Memorial Day at the Little Bighorn

John Crittenden’s headstone

It is Day 2 at the Little Bighorn and Memorial Day. I started the morning by walking through the National Cemetery. A number of notable individuals are buried there, including Major Marcus Reno, several of Custer’s Indian scouts and Captain William Fetterman, among others. One of the more fascinating stories of the cemetery revolves around Lt. John Crittenden.

Originally an officer in the 20th U.S. Infantry, Crittenden was assigned to Company L of the Seventh Cavalry five days before the regiment departed Fort Abraham Lincoln for the summer campaign of 1876. Crittenden served as the company’s second-in-command under Lt. James Calhoun. He died with Custer’s battalion and his body was found next to Calhoun’s on what became known as Calhoun Hill. I am actually writing this post from the hill’s crest and can see the location where Crittenden fell.

Crittenden was easily identifiable by the burial detail. He had lost his left eye as the result of a hunting accident several years earlier. Rather than wear a patch, Crittenden had a glass eye. Another personal item, however, was missing.

A few years later, a member of Sitting Bull’s band sold a watch to an individual in Canada. This person noticed that the watch had been made in Liverpool. Out of intuition, the Canadian wrote to the manufacturer inquiring as to who may have purchased it. The watchmaker responded that it had indeed been purchased by John Crittenden. Armed with this information, the individual then contacted the Adjutant General’s office to confirm whether Crittenden had fought at the Little Bighorn. Supplied with information from the Army, the watch was returned to Crittenden’s family.

At the request of his father, Col. Thomas Crittenden, John’s body was buried where he fell on Calhoun Hill. In the early 1930s when the modern road was installed, his remains were disinterred and reburied in the National Cemetery.

Until the next…

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