Friends Of The Little Bighorn Battlefield

The Next Generation In The Study Of Custer's Last Stand

Home • Join Friends • Point Click Give • Guestbook

Little Bighorn: The Aftermath

More to See >>  Little Bighorn Reflections | Little Bighorn: The Aftermath       Bookmark and Share

And Development of an American Icon

June 23, 2002

By Megan Reece

Speakers: Jerry Greene, Jon James (Superintendent, Big Hole National Battlefield), Paul Fees, Doug Scott, and Neil Mangum

Chairman: Bob Reece

There were Wild West shows, water tanks, horse bones and battle-term debates. The second symposium held by the Friends of the Little Bighorn was presented on June 23, 2002, in the Hardin Middle School auditorium. The roster boasted five big names amongst the historical as well as the National Park Service communities. Each speaker presented a paper on the topic of his choice, and each in his turn successfully captured the attention of the audience.

Jerry Greene: "The Great Sioux War Post-Custer: An Overview and Some After-thoughts"

Jerry Greene was the first to speak. His paper was entitled: "The Great Sioux War Post-Custer: An Overview and Some After-Thoughts." According to Greene, many engagements between U.S. troops and Indian tribesmen took place during the years following the Custer fight. Greene spoke about several of these significant encounters during the Great Sioux War.

One encounter that Greene discussed was the Dull Knife Battle -  a fight between Col. Ranald Mackenzie and the Cheyenne in the western mountains of Wyo. At dawn on Nov. 25, 1876, Col. Mackenzie attacked a Cheyenne village housing 300 warriors. The non-combatants fled, and the fight lasted all that day and into the evening. According to Greene, the Dull Knife Battle ended Cheyenne participation in the Great Sioux War.

On Jan. 8, 1877, Col. Nelson Miles sent a company across the iced-over Tongue River to meet Crazy Horse, along with 600 of his warriors in the Battle of Wolf Mountain. This resulted with the Indians escaping after the battle. Also that January, Gen. George Crook presented his peace initiatives to Crazy Horse, who eventually surrendered May 6, 1877, at Ft. Robinson, Nebraska. Those who did not surrender went to Canada with Sitting Bull, and this was the near-end of the Great Sioux War.

According to Greene, one of the very last encounters between U.S. troops and Indians occurred near Lame Deer, Montana. In May of 1877, Col. Miles found and attacked Lame Deer's village. Col. Miles' attempts to negotiate with Lame Deer were unsuccessful because Lame Deer tried to shoot Col. Miles, but missed, and was then killed by soldiers of Company L. After this encounter, Gen. Sherman announced the end of the Great Sioux War.

Col. Miles continued his patrol of the Powder River in Yellowstone, and soon after on Sept. 5, 1877, Crazy Horse was killed at Camp Robinson. "Human memory is notoriously unreliable," said Greene. He told the audience that each source he uses, whether Indian or white, must be considered separately for its value and content. Oral history is not a perfect historical documentation, he reiterated.

Jon James: "125th Anniversary of the Nez Perce War"

Big Hole Battlefield Superintendent Jon James presented his paper entitled, "125th Anniversary of the Nez Perce War." James read from the script for the movie, "There Is No Turning Back," a film about the Big Hole battle. "On a summer day in explosion of gunfire shatters the quiet of a chilly dawn...blood covers the earth. The clear stream turns red as its current sweeps over dead and dying Nez Perce, soldiers, and civilian volunteers who have fallen into the water...the air smells of gun powder and...death."

According to James, the Big Hole battle took place on Aug. 9-10, 1877. Col. John Gibbon led the U.S. troops, some of whom had been with the 7th Cavalry that found Custer and his men dead following their last stand. Chief White Bird led the Nez Perce Indians. During the battle Col. Gibbon was wounded, and the Nez Perce drove him and his men away. James said that the Big Hole battle included hand-to-hand combat between soldiers and warriors.

There were also displays of cruel brutality towards non-combatants, particularly children. The battle resulted in 29 soldiers dead and 41 wounded. Ninety Nez Perce were killed, and most of these were women and children, James said.

After the battle, the Nez Perce fled the Big Hole Valley to join with the Crow Indians, but the Crow did not meet them so the Nez Perce fled towards Canada. According to James, on Sept. 30, 1877, Col. Miles charged the Nez Perce camp, only 40 miles from Canada in the Battle of The Bear's Paw Mountains. Some of the Nez Perce were able to cross into Canada, but Chief Joseph stayed and surrendered. He and his followers were sent to Fort Leavenworth, Kan. in the winter of 1877, and later placed on reservations.

With the 125th anniversary of the Big Hole Battle approaching, many activities are planned for its commemoration on Aug. 9th and 10th, James said. "There Is No Turning Back", will be screened at the commemoration. There also will be a lecture series and candlelight vigils that will be held at principle sights on the battlefield. The commemoration is a partnership effort between the Big Hole and Little Bighorn battlefields.

During the symposium, former Superintendent Neil Mangum was honored by the Friends for his many years of service with the National Park Service while at Little Bighorn, and his influence with the Friends. Neil was presented with a plaque and a lifetime membership for him and his wife Debbie, in the Friends organization. This is quite remarkable especially when one considers the fact that there are no lifetime memberships in the Friends.

Doug Scott: "Reappraisal of the Horse Cemetery"

Doug Scott of the National Park Service and the Midwest Archeological Center presented his paper, "Reappraisal of the Horse Cemetery." "There were other living beings who died at the Little Bighorn,*"Scott said.

Unknown to most of us, many soldiers' horses fell in battle as well. According to Scott, the Army sent a clean-up crew to the Little Bighorn Battlefield in 1879. The crew piled and buried most of the horse bones that it found up on Last Stand Hill.

This "Horse Pit" was rediscovered in the 1940's when the 20,000-gallon water reservoir perched on Last Stand Hill at the time overflowed enough to cause erosion, Scott said. The battlefield superintendent at the time, Edward Luce, began an excavation of the pit in July 1946, along with Professor Elwood Nigh and some Custer students.

After their initial investigation, they recorded their perceptions of the pit, covered it back up and it waited for another group of archeologists to dig it up.

Many years passed, and with the start of construction on the Indian Memorial, the Horse Pit was uncovered again. In April through May of 2002, the pit was exposed for study. The pit is six feet long and three feet wide -  these measurements were quite smaller than Luce's estimate in the 1940s of 50 feet long.

According to Scott's report, "Archeological Investigations of the 'Horse Cemetery' Site, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument," some interesting things were discovered. "Most of the horse bone was in good to excellent condition," the report stated. "A number of pieces exhibited damage to edges and spines that were clearly the result of mechanical damage that occurred long after the flesh had decayed. This damage, especially evident on the spine of the scapula, is probably indicative of the 1941 or 1946 digging episode, or possibly a later disturbance."

Inside the pit, searchers found cigarette foil, nails, a motor oil can, a ginger ale bottle, and other garbage. This trash may have been deposited during the deconstruction of the large water tank that stood on Last Stand Hill in the 1940s. Scott called the damage to the horse bones in the pit "excavation trauma," but he was still able to provide an evaluation of the Horse Pit.

According to Scott, the pit's placement is consistent with the burial of the horses in 1876-79. It also coincides with historical documents from the same time. The Horse Pit was uncovered at one foot underground, adding that it was most likely preserved in place. The Horse Pit will not be impacted by the Indian Memorial construction, and so it will remain, Scott said.

Paul Fees: "Cody and the Custer Mystique"

Paul Fees presented his paper entitled "Cody and the Custer Mystique." Fees talked about the life and some of the experiences of Buffalo Bill Cody who, cording to Fees, was a friend of Custer's.

Custer and Cody were both small-time actors. In 1872, Cody played himself in the presentation, "Scouts of the Prairie" and at Fort Abraham Lincoln, Custer played the part of Cody in "Buffalo Bill and His Bride."

According to Fees, Cody was a scout with the 5th Cavalry in 1876. Lucky for him, the 5th did not converge with Custer and the ill-fated 7th Cavalry before the Little Bighorn battle. A few weeks after the battle though, Cody was the first to avenge Custer when he scalped Yellow Hair during the Skirmish of Warbonnet's Creek on July 17, 1876. Cody called his revenge the "first scalp for Custer." Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show once included a re-enactment of Custer's Last Stand, Fees said, but it was rarely performed.

According to Fees, Cody and Custer's friendship was reiterated when in 1886 Cody expanded his ever-popular show. He wrote to Custer's wife Libby, and invited her to attend. Libby did go to see the show, and the two became fast, good friends.

Neil Mangum: "The Changing Faces of Last Stand Hill"

Former Little Bighorn Battlefield Superintendent Neil Mangum gave a presentation complete with a slide show, entitled "The Changing Faces of Last Stand Hill." Mangum showed the audience many striking images of Last Stand Hill, both past and present. The audience was able to view the monument with its old iron fence, and the hill below without one.

During his presentation, Mangum also showed photographs of the old 20,000-gallon water tank formerly perched on Last Stand Hill. He showed images of workers in 1952 and 1953 placing the present-day 100,000-gallon tank under the ground near the monument. The photographs presented were beautiful and educational. Mangum offered every audience member, young and old, a quick glimpse into the past of the Little Bighorn Battlefield.

The second Friends' symposium was a success. Those who attended were treated to relatively unknown bits of information, as well as fried chicken for dinner on the battlefield.

Many thanks to the wonderful speakers and all who came to listen!

(Back to Top)

Friends' Symposiums Home

News & Information Home