PIONEER HISTORY OF KANSAS
by Adolph Roenigk
HENRY BENIEN, A CUSTERS SEVENTH
CAVALRY MAN AND PIONEER SETTLER
Eight Years Service in the U. S. Army; Five Years with
Custer; Custer's Last Fight, as Related by Comrade Roy;
Benien a Well-to-Do Farmer of Lincoln Co., Kansas.
Henry Benien was born in Niendrof, Hanover, Germany, 1846. He immigrated to America at the age of twenty, arriving in the state of Ohio in 1866. His first introduction to the United States was eight years service in the regular army. He came too late to take part in the Civil War, but nevertheless saw some active service in its aftermath. He inlisted in the Eighteenth Infantry, stationed in the South, engaged in subduing the Klu Klux Klan, and aiding in the reconstruction of the South. At times when moonshiners were getting too bold in the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee, the command was occasionally ordered to destroy an illicit still.
In 1867 we find our friend in Memphis, Tennessee, where his regiment was stationed for a time. I happened to be in Memphis the same time, in the same vicinity, working at the
Henry Benien and wife
saddlery trade; we were not acquainted and did not meet at that time, and strange to say, this was not the only time for both of us to be in the same locality, without knowing each others. We learned of these circumstances later by comparing notes.
After the elapse of several years we both were again in the same vicinity in another part of the country, while my friend was still in Uncle Sams service. This time he was stationed at Fort Hays, Kansas, a member of General Geo. A. Custers famous regiment, the Seventh Cavalry. By a strange coincident I was also in this vicinity, being at this time located twenty-seven miles east, at Fossil Creek Station, working on the Union Pacific Railroad. We frequently visited Hays City, our nearest town, and so also did the soldiers of Fort Hays, the city and fort being only one mile apart. There was a possibility of our having seen each other, as the town was very small; who knows? But it was left for a third time to meet in a similar way before we became acquainted to learn of all this, as I said before, by comparing notes.
The Indians, for several years prior to this, had been on the warpath, and the Seventh Cavalry was stationed here, on what was then called the frontier, for the purpose of keeping them in check. Scouting parties were sent in different directions to look for trails, or signs, which might lead to information. On one of these scouting expeditions from Fort Hays down the Saline valley, our friend said: They came to the Shermerhorn ranch on Elkhorn Creek the nearest settlement sixty miles east. On another similar expedition down the same valley, a soldier named Becker became sick and died and was buried near camp. Mr. Benien not accompanying this expedition could give the location of the grave no nearer than in the Saline valley, south of the river, in Lincoln County. As this county is now all either in cultivation, or under fence, it is very probable that this soldiers grave is in a pasture, tramped over by stock; or in a field upon which wheat or corn is grown. Except for this comrades memory it would be now entirely forgotten.
We will now follow the Seventh Cavalry on its march across the plains to the territories in the West and North, wherever troops were needed. Leaving Fort Hays in the spring of 1870, the command took a westward course towards Denver, which, just then had been reached by the first railroad,
the Kansas Pacific, now the Union Pacific. Their course led them to the vicinity of Beecher Island, on the Arickaree fork, where Forsythes scouts fought the battle which is described in another chapter. The command found a number of skeletons of horses and mules, still in evidence of the struggle that had taken place here, between the white and the red man eighteen months previous.
In due time the command arrived in Denver. There was gold excitement in the mountains, many immigrants coming in, and the troops were kept busy by adventurers, Indians, etc., for a time. Later came the Black Hills excitement, which ended in the opening of that heretofore little known country in 1874. For years, on these expeditions, the soldiers fare consisted chiefly of bacon, beans, hardtack and coffee, with an occasional change of diet in the shape of buffalo meat. Beef and bread was issued when the regiment was in permanent camps, usually in the winter time, but in the summer these staple foods were not always available. Coffee was made of water obtained from rivers, or creeks, wherever the camp happened to be. If no streams were reached by nightfall, on the march, any waterhole where stock could be watered would have to do; if nothing better was in sight, even a buffalo wallow full of water, or pond, was not despised by the men to quench their thirst, when marching along in the parching sun.
The health of the command was generally good, but tenting on the plains with continuous exposure, sleeping on the ground, wet or dry, drinking too much alkali water, now and then a tropper, having contracted dysentery, or a similar disease, would fall by the wayside exhausted. In the absence of hospital facilities in this wilderness the sick were carried along in ambulances, or wagons; if the treatment by the regiment surgeon was effective, and the patient survived, well and good; if not and his disease proved fatal, he was buried at the camp then and there. In the absence of a chaplain, an officer of the regiment would perform the funeral rites. It was sad, but the next day found the command marching along as usual.
During these years of campaigning in the northwest, principally in Dakota, Wyoming and Montana, no serious fighting was encountered excepting a skirmish with the Indians now and then. One of the latter happened during the Yellowstone campaign in 1873, which lasted several days, though only one-half of our regiment was engaged while the other half was
coming up some distance in the rear. The Indians in this engagement were made up of different bands of Sioux, the whole command of Sitting Bull, who participated in the second days fight. The Indians were chased eight or ten miles. About forty warriors were killed, and a large number of ponies, while our losses were only four soldiers killed, and four wounded, and one officer badly wounded. Besides the above casualties two civilians, Dr. Honzinger, veterinarian, and Baleran, sutler, were killed by Rain-in-the-Face. The veterinary was above middle age, quite corpulent and bald-headed. The sutler was a younger man. Both were unarmed and were making their way from one command to the other when they were discovered and overtaken by the Indians and killed.
Afterwards it developed that these men kere killed by an Indian named Rain-in-the-Face, who was afterwards living at the agency with his tribe, where he drew his annuities from the government at the same time boasting about killing these two men and how he beat their brains out with his tomahawk. When this became known to the command efforts were made to arrest him, but when our troops were sent after him he always managed to give us the slip.
Finally Tom Custer with a force of men got him and brought him to the post where he was lodged in jail. We had him in the guard house for a long time awaiting his trial for murder. But while the negotiations with the government at Washington were going on he got away. But he did not dare to go back to the agency but made his way to the hostiles. Sometime after this he sent word back to the fort by a peaceable Indians that he had joined Sitting Bull and was waiting his time for revenge.
Rain-in-the-Face took a leading part in annihilating Custers command and when the battle was over he singled out his particular enemy and cut out his heart and mutilated him in the way Tom Custer was found. The Indian got his revenge.
One season we had with us a party of surveyors who were topographing the country towards the west for a preliminary survey for the Northern Pacific Railroad. The terminal of this road was then at Bismark.
A soldiers life on the plains was not always attended by hardships. In the fall of the year, when the campaign was over, and the Indians had sought their winter quarters the Seventh did likewise. Fort Rice, located near Bismark, North
Dakota, was our winter quarters several years. It was then that the officers brought their wives to share the company of their husbands in the isolated country.
Mr. Benien says: It was on one of the occasions when Mrs. Custer was with us, at Yankton, on the Missouri river, that we came into a heavy snowstorm; a regular blizzard, which in that northern climate came in the early spring and caused us much suffering. Some of our boys had their hands and feet frozen. As soon as the storm subsided we took up our line of march across the country to Bismark, a distance of five hundred miles.
It was here that Mr. Benien with a detail of other troopers escorted the Generals wife at different times while on the march.
From history we see that the services of the Seventh Cavalry were not only needed in the interest of peace between the white and red men, but between the white and black man as well.
It happened in the spring of 1875, while the Seventh Cavalry were doing duty in the north that a race riot was in progress in the extreme south, with such threatening aspect as to require troops to squelch the outbreak and the regiment was ordered to New Orleans, Louisiana. In those days of slow communication, without railroad facilities in the unsettled country, it was no easy task to comply with the order. The only feasible route was the Mississippi river; but the situation demanded action. The regiment by forced march proceeded to St. Paul, Minnesota. There they embarked on the river boat for New Orleans. The course being down stream, with plenty of water at that season of the year, being in its favor, the trip was made in good time. The arrival of the troops had a good effect. A number of whites and blacks had been killed during the riot, but the presence of the soldiers preserved order.
While at New Orleans, our friend met the lady of his choice. She was born in this city, of German parentage, and was ten years his junior. His term of enlistment having expired, he considered, having done his duty in the service of his adopted country, he took his discharge with the words inscribed: Character Excellent. To show his thrift, even when a soldier, we will mention that he received a thousand
dollars accumulated pay from the paymaster of the United States army.
Here, at New Orleans, our friend and his bride were married and together proceeded to his former home in Ohio, to establish a home. His thousand-dollar saving was used in making a payment on an eighty-acre farm. But the fortunes and vicissitudes of life are uncertain. The hardships of a soldiers life on the plains were only the forerunner of more to come. The seasons were wet, the loss of crops, several years in succession, and other mishaps, had reduced these people to poverty. But struggling along, not discouraged, remembering the beautiful Saline Valley, seen while in the army, the soldier longed to go West. In 1886 he carried out his intention, came to Kansas, and settled on a farm in the same valley where he had done scout duty sixteen years before. The new start was necessarily small, but with willing hands and stout hearts the pioneers determined to make a success.
But the hardships of these people were not yet all overcome. Here in Kansas the opposite conditions from those in Ohio prevailed. Here the crops suffered from drouth, instead of wet, and the crops failed several years in succession. Besides the family had increased and there were more mouths to feed. But finally every obstacle was overcome. Year by year the seasons became more regular, crops increased and prices were better; children grew to be a help; they bought more land until now, all of the six children are married and have farms of their own.
It was here, while Henry Benien and family were living on their farm, and I was engaged in the saddlery business in Lincoln, where we did business together, that we finally became acquainted. I was invited to their country home, and attended many social gatherings of relatives and friends, and we formed an intimate friendship. Comparing notes, we found we had been in the same vicinity several times before. Each of our experiences was interesting to the other.
Longing to see the sights of bygone days, we together, went on a little tour, visiting the historic old Fort Hays, or rather what is left of it. We easily recognized the old site of the different buildings; a few are still standing, and are in a fair state of preservation. We also visited Custers camp on Big creek, a few miles below the fort. Here the class of 1916 of the Fort Hays Normal school have erected a monument to
mark history, to commemorate the events that took place here in the summer of 1869.
The day our friend left the army might be considered a lucky day for him, as one year later, while engaged in clearing timber on his Ohio farm, he received the news of the massacre of Custer and all his men under his command. It had occurred on the 25th of June, but the report did not reach civilization until July 4th. Not a man escaped. Having served five years in this regiment Henry Benien knew all the officers and many of the men who had lost their lives, and it is natural that he wished to know the particulars of the battle.
A number of his former comrades, and also his former captain, Benteen happened to belong to Major Renos command at that time, who on that day were within hearing distance while the battle with Custer was raging. The Indians having finished Custer also attacked Renos command, but the latter held their ground, although losing a number of men. Our friend Benien got in correspondence with several of these former comrades, one of whom was Sergeant Roy of Piqua, Ohio, who had served in the same troop with Mr. Benien but is now retired from the army.
Guard House at Fort Hays, where Henry Benien and Staislaus Roy
Mr. Benien, after he had settled in Kansas, and Sergeant Roy being on the retired list of the army, invited the old veteran to visit him here, offering to entertain him and pay his expenses so they might enjoy themselves viewing the sights, and notice the changes that have taken place in these localities of former scenes of their soldier-boy days. The trip up the Saline Valley to Hays can now be made by automobile in a day, where on those former scouting expeditions more than a weeks time was consumed.
The former military reservation has been transformed into an agricultural experiment station, by the state of Kansas, and the Fort Hays Normal school is located here. Old Fort Hays is now entirely obliterated except two stone buildings. One of these has been fitted up for a club house for the Hays golf club. The other is the old guard house where these two comrades many times stood guard half a century ago.
The horse marched overland from Fort Meade to Fort Riley with the Seventh Cavalry in 1888, and remained at this latter post until he died in 1892 or 1893. After he died the remains were mounted by Professor Dyche of the University, and was exhibited at the world fairs in Chicago and St. Louis, with the University collections.
However desirable and interesting this visit would have been the invitation could not be accepted on account of Mr. Roys suffering with a cancerous ailment which finally ended his life. The last letter written him by Mr. Benien was returned by the postmaster, marked Not delivered on account of the death of Mr. Roy. After his retirement from the army he had been interviewed by a reporter and his account of the battle was published in the Piqua, Ohio, News, the clipping of which he sent to his former comrade, Henry Benien. We will here insert Mr. Roys account:
Sergeant Roys Story of the Battle of the Little Big Horn,
Better Known as Custers Last Fight.
Just a plain soldier, thats all I was. Thus Sergeant Roy, a Piqua hero af the Little Big Horn and many other fa-
NOTE: The visit, viewing the relics of bygone days, might have been extended to the state University at Lawrence, where in the museum the mounted remains of Captain Keoghs horse may still be seen. The exact placard reads thus:
This horse was the only living thing found on the Custer battlefield, and had been wounded in seven places, all, however, being flesh wounds. He was grazing when found.
mous campaigns against the redskins, modestly sums up his career of thirty years as a soldier recently ended. Others have left the service in disgust because a colonelcy was not soon forthcoming. Sergeant Roy served thirty years and received an honorable discharge practically as a private, for he was only a non-commissioned officer. Yet he is just as proud of his service and just as content as if he could now claim the title of Major General.
America had heard much of the deeds of her soldier officers. This is the story of Just a plain soldier. To this Piqua belongs the highest distinction possible to a private or non-commissioned officer in the United States army. After thirty years honorable service in one regiment he is now retired with the rank and pay held at the close of his last enlistment. He can not be called a citizen of Ohio, for, through retired is still a soldier, and receives from the paymasters department on the first day of each month thirty-two dollars as Color Sergeant, Seventh United States Cavalry, Retired.
This man, Stanislaus Roy, of 1115 Park Avenue, Piqua, has also the distinction of being the holder of a congressional medal for distinguished services and conspicuous courage--June 26th, 1876, at the battle of the Little Big Horn. Officers now received decoration for gallant services, but private soldiers are rarely so honored. When a soldier of the regular army has been the subject of a resolution by Congress and is granted a medal, it may be conceded that he richly deserves it. American soldiers have had many days of tragedy. Isolated commands have performed services so sanuguinary and dramatic that the very date has become notable. As the years go, and the new generations come, only the thoughtful reader of history appreciates the courage and fortitude shown, and marvels at the cheerful sacrifice and silent suffering of his forgotten brother who went for a soldier.
The Little Big Horn
Of silent days only one seems not to have suffered at the hands of time, June 26th, 1876. In our 300 years race, who cares for Braddock, St. Clair, Bate of Fetterman, except as historic figures, A generation has passed since Custer, at the head of the most famous cavalry regiment in the world, rode to death among the hills of Montana, and yet the popular interest seems as fresh as when the excited crowd first heard of the disaster around the newspaper bulletins these many years ago.
Cheap liars and drunken bums often escape punishment by claiming to have belonged to the Seventh Cavalry. They easily impose on reporters and column of their statements are gravely published. Sergeant Roy illustrates the great gulf between the spurious and the real article. He is a quiet, sober, modest man. Though proud of his record and medal, he does not discuss them with strangers. To one who has had military experience he talks freely and can tell many unpublished incidents of that tragic day on the Little Big Horn. He was an eye-witness and speaks from the viewpoint of a soldier in the ranks, having been duty sergeant in A troop.
Enlisted in Cincinnati in 1869. He was assigned to H troop, commanded by that gallant veteran, late Frederick W. Benteen. Re-enlisted at the end of five years. He was sent to A troop and remained there through six terms, under Captain Miles Moylan, now retired and living at Los Angeles, California. Moylan could look the fiercest of any officer in the army but was fair and just. No other regiment was ever organized under like circumstances.
This was at Fort Riley, in June and July, 1866. The veteran, A. J. Smith, of the old Sixteenth Army Corps was colonel. He selected many of the officers. Custer declined the colonelcy of the Ninth Cavalry because the men were negroes, and accepted the lieutenant-colonelcy of the Seventh. The major second to Custer was Joel H. Elliott of Wayne County, Indiana. His relatives live in Indianapolis and the eastern counties. Elliott was killed Thanksgiving day, 1868, in Custers attack on Black Kettle. The staff and line officers had either held high rank or exceptional records in the splendid Union Cavalry of 1865. Tom Custer, for instance, when but nineteen, captured two stands of colors with his own hands and wore two medals of honor. Yates had been Custers chief of staff in the Third Cavalry division. All but three of the officers were men who had fought in the Civil War. By weeding, undesirable officers and men were eliminated and in two years the Seventh was a model fighting machine. The mute testimony of poor Calhoun and his troop proved this ten years later. Men and horses died in line, no stragglers, not a man out of position.
Custers Tragic End
When Terry and Gibbon came across this remarkable sight two days afterward, and recognized the mutilated and disfig-
ured officer, they knew that Custer and his five troops were hopelessly lost. The astonished generals saw that this troop had been deliberately sacrificed to save the others: that Custer had left poor Jim Calhoun, the Donis of the Seventh, his own brother-in-law, the husband of pretty Maggie Custer, to certain death, and their hearts failed. Calhoun had reported.
This shows the discipline and spirit of the Seventh Cavalry. Whether under the summer sun of Texas or the artic cold of North Dakota--some fifty degrees below zero--it was the same. Such was the Seventh, the home of Sergeant Roy for thirty years. After the original personnel was killed, in 1876, the new officers and men inherited its traditions. Here deeds counted. Here Roy rose through all grades from rookie to the non-commissioned staff, the highest place open to an enlisted man. For some years Sergeant Roy and his horse, Phil Sheridan, were the best known figures in the regiment: as the troop quartermasters sergeant he was on the move. When the horse was seen soldier and settler knew that the Seventh was approaching or had arrived. This horse came to the regiment in 1874 and was issued to Roy, who rode him for sixteen years. The animal was condemned on account of old age and sold.
In Renos fatal retreat from the Indian town on the Little Big Horn the horse was shot, the bullet breaking its jaw. When the animal fell its rider was thrown violently to the ground, and was stunned, however, no bones were broken.
The horse saved the sergeants life. The squadron was retreating across open ground to the river, entirely surrounded by galloping, screaming, infuriated savages, outnumbering them twenty to one and armed with the finest rifles made. They threatened to ride over the squadron by weight of numbers.
The warriors of Gall and Crazy Horse cut off the heads of Lieutenant McIntosh and two soldiers and carried them, tauntingly, around. Riderless cavalry horses galloped madly to and fro through the ranks; wounded soldiers begged not to be left; troop commanders tried vainly to be heard. Only the inability of an Indian to shoot straight prevented utter destruction. In the midst of all this Roys horse fell. Most of the horses would have run amuck. Not so Phil Sheridan. Struggling to his feet he waited for his stunned rider, the blood streaming from his broken jaw and torn mouth, and then car-
ried him off in the floating fringe of the retreat. The gallant animal was later tenderly nursed back to health.
The trail Reno followed stopped at the river. The squadron was trapped. Opposite was a blind canon, short and deep. It looked impossible to reach the hill on the other side. They were there with a helpless commander, cut off in front by the hill; by enemies on the flank and rear, while men and horses were huddled like sheep on the bank of the stream with a stream of rifle balls pouring among them. Of the eight officers, McIntosh, Hodgson and DeWolfe were killed, De Rudio missing and Reno, their commander, confused and helpless. Of the 172 men forty-six were already dead and fourteen wounded; all in less than half an hour.
In desperation they spurred their horses off the high bank and most of them climbed the opposite side, though many were killed in the attempt.
The heavy masses of warriors now rode away up the valley and the soldiers could strengthen their position. At 2:30 Benteen arrived with his own troop and those of Weir and Godfrey. This squadron was fresh and greatly encouraged the beaten command of Reno. Later Captain McDougal arrived with his troops and the pack train. The Indians saw him too late to effect a capture.
The redskin warriors were in front of Reno all the afternoon and the firing a mile or so up the valley was continuous. Custer was making his last fight. The men expected orders every minute to march toward the firing. Reno now had all the reserve ammunition to the stores and seven of the twelve troops. With Custer were the troops of Yates, Smith, Tom Custer, Keough and Calhoun and no extra ammunition, which they must need. The Ree Indian scouts had been with Reno, but ran away at the first shot, stopping only at the supply depot miles away.
While advancing they heard Custers despairing signal for help, two volleys in rapid succession. Though every man understood just what it meant, Reno, though not then threatened, failed to respond. Here they waited in columns till toward six oclock when the warriors were seen returning down the valley first by dozens, then hundreds, then by thousands. This advance position became untenable in the face of such overwhelming force. Already they were passing his front and flanks. Reno ordered a withdrawal to his former position. In
the face of such odds his movement was dangerous and would have been fatal had not Lieutenant Godfrey (now colonel of cavalry) without orders, deployed his troop and by the utmost skill and steadliness covered the retread.
On the Picket Line
During the day the warriors had been handled with such skill and Crazy Horse and the Gall and Crow King were so thoroughly advised of the helplessness of Renos forces that it was feared an effort would be made to rush Renos position in the night. It would come early next morning, surely. It was impossible to establish pickets far enough out without loosing the men. At best, if pickets lived till morning, the light would make it impossible to withdraw them. The men had marched all night previous and some, Roy among them, had not slept for seventy-eight hours.
There was no sleep that day, June 26th. The battle raged around the hill all day. Many times their fate hung by a hair. Once, when over a thousand warriors were forming for a charge, Benteen, who held that flank with a single troop--less than sixty horses--seeing it would be fatal, charged first. Riding in front of the men and pointing to the mass of savages gathering to ride them down, he said: Now, men, heres our chance. Give em he--. Ready. Hip, hip. Away we go, and rode straight at the Indian center, H troop thundering and clanging at his heels. The enemy then also charged, but Benteens promptness and momentum was too great. The bucks were thrown into confusion by the crash, and in spite of numbers, galloped back to safety, while Benteen returned without loss.
There had been no water since noon of the day before. Warriors, at short range, covered the river day and night. All suffered, but the anguish of the wounded was worse. Efforts to reach the river the night before had failed. By nine-thirty oclock A. M. their delirous screams for water became intolerable. While the battle raged, the request for volunteers to bring water at all hazards was passed and twelve men offered. Four expert shots were placed on an exposed bluff to cover the river bank. This forlorn hope, one of whom was Sergeant Roy, stumbled down the canon as far as they had a screen. Here they stopped to consult. When they left this cover the ground was bare to the river bank on that side about one hundred feet, while across the narrow stream was timber full of hidden war-
riors, splendidly armed. The water could only be reached by lying flat and dipping it up from a bank over three feet high.
How He Won a Medal
One must go at a time, run zig zag, and if he lived, bring the water to this cover. This man bade them all goodbye, ran to the bank, coolly dipped up the water, and got back safely, though spilling much water, as all did. The second man also got back unhurt, but the third, Wilbur of M troop had his leg shattered and fell on the open ground, later crawling to cover, whence he was carried after dark and his leg amputated. Roy made the fifth and got back safely. Man after man made the dash and all but two got some water. Nine received the Congressional medal. There were nearly seventy wounded and their cries were hard to bear. This water was doled out to them, that day and night, but it was too precious to be given to the able-bodied.
By evening the fate of Custer and the rest of the regiment was considered settled. The night of the 26th was also spent in watching, but Sergeant Roy, having been awake now for over a hundred hours got some sleep. The morning of the 27th there was no attack as expected, and soon the Sioux and Cheyenne squaws were seen taking down their tepees in the valley. By eight oclock only a few horsemen were seen. Soon afternoon this mystery was explained. A column of cavalry appeared in the distance followed by infantry with gattlings, and it was learned that it was Terry and Gibbon approaching. They came down the other side of the valley and had seen nothing of Custer.
After hearing a report of the two days battle and providing for the exhausted men of Reno, General Terry took up Custers trail. They first found Calhoun and his troop, and soon all was known that ever will be known. The whole of Custers family had been wiped out. Besides the general, gallant Tom, and near him, the invalid brother, Boston Custer, a civilian, forage master of the Seventh. Near by, too, was Autie Reed, a school boy of Monroe, Michigan, Custers nephew and namesake, out on his vacation; while out on the extreme left was modest James Calhoun, the brother-in-law. Of the officers, Cook, Smith and Yates had been with the regiment from its birth, at Fort Riley, Kansas, ten years before.
Sergeant Roy can tell many things about life in camp and barracks that an officer never sees. During his time the col-
onels were General Sturgis, Forsythe, Cummur, successively.
The first experience in the Indian country was a scouting expedition of three months, Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado, under Reno, who had but lately succeeded lamented Major Elliott. It was believed by the men of the Seventh that if Elliott had lived, the result at the Little Big Horn would have been different.
Here also is added an account of the Indian side of Custers last fight.
Celebration of the Tenth Anniversary of the Battle by a Few
of Its Survivors
The Great Sioux Chief Gaul, Gives an Interesting Description
of the Terrible Scene--Running Short of Ammunition
the Defenseless Soldiers Are Butchered by the
St. Paul, Minn., June 26--A special Pioneer press from Custers battlefield in Montana describes the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the battle by a few of its survivors. The great Sioux chief, Gaul, went over the field and described the manner in which Custers command was destroyed. Gaul is a fine looking Indian, forty years old, and weighing over two hundred pounds. He was reticent at first, but finally he told the story with dignity and animation. We saw the soldiers early in the morning crossing the divide. When Reno and Custer separated we watched them until they came into the valley. A cry was raised that the white soldiers were coming, and orders were given for the village to move immediately.
Reno swept down so rapidly upon the upper end that the Indians were forced to fight. Sitting Bull and I were at the point where Reno attacked. Sitting Bull was the big medicine man. Women and children were hastily moved down the stream to where the Cheyennes were camped.
The Sioux attacked Reno and the Cheyennes Custer, and then all became mixed up. Women caught the horses for the bucks to mount. Then the bucks mounted and charged back on Reno, checked him and drove him into the timber. The soldiers tied their horses to trees and came out and fought on
foot. As soon as Reno was beaten and driven back across the river, the whole force turned on Custer and fought him until they destroyed him. Custer did not reach the river, but was met about a mile up the ravine, now called Reno creek. They fought the soldiers, and beat them back step by step until all were killed. One of Renos officers confirms this, saying that it was probably during this interval of quiet on Renos part that the Indians massed on Custer and annihilated him. The Indians ran out of ammunition, and then used arrows. They fired from behind their horses. The soldiers fought with little guns (pistols). The Indians were in couples behind and in front of Custer as he moved up the ridge to take a position and were just as many as the grass. First two companies of Keoughs and Calhouns dismounted, and fought on foot. They never broke, but retired step by step until forced back to the ridge, upon which all finally perished.
They were shot down in line where they stood, Keoughs company rallied and were all killed in a bunch. (This statement seems borne out by the facts as thirty-eight bodies of Keoughs trops were found piled in a heap.) The warriors directed a special fire against the trooper who held the horses while the others fought. As soon as the trooper was killed, by waving of blankets and great souting the horses were stampeded, which made it impossible for the soldiers to escape. Afterward the soldiers fought desperately and hard, and never surrendered. They fought standing, they fought in line along the ridge. As fast as the men fell the horses were herded and driven toward the squaws and old men who gathered them up. When Reno attempted to find Custer by throwing out a skirmish line, Custer and all with him were dead. When the skirmishers reached the high point overlooking Custers field, the Indians were galloping around and over the wounded, dying and dead, popping bullets and arrows into them. When Reno made the attack at the upper end, he killed my two squaws and three children, which made my heart bad. I then fought with a hatchet (which means, of course, mutilated soldiers.) The soldiers ran out of ammunition early in the day. Their supply of cartridges were in the saddle pockets of their stampeded horses. The Indians then ran up to the soldiers and butchered them with their hatchets. A lot of horses ran away and jumped into the river but were caught by the squaws.
Only forty-three Indians were killed altogether, but a
great many wounded ones came across the river and died in the bushes. We had Ogallalles, Minecoujours, Brutes, Setona, Uncappas, Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapahoes and Grosventres. When the big dust came in the air down the river, meaning Terry and Gibbon, we struck our lodges and went up a creek toward the White Rain mountains. The Big Horn ranges were covered with snow. We waited there four days and then went over the Woj mountains. It has been popularly supposed that Custer entered the river, but such was not the case. There were no ceremonies or exercises gone through with.
As the above accounts are told by participants on both sides of the battlefield, it is perhaps as complete and correct as any that has been published. Mr. Benien further says: After the battle many persons held the view that Custer himself was to blame for the disaster. There was a certain jealousy among the army officers. Custer was not popular among those of his own rank. It was said that his rapid advancement was for his own aggrandizement, to gain credit ahead of others equally entitled to promotion. It was said Custers surprise of Black Kettles camp and easy victory on the Washita spoiled him.
He expected to repeat this venture at the Little Big Horn. As he followed the Indian trail, it became larger and larger. When he became aware that he was attacking an overwhelming force with only his own command, it was too late to retrace his steps, and disaster followed. But there is another view to be taken in favor of Custer. In previous campaigns, time and again it had happened that the savages, on learning of the approach of a sufficient force of troops to chastise them, had been cunning enough to give them the slip.
On the comment on Sergeant Roys account of the battle Mr. Benion wishes to say that the Custer family and all the officers names mentioned remained vividly in his memory. He, at one time being a member of an escort to the generals wife on an extensive overland trip from Yankton to Bismark, North Dakota, as already has been mentioned, perhaps knew as much about the family as any private in his troop or regiment. While Mrs. Custer was living in Monroe, Michigan, he thought of addressing a letter to her, to introduce himself as a member of her former bodyguard, and relate a few interesting incidents, but he never carried out his intentions.
It may also be of interest to state that one of the officers,
Lieutenant McIntosh, was a half breed Indian. Where he was born was not learned. Little of his history was known by the rank and file of men, except that his name was conferred upon him by his benefactor, that he was educated at an Indian school, perhaps Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and later at the Military Academy at West Point. He was a strict disciplinarian but reasonable and just.
In the reminiscences of by-gone days the men generally appear most prominently, but before we pass the Benien family a word is due Mrs. Benien. She, as a pioneer, deserves special mention. Going through the hardships of those days, she reared a family of seven children, all hale and hardy, and was especially instrumental in their being brought up to be model citizens.
She was a kind-hearted, hard-working woman and a model housekeeper. Her generosity kept pace with the prosperity that favored them in later years. Many were the family gatherings held in the old home on the farm, where children and grandchildren met for a pleasent time and recreation. At those social functions many outside friends were also invited, all of whom were provided for with a lavish hand.
If at any time any one of the numerous relatives became sick, day or night, it was always Mother Benien who was called to help and advise. Nor was this true, in her own family alone, but with outsiders in the community as well. Having much practical experience she was an especially good nurse in womens sickness and diseases of small children. There were cases when the little one was saved when medical treatment had failed, and in those days of strained circumstances the help was generally without remuneration, free gratis. Much more might be said. It seems to me such a woman who is never too busy to devote her time to relieve the distress of others, deserves not a mothers pension but a special reward and a medal of honor.
The Benien family is perhaps only a parallel, or an example of other families who could show a similar record. Such are the characters who build up our country. The successful family, the prosperous patriotic citizen are the units of our countrys greatness.
NOTE: The following is an excerpt from Mrs. Elisabeth B. Custers book. Tenting on the Plains, Page 429, which corroborates Mr. Beniens account of the Indian officer of the Seventh Cavalry. She said: We han an educated Indian as an officer. He belonged to the six Nations, his father was a Scotchman, but there was no Scotch about him except that he was loyal to his trusts and a brave soldier.