Once upon a time in the West
Have you ever wished you could have been somewhere even if it probably would have been the end of you?
At the risk of being ridiculed for these words (and I have been in the past), I wish I could have been among those riding with the ill-fated expedition of George A. Custer one-hundred-thirty-five years ago today.
Without going into detail about this event, suffice to say not a single one among all those troopers who were under the direct command of Custer lived to see the sunset on June 25, 1876. Neither am I going to turn this into a post about Custer, his life, his demise and all manner of data about the Plains Indian Wars, which lasted from the early 1850s until the battle/massacre at Wounded Knee in South Dakota on December 29, 1890.
For the most part, I respect and admire Custer, and, with exception of the events at the Little Big Horn River in Montana on June 25, I envy the charmed life he led until the very last day of his life. And, I firmly believe that under the circumstances, he made sound judgments that day, too, with one or two exceptions, which may or may not have sealed his fate.
Critics will say his battlefield tactics resulted in a rout and the annihilation of his immediate command. Having studied both the battlefield in person and cavalry tactics of the era via the written word, my own opinion is that, in most instances, his officers and troopers acted appropriately and according to textbook procedures.
His primary mistake was not to run his own Crow Indian scouts far enough ahead of the main body and not to heed the advice for caution given by these scouts, whose eyes and knowledge of the country were superior to Custer's own. How can a few hundred stand against a few thousand and hope to survive -- much less to win? But, fate in many forms converged on the grassy plains of Montana that day, and if any one of a half-dozen elements had varied only slightly, history would have been written differently.
Not having my reference material, which remains packed away in a storage unit, I can only paraphrase the events, and this is one of my favorite recollections of the aftermath. Following the defeat, a court-martial was held to determine if the deceased Custer had disobeyed orders. During the proceedings, a soldier from among those not under Custer's immediate command was asked if "the general" was good at passing information along to the men under his command. The soldier responded to this effect: "No sir. All we generally knew was that somewhere along the line the bugler would blow the order to charge."
That is what Custer did on June 25, and more than two hundred men died as a result of that last charge. Custer's luck ran out.
In any case, I would like to have been there. This is not because I have a death wish, but, rather, because I like to think that while all others perished, that barring just plain bad luck, I would have made it out as the only survivor. Oh, how I would love to have been there and to have spun the wheel of fate.
Most choose to perch, some to fly
A few days ago, I wrote these words in a note to another, and I thought I would post them here to see what, if any, reaction they might draw:
I do not know if you recall, but when I was writing posts in 2009 and sometimes in 2010, too, I would refer to the "incarnations" of my life. For instance, when I was in the Marine Corps, this was an incarnation; when I worked as a journalist, it was an incarnation; when I worked in prison corrections, this was still another incarnation.
Some people say they have a "role in life to fulfill" or a "calling" or a "career they love," or use phrases similar to those to describe how they have found a place in the world to call their own.
Well, I never have found a single place. I have worked at many jobs in many locations; had many varied interests in books and activities and hobbies; have been married twice; and have found temporary happiness and affection in many places and through doing many things.
Sometimes, I am sad because I have no lasting place in the world and no lasting love in my life. But, more often, I am glad that I have had the opportunity to experience so much of what life has to offer, rather than to perch on one branch doing the same work in the midst of the same people for years and years and years. I hope to experience more yet.
Maybe, that is the manner of life that awaits you, too -- a life of many experiences, a life of many "incarnations" -- rather than a single niche, a solitary role.