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Elk Head's account of the Battle of the Rosebud as told to William J. Bordeaux

LEDGER:   Fales-Freeman Brulé Ledger

Elk Head's Story of the Battle:
A Brule Sioux's account of the Battle of the Rosebud, as told to William J. Bordeaux, who also translated.

Note: Elk Head's story of the battle as to the incidents that took place at the upper end of the village, the best account that I have, was given to me by Elk Head and others who have verified his version.

"Our two separate bands composed of Hunkpahpahs and Minnikanwojues met and engaged a body of troops who had arrived within sight of the village without being detected, but before they had a chance to advance in formation we broke up the attack and they were driven back to a timbered hillside where they dismounted to seek cover behind trees and bouldered rocks. We kept them busy dodging our bullets and, arrows. A second detachment, some of whom were mounted on white horses, did succeed in breaking through to us and crossed the river but we threw them back and several of them were killed and wounded."

[Note: Elk Head is referring to Custer's charge at Medicine Tail Coulee when he describes the men "mounted on white horses" charging across the river to attack the Indian village, as also described by White Cow Bull and Curley, among others. See Who Killed Custer -- The Eye-Witness Answer for more info.]

"A second attempt to cross the river that lay between us was even less successful for they not only lost more men but they were forced to retreat in desperate disorder; for the remainder of the battle they remained hidden behind a thick grove well screened with heavy brush. We could not at first understand why they were making such desperate efforts to break through our defense until the news of the total destruction of Custer's command was relayed to us by a group of youngsters who had ridden over from the scene of the conflict. Their motive then was plain for they had been hastening to the aid of Custer who had planned to attack the lower end or the village."

Custer's Conqueror by William J. Bordeaux, Smith & Company 1944, p. 59

NOTE: Elk Head had two sons, Young Elk Head and Two Runs. Although they were too young to fight, they too contributed to the Little Bighorn story. Here is their account, as told to David Humphreys Miller.

* * * Born in 1884, William J. Bordeaux was the son of a white trader and a Brule Sioux mother, and a registered member of the Brule band of the Teton Sioux. Although he was not an eye-witness to the events he writes about, he -- like the other Indian chroniclers, Ohiyesa, John Stands In Timber and Pretty Shield -- had fluent, native access to some important participants whose information is not available elsewhere. Bordeaux's writing is extremely frustrating to many students of the American wars with the Sioux and Cheyenne, for while his narrative is frequently garbled, he is also the only source for Brule Sioux Foolish Elk's important eye-witness account of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Furthermore, Bordeaux interviewed Crazy Horse's sister, Julia Iron Cedar or Mrs. Amos Clown, which makes his comments on Crazy Horse particularly important. Improbably, William J. Bordeaux was also one of the most astute Indian observers of Crazy Horse's military innovations, describing how Crazy Horse very cleverly attacked a line of Custer's men head on at the Little Bighorn, thereby minimizing the Bluecoats' defensive firepower, and how at the Rosebud, he attacked Crook in encircling waves, a technique Crazy Horse developed to isolate and destroy portions of the American force piecemeal. Similarly, Bordeaux's tantalizingly brief picture of Crazy Horse in action on the Powder River -- where he tersely yet wryly asks his sub-commanders, "how about it?" -- provides an almost Socratic picture of Crazy Horse in the commander's role. It isn't hard to imagine his eager young acolytes like Good Weasel and Kicking Bear vying to provide the smartest -- effectively lethal -- answer to their mentor.