GREAT FALLS — The Battle of Little Bighorn, also known as Custer’s Last Stand, is taught in classrooms around the country. The battle is marked as the most decisive Native American victory and the worst U.S. Army defeat in the Plains-Indian War.
A key detail has been kept as a 100-year vow of silence by the Cheyenne people - that a woman killed George Armstrong Custer. On June 28. 2005 the Helena Independent Record reported that Cheyenne storytellers broke that vow of silence at the High Plains Book Festival.
In the article, Frank Rowland,the emcee of the event, said, “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.”
In June of 1876, George Custer led nearly 650 men of the 7th Cavalry into the Valley of the Little Bighorn, attacking a village of upwards of 10,000 people.
Steve Brady, a member of the Cheyenne Crazy Dog Society, said, “Our people have never seen such atrocities committed. It was the Western European who was supposedly here to tame the savage, which was us. This laid the groundwork to come.”
Now, almost 18 years later, the true story of what happened at Little Bighorn is being painted on canvas to rewrite the history books.
“I’m thinking, everything I’m reading is wrong and how unfair that is to the Cheyenne tribe.” Barry Dardis, a history buff shared.
Barry has been fascinated with history for as long as he can remember. His infatuation with Custer’s death came from a string of books he read, leading to the final, Buffalo Calf Road Woman, written by Rosemary and Joseph Agonito.
Barry collaborated with Mary on which parts of the book were fact and fiction, taking the facts to partner with the Northern Cheyenne tribe to find out what 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 and out of that will come factual information.” He added.
CE “Butch” Palmer is a Western Wildlife artist whom Barry talked into constructing the painting.
The research has rewritten Custer’s last stand to this.
Buffalo Calf Road Woman was honored for her courage in a separate battle from Little Bighorn for riding her horse into a battlefield to save her brother. Following that event, Buffalo Calf Road Woman was named a “Warrior Chief.” A title awarded less frequently than one might think. Following that event, Custer eventually killed her father in battle. Seeking revenge, the Cheyenne tribe and its allies granted her permission to seek revenge.
“The story of Custer’s Last Stand has been told numerous times and most of them are wrong," said Palmer.
Buffalo Calf Road Woman rode her horse into the Little Bighorn battlefield and struck Custer on the back of the head with a tomahawk-like club. Custer, who was already injured with two shots in him, went down where he was hit.
The gruesome details of the story from the elders say that following that encounter, another warrior woman speared him in the side with a saber to be a part of the slaying, and other women warriors took sewing utensils and stuck them in his ears. George Custer was an evil man in the eyes of the indigenous tribes, and in the battle predominately killed many women.
Sticking him in the ears would prevent him from hearing them coming in the afterlife. Palmer and Dardis shared that many warriors mutilated the Cavalry after the battle, but because Custer was labeled as an evil spirit, they left his body intact.
“We look at what's going on around the world and how fiercely people will fight to protect their homeland,” Dardis exclaimed.
The painting is months away from completion, and nearly 72 hours have been put in to get it to this point. “Butch” plans to push the painting back and add rolling foothills and depth that show how large the encampment was. He will also add the proper details to Custer’s uniform and show the strength in the power of each horse.
“When I first started to do this, I had both arms up in the air. Well, then he was shot in the shoulder, so he probably couldn't have lifted that arm up. So, then I had to change it. That's what I'm kind of doing now, just trying to figure out how they were situated and everything.”
The painting is far from finished, but upon completion, the Cheyenne tribe will create prints of the image and sell them at the Little Bighorn battlefield.
With that legacy, the history books will be rewritten that a woman killed George Custer.
Questions or comments about this article/video? Click here to contact Ryan.