William Rini (aka MWKeogh) versus Richard Fox
WHY THE "no last stand" THEORY IS
Dr. Richard Fox conducted the archaeological studies on the battlefield and is the author of "Archaeology, History and Custer's Last Battle". He thinks that the last stand actually never happens because of the lack of cartridges found 108 years after the battle.
Professor William Rini, a long-time LBH specialist, points out evidence that this theory is wrong, and that the archaeological studies were fooled by a century of "relics hunting". Military files, Indian witnesses and latest studies of Indian casualties prove that Mister Rini is right.
DR RICHARD FOX: "Who's to blame is not of interest to me, but mwkeogh here provides only one erspective.
Others not so enamored with Custer say what happened was his fault. They say that in light of poor reconnaisance, his deployments left the battalions beyond supporting distance."
MWKEOGH: I agree completely that Custer went into this battle with poor reconnaisance, however, to be successful in Plains Indian warfare, this could rarely be avoided. Lt. (later Gen.) Godfrey, a veteran of LBH, in his Century Magazine article on the battle, clearly stated that poor reconnaisance was a given in Indian warfare at that time. The prevailing strategy was that you had to strike the target immediately upon its discovery or you would find that it would scatter to the winds once the warriors discovered your presence. It was naive to think that a hostile village would simply sit and wait while you properly scouted out the area and determined its exact strength and dispositions, and then carefully brought up your troops in chess-board fashion.
The mere fact that Custer was able to bring an entire regiment of Cavalry within striking range of a hostile village in broad daylight during the summer monthes was an amazing feat in and of itself, rarely accomplished in Plains Indian warfare. He truly did catch "them napping."
As far as the other battalions being out of supporting range, this is simply not true. Custer did in fact support Reno when he made his appearance at the mouth of Medicine Tail Ford. It is true that there were only a handful of warriors there to oppose him, but within minutes word spread of the new threat to the village, which drew nearly the entire hostile force to oppose him, thus taking much pressure off of Reno.
Had Reno bothered to make a similar appearance on the Weir Point a good deal earlier than he did, he might well have drawn enough of the warriors off of Keogh's Battalion to prevent its later collapse.
The fact that Boston Custer could pass Benteen's Battalion and reach Custer's Battalion in plenty of time for the battle indicated that Benteen could have easily reached Custer if he had bothered to try.
Nearly all the officers and many men on Reno Hill report hearing the firing of Custer's battalion engaging the hostiles in battle only 3 miles downriver. There were no hostiles anywhere in their vicinity to oppose a movement to support Custer. There is no excuse for not moving to his aid. Surely they must have realized, (as Captain Weir realized) that Custer's 5 companies were engaging the entire hostile force alone and unsupported. A basic maxim of combat is: "ride to the sound of the guns." This was not done.
My point is that the other battalions were clearly within supporting range of Custer. The fact that they chose not to do so should not be grounds for assuming that they could not do so. Clearly, Weir, French, and Godfrey were severely disallusioned that they were forced to watch their comrades battle it out alone.
DR RICHARD FOX: "Mwkeogh, it seems, damns with faint praise - a good archaeologist, but lousy at history."
MWKEOGH: My apologies. I did not mean to criticize your knowlege of history per se, only in *certain aspects* of your understanding of military tactics, movements, and intentions.
DR RICHARD FOX: "Whatever, my interpretations of the movements of Custer's battalion are commonly accepted, and are part of the LBHNM wayside exhibits and other interpretive programs. Even mwkeogh uses them (see his later posts), sometimes crediting me."
MWKEOGH: Absolutely. I agree with the great majority of your findings concerning the Custer Battalion movements to the river, and its subsequent movements north in an offensive mode, to its attempts to cross the river at the north ford, to its position at the Cemetery flats, and its later movement back towards Last Stand Hill. Your research in this area is impeccable, in my view.
DR RICHARD FOX: "How I fall short in tactics mwkeogh does not say....Or perhaps it is because I apply tactics using (for the first time) a comprehensive model of combat behavior, a model that uses the full range of behaviors in combat (well-known to military strategists, and from whom I borrowed), including tactical disintegration, a potential that is flatly inadmissable in some circles, no matter the evidence."
MWKEOGH: You certainly do and I completely endorse and support your views on combat behavior and the concept of tactical disintegration. We certainly witnessed the result of tactical disintegration in Reno's retreat to the bluffs. And we saw the effectiveness of tactical integration in viewing Godfrey's retreat from Weir Point, despite being greatly outnumbered by pressing hostiles.
DR RICHARD FOX: "Whatever, I'm sure mwkeogh will agree that I was the first to employ tactics as an *integral, explicit* (note emphasis) element of CB studies."
MWKEOGH: I would not say that you were the first to do so, however, you certainly did employ an extensive analysis of military tactics in your CB studies. I greatly enjoyed your book and thought it quite invaluable in the new revelations you introduce. My own favorite work on the tactical maneuvers of the Custer Battalion would be David C. Evan's huge tome, "Custer's Last Fight." Have you had a chance to read it? I would be interested to know your views on his theories as it relates to your own. Much of what he says sustains your own research.
DR RICHARD FOX: "Finally, the charge that I ignore contrary accounts is absurd. At every turn in my books and articles I deal with those accounts (Indian and otherwise) that are not supported by archaeology, asking why they exist, and then answering."
MWKEOGH: I am sorry for the confusion on this point. I was specifically referring to the Discovery Channel film on your theories. I know there was a 45 minute time restraint, but the show completely ignored contrary Indian oral accounts, thus giving the false impression to the public that there is no contradictory oral accounts of a last stand fight. I simply wanted to point out that there are Indian oral accounts that support a sustained defensive effort on behalf of the Custer Battalion.
DR RICHARD FOX: "Here's an example from my 1993 book. Indian testimony about the soldiers' behavior falls into two categories - 1) last stand and 2) transition from stability to disintegration (scores of accounts). Category #2 supports the archaeology, so I emphasize it - two independent lines of evidence converge (actually 3; there is abundant supporting white eyewitness testimony)."
MWKEOGH: My point here is that catagory #1 also supports the archaeological evidence of a last stand. Nearly 40 horses shot and positioned in a semi-circle near the crest of a hill. Headquarters Staff positioned together at the crest of the hill.
Practically all of Co. E troopers found in the Deep Ravine area. Keogh's body found in a clump together with his bugler, and several sergeants. There is also plenty of supporting white eyewitness testimony here as well.
DR RICHARD FOX: "So why #1?. Those accounts were given within about a decade of LBH by Lakota and N. Cheyenne leaders - the persons whom white chroniclers at the time sought out. With their people's fate uncertain (transition to reservation life), they (many of whom, like Rain-in-the-Face, moved effortlessly in white circles) told their chroniclers what White America wanted to hear. Smart leaders they were; they knew the myth and reinforced it."
MWKEOGH: I think we tend to get into difficulty when we try to assign motives as to why certain Indian oral accounts do not fit into our theories. Unless there are serious contradictions and lack of support, I think it best that we accept them as truthful, rather than degrade these fine Native American leaders and place them in the category of simple 'dupes' of the American government, telling us what we want to hear simply to keep us happy. I would like to believe that as great warriors, they had far more integrity and honor than to stoop to such a level.
DR RICHARD FOX: "I don't stop there. Category #2 is set in this backdrop. Accounts that speak of disintegration, often in metaphor (e.g., `acted like they were drunk' - of course the soldiers were not drunk) date generally to a much later period (say after ca. 1890 roughly) and are (generally) from individuals who were during the LBH lesser lights among their people. By this time there was little more to lose, so these folks were far more candid....And I do this at every turn - again, I try to explain why those accounts that conflict with the archaeology (and with eyewitness accounts that support the archaeology, Indian and otherwise) exist. So debate my explanations!"
MWKEOGH: Dr. Fox, I offer you another alternative. One which does not require you to disregard the oral accounts of any of the Indians, including those who support a last stand fight. It is my belief that there was a sustained 'Last Stand' fight on that hill, and not a disorganized rout as you seem to contend.
However, I do believe that there were certain episodes of disintegration and rout on that battlefield, as much of the action took place on a company level. For example, there was clearly tactical disintegration of C Company at Finley Ridge, and of L Company on Calhoun Ridge at the time they were outflanked and overrun. I believe that Keogh's I Company held out for a short while to recieve the survivors, but when he and the rest of the officers went down, the survivors attempted to flee to Last Stand Hill.
This was the buffalo stampede the Indians referred to--certainly tactical disintegration! However, I must differ from you concerning the action on Last Stand Hill, as there is an abundance of evidence indicating an organized defense. The fact that the battle did not end until nearly 6:00 pm or later, alone would indicate a sustained defense. There is clear evidence that the troops on Weir Point witnessed the destruction Keogh's battalion. Edgerly and Varnum both claimed they were on that point for nearly an hour and a half. What was going on at that time?
Of course, there is no question that at the very end, when nearly all resistance had ended, there may have been some tactical disintegration, or a desperate breakout of sorts, but this should not negate the evidence supporting a last stand on Last Stand Hill.
What I am saying basically is that there is room for both schools of thought--it is not an "either or" position. By doing so, we give credibility to all Indian oral accounts (except for White Cow Bull, of course). Lest I be considered anti-Dr. Fox, I would highly recommend your book and research to all battlefield scholars who seek a greater understanding of this perplexing and controversial battle.
DR RICHARD FOX: Here's the problem. My work is `impeccable', `wonderful', `terrific', `brilliant', whatever, until Custer Hill. Then I screw up royally. How could this be? Hint - it has to do with who was on the hill. Once again, I am not interested in the historical personalities involved in this battle.
MWKEOGH: I do not believe that 'you screwed up royally', rather that you misinterpret your own impeccable research. If you look candidly at the archaeological evidence, you will see plenty to support a last stand on Custer Hill. Why is it that you did not? Hint - it might have to do with who was on the hill. Would there have been a reason to produce a new show on Discovery Channel promoting your book had your research merely confirmed what most legitimate historians already knew for years? I think not.
DR RICHARD FOX: Or, the Reno and Godfrey episodes illustrate, as I discuss in my 1993 book, how susceptible the 7th was to disintegration.
Whatever, here's your line of reasoning (per the paragraph above). Godfrey and Hare (lesser men) restored and kept order, therefore so did Custer, directing a last stand to the end - this despite abundant and reliable evidence and historiography to the contrary.
MWKEOGH: It is you who seem to make the claim that Godfrey and Hare could maintain unit cohesion and order while Custer and his far more experienced officers could not. BTW, there is equal abundant and reliable evidence and historiography to support a last stand, as you well know.
DR RICHARD FOX: My (earlier) "Custer as Hero" post said it is not about people's beliefs, but about working hard to prevent those beliefs from getting in the way of conclusions. Once again, I am not interested in the historical personalities involved in this confrontation.
MWKEOGH: We are in complete agreement with this sentiment. My own views and analysis have nothing to do with "Custer as Hero" nonsense. By the same token, we must avoid the temptation for certain historians to seek publicity (and profitability) by promoting a "new" interpretation of Custer's Last Stand. (And what better way than to shockingly proclaim that there was no Last Stand!)
MWKEOGH: I greatly enjoyed your book and thought it quite invaluable in the new revelations you introduce. My own favorite work on the tactical maneuvers of the Custer Battalion would be David C. Evan's huge tome, "Custer's Last Fight." Have you had a chance to read it? I would be interested to know your views on his theories as it relates to your own. Much of what he says sustains your own research.
MWKEOGH: My point here is that catagory #1 also supports the archaeological evidence of a last stand. Nearly 40 horses shot and positioned in a semi-circle near the crest of a hill. Headquarters Staff positioned together at the crest of the hill. Practically all of Co. E troopers found in the Deep Ravine area. Keogh's body found in a clump together with his bugler, and several sergeants. There is also plenty of supporting white eyewitness testimony here as well.
DR RICHARD FOX: The information you provide is historical in nature. No, only a handful of E were identified, but more than those from other cos. From this (and gray horses) I deduced that it was E Company that deployed from Custer Hill. Yes folks, this is my work here, but what's left behind is the part about E Co. disintegration.
MWKEOGH: Of course my information is historical in nature. More than a handful of Co. E were identified in Deep Ravine. If you read the burial accounts of the survivors, they clearly identified the 28 or so troopers as being members of E. And no, this is not your work here. Charles Kuhlman in his excellent work "Legend Into History" (1951), based on research he had done in the 1940's laid most of the foundation for what we know happened to E Company in Deep Ravine. Besides that, there is also primary historical sources identifying the dead as members of Co. E. This is from battle veteran Lt. Hare (referring to the bodies in Deep Ravine): "Several of these 28 men of Company E were shot in the back. From the position they were in it was very easy for the Indians to crawl up behind them while they were resisting in front, and kill them."
DR RICHARD FOX: Most in the co., seeking escape or hiding, fled into Deep Ravine, a "death trap" as one prominent `last stand' advocate put it (not mwkeogh)....Anyway, that explains why E Co. was in one place (generally); nowhere else to go for (percieved) safety.
MWKEOGH: I suppose it all depends on what kind of spin you choose to put on it. When you use subjective terms like "seeking escape or hiding", "fled into Deep Ravine", a "death trap" (I suppose you could call the entire battlefield a death trap!), then you betray your motives as being non objective in nature. Clearly, Lt. Hare's account of the fate of Co. E does not fit in with yours. Rather than assume that they were fleeing for percieved safety, it is far more likely that they moved there for tactical purposes of establishing a cross-fire to relieve the pressure off of the survivors on the Hill.
DR RICHARD FOX: "Clumping" (I call it bunching in my book) is a prelude to flight (disintegration), and that's what happened in the Keogh sector.
MWKEOGH: Of course this is what happened at the very end. You would not expect the men to remain in a skirmish line formation when the warriors had penetrated the perimeter and were engaging the battalion in hand-to-hand combat. It would be quite natural to bunch up for the purpose of watching each others back. A natural reaction in close combat situations.
MWKEOGH: Dr. Fox, I offer you another alternative. One which does not require you to disregard the oral accounts of any of the Indians, including those who support a last stand fight. It is my belief that there was a sustained 'Last Stand' fight on that hill, and not a disorganized rout as you seem to contend. However, I do believe that there were certain episodes of disintegration and rout on that battlefield, as much of the action took place on a company level.
DR RICHARD FOX: I considered that 10 years ago. But accounts that describe disintegration refer not only to the sector level (roughly your company level), but also to the overall battle. Here's one from Iron Hawk (paraphrased; don't have time to look it up). In context and standing alone it clearly refers to the whole affair ...
`In the beginning the soldiers shot straight, but afterwards they shot wildly in every which way, acting as if they were drunk ....' (metaphor, folks; the soldiers were not drunk).
A nice account of the battalion's transition from stability to disintegration.
MWKEOGH: Understood. I have never disputed the fact that there was tactical disintegration at the very end of the Last Stand. The fact that proper formations like skirmish lines would disintegrate in close combat situations does not negate the evidence of a last stand.
DR RICHARD FOX: Here's an example of a specific sector. When Hollow Horn Bear was asked how long the fight `where the monument now stands' (Custer Hill) lasted, his interviewer recorded, "just a few minutes."
MWKEOGH: It is a shame that the interviewer did not ask Hollow Horn Bear how long he viewed the fight 'where the monument now stands'. He no doubt would have replied, "just a few minutes" if he had just arrived in that sector of the field. As you well know, Indians had a very poor concept of time, and often only described what was in their field of vision for that period of time.
MWKEOGH: However, I must differ from you concerning the action on Last Stand Hill, as there is an abundance of evidence indicating an organized defense. The fact that the battle did not end until nearly 6:00pm or later, alone would indicate a sustained defense. There is clear evidence that the troops on Weir Point witnessed the destruction Keogh's battalion. Edgerly and Varnum both claimed they were on that point for nearly an hour and a half. What was going on at that time?
DR RICHARD FOX: It is not a fact that the battle ended at 6pm or later. It is somebody's interpretation. In fact, all clock-time claims are pure speculation.
You derive 6pm from your belief that Custer Hill action went on for 2 hours or so. Nowhere is there a primary account that says 2 hours, or even close;
MWKEOGH: You are wrong here. None other than Sitting Bull himself stated that the battle lasted about 2 hours in duration. I do believe he qualifies as a primary account. We do know that Capt. Weir would have reached Weir Point at just after 5:00 pm. There are no credible historians who would dispute this. We have statements from both Lt. Edgerly and Lt. Varnum that they were atop Weir Point for about 1 hour before returning to Reno Hill. We can then deduce, using common sense reasoning, that the Custer Battalion was not finished off until roughly 6:00 pm, or just after.
MWKEOGH: What I am saying basically is that there is room for both schools of thought--it is not an either--or position. By doing so, we give credibility to all Indian oral accounts (except for White Cow Bull, of course).
DR RICHARD FOX: It is impossible to accept all accounts, Indian, white or whatever. Historiography never works that way. How, for example do you (you personally) credit Horn Bear (mentioned above)? You can't; you have to throw it out, and that takes special pleading that denigrates.
MWKEOGH: It is always better to attempt to include all accounts if possible, as opposed to picking and choosing only those accounts that tend to support your thesis. I have already mentioned above how I would credit Horn Bear's account. He was only speaking of that which he saw personally, as opposed to the entire battle per se.
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