For the students of the battle of the Little Bighorn who have a certain knowledge of the battle – some trails to follow



LITTLE BIG HORN, June 25 1876

Custer's Last Stand


This is a case based on number of books by historians, students of the battle, archaeologists and official files by the US government about the Battle of the Little Bighorn.


The following is based on official hearings by the Reno Court of Inquiry, which was asked by Major Reno in 1879 to “clear his name” about what happened on the Little Bighorn. To all Little Bighorn buffs, please consider the following disturbing facts and analysis :




major Marcus A. Reno


The Reno Court of Inquiry (RCOI) stated in its last day that no cowardice could be seeen regarding Major Reno’s retreat at the Little Bighorn. However, the witnesses didn’t agree with Reno’s conduct during the fight.


As I stood looking at [Major Reno] I could not help wondering if he knew what his duty was. Here he was with about four hundred men surrounded by hordes of savages. If ever soldiers needed a good example it was here.

Did he show such an example ?

Did he show how a true soldier should act under difficulties? And die if needs be in the defense of his country ?

No !

Instead of this he kept himself in a hole where there was no danger of being struck and no doubt he would have pulled the hole in after him if he could [have].”

Private Peter Thompson, Company C, 7th cavalry, after Little Bighorn

(Nightengale, Robert, Little Big Horn, p.164)



Reno proved incompetent and Benteen showed his indifference – I will not use the uglier words that have often been in my mind. Both failed Custer and he had to fight it alone. […] Among the several things that impressed me greatly, one was the general demoralization that seemed to pervade many of the officers and men, due in great measure, I think, to Major Reno. When an enlisted man sees his commanding officers showing greater regard for their personal safety than anything else, it would apt to demoralize anyone taught to breathe, almost, at the word of command.

Private William Taylor, Company M, 7th cavalry, after Little Bighorn

(Sklenar, Larry, To Hell with Honor, pp.260-261)



As it turned out I think Custer did make a mistake in going in with a divided force, not that the division of itself would have been fatal but because Reno failed to hold a leg even if he couldn’t skin.

Lieutenant Edward Godfrey, Company K, 7th cavalry, after Little Bighorn

(Sklenar, Larry, To Hell with Honor, p.262)



Reno’s position [in the timber] was impregnable and nothing but fear could have prompted his retreat

Lieutenant DeRudio, Company M, 7th cavalry, after Little Bighorn

(Sklenar, Larry, To Hell with Honor, p.365 n 3)



Q (Reno Court of Inquiry) : Refresh your memory about what was done by any part of the command [on Reno Hill] right away that firing was heard [coming from Medicine Tail Ford].

A (Sergeant Edward Davern, Reno’s orderly) : Nothing was done.

(Nightengale, Robert, Little Big Horn, pp.122-123)



What made Major Reno run away when he did I cannot positively know, and he didn’t tell me. […] To turn ones back on Indians without being better mounted than they is throwing away life. When he started to that hill he had told me, not one minute before, that he was going to fight – it was in reply to a question of mine.

Captain Thomas French, Company M, 7th cavalry, after Little Bighorn

(Graham, William, The Custer Myth, p.341)







These are extracts from Reno’s official report (which is like a testimony under oath in the military) and his testimony under oath at the Court of Inquiry in 1879. Please remark the huge differences.




1876 : [On Reno Hill,] we heard firing in that direction [Medicine Tail Ford] and knew it could only be Custer.


1879 : I do not remember anyone reporting to me that he heard firing. I heard no such firing.






1876 : In a short time, the pack train came up.


1879 : In about an hour and a half, the pack train would come up.






1876 : Custer intended to support me by moving further down the stream and attacking the village in the flank.


1879 : I had no reason to believe that General Custer would support me in other manner than from the rear […] Custer had no plan.






1876 : [On Reno Hill,] we heard firing in that direction [Medicine Tail Ford] and knew it could only be Custer.


1879 : I believe that when I came out of the timber, Custer’s command was all dead






1876 : We heard firing in that direction and knew it could only be Custer.


1879 : It didn’t occur to me that Custer with 225 men needed anyone quickly




Captain Frederick Benteen


This testimony was given under oath. Please see the contradicted statement and the outrageous last statement. Benteen was with Major Reno on Reno Hill with 380 men (no fighting there) and Custer was against the Indians with 210 men.


1879 : I heard vollies [by Custer’s men when Benteen was on Reno Hill].


1879 (same testimony) : I am convinced that when the order brought back by Martin reached me [much before he arrived on Reno Hill], General Custer and his whole command was dead.


1879: I thought that Custer could take care of himself [outrageous thought of a subordinate!]








Major Reno’s lawyer showed three exhibits in the Reno Court of Inquiry. #1 was the report, which contradicts the very testimony Reno gave in the Commission! #2 was a map which was an alleged copy of Lieutenant Maguire map of the battle of the Little Bighorn. #3 was an alleged enlisted petition by soldiers who said that Major Reno and Captain Benteen were their saviours and should be promoted. There is evidence that two exhibits were forgeries, which is a criminal offence.




a)    The petition


November 5 1954 : letter from the FBI to the Superintendent (file 95-3820, Labo. N. D-123677 DG, November 20 1950):


“Variations were noted in the signatures listed below and the corresponding known signatures which suggests the probability that the signatures on the petition are forgeries”


List of 80 names (variations), plus 17 names (individuals who signed they payroll with a “x”. But their names appeared on the petition), plus 6 names (handwritings samples unavailable)


E. S. Luce, Little Big Horn Battlefield Superintendent, September 20 1954 :


“There are quite a number of apparent “forgeries” and irregularities that show up on comparing signatures on the Petition with the signatures on the Muster and Pay Rolls. One irregularity that can easily be seen are those of the troopers who were unable to write their own names. The name would be written in the signatures column with the notation “His Mark X” and then would be initialed by the troop commander. On the Petition these names were written by some one, but not verified. […]

For many years it has been known by the military as well by historians, that there was “something rotten in Denmark”. […] Many historians  have written me during the years that I have been here, as to why we (The National Park Service) are covering up this deception. […] There has been rumors in the regiment for many years that both Reno and Benteen used pressure tactics to get the men to sign such a petition. The other officers refused to sign the petition but, in troop H, more than other troopers was the pressure used.” Presumably by Captain Benteen.”


Chief Historian Douglas C. McChristian, April 5 1995 :


“The results of the examination were inconclusive, yet the limited handwritings samples available to them suggested that many, if not most, of the signatures were forgeries. There was some evidence to suggest that First Sergeant Joseph McCurry wrote the names, but this could not be determined with certainty because of the paucity of samples of his handwritings.”



b)    The map


 Reno's defense at the Reno Court of Inquiry showed a map and said that it was a copy of Lieutenant Maguire's map of the battle and battlefield.


Witnesses VARNUM, HERENDEEN, GODFREY, GERARD, WALLACE, DERUDIO said that the map was incorrect.


Maguire's original map of 1876


Reno's defense map, which was said to be a copy of Maguire's ! Look at the differences !



Cartographic INC. members studied the map and Maguire original map. Here’s what they found : 10 huge irregularities (see pictures. For example, the size of the village, the crest, the hills and Reno’s position are changing).


Here’s what they say : “It would seem highly probable that the Map B [used by Reno] was drafted with Map A as a visual guide. The conclusion must be that the changes were intentional.. […] it may be concluded that [Map B] was created to change the official view of the Battle of the Little Big Horn.”


(Robert Nightengale, Little Big Horn, FarWest Publishing, appendix C)






Historian Robert Utley is a highly respected and acclaimed historian who wrote one of the best Custer’s biographies, “Cavalier In Buckskin”. Here’s what he said :


“Despite the consequences, the decision to attack on June 25 was sound. […]


“Benteen counted himself out, as timing factors shows. When he came back to the main trail, he was about half an hour behind Custer and Reno. When he neared the mouth of Reno Creek, he was one hour and twenty minutes behind. Had he moved at the same pace as Custer, had he RESPONDED to the messages brought by Kanipe and Martin [which were orders] with the swiftness that Custer expected, Benteen migh well have fought alongside Custer. […] that don’t excuse the laggard pace that kept one-fourth of the regiment out of the fight at the decisive moment.

Reno also failed Custer, as well as every test of leadership. […]


Could Custer have won ? […] Good arguments, however, do support a conclusion that, even against the Sioux and Cheyennes in all their numbers and power, he could have won. […]


[Benteen’s] swift march on Custer’s trail on receiving Kanipe’s report [or orders] might have brought him to Medicine Tail with the action still centered there. Had Reno held in the valley, Benteen’s timely appearance would have given Custer eight companies with which to storm into the village and perhaps carry the day.


But one conclusion seems plain : George Armstrong Custer doesn’t deserve the indictement that history has imposed on him for his actions at the Little Bighorn. Given what he knew at each decision point and what he HAD EVERY REASON TO EXPECT FROM HIS SUBORDINATES, one is hard pressed to say that he ought to have done differently.”


Cavalier In Buckskin, new edition 2001, pp.159-162






Lawyer Edward A. Zimmerman, Esq., Military and Veterans National Law Center (Edina, Minnesota) speaks about the Reno Court of Inquiry and the battle of the Little Bighorn



“The selection of this map [of the RCOI] to offer in evidence may be viewed as evidence on an effort to cover up the testimony of several soldiers on Reno Hill that fighting could be observed in the Indian camp shortly after they retreated to Reno Hill. Again, this significance of this testimony is that there would be ample time to send forces to help Custer and prevent the massacre.”


“I have also reviewed an FBI report concerning an analysis of the Enlisted Men’s Petition which was submitted in evidence in support of Major Reno. It is clear from this study that a large number of the signatures of that petition were forgeries.”


“I have also reviewed the record of the Reno Court of Inquiry and I find a number of instances of testimony which conflicts with testimony or official reports in key matters. There is strong evidence that the findings of the Reno Court of Inquiry were wrong and were not supported by the evidence given or by other evidence readily available to the Court.”


“There is also ample evidence that Custer conducted his movements according to accepted military doctrine and in complete accord with the broad orders orders and full discretion given him by General Terry.”


“The findings of the Court of Inquiry was evasive, ambiguous and biased and were, in major respects, completely inconsistent with the bulk of the evidence presented to the panel.”


“It is, of course, difficult to answer to all the questions that could be raised about Custer and his “Last Stand” 120 years after the battle. But it isn’t necessary to question wether Custer was set up of shut up to deal with the sampler issues concerning his conduct of his last battle which still cloud his name today.”


“My conclusion is that the evidence presented at the Reno Court of Inquiry and the larger historical record shows that Major Reno and Captain Benteen abandoned Custer.”


August 4 1995, extract of a letter to Robert Nightengale, (Nightengale, Robert, Little Bighorn, FarWest Publishing, appendix A)






General Nelson A. Miles, commander in chief of the entire US army, wrote his Memoirs in 1898 and stated that


“Nobody can win a battle with 2/5 of his troops out of the fight.” (which means betrayal by Benteen and Reno, who never attempted to join Custer)


(p.290, Personnal Recollection of Nelson A. Miles)







Private William A. Taylor was a member of Company M at the Little Bighorn. He wrote in a letter to Lieutenant Godfrey (also survivor of the battle) on Frebruary 20 1910 that


Reno proved incompetent and Benteen showed his indifference – I will not use the uglier words that have often been in my mind. Both failed Custer and he had to fight it alone.


(Sklenar, Larry, To Hell with Honor, pp.260-261)



Again, it’s a statement about betrayal







There has been a lot of theories about the how the battle lasted, but it’s pretty sure now, with number of testimonies, that Custer’s men died after 6p.m., 6.20 p.m. to be exact.

See Historian Gregory Michno’s book Lakota Noon, the Indian narrative of Custer’s defeat (Mountain Press Publishing, 1997), which analyses with effectiveness the accuracy of the Indian testimonies and put a time-motion on them.

There has also been some controversy about Custer’s men resistance against the Indians. An  archaeologist (Richard Fox) said that there was no Last Stand, but he based his conclusion on very few material (only dozens of cartridges found on the battlefield after more than a century, and we know that soldiers, civilians and Indians took cartridges for “souvenirs”)

  Again, the Indian testimonies are clear about a very strong restistance. Michno’s book quoted above is one the best recollection of Indian narrative


Hunkpapa SiouxCrow King, Sioux hunkpapa warchief  (Michno, p.178):


Riderless mounts scattered across the hills and ran to the river but the soldiers kept in order and fought like brave warriors.





Moving Robe, Sioux hunkpapa woman who eventually fought at the battle (Michno, p.179) :


It was a hotly contested battle.




Eagle Elk, Sioux oglala warrior (Michno, p.186):


The shootings [by the soldiers] Eagle Elk had witnessed within the last minutes had been enough to convince him of the good sense in staying away from the front lines.




SiouxRed Horse, Sioux Minneconjou warchief (Michno, p.204):


Even tough virtually surrounded, the soldiers put up a stiff resistance, for it was in this charge [chief Lame White Man’s charge] that the Lakotas lost more of their men. Red Horse thought that 136 Indians were killed and 160 were wounded in that phase of the battle.






Hollow Horn Bear, Sioux Brule warrior (Michno, p.177):


In fact, Hollow Horn Bear believed that the troops were in good order at the start of the fight, and kept their organization even while moving from point to point.


Hunkpapa SiouxSitting Bull, famous Sioux hunkpapa chief (Jones, Custer’s Horses, p.104):


There was so much doubt about the outcome [of the battle] that I told the squaws to break the camp and be ready to leave.






Red Hawk, Sioux oglala warrior, speaking about the Last Stand (Michno, p.252):


Here the soldiers made a desperate fight.




Iron Hawk, Sioux hunkpapa warrior, speaking about the Last Stand (Michno, p.254):


The Indians pressed and crowded right in around Custer Hill. But the soldiers weren’t ready to die. We stood there a long time.






There is evidence of betrayal against General Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn and evidence of heroism in combat, during a long battle, by Custer’s men. Little Bighorn students cannot dismiss of ignore these facts.

Many other testimonies about betrayal, bravery in combat by Custer’s men and Benteen’s and Reno’s conduct are available in the  valuable books below.


Good luck for your research !



MICHNO, Gregory F., Lakota Noon : The Indian Narrative of Custer’s defeat, Missoula, Mountain Press Company, 1997 (excellent overall analysis – Indian view)


SARF, Wayne M., The Little Bighorn Campaign : March-September 1876, Conshohocken, Combined Books, 1993


NICHOLS, Ronald H., Reno Court of Inquiry: Proceedings of a Court of Inquiry in the Case of Major Marcus A. Reno, GarryOwen, Custer Battlefield Historical & Museum Association, 1992 (official RCOI files)


SKLENAR, Larry, To Hell with Honor, Custer and the Little Big Horn, Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 2000 (excellent overall analysis – federal view)


HAMMER, Kenneth, Custer in ’76: Walter Camp’s Notes on the Custer Fight, Provo, Bingham Young University Press, 1976 (interviews of witnesses by a searcher)


GRAHAM, William A., The Custer Myth : a source book of Custeriana, Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1953 (interviews and files of witnesses)

______, Reno Court of Inquiry: Proceedings of a Court of Inquiry in the Case of Major Marcus A. Reno, Pacific Pallisades, 1951 (other edition of files)


NIGHTENGALE, Robert, Little Big Horn, Edina, FarWest Publishing, 1996 (very good points about the map, the RCOI and Benteen and Reno)