Battle of Little Bighorn: 16 – Rattlesnakes, Jackrabbits, and Sioux Oh My!

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"The Custer Fight" by Charles Marion Russell. Lithograph. Shows the Battle of Little Bighorn, from the Indian side.

Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer

With his golden locks cut short and sporting a new mustache in the style of the day, that covered his mouth and hung down on either side, Custer dashed up and down the length of his column. At thirty-four-years of age Custer was trim and fit. Even those members of his expedition who disliked him, and there were more than a few with the number gradually increasing, had to marvel at this man’s unbelievable stamina.

There may have been those who did not marvel at the collection of pets Custer was gathering on this lengthy trip to the Black Hills, however. Already he had acquired a rattlesnake, two jackrabbits, an eagle, and four owls. He’d had two badgers but they were accidentally smothered, though if you’ve ever come face to face with a badger in the wild it is a stretch of the imagination to understand how they were captured–much less smothered. But if anyone could do it, I suppose Custer would be your man. He even captured a curlew and had it sent by courier to his wife, Libbie, including instructions for her to catch grasshoppers for the bird.

Libbie Custer

All around them, now, were smoke signals, letting him know that the Sioux knew he was there. But did this worry our boy Custer? Not in the least, or so he professed. Perhaps he was right, as there was no attack. Just as General Sheridan had planned, the column was too strong for the Indians to even consider attacking it.

The biggest problem seems to have been the heat and the dust, and the fact that Custer’s men relieved the monotony by getting drunk whenever they could. Custer didn’t drink, and that’s another interesting Custer story that can be read on the Internet at:

Libbie and George, A Love Story

Army life wasn’t all guns and marching. The western army of the late 1800s also had its romance. This is the love story concerning George Armstrong Custer and the woman who became his beloved and devoted wife, Elizabeth ‘Libbie’ Bacon Custer.

Just as Custer lied to Libbie about not riding off by him self, he also persisted in his letters to her, back at Fort Abraham Lincoln, that “there has not been a single drunken officer since we left Fort Lincoln.” The other side of the story was that the sutler had a wagon well supplied with liquor, which he sold to the soldiers, and anyone else who wanted to buy it. One civilian noted that “Fred Grant [the President’s son] was drunk nearly all the time.” In fact, young Grant managed to get himself arrested by Custer for drunkenness, a situation that Grant highly took offense at and reported to his father later.

On July 22nd they approached the Black Hills and camped near Inyan Kara, an extinct volcano on the western edge of the Hills. It was here that Custer’s Indian scouts told him to turn back. The scouts insisted that the column was much too large to enter the Black Hills. In reality, they did not want to invade Pa Sapa, the Indian name for the Black Hills. They rightly feared of the Sioux retaliating.

When Custer made it clear that he intended to proceed, the Indian scouts refused to give him any further assistance. He would have to find his own way with the help of his white scouts. One Indian scout did remain with Custer—Bloody Knife—who would be with him to the bitter end.