Haunted Battlefields: The Ghosts of the Battle of the Little Bighorn

by JoHarrington

History knows it as Custer's Last Stand. It was more like Sitting Bull's Last Stand, along with thousands of Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho. Are they still holding firm?

In terms of sheer body count, the Battle of Little Bighorn pales in comparison with some of the truly grisly battle-sites in history. But the emotional impact cannot be underestimated.

The slaughter of the US Army on June 25th 1876 sent shockwaves through white America. News of it arrived during the celebrations of the USA's second centennial. Damage limitation began almost immediately.

Between the press releases, the three books of Mrs Custer, the live Wild West Shows and the spurious histories in the decades that followed, a legend was cemented in the American consciousness of Custer's heroic Last Stand.

It wasn't like that at all and it seems like the ghosts of Little Bighorn want their story told.

Haunted U.S. Battlefields by Mary Beth Crain

Reports of hauntings from the battle site of Little Bighorn are recounted in this collection of true ghost stories. Last Stand Hill is on the cover.

The Battle of the Little Bighorn

As part of the Great Sioux War, this battle was between the US army and First Native tribes. The USA wanted to herd the Lakota into a reservation. Chief Sitting Bull said no.

It was a genocide. Cultural and actual. As European settlers encroached steadily west, over the great plains of America, they wanted the tribes that they encountered gone.

At first it was all about avoidance, making treaties and keeping away. But as the American Civil War left battle hardened veterans willing to fight for land, the eradication of the First Natives became inevitable.

Vast concentration camps were formed. They were called reservations and they were designed to limit the areas in which the tribes could move.

These were largely lands in which the farming was poor and the buffalo couldn't be effectively hunted. Those human beings caught within their boundaries quickly became dependent upon food rations from the USA.

Within those terms, deals could be struck. More land ceded, language eradicated, rebellions quashed.

Then came the issue of the Black Hills of Dakota. Sacred to the tribes who lived thereabout, people would starve rather than give them up. But there was also gold in those hills. Treaties signed, swearing that they would be kept sacrosanct, were soon deemed worthless. Miners swarmed over those holy summits and the US army protected them.

Chief Sitting Bull knew that the army was coming to herd his Lakota tribe into a reservation. He knew that the Black Hills were being desecrated. He sent messages to the chiefs of tribes already in the reservations, urging a grand meeting and their combined forces kicking back.

The Northern Cheyenne responded, leaving their reservations in their thousands.

When General Custer's troops arrived, they expected to face 800 men, women and children, who would be taken to a reservation or killed. They found themselves face to face with over 3000 warriors and their families.

Sitting Bull's Last Stand was to become the greatest First Native victory against the US invaders. It became legendary.

Outnumbered, outgunned, the US Army was massacred on those Montana plains. It wasn't heroic. It was mostly men, with an average age of 19-22, fleeing terrified up a hill or into a gorge. All who followed Custer were killed where they ran; as were the majority of those who were led into battle by Reno.

The Battle of the Little Bighorn Documentary

Archaeological and military evidence is examined to provide an accurate chronicle of what happened on June 25-26th 1876 in Montana.

Battle of Little Big Horn History Books

Little Bighorn Battlefield Hauntings

If ghosts are caused by high emotion felt in a single spot, then Little Bighorn has more than its fair share. Both sides were fighting for their lives and ways of lives.

For those living, working or visiting the site of the Battle of Little Bighorn, those panic-stricken last moments left more than scars in the American psyche.

Some of those men are still running, still screaming, still desperately trying to summon help.  Yet others seem to have realized that they are dead. They're quite sentient, still staring in shock.

These encounters form the stories from what appears to be America's most haunted battlefield.

Staff at the Visitor's Center, claim to have spotted the ghost of Custer himself.

Amongst the artifacts and reproductions in the small museum, the figure of a man is regularly seen. He takes a few steps and instantly disappears.

Surrounded by so many photographs and artists' representations of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, it's not difficult to identify the specter suddenly appearing. He's dressed in the uniform in which he died, and he still sports that famous handlebar mustache.

Eye-witnesses state that they knew he was around, because a chill filled the room. This wasn't just about temperature. A sense of dread permeated all. Those looking up in confusion would see Custer's ghost shaking his head, eyes wide in shock or fear. Then he would take a couple of steps forward and fade.

Had he been summoned by the fact that so many of his personal effects are on show there? Or because so many people are thinking about the circumstances of his demise, as they scrutinize the exhibits?

Also could Custer be related to the soldier seen by a visiting academic, one afternoon at the center? The professor had packed away his presentation material, when he ventured from the conference hall to return some items.

They were all genuine artifacts, which he had borrowed to enhance all that he'd been telling his audience.

As he stepped out with them, he noticed a man in full period US army uniform, standing in a shadowed corner. Assuming it was a re-enactor on break, the professor merely nodded in his direction and returned the items to their store cupboard.

Yet the soldier hadn't shifted upon the professor's return. Nor had the salutation been returned. Frowning slightly, the academic continued on towards the hall, in order to retrieve his own presentation kit.

But the incident was bothering him. He turned back in the doorway, just in time to see the soldier striding out of the shadows in the direction of the store cupboard himself. Before the professor could say another word, he witnessed something which sent his blood running cold.

The soldier didn't open the store room door. He simply passed right through it, like it had never been there.

Did Custer Help Write his own History?

The historian Charles Kuhlman spent years traipsing over the terrain at Little Bighorn. Some say that he didn't make those walks alone.

Dr Charles Kuhlman was a respected historian, who devoted his later life to uncovering the truth of the Battle of Little Bighorn.

His research poured out into his books, Did Custer Disobey Orders at the Battle of Little Big Horn?, Custer and the Gall Saga, and most famously Legend into History. His methodology was sound, his evidence backed up and his history deemed authoritative.

However, some of his findings attracted controversy, particularly over the subject of when Custer deployed a 'bridge' of men to protect Benteen's expected passage towards them. At times, those conclusions appeared inspired and a little out of left field.

It soon became known in academic circles that Kuhlman claimed spiritual intervention. While out on the plains of Little Bighorn, he had been visited by the ghost of Custer himself. No wonder his insights seemed profound!

First Native Ghosts at the Battlefield of Little Bighorn

It's not just the US Army who seem restless on those Montana plains!

Battlefield Park Ranger Mardell Plainfeather is a member of the Crow.

Her great-grandparents were shunted off to reservations. Hence there's a measure of personal pride for her that she now lives right there at Little Bighorn.

In addition to her duties as a ranger, her family also maintain a sweat lodge beside the river. It's very popular.

One evening, Mardell and her daughter Lorena drove down to the lodge. It was just a routine visit, to ensure that the fire was extinguished and the doors were locked.

Job done, the women left the building to be confronted with an unexpected sight.

Up on the ridge, there was the clear silhouette of two men on horseback. Their attire marked them out as First Natives, dressed for war.

From that distance, Mardell could not tell if they were Crow, Lakota, Cheyenne or any other.

She and her daughter both observed them watching though. One of the men even stood up in his saddle, so to gain a better look back at them. Neither of the women were worried by this.

"Even if they were Sioux or Cheyenne spirits, they didn't mean me any harm at all." Mardell later explained. "Perhaps they were just trying to tell me that I was doing a good job of interpreting the battle story to our visitors. Perhaps they were just trying to tell me that they were happy that a Native American, no matter what tribe, was finally telling their side of the story. Maybe their spirits were restless."

Either way, they soon vanished.

Next morning, Mardell passed that way to see if there could have been anything - trees or the like - which might have suggested warriors through pareidolia. But there was nothing there. The ridge was clear.

Battle of Little Big Horn from the Lakota Perspective

The Time Traveler at the Battle of Little Bighorn

This cabbie was only looking to do his job and take a fare. His journey didn't quite end up like that!

Up on Battle Ridge, visitors gain a great overview of the battlefield. Here is where the big memorial stone is situated, beneath which lie the remains of many US soldiers who died at Little Bighorn.

Naturally, it's also a favorite destination of tourists and a road runs alongside in order to convey them there. Hence the cab driver being on Battle Ridge in the first place.

His passengers duly delivered, the taxi man was returning back to base when something quite strange stopped him. For a start the road had disappeared straight ahead.

It didn't take him long to realize that he was no longer in his own time. The fact that the Battle of Little Bighorn was occurring, in all its stark brutality and horror, down on the landscape below was a huge clue.

He sat petrified, gripping his steering wheel, watching it all play out for several long minutes. All the time, he panicked about his own Fate, should his presence be noted; not to mention concerns about how he'd got there and how he'd get home again.

But as suddenly as the vista had changed, it switched back again. There were the plains, empty of all but tourists. There was the tarmac snaking along the ridge. 

The cabbie didn't go back to base.  He shakily edged his vehicle towards the Visitor's Center instead and staggered inside to tell his tale. Whether the staff believed him or not, they could see his utter distress.

He was taken somewhere quiet and given refreshments, until he was calm enough to make his way back to civilization.

Camera Anomaly at Little Bighorn

The Sights and Sounds of Battle a Century On

What happened to the retired couple on a dream sight-seeing trip to Little Bighorn? It was enough to shock the lady into silence.

Dan Asfar's Haunted Battlefields recounts the strange experiences of a Viet Nam veteran and his wife at the site of the Battle of Little Bighorn.

The couple visited in their retirement, as Custer's Last Stand had long since caught the imagination of Jason Davies (not his real name). He had read so much about it. Going there was a dream come true.

Yet from the outset, it was nothing like he imagined. Skeptical about ghosts and not particularly religious, Jason was there for the history. As soon as he stepped foot on the battlefield, the bizarre events began.

At first it was a sense of extreme unease. Then voices at the very edge of his hearing. As the long afternoon closed in, those voices grew louder and more intense. They were speaking over each other, in such number that he couldn't make out what was being said.

Even more creepy was the fact that he could see shadows.

In the vicinity of the Little Bighorn Cemetery, those shadows took on the forms of men, running, crouching, sprinting forward. They were right on the periphery of his vision. As soon as he turned his head to see them properly, they faded from view.

Mrs Davies heard nor saw any of this. She was already halfway down the hill, assuming that her husband was directly behind her. She turned to see him ashen-faced, staring wildly around himself.

Rushing back up, she spoke to him and it was like a switch was flicked in the scene. Jason no longer saw any of it.  Still shaken, he brushed the experience off. He gushed out an excuse. Perhaps the surroundings had triggered some latent memory from Viet Nam.

But secretly, he wasn't so sure. Musing on it occupied him for the rest of the night.

The following day, the couple ventured down to where Major Reno had led his troops across the Little Bighorn River. Passing through the woodland heading into the valley, both husband and wife felt a sense of dread.

Something spooked Mrs Davies.  She would not speak of it then, nor has she spoken of it to this day. She stopped on the track and refused to go down to the river.

Mr Davies had had time to assimilate the strange idea that a haunting was taking place. All of his instincts rang to leave, but it had occurred to him that he might see things that the history books left out.

He could hear the gun-shots and the screams. He distinctly made out the war-cry whoops of the Lakota and the thundering of hooves. He hurried on, until he could see the river itself.

There was a US soldier standing on the opposite bank. A sorrow faced man with a shock of red hair and a beard. He stared right back at Jason Davies, but never said a word. After a while, the apparition faded from view and Jason went back to his wife.

All discussion of what happened that day still distresses Mrs Davies. The couple don't talk about it anymore.

EVP Spirit Recordings from the Little Bighorn Battlefield

Click on these three links to hear the ghost recordings made at the site.

The Ghost of Lt. Benjamin H. Hodgson

Hodgson was a member of Major Reno's brigade. He lost his life in the desperate struggle down in the river valley.

As a young intern researcher and tour guide, Christina Hole had boundless energy. This was a bit of a good job, as she'd had a sleepless night.

In a haunting story collected by Earl Murray, for his book Ghosts of the Old West, Christina was shadowing an experienced tour guide along the Little Bighorn trails. They had reached the edge of the river, where anecdotes were being told.

Something peculiar to the Little Bighorn battlefield is that the little white gravestones are not neatly aligned. They actually mark where the individual fell, not where his remains now reside. (On the whole, they are in a big pit up near the top.)

At the very edge of the Little Bighorn River, Christina paused to note the gravestone of Lt Benjamin H Hodgson. Given its position, there was obviously a tourist worthy story here.

Her colleague, Tim Bernardis, paused to tell it, so that Christina may repeat it in turn later. Poor Lt. Hodgson had been riding across the river, desperately trying to evade the First Natives behind him. His horse was shot and killed under him.

Injured himself, Lt. Hodgson displayed great presence of mind, no doubt borne from the high adrenaline of the moment. He'd grasped the stirrup of a comrade's horse, as it thundered by, and he'd been dragged through the churning waters that way.

But it was to no avail. As soon as he reached the opposite bank, he was beset by enemies and killed outright. That was why his marker sat where it did.

Image: Gravestone of Lt Benjamin Hodgson
Image: Gravestone of Lt Benjamin Hodgson

It was a suitably heroic and tragic story. Christina made a mental note of the name, so she could add it to her repertoire. Even so, it didn't just fade into the melee of all the other stories.

Something about it struck her hard. One tale amongst many, in which the emotion finally hit and she could not be dispassionate.

Christina resolved to look him up, once they returned to the visitor center and its archives.  She wanted a face to put with the story, in the hope that she could appease all that had moved her about his final struggle for survival.

But when she came face to face with the man, Christina's shock was complete. She had seen him before.

Image: Lieutenant Ben Hodgson
Image: Lieutenant Ben Hodgson

Like many interns and staff members, Christina not only worked at the Little Bighorn battle site, but lived there too. Its remote location made it infeasible for most to make the commute otherwise. Their complex was smack bang in the middle of the battlefield.

Only recently arrived, Christina was currently sleeping on the couch, in the home of a colleague. She had been awoken in the middle of the night, but wasn't quite sure what had done so.  She sat up, listening hard and peering around her.

Then her gaze alighted upon the open kitchen area, and her heart nearly stopped.

Sitting at the kitchen table, staring right back at her, was Lt. Benjamin Hodgson. She didn't know his name at the time, but she was under no illusions about the nature of the apparition. His expression was horrific to behold. Fear, confusion, sorrow and pain colliding for supremacy.

Christina had the impression that he was trying to communicate that something 'very serious and tragic' had occurred here, and that they shouldn't make light of it. But that was merely the sense that she received. The ghost didn't say a word.

He sat there for several minutes, before disappearing. It took Christina much, much longer to summon the courage to get off her couch, in order to switch on the light. She had no more sleep that night, and she slept with the light on every night thereafter.

The Haunting of the Stone House at the Little Bighorn

Of all the ghostly happenings at the Little Bighorn battle site, there's one place which seems to bear the brunt. And it's not Last Stand Hill.

Another woman was sleeping on a settee, in a house on Little Bighorn Battlefield, when she too had a strange experience.

This time it was the Stone House. The building has had many uses over the years, since it was first built in 1894 to house the superintendent of the battlefield. Today, it is home to the White Swan Memorial Library.

Back in 1994, it was still being used to provide accommodation for members of staff, which is why this lady was on the couch.

She was startled awake in the early hours of the morning by footsteps crossing the floor above. This annoyed, but didn't particularly perturb her. She wasn't alone in the house. Three men were occupying the two bedrooms on that floor.

Assuming that one of them was up to use the bathroom, she simply turned over and tried to go back to sleep. But the individual stirred her again on his route back to his bed.

Then again, and again. It seemed that the man was pacing backwards and forwards across those boards. Nor was he doing so lightly.  It was like he was stamping with each step. Plaster was being dislodged from the ceiling!

By now fully awake and wondering why none of the others had been disturbed, she glared upwards. It felt like the house was shaking with that heavy marching. She lay there deciding whether to go up and say something or not, but then there was an almighty bang.

She sat bolt upright and turned. The kitchen door had slammed shut. There was no-one there to have done such a thing, and the windows were all locked fast.

By now totally spooked, the woman gathered her clothes and swiftly dressed. She spent the rest of the night sleeping in her car. 

Next morning, all three of the men denied that they'd stirred at all during the night. Nor had they heard the footsteps.  Though one had awoken at the sound of the kitchen door slamming.

Such behavior would not have come as a surprise to anyone who had lived there previously.  When the upstairs had first been converted into bedrooms, one man had been woken by knocking on a partition door.

He'd stared at it from his bed, knowing full well that nobody could be inside that room. It was padlocked from the outside (his side of the door) and there was no other entrance but a locked window.

A second round of loud knocking roused his colleague, who was sleeping in the twin bed across the room. They both listened keenly, but no more sounds came.  "It's just the boys welcoming us here," concluded his colleague sleepily and slipped back off into slumber.

During the mid-1980s, the Stone House was occupied by Park Ranger Al Jacobson and his wife Florence.  They had several years in which to experience the full range of the haunting, and they did.

Personal items would disappear, come back or be shifted, when they weren't looking. Florence once watched a door-handle turning, though there was nobody else in the house.

They heard the footsteps and the knocking. They became used to hearing someone climbing the stairs, with heavy steps, though the staircase appeared empty. 

Al Jacobson told a local reporter, "One night I was showing some home movies. The apartment upstairs was empty, but I heard someone cross the floor up there. I ran upstairs, but found no one. No one could have got out except by the stairs which I came up.”

Then there was the chicken incident.

Florence Jacobson was thriftily eating a plate of leftover chicken, or, at least, she was trying. Each time a fork full of meat neared her lips, a loud whistling sounded from the kitchen. It was like the noise made by the kettle, when the water is boiled.

But her kettle wasn't boiling. It wasn't even on the hob.

After several such attempts to consume her chicken, Florence had a good look at it, then a sniff. It belatedly occurred to her that the chicken could be off.  The ghost was evidently trying to save her from a bout of food poisoning!

For this reason and more, the Jacobsons concluded that the presence was friendly, even if they did occasionally wake in the night to see the figure of a man standing at the foot of their bed; or worse, sitting on it.

The Watchful Soldier Haunting Little Bighorn

It wasn't really the fact that a ghostly voice was speaking that so frightened the woman. It was the implications of what was being said!

Our final story touches upon the Stone House, but concerns another home in the same complex.

Mardell Plainfeather - the Crow lady who'd earlier seen the ghosts of her people watching from the ridge - was driving home one night, when she noticed lights on in the Stone House.

This would have been fine, but for the fact that no-one was currently in residence.

As a dutiful Park Ranger and key holder, she knew that she would have to investigate. But as an extremely practical woman, Mardell also saw the sense in not doing so alone. After all, it might be trespassers in there.

She pulled up outside Complex C, where her colleague Mike Massie lived with his wife Ruthie. Explaining the situation, Mardell asked Mike to accompany her into the Stone House.

Being a consummate gentleman, Mike Massie offered to just go and deal with the lights. There was really no need for Mardell to come at all. With a certain sense of relief, Mardell handed over her keys and drove away to her own home.

Mike Massie went over to the Stone House. There was nobody there. The doors and windows were all securely locked, and the lights were all blazing. 

He would have liked to have said this was an extraordinary occurrence. But it wasn't. He and Mardell both knew that lights were regularly switched on and off in the Stone House, though the building was deserted.

Mike left the place in darkness again and returned to his home.

Ruthie Massie met him in a state of some distress. While it may have been quiet in the Stone House, it certainly had not been in Complex C!

She'd been watching the television, when Mike had come to tell her what he was going to do. A quick kiss goodbye, and she'd carried on watching her show. 

But then, some minutes hence, the picture had flickered, then gone distinctly fuzzy.  In the crackling white noise of the screen, a male voice had loudly spoken. "The second floor of the Stone House,"  it boomed.

She'd panicked then, scrambling to the front door to look out, convinced that something had happened to her husband. She just saw the light go off on the top floor of the Stone House, as Mike secured the building.

There were no errant radio waves that night.  All of the ranger radios were locked away. Neither Mike nor Mardell carried one; and the battlefield was as isolated and empty as it always was.

Who, or what, interrupted Ruthie's television watching that night was never fully explained. But whoever was responsible was also watching Mike Massie, as he wandered about the Stone House.

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More on the Haunted Battlefields of the USA

The Battle of Gettysburg was a pivotal point during the American Civil War. It's been the location of countless ghostly tales ever since.
The Battle of Sharpsburg, aka Antietam, was the bloody start to the Maryland Campaign of the American Civil War. Today it's one of America's most haunted sites.
Chickamauga Battlefield is the scene of some of the most celebrated ghost stories from the American Civil War. They include a spectral monster.
Do American Civil War soldiers still fight on South Mountain? Their ghosts have been seen, felt and heard upon those once treacherous slopes.
Updated: 09/12/2014, JoHarrington
 
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JoHarrington on 10/14/2013

I would be fascinated to hear what your friends have told you. I have some civil war haunted battlefields in this series too. There are some downright frightening ones at Antietam and Gettysburg.

DerdriuMarriner on 10/14/2013

JoHarrington, You've selected interesting snippets from the intriguing repertoire of Little Bighorn hauntings. It was quite a tragic event in the history of this young country, and so it is not surprising that trapped emotions still emanate from the geography and the atmosphere.
Friends who are Civil War re-enactors have shared with me their experiences with apparitions on Virginia's battlefields, which are revered as sacred ground for the massive loss of life from both sides. According to them, the apparitions may be eerie or unexpected initially, but the re-enactors do come to expect them and understand that the intention of these misty visitors is neither mischievous nor evil.
Thank you for injecting a balanced view of the Little Bighorn, honoring both sides, into Cyberland.

JoHarrington on 09/20/2013

Thank you very much. :)

Darla Sue Dollman on 09/20/2013

Wonderful stories here. Great read--I was spellbound!

JoHarrington on 09/20/2013

One day, we are really going to have to compare notes.

I've been to several battle-fields in Britain. My friends LIVE on Sedgmoor, so on the eve of every Glastonbury, I'm actually camping on that field. I wouldn't say that it's not haunted, but nothing like Culloden.

frankbeswick on 09/20/2013

It is important to visit battlefield sites, but be aware that the experience is not always pleasant. I know this from personal experience. Be wary.

JoHarrington on 09/20/2013

Elen - You are very welcome. If you go, have a good look around for me too!

Shonna - Ah! I was looking at the wrong one!

Frank - What I saw at Culloden was definitely a recording in the landscape. That did not make it any better to witness. Some things, you really don't want to see.

frankbeswick on 09/20/2013

You have hit a key point, Jo, when you distinguish the landscape's recording high emotion from the sentience of spirits. Some spectral phenomena are best explained as "recordings in the stone" but others seem to be interactive and show signs that sensient beings are operating.

Shonna on 09/19/2013

Hey Johnny, no, the bugle belonged to Albert Troddick.

Elen on 09/19/2013

Hey, it's Elen! Thanks so much for writing this for me. If I ever go over to those graveyards, I would want to look for ghosts and poltergeists right away! This was totally cool! Thanks again!!!!
XOXO,
Elen


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