north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 
 

 
 
 

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      Daniel Kanipe, one of two survivors of Custer’s battalion at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, was born in Marion on April 15, 1853, the son of Jacob and Isabella Kanipe. He was too young to participate in the Civil War, but his elder brothers Eli and Zephaniah both served in the 58th North Carolina Infantry. Daniel, perhaps spurred on by his brothers’ wartime service, enlisted on August 7, 1872 in Company C, 7th United States Cavalry. During Reconstruction, the unit served in 1870-1872 as an occupation force in Lincolnton.

      The following year newly promoted Sergeant Daniel Kanipe departed for Yankton, South Dakota (then simply the Dakota Territory), with his regiment, and was stationed at Fort Totten. He took part in the Yellowstone Expedition, which resulted in numerous skirmishes with Sioux Indians, and in 1874 served with his regiment in the Black Hills Expedition. Although intended publically as a scientific exploration of the area’s fauna and flora, it is widely suspected that the true intent was to determine if gold was present in the Black Hills. Subsequent land grabs by gold-hungry miners and settlers led to conflict with the Sioux, and set the stage for the Sioux Indian War of 1876.

      On May 17, 1876, Lt. Col. George A. Custer led the 7th Cavalry into present day Montana on a punitive raid against the Sioux. Nearly a month later, on June 25, 1876, his column reached a large Native American encampment along the Little Bighorn River. Severely underestimating the number of warriors within the camp, Custer decided that a frontal assault was the best strategy. Sending one battalion (Reno’s) around the flank of the camp, and positioning one (Benteen’s) in reserve, Custer chose to ride directly towards the Native position with his own battalion.

      Company C was in the forefront of Custer’s unit but, just prior to the attack, Captain Thomas Custer, brother of George, ordered Private Kanipe to relay the message: "Go to Capt. McDougall (heading the pack train) Tell him to bring the pack train straight across country. If any packs come loose, cut them (off) and come on quick - a big Indian camp. If you see Capt. Benteen, tell him to come on quick - a big Indian camp."

      Kanipe rode as hard as he could to Benteen’s position in the rear. Shortly thereafter, Custer sent a second courier, Bugler Giovanni Martini (an Italian immigrant who went by the name John Martin), with a similar message. Within minutes Custer’s main battalion was engaged, and Reno’s unit followed shortly thereafter. Kanipe and Martini both reached Benteen, but by that point the destruction of Custer’s column had already begun. Benteen held his battalion back in a defensive position, and refused to allow Kanipe and Martin to return to their respective companies.

      By dark, the battle was largely over. Custer’s entire battalion had been annihilated. Reno’s men had suffered severe casualties, but were able to extricate themselves to the safety of Benteen’s rear position. All totaled, 268 troopers and Indian scouts of the 7th Cavalry had been killed, including nearly every member of Company C, Kanipe’s command.

      Kanipe remained in the reconstituted 7th Cavalry until receiving his discharge in 1877. He married Missouri Ann Wycoff, the widow of his best friend, Sergeant Edwin Bobo, who had been killed in the battle. She was a NC native who had married Bobo when the 7th was stationed in Lincolnton.

      The Kanipes returned to North Carolina where they settled in Marion and, along with their ten children, operated a farm. During the Spanish-American War and World War I, he served in an honorary position as a captain in the NC militia but never returned to active duty.

      In September 1908, Kanipe and his wife returned to the Little Bighorn battlefield on a publicity tour to raise money for the preservation of the 7th Cavalry troopers’ graves. A photograph was taken of Kanipe and his wife, alongside a Sioux veteran of the battle, at the tombstone of Sgt. Edwin Bobo. In all of his post-war writings, Kanipe does not appear to have held any malice towards the Native Americans, and instead wrote of them as “respected enemies.” He died in Marion on July 18, 1926, at the age of 73.

      Kanipe was called upon numerous times to relate his experience at Little Bighorn by authors and historians Walter A. Camp and Earl A. Brininstool. Camp once wrote him “I have seen and talked with eight commissioned officers and 32 enlisted men who were in the battle of the Little Big Horn and your memory excels them all. There are not six in the whole lot who remember half as many of the details of the fight and expedition as you do, and there are none who remember as much as you do.”

      Kanipe, being one of the last men of Custer’s command to see and interact with the Custer brothers in person, became a noted celebrity among admirers of the “Old West” and researchers of “Custer’s Last Stand.” His recollections became the basis for many of the twentieth century accounts of the battle.


References:
Nathaniel Philbrick, The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and Battle of Little Bighorn (2010)
Richard A. Fox, Archaeology, History, and Custer’s Last Battle: The Little Bighorn Reexamined (1997)
Earl A. Brininstool, Troopers with Custer: Historic Incidents of the Battle of Little Bighorn (1925)
Enlistment Records, U.S. Army, for Daniel Kanipe, Company C, 7th U.S. Cavalry
Daniel Kanipe, Survivor, Little Bighorn Artifact Auction, Cowan Auctions, 2010:
http://www.artfact.com/auction-lot/daniel-kanipe,-co.-c-,7th-cavalry,-little-bighorn-1-c-c099b2beaa
Mohican Press website: http://www.mohicanpress.com/battles/ba04004.html
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Daniel Kanipe

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources