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By Thom Ross

Photos courtesy Patrick Bennett


  "Sitting Bull"     

The great warrior/mystic man of the Hunkpapa Lakota (Sioux) tribe.  He was past his prime at the time of the Custer fight and took no part in the battle.  He stayed in the village and organized the women and children flight from the area. However, his presence was undoubtedly felt on the battlefield by his people
so I am going to include him in my installation.  He holds a "crook" in his left hand which served the same purpose as a flag or as a symbol of authority.

Above him flies a prairie falcon.

On his shirt I have painted his famous vision.  The story goes like this:

In the weeks before the Custer fight, Sitting Bull performed a "sun dance."  He had his brother cut 50 pieces of flesh from each arm and then he danced while facing the sun for three days.  He finally collapsed and had a vision.  This vision showed many soldiers falling up-side down into his camp, and a voice said "I give you these because they have no ears."  Sitting Bull took this to mean that there would be a big fight and that they would win.  So, on his shirt you can see the soldiers falling from the sky, up-side down.  Included in my rendition is a long-haired Custer, branishing a sword (neither of which he
had at the fight.)

There is a strange incident that mimics this vision of Sitting Bull.  As the troopers left Ft Abraham Lincoln in North Dakota, they were accompanied by many auxilary settlers and many of their wives.  When it came time to leave these non-combatants behind, Custer leaned from his saddle and kissed his wife
goodbye.  The troops then moved out and Libbie Custer saw a strange thing.  In an atmospheric fluke, she saw the troops reflected up-side down in the sky above them!  I have always wondered if this was what Sitting Bull saw, though he was hundreds of miles away at the time.


"Crow Scouts"

As Custer and his 5 companies approached the Indian village down Medicine Tail Coulee, he halted the troops and a small group rode to the bluffs overlooking the Little Bighorn River.  Custer then returned to his men and sent his second, and final, messenger back appealing for help from Capt. Benteen who was far in the rear.

Three Crow scouts, White Man Runs Him, Hairy Moccassin, and Goes Ahead, stood on the bluffs and fired randomly into the village.  As Custer and the doomed troopers moved out, these three scouts rode back the way they had come and they hooked up with Reno and Benteen's men who were now besieged by Indians.  Eventually, these three Crows melted away and rode back towards their home.  On their way, they bumped into a 4th Crow scout, Curly, who had continued on with Custer but had ridden away as the battle began.  Curly had witnessed the fight from a distant butte.

This quartet rode north and ran into General Terry's command and, using sign language, communicated the first word of the disaster to the stunned soldiers.

In my installation I will place Curly on a distant knoll, watching the fight. The 3 other Crow scouts seen in thsi attachment will be placed on the bluffs overlooking the river, almost in the exact spot where they stood 129  years ago!

My studio assistant, Guy Watkins, calls these three figures the "3 Tenors."  I have done 3 cut-out horses for them which will be placed behind the three Crow scouts.

"High Eagle" 


Lakota warrior shown riding into the battle with his power spirit, a bald eagle, flying with him.

"Young Little Wolf" 

Cheyenne warrior, Young Little Wolf, is seen here running into the battle carrying the red and blue painted saber that his uncle had given him in honor of counting two coup on Shoshoni enemies.  During the battle Young Little Wolf lost the saber. He died in 1927.

"Hawk Man" 

Hawk Man was a Hunkpapa Lakota warrior; this shows him riding into the battle with his power spirit, the hawk, flying above him.  Sadly, the spiritual powers failed him that day and he was killed in the battle.


"Tom Custer"     

The third Custer brother after George and Nevin -- first man to win 2 Congressional Medals of Honor...only man so awarded in Civil War...remains to this day the only double award winner in US Cavalry.  Captain of Company C he fell near his brother, George, at the Little Bighorn.


"Lt. James Calhoun"

Married to Margaret Custer, sister of George.  Owed his appointment to the 7th Cavalry to George Custer.  Upon being given his commission in the 7th, Calhoun wrote a letter to Custer saying that when the time came he would not be found lacking.  He was true to his word.  Commanding Co. L he fell with his troops about 400 yards from Custer.


"Mark Kellogg"

Brought along by Custer against specific orders,  Kellogg was a correspondent for the Bismark (ND) Tribune.  He sent dispatches back to his newspaper keeping readers abreast to the campaign.  His marker is on the back side of Last Stand hill although the men who found his body claim it was located down near the river.


"Lt. Col. George Custer"

A general at the age of 23, he fought throughout the Civil War.  After the surrender at Appomattox, Sheridan bought the table that Grant had written the surrender terms on and awarded it to Custer as a gift for his wife, Libbie, with a note that said no man was more responsible for the successful outcome of the Civil War then George Custer.  He died at the Little Bighorn when he was 36.


"Boston Custer"

Youngest brother, Boston Custer, had tagged along with his other brothers, Tom and George, as a civilian "packer" on the expedition.  Only 24 when he was killed, his marker is inside the iron fence that
designates the "last stand" grouping.


"Mitch Bouyer"

Mitch Bouyer (also spelled Boyer) a half-breed (Sioux-French) rode with Custer's command and was the only Army scout killed in the fight.  During the 1984 archeological digs, searchers found part of a facial bone structure.  Forensic scientists determined that the partial skull belonged to a man who smoked a pipe (worn down teeth.)  It is known that Mitch was a pipe smoker and the facial bones fit exactly over the only known photo of Bouyer.  (Notice the pipe in the grass leaning up against his right knee.)


"William Cooke"

A Canadian soldier, he was Custer's adjutant that famous day and it is his handwriting that is seen on the tiny scrap of paper at the West Point museum which contains Custer's last, and most famous, order:

"Benteen. Come on.  Big village.  Be quick.  Bring pacs W. W. Cooke

ps bring packs"


He wore long flowing sideburns, one of which was scalped by a victorious warrior -- Wooden Leg.  His body was re-interred in Ontario, Canada.


"George Yates"

Civil War veteran, he commanded Co. E and fell near Custer on Last Stand Hill.


"Sgt. James Butler"

Butler's body was found a great distance from the other dead troopers.  A legend sprung up that maybe he was going for help and had managed to get far away from the doomed soldiers before he was killed.  A large amount of empty shells were found around his body.  Yet how and under what circumstances he died are unknown.  I am going to celebrate the legend and place this figure of Butler not far from where he was actually found; he will be chased by 3 mounted warriors.


"Capt Myles Keogh"

Capt. Keogh riding his famous horse, Comanche.  Keogh was from Ireland (notice green neckerchief) and introduced the famous song, "Garry Owen" to Custer who made it the regimental marching song.  ("Garry Owen" means "from Owen's garden" and it is a song about drinking and creating a disturbance!)  Keogh commanded Co. I, the "Wild I" as they were known.  Comanche was found alive and brought back to Ft Lincoln.  The horse was never ridden again and had the run of the fort, often enjoying his favorite drink, beer from a bucket.  His body is mounted and in a temperature controlled case at the university in Lawrence, Kansas.

"John Jordan Crittenden"

Lt Crittenden fought with Company L and died on Calhoun Hill.  By the wishes of his parents, Crittenden, of all the soldiers who died on the field that day, was the only one who remained buried in his original grave.  And so he remained until September, 1931 when he was reburied in the Custer National Cemetery.


Famed Hunkpapa Sioux war leader.  In the opening barrage by Reno's men, Gall lost two wives and three of his children.  In his rage he rode into the fight armed with a war club (as seen here.)  A powerful man, he weighed over 250 pounds ten years after the fight! 


"Courier from Sitting Bull" 

This figure was stolen from the famous lithograph, "Custer's Last Fight", which has adorned saloons and bars for over 100 years.  It is my way of paying homage to all the artists who have gone before me.


"Crazy Horse"

An Oglala Sioux, this most mysterious man was a fierce warrior and notorious loner.  Often he would ride off by himself, returning days later with gory proof of having slain some Crow Indians or white invaders.  Of all the stories told about him, the most poignant one concerned the death of his infant daughter.  Returning from one of his solo raids against the Crow, he was informed that his daughter had died and had been buried in the traditional scaffold.  Crazy Horse rode back about 70 miles to the scaffold and climbed up into it and lay there with her for three days in his sorrow.  The story has never been verified, but it does illustrate his unique sense of the world.  He was murdered at Ft. Robinson in Nebraska in September, 1877.


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