|The Pipes, The Pipes|
|Thoughts on Weir Point on the 129th Anniversary|
She saw men wading through heavy streams.
Some were oath breakers, others had murdered,
some had lured women to love.
There the serpent sucks on corpses,
The Wolf rends dead men.
Seek you wisdom still?
"Voluspa" from the Elder Edda, translated by Patricia Terry
The Pipes, the Pipes.......
In keeping with Federal inclination established during the Civil
War of which he was a hero, both of Lt. Colonel George Custer's battles against
the western aborigines of the
The Last Stand and the
Each event is currently
denoted by a separate federal preserve.
Heading south from the
Custer battlefield, the road only nears the Little Bighorn at one point, near
the delta of Medicine Tail Coulee, a drainage stream that flows from the
eastern high ground. Then it weaves
around for another mile and a half and bisects a double peaked ridge as it
heads south to the
It is here all that mattered happened.
When the would-be rescuers peered north from this same hill, the only activity they said they saw was of Indians firing into the ground about three miles away. They said it was hard to see through the dust. And it still is.
Weir Point is the western peak of the ridge bifurcated by the battlefield road, which lowered the connecting saddle when it was built. In a genial conversation on the shattering events and decisions that took place here, over one hundred twenty-five years ago, you can easily trace events back to the Civil War and Revolution; in fact, back to the Conquest, and all the preceding European, African, and Asian events that had tremendous impact on our world. There is obvious and direct lineage to events of the present day, along with confrontation with the myriad values and hypocrisies of our nation, our government. To consider Weir Point, you must be prepared to review breathtaking acts of compassion and cruelty and the ridiculous myths that permeate our history. You can also rather easily scrape away some of the garbage and meet some remarkable people, ‘coppertoned and pink,’ who, upon time spent with them, provide much illumination on how to read history, journalism, stories and derive some accuracy, sometimes elevated to “truth.”
At least, how to be fair and judge accurately from available evidence.
If you sometimes feel an unseen presence on Weir Point, even in broad daylight with the remarkably affectionate cows lowing around you, you are not the first.
Weir Point is named for
Captain Thomas Weir, who died only six months after he sought its summit. A subordinate of Benteen, Weir was the
officer that had first rode from the
Weir said he thought he had heard signals, possibly for help, from up north by means of measured carbine volley, and he set off with only an orderly from what is now called the Reno-Benteen battlefield while his own company, and eventually the whole command, mounted up and followed him. It is assumed by the time he arrived at this steep hill that his friend was likely beyond help, and after about twenty minutes seething around in frustration and fear, the command was forced to defend its retreat back to the spot where several other officers also thought they had heard the volleys, there to sit out the next day or so under the nominal command of someone Weir, and many others, despised.
He never forgave himself or any of his fellow officers for their inability to save his commander, although most likely that failure saved their lives. He died in New York of "congestion of the brain" (ending in pneumonia), Edgar Poe’s final diagnosis, which could mean an aneurysm or be one of the convenient euphemisms for alcoholic excess or tuberculoses or insanity by sexual disease, like syphilis. It may have been severe depression. He was certainly not totally well in his last months, if his letters are an accurate reflection.
Some of those letters are to Custer's widow Elizabeth, with whom he was rumored to have shared a mutual crush, perhaps more, likely not. Living with small groups of people in a harsh environment for a long period required political skills and sublimation of desire that could not have promoted mental health. In any case, he wrote that he had much to tell her about her husband and his fate and would only do it when they were alone and nobody else (a fellow officer from Weir Point, it should be suggested) was around. It is quite the case that few of the fellow officers had much to brag about, just about all had something to hide. Worse, the late husband could hardly avoid his share of the blame for the deaths of hundreds of men; his decisions seemed contradictory, at odds with what information he knew at the time. Still, perhaps Custer's plan, apparently constructed on the fly, could have worked. It always had before.
All of that may have crowded around Thomas Weir as he sat on his horse on the rise of ground that forever would bear his name, although he would never know it.
There is not much room at
the summit of Weir Point, and he could not have arrived very far from where I
sit, and could not have seen much beyond what I see, likely lots less. His minutes
on the point were blinded by the dust of hundreds of horses and men in battle
in the acres around him. It was a hot
The lizard lethargic Little
Bighorn River is decidedly more impressive than Rosebud Creek, its arguably
damp eastern neighbor on the other side of the
What is so fascinating about
This, I warn you, gets very annoying. It should be easy. These are events that took place within a short period to which there is appended a great deal of direct and circumstantial evidence. Contrary to the image of Custer riding off into mystery and myth, there is as much or more evidence about what happened to Custer than there is to, say, certain units of American soldiers in Vietnam likely hit by friendly fire, Amelia Earhart, or the shootdown of UN helicopters by American planes. The mystery is not on the field; the mystery is in the actions of Custer and the men above who empowered him and those below who followed him and how they presented their actions to a press with an agenda. Further, Custer’s enduring fascination to a rather large segment of the generally male population is also a mystery to the rest, including those who find the display in the battlefield museum of his jock strap more revealing about his supplicants than the General himself.
Of the world’s alleged military mysteries, the Little Bighorn has ranked oddly high, where it logically does not belong. There were, after all, battles of great importance to the history of the world whose minute by minute accounting are notably absent from the interest of historians. While nobody spends as much time, money, and archeological effort to discover if the official story of the Battle of Waterloo is true, or why, for example, France fell in 1940, or why MacArthur, despite ample warning, was so utterly surprised in the Philippines, a dedicated and growing cadre of official and unofficial Custer Buffs patrol the ground, where some have stolen found items, and some appropriately turn them in. Custer Buffs for years to come will apparently be brushing off tin cans and buttons from the field, whether from garbage dump or hasty grave, reverently laying bits of bone to rest, tracing footsteps, applying time/motion study, drawing sweeping conclusions from two shell casings and a bullet, and subjecting the dead to in-depth analysis until, perhaps, we have the exact posture, exact mood, time, and method of every man's death and who struck the blows.
So it must be asked, to what end?
It is hard to shove aside
the belief that much of the interest in Custer hovers around the primordial
fear of how each of us will face death.
Confronted by what Custer’s battalion saw in its penultimate few
minutes, would we have risen to the moment and been worthy, or would we have
panicked in sobs? I myself am quite
certain I would have been incontinent and busily arranging the horses and
wounded for my own protection. All of
the paintings of the battle -- and it is the most painted event in our history
-- take great pains to represent all combatants as heroic or at least
functioning, which they may have been, but clearly indicates a felt need to
impose that view and ignore other
George Armstrong Custer is remarkably frustrating to recall because he stirs up such emotions even so long after he was killed. Though he is best remembered for the Last Stand, he was a celebrity long before. It is the only defeat ever associated with his name, for he was one of the golden soldiers of the Civil War; he was, in fact, one of the youngest General officers in our history, although that rank -- in those days when the Army was still suffering from the Von Steuben influence of no or few medals -- was brevet, which means temporary and in effect granted a cash reward. After the war, he ended up a mere Lt. Colonel, although out of politeness, the higher brevet rank was used as an accepted form of address if not in official business. He was an extremely aggressive and energetic leader, even his enemies admit, and always led the charge, was always was in the thick of the fight.
Why he was promoted to general rank when he was remains almost a complete enigma by today’s standards, although understandable at the time. Even though his casualties were always among the highest - perhaps the highest per capita of any commander in the Civil War except Robert Lee - for the most part his Civil War commands had solid regard for him, because he won and because he looked the part. If he became or was always overconfident, brash, and slapdash in his leadership style, it cannot be said he had no basis for that approach. Those who try to make him out as blindly consumed with ambition, or even clinically insane, are simply foolish. One cannot rise to the rank of general by age twenty-three without political and social skills. You cannot fake physical bravery although it can be misdiagnosed: an absence of fear sometimes leaves the same impression, but the brave person must overcome fear. What, if anything, kept Custer awake at night or drove him to his excessive, exhausting and mind numbing activity is unknown, even though logic dictates it would be essential to this discussion.
Fear was a major portion of the emotional makeup of all cavalrymen during the Indian Wars, with good reason. The plains Indians, in constant torment from their white invaders, were equally terrified of their opponents. Parents of both people scared their children with threats of the other. Although a soldier's chances of being hurt by the enemy during the Indian Wars was certainly a lot less than those in the Civil War, there was the sudden unexpectedness of combat on the plains that was terrifying to the military recruits. That and the mutilations, which were reportedly even worse than those performed by the 'brotherly' combatants of the North and South in the unpleasantness just ended.
It is likely that mutilation
was performed on virtually all of Custer's command. This universal habit of
war, which so ostentatiously repels civilized people, was performed on the dead
because the aborigines wanted their enemies to show up in the spirit world
looking as silly as possible. Therefore,
genitalia were removed and placed within mouths. Heads were often pounded to mush, and the
body was slashed ritualistically, according to the standards of each
tribe. It is doubtful that Indians were
so immune to human anger and impulse that they were constantly able to
restrain themselves till their victims stopped quivering. It is known that white men often
cannot. It is not likely anyone can
overcome primal urges properly stimulated.
Hittites and Egyptians used to cut off parts of the others’ dead so the
body count could be obtained: sometimes feet, sometimes hands from one side or
the other of the body. So it goes way
back, probably starting as a way to prove you killed an enemy to receive
compensation from your leader or a kiss from the wife. Scalping in
Mutilation is hardly a creation
of the last century, but it seems to survive only as an ancient, primordial
attempt to sexually disfigure and humiliate. When the Oglalah Crazy Horse was a
boy and called Curly, he witnessed the residue of an attack by United States
Cavalry that left Indian women with scalped genitalia, and not unreasonably it
is assumed that this had a powerful affect on his world outlook, not to mention
his inner child. But during the 1980's,
when Lebanese Phalangist troops were allowed by the Israelis back into areas
controlled by rival militia, a gruesome slaughter ensued. "Breasts and penises were had been
carved off; a Christian cross was carved into the flesh of some of the
victims. Pregnant women had their wombs
torn open." It can be, and has been, worse. Sometimes, the victims are not even dead when
the atrocities occur. Recent events in the remnants of
The perceived viciousness of
barbaric peoples permeates history which is, in conformance to cliché, written
by the winners, and presents as a cause of repulsion and curiosity. For example, Samuel Johnson, who wrote the
first English dictionary in the mid 18th century, considered the Scots
sub-human and barbaric in the extreme. His dictionary so reflects this view and
was commonly accepted by the British people as a truism. The reasons for this
were many and justified, mostly because in the wars fought with Scotland during
the previous few centuries, British soldiers returned with terrifying tales of
fighting the Scottish Highland clans, whose members were not adverse to severing
biologic keepsakes of their opponents, whatever the pro
In later years, Scots learned that spear chuckers and sword swingers standing in front of crabby and brightly clad soldiers armed with muskets briskly shrank the genetic pool. As a result, they developed a rather obvious but effective method of fighting the English. The Scots would hide while the British marched towards them. Then they would charge in a spirited and disorganized fashion, waving their heavy two-handed broadswords, called claymores, above their heads. Like their counterparts, they noted and listened to the British officers. The British riflemen would stop and form, just as Tennyson later recalled and exhorted. The Scots ignored this, and kept charging.
The riflemen would set, aim,
and just before the rhythmically predictable order to fire, the Scots would hit
the dirt. More often than not, the
wildly inaccurate muskets would be fired way over their heads. The British front line would reload their
complicated weapons, a timed process still used to measure the progress of
glaciers in parts of northern
Eventually, a few things
combined to defeat this obvious and basic tactic. It took the British a while to figure it
out. First, watch the timing. Second, fix bayonets. Third, perhaps the most effective if least
admitted: make sure the French provide military advisors to your enemy. By the 1745 Jacobite rebellion of the
Highlanders, this was a terminal error for the Scots, who now fought in
disciplined and pointless phalanxes just as the British, only with worse
weaponry and a diseased army. It took
Napoleon to save the French military, but
Of course, such British
military flexibility immediately went away in time for the 1775 colonial
But back to the reality of
That Rob Roy and Ivanhoe,
popular characters in English fiction, were about as grounded in reality as
tall, Nordic, lisping Caesars -- or leprechauns, or Shakespeare's historical
accuracy -- rarely seeps into our image of
For about a year after the
battle, the humorously named Bonnie Prince Charlie was rowed and borne around
One of the alleged lovers’
last domiciles in the Hebrides was the
While Charles Stuart and La
MacDonald were fulfilling romantic convention for - and underwritten by - the
people, in conformance to historic realism the peasantry of
This was accomplished by the
literal decimation of the population.
The Scottish hoi-poloi,
however, because of the new laws (which were: you cannot own land anymore. We
need it for these altogether interesting sheep.
Bye.) and no money and terrible crops, had to leave, and they went to
Highland Scots, when they
arrived in the new world, managed to avoid the British as much as possible,
heading for the wilds of
Later in western Canada,
where Scottish names claim the landscape from Calgary to the Fraser River, the
erstwhile tribal Scots, now in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or in the British
Army, came across groups of proud, war-loving, extended families, often
nomadic, whose means of obtaining food and the land they got it from was under
threat from a large, obtuse Imperial government just across a vast border, a
government that found them animal-like and of no more importance than an
insect. To this government, the only
morally acceptable status for the natives was achieved in death. This rang carillons of bells to
Highland Scots, and to a
lesser extent those nearer the British border, were a chaotic brew of Irish,
native Celts, and a heady admixture of Norse Vikings from
"And I understood that, madman or seer as he might be, he knowingly wanted to die because he believed that in dying he would defeat his enemy, whoever it was. I am overwhelmed with admiration and fear."
Norse) hero can prove what he is only by dying. The power of good is shown not
by triumphantly conquering evil, but by continuing to resist evil while facing certain defeat. Such an attitude toward life seems at first
sight fatalistic, but actually the decrees of an inexorable fate played no more
part in the Norseman's scheme of existence than predestination did in St.
Paul's or in that of his militant Pro
A certain Mr. Cox watched the Flatheads torture a Blackfoot. Not only did the captive endure it without wincing, he taunted his captors, jeered at their best efforts, and told them they knew nothing about the business. While they were shortening his fingers a joint at a time he addressed a one-eyed Flathead as follows: "It was by my arrow that you lost your eye," whereupon the enraged Flathead scooped out one of the Blackfoot's eyes with a knife and almost cut his nose in half. "I killed your brother, and I scalped your old fool of a father," said the Blackfoot to another, whereupon the second Flathead leaped forward, scalped him, and was about to stab him when the Flathead chief interfered. Says Mr. Cox: "The raw skull, bloody socket, and mutilated nose presented an horrific appearance, but by no means changed his attitude of defiance." Then said the irrepressible Blackfoot to the chief: "It was I that made your wife a prisoner last fall; we put out her eyes; we tore out her tongue; we treated her like a dog. Forty of our young warriors. . ." At which point the Flathead chief shot him through the heart.
They seized the warrior - there was no other way -
they couldn't let the hero live any longer;
laughed then Hogni - all the men heard him -
he knew how to steel himself to stand the torture.
'No!' said Aragorn, taking his hand and kissing his brow. 'You have conquered. Few have gained such a victory. Be at peace.' ....But Borimor did not speak again.
Although many cultures share
similar bloodthirsty tales and attitudes, the Scots - the same homogenized
Scots ironically presented to the world by British literature - bow to nobody
in their tales of gore, revenge, and battle.
Feuds among the clans in the
During the time of the
crusades, a Scottish warrior -- a knight, a member of a high caste warrior
society like the Sioux Brave Hearts -- carried, in a small casket, the heart of
a valued friend and clan leader, a member of the
Carillons of bells.
It remains something of a
hideous embarrassment that
Those forts were built for two purposes. First, they were generally placed to protect railroads and wagon trails. Second, they were there to encourage peace between the tribes, a fascinating concept then but a topic no longer politically correct today for two reasons. One, the Native Americans do not like to have their internecine warfare recalled for current political purposes and, two, the United States is still applying this most interesting theory around the world with much the same success that makes contemplation of our history with aborigines worth a visit to the bar, legal or damp.
One of the most obvious failures of revisionist historians since the 1960’s has been the elevation of Indian culture into ridiculous myth as a perfect spiritual lifestyle of peace and harmony with nature and each other. In reality, the only thing that kept Native Americans from utterly despoiling the land was their high death and low birth rate, a certain portion of which was due to each other. In this, they are almost exactly replicate of the Scots and English, who destroyed their lovely, ancient forests and left much of the land fit only for sheep and their herders. Like the Highlanders, and their Viking antecedents, most of the nomadic plains Indians loved war, lusted for it. It was the key to social standing and wealth. Most tribes had the horse for less that one hundred and fifty years before the reservations loomed, and despite all the white myths about Indian culture, the horse had done little besides provide a new currency and give lots more free time to the men, not noted for helping around the camp, developing hobbies, a written language, or the wheel. As a result, the tribes had more time to spend warring against each other.
So the forts were there in
part to act as calming agents to the wars between the tribes, at best a
questionable concept. The white
Americans never quite understood -- or so professed -- that Indians did not look upon war as an
evil, a symbol of civilization's failures, diplomacy's blunders. They looked upon war as a
The Indians refused to give
up their culture, primarily because little enough was open to them in the new
world of the white man, and then because many white Americans wanted to keep
the reservations as their very own Enlightenment theme park of Rousseau’s noble
savage, much as the British viewed Scotland.
With the frontier gone, the image was needed more than ever. This pretend world had diverse, distorting
and sad results. What in retrospect are
clearly seen as an advanced cases of institutionalized, hallucinogenic cabin
fever are presented by the re-revisionists and nuevo romantics as spiritual
visions and religious moments, although these could undoubtedly be replicated
by sitting people for long periods in a
Anglo-American culture today comes under vicious attack because it has been so successful. What is meant when you call a culture successful? Well, longevity for one, flexibility for another, finding points of commonality between the people as high up the ethical pole as possible. That is the role of myth, religion, and law to civilization. In exaggerated example, it would not be as successful to unite warring street gangs by pointing out common appetites like drive-bys and drugs. It would be better to find points of common aspirations in their music and hopes. Further, people need to feel necessary to the health and well being of their immediate commonweal. If they do not, and are not fooled by make-work enterprises and job training for non-existent, non-relevant jobs, deep and broad social depression is their fate. However, one necessity might be an increase, a substantial increase, in free time; i.e., time not needed for hunting, growing, clothing, or protecting oneself. Time for brooding, thinking, creating, and enjoying.
Plains' Indian culture was
barbaric in the academic sense, and because their tribes were so much alike, it
was a culture of division and separateness, going to extreme lengths to find
distinctions. In just about all their
languages, for example, their tribal names meant Us the Human Beings whereas
they called their enemies animal names with unpleasant implications. They desecrated each other's religious totems
and enslaved each other. They killed
women and children and sometimes violated understood taboos and raped those
they kept. They lived for revenge, and
wore body parts of slain enemies. They
saw no ethical flaw in torture since it granted an opportunity to the victim
for cultural vindication. They were, in
direct comparison, at about the same level of moral development as the
Europeans, who even after the Discovery impaled and raped their enemies, burned
their insane, slaughtered each other to no evident military purpose but giving
great satisfaction to racist psychotics.
They performed human
sacrifice in a very few extreme cases, the Pawnee being the most obvious
example on the plains, but this was widely considered awful by their
neighbors. In short, they were very much
like everyone else all across the planet.
It is worth noting that cultures which have a small population in relation to their physical environment value human life more than over-populated cultures. Religious reasons evolve to justify both points of view. The slaughter of an enemy’s infants was, like the Spanish killing of the bull, a transferred and ironic demonstration of courage; since children were the most strongly defended items by warriors in the other camp, a necklace of children’s hands was a sign of great courage, implying what had to be overcome. The North American plains Indians’ wars were often just male potency rituals, where the idea was to show courage and not necessarily to kill the opponent. In direct comparison to Northern Europeans, where “...ritual confrontation rather than bloodletting...” and “....even the most grievous passages of arms were fought out within the mutually recognized bounds of time-honored protocols....”, Native Americans are remarkable for their similarities rather than their distinctions to their conquerors.
Thus, tribes of only several
hundred people could war on each other for years and do very little real
damage, although this could immediately change according to how plentiful food
supplies were. In over-populated
As our own nation becomes
more overpopulated, euthanasia and suicide are viewed more and more favorably in
direct contrast to its immediate European heritage of life after the Black
Before the patriarchal religions arose, it was not the dewy-eyed virgin whose sacrificial death improved the coming harvest but that of the great stud himself. When women ruled, the stag was the sacrificial animal, most impressively demonstrated by Artermis or Diana the Huntress and her cults. Perhaps due to the observation that deer shed their horns and visibly re-grew their male potency each summer, it was concluded that the warrior king must die each year in reality so that symbolically the tribe or village might be revitalized by a younger man.
In many communities, but
especially those still subject to the odd mini-ice age, the relationship
between population and the village’s health was well known and acted upon. In
The term ‘exposure’ today
puts most in mind of wild-eyed men in raincoats and nothing else, but for most
of our existence exposure was a well understood and institutionalized form of
population control. Religions score
politically correct points by announcing their hatred of abortion, which is a
difficult and dangerous form of birth control, but they skip over discussion of
this ignored topic. History teaches us
that exposure was the horrid practice of the militant Spartans in ancient
How many people know what an
utburg is? Not very long ago, utburgs were the blamed
characters for the tortured dreams of many demented and old (twenty-five years and up) women. In northern Europe, rural and totally
dependent upon short growing seasons and diminishing game every year, a
tradition once considered the sole provenance of ancient
So common was this rite of exposure that Scandinavian women were subject to fits of dementia attributed to the visits of the utbergs. This occurred well into the age of Christianity, and there are stories that it continues in many parts of the world today. It takes no subscription to Psychology Today to see this budding guilt as a weakening of the old religions and the coincidental improvement of modulated food supplies. Exposure would soon be viewed as murder.
When contemplating the newborn, it would be hard to tell what definition of 'weak' might occur to the village elders. Females, for example, might be viewed as such by a warrior chief desperate for men and not willing to spend twelve years of food to produce another breeder, who could be stolen from another tribe. A father, with sufficient children in advantageous proportion, might view a daughter as a burden whose life and wedding had to be paid for and whose potential beauty, judged by the mother and himself, may not bring enough of a bride price to offset the expense. Any new mouth might be "weak" in view of the recent drought and spring flood that destroyed the bottom land and suggesting the whole village might need to move soon. (Unlike rabbits, women cannot reabsorb a fetus if food gets scarce.)
Common sense might suggest
that the winnowing away of excess female children, with the resultant excessive
competition for wives later on, might explain a lot of our species’ history.
Certainly, it plays a role. There are
places around the world today, including the Kurile islands and other remote
Abortion, the subject that
so lacerates rational thought today, is often the subject of religious
discussion of its moral dimensions, i.e., whether or not it is murder. Christianity, a religion that evolved in
It is also worth noting that culture does not change unless it must, at which point it busies itself with explanations, normally of a religious nature. Change today is very quick because of the rapid pace of technology; but it was not always so. If a Sioux or Scottish tribe four hundred years ago could feed itself and coincidentally fill just about all its free time in keeping itself alive, there would be little advancement. When the horse hit the American plains cultures, there was suddenly a lot more free time for the men. Yet, it changed the culture very little except for war and the backs of women who would have had to pull what horses now carried. Unless the buffalo population decreased to the point where other forms of food would have to be substituted, there was no need to change. It is an attitude common in cultural groups and military ones.
As population pressures rose
in the continental US, attitudes did change among the tribes, culminating in
the pathetic ghost dance and
It is often a distant and
dark view from Weir Point. "...of
all the places in
Below Weir Point - along the
western side of the Little Bighorn - was once one of the largest known
gatherings of Plains Indians in history.
Perhaps four, perhaps ten thousand people, their things, their food, their
horses. In the hot June of 1876, Sioux
swains would cut the bark off the cottonwoods by the river, and from the trees'
secretions they would make a foamy mixture; when cooled in a container in the
Spring runoff from the
One of the first things noticed
when one begins to read actual history of the American West, is that while
there were people of remarkable physical skills in fighting, tracking, scouting
and general observation, there were seemingly few of them. Studying the Indian wars is a perusal of
battles in which one or the other parties involved was utterly surprised. This applies to the wars between the tribes
as well. The
The prototype of the superb
(white) frontiersman, and early on recognized as such, was born in Becks County
Pennsylvania in 1734, to a Quaker family.
Working as a hunter and trapper in the
It was not the only time
that Daniel Boone ran, and it is true that his later exploits were exaggerated
for profit by J. Filson, a friend and proto-novelist whose The Discovery,
Settlement and present (sic) State of Kentucke illuminated the ranks of
real estate boomer literature in 1784, setting the standard for American
frontier mythology by including an utterly fictitious autobiography of
Boone. The fallout of that chapter
permeated American mythology for well
over one hundred years, directly inspiring Parson Weems’ odd treatment of
Washington, Davy Crockett's treatment of himself, Ned Buntline's handling of
Wyatt Earp and Frederick Whitakers' homage to Custer. But of all the people who played a role in
the conquest of
J. J. Audobon, a trained and exquisite observer - at least of birds - met Boone when Daniel was an old man and yet was so awed he described him physically as "gigantic." Boone's son Nathan was less histrionic, and noted his father was only about five foot eight, weighed about one hundred and seventy-five pounds, and was fair of skin and blue of eye, born out by the few paintings that exist. That Boone cast a huge presence in any gathering must be assumed, since few Americans were so world famous as to have been included, as Boone was, in a poem of Lord Byron's. What Boone thought of his public persona must have provided some inner conflict, for the cameo he received in Byron's Don Juan is somewhat at odds with his evident claim that Filson's mythology was true, "every word."
Boone was not given to undue modesty, and his assessment of his abilities in the wilderness may be well founded. Certainly, he had a sense of humor, and a self-deprecating one, and this is hardly the stigmata of the fool or one given to believing his own myths. "I can't say I was ever lost," he allowed in old age, "but I was bewildered once for three days."
In 1765, he traveled to northern
The real life people on whom
fictional characters are based are far more interesting than their literary or
cinematic equivilants. Roy Chapman
Andrews, a legendary paleontologist, traveled in search of fossils to many
exotic places, including
In any case, the icon of the frontiersman, later emulated by everyone from Davy Crockett to Kit Carson to Buffalo Bill to George Custer, are but variations on the theme of Daniel Boone. Certainly, Boone was not the man to dare, taunt, or annoy.
When two of his daughters
were captured in his absence by the
In 1778, Boone himself was
captured by the
He moved to
If so, the army screwed up
in disallowing this remarkable specimen.
For during his sixties and seventies, Boone had traveled widely
throughout the Louisiana Purchase, perhaps as far as Yellowstone in
Boone was a remarkably tolerant and open-minded family man, marrying a smart, tough and fecund woman who gave him ten children, two of which were killed by Indians, and one of whom was the result of an affair with his brother when she had reason to believe Boone had been killed or was not going to come back. Or come back soon, anyway. Something. His attitude is refreshing. "If the name's the same, it’s all the same," he felt, and let it go. There is reason to believe that this was not a common attitude at the time. Or now.
Others could look the (faux) look, and walk the solitary walk, but they could not fill the shoes. Boone was the mold, and because of his seeming infallibility to the general public, others who would cash in on the image emulated him. Although he never wore a coonskin cap, Filson said he had, and so the fad began, up to the Davy Crockett mania of the mid 1950’s. Crockett never wore a coonskin cap either. A coonskin cap is a lousy hat for a hunter. The tail moves, disturbing game, and it has no visor to shield the eyes while sighting a rifle. Boone, a Quaker by birth, wore the wide brimmed Quaker hat that adorns cereal boxes and sufficed as the Nike shoe of its era.
Boone was revered as an
Indian fighter, although he cheerfully admitted that he had hardly fought any,
and probably had a deeper regard for them than for his white brethren. When he moved to
Generals Ranald MacKenzie,
George Crook, and several others all were able to pull off the same stunt as
did Custer at the
The Army was temporarily
often much worse in appreciation of its enemy's
skills, especially right after the Civil War when few competents and fewer
still of the highest quality stayed in service.
For example, history records that shortly after the Civil War ended,
each day of the brief life of Fort Phil Kearny (just south of Sheridan, Wyoming)
seemed to start with the post commander, Colonel Henry Carrington, slapping his
forehead because his wood train was being attacked. This was a shock. If only he had known. Of course, the Sioux under Red Cloud had said
they would do it, literally sending personal warnings directly to the
fort. Carrington knew Red Cloud's troops
surrounded the new buildings. Red Cloud
himself barely stopped short of buying the 19th century equivalent of radio
time to announce his plans to wipe out all the hated Bozeman Trail forts of
which Phil Kearny was one, sending screaming warriors to serenade the troops in
a manner requiring no translation. Who would have thought? Just because it had
happened every single time the wood
train went out, that was no reason to think it would happen today,
Like Civil War General
George McClellan, Carrington was a great organizer and builder and little
else. In 1866, he and five hundred men
built and manned three of the four proposed forts to guard the Bozeman Trail
leading to the Northern Rockies in western
It’s easy to make fun of Carrington, and his men often did. But it isn’t fair or accurate. Despite having raised his own regiment, he had had to sit out the Civil War for health reasons, and subsequently he never indicated a willingness to run any risks whatever, which, after all, is an element in military endeavor. Yet, given the fact he only had, at most, 300 men at Ft. Phil Kearny, one might understand his hesitations to retaliate for these raids. During the first six months of Phil Kearney’s existence, the Sioux killed one hundred fifty people around the fort, stole eight hundred cattle and horses, and completed fifty-one attacks worthy of reprisal. Carrington could not afford to lose any men, so he simply refused to patrol the vicinity, ensuring that the Sioux achieved complete surprise all the time.
This would seem to be the
height of stupidity, yet about eighty years later our military had similar
choices to make, and did so as badly as the allegedly wimpy Carrington.
"Where planes are not available to cover all sectors, the selection of the
sectors to be covered is left purely to chance..." Hence,
Here is the familiar military quandary of building a fort or assembling a fleet for the purpose of projecting power and finding that it can barely defend itself. In our own time, Admiral Rickover, the champion of nuclear submarines in the United States Navy, looked askance at the huge aircraft carriers that sucked dry his budgets. He coldly allowed that in war with the Soviet Union the carriers of the United States could not even save themselves, much less project power, and lasting, perhaps, two days. He felt that in a general war, a small and inaccurate enemy missile could blow away the entire task force, but that in any case, the best it could do would be to protect itself. There was much huffing among the surface admirals but near total agreement from the rest of the Navy.
While in hindsight it is now
hard to fault many or any of
Carrington’s decisions, at the time and for some time thereafter things were
not so clear. Some of problem resided in
The father-in-law of the late Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart, Cooke had been humiliated by his daughter’s husband repeatedly during the war, and apparently was looking for some way to assert himself to history. When young, Cooke had been a prescient and capable officer, and had served in the West well. But since the Civil War, Cooke may have become the largest fool still in the Army, and he made Carrington’s life miserable with silly dictates.
The prime example of Cooke’s
incomprehension of his command involved the delivery of mail to and from the
forts and his headquarters at
During that first winter of 1866, Carrington’s farthest construction project -Fort C. F. Smith up on the Bighorn - had only ten rounds of ammunition per man, and Phil Kearny had not much more. Cooke made this horrid situation even worse by pointlessly deciding that Phil Kearny was to be restricted to a notional twenty-five square miles, apparently feeling the less land to defend, the less ammunition needed. But this decision cut off the best grazing, hay, and timber from the legal control of the army, and so Carrington had to employ civil contractors, and had to defend them, which is to say twice the danger at four times the expense.
Cooke was not, himself, immune to the danger from the Sioux. As an expression of his appreciation for their talents, he kept twelve companies of his better cavalry in Omaha - where there was absolutely no chance of their being needed - but thoughtfully sent sixty-five cavalrymen equipped with muzzle-loading infantry rifles up the Bozeman to Phil Kearny. In case Carrington had been lulled into a sense of false security, Cooke attached ninety-five totally untrained infantrymen to slow the advance of a nearly useless but hungry reinforcement. Possibly in shock at his own largesse, he sent another missive to Carrington ordering that Jim Bridger - probably the best scout then extant - to be fired from the rolls of Carrington’s fort. Having thus saved the taxpayer a full five dollars a day, even at the expense of relieving Carrington of the only person who had some semblance of competence, Cooke settled in for a comfy winter. Carrington, the alleged wimp of the west, sent back his refusal to fire Bridger by the next weekly mail.
But he obviously did not know how to control or even command minimal respect from his junior officers, questionable as they in turn were. His image with his troops was not helped by one of his first priorities during the construction of this impressive but constantly embattled fort: the placing of “Keep off the Grass!” signs around his new parade ground. Under Carrington, active young officers, fresh from a winning war, chaffed. A Lt. Grummond and a Captain Brown were among those frustrated by the scholarly officer who overbuilt his fort and seemed always on the defensive. The fact is that Carrington was waiting for winter when he could logically assume the Sioux would be in hibernation and vulnerable to attack. He was absolutely correct in this assumption. Normally.
When a young, aggressive semi-hero of the Civil War named Lt. William Fetterman arrived at the fort, the dam broke. Fetterman, with Lt. Grummond, Brown, and others, mimicked and ridiculed Carrington while the commander coolly ignored it and continued in his duties. After demanding Carrington reassign a rescue party to his command to foil this day's attack on the wood train, an insubordinate action that under another commander would have put him in the brig, Fetterman proceeded to fall for a trap that is instinctively employed by children playing variations of Capture the Flag. One he had fallen for before.
The Fetterman debacle -- no other word for it -- spoke accurately of the US Army's quality of post Civil War officers and its knowledgeable, intelligent handling of troops fighting Indians. Orders were not obeyed. The use of infantry to fight mounted warriors, early on considered the finest cavalry in the world, speaks volumes about the contemporary military mind. The use of cavalry with infantry, meaning the horse soldiers had to slow down to protect the infantry during the few times the blinding speed of the foot soldiers allowed any Indians whatever to be found, is another puzzler. The yellowlegs became taller targets atop altogether attractive means of propulsion.
It is written Fetterman had
said -- had often said -- that he and eighty men could ride through the entire
Sioux nation to the Tongue River, prompting old Jim Bridger to drawl to Carrington
“Your men who fought down South are crazy!
They don’t know anything about fighting Indians,” which to the childish
Fetterman seemed like a challenge. So on
Fetterman had many admirers among the soldiers. He had a good war record and was an experienced fighter of Confederates, a quality repeatedly demonstrated throughout the frontier as an absolutely valueless commodity in dealing with the Indians. But at least he wanted to do something to take the war to the enemy rather than react to the inevitable like Carrington. Frederick Brown, one of those all-too-prevalent racist psychotics sharp as a pound of wet leather, had practically jumped up and down when the force left the fort, saying he was being transferred and if he did not get to fight now, etc. etc. So he rode with Fetterman. They were found close together near where the battlefield monument is today. They may have killed themselves. There is a theory they killed each other by pact, but reality rarely allows such a perfect and fitting end. There are those, both Indian and white, who felt many of the men panicked and killed themselves rather than fall wounded into the hands of the Sioux. If so, they were wise.
All under Fettermen were buried at the Fort, and later disinterred and buried in the Custer cemetery.
Evidently, Carrington decided, when Fetterman saw the decoys, the cavalry gave chase, leaving the infantry wheezing behind. The land north of Ft. Phil Kearny is rugged, steep, and clawed with deep ravines and sharp conical hills, decidedly not ground suited for cavalry. The cavalry was hit by a huge number of Sioux who had easily hidden in wait, and fell back, eventually towards where the infantry had taken cover, leaving a strew of bodies in their wake. This was the second such trap in a short time for which Fetterman had fallen, and his entire command, which may have exactly tallied his desired 80 men, was destroyed and hideously mutilated. Red Cloud's foremost warrior, Crazy Horse, may have been in charge of the whole thing.
Anglicized Indian names are
often romantic but there is something condescending and annoying about their
use. It is also puzzling the habit is
seemingly reserved only for the Indians of the northern plains. Forgetting the occasional habit of giving an
arbitrary Christian name, as to King Phillip or Chief Joseph, hardly any Indian
names are translated into English
except those of the Sioux and
It is too often forgotten that most of our names are not anglicized and
translated, but simply pronounced in an English manner. For example, my name is Richard MacLeod,
which when translated into English (something my parents would never do....)
from the Gaelic and old French probably means Brave Heart, Son of Ugly. (I am really quite certain they would not do that to me knowingly...) That would take some getting used to, dealing
with the implications of your name every time you are addressed. In any event, it cannot be sheer coincidence
that Crazy Horse participated in and certainly was a leader in the three grea
Fetterman, typically, was lauded as a hero, Carrington -- the survivor -- as a failure. The now forgotten controversy swelled for years, but Carrington may have taken some vengeful pleasure when the Army exonerated him (years after forcing him out) and in the knowledge that his new wife was the widow of one of his enemies, cavalry leader Lt. Grummond. Husband and wife shared many interests, both writing literate and absorbing books, and apparently were very happy.
For a nation that, until
A strong case can be made
There was an undeclared and essentially unfought naval war against the French we might have won, although nobody then or now has offered a coherent explanation for or description of this alleged event, including Alexander Hamilton, the man who pushed it, and John Adams, the President who deflected it.
A war against the Miami Indians in
Our war against the
We declared our intention to defeat and remove the
Seminole Indians from
We fought an embarrassing war against
We fought a war against Red Cloud's Oglala Sioux, who wanted us to remove the Bozeman Trail forts. After some brisk action and a new southern railroad that removed the cause, reflection on the then-current state of our military -- so recently called into focus by the original cast of Ft. Phil Kearny -- propelled the removal of the Bozeman Trail forts, which the Sioux joyfully burned. Not the blush of victory.
To answer that question while the nation celebrated its
100th birthday, military minds amateur and professional turned their gaze to
the land around Weir Point and sought explanations. They had a few operating theses to install in
all discussions: whites were the superior race,
Throughout the nation, memorial services for the Custer dead were planned, and in consequence, local tenors honed their chops singing that most plaintive and evocative paean, a cliché even then, from a father facing death by age to a son facing death in battle, resonating as truly among the river-licked dogwoods in Montana as in Scottish dells and dingles.
“Oh Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling,
From glen to glen............”
Poems of the Elder Edda,
Veil, Bob Woodward
Perhaps a precursor to the FBI's 'Special Agent',
Forsythe's force was made up of motivated men not necessarily overly stained
with a martial brush. Sigmund himself, a
city kid from
The Battle of Beecher Island, John H. Monnet, page 130
This is a thinly veiled reference to the House of Orange, the Dutch royal family that provided England with peace after their Seventeenth Century Civil War but who managed to seriously annoy various Gaelic families around the realm, not least in Ireland and Scotland.
According to diarist Boswell, Johnson was polite
but not notably impressed by a tour of the Hebrides in later years where the
two visited my supposed family’s ancestral keep,
Which actually was everywhere reachable by water,
The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco,
 Edith Hamilton, Mythology.
 Evan Connell, Son of the Morning Star
 “The Greenland Lay of Atli,” The Elder Edda, Poems of the Elder Edda
 The Two Towers, Volume 2 The Lord of the Rings, page 18, JRR Tolkien
Although, it should be pointed out that while the Canadian Indians have been
comparative slackers in armed animosity towards their Federal government,
"...they have made up for
 Perhaps it had been so even before the Civil War. George Crook described his sojourn at Fort Humbouldt, California: “I must say that my first impressions of the Army were not favorable...Most of the Commanding Officers were petty tyrants, styled by some Martinets...Most of them had been in command of small posts so long that their habits and minds had narrowed down to their surroundings, and woe be unto the young officer if his ideas should get above their level and wish to expand.” pg. 33, Old Forts. If it had not been evident before, during the years following the Civil War, the many problems of a military plagued by officers too long at one rank, post, and occupation led to the theory up or out. This meant that if you were not promoted within a certain period, you were removed from the service. This prevented men from twenty years at the rank of lieutenant, a not infrequent situation. Consider, for example, the number of captains and lieutenants under Custer who had served as officers in the Civil War, which had ended eleven years earlier.
The Fury of the Northmen,
John Marsden, 1993,
 The Black Death killed off somewhere between one and two thirds of the population of western Europe in a few years. Coming as it did just before the Renaissance and Age of Discovery, immense wealth centralized and the people who survived found the pruning had left a life far better than pre-plague. Thomas Malthus noted this.
Charles Kuralt, On the Road , Page 323
 While Boone is viewed with cancerous eye by some historians because he did profit from a fraudulent story of Filson's, he was not the bunkum artist Davy Crockett was. Crockett was the prototype for Buffalo Bill, a sort of poor man's Boone, because virtually none of Crockett's tales can be verified except two: he did go to Congress and he did get killed at the Alamo in Texas. In Congress, he is credited as being a buffoon and a creature of his political backers. At the Alamo, he came to save slavery in Texas and get some land and get away from his wife and family, which he had deserted along with his creditors. He may have surrendered and been shot by contemptuous Mexicans who tended not to read American publicists.
 Copes and Marsh, once friends, worked for different universities and sponsors during the first great "dinosaur rush" at the end of the nineteenth century. Their teams stole from each other, planted fakes, perhaps engaged in gun battles on the very land where Crow and Sioux had stared in wonder at outlines of giant animals in a cliff across a river.
 page 653 At Dawn We Slept referencing the Navy Court Hearings on the Pearl Harbor attack.
 Rickover, a Jew in a notoriously anti-Semitic service, rose by incredible competence to a new position with the rank of admiral: Director, Naval Reactors. As such, he was responsible for the nuclear powered carriers, but his love and fanaticism were reserved for the nuclear submarine which he, for the most part, invented. The resemblance to Britain’s Jackie Fisher - the man who barely saved Britain’s fleet before the First World War - is rather astounding. They even look alike.
 Cooke was, earlier in his career in the West, rather more insightful. He remains an illustrative example of how the Civil War literally burned out many of the men who fought it. His actions and decisions through Red Cloud’s War are of an exhausted, emotionally spent man.
Not just Federal, either. A depressed George Pickett, a mediocrity who
was solely famous for having his entire Division slaughtered at
 It was sometimes true that on long marches, exhausted horses were slower than the infantry, but the fact is this was mostly true in the southern climes fighting Apaches, who were often on foot anyway. Further, once in range, only Cavalry could catch up.
The Bloody Bozeman, Dorothy
M. Johnson, McGraw Hill Book Company,