In 1962, a young student in Wisconsin submitted an essay to a statewide competition. Mary Armstrong's essay recounted family lore shared by her great-uncle Gene, who was in turn repeating stories told back in 1927 by Gene's uncle Joe Blonger on the occasion of Joe's last visit to his childhood home. Joe Blonger is my g-g-g-uncle.
Joe -- an older brother of Denver con man Lou Blonger -- was, demonstrably, a veteran of the Union Army and a prospector for many years in New Mexico.
Joe also claimed to have spent years prospecting in the Black Hills. The facts as we know them do not contradict this claim. We have reason to believe that he was in Salt Lake City in 1873, but we have not been able to document his whereabouts in the six years thereafter.
Joe made many claims about his time in the wilderness, but most notable was his claim to have been at Little Big Horn the day following the battle, and his subsequent conversations with Sioux and Cheyenne children about the events of the day.
My questions to this learned forum: Is Joe's account consistent in the particulars with what we now know of the battle? Was he full of baloney? Or is it surprisingly accurate for a story told by an old prospector in 1927?
The relevant excerpt from Joe's account:
"Joe tried to enlist to go with General Custer into the battle that proved to be his last. If there had been enough horses and mules for all who wanted to go, Joe, with many other white men would have been killed along with Custer and his regular soldiers of the Seventh Cavalry."
"Uncle Joe Belonger was on the Little Big Horn battle ground the day after General Custer's last fight. A great deal of controversy has been going on all these years about which Indians killed Custer and his men. Some claim it was the Sioux under Sitting Bull; others declare that it was the Cheyennes. The truth is that not one white soldier escaped to tell the story; and both Sioux and Cheyennes were so frightened at what they had done that they all scattered and ran. The few who did talk told so many different stories that no white man could believe anything they said."
"To get the truth, that historians have been guessing at ever since that fatal day — June 25th 1876 — Joe Belonger questioned at least a hundred Sioux and Cheyenne children who had watched the battle in wide-eyed wonder. Those Indian children, every one of them, were Joe's friends, pals, and admirers."
"It is a well-known psychological fact that if a grown-up person likes children, is kind to them, and treats them fairly and honestly, those children will tell that person the truth."
"Those Indian children, every one, liked and trusted the gentle and friendly Joe Belonger. So, when Joe asked those Sioux and Cheyenne children to tell him all about Long Hair's big fight, they declared to the last child, in their earnest, childish ways, that while the Sioux under Sitting Bull had planned, intended, and were waiting ready to massacre Custer's whole outfit, it happened — because of an unexpected move on the part of General Custer — that a large war-party of Northern Cheyennes, led by the Ogalalla chief, Crazy Horse, happened to be closer to Custer than Sitting Bull and his ten-thousand warriors, so, the Cheyennes, who had made no plans whatever to kill Custer, found themselves with a chance to wipe out Custer's command — which they did to the last white soldier in approximately thirty minutes. The only human being to escape that death-charge of Crazy Horse and his war party of Cheyennes, was one friendly Crow scout called Curly."
"The older Indian children went deeper, by tapping their foreheads and declaring to Joe Belonger, that they felt sure the white pony-soldiers must have all been crazy when, watching wide-eyed and speechless, those children saw Custer's small command of less than 300 men, climb down from horse-back and attack the Cheyenne camp, on foot, that held at least 2000 warriors ... and worse yet, when there were at least 10,000 Sioux braves under Sitting Bull close by, ready and waiting to charge into the fight."
"According to earnest words from those eye-witnesses, Indian children who had no reason to lie, Long Hair and his small handful of soldiers might well have been considered as already dead the minute they dismounted and attacked hostile warriors numbering, all told, close to 15,000."
"So it was, in spite of all official reports, that the soft-spoken, unassuming Joe Belonger learned the real truth about who killed Custer. "
"Joe, who kept his own counsel, told no one, except certain close relatives, the facts about Custer's death. This is the first public report. Today, as this piece is being typed in 1962, Gene Swinbank, of Shullsburg, Wisconsin, is the only person living who heard Joe Belonger tell how he learned the real truth about General Custer and the Little Big Horn tragedy."
More info: http://www.blongerbros.comhttp://www.blongerbros.com