) What sources does this account seem to draw on? How did point of view and frame of reference affect this account? How has the account changed over time? Why has the account changed over time?
10 Historical Account (Your Choice): (THEN) What sources does this account seem to draw on? How did point of view and frame of reference affect this account? How has the account changed over time? Why has the account changed over time?
11 NOW: The Black Hills and the Battle of Little Big Horn from Native Americans: Contact and Conflict This video segment describes the attack by General Custer on a village of Sioux at the Little Big Horn and his defeat by the warriors led by Sitting Bull.
12 Historical Account: The Black Hills and the Battle of Little Big Horn from Native Americans: Contact and Conflict (NOW) What sources does this account seem to draw on? How did point of view and frame of reference affect this account? How has the account changed over time? Why has the account changed over time?
13 NOW: The Battle of Little Bighorn, from Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument website On the morning of June 25, the camp was ripe with rumors about solders on the other side of the Wolf Mountains, 15 miles to the east, yet few people paid any attention. In the words of Low Dog, an Oglala Sioux, "I did not think anyone would come and attack us so strong as we were." On June 22, General Terry decided to detach Custer and his 7th Cavalry to make a wide flanking march and approach the Indians from the east and south. Custer was to act as the hammer, and prevent the Lakota and their Cheyenne allies from slipping away and scattering; a common fear expressed by government and military authorities. General Terry and Colonel Gibbon, with infantry and cavalry, would approach from the north to act as a blocking force in support of Custer's far ranging movements toward the headwaters of the Tongue and Little Bighorn Rivers. The Indians, who were thought to be camped somewhere along the Little Bighorn River, would be so completely enclosed as to make their escape virtually impossible. On the evening of June 24, Custer established a night camp twenty-five miles east of where the fateful battle would take place on June The Crow and Arikara scouts were sent ahead, seeking actionable intelligence about the direction and location of the combining Lakota and Cheyenne. The returning scouts reported that the trail indicated the village turned west toward the Little Bighorn River and was encamped about twentyfive miles west of the June 24 camp. Custer ordered a night march that followed the route that the village took as it crossed to the Little Bighorn River valley. Early on the morning of June 25, the 7th Cavalry Regiment was positioned near the Wolf Mountains about twelve miles distant from the Lakota/Cheyenne encampment along the Little Bighorn River. Today, historians estimate the village numbered 8,000, with a warrior force of 1,500-1,800 men. Custer's initial plan had been to conceal his regiment in the Wolf Mountains through June 25th, which would allow his Crow and Arikara scouts time to locate the Sioux and Cheyenne village. Custer then planned to make a night march, and launch an attack at dawn on June 26; however, the scouts reported the regiment's presence had been detected by Lakota or Cheyenne warriors. Custer, judging the element of surprise to have been lost, feared the inhabitants would attack or scatter into the rugged landscape; causing the failure of the Army's campaign. Custer ordered an immediate advance to engage the village and its warrior force.... The Lakota and Cheyenne village lay in the broad river valley bottom, just west of the Little Bighorn River. As instructed by his commanding officer, Reno crossed the river about two miles south of the village and began advancing downstream toward its southern end. Though initially surprised, the warriors quickly rushed to fend off Reno's assault. Reno halted his command, dismounted his troops and formed them into a skirmish line which began firing at the warriors who were advancing from the village.
14 Mounted warriors pressed their attack against Reno's skirmish line and soon endangered his left flank. Reno withdrew to a stand of timber beside the river, which offered better protection. Eventually, Reno ordered a second retreat; this time to the bluffs east of the river. The Sioux and Cheyenne, likening the pursuit of retreating troops to a buffalo hunt, rode down the troopers. Soldiers at the rear of Reno's fleeing command incurred heavy casualties as warriors galloped alongside the fleeing troops and shot them at close range, or pulled them out of their saddles onto the ground. Reno's now shattered command recrossed the Little Bighorn River and struggled up steep bluffs to regroup atop high ground to the east of the valley fight. Benteen had found no evidence of Indians or their movement to the south, and had returned to the main column. He arrived on the bluffs in time to meet Reno's demoralized survivors. A messenger from Custer previously had delivered a written communication to Benteen that stated, Come on. Big Village. Be Quick. Brings Packs. P.S. Bring Packs. An effort was made to locate Custer after heavy gunfire was heard downstream. Led by Captain Weir's D Company, troops moved north in an attempt establish communication with Custer. Assembling on a high promontory (Weir Point) a mile and a half north of Reno's position, the troops could see clouds of dust and gun smoke covering the battlefield. Large numbers of warriors approaching from that direction forced the cavalry to withdraw to Reno Hill where the Indians held them under siege from the afternoon of June 25, until dusk on June 26. On the evening of June 26, the entire village began to move to the south. The next day the combined forces of Terry and Gibbon arrived in the valley bottom where the village had been encamped. The badly battered and defeated remnant of the 7th Cavalry was now relieved. Scouting parties, advancing ahead of General Terry's command, discovered the dead, naked, and mutilated bodies of Custer's command on the ridges east of the river. Exactly what happened to Custer's command never will be fully known. From Indian accounts, relic finds, and positions of bodies, historians can piece together the Custer portion of the battle, although many answers remain elusive. It is known that, after ordering Reno to charge the village, Custer rode northward along the bluffs until he reached a broad gulch known as Medicine Tail Coulee, a natural route leading down to the river and the village. Relic finds indicate some skirmishing occurred at Medicine Tail ford. For reasons not fully understood, the troops fell back and assembled on Calhoun Hill, a terrain feature on Battle Ridge. The warriors, after forcing Major Reno to retreat, now began to converge on Custer's maneuvering command as it forged north along what, today, is called Custer or Battle Ridge.
15 About 40 to 50 men of the original 210 were cornered on the hill where the monument now stands. Hundreds of Lakota and Cheyenne warriors surrounded them. Toward the end of the fight, soldiers, some on foot others on horseback, broke out in a desperate attempt to get away. All were pulled down and killed in a matter of minutes. The warriors quickly rushed to the top of the hill, cutting, clubbing, and stabbing the last of the wounded. Superior numbers and overwhelming firepower brought the Custer portion of the Battle of the Little Bighorn to a close. The Battle of Little Big Horn. Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. U.S. National Park Service. Department of the Interior. Web.
16 Historical Account: The Battle of Little Bighorn, from Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument Website (NOW) What sources does this account seem to draw on? How did point of view and frame of reference affect this account? How has the account changed over time? Why has the account changed over time?
17 Historical Account (Your Choice): (NOW) What sources does this account seem to draw on? How did point of view and frame of reference affect this account? How has the account changed over time? Why has the account changed over time?