Lieutenant Varnum's account

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Inspired by a love of history and its amazing accounts of human endeavor, model making and dramatic representations of the people, places and things that have shaped our culture.


source: The Custer Myth by Colonel W.A. Graham, pages 342 - 343

Lieutenant Charles Varnum was the chief of scouts at the Little Bighorn. Here is one of his personal letter, written on July 4, 1876., about the morning before the battle. 

Early on the morning of the third day (June 25, 1876), we got on a very heavy trail going up the Rosebud. About ten miles from camp we found a circle surrounded by a brush fence arranged for a sun-dance, a description of which I have given you before, for making warriors. We found a stick with a fresh scalp attached and the trail of two or three Indians, evidently made that morning. We marched twenty miles, and then I was sent back six to examine a creek to see if any Indians had left the trail, and on my return we started again and made eight miles more, and camped in an Indian camp about two days old. The signs indicated an immense force, and we were in a hurry to take them by surprise. Custer came over to see the scouts. Six Crows with us, who knew the country well, said that the trail from here led on towards the Little Horn, a fork of the Bighorn, and they wanted to go ahead about twenty miles to a high bluff from which the valley of the Little Horn could be seen. Custer wanted some intelligent white man to go ahead with them to send him information. I took the six Crows, five Rees, and a white man, who was an old frontiersman, and we marched all night, making about sixty miles. I had rode without rest or any sleep for thirty-six hours. 
Custer said he would start at 11 p. m., and come somewhere near us by morning. At 2:30 o'clock we reached the hill, and lay there in scrub bushes until daybreak, when we discovered the smoke of a village, and by 5 a. m., I started the Rees back with a dispatch to General Custer. The Crows said there were about two or three thousand ponies on the plain twelve miles off, but I could not see them, as their eyes were better than mine. Custer had come ahead, and we could see his camp about eight miles off. He got my dispatch at 8 a. m., and started again and came to the hill.
In the meantime two Sioux were seen going in the direction of Custer's column. Charley Reynolds, myself, the Crow interpreter and two Crows started out to kill them, and prevent Custer being discovered. We failed to do it, however, and when Custer came up we informed him of the state of affairs, and he concluded, as we were discovered, to hurry up and strike them as soon as possible.


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