Custer Survivor Comes More Than Thousand Miles Attend Celebration at Battlefield
Wearing a medal of honor for distinguished service during the 10 years of fighting in the Indian wars in the northwest, John Shauer, a member of Company K, Seventh regiment, under Captain Benteen at the time of the Custer battle on the Little Big Horn June 25, 1876, finished the first lap of a journey of more than 1.000 miles when he arrived in Billings yesterday from Seattle to attend the fortieth anniversary celebration at the battleground next Sunday. Mr. Shauer is the first of the survivors of the famous Seventh regiment of cavalry under Custer to arrive here for the celebration. Five companies of this regiment were annihilated by the Sioux under Sitting Bull and Chief Gaul [sic] on that fatal day in June, 40 years ago.
Mr. Shauer first enlisted in the army service November 21, 1872 and served five years. After his discharge he re-enlisted on December 7, 1877, and served five more years, obtaining his last discharge at Fort Mead, South Dakota. He took up his residence near Devils Lake, N. D., and remained there until 1910 when he moved to Seattle with his family and since has made his home in the Sound city.
Mr. Shauer was an active participant in the three remaining engagements between Sioux and whites. He was a member of the command which engaged in a battle with the Sioux and allied tribes at the mouth of the Big Horn [Yellowstone River] August 11, 1873. His next battle was the Custer engagement on the Little Big Horn and the third at the base of the Bear Paw mountains September 30, 1877, culminating the campaign against the Nez Perces.
Prior to his Indian campaign activities, Mr. Shauer, who will be 65 years old his next birthday, accompanied General Custer and a detachment of the Seventh cavalry, together with two government prospectors, into the Black Hills, S. D., country in 1874, to determine whether gold existed there in commercial quantities. The result of this exploration was the discovery of what later came to be known as the “richest 100 miles square on earth,” federal action toward driving the Sioux and other tribes from their native hunting ground and consequent breaking of a treaty whereby the red men had been guaranteed hunting rights there, and precipitation of one of the bloodiest wars in the history of the settlement of the entire west.
With the Black Hills exploration party was the then Major Frederick Grant, whose father, U. S. Grant, was then president; General Franklin Bell, then a lieutenant; General Haire, second lieutenant in the Seventh cavalry who later rendered distinguished service in the Spanish-American war when he effected the rescue of the Gilmour party from a band of Filipinos; Major General Hugh L. Scott, then second lieutenant in the Seventh Cavalry, and General Sturgis. Major General Scott was with General Sturgis pursuing scattered bands of Nez Perces in the Big Hole country in Wyoming at the time of the Custer massacre.
Mr. Shauer’s recital of the battle of the Little Big Horn is among the few first hand accounts which have reached Billings.
“We first learned of the presence of Sitting Bull and his following when we were camped at the mouth, of the Rosebud,” said Mr. Shauer. “There followed three days’ forced marches when the members of Custer’s command neither slept nor ate more than was absolutely necessary. On the third day, June 24, 1876, we arrived at a point about nine miles from the Sioux encampment on the Little Big Horn. We had traveled all night and rested only long enough to make coffee and allow the horses and mules to graze. The animals were not unsaddled nor unpacked.
“Scouts reported the location of the Sioux camp and Custer ordered the officers’ call, after which he gave instructions to General Reno, Benteen and McDougal. I was in Company K, commanded by Captain E. G. Mathey. I had led a pack mule all night and, like most of the soldiers, well nigh worn out with loss of sleep and fatigue.
“We proceeded up the river at a rapid gait to within sight of the smoke of the Indian encampment. Then the regiment split into four detachments. According to instructions, Reno made the first attack about 10 o’clock in the morning on the Indians’ right wing. The Sioux had spied the soldiers and were prepared to resist. They drove us across an open meadow, across the Little Big Horn and to the top of what is now Reno hill. Benteen’s command of three companies joined us at that moment, and presently the single company under McDougal, guarding the supply train and ammunition wagons.
“The flats across the river below us swarmed with Indians and Reno gave the order to entrench, which was done. In about an hour a portion of the Indians withdrew and went to re-enforce the left wing of the camp. Presently we heard firing and knew that Custer had been attacked. The spot where Custer’s men fell is about four miles from Reno hill. From the number of Indians still remaining on the flat below us we knew it would be folly to go to Custer’s assistance. We had no means of knowing how his troops were faring. All night we watched and waited for some of his men to come into our camp. We did not learn of his fate until the third day.
“Our greatest hardship on the hill was lack of water. We could see the river below us, but did not dare to venture from the top of the bluff until after nightfall. I was among the first to volunteer to go for water. Three others joined me and we crept over the brow of the hill in the darkness and sought the river. We brought a few buckets safely to the hilltop, but the next day were forced again to seek water. Mike Madden, a daredevil Irishman, volunteered to make the venture. He reached the river safely, but received a shot through the right leg as he was starting away. He fell in his tracks and General Benteen ordered volunteers to rescue him. Corneillius Breshnahan, Jack Donohue, Sergeant Campbell and myself offered to go. We dashed for the spot through a hail of Sioux bullets and brought Madden back. We bound up his shattered leg with splints and gunnysacks. He suffered intense agony for days, but finally recovered. (It was for this art of bravery that Shauer received a medal from the United States government.) The horses and mules also suffered severely for lack of water. Some of the soldiers became delirious. A prayer of thanksgiving was offered when on the third day scouts returned bringing the news of Gibbon’s arrival.”
Mr. Shauer visited the site of Pompeys Pillar in 1873 and fought a skirmish with the Sioux and Cheyennes there. The soldiers were detailed to guard the crews of Northern Pacific surveyors and were bathing in the river unaware of the presence of red men.
“Did someone say there were Indians here?” inquired one in a jocular vein.
“Well,” said Shauer, “I can see the Pillar, but I don’t see Pompey.”
Just then rifles cracked behind the eminence and the bathers scurried for the bank and their clothing.
“There’s Pompey,” gasped one. And to this day, Shauer is known among old associates as “Pompey” Shauer.