First Person: Remembering Little Bighorn

The date June 25, 1876 is infamous. Often called "Custer's Last Stand," the Battle of the Little Bighorn was a critical event in American history and Indian/white relations.


Riderless Horses

More than a dozen riderless Army horses with saddles are depicted on the left side of the muslin. Standing Bear said "...I noticed there were the cavalrymen's horses running away after breaking loose..." This comment was recorded by John G. Neihardt in 1931 and published in The Sixth Grandfather (1985), edited by Raymond J. DeMallie.

Bare Lance

Two Lakota men riding near the Army horses wear eagle feather headdresses with long trailers and hold crooked lances in their right hands. The lances are mostly likely those of the Sotkà Yuhà (Bare Lance) warrior society. These long, curved lances are wrapped in otter skin and adorned with eagle feathers.

Brave Heart Warrior

One warrior on the back of a yellow horse wears a distinctive split-horn headdress with a red cloth trailer embellished with eagle feathers. His headdress and the sword he holds in his right hand indicate that he's a member of the Čanté T'inzà (Brave Heart) warrior society.

Deep Ravine

Several soldiers as well as a Native warrior (perhaps a Hunkpapa warrior named Red Face) are shown down in a trench known as the Deep Ravine. This is a geographic feature of the landscape and is referenced by many Native and non-Native participants in the Battle as a place where several soldiers died.

Counting Coup

A member of the Čanté T'inzá (Brave Heart) warrior society uses his eagle feather lance (with alternating light and dark feathers) to strike one of the soldiers. This brave deed, known as "counting coup," required that a warrior get close enough to strike and thus humiliate the enemy, and then retreat unharmed.

Deafening Noise

At the top of the muslin is a group of soldiers who have gotten off their horses. Chaos reigns as they engage in a fierce battle, with bullets and arrows flying from all directions. "...There were so many guns going off that I couldn't hear them," Standing Bear told John G. Neihardt.

Success in Battle

Many warriors and their horses are decorated for battle. Some horses, like one near the left corner of the village, have their tails tied with red wool cloth and eagle feathers. This horse also has a scalplock (a small red ball with dark hair attached) dangling from its mouth, indicating that an enemy was killed in previous battle.

'No Retreat' Sash

To the right of the dismounted soldiers is a warrior wearing a long red sash decorated with eagle feathers which connects him with the Miwátani Society. To prove their bravery in battle, members of this society used the sash to stake themselves to the ground, staying to fight to the death.

Kit Fox Society

Just across the river from the village is a warrior who is probably a member of the Tokála (Kit Fox) Society. He appears to have fallen off his injured horse, and holds a crooked lance, a weapon of the Kit Foxes, in his right hand.


In the lower right corner is the encampment of Lakota and Cheyenne allies. They were gathered together for the annual communal buffalo hunt and the Sun Dance, a religious ritual of sacrifice, thanksgiving, and renewal. Tracks indicate that warriors rode their horses into battle, while the women stayed in camp to protect children and older people.

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