The Observations and Experiences of a 7th U.S. Infantryman at the Battle of Big Hole
Charles N. Loynes was an U.S. Army soldier who served with the 7TH U.S. Infantry Regiment from 1875 to 1880. He was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts on July 15, 1853 and had been employed as a painter before his enlistment in the service. Loynes’ military duty took him to the Little Big Horn in June 1876 as a member of the Montana Column where, at age twenty-two, he witnessed the brutal and disastrous outcome of Custer’s ill-fated campaign. The next year, on August 9-10, 1877, as a corporal with Company “I” of the 7th, under the command of Colonel John Gibbon, he participated in the Battle of Big Hole where about twenty- five of his fellow soldiers died and thirty-six were wounded, and where an estimated ninety Nez Perce lost their lives. At the Big Hole, Loynes served his company under the direct command of Captain Charles C. Rawn. He was later promoted to sergeant in the 7th Infantry and advanced to the position of Post Sergeant Major, and also held the position of Drum Major of the regimental band at Ft. Snelling, Minnesota, where he was later discharged.
Loynes then returned to Pittsfield, married Elizabeth M. Cattin, and had one child. He worked as an engraver with the General Electric Company until his retirement.
The former infantryman recounted his memories of the events at the Big Hole, as well as of the Nez Perce and his fellow soldiers and army life, in his letters to Lucullus V. McWhorter, a researcher, writer and Indian rights advocate, beginning in the 1920’s and ending at McWhorter’s death in 1944.
Loynes was also for many years a contributor on those subjects to the publication, Winners of the West, a monthly and sometimes bi-monthly newspaper which ran from 1923 to 1944. The publication gave a voice to the soldiers who fought on the frontier during the Indian Wars before and after the Civil War. Loynes provided information, commentary and analysis to the newspaper well into the 1940’s.
Loynes’ letters and writings to McWhorter are shown to be a valuable contribution in augmenting the historical record of a significant Indian War’s battle and its participants, and of army life, during the time of his military service.
Living to age
ninety three, Loynes died on December 6, 1946, in Miami Springs, Florida. At his death, he may have been the last surviving member of the Montana Column of 1876 and the last surviving military participant at the Battle of Big Hole.
Lucullus V. McWhorter was one of twelve children of John M. McWhorter and Rosetta Marple McWhorter and was born in Harrison County, Virginia (later part of West Virginia) in 1860. He had a history of involvement in cattle ranching, archaeology and Indian affairs.
Highly involved in Indian history and culture in the Pacific Northwest, McWhorter, after moving to Washington State, researched and built his archives of materials relating to the conflicts between the Federal Government and the Nez Perce and Yakama tribes.
At the same time, he gathered materials relating to Indian culture and the legal status of various tribes after the conclusion of the Indian Wars in the 1870’s. His interest
in regional history, Indian culture, folklore, and archaeology had originated with youthful forays into the woods and countryside of West Virginia where he hunted for archaeological remains of Indians and early settlers.
McWhorter also worked to advance and secure Indian rights locally and nationally during his time in Washington, but his years there were especially important in terms of his labors as an amateur historian, linguist and anthropologist.
A chance meeting with the prominent Nez Perce warrior, Yellow Wolf, in 1907 assisted McWhorter in his further investigation of the 1877 Nez Perce War and of the Nez Perce generally. He recorded first hand Indian oral history, maint
ained an extensive correspondence and made direct assessments of battle sites in an effort to establish an accurate and comprehensive account of the 1877 conflict between the Nez Perce and the Federal Government. Significantly, McWhorter’s research also pertained to survivors from the armies of Generals Howard, Sturgis, Gibbon and Miles, including that of Charles N. Loynes of the 7th U.S. Infantry.
His historical efforts had the signal value of providing a fresh version of those events based on primary source materials and his books supplemented, supported, or contradicted previously published accounts and interpretations of the same events.
Working with Yellow Wolf, and by utilizing the extensive mass of materials, including photographs, accumulated during years of research, McWhorter published Yellow Wolf: His Own Story in 1940.
After McWhorter’s death, Mrs. Ruth Bordin and Professor Herman Deutsch edited and completed his larger account of the Nez
Perce War of 1877. McWhorter was married twice, the first to Ardelia Adaline Swisher in 1883. The couple had three childre
n. Following Ardelia’s death, McWhorter was joined in marriage to one C. Annie Bowman in 1895.
The records of Charles Loynes at Big Hole National Battlefield in Wisdom, Montana reveal that the correspondence between him and Lucullus V. McWhorter was
written as early as 1926 and continued into 1944. Some interesting and salient excerpts from Loynes letters to McWhorter regarding the Battle of Big Hole and its participants, are as follows, with misspellings, some changes in punctuation, and a few minor ones in grammar, made to improve readability:
On Taking Prisoners
Some question has been raised as to whether the soldiers were given orders before the Battle of Big Hole to not take any prisoners. Loynes answered that question in his letter to McWhorter of November 12, 1932, in clear fashion, as follows:
1st there were no orders given to us to take no prisoners--I am greatly surprised that anyone would make such a statement—furthermore there is no one that would have a better opportunity to have heard such an order as myself. Anyone that heard such an order given by their company commander I know not of--I don’t believe any company got such an order--my Captain (Rawn) was second in command--If he received such an order from General Gibbon he would have transmitted it to his company. I was a non-commissioned officer in his company on the right of the company. Captain Rawn was with us. I never heard of such an order and never after heard that such an order was given. And finally, I do not believe any one received such an order. Of course, as already stated in the past we received orders to give three volleys then charge--we did, so that act would hit anyone old as well as young but what any individual did while in camp did so as a brute, and not because he had any orders to commit such acts.
Well friend McWhorter I don’t believe there is a survivor of that conflict who will under oath say he heard of the order above stated. I would truthfully acknowledge it if it were so.