July 12th, 1867
On July 12th 1867, the 7th Cavalry began the day in north-western Kansas. They were in search of a missing group of soldiers under Lt. Lyman Kidder and were following what appeared to be the trail of Kidder and the ten men who had gone missing. The story of the missing soldiers actually began a few days earlier. After spending the last two weeks marching in the vicinity of the Republican River in Nebraska and Kansas, and having relatively fruitless results scouting the area, Custer was awaiting new orders which mysteriously did not show up - 2nd Lt. Lyman Kidder was supposed to send Custer those orders. Kidder had left Fort Sedgwick (in western Colorado territory) with a small group of soldiers and a Lakota scout – specifically to find Custer and deliver him the orders. With dawn on July 12th, Custer and his 7th Cavalry set out following a trail believed to be that of Kidder and his men.
As they followed it, tell-tale signs began to indicate what was in store for them. First a dead horse, then a second, and finally the stench of decaying flesh. Vultures overhead marked the spot of Kidder’s men. Custer relates what they found: “all of the bodies found had been scalped and pierced with numerous arrows. As several days had elapsed since the massacre, and as the wolves had disfigured the remains very much it was impossible to determine whether any indignities or barbarities other than scalping had been perpetrated by the Indians.”
Clearly Kidder and his men met their demise from a war party. But which group had attacked them was a source of speculation. Custer first believed it was Sioux but later thought it Cheyenne. George Bent, half Cheyenne, later related the true story. On July 2nd 1867, Lt. Kidder and his soldiers stumbled on a group of Cheyenne and Lakota warriors, and immediately the soldiers put themselves in a precarious position - in a gully, where the warriors had the advantage of elevation and numbers - as many as 100 Lakota and Cheyenne were reported to have attacked the soldiers. It was believed by Custer that Kidder’s party had possibly lost their original trail when they were attacked by the war party.