They Died With Custer: Soldiers' Bones from the Battle of the Little Bighorn

University of Oklahoma Press
Free sample

Dead men tell no tales, and the soldiers who rode and died with George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn have been silent statistics for more than a hundred years. By blending historical sources, archaeological evidence, and painstaking analysis of the skeletal remains, Douglas D. Scott, P. Willey, and Melissa A. Connor reconstruct biographies of many of the individual soldiers, identifying age, height, possible race, state of health, and the specific way each died. They also link reactions to the battle over the years to shifts in American views regarding the appropriate treatment of the dead.


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About the author

Douglas D. Scott is retired as supervisory archaeologist, Midwest Archeological Center, National Park Service. Widely known as an expert on military archaeology, he is the author or co-author of numerous publications, including They Died with Custer: Soldiers' Bones from the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Uncovering History: Archaeological Investigations at the Little Bighorn, and Custer, Cody, and Grand Duke Alexis: Historical Archaeology of the Royal Buffalo Hunt.

P. Willey is Professor of Anthropology at Chico State, and co-author with Douglas D. Scott of They Died with Custer: Soldiers’ Bones from the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Melissa A. Connor, also an Archeologist with the Midwest Archeological Center, specializes in the reconstruction of diet through the use of isotopes and trace elements in bone. She holds B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Oklahoma Press
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Published on
Jul 10, 2013
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Pages
416
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ISBN
9780806150154
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Military / United States
History / Modern / 19th Century
Social Science / Anthropology / General
Social Science / Archaeology
Social Science / Ethnic Studies / Native American Studies
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The enlisted men in the United States Army during the Indian Wars (1866-91) need no longer be mere shadows behind their historically well-documented commanding officers.

As member of the regular army, these men formed an important segment of our usually slighted national military continuum and, through their labors, combats, and endurance, created the framework of law and order within which settlement and development become possible. We should know more about the common soldier in our military past, and here he is.

The rank and file regular, then as now, was psychologically as well as physically isolated from most of his fellow Americans. The people were tired of the military and its connotations after four years of civil war. They arrayed their army between themselves and the Indians, paid its soldiers their pittance, and went about the business of mushrooming the nation’s economy.

Because few enlisted men were literarily inclined, many barely able to scribble their names, most previous writings about them have been what officers and others had to say. To find out what the average soldier of the post-Civil War frontier thought, Don Rickey, Jr., asked over three hundred living veterans to supply information about their army experiences by answering questionnaires and writing personal accounts. Many of them who had survived to the mid-1950’s contributed much more through additional correspondence and personal interviews.

Whether the soldier is speaking for himself or through the author in his role as commentator-historian, this is the first documented account of the mass personality of the rank and file during the Indian Wars, and is only incidentally a history of those campaigns.

Between 1864 and 1877, during the height of the Plains Indian wars, Pawnee Indian scouts rendered invaluable service to the United States Army. They led missions deep into contested territory, tracked resisting bands, spearheaded attacks against enemy camps, and on more than one occasion saved American troops from disaster on the field of battle. In War Party in Blue, Mark van de Logt tells the story of the Pawnee scouts from their perspective, detailing the battles in which they served and recounting hitherto neglected episodes.

Employing military records, archival sources, and contemporary interviews with current Pawnee tribal members—some of them descendants of the scouts—Van de Logt presents the Pawnee scouts as central players in some of the army's most notable campaigns. He argues that military service allowed the Pawnees to fight their tribal enemies with weapons furnished by the United States as well as to resist pressures from the federal government to assimilate them into white society.

According to the author, it was the tribe's martial traditions, deeply embedded in their culture, that made them successful and allowed them to retain these time-honored traditions. The Pawnee style of warfare, based on stealth and surprise, was so effective that the scouts' commanding officers did little to discourage their methods. Although the scouts proudly wore the blue uniform of the U.S. Cavalry, they never ceased to be Pawnees. The Pawnee Battalion was truly a war party in blue.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, African American men were seldom permitted to join the United States armed forces. There had been times in early U.S. history when black and white men fought alongside one another; it was not uncommon for integrated units to take to battle in the Revolutionary War. But by the War of 1812, the United States had come to maintain what one writer called “a whitewashed army.” Yet despite that opposition, during the early 1800s, militia units made up of free black soldiers came together to aid the official military troops in combat.
Many black Americans continued to serve in times of military need. Nearly 180,000 African Americans served in units of the U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War, and others, from states such as Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Missouri, and Kansas, participated in state militias organized to protect local populations from threats of Confederate invasion. As such, the Civil War was a turning point in the acceptance of black soldiers for national defense. By 1900, twenty-two states and the District of Columbia had accepted black men into some form of military service, usually as state militiamen—brothers to the “buffalo soldiers” of the regular army regiments, but American military men regardless.
Little has been published about them, but Brothers to the Buffalo Soldiers: Perspectives on the African American Militia and Volunteers, 1865–1919, offers insights into the varied experiences of black militia units in the post–Civil War period. The book includes eleven articles that focus either on “Black Participation in the Militia” or “Black Volunteer Units in the War with Spain.” The articles, collected and introduced by author and scholar Bruce A. Glasrud, provide an overview of the history of early black citizen-soldiers and offer criticism from prominent academics interested in that experience.
Brothers to the Buffalo Soldiers discusses a previously little-known aspect of the black military experience in U.S. history, while deliberating on the discrimination these men faced both within and outside the military. Chosen on the bases of scholarship, balance, and readability, these articles provide a rare composite picture of the black military man’s life during this period. Brothers to the Buffalo Soldiers offers both a valuable introductory text for students of military studies and a solid source of material for African American historians.

With its charismatic leader George Custer and its memorable encounters with Plains Indians, including the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the Seventh Cavalry serves as the iconic regiment in the post–Civil War U.S Army. Voluminous written documentation as well as archaeological and osteological research suggest that the soldiers of the Seventh represented a cross section of the men who joined the army as a whole at the time. In Health of the Seventh Cavalry, editors P. Willey and Douglas D. Scott and their co-contributors—experts in history, medicine, human biology, epidemiology, and human osteology—examine the Seventh’s medical records to determine the health of the nineteenth-century U.S. Army, and the prevalence and treatment of the numerous conditions that plagued soldiers during the Indian Wars.

Building on previous comparisons of archaeological evidence and medical records, Willey and Scott follow multiple lines of inquiry to assess the health of the Seventh, from its organization in 1866 to its 1884 station on the Northern Great Plains. Pairing general overviews of nineteenth- and twentieth-century health care with essays on malaria, injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other specific ailments, Health of the Seventh Cavalry provides fresh insights into the health, disease, and trauma that the regiment experienced over two decades. More than 100 tables, graphs, and maps track the troops’ illnesses and diseases by month, season, year, and location, as well as their stress periods, desertions, and deaths. A glossary of medical terms rounds out the volume.

As an ideal exemplar of regiments of its time, the Seventh Cavalry affords scholars and enthusiasts a better understanding of nineteenth-century health and medicine. This volume reveals the struggles that the post–Civil War Seventh, and the entire U.S. Army, faced on the battlefield and elsewhere.
On the afternoon of June 25, 1867, an overwhelming force of Sioux and Cheyenne Indians quickly mounted a savage onslaught against General George Armstrong Custer’s battalion, driving the doomed troopers of the U.S. Seventh Cavalry to a small hill overlooking the Little Bighorn River, where Custer and his men bravely erected their heroic last stand.

So goes the myth of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, a myth perpetuated and reinforced for over 100 years. In truth, however, "Custer’s Last Stand" was neither the last of the fighting nor a stand.

Using innovative and standard archaeological techniques, combined with historical documents and Indian eyewitness accounts, Richard Allan Fox, Jr. vividly replays this battle in astonishing detail. Through bullets, spent cartridges, and other material data, Fox identifies combat positions and tracks soldiers and Indians across the Battlefield. Guided by the history beneath our feet, and listening to the previously ignored Indian testimonies, Fox reveals scenes of panic and collapse and, ultimately, a story of the Custer battle quite different from the fatalistic versions of history. According to the author, the five companies of the Seventh Cavalry entered the fray in good order, following planned strategies and displaying tactical stability. It was the sudden disintegration of this cohesion that caused the troopers’ defeat. The end came quickly, unexpectedly, and largely amid terror and disarray. Archaeological evidences show that there was no determined fighting and little firearm resistance. The last soldiers to be killed had rushed from Custer Hill.

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