Thursday, November 26, 2015


This week's Cemetery Traveler blog is the second in a two-part series that was guest written by my friend Teresa Lambert. Part one was entitled, “LITTLE BIGHORN BATTLEFIELD NATIONAL MONUMENT,” and can be viewed at the link at the end. Teresa’s fascination and curiosity epitomize the reasons some of us go out of our way to visit cemeteries. Enjoy! - Ed Snyder, the "Cemetery Traveler." 


By Teresa Straley Lambert
I love cemeteries! What’s more, I love NATIONAL cemeteries. Stately rows of white marble or granite. Monuments commemorating people and events. Columbaria enshrining cremains. Statues bowing to military personnel and spouses. There is something oh, so, solemn and profound about these cemeteries. And so many stories just waiting to be told.

One of many national cemeteries I visited this year on a 6000-mile trek around the U. S. in our VW camper (“Our Blue Heaven”) was the Custer National Cemetery on the grounds of the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.

Custer National Cemetery

Following the Battle of Little Bighorn, June 25-26, 1876, the Indians involved in the fight removed and took care of their dead in traditional ways: placing them in tipis and on scaffolds and hillsides. But George Armstrong Custer and his fallen soldiers of the 7th Cavalry were at first buried in shallow graves near where they fell on the battlefield. Later many of these remains were taken to eastern cemeteries for burial and the rest were buried in a mass grave around a granite memorial near the top of “Last Stand Hill.”

In 1879, a national cemetery was established at this site to protect the graves of the 7th Cavalry who fell at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Later, in 1886, President Grover Cleveland issued an executive order to set aside a larger area for “military purposes,” so that those who perished at many of the outposts and forts throughout Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas could be moved there.

Custer National Cemetery

Most interesting to me in this cemetery, however, were those who had “unusual” stories to tell. For example, Mrs. Julia Roach is said to have been the first woman murdered in the Montana Territory. 

First woman murdered in the Montana Territory
According to a national park service pamphlet, Mrs. Roach had the “fastest, sharpest tongue in the west.” Her seemingly mild-mannered husband, Corporal John Doyle, thought he was rid of her when he enlisted in the army under an assumed name. His wife, though, apparently followed him westward with at least one child (and perhaps other children) in tow, working as a laundrywoman at several forts along the way. At Fort C. F. Smith, about 40 miles from Little Bighorn, their final confrontation ended with Mrs. Roach remarking about her husband’s fathering skills. He then “shot her dead.” Put under house arrest, with the closest magistrate hundreds of miles away, Doyle was soon released. He deserted shortly thereafter and was never seen again. Mrs. Roach (Doyle),on the other hand, was interred with 16 others who died violent or natural deaths while at the fort, their remains eventually being moved to Custer National Cemetery.

Hayfield Memorial
Also related to Fort Smith is a monument called “Hayfield Fight.” This cenotaph drew my attention for two reasons: 1) my daughter’s married name is Hayfield, and 2) the monument looked like it had been used for target practice. Upon researching it, I discovered that in 1867, six civilians and 19 soldiers from Ft. Smith were cutting hay and were attacked by Lakota Indians. Having recently received Springfield rifles to replace their old muzzleloaders, this small faction of men was able to fend off the Lakota, suffering minimal casualties. People of the fort erected a monument as a memorial to those fighters, but when the fort was abandoned, the memorial stayed behind. It is said that Indians took potshots at it. It was moved to Custer National Cemetery, and those whose names are on the monument are buried in individual graves near it.

Margaret Littlejohn
Julia Roach is not the only laundrywoman buried in Custer Cemetery. Laundresses on Army posts were the only women to receive official recognition from the Army. Not even the wives of the officers had any official status. Laundresses were given many things in addition to the money they earned for their job: fuel, housing, medical services. But they also helped in other capacities, such as nursing the sick. One such woman, Margaret J. Littlejohn, who died at age 36 in the Dakota Territories was admired by the men there. On her headstone they even inscribed, “Laundress of Co. 1, 6th U.S. Inft.”

Crow Scout Goes Ahead and his wife Pretty Shield

Curly, Custer Scout
Several Crow Indians served as scouts for Custer and Major Marcus Reno. Curly, Goes Ahead (and his wife Pretty Shield), White Man Runs Him, and White Swan, are buried in Section A of this cemetery.  Curly and Goes Ahead were assigned to General Custer, while White Man Runs Him and White Swan joined Major Reno’s battalion. Many historians believe that Curly watched the Battle of Little Bighorn from atop a remote ridge, eventually descending to the Little Bighorn River, where he was able to inform men on the supply steamer Far West about Custer’s loss. According to legend, Curly was viewed by the other scouts as an attention-seeker. They shunned him, and he chose to live out his life in a cabin near Crow Agency, dying in 1923. Goes Ahead also scouted for Custer, Reno, and Col. John Gibbon. He had been released by Custer and joined Reno’s command in a hilltop fight and then joined Gibbon’s column. He died in 1919 and his wife, Pretty Shield, lived to the ripe old age of 92. Both are buried here.
Crow scout, White Man Runs Him

Another Crow scout, White Man Runs Him, survived the valley fight as well as a battle on a hilltop with Reno’s and Benteen’s forces, later joining Gibbon’s column. He spent the rest of his life in Crow Agency, dying in 1929.

White Swan
Although he suffered wounds on his wrist and thigh (one hand was almost shot off!), White Swan was able to escape across the river and make it up the bluffs where Reno’s men were, with help from another scout, Half Yellow Face.  White Swan, who was deaf, either from a blow from a club or a rifle shot too near his ear, later communicated his thoughts and feelings about the battle through “ledger art.” His artwork now appears in many prominent galleries, including the Smithsonian. He died at Crow Agency in 1904.

Major Marcus A. Reno
During the Civil War, William Tecumseh Sherman is quoted as saying, “War is hell.” Major Marcus Reno most likely would have agreed. Second in command to Custer, Reno is often blamed for Custer’s defeat. Charged with cowardice, dereliction of duty, and disobeying orders, he was exonerated but could never escape the suspicions. His life went from bad to worse: his wife died, leaving him with a son who eventually moved far away, a second marriage ended in divorce, he was dishonorably discharged from the Army on a trumped up charge, and he died of cancer and was buried in a pauper’s grave in Washington, D.C. But owing to the efforts of descendants, the charges were dropped, Reno was given an honorable discharge, and his body exhumed and moved to Custer National Cemetery, making him the highest ranking person and the only 7th Cavalry officer buried there.

Dr. Thomas Marquis
During the 1920s and early 1930s, Dr. Thomas Marquis (1869-1935), a physician to the northern Cheyennes, realized as he listened to stories from the old warriors who had been at the Battle of Little Bighorn that he had a wealth of information in the form of oral history. He even moved to the Indian Reservation to interview old scouts, who trusted him, and to envision what the battlefield must have been like in 1876. He wrote several books and pamphlets, some of which included photographs he had taken of the warriors. One book that he is especially known for is Wooden Leg: A Warrior Who Fought Custer.

Oxasehe Cut Belly
One Cheyenne Indian with a red granite marker in Custer Cemetery is Oxasehe Cut Belly. His headstone, like other Cheyenne stones, is engraved with, “A Cheyenne warrior fell here on June 25, 1876 while defending the Cheyenne way of life.” Other Indian markers can be seen near “Last Stand Hill,” the “Deep Ravine,” and the Reno-Benteen Entrenchment.

Although the simple, white granite markers lure me into national cemeteries, and researching the more famous or infamous to discover their stories fuels my desire to continue cemetery-hopping, coming across those stones that are just a bit different also intrigue me.

A poignant “Unknown Infant,” stone, a lamb for someone who died too young, a carving to remember a “comerade,” a band musician in the infantry, and a Medal of Honor recipient. All have stories to tell, I’m sure. And I will keep “digging” to discover those tales.

"Comerade," Band Musician, Medal of Honor Recipient: Custer National Cemetery

Read Part 1 of Teresa Lambert's odyssey:

Teresa Straley Lambert, a teacher of academically gifted students for nearly thirty years, discovered upon retiring in 2011 that her hobbies of photography, travel, writing, and genealogy have turned into a second career. Last year she published The ABCs of Gravestone Symbols, an alphabet book using her photos of gravestone symbols as well as verses she wrote to help explain possible meanings to those symbols. She has also created many photo books of her travels and of cemeteries.

She is a member of the artists’ co-op “Gaslight Gallery” in Findlay, Ohio, where she displays her travel photos, greeting cards, calendars, and books with photographs from places such as England, France, Canada, Peru, and all over the United States. 

      More about Teresa Straley Lambert at the following websites: (search “Teresa Lambert”) (author/book page) (search “Dead Ends Cemetery Photos”) 
        Dead Ends – Teresa Straley Lambert (Facebook page)

Teresa Straley Lambert