Sgt. Daniel Kanipe
Daniel A. Kanipe, Sergeant in Company C, 7th Cavalry, was born, raised, and died in McDowell County's Marion, near the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. He was one of two soldiers who rode into the Battle of the Little Bighorn with General George Armstrong Custer in June of 1876 and lived to tell the tale. As the legend of "Custer's Last Stand" grew, Kanipe's eyewitness testimony and identification of severely mangled bodies lived on in all historical accounts.
Born in the Glenwood area of the county, now south Marion, near where the Glenwood Elementary School now stands, Kanipe entered the world on April 15, 1853. His parents, Jacob & Isabella Mosteller Kanipe, are buried in a small cemetery off Old Neal Road in the Glenwood district. Little is known of Daniel's boyhood years, but they were probably typical of those of many pre-Civil War southern farm boys. In any case, he enlisted in the US army in Lincolnton, NC on August 7, 1872. He had hazel eyes, light hair, fair complexion, and at 5'11", was a strapping young man. He was immediately assigned to Troop C, in the fairly new 7th Cavalry regiment.
After arriving at Yankton, South Dakota (then simply Dakota Territory) in March of 1873, he traveled to Fort Totten with the 7th in June, 1873. That year he accompanied the regiment on the famous Yellowstone Expedition - an assignment which led to several skirmishes with Sioux Indian warriors as the regiment escorted a railroad surveying party. The following summer, 1874, Kanipe again participated in a 7th Cavalry outing - this the Black Hills Expedition which indirectly led to the annihilation of a large portion of the regiment at Little Bighorn two years later. Touted as a scientific study of the area's flora & fauna, it is widely suspected that the primary goal of the expedition was to establish the presence of gold in the Hills. Custer's statement of gold "at the grass roots" precipitated a flurry of miners, settlers, and assorted riffraff into this sacred Indian hunting ground. Attempts at obtaining this area from the Sioux by negotiation failed, and all Indians were ordered in, December of 1875, to return to the reservation proper or be considered hostile. Thus the groundwork for disaster was laid.
Stationed at Fort Abraham Lincoln in what is now North Dakota, Kanipe & the 7th Cavalry, led by its famous Lt. Colonel (brevet Major General) G. A. Custer, began its fateful journey on May 17, 1876. Part of a 3-pronged pincer movement to drive in the "hostiles", the column crossed into Montana Territory from the east. Reconnaissance determined a large Indian gathering was headed somewhere towards the Little Bighorn river. We now know it was an encampment of probably 10,000 - 12,000 Indians, largely Sioux & Cheyenne, the largest such gathering known to have occurred on the Plains. Custer picked up the trail, advanced, and on the morning of June 25, 1876, a hot, dusty Sunday, divided his force of some 600 troopers.
Company B, along with six soldiers from each of the remaining 11 companies comprising the regiment - a total of approx. 116 men - were to follow the trail accompanying the slower moving mule pack train. Senior regimental captain, F. W. Benteen, was ordered along with 3 companies, H, D, & K, to scour the area to the southwest and drive in any Indians encountered. Thus placed, this battalion could also act to cut off any retreat caused by the action of Custer's larger force. So, 8 companies, followed, at an increasingly larger distance, by the pack train, continued to track the Indian trail.
Upon coming across a party of 40 or so warriors, apparently fleeing in the direction of the village, Custer further divided the command. Major Marcus A. Reno was ordered to pursue the Indians, attack, and be "supported by the entire outfit". Companies M, A, & G, along with 35 or so Arikara Indian scouts, formed Reno's battalion. The remaining 5 companies, C - Kanipe's company - E, F, I, & L, under the direct command of Custer, veered off to the right, and up the bluffs forming the east bank of the Little Bighorn River. Kanipe stated, "Custer ... charged up the bluffs on the bank of the Little Bighorn. ... When we reached the top ... we were in plain view of the Indian camp, ... we were charging at full speed."
Once atop the bluffs, Custer, Kanipe, and the others, could see down the Little Bighorn valley. Although partially obscured by timber hugging the meandering course of the river, a huge Indian village lay stretched for 3 miles. Reno's puny force was plunging pell-mell into the Hunkpapa Sioux circle. Indian women & children scurried about, giving the impression from the ridge above that the village was fleeing. Custer decided to travel northward along the bluffs to find an appropriate point from which to cut off escape. "Reno and his troops were seen to our left, moving at full speed down the valley. At the sight of the camp, the boys began to cheer. Some horses became so excited that some riders were unable to hold them in ranks, and the last words I heard Custer say were, 'Hold your horses in, boys; there are plenty of them down there for all of us.'" It is at this point that Captain Tom Custer, Custer's younger brother, highly decorated during the Civil War, and Company C commander, relayed the order to Kanipe to hurry back to the pack train with the verbal message to hurry on. It was 3:15 PM. Little did he know at the time, but Kanipe had been spared from an almost certain death. He hurried on along the back trail.
The message courier Kanipe was bearing was this, "Go to Capt. McDougall [heading the pack train] Tell him to bring the pack train straight across country. If any packs come loose, cut them [off] and come on quick - a big Indian camp. If you see Capt. Benteen, tell him to come on quick - a big Indian camp." Sgt. Kanipe did come across Benteen, who had abandoned his mission and decided to follow the trail of the main portion of the regiment. Delivering his message - "They want you up there as quick as you can get there - they have struck a big Indian camp." - at approx. 3:42, he rode on with a shout of, "We've got them, boys!" Prior to this meeting, he had been passed by a group of Arikara scouts leading a small bunch of captured Sioux ponies. Not sure if they were friend or foe, he loaded his gun and readied to fire. About six minutes after meeting with Benteen, he finally met up with, and joined, the pack train.
Meanwhile, down in the valley, Reno dismounted his troopers in a skirmish line attempting to check warriors forming to their front. The Arikaras were occupied with rounding up ponies grazing on the table land to the west. The left flank of the skirmish line, thus exposed, was turned. Reno ordered a withdrawal into the timber along the river, which was executed in good order. Soon, this new position became untenable, and in apparent near-panic, Reno ordered a retreat. The troopers, those that heard the order in the confusion, mounted & followed the Major along the river. Others were left behind. Indians pursued and pressed in on the right flank, eventually forcing the battalion to cross the river, at heavy loss, and retreat up the bluffs to the very spot Custer had observed Reno's initial charge down the valley. Upon reaching the summit, most of the hundreds of Sioux warriors suddenly began to withdraw. It was at this point that Benteen's column, spurred on by Kanipe's message, came upon the scene and joined Reno. It was decided to make this spot a defensive position. It was now 4:20 PM.
Custer and his 5 companies, after dispatching Kanipe, continued on along the bluffs. Shortly after, he arrived at another point of view, where he observed Reno halt to form his skirmish line. The need to find an avenue for a supporting attack became more pressing. Entering a small pass, known as Cedar Coulee, Custer dispatched his 2nd, and last, courier, an Italian immigrant, acting as orderly this day, Trumpeter Giavonni Martini (John Martin in most accounts). Due to the language barrier, this message was written by Adjutant Lt. W.W. Cooke. It bore essentially the same message, "Benteen - Come on. Big village. Be quick. Bring packs. P.S. Bring packs. W.W. Cooke". The column continued on through the Coulee which emptied into a larger coulee, Medicine Tail, which in turn led to a ford at the river. Custer sent 2 companies, E and F, under the command of Captain George Yates, down to the ford - adjacent to the center of the huge encampment. With the remaining 3 companies, Custer observed from a defensive position on a low ridge now known as Luce Ridge. The sudden departure of nearly all the warriors who had been so intently bent on destroying the threat to the southern end of their village was caused by this new presence of blue-clad invaders. Light firing by Yates, an attempt to preclude warriors from crossing Miniconjou Ford (name derived from the physical location of the ford, opposite the Miniconjou Sioux camp circle), was observed from Custer's position, and as increasingly large numbers of warriors began to cross, Yates was forced to pull back on foot under duress. This was at 4:20 PM. Reno & Benteen had just joined on Reno Hill.
Custer laid down heavy volleys to cover Yates. These were distinctly heard by troopers who were still hiding in the timber down in the valley, left behind in the melee back at Reno's engagement. Yates began to move up another coulee, Deep Coulee, towards high ground ahead, now known as Calhoun Hill, the southern portion of a ridge which was to become known as Battle - or Custer - Ridge. The Indians were temporarily pinned down by the fire from Custer's guns, and Custer, too, began to move towards that high ground, to effect a junction of his 5 companies. By the time this meeting occurred, 4:46 PM, hordes of warriors were streaming towards them. Lt. James Calhoun, Custer's brother-in-law, was ordered to hold back the tide with his company L. Deployed as skirmishers, they successfully held back the warriors, led by the Hunkpapa Gall, momentarily with withering fire. More than half of the Indians who died on the field were cut down at this point. The other 4 companies continued along the ridge towards the northern end, the highest ground of all. Where was Benteen?
Back on Reno Hill, the united battalions of Reno & Benteen were digging in for what Benteen described as a "groundhog case". Despite the urgency of the appeals carried by Kanipe & Martini, Benteen, who had temporarily assumed active command due to Reno's poor mental state, refused to move on. The pack train, with Kanipe, was still plodding along still nearly a mile and a half away. It wasn't until 5:25 that the main body of McDougall's command arrived on the hill, although 2 mules carrying tools arrived about 6 minutes before. At about 4:55 Captain Thomas Weir of Company B requested permission to "ride toward the sound of the guns". This was denied. He left anyway, in desperation and frustration, at 5:05. Heading down river along the bluffs with his company, Weir led a heroic attempt at providing some relief to Custer. A gradual movement followed, and soon Benteen with Companies H, K, & M were joining Weir. Reno sent orders to establish contact with Custer. Eventually, he and an orderly too joined this advance. By 5:52, Companies A, B, & G, along with the pack train, were slowly following. It was much too late.
As Custer moved hurriedly along towards Last Stand Hill - or Custer Hill - an unexpected development occurred. Crazy Horse, great Sioux war chief, had led many Oglala Sioux & Northern Cheyenne warriors around the northern perimeter of Battle Ridge and were now streaming up the gullies & coulees of the eastern side. To meet this new threat, Captain Myles Keogh and Company I were ordered down the slope. Calhoun was beginning to crumble under the shear weight of Gall's onslaught. Crazy Horse fell upon Keogh with a vengeance. Both these companies broke, many falling as they stood in formation, companies intermingled, perhaps company C had deployed with, or come to aid, L, as many sergeants & troopers were found from that company along these portions of the field. Cut down with Keogh was a young sergeant named Edwin Bobo. He was from Kanipe's Company C. His horse had fallen down a gully along the ridge and died there. Bobo died fighting near a group of troopers with Keogh. Remnants of these 3 companies, along with E, F and the staff officers reached and took a defensive stand at the end of the ridge, Custer Hill. A group, largely Company E was either deployed, again as a holding action, or broke and ran, towards the river. They perished. Warriors deployed in the gullies and behind brush, on foot, made difficult targets. The knot of soldiers atop the hill began to dwindle. When the fire slackened sufficiently, the Indians closed in. A brief hand-to-hand fight ensued. An isolated trooper, here and there, was chased down and killed. It was over. From the time the 5 companies had reunited at Calhoun Hill, it had taken 39 minutes for all to be killed. 210 bodies strewn across the field. Today, marble markers - many spurious - mark the dead on the field. 33 at Calhoun's position. 80 near Keogh to the east. Another 18 further north, also on the eastern slope. 54 at the Last Stand position. Another 53 on the western slope down toward the Little Bighorn River, in and near Deep Ravine, where many troopers had become trapped, their clawing hand prints visible in the dirt as they tried in vain to scramble out. Another 14 strewn from there back towards Calhoun Hill. It was now 5:25. Kanipe was just arriving back on Reno Hill.
The heavy firing Captain Weir had asked to ride to the relief of was probably that caused by Calhoun's company. He headed out along the bluffs, followed in a strung-out fashion by most of the remaining united command, reaching what is now known as Weir Point, a mile and a quarter from Reno Hill, at 5:25. They were still nearly 3 and a half miles from Custer Hill. In the smoky distance, Weir could observe Indians apparently shooting into the ground. They were finishing off the wounded soldiers. By 5:35, Benteen had arrived, and it became apparent that the Sioux had spotted them and were coming to attack. Under the rear guard protection of Lt. Edward Godfrey and Company K, all were safely back on Reno Hill by 6:10, the pack train having barely had time to move out 1/4 mile before turning around. For the next 24 hours this group of the 7th Cavalry would be besieged, and under heavy fire, by 2 thousand warriors, while the fate of their comrades would remain a mystery. Sergeant Daniel A. Kanipe, of the now wiped out Company C, was among those who suffered through this physical and emotional duress.
For the remainder of June 25, Kanipe became a part of Company B in the defensive perimeter formed by Benteen, indicating he probably had spent earlier time, during the Weir Point excursion, with the pack train. The following morning, the 26th, responding to Benteen's request for help, he joined Company H. Although warriors continued firing until after dark, the village began to strike camp and leave up the valley at dusk. No one then knew why. General Alfred Terry, with Col. John Gibbon's Montana Column, were advancing from the Yellowstone River to the north. This was another of the pincers in the uncoordinated 3-pronged movement. General George Crook, commanding the third, and strongest, column was in camp in Wyoming, having been whipped by Crazy Horse a week earlier. The weary Indians, not wanting to engage still another force, and always watchful of their families, decided to move southward towards the Bighorn Mountains.
It wasn't until the morning of the 27th that the besieged men of the 7th Cavalry saw a large force advancing toward their position. Was it Custer, or Crook, or more Indians? A scouting detail was sent to find out. To their relief it was Terry's column. They examined the site of the Indian encampment. Signs of disaster were noted. Pieces of uniforms, 7th Cavalry equipment, and across the river on the hillside, white forms dotted the landscape. An officer from a mounted infantry party investigating, reported to Terry, in horror, that he had counted 197 white bodies. In the village site, further investigation uncovered the decapitated heads of Troopers John McGinnis, John Armstrong, and one other, on poles covered by inverted kettles. Nearby, on the river bank, lay the body of a fourth soldier, his face bashed in beyond recognition. It was clear something horrible had happened. It seemed reports from Crow scouts, earlier with Custer, of the demolition of the 7th Cavalry were true. After reports were exchanged, and wounded cared for, between the united columns, a detail was formed under the command of Captain Benteen to identify the fallen officers and examine the scene of the battle. About 25 men & officers, including Sgt. Kanipe, were guided to the scene by Lt. James H. Bradley of Terry's command. Kanipe says:
"On ... 27th, perhaps 3 or 4 o'clock, Capt. Benteen and his company were saddling up to go over to the battlefield, and as I had been with him throughout Reno's siege I asked permission to accompany him, to see if I could locate the dead of my own troop C. He answered by saying that I could if I had a horse. ... I fell in behind ... We went down to Dry Creek (Medicine Tail Coulee), on about the same route which I now believe Custer followed, and then down Dry Creek nearly to the ford of the river. From here went direct to the battlefield, and the first dead soldier we found was Sgt. Finley of my own company [SW of Calhoun Hill] ... His body was stuck full of arrows. The dead lay plainly in sight, all being stripped of clothing, and we passed on toward Calhoun, finding Sgt. Finckle [also of C Company] on the way between Finley & Calhoun. Turning back to the left at Calhoun I passed along in the direction of where the monument now stands [Custer Hill] and about two-thirds way to where Keogh lay I recognized the horse of 1st Sgt. Bobo of my own company ... When I came to the pile of men lying around Capt. Keogh I recognized Sgt. Edward [sic] Bobo. ..."
He continues, of the overall scene:
"The officers and soldiers seemed to be killed in about the position they were formed in line of march. The horses were killed and scattered all over the hill, and at the point where Custer lay ... There was not hardly any horses around where he was lying when found. The soldiers lay thick at this point."
As the party continued their search of the disaster scene, seeking to identify stenching, bloated, mutilated bodies, Kanipe proved invaluable, to history at least, in recording impressions and identifying many of the dead. As he examined the gory ground, Kanipe observed much. In years following, he became one of the primary sources for eyewitness information into the battle and, in particular, the battlefield. Following are some of his more pertinent accounts given in various interviews:
"Arriving at the end of the ridge, I recognized the bodies of General Custer, Boston Custer, Cooke, Lt. Smith and others, but I did not see Tom Custer, my own captain. As I had him particularly in mind, I can not understand how I came to overlook him; but the bodies were badly bloated after lying two days in the hot sun and in some cases identification was difficult or impossible."
"General Custer lay across a couple of men, the small of his back only touching the ground. The dead were thick around him. He had been shot through the heart."
"Sergeants Finley and Finkle were both mutilated very badly. They showed to have been wounded. Their horses were lying near them. Sergeant Finley lay at his horse's head. Finley had 12 arrows through him. They had been lying there for two days in the sun, the wounded bloody and mutilated. You could always tell which casualties had been wounded because the little Indians and the squaws, after removing the clothes, would shoot them full with arrows and chop them in the faces with hatchets. They never mutilated a dead man, just those who had been wounded." "Sergeant Bobo was not mutilated at all." "The only one I recognized at the time in Deep Ravine was Mitch Bouyer [a half Sioux guide]. ... I recall that I was then well enough satisfied that the corpse was Bouyer's."
[regarding the Indian village site] "I cut the buffalo robe from around one of the [dead] Indians to see what was buried with the Indian, and I found one piece of rawhide about two feet long lie full of white people's scalps. Some of them were women's scalps, with hair several feet long. These scalps I left there with the dead Indian. There were three teepees full of dead Indians in the village. I did not count them, but I estimate there was something like 65 or 70 dead Indians in these three teepees. They were already tied up in buffalo robes, ready for burial."
Kanipe remained in the service of the US Cavalry for another year, marrying the widow of Sgt. Bobo, Missouri Ann Wyskoff in the interim, on April 12, 1877. On August 7 he was discharged from the army, "a sergeant of excellent character" at Fort Totten, Dakota Territory. He returned to McDowell County with his new bride.
Missouri Ann, or Annie Missouri as she is listed on her death certificate, was born in Burke County at Hildebrand, NC on August 12, 1854. At the age of 15 she married Edwin Bobo in Lincolnton. She traveled to Dakota Territory when the 7th Cavalry was sent there, and "many were the days that she watched and waited while her husband fought the Indians on the plains." After the death at Little Bighorn of her first husband, she was married to Kanipe on Devil's Lake. Two young sons from her first marriage, Frank & Charles Bobo, became the stepchildren of Kanipe.
The Kanipes moved into a house just south of Marion at 238 Rutherford Road [now, 650 Rutherford Road, due to an EMS change]. The house still stands in excellent repair. Daniel worked for the Internal Revenue Service, was treasurer of the Mystic Tie Lodge # 237 in Marion for more than 20 years, and served as Captain of the North Carolina Militia Home Guards during World War I. He was active in the Presbyterian Church. On July 18, 1926, at the age of 73, Kanipe died at his farm. He was listed as a retired farmer and soldier. He was survived by his wife, 2 stepsons, 3 sons, J. L., J. Ed., and Leroy, and 5 daughters. Following funeral services as his home, presided over by the McCall Funeral Home, he was laid to rest at the Oak Grove Cemetery in Marion on July 20. In May of 1934, "Annie" Missouri joined him there. Also buried at Oak Grove is Frank Bobo.
In March of 1905, retired Major T. M. McDougall (of the pack train at Little Bighorn) had this to say of Daniel A. Kanipe:
"... I have the honor to most cheerfully recommend Daniel Kanipe, late Sergeant Troop C, 7th US Cavalry, for any position of an honorable character. Sergeant Kanipe is an honest, sober, trustworthy man, that always did his duty well, gaining the entire respect of the officers of his regiment, as also the enlisted men. I cannot too highly recommend him for any position of trust that may be given him, knowing that he will perform all duties well that are entrusted to him, with honesty, faithfulness, courage and loyalty to those who employ him. ... This soldier's record is good all through, and I gladly recommend him for any position he may seek. ... His ... hard service entitle him to great consideration."
copyright 1995-2010 Richard Federici