Friday, August 24, 2012

Custer's Last Stand: stupid is as stupid does

So we traveled the 40 miles north to Sheridan to spend a whole 10 minutes with the dentist who looked, pulled out tube, said "pay at the counter" and out the door.  Well, he did not say pay at the door, and he is a real nice guy...but how can anyone enjoy paying to have someone pull a tooth that you have taken care of for so long?  But it was the right solution, and I am so much better.

After that, we went over to a Subway and got lunch for later....in fact, I got a egg-cheese flat-bread sandwich -- half of which I carefully ate right away, half saved for later.  Got Marcia a Salad, and off to the north we went.  Goal, Custer's Last Stand, i mean, gotta be politically correct now, a visit to the "Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument", which use to be called the "Custer Battlefield National Monument" until politics prevailed back in 1991.  Now, they even have monuments for the fallen Indians....and a casino a stone's throw away from the main entrance.  Oh well....
The "Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument" also includes a National Cemetery.  This cemetery is like other National Cemeteries... they are generally a military cemetery containing the graves of U.S. military personnel, veterans and their spouses (but not exclusively so.)  This is the Custer National Cemetery. 
 The cemetery has remains of some of the men of the 7th Calvary who died over these two days, although most are buried where they fell.  It also the remains of men who died and use to be buried at Fort Phil Kearny and other abandoned post cemeteries.   There are just shy of 5,000 people buried here.
Now when I was a kid, all kids seemed to know about "Custer's Last Stand".  Today, well, who knows how many know about it....  Essentially it was at a time in which America was still growing, and part of the growing pains was greed.  Who knows how many treaties our nation made with various Indian Tribes....I would venture to say that most were broken by American Settlers, and most of these violations were blamed on the Indians, and action was taken  As with many, it was over land and money...and here it was over gold and land...and a combined Lakota-Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho force had enough, and took maters into their own hands.  Put all that together with the arrogance of a man like Custer...well, disaster for the Union was just waiting to happen. 
Above is a picture of the most recognizable monument at the Battle Site.  It lays at the top of the "hill" knows as where Custer's Last Stand took place.  But the battle took place over a number miles, and there is a nice car tour of the battle site which is easy to follow and the information placards help describe the action on that day as it is known...because some of it can only be speculation since there were no survivors in Custer's group.

If you wish to know more about the battle, it is easy to find information about it.  Some feel that the battle, or the outcome of the battle, started with the Battle of the Rosebud, in which General Crook (and his 10 companies of nearly 1,000 men) allowed a small band of Lakota to turn him back from joining Custer.  General Crook went to the area where Sheridan Wyoming is now (site of the infamous Tooth Pulling Episode of earlier this week) where he waited for reinforcements until early August, a few months after Custer and his men were taking their dirt naps.

Even so, on June 25-26th 1876, the 7th Cavalry numbered 700 men.  Of that, Custer had around 220 men, Reno had 150-200 men, Benteen had around 100, another 84 were assigned to the pack train under 1st Lieutenant Edward Gustave Mathey.  Now I know this does not add up to 700 men, so where the others are, who knows.  Essentially, they split up into four groups, with the pack train being one of these groups hanging out in the rear out of harms way.  Reno attacked the Lakota-Cheyenne camp, with Custer cutting around to the north hiding among the hills and gullies to the east, and Benteen going around the east side to "prevent a retreat".  However, someone forgot to count the Indian's strength...which number as few as 1,000 to has high as 2,500, depending upon which historian you listen to.  And that does not include the few thousand women and children who were in the camp too.

Here is a view (above) of where the Indian Camp was directly from the east of the camp.  Custer's Last Stand is to the north of this spot, Reno was attacking from the south of this spot.

It did not take long for Reno to realize that he was in way over his head....the Indian's stood their ground and then forced his troops back, and they had to scramble up this terrain, not an easy feat.  They would have really be in for it, except that the Indians had spotted Custer's advance, and their top priority was to protect the women, children and elderly of the village.  This gave Reno time to regroup and meet up with Lt. Mathey and the pack train and Captain Benteen.  Had Custer retreated to this spot, there was surely enough strength to hold off the Indians until Terry-Gibbon column approached the next.

But Custer continued his advancement, was hit hard by the Indians and forced further north.  His group of 200+ men were separated into three groups, one which was further east of the other two.  

With over a thousand Indians converging upon Custer, cutting down the men as they now fled and tried to regroup to the north, it did not take long....
Above is the east side of the "last stand" hill.  There are many white markers showing where a trooper had fallen, died, and was buried. 
 Above is one shot of the south-west side of the Last Stand hill.  Below is another view, and the white marker with the black markings on it is where Custer fell and was first buried.  He was later moved to West Point, which is where his final resting place is.  He had two bullet wounds, both of which would have been fatal.  One to the heart, one to the head. 
 Below you can see the "hill" as it acsends from the river below.  It is hard to see in the picture, but there are many white markers down there as the men headed up the hill before the effort became futile.
Results:  268 members of the seventh cavalry dead, perhaps 100 Indians dead.  To the Indians, they protected their village, they wiped out the attackers, they won the battle, but eventually lost the war.  To the nation, it gave reason to wipe the Indians off the face of the land.  Custer became the hero he always wanted to be.  They had their scapegoat in Reno for not doing all he could to help support Custer.  Today, we have a great monument to remind all of the past evils that as a Nation we once laid upon a people, how they fought back and won, albeit just temporarily.  And it is a fitting tribute to those who fought, died, and those who lived on to see another day.

About Custer's Body:  Two old Lakota women made statements back in 1920's that they recognized his body out on the battlefield, and prevented warriors from desecrating him by saying that he was a relative.  Monahsetha was daughter of a Cheyenne Chief who was killed in battle in November 1868, and she and other women and children were taken captive.  Custer had a relationship with her during that winter and following spring, and she had a child, and later another child by Custer.  Eventually, Custer's wife told him that he had to give the Indian Woman up, and he did. Custer swore he would never do battle against the Indians again.  These two Indian Women then shoved sewing awls into Custer's  ears, for him to 'hear better in the afterlife' because he had broken his promise to not fight against Indians again.

About Reno: Marcus Reno was the highest-ranking officer serving under Custer.  After Custer and his troops were wiped out, Reno had no clue as to what was going on.  He had been able to get up to high ground about 4 miles away from, yet out-of-view from the on-going action with Custer, and consolidate the troops.  But the Indians found even higher ground and poured down constant gun fire until dark, which resumed again at daybreak.   Late that afternoon, they saw the village being broken down and the Indian's moving off.  On the 27th, General Terry and Colonel Gibbon's forces found them.  In response to charges of cowardice and drunkenness at the Little Big Horn, Reno demanded and granted a Court of Inquiry, which convened in Chicago in 1879.  Nothing came of this Inquiry.  A year later Reno was court martialed for conduct unbecoming an officer, was convicted and dismissed from the service.  He died in Washington DC at the age of 54 in 1889.  Fifty years after the battle, Custer's widow spoke out against a memorial to Reno at the site calling him a coward.  In 1967, at the request of Charles Reno, the Major's great-newphew, a US military review board reviewed the original documents and testimony of Reno's 1880 courth martial, and reversed the decision, ruling his dismissal was improper, and changed his discarge to an honorable discharge.  Originally buried in an unmarked grave in Washington, his remains were re-interred with honors (eleven-gun salute, church ceremony, etc.) in the Custer National Cemetery.  He was the only participant of the Little Bighorn battle to be buried with such honors.

On the way home, Marcia asks me, "Do you think there was ever a time that Custer thought, or said to himself,  "Oh Skata! What have I done?""   My reply was, "I think he was too arrogant for that....but, who knows."   

I think one of Marcia's favorite sayings from a movie really fits here....."stupid is as stupid does...."   We they stopped in Sheridan again on our way home for the most important thing on our list....to buy a Papa Murphey's pizza to take home and cook.   $8 for a large, thin crust two topping (dried tomatoes and mushrooms), I added a few green olives before I cooked it, and between the two of us, it was all gone by 8 pm.   mmmmm....it sure is nice to be able to eat again!

No comments:

Post a Comment

We love to hear comments from our readers. All comments are moderated by Dave before added to the website. Spam, advertisers and rude comments are deleted, and due to high spam attempts, Anonymous Users cannot post, sorry....register for a Google ID, it is free and it is easy to setup.

Recent Comments