Crow Scouts at the Battle of the Little Bighorn

On April 10, 1876, Colonel John Gibbon enlisted 23 Crow men at their agency (located on the Mission Creek present day Livingston, MT) to serve as scouts for his Montana Column moving east along the Yellowstone River. Six of these scouts, Hairy Moccasin, Goes Ahead, White Man Runs Him, Curly, White Swan and Half Yellow Face were assigned to Custer's 7th Cavalry on June 21. Mitch Boyer, a half-blood Sioux who had traded and worked at the Crow Agency as well as married a Crow woman, served as their interpreter. It was the Crow scouts with Boyer who first identified the location of the Sioux/Cheyenne village from the Crow's Nest early morning on June 25. White Man Runs Him urged a hurried attack once he felt the 7th's column had been observed but was later critical of Custer dividing his command in the face of so many enemy warriors Two scouts, White Swan and Half Yellow Face, followed Reno's battalion when he was directed to cross the river and attack the south end of the village. White Swan and Half Yellow Face participated in the valley fight with Reno where White Swan was wounded in the right wrist and thigh during the retreat after he crossed the river.

Half Yellow Face assisted White Swan up to the bluffs where Reno made his stand. The other four scouts, Hairy Moccasin, Goes Ahead, White Man Runs Him and Curley stayed with Boyer and Custer's battalion when they turned north along the bluffs.

Accounts conflict as to how long the four Crow Scouts stayed with Custer's battalion and how much of the fight they witnessed.All say they witnessed Reno's attack and retreat from the bluffs across the river. Somewhere in their approach to the north along the bluffs Curly became separated from the other three. Goes Ahead said they never entered Medicine Tail Coulee, but White Man Runs Him said the three went into the Coulee with Custer and witnessed at least part of the Custer battalion going all the way to the ford at the mouth of the Coulee. All agree that Mitch Boyer released them from any fighting. They retired to the Reno-Benteen defense site and that evening escaped the encircling Sioux and looped back north to the mouth of the Little Bighorn where they informed Gibbon's Crow scouts of Custer's demise.

Curly's accounts vary. One account says that he left at Boyer's request at about the time Custer divided his battalion toward the upper end of Medicine Tail Coulee. Another account says that Curly witnessed the early part of the fight until the battalion reunited in the vicinity of Calhoun Hill. At that time Boyer told him to leave.He escaped to the east and witnessed much of the Custer fight from a high hill 1 ½ miles east of the
battlefield. He then left and went north to the mouth of the Little Bighorn to inform Terry's command of Custer's
probable demise.
White Swan survived his wounds and eventually returned to Crow Agency.

 

Arikara Scouts at the Battle of the Little Bighorn

Approximately 45 men enlisted as Indian scouts at Fort Abraham Lincoln 1875 - May 1876. Of these 35 were Arikara, 2 were Arikara/Sioux mix, 4 were Dakota, one was half blood white/Sioux, one was white married to a Mandan woman, and 2 were part Blackfeet. Of these, 27 were present at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, June 25, 1876. Frederic Girard served as interpreter for the Arikara. Lieutenant Charles Varnum commanded the detachment of Arikara Indian scouts. In addition, Bloody Knife, a favorite Arikara scout of Custer's from earlier expeditions, was enlisted separately as a guide.

A number of Arikara were with Lieutenant Charles Varnum and the Crow scouts at the Crow's Nest early morning June 25. Those included Bob Tail Bull, the leader of the Arikara scout contingent, and Bloody Knife.

Custer ordered the Arikara scouts to accompany Major Reno's battalion across the Little Bighorn. Their assignment was to run off the Sioux/Cheyenne pony herd. Twelve scouts fell behind and never crossed the river. Immediately after crossing, six scouts turned right to run off the pony herd grazing on the west side of the river. Eight Arikara scouts including Bob Tail Bull, Bloody Knife, Little Brave, Foolish Bear, Forked Horn, Goose, Red Bear, and Young Hawk joined Crow scouts White Swan and Half Yellow Face on the left side of Reno's dismounted skirmish line. Bob Tail Bull was on the far left of Reno's skirmish line when the Sioux flanked them and forced them into the woods.

Bloody Knife was killed in the woods while trying to communicate with Reno. Bob Tail Bull and Little Brave were killed in Reno's retreat back across the river. Goose and White Swan (Crow) were wounded in the retreat across the river.

Four scouts, Foolish Bear, Forked Horn, Young Hawk and Goose (wounded) stayed at the Reno defense site on the bluffs. A number of Arikaras attempted to make off with 30-40 enemy horses. Those included Little Sioux, Soldier, Strikes Two, Boy Chief, Stabbed, and Strikes-the-Lodge. They lost the horses to pursuing Sioux that evening.

Those Arikara scouts who did not remain with Reno at the hilltop fight eventually made it back to the Yellowstone Depot at the mouth of the Powder River. The wounded Goose and White Swan were transported down river on the steamboat Far West. Both survived their wounds.


Last updated: February 24, 2015

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Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
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Crow Agency, MT 59022-0039

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