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“How The Trout Killed Custer”

On the 25th of June, 1876, George Armstrong Custer and 251 men with his 7th Cavalry were killed, along with many Sioux and Cheyenne, on that hot afternoon in 1876. We are all probably familiar with the story, but not “the rest of the story.”

The campaign was mounted as a three element movement into Sioux Indian country in the area of the Big Horn mountains under the supervision of General Terry, who came up the Yellowstone River from Ft. Lincoln, Dakota Territory. Col. George Armstrong Custer commanded the 7th Cavalry with his element. Col. Gibbon came down the Yellowstone from the area of Livingston with infantry, and General George Crook came up from the south from Ft. Laramie. The plan was to trap the hostiles and bring them in to reservations.

Things became messed up when the troops under Gen. Crook were attacked by the Sioux with Crazy Horse on the Rosebud river. This battle occurred about one week before Custer ventured down the Rosebud from the Yellowstone, found the Sioux and Cheyenne on the Little Big Horn and rode to his glory.

How did trout play a role in the outcome of the battle? Well, when Gen. Crook got soundly roughed up with several casualties, he retreated back to the area of present day Sheridan, Wyoming to lick his wounds. He was an avid fly fisherman and carried a fishing rod with him. He was languishing and fishing while Custer and the 7th were getting walloped. I really wonder whether the battle would have had a different outcome if Crook had arrived as planned.

Capt. Frederick W. Benteen, Seventh United States Cavalry. (Photograph by D. F. Barry.)

Incidentally, Major Benteen, who was with Custer, but had been sent with three companies of troops to patrol to the south, survived the battle and about a year later was commanding troops in the pursuit of the Nez Perce. The Indians referred to him as the “officer on the big white horse carrying the fine rod.” Yep, he also was an avid fly fisherman, and carried his tackle with him on many campaigns. I guess no one could really blame these guys for their pursuit of the trouts. Just imagine being able to put a fly into those streams before White Man successfully “tamed” the west!

submitted by Ron R Sheets, June 18, 2005

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Last updated on 11 Jun, 2011