Saturday, September 15, 2012

Battle of The Little Big Horn
Indian + Army Casualties

Custer's Last Command - Painting

Perhaps one of the most interesting questions regarding the battle is the question of casualties. Now in a previous posting I discussed various aspects of the battle of The Little Big Horn.1 Here I will discuss casualties.

Custer commanded altogether about c. 579 Soldiers and c. 39 Scouts and at least 12 other civilians for a total of 630 men.2

Custer split his force into 4 sections divided as follows:

Reno c. 131 Soldiers + 35 Scouts: Total 166.

Benteen c. 113 Soldiers.

Pack Train c. 120 Soldiers + 11 civilian packers: Total 131.

Custer c. 211 Soldiers + 4 Scouts / civilians: total 215.3

Army Casualties were given the size of the force horrific.

Custer’s entire immediate command was wiped out. At least 200 Soldiers died along with 4 Scouts / Civilians. About 10 of Custer’s men who had been sent back or reassigned were wounded.

Reno suffered c. 36 dead and 26 wounded. At least 5 Scouts also died.

Benteen suffered c. 11 dead and 29 wounded.

The Pack Train suffered zero casualties.4

This works out to 247 Soldiers killed and 65 Soldiers wounded for a total of 312 Casualties out of c. 579 Soldiers. If you add the 9 dead Scouts / Civilians it works out to 256 dead and a total of 321 casualties. It is virtually certain that this figure is low given that it misses at least some of those killed in the last stand with Custer and that some of the Scout / Civilian dead and wounded are missing.

Another listing of Casualties is that 253 Soldiers died along with 10 others for a total of 263 dead. Add 60 wounded and the grand total is 323 casualties.5

Three of the 4 sections that Custer divided his force into sustained horrible losses. One section under his immediate command was wiped out – 100% casualties. Reno sustained just under 50% losses, losing 62 out of 131 men. Even Benteen with 40 losses out of 113 under his command sustained over 30% losses. The Pack Train remarkably enough sustained 0% losses!

In effect the 7th cavalry had been destroyed has an effective fighting unit.

Indian casualties are another matter. There is a strong desire to believe that the last stand was an heroic last stand by a beleaguered force that fiercely fought to the death. Well they may have fought fiercely but they did not it appears fight so effectively.

In the traditional ways of Indian warfare casualties were to be avoided and what counted was heroic deeds and displays of valor, not winning at all costs. Thus in the face of determined opposition the Lakota tended to simply move on. After all in traditional plains Indian warfare what gave one the greatest reputation for being a warrior was touching your enemy in combat and escaping unscathed. It was called counting coup, and it was vastly more prestigious than killing your enemy or taking a scalp.

Why I am mentioning all this is because when the Indians began to give lists of their dead, it was often remarked how “low” the death total was and it was felt by many that Indians were dressing up their victory / or lying. Of course some of the Indian estimates were high, in the hundreds in fact, apparently said to please the White interviewers who apparently were expecting the Indians to have paid highly for their victory.

What all this forgot was that from the plain’s Indian point of view the casualties suffered at the Little Big Horn were from their point of view very high and quite tragic. Losing 30-40 warriors in one engagement was regarded as very serious and very high losses indeed. In fact such high losses were regarded as almost without precedent. In other words the Indians were not underplaying their losses. They in fact regarded them as very high and shocking.

Various careful reviews of the losses indicate with abundant clarity that the Indian estimates are reliable.6

In the following I will exclude 6 women and 4 children killed.

In fighting Reno 11 were killed. Of the 11, 4 were Hunkpapa, 2 Cheyenne, 2 Minneconjou, 1 Two Kettle, 1 Oglala, 1 Sans Arc.

In fighting Custer 16 were killed. Of the 16, 5 were Cheyenne, 4 Oglala, 4 Sans Arc, 3 Hunkpapa.

In the hill fight later on the 26th and repeated on the 27th after Custer’s command was destroyed 3 were killed. 1 Tribe unknown, 1 Sans Arc, 1 Minneconjou.

A young man called Deeds a member of the Sans Arc tribe was killed early on June 25, 1876 before the battle started.

Thus a total of 31 warriors died in the battle of the Little Big Horn. Of which 7 were Hunkpapa, 7 Cheyenne, 7 Sans Arc, 5 Oglala, 3 Minneconjou, 1 Two Kettle, 1 unknown. If you include the 10 civilians dead the total is 41 killed.7

The number wounded Indians is likely to be similar in number to the number of Indian dead.8 All in all it indicates a very one sided and crushing victory over Custer and his troops.

Another account gives the following list of casualties.

Fighting Reno 8 were killed: 3 Hunkpapas, 2 Sans Arc, 1 Ogalala, 1 Two Kettle, 1 Cheyenne.

Fighting Custer 22 were killed: 11 Cheyenne, 4 Ogalala, 3 Sans Arc, 2 Hunkpapa, 2 Minneconjou.

In the Hill fight on the 26th and 27th of June, 2 were killed: 1 Sans Arc, 1 Hunkpapa.

This gives a total of 32 warriors dying in the battle of The Little Big Horn. Of which 12 were Cheyenne, 6 Sans Arc, 6 Hunkpapa, 5 Ogalala, 2 Minneconjou, 1 Two Kettle.9

Another account lists 5 dead fighting Reno.10

In the fight with Custer the account lists 16 dead and 5 wounded. The total works out to 21 dead.11

The above account does not list the casualties in the hill fighting.

Thus it appears that the Indians achieved considering the size of their forces a cheap and basically overwhelming victory over the 7th Calvary.


The Indian dead

Name                          Tribe

Three Bears           – Minneconjou
Dog with Horns     -       “
Dog’s Black Bone -       “

Young Black Moon - Hunkpapa
Hawk Man                -       “
White Buffalo          -        “
Swift Bear                -        “
Bear With Horns      -        “
Guts                          -        “
Red Face                   -        “

Chased By Owls     - Two Kettles

Roman Nose           -  Cheyenne
Whirlwind               -        “
Black Bear               -       “
Lame White Man    -        “
Limber Bones         -        "
Noisy Walking        -       “
Open Belly              -       “

White Eagle            -   Oglala
Bad Light Hair        -       "
Many Lice               -       “
Young Skunk          -      “
Black White Man    -      “

Elk Stands Above   -  Sans Arc
Deeds                      -      “
Cloud Man             -      “
Lone Dog               -      “
Elk Bear                 -      “
Kills him                -      “
Long Road             -      “

Breech Cloth         -  Unknown

Another list

Young Black Moon     - Hunkpapa
Hawk Man                    -      “
White Bull                   -       “
Swift Bear                    -       “

Chased by Owls           -  Two Kettles

Open Belly (Cut Belly)- Cheyenne
Black Bear                    -      “
Limber Bones               -      “
Lame White Man          -      “
Noisy Walking              -      “

Black White Man        -   Oglala

Red Horned Buffalo   - Hunkpapa
Bear With Horns         -         “

Unknown                    -  Unknown
      “                            -       “
      “                            -       “
      “                            -       “
      “                            -       “
      “                            -       “
      “                            -       “
      “                            -       “
      “                            -       “

Indian Drawing of the Aftermath of The Battle of the Little Big Horn

1. See Here.

2. Philbrick, Nathaniel, The Last Stand, Penguin Books, London, 2010, pp. 314-316. Miller, David Humphreys, Custer’s Fall, Meridian, 1957, pp. 268-270, givers a total of 666 Soldiers, this does not take into account detachments or men sent back. Gray, John S, Centennial Campaign, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman NB, 1976, pp. 289 gives a figure of 597 Soldiers.

3. Philbrick, pp. 314-316. Gray lists the following for June 26, 1878, Reno he gives 140 Soldiers and 35 Scouts, Custer he gives 213 Soldiers and 8 Scouts / Civilians. Of which 4 Scouts / Civilians and 7 Soldiers straggled back and did not take part in the last stand. See Gray, p. 296.Miller lists c. 120 men for Benteen, c. 214, for Custer, c. 112 for Reno and c. 129 for the Pack Train. See Miller pp. 268-272.

4. IBID, Miller.

5. Gray, p. 296.

6. Hardorff, Richard G, Hokahey!, University of Nebraska Press, Norman NB, 1993, pp. 121-130.

7. IBID, pp. 18-19, 57, 82, 97.

8. IBID, Hardorff.

9. Miller, p. 255. There are serious problems with Miller’s list, in that to give just one of the problems he appears to have counted some of the Cheyenne casualties twice in the Custer fight. See Hardorff, pp. 144-149.

10. See Michno, Gregory F, Lakota Noon, Mountain Press Pub. Co, Missoula, Montana, 1997, pp. 76, 88. Sadly Michno scatters his references to Indian casualties in the fight with Reno throughout his narrative. The total given is thereby incomplete.

11. IBID, p. 281.

12. For this list of Names see Hardorff, pp. 57, 82, 97.

13. Michno, pp. 76, 88, 281. Michno indicates that Hardorff’s list of Indian casualties lists 9 whose location of death in unknown, (Hardorff, p. 82), this agrees with Michno’s listing of 9 unknown warriors being seen killed. (Michno, p. 281). I note again that Michno’s listing of casualties in the Reno fight is incomplete.

Pierre Cloutier


  1. Interesting statistics.

    The list gives details of various tribes being involved, I always thought it was the Sioux or the Sioux nation that did it for Custer, Oglala, I think I am right in thinking were part of that tribe but I did not think the Cheyenne were. I would imagine that young warriors from different tribes, if this is the case, would be all the more up for a fight to show their own particular tribes honour.

    The difference in casualties between the opposing parties are I think all the more startling because I would imagine that Custer's forces would have the better weapons.

    I once saw a documentary in which a group of archeologists excavated the battlefield, it was pretty amazing what they discovered. Unfortunately I cannot remember their conclusions. I will try & find it on the web, would be well worth another viewing.

  2. Found it:

  3. The Sioux were a Confederation of tribes divided into three main divisions. The three main divisions were the Santee, Yankton and Lakota. The Lakota was the division chiefly responsible for the victory at the Little Big Horn. The Lakota were divided into 7 tribes, Minneconjou, Hunkpapa, Two Kettles, Oglala, Sans Arc, Brule, and Blackfeet. They were not present in equal numbers at the Little Big Horn although members of all 7 groups were present. The Cheyenne were and are not Sioux but instead were allies of the Sioux. Other Indians who were also not Sioux were present in the village on the Little Big Horn although in small numbers.

    Regarding firearms. It appears to be the case that c. 100 Indian warriors had repeater rifles that were superior to the armies single shot carbines at the Little Big Horn. But it must be pointed out that at most 1/2 of the Indian warriors at the Little Big horn had firearms, this would at most be c.700-800 men. And these firearms were a smorgasboard of firearms mostly inferior to what the army had including some flintlocks!! So that overall the army probably had superior firepower. Still by using their advantages to the hilt the Indians scored a crushing victory.

  4. Yep, pretty much borne out by the documentary.