Monday, June 25, 2012

Not a post, but sort of a remembrance

Four Colts, none of which require feeding or exercise, but each of which enjoy them immensely. My Colt New Frontier single-action revolver, shown at the top of the photograph, is nearly identical to the Colt Model 1873 sidearm issued to Seventh Cavalry troopers at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, which took place one hundred, thirty-six years ago today. The two pistols in the middle are variations of the Colt Model 1911, while the "little guy" at the bottom is a Colt Model 380 Mustang. Colt handguns have been intregal to the U.S. military since the company's origin in the 1830s.

Fascination or obsession

A few times here and elsewhere, I have written or said that if I had a time machine which would take me to three events in the past, one would be to the Little Bighorn River on the plains of southeastern Montana on June 25, 1876. Look at your calendar. Today is the day; only the year has changed.

This was the place and the time a few hundred troopers of the U.S. Seventh Cavalry, some Crow Indian scouts and a few civilians, including one newspaper reporter, under the command of Brevet General/Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer died at the hands of a few thousand Sioux and Cheyenne Indians. An unknown number of Sioux and Cheyenne died in the battle, as well, which came to be known as Custer's Last Stand.

Perhaps, a thousand or more books have been written about the life of Custer and the battle which took place that day. I have read many of them, have visited the battlefield and, at times, have almost(?) become obsessed with the final moments of so many men.

Not a single man among Custer's immediate command of five troops (companies) saw sunset that day. Included with Custer among the dead were two of his brothers, one of whom had won two Congressional Medals of Honor during the Civil War, a nephew and his brother-in-law. In all, nearly three hundred were killed.

I am not going to write about the event here other than to say Custer and his troopers have been both glorified beyond reason and vilified beyond logic during the one hundred, thirty-six years that have passed since then. My own opinion, from having studied the battle in a "somewhat" obsessive manner, is that there were some acts of bravery and some instances of panic and cowardice, but, by-in-large, the command followed textbook tactics of the era that day and died while facing their opponents. There are not many instances in history where a few hundred came out the winners when facing a few thousand.

The only significant, fatal error that day was Custer's usual disregard for common sense and charging head-long into a life-and-death struggle without knowing that, in effect, he was riding off the edge of a cliff into oblivion due to the sheer weight of his opponent's numbers.

I would like to know why my fascination with the Little Bighorn battle exists to the degree that it does, but that probably will always be as much of a mystery as are many of the unit and individual actions which took place within the battle itself. To see the battle, to know it, to understand it, to unravel the mysteries of each and every moment of it -- these form the reason it would be one on my list of three to reach back in time and to witness.

(Remember me? My name is not only Fram Actual, but Fram the Fortunate .... and, a few others, not the least of which is Fram the Curious. I wish to know what it was to hear the voices and to see the faces of the past; to smell the air of yesterday; to know how the sky looked when only birds possessed it; to feel the weight of an iron broadsword in my hand; to watch a midsummer night's dance .... well, to experience it all, I guess, but some things, like June 25 at the Little Bighorn, more than others.)

The Plains Indian Wars and the entire era of American Western history from about 1850 to the close of the Nineteenth Century have a firm grip on me, and a few other battles -- such as the Fetterman Fight in Wyoming and the Beecher Island Battle in Colorado -- lure me in almost as deeply. I have camped and slept overnight alone on those two battlefields, and would love to do so at the Little Bighorn if the federal government did not prohibit it. These nights have been mystical experiences.

Well, now I have marked the anniversary still one more year, as I am certain I will do for as long as I live. This time, you have been here to take note of it along with me. Thank you .... see you next year.


Wind said...

Well, it is strange for me to read this post of yours. About indians, battles, passion, time....
A poem for you:

'From far Dakota's canyons,
Lands of the wild ravine, the dusky Sioux, the lonesome stretch, the
Haply to-day a mournful wall, haply a trumpet-note for heroes.

The battle-bulletin,
The Indian ambuscade, the craft, the fatal environment,
The cavalry companies fighting to the last in sternest heroism,
In the midst of their little circle, with their slaughter'd horses
for breastworks,
The fall of Custer and all his officers and men.

Continues yet the old, old legend of our race,
The loftiest of life upheld by death,
The ancient banner perfectly maintain'd,
O lesson opportune, O how I welcome thee!

As sitting in dark days,
Lone, sulky, through the time's thick murk looking in vain for
light, for hope,
From unsuspected parts a fierce and momentary proof,
(The sun there at the centre though conceal'd,
Electric life forever at the centre,)
Breaks forth a lightning flash.

Thou of the tawny flowing hair in battle,
I erewhile saw, with erect head, pressing ever in front, bearing a
bright sword in thy hand,
Now ending well in death the splendid fever of thy deeds,
(I bring no dirge for it or thee, I bring a glad triumphal sonnet,)
Desperate and glorious, aye in defeat most desperate, most glorious,
After thy many battles in which never yielding up a gun or a color,
Leaving behind thee a memory sweet to soldiers,
Thou yieldest up thyself.

Walt Whitman: From Far Dakota's Canyons [June 25, 1876] —

Fram Actual said...

While I have read book after book about this battle, Daliana, I do not recall ever encountering Walt Whitman's sonnet.

I did a bit of research, and discovered that it was published just fifteen days after the fight. This makes it even more special in the sense that it was written in the emotional fever of the immediate aftermath of the event, rather than later and in a historical context. Thank you, very much, for giving me a breath of fresh air.

I might add that I think Whitman was right in his correlation to a "memory sweet to soldiers." None of the troopers was seeking death that day, I am certain, but, among those who were professionals and who had chosen the cavalry as their way of life, I am equally certain none among them could have thought of a better end to his life than fighting to the last man in the midst of his comrades.

I am glad your path led you here, Daliana, and that you brought Walt Whitman along with you.

★MaRiBeL★ said...

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Feliz fin de semana!

Fram Actual said...

And, a happy weekend to you, as well, MaRiBeL.

Thank you, for your visit and for the beautiful flower.

Something special ....