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Did Custer Commit Suicide?

By J.D. LaJeunesse, undated

J.D. LaJeunesse (1885-1974)

In 1916, at the age of 31, I was employed by the government as a ditch rider on the Indian reservation at Ft. Washakie in the Wind River country of Wyoming.

I always look forward to my weekly rides along Left Hand ditch.  The water for this ditch was taken from the Big Wind River.  It was named Left Hand ditch after an old Indian who lived at its head. 

Ft. Washakie (Wind River Indian Reservation (1880)

At the end of my eight-mile ride, I always made it a point to stop and visit with Left Hand a man well into his eighties at the time.  At first, Left Hand was reluctant to say very much, but when I told him my name and explained what my job was, he became quite friendly.  This friendship grew when we both discovered that he had known my grandfather, Johnny Seminole, very well.

Note: He is referring to his grandfather Charles LaJeunesse (born ? died 1865) who was branded Johnny Seminole by the Snake Indians (Shoshone Indians) with whom he lived for some years. He married into the tribe. The name Seminole sometimes was written as Seminoe and incorrectly attributed to Basil LaJeunesse.

Left Hand could not speak English, but this was no handicap to me.  I, the import Indian myself, was educated at Carlisle, and have been active in gaining fares of the time.  I went to Washington, DC in 1908 as a member of an Indian delegation made up of Shoshone and Arapahos to meet with the Secretary of Interior and Commissioner of Indian Affairs to settle the question of water rights on the Wind River Indian Reservation.  Also, I have served on the Indian Council at Fort Washakie.  Though I knew only a limited amount of the Indian language, I was considered quite adapt to the use of sign language.  A younger Indian living with Left Hand could speak English and helped as an interpreter when necessary.

Since my parents and grandparents’ figure prominently in the history of the west, especially the Wyoming and Eastern Idaho areas picked up, I have always been genuinely interested in historical events.  Because of my earlier spent among the Indians, I am especially interested in any events where they were concerned.

One day, after gaining Left Hands confidence, I questioned him regarding any battles in which he might have participated.  I was taken completely by surprise when he informed me that he had served as an advance scout for the United States Calvary.  He then showed me his discharge papers which were dated 1876, and which he kept wrapped in cloth and buckskin. The papers were yellow with age, but the signatures of the army officials were still legible.

(Note: W.A. Graham (1953) [i] wrote that Arapaho warriors Left Hand, Waterman, Sage, Yellow Eagle, and Little Bird were at the Sioux encampments by accident. According to Graham they were on a hunting trip and were captured and almost killed by the Lakota who believed the hunters were scouts for the U.S. Army. Two Moon, a Northern Cheyenne leader, interceded to save their lives. Graham's account differs from Left Hand's own account that he, and at least one other Arapaho, were in fact advance scouts for the Calvary.   

Left Hand then told me he had witnessed the Battle of Little Big Horn (June 25, 1876), better known as Custer’s Last Stand (also known as the Battle of Greasy Grass.)

Little Big Horn National Monument map.

Left Hand was an Arapaho. On an advance scouting assignment for the cavalry, he and another Arapaho Scout were captured by the Sioux. They made several attempts to escape but were unsuccessful.

 The Sioux were camped in the beautiful valley of the Little Big Horn at the time.  Left Hand said he did not know exactly how many Sioux were in the camp but that it was an extremely large camp and that there were more than 1,000 braves present.

According to Left Hand Custer was the last soldier alive.  He gave a vivid account of Custer standings approximately in the center of the battleground in buckskins with his long yellow hair shining in the sunlight.  All around him lay dead and dying soldiers, Indians, and horses.

Figure 2 Custer’s Last Stand at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. George Armstrong Custer, 1839 – 1876. United States Army officer and cavalry commander in the American Civil War and the American Indian Wars. prints available at: https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-custers-last-stand-at-the-battle-of-the-little-bighorn-in-1876-george-92841544.html

Left Hand devoutly maintained that the Sioux did not kill Custer upon orders from the chief.  They planed to take the great general alive.  He further swore that Custer took his own life rather than permitting himself to be captured.

As soon as the fighting was over the Indians began looting the bodies of the soldiers, taking guns, Sabers, boots, and other items of clothing, and chasing down  both Indian ponies and cavalry horses.

It was during this confusion that Left Hand and his friend decided to make good their escape.  Unseen, they dashed on foot into a deep ravine a short distance from the scene of the battle.  From there they continued to watch the pillaging and looting for a short time and then began making their way down to the ravine to safety. 

At this point, had it not been for the two young Arapahoe’s  fleeing for their lives one chapter in our history might have been different, and there might have been one survivor of Custer’s Last Stand beside the horse, Comanche.

As the two Arapaho’s were making their way cautiously down the ravine, they came face to face with a soldier.  He had a pistol pointed directly at the two Indians and seemed to be pulling the trigger repeatedly but fired no shots.  This was not because the gun was empty but because in fear and excitement he had his finger in front of the trigger guard instead of on the trigger.

The soldier either did not know the two scouts or else in his excitement failed to recognize them that mistook them for Sioux braves.  This is understandable since the scouts had been forced to don war paint and enter the attack.  Left Hand did not explain, but he hinted that it had been necessary for them to kill the soldier to avoid any noise or commotion which might attract the Sioux warriors.  Left Hand gave the impression that it was not he but the all another scout who made the actual killing.

After killing a soldier, his friend took the soldier’s pistol, and Left Hand took his saber and scabbard.  They then made their way on foot to safety.  Left Hand explained how they covered approximately 800 miles to the Wind River country, facing many hardships and near starvation along the way.

After relating this strange tell, Left Hand gave me the saber and scabbard which he claims to have taken from a soldier.  The name of the soldier was stamped on the wooden scabbard.

Reference:

[i] W.A. Graham W.A., “The Custer Myth,” Harrisburg, Pa; Stackpole, Co., 1953 p. 109.

About Author

Dr. Michael Manford McGreer is managing editor of Nevada-today.com and writes on issues that impact public policy.

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