The story of an archaeological fraud
MY LIE ON THE PLAINS
"Certainly there is (no) archaeological evidence of a swirling, furious finale to the Custer battle - no famous last stand."
Richard A. Fox. Archaeology, History and Custer's Last battle, University of Oklahoma Press, 1997, page 201
Little Bighorn, a crime scene ?
In 1984, archaeologists began to discover relics on the battlefield. Their work was shown by the Little Bighorn battlefield as the ultimate measure to discover what really happened at Little Bighorn. Their purpose wasn't to put a timeline on Custer's, Reno's and Benteen's movement, but to only find steps of Custer's troops.
In a documentary on Discovery Channel, archaeologist Douglas Scott introduced his work by saying that the Little Bighorn battlefield was like a crime scene, and that bullets and cartridges could show with certainity where Custer was, and where the Indians were. It could also show the skimish lines and the movements of the troopers.
But was it really the case ? The battle had happened 108 years earliers. Works had been done to build a visitor center, a monument and the markers of the troopers. The whole topography had changed : some ravines were deeper and even the Little Bighorn river had changed because of the rain and the snow.
Worse, the battlefield hadn't been protected at all. In 1881, soldiers and Indians made a reenactement of the battle on the battlefield itself. They fired bullets and recreated the fight. Their bullets, cartridges and steps were spread all over the battlefield.
Even worse, "relic hunters" had stolen a considerable amount of cartriges and bullets. Their main target was, of course, the legendary hill where Custer had died. Some accounts said that in Deep Ravine, which wasn't a main point of the battlefield, more than 1'000 bullets had been stolen. This stealings happened daily, from 1876 to 1984. No Little Bighorn superintendant ever tried to stop them. In 1940, the superintendant just wrote in his diary that stealings were happening.
Custerwest.org member Nick Howard, who is a specialist of militaria selling, tells the story of one of his friends: "I have personally known collectors who have taken cartidge casings from Last Stand Hill back in the 1960s. I even tried to buy some of the .45/55 cartridge casings that were obtained. Sometime during the 1960s, Burt told me that he and a group of friends made a trip out West and stopped by Custer Battlefield. They seemed to have had no problem scouring the area for shell casings and came away with quite a bit. He made it sound as if it was not a problem back then and fairly easy to do. If they had done it, who knows how many others have too!" (June 2, 2007)
Thousands of cartridges disappeared. The whole battlefield was "contaminated", as it is said in the Crime Scene Investigation. Little Bighorn could never be considered as a crime scene. But Richard Fox, Douglas Scott and their archaeologists worked as if it were the case. In his books, Fox said that relic hunting happened, but he wrote only a few lines on them. The fact that thousands of bullets and cartridges had disappeared didn't matter much to the archaeologist.
Are Indian testimonies backing Fox's thesis?
The predictably conclusions quickly happened : the last stand had never been one, because of the lack of cartridges found. Richard Fox said in the documentary on "Discovery Channel" that the Indian testimonies were backing his thesis. But it's simply untrue.
Fox chosed to ignore any timeline. He wasn't interested in Reno's and Benteen's behavior at all. Worse, he simple put Indian testimonies out of context and made conclusions on isolated statements, without saying when it was happening.
Indian testimonies can be used if they are put in a timeline according to the movements of the witnesses and their location : the battle began with Reno in the woods, then Custer in Medicine Tail Coulee, then the battle on the ridges and hills. Indian testimonies (we have hundreds of them) clearly concord that Custer's movements were these : a skirmish near the river and on the hill (Nye Cartwright Ridge), and then an hotly contested battle, with many skimish lines, all long the hills. Indian told searchers that many of their charges (White Bull's, Low Dog's, Rain In the Face's, Two Moon's) failed because of the hot fire. Some even said that they had doubts about the outcome of the entire fight (Sitting Bull).
Then Lame White Man arrived and charged the soldiers, breaking the lines of Custer's left wing. Soldiers on the rear guard were killed, the others ran away towards Custer Hill (aka Last Stand Hill). Then Gall and Crazy Horse charged Calhoun Hill and the Keogh area, breaking the lines. During all these charges, the fight was hot, and the resistance of the soldier was simply heroic. It was a hand-to-hand battle with soldiers making stands all over the field. Captain Keogh, for example, was found in the middle of his men, with five dead Indian horses around him.
Then the last stand happened. Again, the fire was hot and many Indians, such as Two Moon or Bobtail Horse, found that the battle was too long, the Indian casualties too high and the fire too hot. Bobtail Horse eventually left the battle with many other warriors because of the deadliest fire coming from the last stand. Indian testimonies clearly said that the action finished on Last Stand Hill. Only a dozen soldiers tried to go towards Deep Ravine.
But Richard Fox chosed to ignore hundreds of testimonies and used only the testimonies about the soldiers fleeing. He chosed to depict the battle with only one of the events that happen. It's like depicting Omaha Beach with only the first wave. One could believe that the Normandy Landing actually failed. It's exactly what Fox said about the Little Bighorn: the last stand didn't happen, because of "evidence" based on a contaminated field, on carefully chosen testimonies, out of their context.
This thesis is a fraud. A famous fraud, which has been wildly publicized all over the world. The Little Bighorn battlefield monument, which had funded the studies, knows that Fox's lies cannot be true. A simple research on Indian casualties (in 2006) showed that 200 warriors had been killed on the battlefield alone, which couldn't be the case if Custer's men had actually shown little resistance.
Attacked by the Little Bighorn historians, archaeologist Douglas Scott said on an adresss published in Herman Viola's "Remember Little Bighorn" that anyone who thought that Custer's last stand had been an desperate struggle and that Reno's and Benteen's actions should be studied carefully were "conspiracy theorists".
This latest attempt to cover the fraud is almost laughable: the "conspiracy theorists" circle includes Historian Robert Utley, Pentagon expert Larry Sklenar, LBH collector and historian Arthur Unger, US general-in-chief Nelson Appelton Miles (Indian fighter and Medal of Honor arwarded), 7th cavalry members William Taylor, Fred Gerard, George Herendeen, Winfield Edgerly, Edward Godfrey and many more.
The archaeological fraud has fooled countless students of the battle of the Little Bighorn. Based on distorted testimonies, and unconclusive archaeological material, it has been one of the most famous imposture in the study of military history.