Since the turn of the century, skeletons from the Little Bighorn
battlefields have been recovered and placed in the associated Custer
National Cemetery (CNC). Some of the battle-related skeletal specimens in
the cemetery, mostly isolated elements recovered since 1950, had been
analyzed previously, but the majority of the elements, those exhumed in the
first half of the twentieth century, has not been described.
To complete the analysis of all battle-related specimens in the cemetery,
skeletal remains of 10 individuals were exhumed from the CNC in May 1992.
Included with these 10 individuals were three groups of elements that are
unassignable to any of the 10. An additional individual was sent to the
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (LIBI) in December 1992 and
was included with the sample. All but one of the skeletons are consistent
with those of nineteenth-century cavalry troopers. Skeletal elements were
variously preserved, with the larger, more proximal bones being more
frequently recovered than the smaller, more distal ones. Doubtlessly this
representation reflects the exhumation practices of the first half of the
Analysis of these skeletal remains provided information concerning elements
present, age, sex, race, stature, pathological and anomalous conditions,
health, and personal identification. Standard osteological techniques were
The osteological consequences of the troopers' lives and lifestyles are
assessed. The age distribution includes more younger and more older
troopers than might be expected from enlistment records. Stature
estimations range from 65 to 71 inches. Minor developmental malformations,
including growth delays and possible deviated toes, are frequent. Healed
fractures are common. Degenerative joint problems are overwhelming, being
particularly frequent and severe in the lower to middle spinal region and
in the upper limbs. Many of the fractures and degenerative changes, and
possibly some articular facet extensions, are attributed to horseback
riding. Dental health is generally moderate or poor as indicated by
antemortem tooth loss, carious lesions, and alveolar resorption, suggesting
poor dental hygiene. One cavalryman, however, had at least six fillings.
All dentitions suggest habitual tobacco use.
In addition to the troopers' lifestyles, the circumstances surrounding and
following their deaths can be inferred. Perimortem injuries include
gunshot wounds (GSWs), blunt-force trauma, and sharpforce injuries.
Several of the GSWs may have been the cause of death, although others are
more likely mutilations, performed shortly after death. Blunt-force trauma
is uncommon, suggesting distant, rather than close-range fighting, for the
most part. Cuts are infrequent or absent on some individuals and numerous
on others. One trooper, for instance, had cuts suggesting shoulder, elbow,
hand, hip, and genital dismemberment-nearly 100 cuts in all.
The identities of some of the skeletons can be suggested. Farrier Vincent
Charley and Cpl. George Lell are identified with fair probability. Other
identities are less certain.
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