One might assume that after 140 years, there would be little left to say or read about the battle of the Little Bighorn. Yet books continue to be written, letters and artifacts continue to be uncovered, and the audience never seems to wane.
For anyone who has read a book or two about Custer’s last fight, the source materials, from which many of the books are written, become a focus of interest. These include official reports by participants in the Rosebud and Little Bighorn battles, diaries, letters written by soldiers at the time, and even early books written by Custer researchers.
DIARY ON THE ROAD
A case in point is Matt Carroll’s field diary. You’ll recall that Custer and the 7th Cavalry were only one part (the Dakota Column) of a three-pronged approach to finding and fighting the Sioux and Cheyenne in 1876. Matt Carroll managed a wagon train for General Gibbon, commanding the Montana Column. The third prong was General George Crook’s Wyoming Column coming up from the south.
The fascination with Carroll’s diary is the view it gives into what it was like to be part of such a large expedition into country that few whites had ever seen. There were no settlers between the Black Hills and Bozeman, Montana. That’s a huge swath of territory, which the 1868 Laramie Treaty had set aside as unceded land for use by the Sioux as hunting grounds.
THE SCENE OF DISASTER
Carroll was with Gibbon’s column as they came up the Little Bighorn valley on June 27th, 1876, just two days after Custer was wiped out. His diary describes the reactions to the hundreds of men and soldiers as they learned of the catastrophe that had befallen the 7th Cavalry.
He saw first-hand the remains of some of the dead and the horribly wounded men who had spent two days under a broiling sun, hoping for relief but expecting to be killed before Gibbon arrived.
This sort of first-hand account brings lost history alive. Read it for yourself: