Custer Battlefield and Virginia City, Montana

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Re: Custer Battlefield and Virginia City, Montana

Post by Joe Ribaudo » Tue May 03, 2011 3:16 pm

Pip,

Your synopsis is as good as any since none of us were there.

When I wrote proximity, I was referring how close the warriors were to the soldiers, not how close Custer's men were to the village. From what I have read, it seems that the major cause of the massacre was pure panic.

Once Custer's initial plan failed, he had no back up plan. They simply ran away from the Indians and looked for the high ground.......at least what they could reach. Unfortunately, that high ground did not provide much cover for his soldiers, so they shot their horses for protection. That did not really work, and they were easily killed, many by hand to hand combat or uncontested close quarter assault. In simple terms, they were dispatched.

That particular fight lasted less than an hour, probably around thirty minutes. Many of the soldiers were too frightened to even shoot back. Some gave a good fight, but that kind of combat calls for "superior firepower". It is a tactic that is still being taught and used today. Repeaters or full-auto rifles throw so many rounds at the enemy, that they are too busy ducking to shoot back. For the most part, that seems to be what happened to Custer and his men.

Benteen had a much better defensive position and managed to keep the warriors at bay, with the same armament that the Indians had just defeated.

The correct terminology is "cluster boink". :lol:

Joe

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Re: Custer Battlefield and Virginia City, Montana

Post by Oroblanco » Tue May 03, 2011 4:32 pm

Hola amigos,
Muchas gracias for your explanations. You have pointed out a major argument against the carbines being "the" major factor of the defeat, that the same weapons were used successfully by Benteen for a full day of battle against the same enemy. Clearly they could not have been the ultimate factor, though the rates of fire must have been some kind of factor.

I want to qualify a statement I posted earlier, about writing a book - really not writing so much at this point as just collecting data, and with my track record with book-writing it will likely never be finished much less published. :mrgreen: :roll: Spent over eight years on the last project and now have lost most of the files, but may be able to recover them. Anyway just wanted to clarify that bit, I am very interested and not just for a personal interest, but will likely not result in anything of record. One researches with a bit more serious intent when done with an eye to a product rather than just for personal knowledge.

As you pointed out Joe, one version of events is about as good as any other for those who really knew what happened are all dead - heck even those who participated seem to have not understood what was happening, certainly not all over the field nor at all times. There are many small mysteries, such as who shot the women and children at the very start of the battle? I cannot place any soldiers or scouts close enough to the village to have done it, yet there are several witnesses including chief Gall whose family was killed "at the very start" - when Reno was just beginning his charge down the valley. Perhaps it is a confabulation or confusion of the timing, as there clearly is among some modern authors, but Gall did not even have time to get his rifle so it remains an unanswered question.

The evidence certainly supports the contention that the village was surprised by the attack, despite those who claim they had fore-knowledge and saw the column etc any such witnesses did not manage to give warning.
Oroblanco
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Re: Custer Battlefield and Virginia City, Montana

Post by pippinwhitepaws » Tue May 03, 2011 5:39 pm

hey..good luck on the project you have begun...

oral histories are a wealth of information...if you sift it carefully...

i studied the fetterman affair long ago...as a sidenote to my native studies...
it appears many officers of that period must have been issued lead gobblets and canteens...

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Re: Custer Battlefield and Virginia City, Montana

Post by Oroblanco » Tue May 03, 2011 8:50 pm

Pip - hoo boy the Fetterman massacre, what a story that one! Fetterman's commander knew he was a hot-head and had given him specific orders not to pursue hostiles out of sight of the fort and we know the result. The Grattan fight is a similar case, of all the officers to send in that incident, the worst possible choice was Lt Grattan. Even so in that instance, the fighting seems to have originated out of stupidity, (by one source anyway) for Conquering Bear had offered to pay for the crippled ox taken by his warriors for food and apparently Grattan had answered "hownh" which was mistaken for "now" by a soldier who opened fire.

Fetterman had bragged that with eighty men he could ride through the whole Sioux nation, and he had exactly eighty men that day; the infantry were armed with muzzleloader, his 27 cavalry had Spencer repeating rifles and two civilians carried Henrys. The two civilians apparently were able to put up quite a fight until their ammunition ran out.
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Re: Custer Battlefield and Virginia City, Montana

Post by Joe Ribaudo » Tue May 03, 2011 10:21 pm

Roy,

"There are many small mysteries, such as who shot the women and children at the very start of the battle? I cannot place any soldiers or scouts close enough to the village to have done it, yet there are several witnesses including chief Gall whose family was killed "at the very start" - when Reno was just beginning his charge down the valley. Perhaps it is a confabulation or confusion of the timing, as there clearly is among some modern authors, but Gall did not even have time to get his rifle so it remains an unanswered question."

Not saying that didn't happen, but there are accounts that some of Custer's Indian scouts chased and killed a few women and children at the start of the battle.......with Reno.

It was Custer's strategy to attack the village and take women and children in order to pressure the warriors into giving up. That was a good plan and probably would have worked. Most of the non-combatants fled the village at the start of the fighting. They fled north along the Little Bighorn and gathered in a flat area by the river.

Custer sent some men out to round them up, but they failed in that attempt. They would have needed to cross the river to reach them. The same plan had been used before, with success.

Take care,

Joe

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Re: Custer Battlefield and Virginia City, Montana

Post by Oroblanco » Wed May 04, 2011 8:06 pm

Joe R wrote
Not saying that didn't happen, but there are accounts that some of Custer's Indian scouts chased and killed a few women and children at the start of the battle.......with Reno
Can you recall which witnesses gave those accounts? I would appreciate if you can. I am not certain that it actually happened, no dead women or children were found by the soldiers on the 27th or afterward, but it is possible. It is also possible that the timing of their being shot was not right at the start of the fight as Gall claimed.

Several of the scouts were armed with 1873 Springfield trapdoor rifles, but the infantry rifles with two bands, longer barrel and probably full power cartridges so could reach 1000 yards and hit a man-sized target. Not saying that is the explanation either, just looking for answers. The instance reported in accounts given by scouts of firing into the camp however occur much later in the fight, when Reno was already in the timber.

I have suspicion that the scouts never did tell everything they knew, and could prove it in a couple of instances. One Arikara scout in particular I would love to find an eyewitness account from (Black Fox) but apparently he never did, as well as Half Yellow Face but he was killed in 1879 so it seems very unlikely to turn up an account from him.

Oroblanco

PS ordered a copy of the one book you recommended, and took a peek at it on Amazon and it looks very interesting.
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Re: Custer Battlefield and Virginia City, Montana

Post by Oroblanco » Thu May 05, 2011 1:06 am

OK - found one of the accounts; the Arikara scout Little Sioux said that he and Red Star saw three Sioux women and two children and fired twice each at them, at a point in the battle when Reno was just forming up for the charge. They were ahead of Reno's troops some distance and saw the non-combatants from across the river. This might have been the two wives and three children that Gall said were killed, if one of the children might have been mistaken for an adult.

The source is in the Arikara narrative, published in the North Dakota historical collection.
So no need to rack your brain for where you saw it - one source is enough and this small mystery is cleared up.
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Re: Custer Battlefield and Virginia City, Montana

Post by Joe Ribaudo » Thu May 05, 2011 12:45 pm

Roy,

I don't recall that Black Fox ever gave an account of the battle. I believe there is a gravestone for him in the cemetery, but I'm not sure his body was ever identified. The best narrative on his roll at Little Bighorn can be found in "Custer's Last Campaign" by John Gray. There may be something better, but that's the best I have seen.

I would recommend the same book for the Half Yellow Face story.

Good luck,

Joe

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Re: Custer Battlefield and Virginia City, Montana

Post by Oroblanco » Thu May 05, 2011 1:39 pm

Hi Joe and thank you for the suggestions. Black Fox is a curious figure (for me) in that his locations are odd; several witnesses have him with Curley, going along with Custer even after the three Crow scouts leave that battalion, but they separate later after Curley shows him where a stashed box of hardtack is. Two say he was with Reno in the charge on the village, but way out on the right by the river, perhaps on the opposite side of it. One claims he was not even present, and the LBHA roster has him absent on "detached duty". Where was he really?

Half Yellow Face as leader of scouts is another enigma - and what caught my attention about him was this. In the Reno court of inquiry, one witness reported that a rumor went around on Reno hill on the evening of the 25th, that Lt Calhoun had been wounded. When questioned on it, the witness stated that "some scout had brought it in" and the officer involved with the rumor had said he did not believe it. Well during the time on Reno hill, another witness said he saw Maj Reno talking with "a scout" but doesn't name him. Still another witness said he saw Maj Reno talking with Half Yellow Face, which Reno never mentions in his testimony or any letters etc. Was this the origin of that rumor? Did Half Yellow Face see a part of the Custer battle and report it to Maj Reno? It is likely impossible to trace down today, but it appears that the scouts may have seen more than they later admitted to. As Half Yellow Face was killed by Sioux in 1879 in the Yellowstone valley (though one source online claims he died at a different location entirely) he was not available for the 1879 court of inquiry, nor was around for the many people who went about contacting survivors and trying to get their own stories.

I tried to find out just what wounds were found on the body of Lt Calhoun but so far no luck on that. If his body had more than one wound, or one that did not immediately kill him, that of course would not prove the rumor was true, but it would tend to help support it. Like many things in the story, it is not possible to PROVE things as "solved" (like the story of Gall's family, we have Gall's word, no bodies; no soldier witness, and even the scout story that will fit does not indicate that the shots fired at the fleeing women and children hit anyone!) but it is possible in some cases to find things that dovetail fairly well. In fact for researching this, you almost have to have two or more books open so that you can cross-reference every statement, every finding etc for so many things are contradictory (like where was Black Fox) or will dovetail with other sources. This can be done with online sources to a degree by keeping open windows but having the books in hand is easier for me.

Here is another little mystery for you; among the dead hostile Indians one was identified as Chatka, a former Sioux scout for the US Army. He had signed up with the Army in May of 1876 at Fort Lincoln, the marching base for the Dakota column, yet less than two months later he is found dead, placed in a death lodge as a member of the hostiles. He is not listed on any muster roll for the columns that I can find, but several scouts are fairly well known to have participated yet are not listed; one in fact had been discharged but remained to help and perhaps get some of the booty in captured ponies. When did Chatka switch sides? Was he riding with Custer's column, and go over to Sitting Bull just before the fight, or perhaps switch sides DURING the fight? Or did he quit soon after signing on with the Army and head for the hostiles camp? Was he acting as a spy for the Army? Any suggestions for leads on the actions of Chatka would be appreciated, even if just a mention of having seen him at some point. I may not be able to get the book suggestions right away but am making a list, and going through as quickly as I can while still able to take relevant notations when found.

That idea of Chatka acting as a spy may seem far-fetched, but the Sioux in Sitting Bull's camp were very suspicious that spies were entering the camp; the Arapahoes for instance were arrested and nearly killed for those suspicions, only being saved from execution by the intervention of the Cheyennes. Kill Eagle claimed that his band was treated the same way and kept under guard, and again only the intervention of the Cheyennes prevented worse treatment according to him. As for the idea of Chatka switching sides during the fight, many of the scouts stripped out of their 'soldier clothes' just before the battle and got arrayed for battle as Indian style, so if (big if here) Chatka were present, he might have changed his dress to that of a Sioux warrior and simply turned his weapon around during the fighting.

Sorry for the longwinded post, thank you again and in advance for any replies. I hope you have a very pleasant evening,
Roy
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Re: Custer Battlefield and Virginia City, Montana

Post by Joe Ribaudo » Tue Jun 14, 2011 11:21 am

Roy,

My apologies for not responding for so long. I have been flat on my back for the last month, and I am just now getting to a place where my mind works for longer than a few minutes without saying goodnight.

Your last post here was very good, and I will try to reply soon.

Thanks in advance for your patience.

Take care,

Joe

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Re: Custer Battlefield and Virginia City, Montana

Post by Oroblanco » Tue Jun 14, 2011 11:09 pm

Greetings Joe,
Sorry to hear that you have been 'hors de combat' and hope that you are back on your feet and 100% again. Thank you for the kind words, and I look forward to your reply; I also hope you know that there is never (or only in very rare instances) any need to hurry about replying to anything I might say. One thing I have learned is patience and there is nothing urgent about anything we are or have been discussing, in my opinion.

Take it easy Joe and I hope you have a very pleasant evening.
Roy

PS -about Chatka; I have not learned any further details on this fellow. Whether he was acting as a spy for the Army, or as a spy for Sitting Bull remains unsettled.

Also, I did find one version of the discussion between Half Yellow Face and Major Reno, not sure if it was the same where the mention of Lt Calhoun being wounded as this version does not include that.
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Re: Custer Battlefield and Virginia City, Montana

Post by Joe Ribaudo » Thu Jun 16, 2011 3:14 pm

Roy,

I have seen the Internet sites that claim that Chatka was found in an abandoned teepee at Little Big Horn, but doubt that is fact. I have found no mention of that in any of the books I have on the battle.

I have found his name in other accounts, mostly dealing with the ghost dance, but it would not be possible if he died at Little Big Horn, which took place fourteen years earlier. The Ghost Dance took place around 1890.

I will look some more, just to confirm it was not another Indian named Chatka.

Take care,

Joe

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Re: Custer Battlefield and Virginia City, Montana

Post by Oroblanco » Thu Jun 16, 2011 9:51 pm

Joe Ribaudo wrote:Roy,

I have seen the Internet sites that claim that Chatka was found in an abandoned teepee at Little Big Horn, but doubt that is fact. I have found no mention of that in any of the books I have on the battle.

I have found his name in other accounts, mostly dealing with the ghost dance, but it would not be possible if he died at Little Big Horn, which took place fourteen years earlier. The Ghost Dance took place around 1890.

I will look some more, just to confirm it was not another Indian named Chatka.

Take care,

Joe
Greetings Joe,

I don't know what books you have on hand but here is what is found in the ND historical collection

"They went on to the Dakota camp and found there the body of a dead Dakota lying on a tanned buffalo hide. Young Hawk recognized this warrior as one who had been a scout at Fort Lincoln, Chat-ka. He had on a white shirt, the shoulders were painted green, and on his forehead, painted in red, was the sign of a secret society." The Arikara Narrative, pp 109, narrative of Young Hawk; Collections of the State Historical Society of North Dakota, Volume 6 By State Historical Society of North Dakota

also in The Custer Myth, page 37, narrative of Young Hawk

Son of the Morning Star, page 318 also mentions this discovery of Chatka, if you have this book.

I did find that Chatka was also known as "Left Handed" and had been one of the two scouts sent back to Fort Lincoln with mail during the march on May 31st, but do not know if he arrived at Fort Lincoln with the other scout or not. It is possible that Young Hawk was mistaken in his perception of the dead warrior being Chatka of course but I do not see any solid reason to doubt it. I have not found web articles which mention the finding of Chatka, but would not accept anything found online without confirmation elsewhere.
Roy
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Re: Custer Battlefield and Virginia City, Montana

Post by Joe Ribaudo » Fri Jun 17, 2011 3:04 pm

Roy,

I quit looking for Chatka and searched for "Left Hand". He was in the battle, but was not killed in fact, but was still alive in 1920. "Lakota Noon" has the most and best information on Left Hand that I could find.

I will put his story together and post it here.

Take care,

Joe

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Re: Custer Battlefield and Virginia City, Montana

Post by Oroblanco » Sat Jun 18, 2011 7:43 pm

Hola amigo,

No need, I have access to a copy of Lakota Noon (our local library has one) unless you wish to post it for others to read. I wonder if this could not be a case of more than one man with the same name? Many of the Indians had more than one name too, which certainly helps keep things confusing! If this survivor Left Hand (as opposed to "left handed") is the Sioux scout, then we are left wondering whom Young Hawk found that he believed was Left Hand? May not be possible to determine at this point.

Having some rather good luck in finding source materials locally; one point of interest (to me) was a hoaxer who claimed to be Curly, as well as Bloody Knife; at one point in his career of making paid speech type appearances, with creditors after him, he made his vanishing act right here in Edgemont. Peter Thompson, the soldier from C troop whose horse played out on him and thus preserved him from ending up with the rest of C company, had a ranch in later years in Hot Springs which is the next town up the road (east) from here. Anyway it has turned into an interesting topic (for me) and without the maddening sort of hunt to find ANY sources, quite the opposite in fact. I also managed to pick up a copy of "With Custer on the Little Bighorn" by William O Taylor (a private in M troop) which was one of the later sources to come to light, nothing earth-shattering in it but some interesting tidbits. One point that has struck me was how many soldiers (and later historians) accused the Crow and Arikara scouts (with the 7th) of cowardice, for their leaving the battlefield, when in fact they were simply following the last given orders from Custer and several did check with Reno before leaving. They were ordered to capture as many ponies as possible and if things went badly, to take the ponies back home. As for the Crows who left Gibbon's column on the 26th, I don't have a good argument for it appears that they lost their courage after hearing about Custer but they must have been concerned about the safety of their families.

Thank you for the interesting discussion, I hope you have a very pleasant day.
Roy
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Re: Custer Battlefield and Virginia City, Montana

Post by Joe Ribaudo » Fri Jun 24, 2011 11:45 am

Roy,

You said:

"One Arikara scout in particular I would love to find an eyewitness account from (Black Fox) but apparently
he never did...."

Here is a source:

http://books.google.com/books?id=KlCZ00 ... ew&f=false

Notes: 22, 23, and 24.

I also have a number of other answers for your questions, but need to get my mind focused in another direction than myself first. Just now getting better.

Take care,

Joe

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Re: Custer Battlefield and Virginia City, Montana

Post by Oroblanco » Fri Jun 24, 2011 1:49 pm

Greetings Joe,
I am glad to hear that you are on the mend. Too often we forget that our health is our greatest possession. I hope you are obeying the doctors orders too.

Thank you for that tip! I am not sure if that is the same Black Fox (why would he be present in the Sioux reservation?) but even in the footnotes another tidbit pops up. I was unaware that No Water was among the Indian police sent to arrest Crazy Horse. Did the agent not know of their history, that No Water had a personal enmity with Crazy Horse? And No Flesh stating an intention to kill Crazy Horse before they even start off? I was aware of some hanky-panky involved in the translation garbling, which was used as some 'cassus belli' for having Crazy Horse arrested but not that No Water was involved at all. Some mighty peculiar incidents involved in his death, for sure - I could not understand why chief Touch the Clouds camped all night in front of Dr McGillycuddy's office door when Crazy Horse was dead but the scenario is starting to make sense.

No Water, the warrior whose wife left him for Crazy Horse and who shot CH in the face for this, ended his years living in a nearby town (to here) Buffalo Gap, a rather neat little old cow-town where we often go for their excellent feed store. I begin to see why he thought it was preferable to live among the wasichus than on the reservation.

Take it easy Joe and I hope you are back to yourself (100%) soon. As always, no hurry for any resplies and I look forward to reading them.
Roy
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Re: Custer Battlefield and Virginia City, Montana

Post by Joe Ribaudo » Sun Jul 10, 2011 12:57 pm

Roy,

"Joe, yes still at it on the Custer deal; and yes there are literally hundreds and hundreds of books, articles etc. Had to make a decision to stick to older, closer to source type materials rather early on, with few exceptions or there would be no hope of ever getting something done. As for a personal favorite, I no longer have one - used to think "Son of the Morning Star" was pretty good but on re-reading it, find it a wandering, disjointed and somewhat inaccurate account. This was the main source material for at least one Hollywood version, coincidentally with the same title."

I agree completely on Connell's book. As an interesting coincidence, did you know that he was considering writing a book about the LDM when he got caught up in the mystique surrounding the Little Big Horn and Custer? I'm not sure that information was in the 1984 edition of his book. Did you realize it was dedicated to Curt Gentry? "The Killer Mountains".

Take care,

Joe

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Re: Custer Battlefield and Virginia City, Montana

Post by Oroblanco » Sun Jul 10, 2011 8:16 pm

Hi Joe,
No, I was not aware of that. I have the 1985 "First Perennial Library Edition" which must be after the 1984 eighth edition, but it does say "To Curt Gentry" in the dedication. That is interesting, never noticed it.

Any idea where to find a transcript of the court-martial of Cpt Thomas French, 1878? There is a book on it, but I would much prefer a transcript if I could locate one. Writers have a habit of cherry-picking what will go into a book, where the transcript may have info that could be of interest but was not to the writer.

I hope all is well with you, Carolyn and Smoky. Take it easy and I wish you a great evening,
Roy
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Re: Custer Battlefield and Virginia City, Montana

Post by pippinwhitepaws » Mon Jul 11, 2011 10:18 am

department of war records should contain the information you seek oro.

http://wardepartmentpapers.org/index.php
not a complete archives...but a start.

prior to WWI, all military matters were filed under department of war...
nor were these records ever turned over to the defense department...as far as i know...

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Re: Custer Battlefield and Virginia City, Montana

Post by Joe Ribaudo » Mon Jul 11, 2011 10:38 am

Pip,

Thanks for the information. I was just looking in that direction when I was informed of a post to this subject.

Good Job!

Roy,

Thomas Glover has been in those archives, and he actually started this topic. He might be a good guy to ask for some assistance in finding those records.

French refused to testify in the "whitewash" after the battle, so he became a bit of a pariah right up until the time of his death......at least in a good part of the army command. Now Reno's problems with alcohol were much worse.

It's not a pretty picture, no matter how you cut it.

Take care,

Joe

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Re: Custer Battlefield and Virginia City, Montana

Post by Oroblanco » Mon Jul 11, 2011 12:39 pm

Thank you Pip! That is a good lead! I owe you yet another one.

Joe - yes, that court martial of French was clearly done to punish him for refusing to go along with the coverup. Others were likewise threatened, and according to Girard, some were threatened with even worse - he was told (darkly) that he could have champagne dinners or that there was a large, empty prairie out there. Girard refused to 'go along' and his testimony at Reno's court of inquiry was the most dammin', which resulted in his being rather viciously attacked by both Reno and his attorney. The court recorder had to step in to put a stop to it, as there was no prosecutor. What is harder to pin down is who or whom was at the top of the coverup? Clearly Reno did not have the kind of power necessary to go so far as it did, this involved higher rank.

Just an opinion but I think that Reno court of inquiry would make a great Hollywood 'court drama' type of movie, maybe toss in some flashbacks as the testimony proceeded, and without any embellishments necessary as it is dramatic enough.

I will take your advice on asking Dr Glover too - thank you for the suggestion!
Roy
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Re: Custer Battlefield and Virginia City, Montana

Post by pippinwhitepaws » Tue Jul 12, 2011 8:53 am

http://www.littlebighorn.info/Articles/reno86.htm

i guess the senate keeps records also.

i love research.

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Re: Custer Battlefield and Virginia City, Montana

Post by pippinwhitepaws » Tue Jul 12, 2011 8:57 am

here is the complete courts martial ...but 60 bucks?

http://cgi.ebay.com/Carroll-Court-Marti ... 0509120776

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Re: Custer Battlefield and Virginia City, Montana

Post by Oroblanco » Tue Jul 12, 2011 12:53 pm

Thank you Pippin, that is the book I referred to that covers Capt French's court martial. Unfortunately the record was edited for the book, so some things did not make it into print. What was left out? Without the original transcript we can't know. Also my budget won't allow spending that much on such a peripheral (and still only potential) source - I have found other copies for less money, not first editions of course and may end up going that route.

The senate and house of reps have fairly good records, beyond just the summary as found on the littlebighorn.info site. Still looking into that angle, in fact a surprising amount is now online through google and archive.org among others.

For anyone reading this, my mention of a coverup is not based on my speculation alone; the treatment given Capt French (court martial, his home torched etc) is just one bit of evidence. The coverup was still ongoing at least in the time of President Reagan, who mentioned in a private letter to a friend that the truth was known to a handful in the army, whom would never allow it to be known. This is why I have been chasing down little known accounts of the battle, for what was being covered up? Would a high ranking general or even a president put their positions at risk, for the sake of protecting a mediocre major named Reno or a captain named Benteen? Hard to say of course, especially when Grant was known to stand by his friends right up to near the point of conviction of wrongdoing as with Belknap. What is it that as late as the Reagan administration, could not be revealed?

Thank you for the suggestions and leads to track down. I hope you all have a great day.
Roy
"We must find a way, or we will make one." --Hannibal Barca

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