History tells of the battle of Slim Buttes on September 9, 1876. As battles went during the Indian Wars, it didn’t have a particularly high casualty rate . . . but it was the first time that the US Army caught up with the Indians they were chasing since June 25th, when Custer’s command caught up with the tribes in southeast Montana.
The battle wasn’t supposed to occur – Colonel Mills’ command had been sent out to get to Deadwood and come back with food. Instead they encountered American Horse and the Brule . . . low on ammunition, Mills attacked, and sent word back to General Crook that he had bitten off more than he could handle. A forced march by starving soldiers shifted the odds into the soldiers favor.
Only two soldiers died there – well, actually one soldier, Private John Wenzel, and scout Charles White . . . a friend of Buffalo Bill Cody, known by the derisive handle of “Buffalo Chips.” The story, taken from Military History Fandom follows:
Crook’s scouts positioned themselves on the opposite side of the ravine just above the cave. The bank of the ravine was probably eight to ten feet high, and the scouts could converse with the Indians below without the danger of getting shot. After Lieutenant Clark’s unsuccessful assault, Scout Charles “Buffalo Chips” White attempted to get a shot in the cave and was immediately killed by the defenders. Frank Grouard witnessed the incident: “Buffalo Chips was standing opposite me. He was one of those long-haired scouts, and claimed to be a partner of Buffalo Bill’s. He thought it was a good place to make name for himself, I suppose, for he told Big Bat that he was going to have one of the Indians’ scalps. He had no more than got the words out of his mouth before he yelled, “My God, I am shot.” I heard this cry and looked around, Buffalo Chips was falling over into the hole where the Indians were hiding. Bat was looking into the cave where the Indians were, and about five seconds afterwards jumped out with an Indian’s scalp in his hand, telling me that he had scalped one of the redskins alive, which I found out to be true. He had seen the Indian that killed Buffalo Chips, and he jumped down onto him as the Indian was reaching to get White’s six-shooter. Bat had jumped right down on top of him and scalped him and got out of the cave before anybody knew what he was doing.” “Buffalo Chips” White was a boyhood friend of Col. Cody and also a scout. He wanted to be like Buffalo Bill and acquired the sobriquet “Buffalo Chips” when Gen. Phillip Sheridan said he was more like Buffalo Chips than Buffalo Bill. Major Bourke described him as a “good-natured liar who played Sancho Panza to Buffalo Bill’s Don Quixote.” Gen. Charles King said Buffalo Chips was a “good man.
We’re not sure of much more about Buffalo Chips. Charles King’s report identifies him as James White. His gravestone at the battle site identifies him as Johnathon White. It seems certain that his body was dug up and further mutilated by hostiles after the soldiers had moved on to the Black Hills.
Buffalo Chips didn’t get a particularly respectful nickname. He didn’t fall heroically in a decisive battle. His grave doesn’t receive the many visitors that show up at the Little Bighorn site. He seems to have been a decent man who died at the end of the Summer that took Custer and Hickock, unphotographed and forgotten. Sancho Panza never got much respect.