James Watson (soldier)

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James Watson (born 1850) was an American soldier who was in Custer's battalion during the time of the battle of Little BigHorn but did not participate in the battle having been unable to keep up because his horse gave out and he thus survived the battle.


Watson was born in Hudson, New York, in 1850. His mother was from Ohio, and his father from NY. He worked as a laborer.

Watson enlisted in the 7th U.S. Cavalry in 1875 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was assigned to Company C, and served under Captain Thomas W. Custer. He participated in the Battle of the Little Bighorn River on June 25–26 June 1876, where, as his company approached the bluffs overlooking the river, Watson’s horse and that of another man, Peter Thompson, gave out. Watson was able to get his horse up again, but the two men were unable to keep up with their company, which was in a battalion under the command of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer. Watson and Thompson continued on to the river, but were unable to rejoin Custer. They returned to the bluffs and joined the remaining elements of the regiment under Maj. Marcus Reno.

Historical source[edit]

Watson survived the battle and later spoke with members of his company about his adventures with Thompson at the Little Big Horn while separated from the regiment. He was eventually discharged from the army in 1880. Watson suffered from a significant respiratory illness, which may have been asthma or tuberculosis. Watson returned to the Midwest by train with a private from another company, William Slaper, who later recalled that Watson was intending to go to Grand Rapids, Michigan. No record of Watson’s later life has been found. Noted Indian Wars historian Walter Mason Camp, investigating Thompson's curious account, attempted to locate Watson, without success.

Many years later, Slaper would tell journalist and Western historian E. A. Brininstool that he and Watson were friends, but that Watson did not tell him of any adventure with Peter Thompson at the Little Bighorn. Slaper’s conclusion was that Thompson had made up the story. Brininstool published Slaper’s account in Troopers with Custer in 1925.


  • Brininstool, E. A., Troopers With Custer. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 1994. ISBN 978-0-8117-1742-7.