News, Pre-WW1

Did a Cheyenne Woman Kill George Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn?

The Battle of Little Bighorn occurred on June 25 to 26, 1876. The heated conflict resulted in the most decisive win for Native Americans and the worst defeat for the U.S. Army in Plains-Indian War.

The battle is widely taught in classrooms across the country with great enthusiasm. Ennobled as Custer’s Last Stand, the tale glorifies the American commander. However, a critical detail is often left out: Who killed Custer?

The Secret Unveiled

The Cheyenne people kept a crucial battle detail a secret as a 100-year vow of silence. However, in June 2005, the Indigenous storytellers broke that vow at the High Plains Book Festival. As it turns out, it was a woman who killed George Custer.

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Frank Rowland, the emcee of the festival, exclaimed, “The chiefs said to keep a vow of silence for 100 summers. One-hundred summers have not passed, and we’re breaking our silence. This is going to be a first for the Cheyenne people and a breakthrough for Western history.”

Steve Brady, a member of the Cheyenne Crazy Dog Society, said, “Our people have never seen such atrocities committed. The Western European was supposedly here to tame the savage, which was us. But, instead, it laid the groundwork to come.”

Custer's Last Stand
The Battle of Little Bighorn and Custer’s Last Stand (Painting by Edgar Samuel Paxson)

History buff, Barry Dardis, shared, “I’m thinking, everything I’m reading is wrong and how unfair that is to the Cheyenne tribe.” But where did it all begin?

Dardis’s interest in Custer’s death stemmed from the book Buffalo Calf Road Woman by Rosemary and Joseph Agonito. In addition, he read a series of books to learn the true history. 

Following his interest, Dardis collaborated with Rosemary to determine which parts of the books were facts. He then took the facts to the Northern Cheyenne tribe to confirm what had actually happened.

“If I can talk Butch Palmer into doing a painting and showing it at the show, I know there will be controversy, and a dialog will start. Out of that will come factual information,” Dardis shared his plan. 

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With the help of a little convincing, he made CE “Butch” Palmer, a Western Wildlife Artist, paint the true history. Now 18 years later, the true depiction will finally be out there.

The History Will Be Rewritten

Buffalo Calf Road Woman was honoured for riding her horse into a battlefield to save her brother in a different battle than the Little Bighorn. Following this, she earned the title of Warrior Chief – a title only a few receive.

Later, Custer managed to kill Warrior Chief’s father in a battle. By then, the commander had earned a reputation for predominantly killing women in the battles. So the Warrior Chief sought revenge – the permission was granted.

Buffalo Calf Road Woman
Is this the woman who killed General Custer? Buffalo Calf Road Woman photographed in the 1870s

Palmer states, “The story of Custer’s Last Stand at Little Bighorn has been told numerous times, and most are wrong.”

The facts are that the Buffalo Calf Road woman rode her horse into battle and hit Custer’s head with a tomahawk-like club. Custer, already injured by two shots, went down where he was hit.

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According to the elders’ story, another woman warrior speared him with a sabre to be a part of the assassination. Then, many more women took sewing utensils and stuck them in his ears. But why would they do that?

Sticking the utensils in his ear was believed to stop the dead from hearing the killers enter the afterlife. According to Palmer and Dardis, many warriors mutilated the Cavalry after combat. However, they left Custer’s body intact since he was labelled as an evil spirit.

General George Armstrong Custer was supposedly killed by a woman brave at the battle of Little Bighorn.

“We look at what’s going on around the world and how fiercely people will fight to protect their homeland,” Dardis exclaimed.

The Painting by Palmer

After putting in 72 hours, the painting is still months away from completion. Butch plans to put depth into the artwork by adding rolling foothills that show a large encampment. Moreover, he also intends to correct uniform details and show the strength of each horse

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Palmer explains, “When I first started to do this, I had both arms up in the air. He was shot in the shoulder, so he probably couldn’t have lifted that arm. So, then I had to change it. So, I’m doing that now, just trying to figure out how they were situated and everything.”

Once the painting is complete, the people of Cheyenne will create prints and sell them at the Little Bighorn Battlefield. With that done, history will be rewritten. People will finally know Custer for the man he was and why he was killed.