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Missing Trooper LSH

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Fetterman Trooper Found Last Stand Hill

By John Doerner, Park Historian LBH

Photos provided by Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

Webmaster's Note:  The NPS with assistance from Friends of the LBH reburied these remains in the Custer National Cemetery on the afternoon of June 25, 2004. Read about it.

On July 17, 2002 during construction for the new Indian Memorial traffic islands on Last Stand Hill, workers uncovered several fragments of what appeared to be human bones. Construction work at the site was halted immediately and the Chief Historian was notified. The remains were unearthed in a previously disturbed area of the Last Stand Hill parking lot, and roadway during mechanical excavation for a traffic island barrier at approximately three feet below ground level. Also uncovered were pine wood fragments (remnants of a coffin), 19th century square nail, and clay brick (probably used as a base for placement of a government headstone). The artifacts were discovered by the contractor after soil was removed mechanically and scattered within an approximately 30* x 6* area of the traffic island.

Dr. Stan Wilmoth, Ph.D., Archeologist, Montana State Historic Preservation Office in Helena, Montana was notified, along with the NPS, Midwest Archeological Center, Lincoln, Nebraska. The NPS also notified various tribal governments, and Sonny Reisch, Superintendent at Fort Phil Kearny State Historic Site, Story, Wyoming. Steve DeVore, Archeologist from the NPS, Midwest Archeological Center, Lincoln, Nebraska arrived Saturday afternoon (July 20th) and surveyed the site with a metal detector, locating two additional square nails. The human remains consisted of an Ulna (lower arm bone) approximately six inches in length, and several other smaller arm bone fragments On Monday July 22 he excavated the fill from the excavation, which measured 1.44 meters long (east-west) and 0.86 meters wide (north-south). Steve uncovered an additional clay brick on the north wall of the excavation, and brick and wood fragments. Several more small bone fragments were unearthed during the investigation that concluded that Monday.


Fetterman graves on Last Stand Hill. Photo courtesy of Friend's member, James Brust


Parking island near where the missing trooper was found. Photo shows similar vantage point as Brust's photo.


Photo courtesy of Friends' member, Richard Upton

Based on the discovery site, and historical archeological evidence, it was concluded that the remains and artifacts uncovered were indeed from the original October, 1888 War Department burials from the abandoned military cemetery at Ft. Phil Kearny, and not associated with casualties from the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Lt. George S. Young , then stationed at nearby Fort McKinney, Wyoming supervised the reburial work using 112 coffins that were approximately 10 x 12 x 24 at a cost of $1.00 each.

The interments (which included Capt. William Fetterman and casualties from the famous December 21, 1866 Fetterman Fight) were taken up at old Ft. Phil Kearny, Wyoming and taken by wagon under escort of Captain J.M.J. Sanno, and Company K, 7th Infantry, and reinterred south of the 7th Cavalry Memorial on Last Stand Hill. They were eventually removed and reinterred in Section B, Custer National Cemetery in approximately 1930. The wood fragments and square nails are believed to be remnants of the original pine coffins used in 1888, and which probably had deteriorated and spilled open the remains and wood fragments back into the grave during the 1930 reburial. The clay brick is of the same type used by the War Department in the 19th century to set government headstones.

Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne casualties were removed from the field immediately after the battle by families and buried in tipis, scaffolds, or rock crevices in the Little Bighorn Valley. No Seventh Cavalry or attached personnel casualties are documented to have been found or interred at the discovery site. In July 1881, the 7th Cavalry casualties remaining on the field were collected from their original casualty sites and reinterred in a mass grave around the base of the Seventh Cavalry Memorial, which was also erected at that time.


It is believed that DNA analysis of the bone fragments will probably not yield any useful information at this time, without comparative DNA from the descendents of  soldiers from the Ft. Phil Kearny burials (many of whom are unknown). The remains will eventually be reunited with the Fort Phil Kearny interments during a reburial with full military honors in Custer National Cemetery, according to Superintendent Darrell J. Cook.  The artifacts recovered will be curated at Little Bighorn Battlefield.

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