Charley Reynolds

Side portrait of Charlie Reynolds wearing a bow-tie and a jacket.
"Lonesome Charley Reynolds" a guide for the 7th Cavalry.
(LIBI Archives/Library)

Known as "Lonesome Charley" by his peers, Reynolds served as a guide for the 7th Cavalry during its Dakota years, 1873-1876. Born March 20,1842, at Stevensburg, Kentucky, Reynolds attended Abingdon College, Illinois, for three years. In the spring of 1860 he left for the Colorado gold fields.

At the beginning of the Civil War he enlisted in Company E, 10th Kansas Infantry, serving in Missouri and Kansas on escort duty on the Santa Fe Trail. He engaged in the Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas in December, 1862. He was mustered out on August 19, 1864, at Fort Leavenworth.
After the war, he first engaged in an unsuccessful trading venture in New Mexico, before returning to Atcheson, Kansas, in 1865. Reynolds then hunted buffalo on the Republican River for a few years, and later traveled to the upper Missouri region to trap and hunt.

He served the army out of Fort Berthold, Dakota Territory from 1868 to 1872.
With the coming of the 7th Cavalry to the Dakotas in 1873, Reynolds served as a guide for the regiment headquartered at Fort Abraham Lincoln. Reynolds was considered the best scout, guide and hunter in Dakota. It is here that he gained the confidence of George Armstrong Custer. He served with the Yellowstone Expedition of 1873 as the 7th Cavalry provided protection for the Northern Pacific railroad survey crew. It was during this expedition that two civilians, Dr. Holzinger and Mr. Balarian strayed from the column in search of fossils and were killed by Lakota.

Later that winter, Reynolds overheard Lakota warrior Rain-in-the-Face boast of the murder at Standing Rock Agency. Reynolds reported the boast at Fort Abraham Lincoln. A detachment led by Captains George Yates and Tom Custer responded to Standing Rock where Reynolds identified Rain-in-the-Face, who was apprehended and incarcerated.

He served with the Black Hills Expedition in 1874 in which gold was confirmed and led to the Black Hills gold rush. Custer sent Reynolds 150 miles through Indian country to report the news at Fort Laramie.

He served as guide for the Dakota column out of Fort Abraham Lincoln. As the column moved forward in June, Reynolds developed a painful felon (inflammation) on his hand. This may have contributed to his premonition of his death in the campaign. He twice asked General Terry to be relieved but was dissuaded.

The night before the battle he distributed his belongings to his friends. At the Crow's Nest, the first sighting of the Indian village, Reynolds told Custer that this was the largest Indian village he had ever seen. This was reinforced by
mixed-blood interpreter Mitch Bouyer but gave Custer no pause. Reynolds went with Major Reno's column during the battle. Reno's command first dismounted in skirmish line, was flanked by Indian warriors, and then fell back to the woods along the river. In the woods, Reynolds joined Fred Girard, interpreter for the Arikara scouts. Girard later said Reynolds was extremely despondent at the time and Girard shared his flask of liquor with him. When Reno called for his battalion to mount in the woods, Girard exclaimed, "What fool move is this?" Girard believed their defensive position to be a good one. Though he received the call late, Reynolds mounted his horse, and against the advice of Girard, attempted to catch the fleeing troops. Upon mounting, Reynolds observed Dr. Henry Porter attending to a mortally wounded soldier and advised the doctor to leave as the troops had left him. Reynolds then left the woods chasing after Reno's troops. He didn't get far before his horse was shot from under him and he was forced to make his own stand behind his horse before he was shot and killed.

Charley Reynolds was 34 years old at the time of his death at the Little Bighorn. Initially interred on the battlefield, he was disinterred in August 1877, and is believed to have been reburied in Norris, a suburb of Detroit, Michigan.

Learn more: "Thunder Rolling on the High Plains: Charley Reynolds and George Custer's Journey to the Little Big Horn" by Lester Stanley Orestad (Sunstone Press, 2011)

Last updated: March 17, 2023

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