Battle of Little Bighorn: 18 – Lonesome Charley’s Dangerous Ride, 1874

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

Charley Reynolds

Charley Reynolds, the scout with the baby face, didn’t smoke. He rarely drank, and girls made him blush. But the Indians knew a different Charley Reynolds. They called him Hunter-Who-Never-Goes-Out-For-Nothing because of his skill with his rifle.

It was a long hot and Indian infested 120 miles that Reynolds would have to carry the news of gold back from the Black Hills to Fort Laramie. When Charley signed on with Custer as chief scout and guide at $100 a month he well knew he would probably be the one to carry this astounding news back to civilization.

Charley cleaned his rifle, filled his saddlebags with hardtack and bacon that was already cooked, and filled his ammunition belt. In selecting his horse from the troops’ remuda he chose an animal so spirited that it was considered unfit for regular cavalry use. But this horse was just what he would need to get him through to Fort Laramie all in one piece and with his locks still attached. As soon as he collected his canvas dispatch bag, he would be ready to ride.

When Reynolds did pick up the bag he noticed that the expedition adjutant, Lieutenant James Calhoun, Custer’s brother-in-law, had labeled the bag:

Black Hills Express Charley Reynolds, Manager Connecting with All Points East, West, North, South Cheap Rates, Quick Transit; Safe Passage We are protected by the Seventh Cavalry!

Lt. James Calhoun

The 7th Cavalry did ride with Reynolds for part of the way. They escorted the scout to the edge of the Black Hills. There, after bivouacking near the South Fork of the Cheyenne River, about midnight, Custer stood and shook Reynold’s hand, then the scout rode into the dark night.

Before the sun put in an appearance the next morning, Charley was already camped along side a trickle of a stream. He would hold up throughout the hot day, then travel by night once again. There was just too much of a chance of clashing with Indians during the daytime. Water was scarce and he was forced to move around on hands and knees to gather enough dry grass to feed his horse.

On August 8th, five days after leaving Custer at the edge of the Black Hills, Reynolds rode into Fort Laramie and turned Custer’s dispatches over to an Army telegraph operator. Soon the word would be broadcast that gold had been discovered in the Black Hills. But Charlie’s trip wasn’t finished.

Fort Laramie

In addition to Custer’s dispatches, Reynolds carried a small bundle of private mail from the soldiers of the 7th Cavalry. From the fort, he took a stagecoach to Cheyenne, some 90 miles to the south. At Cheyenne he boarded a Union Pacific train, delivered his mail to a railway clerk and rode to Omaha, 516 miles to the east. Then he went back north by train to Bismarck. Reynolds arrived at Fort Abraham Lincoln on August 19th, just 16 days after he’d left the Black Hills.