PIONEER HISTORY OF KANSAS
by Adolph Roenigk
HENRY BENIEN, A CUSTERS SEVENTH
CAVALRY MAN AND PIONEER SETTLER
Eight Years Service in the U. S. Army; Five Years with
Custer; Custer's Last Fight, as Related by Comrade Roy;
Benien a Well-to-Do Farmer of Lincoln Co., Kansas.
Henry Benien was born in Niendrof, Hanover, Germany, 1846. He immigrated to America at the age of twenty, arriving in the state of Ohio in 1866. His first introduction to the United States was eight years service in the regular army. He came too late to take part in the Civil War, but nevertheless saw some active service in its aftermath. He inlisted in the Eighteenth Infantry, stationed in the South, engaged in subduing the Klu Klux Klan, and aiding in the reconstruction of the South. At times when moonshiners were getting too bold in the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee, the command was occasionally ordered to destroy an illicit still.
In 1867 we find our friend in Memphis, Tennessee, where his regiment was stationed for a time. I happened to be in Memphis the same time, in the same vicinity, working at the
Henry Benien and wife
Guard House at Fort Hays, where Henry Benien and Staislaus Roy
Sergeant Roys Story of the Battle of the Little Big Horn,
Better Known as Custers Last Fight.
Just a plain soldier, thats all I was. Thus Sergeant Roy, a Piqua hero af the Little Big Horn and many other fa-
NOTE: The visit, viewing the relics of bygone days, might have been extended to the state University at Lawrence, where in the museum the mounted remains of Captain Keoghs horse may still be seen. The exact placard reads thus:
This horse was the only living thing found on the Custer battlefield, and had been wounded in seven places, all, however, being flesh wounds. He was grazing when found.
mous campaigns against the redskins, modestly sums up his career of thirty years as a soldier recently ended. Others have left the service in disgust because a colonelcy was not soon forthcoming. Sergeant Roy served thirty years and received an honorable discharge practically as a private, for he was only a non-commissioned officer. Yet he is just as proud of his service and just as content as if he could now claim the title of Major General.
America had heard much of the deeds of her soldier officers. This is the story of Just a plain soldier. To this Piqua belongs the highest distinction possible to a private or non-commissioned officer in the United States army. After thirty years honorable service in one regiment he is now retired with the rank and pay held at the close of his last enlistment. He can not be called a citizen of Ohio, for, through retired is still a soldier, and receives from the paymasters department on the first day of each month thirty-two dollars as Color Sergeant, Seventh United States Cavalry, Retired.
This man, Stanislaus Roy, of 1115 Park Avenue, Piqua, has also the distinction of being the holder of a congressional medal for distinguished services and conspicuous courage--June 26th, 1876, at the battle of the Little Big Horn. Officers now received decoration for gallant services, but private soldiers are rarely so honored. When a soldier of the regular army has been the subject of a resolution by Congress and is granted a medal, it may be conceded that he richly deserves it. American soldiers have had many days of tragedy. Isolated commands have performed services so sanuguinary and dramatic that the very date has become notable. As the years go, and the new generations come, only the thoughtful reader of history appreciates the courage and fortitude shown, and marvels at the cheerful sacrifice and silent suffering of his forgotten brother who went for a soldier.
The Little Big Horn
Of silent days only one seems not to have suffered at the hands of time, June 26th, 1876. In our 300 years race, who cares for Braddock, St. Clair, Bate of Fetterman, except as historic figures, A generation has passed since Custer, at the head of the most famous cavalry regiment in the world, rode to death among the hills of Montana, and yet the popular interest seems as fresh as when the excited crowd first heard of the disaster around the newspaper bulletins these many years ago.
Cheap liars and drunken bums often escape punishment by claiming to have belonged to the Seventh Cavalry. They easily impose on reporters and column of their statements are gravely published. Sergeant Roy illustrates the great gulf between the spurious and the real article. He is a quiet, sober, modest man. Though proud of his record and medal, he does not discuss them with strangers. To one who has had military experience he talks freely and can tell many unpublished incidents of that tragic day on the Little Big Horn. He was an eye-witness and speaks from the viewpoint of a soldier in the ranks, having been duty sergeant in A troop.
Enlisted in Cincinnati in 1869. He was assigned to H troop, commanded by that gallant veteran, late Frederick W. Benteen. Re-enlisted at the end of five years. He was sent to A troop and remained there through six terms, under Captain Miles Moylan, now retired and living at Los Angeles, California. Moylan could look the fiercest of any officer in the army but was fair and just. No other regiment was ever organized under like circumstances.
This was at Fort Riley, in June and July, 1866. The veteran, A. J. Smith, of the old Sixteenth Army Corps was colonel. He selected many of the officers. Custer declined the colonelcy of the Ninth Cavalry because the men were negroes, and accepted the lieutenant-colonelcy of the Seventh. The major second to Custer was Joel H. Elliott of Wayne County, Indiana. His relatives live in Indianapolis and the eastern counties. Elliott was killed Thanksgiving day, 1868, in Custers attack on Black Kettle. The staff and line officers had either held high rank or exceptional records in the splendid Union Cavalry of 1865. Tom Custer, for instance, when but nineteen, captured two stands of colors with his own hands and wore two medals of honor. Yates had been Custers chief of staff in the Third Cavalry division. All but three of the officers were men who had fought in the Civil War. By weeding, undesirable officers and men were eliminated and in two years the Seventh was a model fighting machine. The mute testimony of poor Calhoun and his troop proved this ten years later. Men and horses died in line, no stragglers, not a man out of position.
Custers Tragic End
When Terry and Gibbon came across this remarkable sight two days afterward, and recognized the mutilated and disfig-
ured officer, they knew that Custer and his five troops were hopelessly lost. The astonished generals saw that this troop had been deliberately sacrificed to save the others: that Custer had left poor Jim Calhoun, the Donis of the Seventh, his own brother-in-law, the husband of pretty Maggie Custer, to certain death, and their hearts failed. Calhoun had reported.
This shows the discipline and spirit of the Seventh Cavalry. Whether under the summer sun of Texas or the artic cold of North Dakota--some fifty degrees below zero--it was the same. Such was the Seventh, the home of Sergeant Roy for thirty years. After the original personnel was killed, in 1876, the new officers and men inherited its traditions. Here deeds counted. Here Roy rose through all grades from rookie to the non-commissioned staff, the highest place open to an enlisted man. For some years Sergeant Roy and his horse, Phil Sheridan, were the best known figures in the regiment: as the troop quartermasters sergeant he was on the move. When the horse was seen soldier and settler knew that the Seventh was approaching or had arrived. This horse came to the regiment in 1874 and was issued to Roy, who rode him for sixteen years. The animal was condemned on account of old age and sold.
In Renos fatal retreat from the Indian town on the Little Big Horn the horse was shot, the bullet breaking its jaw. When the animal fell its rider was thrown violently to the ground, and was stunned, however, no bones were broken.
The horse saved the sergeants life. The squadron was retreating across open ground to the river, entirely surrounded by galloping, screaming, infuriated savages, outnumbering them twenty to one and armed with the finest rifles made. They threatened to ride over the squadron by weight of numbers.
The warriors of Gall and Crazy Horse cut off the heads of Lieutenant McIntosh and two soldiers and carried them, tauntingly, around. Riderless cavalry horses galloped madly to and fro through the ranks; wounded soldiers begged not to be left; troop commanders tried vainly to be heard. Only the inability of an Indian to shoot straight prevented utter destruction. In the midst of all this Roys horse fell. Most of the horses would have run amuck. Not so Phil Sheridan. Struggling to his feet he waited for his stunned rider, the blood streaming from his broken jaw and torn mouth, and then car-
ried him off in the floating fringe of the retreat. The gallant animal was later tenderly nursed back to health.
The trail Reno followed stopped at the river. The squadron was trapped. Opposite was a blind canon, short and deep. It looked impossible to reach the hill on the other side. They were there with a helpless commander, cut off in front by the hill; by enemies on the flank and rear, while men and horses were huddled like sheep on the bank of the stream with a stream of rifle balls pouring among them. Of the eight officers, McIntosh, Hodgson and DeWolfe were killed, De Rudio missing and Reno, their commander, confused and helpless. Of the 172 men forty-six were already dead and fourteen wounded; all in less than half an hour.
In desperation they spurred their horses off the high bank and most of them climbed the opposite side, though many were killed in the attempt.
The heavy masses of warriors now rode away up the valley and the soldiers could strengthen their position. At 2:30 Benteen arrived with his own troop and those of Weir and Godfrey. This squadron was fresh and greatly encouraged the beaten command of Reno. Later Captain McDougal arrived with his troops and the pack train. The Indians saw him too late to effect a capture.
The redskin warriors were in front of Reno all the afternoon and the firing a mile or so up the valley was continuous. Custer was making his last fight. The men expected orders every minute to march toward the firing. Reno now had all the reserve ammunition to the stores and seven of the twelve troops. With Custer were the troops of Yates, Smith, Tom Custer, Keough and Calhoun and no extra ammunition, which they must need. The Ree Indian scouts had been with Reno, but ran away at the first shot, stopping only at the supply depot miles away.
While advancing they heard Custers despairing signal for help, two volleys in rapid succession. Though every man understood just what it meant, Reno, though not then threatened, failed to respond. Here they waited in columns till toward six oclock when the warriors were seen returning down the valley first by dozens, then hundreds, then by thousands. This advance position became untenable in the face of such overwhelming force. Already they were passing his front and flanks. Reno ordered a withdrawal to his former position. In
the face of such odds his movement was dangerous and would have been fatal had not Lieutenant Godfrey (now colonel of cavalry) without orders, deployed his troop and by the utmost skill and steadliness covered the retread.
On the Picket Line
During the day the warriors had been handled with such skill and Crazy Horse and the Gall and Crow King were so thoroughly advised of the helplessness of Renos forces that it was feared an effort would be made to rush Renos position in the night. It would come early next morning, surely. It was impossible to establish pickets far enough out without loosing the men. At best, if pickets lived till morning, the light would make it impossible to withdraw them. The men had marched all night previous and some, Roy among them, had not slept for seventy-eight hours.
There was no sleep that day, June 26th. The battle raged around the hill all day. Many times their fate hung by a hair. Once, when over a thousand warriors were forming for a charge, Benteen, who held that flank with a single troop--less than sixty horses--seeing it would be fatal, charged first. Riding in front of the men and pointing to the mass of savages gathering to ride them down, he said: Now, men, heres our chance. Give em he--. Ready. Hip, hip. Away we go, and rode straight at the Indian center, H troop thundering and clanging at his heels. The enemy then also charged, but Benteens promptness and momentum was too great. The bucks were thrown into confusion by the crash, and in spite of numbers, galloped back to safety, while Benteen returned without loss.
There had been no water since noon of the day before. Warriors, at short range, covered the river day and night. All suffered, but the anguish of the wounded was worse. Efforts to reach the river the night before had failed. By nine-thirty oclock A. M. their delirous screams for water became intolerable. While the battle raged, the request for volunteers to bring water at all hazards was passed and twelve men offered. Four expert shots were placed on an exposed bluff to cover the river bank. This forlorn hope, one of whom was Sergeant Roy, stumbled down the canon as far as they had a screen. Here they stopped to consult. When they left this cover the ground was bare to the river bank on that side about one hundred feet, while across the narrow stream was timber full of hidden war-
riors, splendidly armed. The water could only be reached by lying flat and dipping it up from a bank over three feet high.
How He Won a Medal
One must go at a time, run zig zag, and if he lived, bring the water to this cover. This man bade them all goodbye, ran to the bank, coolly dipped up the water, and got back safely, though spilling much water, as all did. The second man also got back unhurt, but the third, Wilbur of M troop had his leg shattered and fell on the open ground, later crawling to cover, whence he was carried after dark and his leg amputated. Roy made the fifth and got back safely. Man after man made the dash and all but two got some water. Nine received the Congressional medal. There were nearly seventy wounded and their cries were hard to bear. This water was doled out to them, that day and night, but it was too precious to be given to the able-bodied.
By evening the fate of Custer and the rest of the regiment was considered settled. The night of the 26th was also spent in watching, but Sergeant Roy, having been awake now for over a hundred hours got some sleep. The morning of the 27th there was no attack as expected, and soon the Sioux and Cheyenne squaws were seen taking down their tepees in the valley. By eight oclock only a few horsemen were seen. Soon afternoon this mystery was explained. A column of cavalry appeared in the distance followed by infantry with gattlings, and it was learned that it was Terry and Gibbon approaching. They came down the other side of the valley and had seen nothing of Custer.
After hearing a report of the two days battle and providing for the exhausted men of Reno, General Terry took up Custers trail. They first found Calhoun and his troop, and soon all was known that ever will be known. The whole of Custers family had been wiped out. Besides the general, gallant Tom, and near him, the invalid brother, Boston Custer, a civilian, forage master of the Seventh. Near by, too, was Autie Reed, a school boy of Monroe, Michigan, Custers nephew and namesake, out on his vacation; while out on the extreme left was modest James Calhoun, the brother-in-law. Of the officers, Cook, Smith and Yates had been with the regiment from its birth, at Fort Riley, Kansas, ten years before.
Sergeant Roy can tell many things about life in camp and barracks that an officer never sees. During his time the col-
onels were General Sturgis, Forsythe, Cummur, successively.
The first experience in the Indian country was a scouting expedition of three months, Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado, under Reno, who had but lately succeeded lamented Major Elliott. It was believed by the men of the Seventh that if Elliott had lived, the result at the Little Big Horn would have been different.
Here also is added an account of the Indian side of Custers last fight.
Celebration of the Tenth Anniversary of the Battle by a Few
of Its Survivors
The Great Sioux Chief Gaul, Gives an Interesting Description
of the Terrible Scene--Running Short of Ammunition
the Defenseless Soldiers Are Butchered by the
St. Paul, Minn., June 26--A special Pioneer press from Custers battlefield in Montana describes the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the battle by a few of its survivors. The great Sioux chief, Gaul, went over the field and described the manner in which Custers command was destroyed. Gaul is a fine looking Indian, forty years old, and weighing over two hundred pounds. He was reticent at first, but finally he told the story with dignity and animation. We saw the soldiers early in the morning crossing the divide. When Reno and Custer separated we watched them until they came into the valley. A cry was raised that the white soldiers were coming, and orders were given for the village to move immediately.
Reno swept down so rapidly upon the upper end that the Indians were forced to fight. Sitting Bull and I were at the point where Reno attacked. Sitting Bull was the big medicine man. Women and children were hastily moved down the stream to where the Cheyennes were camped.
The Sioux attacked Reno and the Cheyennes Custer, and then all became mixed up. Women caught the horses for the bucks to mount. Then the bucks mounted and charged back on Reno, checked him and drove him into the timber. The soldiers tied their horses to trees and came out and fought on
foot. As soon as Reno was beaten and driven back across the river, the whole force turned on Custer and fought him until they destroyed him. Custer did not reach the river, but was met about a mile up the ravine, now called Reno creek. They fought the soldiers, and beat them back step by step until all were killed. One of Renos officers confirms this, saying that it was probably during this interval of quiet on Renos part that the Indians massed on Custer and annihilated him. The Indians ran out of ammunition, and then used arrows. They fired from behind their horses. The soldiers fought with little guns (pistols). The Indians were in couples behind and in front of Custer as he moved up the ridge to take a position and were just as many as the grass. First two companies of Keoughs and Calhouns dismounted, and fought on foot. They never broke, but retired step by step until forced back to the ridge, upon which all finally perished.
They were shot down in line where they stood, Keoughs company rallied and were all killed in a bunch. (This statement seems borne out by the facts as thirty-eight bodies of Keoughs trops were found piled in a heap.) The warriors directed a special fire against the trooper who held the horses while the others fought. As soon as the trooper was killed, by waving of blankets and great souting the horses were stampeded, which made it impossible for the soldiers to escape. Afterward the soldiers fought desperately and hard, and never surrendered. They fought standing, they fought in line along the ridge. As fast as the men fell the horses were herded and driven toward the squaws and old men who gathered them up. When Reno attempted to find Custer by throwing out a skirmish line, Custer and all with him were dead. When the skirmishers reached the high point overlooking Custers field, the Indians were galloping around and over the wounded, dying and dead, popping bullets and arrows into them. When Reno made the attack at the upper end, he killed my two squaws and three children, which made my heart bad. I then fought with a hatchet (which means, of course, mutilated soldiers.) The soldiers ran out of ammunition early in the day. Their supply of cartridges were in the saddle pockets of their stampeded horses. The Indians then ran up to the soldiers and butchered them with their hatchets. A lot of horses ran away and jumped into the river but were caught by the squaws.
Only forty-three Indians were killed altogether, but a
great many wounded ones came across the river and died in the bushes. We had Ogallalles, Minecoujours, Brutes, Setona, Uncappas, Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapahoes and Grosventres. When the big dust came in the air down the river, meaning Terry and Gibbon, we struck our lodges and went up a creek toward the White Rain mountains. The Big Horn ranges were covered with snow. We waited there four days and then went over the Woj mountains. It has been popularly supposed that Custer entered the river, but such was not the case. There were no ceremonies or exercises gone through with.
As the above accounts are told by participants on both sides of the battlefield, it is perhaps as complete and correct as any that has been published. Mr. Benien further says: After the battle many persons held the view that Custer himself was to blame for the disaster. There was a certain jealousy among the army officers. Custer was not popular among those of his own rank. It was said that his rapid advancement was for his own aggrandizement, to gain credit ahead of others equally entitled to promotion. It was said Custers surprise of Black Kettles camp and easy victory on the Washita spoiled him.
He expected to repeat this venture at the Little Big Horn. As he followed the Indian trail, it became larger and larger. When he became aware that he was attacking an overwhelming force with only his own command, it was too late to retrace his steps, and disaster followed. But there is another view to be taken in favor of Custer. In previous campaigns, time and again it had happened that the savages, on learning of the approach of a sufficient force of troops to chastise them, had been cunning enough to give them the slip.
On the comment on Sergeant Roys account of the battle Mr. Benion wishes to say that the Custer family and all the officers names mentioned remained vividly in his memory. He, at one time being a member of an escort to the generals wife on an extensive overland trip from Yankton to Bismark, North Dakota, as already has been mentioned, perhaps knew as much about the family as any private in his troop or regiment. While Mrs. Custer was living in Monroe, Michigan, he thought of addressing a letter to her, to introduce himself as a member of her former bodyguard, and relate a few interesting incidents, but he never carried out his intentions.
It may also be of interest to state that one of the officers,
Lieutenant McIntosh, was a half breed Indian. Where he was born was not learned. Little of his history was known by the rank and file of men, except that his name was conferred upon him by his benefactor, that he was educated at an Indian school, perhaps Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and later at the Military Academy at West Point. He was a strict disciplinarian but reasonable and just.
In the reminiscences of by-gone days the men generally appear most prominently, but before we pass the Benien family a word is due Mrs. Benien. She, as a pioneer, deserves special mention. Going through the hardships of those days, she reared a family of seven children, all hale and hardy, and was especially instrumental in their being brought up to be model citizens.
She was a kind-hearted, hard-working woman and a model housekeeper. Her generosity kept pace with the prosperity that favored them in later years. Many were the family gatherings held in the old home on the farm, where children and grandchildren met for a pleasent time and recreation. At those social functions many outside friends were also invited, all of whom were provided for with a lavish hand.
If at any time any one of the numerous relatives became sick, day or night, it was always Mother Benien who was called to help and advise. Nor was this true, in her own family alone, but with outsiders in the community as well. Having much practical experience she was an especially good nurse in womens sickness and diseases of small children. There were cases when the little one was saved when medical treatment had failed, and in those days of strained circumstances the help was generally without remuneration, free gratis. Much more might be said. It seems to me such a woman who is never too busy to devote her time to relieve the distress of others, deserves not a mothers pension but a special reward and a medal of honor.
The Benien family is perhaps only a parallel, or an example of other families who could show a similar record. Such are the characters who build up our country. The successful family, the prosperous patriotic citizen are the units of our countrys greatness.
NOTE: The following is an excerpt from Mrs. Elisabeth B. Custers book. Tenting on the Plains, Page 429, which corroborates Mr. Beniens account of the Indian officer of the Seventh Cavalry. She said: We han an educated Indian as an officer. He belonged to the six Nations, his father was a Scotchman, but there was no Scotch about him except that he was loyal to his trusts and a brave soldier.