Having just toured the Little Big Horn battlefield in Garryowen, Montana, I have a newfound appreciation for what happened there and why.
I won't bore you with the battle particulars, but I found the larger picture painted by Patrick Hill, (firstname.lastname@example.org) our half Crow/half Pawnee tour guide, absolutely riveting.
Here's a concise summary:
Several years prior to the fateful events of June 25, 1876, gold had been discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota. As a result, there was a literal stampede of some 40,000 money-hungry whites anxious to stake a claim.
Sadly, though, the Black Hills were sacred to the Sioux Nation. And, they'd been promised to the Sioux in perpetuity by the U.S. government.
Since no one could stop America's westward movement, our government once again broke its word and the Sioux were forced to relocate to the Big Horn Mountains of Montana (where they'd later encounter the vainglorious Custer).
Our guide likened the Sioux being kicked out of the Black Hills as akin to:
– The Roman Catholics being kicked out of the Vatican City
– The Muslims being moved out of Mecca
– Or, the Jews being jerked out of Jerusalem.
So, when Custer, Reno and Benteen happened upon a massive village of Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho camped along the Little Big Horn River one June day in 1876, it wasn't pretty. But, in retrospect, the slaughter and mutilation of the 7th Cavalry is quite understandable.
Patrick Hill's tales were amazing, and his perspective on man's age-old rationalization of religion as justification for his military or monetary designs certainly holds true today.
I honestly believe the best way to understand today's events is to gain a greater grasp of yesterday's.
Many of us grew up believing the lionized, sanitized version of Custer written by White America. As it turns out, the balanced account relayed by Patrick Hill is much more interesting (and understandable). Now, if only organized religion didn't keep rearing its ugly head.
Any military leader’s record is a mix of good and bad. All the history books I’ve read give Custer very mixed grades. Grant didn’t want Custer out there because he was too reckless. And they bury any general @West Point if he dies with his boots on. So let’s call it a draw, as I’m out of ammo for my dueling pistols.
Dandy lucked out big time on that fateful day, Danderoo. As you know, Dandy was one of two horses Custer owned. He rode Dandy the night before the attack and then switched to Vic (short for Victory) just before heading to his (and Vic’s demise). As for Dandy, the horse has a monument dedicated to its memory in Custer’s hometown of Monroe, Michigan. Timing is everything in life.
I just love that Custer’s horse was named “Dandy” and my birthday is June 25th. Sure, my real name is Dandridge and my parents are not of the equine variety, but nonetheless, it’s damn rare to run into anything that shares my nickname AND my birthday. Put that in your “Who Cares” pipe and smoke it.
Not so fast, Peter. Custer was a superb cavalry officer during the Civil War who stopped Jeb Stuart’s cavalry at Gettysburg and, later, blocked Lee’s retreat west in April of 1865, thereby ending the war. His sheer audacity earned him a brevet promotion to general AND he was asked by the superintendent at West Point to author a textbook on cavalry tactics. As our Native-American scout told us the other day, Custer didn’t do anything foolhardy at the Little Big Horn. He was given vague orders and thought he was catching up to a small group of Indians who were de-camping and trying to evade capture. Instead, he stumbled upon the single largest gathering of multiple tribes in decades. As for the portrayals of Custer, it wasn’t until ‘Little big man’ in the early 1970s that historians began portraying him as something of a rash, bumbling fool. As for the final word, Custer is buried at West Point. Put that in your revisionist peace pipe and smoke it.
And Hollywood with the likes of the dashing Errol Flynn helped advance the myth.
Custer and his destructive strategies have been pretty much discredited since the second half of the 20th Century.
I understand Custer graduated last in his class at West Point. Apparently, his career advances were based on a shortage of officers prior to the Civil War, some sheer stupid luck in same war, and a knack for both military politics and personal publicity (a journalist died at Little Big Horn).
As Obi-Wan, one of my favorite philosophers once said, “There are many truths, depending on your point-of-view.” Thanks for helping us better understand this legend, Steve.