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Battle Of The Little Big Horn
by [?]

The morning sun came out, dazzling and hot.

It was only nine o’clock.

The men were without food and without water. The Little Big Horn danced over its rocky bed and shimmered in the golden light, only half a mile away, and there in the cool, limpid stream they had been confident they would now swim and fish, the battle over, while they proudly held the disarmed Indians against General Terry’s coming.

But the fight had not been won, and death lay between them and water. The only thing to do was to await Reno or Terry. Reno might come at any time, and Terry would arrive without fail at tomorrow’s dawn–he had said so, and his word was the word of a soldier.

Custer had blundered.

The fight was lost.

Now it was just a question of endurance. Noon came, and the buzzards began to gather in the azure.

The sun was blistering hot–there was not a tree, nor a bush, nor a green blade of grass within reach.

The men had ceased to joke and banter. The situation was serious. Some tried to smoke, but their parching thirst was thus only aggravated–they threw their pipes away.

The Indians now kept up an occasional shooting.

They were playing with the soldiers as a cat plays with a mouse.

The Indian is a cautious fighter–he makes no sacrifices in order to win. Now he had his prey secure.

Soon the soldiers would run out of ammunition, and then one more day, or two at least, and thirst and fatigue would reduce brave men into old women, and the squaws could rush in and pound them on the head with clubs.

The afternoon dragged along its awful length. Time dwindled and dawdled.

At last the sun sank, a ball of fire in the West.

The moon came out.

Now and then a Sioux would creep up into shadowy view, but a shot from a soldier would send him back into hiding. Down in the cottonwoods the squaws made campfires and were holding a dance, singing their songs of victory.

Custer warned his men that sleep was death. This was their second sleepless night, and the men were feverish with fatigue. Some babbled in strange tongues, and talked with sisters and sweethearts and people who were not there–reason was tottering.

With Custer was an Indian boy, sixteen years old, “Curley the Crow.” Custer now at about midnight told Curley to strip himself and crawl out among the Indians, and if possible, get out through the lines and tell Terry of their position. Several of Custer’s men had tried to reach water, but none came back.

Curley got through the lines–his boldness in mixing with the Indians and his red skin saving him. He took a long way round and ran to tell Terry the seriousness of the situation.

Terry was advancing, but was hampered and harassed by Indians for twenty miles. They fired at him from gullies, ridges, rocks, prairie-dog mounds, and then retreated. He had to move with caution. Instead of arriving at daylight as he expected, Terry was three hours behind. The Indians surrounding Custer saw the dust from the advancing troop.

They hesitated to charge Custer boldly as he lay on the hilltop, entrenched by little ditches dug in the night with knives, tin cups and bleeding fingers.

It was easy to destroy Custer, but it meant a dead Sioux for every white soldier.

The Indians made sham charges to draw Custer’s fire, and then withdrew.

They circled closer. The squaws came up with sticks and stones and menaced wildly.

Custer’s fire grew less and less. He was running out of ammunition.

Terry was only five miles away.

The Indians closed in like a cloud around Custer and his few survivors.

It was a hand-to-hand fight–one against a hundred.

In five minutes every man was dead, and the squaws were stripping the mangled and bleeding forms.

Already the main body of Indians was trailing across the plains toward the mountains.

Terry arrived, but it was too late.

An hour later Reno limped in, famished, half of his men dead or wounded, sick, undone.

To follow the fleeing Indians was useless–the dead soldiers must be decently buried, and the living succored. Terry himself had suffered sore.

The Indians were five thousand strong, not two. They had gathered up all the other tribes for more than a hundred miles. Now they moved North toward Canada. Terry tried to follow, but they held him off with a rear-guard, like white veterans. The Indians escaped across the border.