125th Anniversary of the Little Bighorn Battle
  [Page updated 2 October 2004 - Summary of changes at bottom of web page.]

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Never Lark nor Eagle: A Fighter Pilot's Story

Following the biographical information below are photos taken at the 125th anniversary of the Little Bighorn battle 22-25 June, 2001. Click anywhere on this text to jump there....

125th Anniversary of the Little Big Horn Battle

The author and friend/creative collaborator, Lyle F. Padilla attended the 125th Anniversary of the Battle of Little Big Horn 23-25 June 2001. The following are photos taken on that trip, along with commentary and military analysis.

If you are interested in this battle, please visit http://www.friendslittlebighorn.com/ and join the "Friends"!

Please note: Due to web site size restrictions, thumbnails are not currently linked to larger, more detailed photographs. If detailed photographs are desired, please contact the author.

Before the Ceremonies

Greasy Grass Ridge, the most likely avenue of the Custer battalion's advance.
The Monument at "Last Stand Hill"

The Authors
The author (left) and co-author Lyle F. Padilla on "Last Stand Hill," Little Bighorn Battlefield, Montana on 25 June 2001, the 125th Anniversary of Custer's Last Stand, at the spot where brothers George Armstrong Custer and Thomas Ward Custer were  killed in action.
Author with G.A. Custer reenactor & "wife" Libby at the visitor's center.

Wier Point Views

The author atop Weir Point, pointing towards "Last Stand Hill." Even under these near ideal atmospheric (and peaceful) conditions, one can hardly discern any terrain details. In the bright Summer haze, with roiling clouds of gun smoke, could Lt. Weir actually have seen and recognized the battle unfolding, or ending, on the ridges beyond? The authors think not. It might be possible, however, that Lt. Weir heard the tapering off of rifle fire and concluded that the battle was lost based solely upon sound evidence.
The battlefield from Last Stand Hill, looking towards Weir Point. A deceptively peaceful, bucolic view that must have looked quite different on June 25th, 1876.

Boston & Autie

It is not widely known outside historical circles, but all of the able bodied men of Custer's family died at this battle*. This is the marker for Custer nephew, (and George Armstrong "Autie" Custer namesake,) 17 year old Arthur "Autie" Reed. Even the young died here, civilian or not.
*Brother Nevin was too sickly to survive life on the plains and remained in Monroe Michigan.
The marker of the youngest Custer, who left the relative safety of the rear area pack trains  to die with his brothers. Was this courage or youthful folly? 

Dr. Lord  

No one was spared. Even the doctors died here.

Custer Brothers

(Top of picture) Gen. Custer's is the only marker on the battlefield inscribed with the fallen soldier's brevet rank. General Custer's body was stripped (as were all the bodies,) but it was not mutilated (Neither was the body of Capt. (Bvt Lt Col) Myles Keogh.) No one really knows why, seeing as the Indians most likely did not know they were fighting "Yellow Hair" until long after the battle.

In the foreground is the marker of Thomas Ward Custer, the only two time Medal of Honor winner up to that time. He lived and died, literally, in the shadow of his older brother. In contrast to Armstrong's, Tom Custer's body was castrated, brained, scalped several times, and his heart had been cut out. Some say it had been eaten by one of the Indian warriors. His face had been so badly mutilated that the only way the body was identified was by the tattoo "T.C." on his arm. Again, since the belligerents supposedly did not know whom they were fighting, there is much debate as to why Tom Custer was singled out for such grotesque mutilation.

South Skirmish Line

The fabled "South Skirmish Line", viewed from the present day visitor's center, near "Cemetery Hill." The bodies were discovered by the U.S. Army after the battle in, what appeared to be, a rough "skirmish line", or a linear battle formation. Recently discovered evidence (such as shell casings, spent bullets, etc.) seems to indicate otherwise. (See next caption)
View of "Last Stand Hill" from the so-called "South Skirmish Line." It was  once widely believed that Tom Custer's C Company retreated across this ground towards the hill where the monument now stands and where Tom's body was  found. But Tom Custer, in all likelihood, had been  reassigned as his brother's aide-de-camp before the battle and was no longer in command of C Company.

Based upon archaeological evidence, it is more likely that the majority of C Company (probably under the command of 2LT Henry Harrington) perished on Calhoun Hill (next photograph) and that the line of markers  of the "South Skirmish Line" actually represents a last desperate charge (or headlong flight) of E Company towards inevitable death in the Deep Ravine. 

Calhoun Hill

Calhoun Hill. Strong evidence suggests that this was the site of the first and possibly only organized cavalry defense on the Custer battlefield. Clear evidence of skirmish lines, as well as retrograde defensive repositioning towards the Keogh sector (later grouping of photographs,) exists on and around Calhoun Hill. J.C. Calhoun was married to Custer's Sister, and was therefore the General's brother-in-law - another loss to this family that gave so much at the battle.

Big Village

"Big village - Come quick..." The Indian village was in the valley (smooth  green area) and stretched across the entire frame of each photograph.

Deep Ravine

The Deep Ravine, where it is said the undiscovered, unmarked remains of twenty-eight 7th Cavalry troopers (most likely E and F Companies,) still lie. This could have been where the last of the killing occurred.  Are the remains of 28 troopers still hidden here? Archaeologists and many historians believe so. The authors are among these historians.

The Reno Fight

The Reno-Benteen Battlefield. The main advantages of cavalry are shock and momentum. Why did Major Marcus Reno halt his attack and order the dismount? An eternally debated question of history. Did Reno's failure to press his attack doom Gen. Custer's battalion up on the ridge, or were his troopers simply overwhelmed, as were Custer's?

Reno's Retreat

The site of Reno's infamous and much debated valley fight and retreat. After failing in his mission to fix the enemy at the North end of the village, Reno's battalion fought two retrograde actions to the woods and the river, then one full fledged retreat up the valley to join Captain Benteen and the rear of the column. Being more defensible ground, the Reno-Benteen battlefield was the only sector to have cavalry survivors.

Reno's Grave

After much pressure from Major Reno's family, the much maligned officer's remains were finally reburied in the national cemetery at Little Big Horn.


Various images of the sector of the battlefield now named for Captain Keogh. It is said Crazy Horse overran this Eastern slope of a ridge line between Calhoun Hill and Last Stand Hill, which is believed to have been the battalion's reserve sector. Once again, archeological evidence suggests this right wing of Custer's battalion was overwhelmed and defeated within minutes. The long held belief that the parallel rows of markers indicate an organized, European style defensive skirmish line (photo P6240041), is slowly giving way to the realization that Keogh's wing may have been ambushed while still mounted and in two-by-two column. The dearth of Army carbine brass in the sector could mean that these troopers were shot from their horses while attempting to reach "Last Stand Hill" (barely visible just beyond the furthest markers in P6240041.)

Images of the author are at the marker for Capt. (Bvt Lt Col) Myles Walter Keogh , perhaps the most fascinating combatant at the battle. One of the celebrated "Wild Geese" soldiers of fortune, Keogh was a privileged youth who left the comfort of Ireland's gentry class to fight in the wars of other nations. A respected and breveted Union Army veteran of Port Republic, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg, legend says that it might have been Keogh who brought the song Garryowen across the Atlantic to the Seventh Cavalry, who adopted it as their anthem. This is possible, as the town of Garryowen, home of the famed 5th Royal Irish Lancers, was near Keogh's place of birth in County Carlow. Capt. Keogh was the commander of  I Company and likely also in command of the right wing of Custer's battalion at the battle. 

Keogh's was the only  soldier's body, (aside from Gen. Custer's,) not desecrated at all by the Indians after the battle. Keogh was wearing, in an Indian medicine pouch, the Agnus Dei ("Lamb of God")  medal he had received for service in the army of Pope Pius IX. Keogh had been photographed wearing other Papal medals of valor (Pro Petri Sede and Ordine di San Gregorio) he'd received at the battle of Castelfidardo, at Ancona (against the revolutionary forces of Garibaldi,) in 1860. It is generally believed that the Indians saw this unusual medal as strong medicine and left the body alone for superstitious reasons. Indian lore also says Keogh held the reins of his celebrated horse, Comanche , after death, and even rose from the dead to try to fight again after the battle, resulting in having to be "killed again." Any of the above reasons could suffice for leaving this officer's body intact. The ever faithful horse, Comanche , multiply wounded, was the only living thing found on the battlefield by the US Army, and became something of a cavalry icon for the rest of his pampered life. 

At the anniversary event, the authors were fortunate enough to have met many descendants of battle participants from both sides. One significant meeting was purely by chance at the marker for Capt. Keogh. While discussing what may have occurred in the Keogh sector with other historians, amateur and professional, the authors noticed a young man making a pencil and paper rubbing of the marker. While holding the paper against the stone for him (the ridge was very windy that day,) I asked:

"Is he a relative?"
"Yes sir. He was my Great Great Great Uncle."
"Really! Is your name Keogh?"
"Yes sir."
"The Captain was reburied at Fort Riley, right?"
"No sir. He was moved near Tarrytown, where his sister lived."

As one would hope, when meeting a descendent of a famous historical figure's family, this young man was respectful, polite, and well informed about his ancestor, (although the Captain's grave in Auburn, N.Y. is actually some 200 miles from Tarrytown - "near" by today's travel standards, I suppose.) He was also a pretty cool guy himself. Although he was sure he was not going to seek a career in the military (can you blame him!), he informed us that his father had done so proudly. He is from good stock, to say the least.

We presume the family has no objections to posting his picture here.

Various Markers, Graves, Views

Various views of the battlefield, including the markers and graves of famous battle participants or other luminaries. The first photo, P6230007, is a telephoto shot, taken from Weir Point, of two riders retracing Custer's route along Greasy Grass Ridge.


FIRST IMAGE: "Ours goes up or yours comes down!" Indian protesters who demand an equivalent monument to the Northern Cheyenne, Lakota, and other victors of the battle.
Remaining images are of the "Cheyenne Color Guard", all veterans of the United States Military from the Vietnam era and later.


As stated earlier, nearly all of Gen. Custer's male relatives died at the battle with him, and none of the dead Custer brothers had children of record. These two readers of the "Roll Call of the Fallen" are descendants of brother Nevin Custer. Is the uncanny resemblance familial... or an affectation? It is still remarkable!

Roll Call of the Fallen

Historians and descendants of fallen men from both sides of the battle gathered here to read the names of their ancestors, along with those of that ancestor's company or tribe.

Minnie Grace Mechling Carey

Minnie Grace Mechling Carey, the daughter of a Medal of Honor winner from the Reno Benteen sector of the battle.
This is the citation from Ms. Mechling Carey's father's award:

[Editorial note: The name is misspelled on the Army's official MOH site.]
Rank and organization: Blacksmith, Company H, 7th U.S. Cavalry Place and date: At Little Big Horn, Mont., 25 June 1876. Entered service at: Pittsburgh, Pa. Born: 14 October 1851, Mount Pleasant, Westmoreland County, Pa. Date of issue: 29 August 1878. Citation: With 3 comrades during the entire engagement courageously held a position that secured water for the command.


Bonus Section on the Rosebud Creek battlefield!

During the week at and around the Little Big Horn the authors drove to the battlefield at Rosebud Creek where, on June 17th, 1876, some 1300 soldiers and civilians battled a similar number of Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. This battle, although overshadowed by the struggle at Little Big Horn eight days later, was possibly a more evenly balanced, but intense fight. The battlefield at Rosebud is among the most pristine of all such sites in the United States. Save three or four plaques at the entrance, all is essentially the same as it had been just after the battle. The U.S. Parks Service intends to preserve Rosebud Creek as it has the Little Big Horn. Metal detectors and other scavenging methods are strictly prohibited there, but one cannot help but feel the history in the air and the rocks there.

Rosebud Creek Images

Various images of the battlefield at Rosebud Creek. The authors are pictured atop "Packer's Ridge." Civilian packers and miners held off fierce Indian attacks from this ridge. Attacks came from the green hill across the valley.

LAST IMAGE: Close up of sniper's perch. Note the array of sandstone to form a reclining ramp for the shooter, the "gun port" between the rocks, and the alignment with the so called "Conical Hill", 1200 yards in the distance. The little natural pyramid was the location of Indian sharpshooters! This sniper knew his trade well.
"Packer's Rocks." Using Springfield rifles and Sharps Buffalo guns (Cal. .50-70!) the packers and miners delivered a devastating and withering fire upon the Indians.

One of the benefits of viewing a "pristine" battle site is the possibility (or likelihood) of rare historical and archaeological finds, such as this untouched sniper's perch atop "Packer's Ridge." See last image for close up.

About the Author

Author with F-4 ca 1981

Raymond J. Castagnaro was born in the Bronx, New York City in October 1956, grew up in Levittown, Long Island, New York, and graduated from Rutgers University and its Air Force ROTC program in May 1978. He currently lives in the Dallas, Texas area. He served on active duty in the US Air Force flying F-4E Phantom fighters (pictured above, ca. October 1981.) After serving in the active duty Air Force, he transferred to the North Carolina Air National Guard as an Air Liaison Officer/Forward Air Controller assigned to support various tank and infantry units of the North Carolina and Georgia Army National Guard. He retired from the Air Force Reserve as a Lieutenant Colonel 4 October 2003.
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NOTE: Due to Spammers using Webbots to "farm" eMail addresses from websites, this is no longer a hyperlink! Please copy the address and type it manually into your regular eMail 's "To" window, eliminating the spaces between the letters. Sorry for the inconvenience....


Immediately below is a link to our Medal of Honor page. Please click on the text to link to the original site.

History, Legend and Myth:
Hollywood and the Medal of Honor

Lyle F. Padilla
Raymond J. Castagnaro

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The authors attended Official Rededication of the American Air Museum in Britain, at Duxford, 27 September 2002. Click on these words to link to photographs of that event.


26 March 2002
Beneath photos areed.jpg, P6260066 and 074: Reference to Custer brother Nevin added.
Beneath Calhoun Hill photo: Reference to J.C. Calhoun's relation to Custer added.
Beneath Keogh sector photographs: Corrections to the medal worn by Keogh at the battle and correction to burial site information.

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