This Date in Danish American History - The Battle of the Little Bighorn

  • June 25, 2021
  • Little Bighorn Battlefield - Southeastern Montana

THE BATTLE OF THE LITTLE BIGHORN

June 25, 1876

Included in the casualties at The Battle of Little Bighorn were six Danes - three were killed, and three survived.

The following is from author and Danish American historian Stig Thornsohn.  NFDA thanks Stig for providing this information about the Battle of Little Big Horn from the Danish American perspective...

AmeriDanes

AT THE LITTLE BIGHORN

”The sight of the oldest flag in the world – the Danish flag – and the Stars and Stripes flying together will remind us of the long-standing friendship and spirit of understanding which exists now between our two peoples and between our two countries and must exist in the future as long as we both survive.”

From President John F. Kennedy’s taped speech to Rebild July 4th 1963. 

Kennedy was right. And countless Danes have fought for the Stars and Stripes since the War of Independence. The 13 stripes were actually a Danish idea.

Abraham Markøe came from a sugar-rich Danish family in the Danish West Indies. He was sent to the center of power in Philadelphia and became a close friend of George Washington. Markøe created a regiment for the War of Independence, the “Philadelphia Light Horse”, today known as “First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry”, the longest existing military unit in the United States. The regiment also served as a personal bodyguard for Washington. Markøe designed a special flag for his troops, who still use it. It had thirteen blue-silver, stripes that Washington chose to use in the final version of the Stars & Stripes. That’s missing in the official history.

We have always been strong allies and borne arms with the Americans. P. S. Vig compiled the first description in his two-volume book “Danes fighting for America from approx. 1640 to 1865”.

That doesn’t include the scores of veterans from the Slesvig wars with Germany. Denmark won the first in 1848 and lost the second in 1864. A good reason for close to 60.000 “German Danes” to emigrate to America, where many chose to serve on the frontier.

Christian Madsen spent 15 years in the 5th cavalry and later 26 years as a U S marshal. His story will be told later. He was surprised as an old man to find his name on the memorial at Little Bighorn as a casualty of the (in)famous fight - even misspelled Madson. 

But that was another Dane. Christian Madsen, private in the 7th cavalry company F, born in Kerteminde, Fyn, February 1848, tanner by occupation. He enlisted August 24th 1872 and died with Custer on the hill.

So did Charles Siemon, Blacksmith, company L. Born 1843, Copenhagen, Denmark. He enlisted  July 19. 1872.

And Corporal William Teeman, company F. Born 1846. He enlisted Aug 27, 1872.

Three of six Danes that gave their lives because of a much-debated decision by Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer to attack a superior force of Native Americans perhaps 2.500 warriors dividing his outnumbered force, app. 600 in three battalions. Three companies under the command of Major Marcus Reno, three under the command of Captain Frederick Benteen, five companies under Custer’s direct command. The last of the 12 companies was with Captain Thomas McDougall protecting the pack train with provisions and extra ammunition. Benteen was sent south on a scouting mission, Custer went north to attack the village and Reno was directed to attack from the south where he was met with fierce resistance and had to fall back across the river to take a stand on a hilltop where he was joined by Benteen. They suffered severe casualties.

Photo: Colonel George Armstrong Custer

Private Frederick Holmstead, company A was one of them. He was in the valley and the hilltop fights where he was wounded. He died March 27th 1880 at Fort Abraham Lincoln, Dakota Territory. He was born 1849 in Copenhagen, Denmark. Enlisted November 6th 1872.

Private Jens Mathiasen Møller, aka Jan Moller, company H was wounded at the hilltop fight. He enlisted January 15th 1872. Born September 13th in Hasle, Bornholm, Denmark and died February 23rd 1928 in Deadwood, South Dakota.

It seems private Christian C. Boisen managed to survive without physical damage. He was part of the hilltop fight for two days. He was born in Denmark December 1854, registered as a bootmaker and enlisted March 25th 1873. He died January 21st 1923 at Fort Smith, Arkansas.

The battle of Little Bighorn or Peji Sla Wakapa, Greasy Grass as the lakotas name it, is iconic in the “Indian” wars. Custer was a favorite hero before and became a martyr to many afterwards. The news of his total defeat with his 208 men made the news just as America was celebrating its centenary. One of the biggest Native victories, but costly because of the revenge. The Lakotas and the Cheyennes fought a just battle for land that were theirs by right and treaty, but the American westward expansion ignored the treaties. Gold was found in the mountains, like Paha Sapa, the Black Hills and the land was “needed” for the settlers and the railroads.

As Sitting Bulls said at the Powder River Council, 1877:

“Strangely enough they have a mind to till the soil and the love of possessions is a disease with them . . . They claim this mother of ours, the earth, for their own, and fence their neighbors away…”

Photo: Sitting Bull

It’s hard to blame the soldiers. They were pawns in a big game. Christian Madsen lived a violent life as a soldier and U S marshal. It seems appropriate to conclude with some of his thoughts in late life that say something about the experiences he gathered in a life of fighting and action:

“... and other nations will realize that a country that spends more billions on war materials than on schools, and trains more officers than teachers - that country is digging its own grave.”

---------------------

A&E Television Networks, LLC - The Battle of the Little Bighorn, fought on June 25, 1876, near the Little Bighorn River in Montana Territory, pitted federal troops led by Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer (1839-76) against a band of Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. Tensions between the two groups had been rising since the discovery of gold on Native American lands. When a number of tribes missed a federal deadline to move to reservations, the U.S. Army, including Custer and his 7th Cavalry, was dispatched to confront them. Custer was unaware of the number of Indians fighting under the command of Sitting Bull (c.1831-90) at Little Bighorn, and his forces were outnumbered and quickly overwhelmed in what became known as Custer’s Last Stand.

More Information


National Foundation for Danish America
PO Box 1003
Wilmette, Illinois 60091

Contact Us

Log in
Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software