American Imperial Expansion … the bane of every hard-line progressive. It would behoove those so inclined to those beliefs to realize that is the story of the world as we – humans – grew from family units to clans to tribes to Nations. Nations have Borders. The mythical land of the noble Red Man [or, Skin, if I prefer to be politically incorrect] were warring with one another; sometimes, they were nice to us, sometimes not so nice; same for us toward them. They were a tribal people with no sense of a great continent wide Nation. WE were coming from Nations to build a new one. The tribes, many nomadic, never really made a coordinated alliance to run off the invader. Instead, they warred with us, they warred with each other, and they politically did the same. It was tribes against Nations. Nations will win. So, that’s how it was here. But it didn’t begin here, for that is the story of humankind told in countless different ways all across the globe. Africa, is a good place to look. The Zulu King, Shaka, a good example that colonial conquest does not come in any one color. The story, gruesome as it is, is a fascinating one. You may read about it, as there is much written. But, I would highly recommend a video, “Shaka Zulu”. It was originally a 10 part mini-series on TV, so it is long. But it will help you get a sense of another culture in a very entertaining way. The tale is one story told in two parallel versions – that of the Scottish [?] scientist Dr. Henry Flynn, from his journal, and the mystical story as told by Shaka’s mother, Nandi, [I believe, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen this movie] through the Zulu mythology of the High Priestess of the tribe. You will see the brutality, the slavery, the impaling, the utter disregard for life – and Americans had nothing to do with it at all. See it; absorb it; read more about it; there are stories of wars and killings and unholiness all through time. It all did not start with Columbus. If you can accept that, you might be able to see your Country in a much better, compassionate light.
I was living in my little ole apartment for about 4 years. Moved about 2 months ago. While at the little apartment – oh, I don’t know, maybe 2 years in – I began hearing a whippoorwill on a semi-regular basis. Now, I had heard the song of the whippoorwill before, but usually at some distance out in a meadow or field. This was different.
It sounded as if it was right outside my window. It was loud; it was clear. So loud and clear that it didn’t really sound real. My first guess was that my neighbor, an avid hunter/outdoorsman, had some sort of bird call gizmo he was trying out. But, that was not the case.
And, I periodically – over time – continued to hear this whippoorwill. Always loud and clear.
Then, I moved. About 10 miles away. Right in town. Since I’ve been here, I’ve heard the EXACT SAME SOUND. The same clarity. The same feeling that he was right outside my window. Seemed my whippoorwill “friend” had followed me. Last evening, for the second time, I heard him.
At both places, by the way, before you start to think me crazy, visitors to my pad have heard this. It’s NOT in my mind.
Someone suggested it was in my computer. It’s not. I knew it wasn’t but I searched the hard drive extensively for any sound file that could be it, just to be sure. Nothing.
It had to be a whippoorwill. A real one. But, so loud; so clear.
After a quick Internet search, I found the following, rather eerie bit:
Due to the haunting, ethereal song, the Whip-poor-will is the topic of numerous legends and is frequently used as an auditory symbol of rural America. One New England legend says the Whip-poor-will can sense a soul departing, and can capture it as it flees. This is used as a plot device in H. P. Lovecraft’s story The Dunwich Horror. This is likely related to an earlier Native American and general American folk belief that the singing of the birds is a death omen.
Wow! This has haunted me all day!
Originally posted April 9, 2009 ~~~
Edit: For a reason I am too embarrassed to explain, I found out – after all this – that it was not a real whippoorwill at all. Don’t ask! Drove me a bit over the edge, though, for several years. I’m losing it!!
One of my most memorable experiences. July 1974, I guess near Banff, Alberta. Without expectation or warning, our campsite was suddenly in view of a green glow off in the night sky over a ridge. We had no idea what it was. Suddenly, green streaks began emanating across the sky … then pinks, yellows … then they began to move like big jello globs of color up in the sky. We were mesmerized. Once it was figured out what they were, we spontaneously began cheering and clapping. Of all the beautiful sights of nature I have ever looked upon, this was the most magnificent. Two years earlier, I was camped in northern Ontario and slept through them in my tent. Then, while working for the PO up in Connecticut, our office won tickets to a Whalers/Flyers hockey game out in Hartford — about 1989. On the return trip to Sharon, CT., we saw the lights again. Not as spectacular that second time, but pretty enough. Catch ’em, if you can!!
Oh, what a night! We were camped, I think just outside of Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, just off the road somewhere. We pitched tents and were settling in as darkness was falling. Correct me if I am wrong Mindy Shulman O’Neil and Robert Greenberg, but I believe you two were going off to fetch some water – maybe returning [hey, I’m getting old & this was July, 1974!!] – when all of a sudden, Mindy was nailed in the head by a flying rock – source never determined?. She was cut quite badly and you guys headed off to find medical services in Rob’s car. Not too clear on those details because I wasn’t actively involved. It was an inexplicable event … and then … The rest of us, myself, my then girlfriend, Doriel, and good friends Butch, Joanne, Sue & Steve were hanging around camp doing whatever it was we were doing. Over a ridge of mountains, we began to see a green glow in the sky. What the heck? We had no clue what was out there. The Emerald City of OZ maybe? Then, on occasion, streaks of green would emanate from that glow across the northern skies. Then yellow; then pink. Again, what the heck? Never had any of us seen anything like this. What was going on. Impressed, but unimpressed, I retired to my tent. It was not long before I heard yelling, “Come out here”! I rushed out never in a million years expecting the sight that awaited me. The sky had virtually exploded into ever-shifting masses of colors – mostly greens, & yellows, and pinks. It was awe-inspiring and just kept on for hours – until daylight, actually. We sat there for hours – straight as arrows – watching this seemingly endless light show in the sky. At some point, Mindy & Rob returned – Mindy patched up and relatively OK – and took their seats in the audience. Spontaneously, we actually broke into cheers & applause. To this day, it is the most memorable and breathtaking natural wonder I have ever witnessed. It was intense, and though I was fortunate to see this again years later, it was not the same. What was this phenomenon? Why, the Northern Lights, of course! Ah, the beauty & wonder of Nature!
Yesterday [EDIT: actually, September 2, 2011], I was waiting on an elderly man at the counter in Marion. Normal transaction; regular customer. He was purchasing a money order and a stamp. He walked in from the excruciating heat and humidity we’ve been experiencing, and weakly approached me hobbling with his cane. I could immediately tell he wasn’t feeling very well, and asked him if he was OK. “Yes, just the heat.” We proceeded with the transaction, and when it came time to pay, he pulled out his wallet and tried to take out the $290 some-odd dollars to hand to me. He had significant difficulty. He seemed confused, as if he couldn’t figure how much he had taken out of his wallet and how much more he needed. I waited patiently. Finally I asked him, “Are you sure that you are OK?” He replied, “Yes. I’m fine.” Still, he couldn’t take out all the money. I said, “Here, let me help you,” and took hold of his wallet. He seemed like he wanted to let go, but he couldn’t. I gently pulled out his money, counted it out in front of him, and handed the rest back. He tried to put it back in his wallet, but he just crumpled it up and stuffed it in. It was hanging all out, so I took it back, arranged it neatly in his wallet and again handed it back. It was quite apparent that something was askew; I asked him if he’d like to come in the back and sit down and I’d get him a cool glass of water. Again he insisted he was fine and that his friend out in the car would take care of him. About the time I handed him his purchase and change, his cane fell to the floor and he clung to the counter top. I said, “Stay right there. I am going to come around and help you to your car.” I scooted out to the lobby, and just as I reached him, he began to fall. I was able to stop him enough so that he gently leaned on the wall and slowly slumped to the floor without getting hurt. I shouted to another clerk to call 911 and asked a customer to go outside and find his friend. His face went blank and he started to breathe heavily and foam up at his mouth, drooling. Then he began moaning and his body stiffened and his eyes rolled back in his head. He was profusely sweating. I was pretty sure he was having a seizure, maybe a stroke. I unbuttoned his shirt, kept speaking to him softly and rubbing his shoulders just so he knew I was there. This went on for 2 or 3 minutes. Then, it all stopped and I thought for a few seconds that he was dying right there in front of me. Another clerk had come out there with me and was checking his pulse. It was very faint, but there. Then, his eyes opened and with great relief the EMTs arrived and took him away, but not before the gentleman pointed at me and said, “Thank you for helping me”. I gave the money order to the man’s friend. I am certain the man was unaware of what was going on during those few minutes before he opened his eyes, yet he knew I had helped him. I had to hold back the tears and it took several hours for me to fully calm down. Heard later from the hospital that they were running tests, but thought it was a stroke and that he was doing well. Thank God!
Confession: “Oh, Mom … I don’t feel well today. I need to stay home from school.” Mom: touching my forehead, “You don’t feel like you are running a fever. Let me get the thermometer.” “Ooooh … I’m so sick … ooooohhh.” When dear old Mom would come back with the thermometer [oral, I might add], I would dutifully place it under my tongue. When see wasn’t looking, I would put it up against the light bulb in the lamp next to my bed for a few seconds. Mom: looking at the results, “Oh dear, you don’t feel that warm. It’s 102. degrees. You have a fever. Here’s some aspirin. Stay home today.” “Whooooooooooppie!,” was my thought! Worked a couple of times, until one day I left it too long on the bulb and it popped! Ruse over!
I was listening to the Rush Limbaugh show yesterday while I was out for lunch … The insightful, witty, and brilliant Mark Steyn was the guest host. He made some great points during the 45 minutes I was tuned in. One – and I summarize and add my own thoughts:
You can look at this 10th anniversary remembrance of the events of 9/11 as if it were a tragedy — in the sense of some natural disaster. We could all, as much of the media and a segment of the populace do, get all warm and fuzzy and huggy. We could bring brotherhood and “we are all one” rhetoric into it. Play on that theme — all religions and races were victims. Peace, baby.
Or, you can look at it as what it was. An attack on America. A declaration of war. First responders rushing into flaming skyscrapers as everyone else ran out – Todd Beamer – Let’s roll – an ad-hoc militia formed in the sky to do battle. And then, the reactions of a man, who should have been a beloved President of the people instead of despised, who took control, responded, consoled, and held us all together. It is about a war and how the American people would respond to it. That is how the vast majority of us viewed it that day.
Please let’s not have revisionist history take hold a mere 10 years later. [EDIT: … make that 13 now]
When I was a kid, my future occupation, I thought, was to be either a veterinarian or a farmer – something involving animals. By the time I was of college age, in 1970, others things got in the way and I dropped out of school, so that was the end of being a vet. Farming, though, was still a possibility. Actually, it ended up very small-scale – more like homesteading. For years we “homesteaded” up on New York’s East Mountain – http://www.mohicanpress.com/mo11002.html – follow link, if interested – but that practice was continued after moving down to NC. Before moving to Marion, we lived in a farm house in Green Hill, about halfway between Rutherfordton & Lake Lure. Though I had raised chickens and pigs and rabbits and flowers & veggies & goats & fruit trees & berry bushes -even had a Shetland pony – I had never had a cow. So, we bought one from a dairy farmer, a Guernsey. The cow’s name was Jumpy, because as the farmer was frank enough to inform us, she had a penchant for leaping fences. She also had horns. Not the perfect cow, but she had a calf, which was included in the deal. So, we purchased them. Unfortunately, the calf died soon after we bought her, so we were stuck with Jumpy, who proceeded to jump over fences as advertised. Well, one day, she jumped the fence and disappeared. A friend called a few hours later, to tell us that she was spotted grazing on the Lake Lure golf course. Someone had told me that the best way to catch a cow was to lay a noose on the ground, place feed in the center, and then let the cow catch itself, basically. Off I went, noose and bucket of feed in hand, to catch me a cow … my cow. By the time I got there, she had wandered off to the side of the road. She was easily spooked – another good reason to have named her Jumpy – so I proceeded with caution. She was up on a slight rise that paralleled the road; down near the road, was a drainage ditch running alongside the road, just at the bottom of the rise. Trying not to move suddenly, I laid the noose on the ground, shook the pail a bit so she knew what I had, and placed it carefully in the center of the noose. Jumpy strolled over, stuck her snout in the bucket, and was chomping away. I slipped the noose up over her horns and around her neck – it had worked like a charm. I had me a cow!! For a few seconds, anyway. See, the person who told me how to do this had failed to mention – or, I had failed to hear – that it was imperative to tie the other end of the rope around a tree or fence or SOMETHING. I just had it in my hands. As soon as I tightened the noose, Jumpy bolted down to the road. I tell you, I was in the air, off my feet and parallel to the ground. I held on for dear life. Then, SMASH! My shoulder slammed into the ditch, the rope slithered through my hands, and Jumpy was off to the races. OUCH!
Thud … thud … thud … thud … The sound of a Pensy Pinky bouncing off the front gable of my house. Repeatedly. Through 9 innings of my imaginary baseball game. It was always the New York Yankees or the Los Angeles Dodgers playing some other team. Or, maybe against each other in my make-believe World Series. I knew all the line-ups. So, there I’d be, usually on a summer’s evening, bouncing that little rubber ball against the house, fielding it with my old Rawlings glove, and narrating the play-by-play. I never remember my parents complaining. I loved baseball. Still do. My Dad was a big Brooklyn Dodgers fan. I was indoctrinated with all their names from early on … Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Carl Erskine, Gil Hodges, Pee-Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson … the whole crew. But, when they, and the New York Giants, moved to California after the 1957 season, he gave up on them. Worse, there was no National League Baseball in New York. So, I temporarily became a New York Yankees fan. Got to relish that historic 1961 season. Then, along came the Mets and the NL was back! Went to see the Dodgers when they came to town as often as I could. Sunday doubleheaders with a brown bag full of Mom’s meatballs [the BEST] on fresh NY Italian bread. There is absolutely nothing like walking through the runways at a Major League park and seeing that lush green grass appear before you. Then there were the board games … from Bottle-Cap Baseball to Strat-O-Matic [which, I must confess, I still have the computer version on my system for an occasional roll of the dice]. We played for hours up there in the old playroom when we were kids. Knew all the stats, all the players … I collected baseball cards, scorecards, yearbooks, you name it. Ah, but the most fun of all was actually playing baseball. From stickball at the park in Laurelton, across the Belt Parkway, to the fields over at Alden Terrace, Shaw Avenue, Central High, or Fireman’s Field, sometimes on a patch of grass adjacent to the Parkway. We played and played. Oh, forgot the most frequent place … Bombers Field … otherwise known as the street. All summer long we had pickup games there right in the middle of the street in the old neighborhood. I’m not talking about just rubber ball, either. We played softball, rubber-coated hardball, and plain old-fashioned hardball. Smashed many a window. We weren’t sissies about it, of course … diving through hedges, sliding on the pavement … one time, I cracked my knee cap trying to make a running, over the shoulder catch … ran right into a parked car at full speed. Rolled around in pain for a few minutes, then got up and finished the game. Next morning, my left knee was the size of a football. Full leg cast for 6 weeks. Little League, too. I played for a VFW team. We won the championship one year and got to play against the All-Stars … I can remember in the pregame infield practice, making a stellar play on a ground ball way off to my left [I was the 2nd baseman]. The crowd gave me nice applause and I was so proud. Then, during the game, I was forced to make almost the identical play, and I bobbled it for an error. We lost 2-1. Last time I actually played was in 1984, I think it was. Men’s softball league. Got home from a practice one evening just when the dew was forming on the grass and decided to mow the grass. Slipped on a hill and the mower fell on my left foot, taking off a good chunk of my big toe. Watched my dog eat the dismembered part. Weird feeling. Actually, I was pretty lucky that it didn’t take off half my foot, but I could never really run again. Nine weeks before I could return to work. I’m not sure what was more fun, playing or coaching. I coached boys from 8-12 for 5 years. Won 2 championships. Great experience. Nothing like teaching those young men the game I loved. Still do. All this, is my longwinded way of saying that in this first year of retirement [EDIT: originally posted 2-18-2013], and as the Major Leaguers assemble for spring training, I am looking forward to really following my Dodgers for the first time since the Mike Piazza days. They have a pretty good team and am planning to enjoy a good, old-fashioned baseball season! Go Dodgers!! Oh, and I love apple pie, too!
Fairly accurate artist’s rendition of the final moments on Custer Hill
It was June 25, 1876 … a Sunday … 3:03 PM. It was hot. There were some clouds in the sky. As the stillness of a mid-afternoon, southeastern Montana summer dominated the southern end of the huge encampment, sprawled for 3 miles along the western bank of the Little Bighorn River, the Sioux & Cheyenne people gathered here could not remember there ever having been such a large congregation of their people. Here, at this portion of the village, resided the mighty Hunkpapa division of the Sioux … the people of Sitting Bull … given the honor of guarding the rear of the village when on the move. The thunder of horses’ hooves, the blaring call of a bugle, broke the stillness. Warriors quickly answered the call, grabbing their weapons and mounts, and rushing to meet the threat on their homes. The few quickly grew to many; racing their ponies back & forth, creating clouds of dust, which served the dual purpose of obscuring the village from view of the onrushing enemy as well as disguising their actual numbers. This enemy was Major Marcus A. Reno, leading a battalion of the 7th U.S. Cavalry, though the Indians recognized them simply as Blue Coats.
Major Reno, with Companies A, G, and M, plus 35 Arikara Indian scouts, had crossed the Little Bighorn River and charged straight into the unknown, with only the promise to be supported “by the whole outfit” as comfort. The Arikara mission was to capture, or drive off, the huge pony herds grazing peacefully to the west of the village. They were to fail miserably. As they approached the unwary village, its immense size was still not apparent, as many of the lodges were nestled among the Cottonwoods growing along the meandering course of the stream. Hunkpapa warriors, bristling at this bold foray against their children, streamed to the fray. Dust, heat, war whoops, gun shots … Reno called a halt to the charge and had his men form a skirmish line across a portion of the valley, their right flank near the river, every fourth man acting as a horse-holder. In this depleted, post Civil War Army, each company, undermanned as they were, had perhaps 40 officers & men in their ranks. Reduced by the 25% acting as horse holders, it was likely that only 90 soldiers, plus the scouts, strung out thinly on this open ground, to face the might of the Sioux and Cheyenne Nations. A few ponies were taken by the Arikaras, but the mounting pressure of mostly Hunkpapa resistance soon caused these Indians to break and flee, pushing their little trophies along, some never to be seen on the field again. This exposed the left flank of the skirmishers, and as enemy warriors began to encircle from that side, Reno ordered a retreat into the timber along the river.
A half hour after the charge began, the puny battalion found themselves in what some troopers would later say was their very best defensive position. Warriors scurried about and shots continued to be exchanged. Where was the promised support from Custer? How long could they hole up here against what appeared to be hundreds of warriors? And, why weren’t they fleeing, anyway? Though Reno was a Civil War veteran, his experience in the Indian Wars was limited. Custer had assigned his favorite scout, the Arikara, Bloody Knife, to Reno … presumably to stabilize things. A shot rang out. Blood and brains splattered in the Major’s face. Bloody Knife, who had been at Reno’s side, fell dead. Totally unnerved, Reno ordered a mount … then a dismount … then a mount again. He then led a pell-mell retreat, which he later classified as a “charge”, out of the timber back towards the ford at which they had crossed the Little Bighorn some 50 minutes earlier. In all the noise and confusion, some never heard the order, and, fortunately for them, were left behind to fend for themselves in the woods. Much later, under the cover of darkness, they were able to rejoin the entrapped command on the bluffs. The fleeing column, further depleted by these stragglers, raced for their lives, warriors pursuing at their rear and hitting their right flank. It became apparent that they would never make it to the ford. The terrified men, following their even more terrified leader, were forced to cross the river where they were and race for the bluffs. Some died in the timber – Isaiah Dorman, a black man serving as interpreter, was brutally disfigured near the timber’s edge – some were cut down in the river – Lt. Benjamin Hodgson, wounded, grabbed the stirrup of a fellow horseman, was dragged to the opposite bank only to be killed there – others were killed as they sped towards the bluffs, still others were shot as their horses climbed to the top of the bluffs … in all, about a quarter of the command lost their lives scurrying for the safety that was not to be theirs. It was a bloody, harrowing affair … as most of the Arikaras fled, as a dozen or so troopers trembled, hidden in the timber, as 28 or 30 lay strewn along the trail of flight, dead … the terror-stricken remnants reached the top of the bluffs, prepared to fight for their lives … or die. It was 4:10 PM. Inexplicably, the Sioux and Cheyenne, at a time when they probably could have wiped out Reno’s force to a man, withdrew …
Back in 1868, the Sioux, or Lakota, had been ceded these lands by treaty for all time. Then, an 1874 Black Hills expedition, headed by Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer, discovered gold. The resulting flood of miners and settlers caused a boom in the population of the region. Most Sioux and Cheyenne, by this time, were already beginning the transition to the white man’s way. They camped close to the agencies, and were at least partially dependent on the government issues. There were, however, bands still clinging to the old way of life. They shunned the agencies, and even their more domesticated brethren. At all costs, they avoided life on the reservations. They stayed as far away as possible from white encroachment. The U.S. Government, however, issued an order, late in 1875 – after a council had failed to convince the Indians to sell the Black Hills – that any Indian not on the reservation by January 31 would be considered hostile. In the dead of a northern plains winter, to people encumbered by women, children, and all their worldly possessions, with no desire to live in the proximity of the agencies, it was an almost impossible order, and predictably, it was ignored. These “hostiles” would stay in their winter camps.
After a botched winter campaign failed to drive them in, an elaborate 3-pronged pincer campaign was organized for the spring of 1876. Three columns, led by experienced ex-Civil War veterans, would converge on these “wild” bands and forcibly remove them to the reservations. It was, after all, manifest destiny. From the west, a slow moving, even slower acting, column was led by Colonel John Gibbon. Despite locating Indians, they were never able to join the fray. The largest column of the three came from the south, out of Wyoming, and was commanded by General George Crook. Several hundred Crow and Shoshone Indians accompanied this force. Out of Fort Abraham Lincoln, in Dakota Territory – near present-day Bismark, North Dakota – came a column commanded by General Alfred A. Terry. Within this prong, was the Custer-led 7th U. S. Cavalry, acting as its mobile strike force. With virtually no communication between the three isolated forces, it was still expected that they would meet with success. The aim was simple … to converge on the camps and then to be in position to keep them from their inevitable habit of dissipating into thin air.
Meanwhile, for mutual defense, the scattered bands began to join together as one under the protective hand of the powerful Hunkpapa chief and spiritual leader, Sitting Bull. Joining this great camp were Crazy Horse’s Oglalas, Two Moon’s northern Cheyenne, Gall, Crow King, American Horse, Lame White Man, Low Dog, remnants of the eastern Sioux, Dakota, under the famous chief, Inkpaduta – veterans of the Minnesota Uprisings in the early 1860’s – even a handful of Arapahos. It was to become a massive village, of some 10,000 souls, ably led by some of the tribes’ most capable leaders. In any year, young warriors would slip away from the reservations to frolic with their free cousins – hunting buffalo, visiting the old camping sites, participating in the Sun Dance gatherings – but this year, it might be the last such opportunity. Even more than usual headed west. It was unusual, to say the least, for any camp approaching this size to stay together for any amount of time. There were sanitary considerations, hunting complications, and the enormous pony herds would quickly graze the ground bare. This, though, was no ordinary time. The village stayed together and continued to grow in size. Camped near the Rosebud River, just east of Little Bighorn, word spread of an approaching body of Blue Coats. The most renowned war leader of the Lakota Nation, Crazy Horse, rode out with perhaps 800 warriors. It was to be “a good day to die.”
It was not Custer, it was Crook, coming up from the south. It was not the 25th of June, but the 17th. Armed with a ferocity borne of desperation, the Crazy Horse-led warriors, though outnumbered, fought with a stubborn tenacity very much unlike normal Plains Indian warfare. For six hours the battle raged. If not for his Crow and Shoshone allies, Crook would have undoubtedly fared much worse. Still, he turned tail and returned to his Wyoming Territory base to resupply and lick his wounds. Though he claimed victory at the time, as the Sioux and Cheyenne left the field first, his “victory” would have a profound effect, felt one week later, on a sluggish little stream the Crow called the Greasy Grass.
During a vision, experienced during a recent Sun Dance, Sitting Bull saw “soldiers falling into camp.” Pictographs of the vision show these falling soldiers upside down. The Sioux interpreted this vision to mean an attack on their camp, and, certain victory. The Battle of the Rosebud was a mere tune-up for the main event. Having knocked the largest column in the field from the fray, the allied village merely went on their way, eventually crossing into the valley of the Little Bighorn. They nonchalantly awaited the next blow. They were full of confidence. There would be no running away. Had there been any intelligence at all between the three army columns, Custer might have known of the outcome of the Rosebud battle, and, more importantly, of the temper of these Indians. Crook, however, sent no word. With the Gibbon column marching back and forth aimlessly along the Yellowstone to the north, it was going to be up to Terry’s force, and more exactly, Custer’s famed 7th Cavalry, to deal with this improbable gathering of “hostiles”.
Custer was sent into the field by Terry, alone with the 7th Cavalry, after a detachment of the regiment, led by Reno, had earlier discovered the trail of the moving Indian village during a reconnaissance of the Powder, Tongue, and Rosebud valleys. He was sent out with written instructions that left him the leeway to do as he deemed best based on the circumstances he faced. The main consideration was to prevent the Indians from scattering. When encumbered by their village, warriors would normally fight a defensive rear-guard action while the women, children, and old men made good their escape with the belongings. This was foremost on the mind of not only Custer, but the entire military command structure. A pitched battle was thought to be highly unlikely, even though it was known that this array of Indians was likely to be large. Custer fully expected to be outnumbered. Despite this, he denied an offer to bring along Gatling guns – they would impede his march – and a few companies of the 2nd Cavalry. There was nothing, Custer felt, that the 7th couldn’t handle alone. The regiment, taking into account those missing due to being on detached service, as well as those left behind at a supply depot, numbered 647 men, including all enlisted men, officers, civilians, and scouts. They broke off from Terry, on the Yellowstone, the morning of June 22. Terry, who had made a junction with Gibbon’s column, would slowly move down the Bighorn River. The steamboat, Far West, was available to move any wounded. Custer, riding at the head of the 7th Cavalry with Bloody Knife, and the half-Sioux, half-French scout, Mitch Bouyer (or, Boyer), and the Crow scouts – the remainder of the Arikaras flanking the column – headed into the unknown; the aim being to engage the hostile Sioux and Cheyenne. It would be a glorious victory, the allied tribes being gift wrapped for delivery to the agencies in time for the Centennial Celebration.
Custer’s path through this relatively unknown landscape was uneventful, with the exception of ominous, even dire, warnings from his trackers reading the signs of an extremely large village of Indians, apparently not fleeing, but rather, simply, meandering along. They passed the Sun Dance camp and other camping spots. The trail was fresh, and Custer ordered a night march on the 24th, halting the command for rest behind the divide that separated the Rosebud and Little Bighorn valleys. Meanwhile, scouts climbed to a high point on the divide known as the Crow’s Nest. From here, in the early morning light, they could discern smoke from the village situated in the Little Bighorn valley, perhaps fifteen miles distant. On the benchlands to the west, pony herds could be seen, by their squiggling, worm-like movements. They reported back to Custer, who came to see for himself. However, with the heat of the day fast coming on, the haze created caused the lodge smoke to disappear from view. Custer could see nothing. It made no impact on him. He had but the word of his scouts.
The command would rest, behind the divide and out of sight, through the day of the 25th. Then, they would move into position for a dawn strike of the village on the 26th. Certainly, by that time, the scouts would have ascertained the village’s exact location. Everything abruptly changed, however, when after Custer returned to his bivouacked regiment, his brother, Captain Tom Custer and brother-in-law Lt. James Calhoun reported to him that Captain George Yates, commander of F Company, had sent a small detail, under Sgt. Curtis, back on the trail to locate a box of hardtack that had come loose and dropped off. Curtis found the box … he also found several Indians rummaging through it. At his approach, they fled in the direction of the village. This news meant but one thing to Custer … the village would be warned and flee. He had to change plans. The attack must come now.
Crossing the divide, the command halted. Custer made the decision now that would cost him his life. Fearful that the village would scatter and flee, Custer divided his regiment into battalions. It was 12:12 PM on the 25th of June. Senior Captain Frederick W. Benteen, a long time member of the 7th – and one who was not particularly fond of Custer, to say the least – was to take companies D, H and K, off to the southwest. They were to scour the ridges and prevent escape in that direction, then report back to the main command. The remainder of the force continued on along a small creek the Crows knew as Ash Creek, now seen on maps as Reno Creek. Major Reno, with his 3 companies, A, G, and M, traveled the left bank. Custer with companies C, E, F, I, and L took the right. In the rear would be Pack Train – the slow-moving train of mules laden with food, forage, ammunition, and other supplies. Captain Thomas McDougall’s Company B, assigned to accompany this all-important element of the regiment, was now augmented by six members of each of the other 11 companies. The 7th would not be together, as one, again.
About 7 miles, and nearly 2 hours, down the creek, the 8 companies with Custer came upon a lone tepee standing at a previous Indian camping place. Upon investigation, the wrapped body of a warrior, on a burial scaffold, was found within. Unknown at the time, this was a casualty of the Rosebud fight a week earlier. Its effect was to unnerve many of the already uneasy scouts, especially the Arikaras. The troopers coldly set it ablaze. Now, Indians were spotted, in the distance, apparently driving stock and running away. The immediate reaction was that they were fleeing. It was now certain that the village on the Little Bighorn River was aware of their presence, would break camp, and disappear. Action had to be taken. No word yet from Benteen troubled Custer. He ordered Reno ahead towards the dust. He promised support. The two would never again meet.
As Reno engaged in the valley, Custer continued along the right bank of Reno Creek. Maintaining a connection with Reno’s advance through couriers, he then veered to the right, at about the place where Reno crossed the Little Bighorn to begin his charge into the village, and climbed the bluffs. From above, he witnessed a part of the action. From the scurrying activity obvious within the village, Custer received the false impression that the villagers were fleeing, when, in fact, only the non-combatants were doing so; the warriors were rushing to the fight. In any event, Custer was quoted as exclaiming, “We’ve caught them napping, boys!” Sgt. Daniel Kanipe was sent back to locate the pack train and have them move up with all dispatch. The 5 companies then continued on to the north, passing through a narrow defile – called Cedar Coulee – looking for a suitable ford from which to attack the village, thus relieving pressure on Reno while ensuring none of its inhabitants escaped. With the pack train on its way, and Benteen sure to arrive soon, the matter seemed well in hand.
Returning from a brief side trip to a high peak, Custer was aware of Reno’s halt to form skirmishers. He now knew, for certain, that the 7th had a fight on their hands. He gave orders for the Italian immigrant, Giovanni Martini, to have Benteen join up more expediently. Adjutant Lt. W. W. Cooke, uneasy about Martini’s poor English, hastily wrote the order down, and handed it to the courier. It read:
Come on. Big Village.
Be quick. Bring packs.
W. W. Cooke
P.S. Bring Packs.
Martini galloped towards the rear to find Benteen … like Kanipe, his life spared! And, what of Benteen? …
Following orders, Benteen, having a small detachment up ahead, scanned the valley, from a series of ridges, searching for Indians. He found none. Deciding his mission was futile, he had returned to follow Custer’s trail. The General’s younger brother, Boston – who had been accompanying the pack train – had decided to join his brothers at the front, and galloped to the fore. On his way, he overtook Benteen and joined him for a short while, leaving to find his brothers at about 2:37, while Benteen was watering his horses. Nearly an hour later, a group of Arikara’s approached from the opposite direction, leading a small herd of stolen Sioux ponies. Next, Benteen came upon the courier, Sgt. Kanipe, who passed along his news and sped off to locate the pack train, still well to the rear. Nearly 15 minutes later, Martini arrived, handing Benteen Cooke’s written order. It was 3:58. He could hear firing up ahead. Ten minutes earlier, Boston Custer had joined his brothers.
As Custer had done an hour before, Benteen veered to the right and climbed to the top of the bluffs. Reno’s mangled men had just arrived, the Sioux having already departed to meet a new threat further up the valley. Seeing the erratic condition Major Reno found himself in, Benteen, for all intents and purposes, assumed command of the 6 combined companies. He ordered a defensive perimeter be set up, and the troopers began to busy themselves in digging meager entrenchments, caring for the wounded in a makeshift hospital at the center, and awaiting the pack train. Reno’s men were dangerously low on ammunition from their hard fight in the valley. No effort, whatsoever, was made to effect a junction with Custer. Not even a courier was dispatched.
Neither Reno nor Benteen was particularly fond of Custer, Benteen’s intense dislike dating back to the early days of the regiment. In 1868, during the 7th’s successful attack on a sleeping Cheyenne village in Indian Territory – present day Oklahoma, at the Battle of the Washita – a detachment of troops, under a Major Joel Elliott, pursued a group of fleeing Indians. Warriors from nearby camps met with Elliott’s small group and annihilated them. Custer never went to find out what happened. Benteen never forgave him. There were reasons, of course, for Custer’s apparent non-action, but the deep division that would forever haunt the 7th Cavalry had been cut. Its lingering effects would be felt now.
Hearing volley fire down the valley, Captain Thomas Weir, of Company D, requested permission to “ride to the sounds of the firing”. Reportedly, he had a heated argument with either Reno or Benteen – maybe both – and permission was denied. He rode out anyway, alone with his aide at first, then followed by his company, to investigate. It was 5:05. Eventually, the entire command straggled behind, even the late arriving pack train, until they were spread out on the ridge for about a mile. Weir, at the van, reached the high ground that now carries his name – the same peak Custer had earlier seen the size of the village from, prompting him to dispatch Martini – and could see and hear the closing phases of the Custer fight, nearly 3 miles distant. Smoke, and Indians firing into the ground, was all he could see at this late hour, 5:25. Spotted by Indians, the strung out command was forced back as the Indians came upon them in force. One man was lost in the retreat to the defensive position on Reno Hill, as Lt. Edward Godfrey’s Company K provided an organized cover fire. For the next 24 hours, the united Reno/Benteen commands, together with the pack train, would endure a siege atop these bluffs, without water, all the while wondering, “Where was Custer?” No one, for a minute, despite all the evidence to the contrary, thought that harm had befallen the man. Such was the legend of Custer, even as he now lay dead on a little knoll overlooking the Little Bighorn …
Cedar Coulee, the passage Custer now found himself in, opened up into the broad drainage that was Medicine Tail Coulee, which provided an easy descent to the river. Conveniently, it afforded an excellent crossing place into the village. Now aware of its immense size, Custer wanted to wait for his reinforcements to come up. He sent Captain Yates with companies E & F down toward Medicine Tail Ford to investigate the possibilities. It was about 4:08 PM. The remaining 3 companies spread out over a low ridge, now known as Luce Ridge, overlooking the detachment below. This approach caused an alarm to quickly spread from here, the approximate center of the village, to parts distant. The warriors poised to eliminate Reno on the bluffs, were, in effect, recalled. There was a much more serious threat elsewhere.
Only a handful of warriors were on hand, at first, to thwart a crossing here at Medicine Tail. Concealed on the opposite bank, they opened fire on Yates. As with Reno’s charge, a horse or two may have bolted, with its rider, right into the village. Remains of several troopers were later found within the village confines. Other than that possibility, casualties, if any, were light. Resistance, though, was stiff enough to convince Yates a crossing here was not possible. Covered by the fire of Custer on Luce Ridge, Yates began an orderly withdrawal up another draw, Deep Coulee, which joined with Medicine Tail at the river, and headed northeasterly to the high ground ahead. Increasing numbers of warriors, freed from Reno’s aborted charge, began to arrive, and led by an enraged Gall, who had lost several family members from Reno’s fire, began crossing the river. Held back by the volleys of Custer – heard distinctly by the troops back on Reno Hill – Yates was able to fully disengage. Then, Custer headed to the same high ground by crossing over another ridge, Nye-Cartwright. All the while, Indians crept along, sniping at the two moving columns and receiving return fire from the troops. By 4:46, the two battalions had effected a junction at that high ground, known today as Calhoun Hill.
Calhoun Hill was the southern terminus of a ridge, running parallel to the Little Bighorn, that carries the name of Battle Ridge. At its northern end, is another high point, Custer Hill. Running from the ridge, down toward the river to the west, were numerous ravines and gullies, some rather deep, others little more than gentle dips. Any recounting of the happenings in the final minutes of Custer’s command are, necessarily, somewhat speculative. Theories abound, and one can argue endlessly about the merits of one or another. Archaeological evidence, recently unearthed, provides the framework for which to stretch the testimony of the Indian participants, and we now have a much clearer picture of events. Still, points can be disputed. Was it C or E company that broke? Were bodies in Deep Ravine or Cemetery Ravine? Was the action on Custer Hill the climax or the prelude? The mountains of evidence best seem to paint this picture … give or take a stroke …
Indians approached Calhoun Hill from the west and south, their numbers increasing all the while. Custer, ever on the offensive, needed, still, to find a place to cross. He assumed Reno to be holding his own. Benteen and the pack train were surely now on their way. Indian pressure was relatively distant and light. He simply needed to buy some time. Company L, Calhoun’s company, was ordered to deploy as skirmishers to keep the Indians at bay. Companies C and I were kept in reserve. Custer, with companies E and F, continued to the north, along the ridge, still determined to find a suitable ford. The young Crow scout, Curley, was dismissed from duty at Calhoun Hill. He moved to a ridge to the east and watched the battle progress. Then, he left the area to find Terry. A possibly wounded Mitch Bouyer, also given the option to leave, chose to stay with the command. The other Crow scouts had left earlier.
All seemed stablized, and Custer, indeed, did find a ford, past the north end of the village, just past where the National Cemetery now stands. Again, light resistance. He pulled back a distance, towards Custer Hill, and waited … for perhaps as long as 20 minutes. Calhoun was in position to be easily seen by the approaching Benteen. As soon as he came, the 7th Cavalry, united, could attack. Neither Benteen nor Reno would ever arrive.
Aerial view of the battlefield looking south from Custer Hill (bottom left). The National Cemetery can be seen in the lower right. Calhoun Hill is about 2/3’s up the photo along the left edge. You can see Battle Road, which traverses the Ridge, connecting the two hills. Medicine Tail Coulee is visible in the center distance, forming a ‘V’ with Deep Coulee at the river’s edge. Little Bighorn River is towards upper right … the huge Indian encampment lay on the flats beyond.
The regimental standard (top) stayed with the pack train during the battle. Each company carried their own guidon (bottom) to mark their place on the battlefield.
John Stands-In-Timber, a Cheyenne historian, has a very early account of Custer moving along the ridge, past the northern end of the village, and descending to the river near a ford (near the present day National Cemetery) and pausing there for 20 minutes or so. Largely discounted, the new evidence indicates that this indeed did happen. Undoubtedly, Custer was killing time awaiting Benteen’s arrival. He never showed.
With Kanipe & Martini dispatched, Custer sent companies E & F (hereafter referred to as the Left Wing) down to the river at Medicine Tail Ford to investigate. The remaining 3 companies, C, I & L (hereafter referred to as the Right Wing) stayed on a high ridge overlooking the ford. It is this approach to the river, right at the center of the village, that caused the sudden withdrawal of the Indian warriors just as Reno & Benteen had met atop the bluffs … and probably spared their lives. Word spread quickly through the village. A mere handful of Indians were there to greet the Left Wing. They mustered up enough gunfire to thwart any attempt by the cavalry to cross there. More and more Indians arrived on the scene. Gall, the Hunkpapa war leader, who had family members killed as bullets riddled his lodge during Reno’s charge, led this influx of warriors. Meanwhile, Crazy Horse, with mostly Oglalas and Cheyenne, moved in a northerly direction, to eventually sweep around the soldiers’ right flank. The resistance became too stiff, and the Left Wing withdrew up another draw to a knoll now known as Calhoun Hill. The Right Wing moved along the high ground to reach the same point. Warriors trailed the Left Wing’s movement. Once united, Custer left the Right Wing on Calhoun Hill, using Company L as skirmishers (I & C in reserve) to hold the encroaching warriors at bay, and continued on to the north, with the Left Wing, along the high ridge that connected Calhoun & Custer Hills, looking for another suitable river crossing. He was still in an offensive mode. He discovered another good ford, just north of the village, moved down to it, and then pulled up off the river a bit to wait … for Benteen. This was the maneuver Stands-In-Timber spoke of. There was a 20 minute, or so, lull.
Light skirmishing on Calhoun Hill, where the troops would be plainly visible for Benteen to see, was simply a holding action. At the north ford, Custer would wait until Benteen & his other wing would join him. Then they’d charge the village. It all disintegrated quickly, as a sequence of events took place; briefly, it started on the Right Wing … Company C pressed forward, toward the river, in an attempt to drive back Indians approaching from that direction; they were routed. Lame White Man, a Cheyenne, led a charge on this flank, disrupting the reserve companies. Though killed in this action, his move turned the tide. Pressure on Company L mounted. They were overwhelmed by Gall’s warriors, cut down where they stood. The onslaught from Lame White Man’s charge pushed Company I to the far side of the ridge, where they were met, head on, by Crazy Horse, and died in bunches. Remnants of all 3 companies fled along the ridge to Custer Hill. It was a scene of utter panic.
Meanwhile, the Left Wing was also under attack, though not nearly so severely. Company E, nearest the river, caught the brunt of it, losing their mounts in the process. Due to the Indian pressure on them, plus the fury of the attack on the other wing, Company F, accompanied by Custer & the staff officers, moved up to Custer Hill, protected by the skirmish fire of E Company who formed up in a prone position on the side of the hill. By this time, it was too late to save the day. Joined on the hill with the survivors of the Right Wing, there were now, perhaps, 100 men alive, virtually surrounded by hundreds of warriors. Throughout this fight, the warriors, or most of them, fought on foot, using every gully, ravine & clump of brush as cover. They proved to be VERY difficult targets for dismounted cavalry men, exposed on the hillsides, to cope with. Remember, too, every fourth man would be used as a horse holder, so their ranks, in effect, were reduced by 25% – at least as long as they were able to hang on to their horses. A prime objective of the Indians was to scatter the animals. They were successful. At that point, there was no escape.
Using some dead horses as breastworks, the soldiers did what they could. Inexplicably, about 40 suddenly ran, haphazardly, towards the river & the village. They were cut down, many trapped in a “deep” ravine (now known as Deep Ravine!). Others made futile runs to escape in other directions. The fire from the knot of soldiers diminished to the point where the warriors could swoop in and finish the business in hand to hand combat. It was over. Custer’s entire immediate command lay dead; strewn along the ridge, on the slopes, in the ravine. 42, including Custer, his brothers, most of the staff officers, including W.W. Cooke, and several of the company commanders were found on the hill that saw the final action. Lt. James Calhoun, Custer’s brother-in-law, was found at the other end of the ridge, with his Company L mostly still in formation. They had refused to give ground. In all, only 31 warriors were killed on the battlefield (though many more would later die of their wounds, pushing the total upwards of 100), and this figure includes the action engaged in by Reno & Benteen. Yet, 17 warriors were killed here on Calhoun Hill. Company L had made, perhaps, the stiffest resistance.
Custer’s body was found in a group of about 42 dead, in what appeared to be a defensive posture, near the summit of Custer Hill. He had a bullet wound in the chest and the head. Either could have been fatal. Compared to some of the others, he was mildly mutilated; a gash to a thigh, and and arrow shoved up into his genitals. He was stripped naked, except for his socks and the shoe portion of one boot. When found, two days after the fact, the bodies were sun baked & bloated. Flies abounded. The stench must have been horrific. It is said that his expression was peaceful! On top of that little bit of grassy high ground, known as Custer Hill today, stands a plain monument under which are the remains of most of the fallen troopers. The surrounding area looks much today as it did in 1876. Soon, a monument will be erected nearby – A salute to the Indian warriors who defended their homes that bloody Sunday.
Meanwhile, the victorious Indians turned their attention to the besieged men on the bluffs at Reno Hill. Driving back Weir’s belated rescue attempt, they forced the surviving members of the 7th to endure another 24 hours of peril. Trapped on the bluff, several cavalrymen earned medals of honor by scurrying down to the river, attracting hostile fire, to gather water for the troopers, many of whom were wounded. Benteen, though possibly derelict in his duty to Custer, was anything but to the remnants of the 7th Cavalry, at one point even organizing a bold charge to drive encroaching warriors back. Late in the day of the 26th, the huge encampment struck their lodges and moved south, in impressive regimental formations, towards the Bighorn Mountains. They had had enough. Scouts reported the presence of even more Blue Coats – the united Terry/Gibbon column – moving cautiously down the valley. The grass was burned before them, and the village moved off to temporary safety. The Battle of the Little Bighorn was over. The next morning, scouting parties from the two army contingents met up, the parched, white bodies were discovered, and the burial details were begun.
It was a tragic day. All told, Custer’s regiment lost 268 men. Many of the survivors, Reno, Benteen & Weir among them, never recovered from the emotional trauma. For the Sioux and Cheyenne, though a glorious victory, it was the beginning of the end. The Army’s resolve was strengthened in the wake of this unbelievable defeat that marred the Centennial Celebration. The once again scattered bands were to be hounded relentlessly through the winter. Though not militarily conquered in combat, most bands had no choice but to surrender as lodges were burned, food was short, and women and children had to be considered. Even Crazy Horse’s band surrendered, in an almost triumphant parade, at Fort Robinson in May of 1877. Like Custer, he too would soon be betrayed by his own, and die a most unfitting death. Sitting Bull slipped into Canada for a few uncomfortable years, and then decided to surrender to the U.S. After years on the reservation, he became a scapegoat during the Ghost Dance period, and was killed by Indian police. Soon after, the ultimate tragedy took place at Wounded Knee, and the old ways for these proud people were gone … forever.
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
There is no place in the United States like this. Not only is there history and heroism, but there are “ghosts.” The place is alive with those who fought and died here on this ground in a still remote area of southeastern Montana. Contributing mightily to this aura is the utter lack of monuments. In their stead are the white markers which mark the place where each dead soldier was found. Coupled with the still stark landscape, much resembling what was in 1876, the effect is a chilling and haunting eeriness. It is a powerful place. Visit!
As an avid Dallas Cowboys fan, I despise the Washington Redskins and don’t care what they will inevitably change their name to because of PC pressure – Deadskins has always been fine with me. But, Bob Costas aside, nobody uses the term “Redskins” in a derogatory way. Their emblem on their helmets depicts a proud, dignified American Indian. First recorded use of the term was in a letter from a colonist, Samuel Smith,
“”My father ever declardt there would not be so much to feare iff ye Red Skins was treated with suche mixture of Justice & Authority as they cld understand”.
Renowned Smithsonian linguist, Ives Goddard, thinks the letter a fake. He states that the first use was actually by an American Indian himself – Illinois chief, Mosquito, in 1769 –
“I shall be pleased to have you come to speak to me yourself. And if any redskins do you harm, I shall be able to look out for you even at the peril of my life.”
Had a lot to do with red paint on their skin. Not derogatory then; not derogatory now. Much ado about nothing.