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  • Notes From The Frontier

Who Killed Custer? It May Surprise You.

Women have often been written out of history, especially when it came to women warriors. This may be one of the most dramatic cases in history.


A very popular previous post (Who Killed Custer?) discussed two warrior women who fought at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. According to Cheyenne lore passed down for 146 years, Cheyenne Buffalo Calf Road Woman was credited with killing Custer. Another female warrior, the Arapaho Chief, Pretty Nose, fought there, too. (She lived to be 101 years old and her grandson served in the Korean War as a U.S. Marine and later an Arapaho chief, just like his grandmother. )

There's more to the story of Buffalo Calf Road Woman, as told by nationally respected Cheyenne elder, Peace Chief, member of tribal government, and the National Historic Reservation Representative of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, Gordon Yellowman, Sr.:

"Cheyenne warrior Buffalo Calf Road Woman had fought a number of battles in leadership roles. At the Battle of the Little Big Horn, it is told she charged Custer, grabbed his saber, knocked him off his horse, and killed him with others. Afterward, Cheyenne and Arapaho women stabbed their awls in his ears, chanting "you will listen to our people in the next world. They were avenged."

The Cheyenne called Custer "Attacker at Dawn" because of the Washita Massacre of 1868, in which he attacked and killed Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle's camp and captured 53 women and children. According to Native testimonials, many women were raped as their village burned. This attack despite the fact that Black Kettle was peaceful, had signed the Treaty of Fort Wise and moved his people to the Sand Creek Reservation in Colorado as instructed. He was given both a white flag of truce and an American flag and told to fly both above his lodge to make clear his was a peaceful village. Both were flying when his camp was attacked and he and 160 mostly women and children (although the exact numbers are hotly contested) were slaughtered. Most warriors were away hunting game.

After the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Buffalo Calf Road Woman, according to Cheyenne oral history, kept Custer's saber. In the days and years to follow, she wore it honorably hanging from her leather belt. This woman was highly respected by all for her warrior deeds. For the many generations since the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Cheyenne women have continued to honor and remember her by wearing a leather sheaf with silver drops on their side attached to their leather belts. Aho!

POST SCRIPT: Scholars and military history lovers have argued since Custer’s death about thousands of points regarding the Little Bighorn (LBH). It is perhaps the most hotly debated battle in U.S. history among academic and "armchair" historians. One of the most contested issues: Did Custer have his saber at LBH? This particular point has been hotly contested for 144 years and at least one man was shot to death over a gun fight about this exact issue. Thousands of pages have been written supporting both sides.

One of the foremost experts, Evan S. Connell, who wrote the definitive volume, Son of the Morning Star, left the issue open. But he did say that Custer loved pageantry and especially loved sabers. He had more than 30 of them. Libby Custer claimed that he did have a saber with him at LBH and many historians claim he fought off several native warriors with it before being killed. The great Hunkpapa Sioux warrior, Gall, who was at the battle, claimed that some soldiers had sabers. Lakota Chief Red Horse, also at the battle, later rendered drawings of the battle depicting Custer on his Thoroughbred, Vic, accurately shown with three white socks and Custer and other soldiers with sabers. And, finally, Connell wrote that one of Custer’s favorite sabers was missing from his quarters after the battle, indicating he must have had it with him. Suffice to say, the verdict is still out and always probably will be regarding if Custer had a saber or not at the LBH.

This post and the original post have been one of our top five most popular posts, read by hundreds of thousands of readers and generating much discussion and controversy. Sadly, some of the comments were irate, sometimes even obscene. The mere suggestion that a female Native American warrior might have killed one of America's greatest warriors seems to enrage some. But stranger things have been proven true throughout history. The writer of this post does not claim to know all the answers about The Little Bighorn. No one knows the complete truth. We simply present this as a narrative that has been in the Cheyenne oral tradition for 146 years and dates back to eye-witness accounts by male Cheyenne warriors who fought at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

You may also enjoy this related post:                                                      

• Bloody Knife, Custer's Favorite Scout

• Veterinary Care on Custer's Campaigns

"Who Killed Custer? It May Surprise You" was first published on Facebook and on Oct. 14, 2019, then a follow-up post on October 29, 2019 

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