Sunday, May 17, 2015

Smile, when you say that, pard

Major General George Armstrong Custer with his wife, Elizabeth, and his brother, Lieutenant Thomas Ward Custer, were photographed on January 3, 1865, by Matthew Brady. All three of the Custers had numerous adventures before the brothers and more than two hundred troopers of the United States Army Seventh Cavalry Regiment were killed by an overwhelming force of Sioux at the Little Bighorn River in Montana on June 25, 1876. Tom Custer, incidentally, was the recipient of two Congressional Medals of Honor during the Civil War. I begin to think about the battle at the Little Bighorn around this time every year, and, sometimes write about it. If you are interested, I wrote an earlier post on June 25 in 2011, the actual anniversary of the fight. There probably are other posts, too, that I do not recall. I am including a YouTube video of recent, still, battlefield photographs. Just to clarify, the rows and rows of tombstones shown in the video are not all related to the battle. It is a national cemetery, and about five thousand veterans of various wars and their family members are buried there. The scattered stones are locations where battle bodies were found and buried.

The student vs. the groupie

Brevet General George Armstrong Custer and the Seventh Calvary Regiment left Fort Abraham Lincoln near Bismarck/Mandan, North Dakota, on May 17, 1876, on its way to Montana as part of a three-pronged convergence to force Sioux, Cheyenne and Indians from a few other assorted tribes back onto reservations. Custer and a significant portion of those who made the journey with him never saw the prairies of North Dakota again.

Custer, two of his brothers, his nephew and a brother-in-law, along with more than two hundred troopers were killed in the span of about two hours on Sunday afternoon, June 25, 1876, by an onslaught of mostly Sioux, along with warriors from a few other tribes. Troopers in two other wings of the command a few miles away managed to keep the Indians at bay until they broke off their attack the next day when infantry and cavalry under the command of Colonel John Gibbon reached the battlefield.
I have mentioned in previous posts that I sometimes have made the march in a literary sense from Fort Lincoln to the Custer "last stand" battlefield at the Little Bighorn River in Montana with the troopers of the Seventh. The record of their trek is well documented, and it is possible to follow it day-by-day either literally or figuratively. I have done portions of it literally and -- day-by-day -- all of it figuratively. This spring I will be on it again, as time permits, but only in a figurative fashion.
One of my two greatest fascinations in life has been the Plains Indian Wars combined with the European settlement of the same region. In that sense, I have spent days and even weeks at a time walking along segments of pioneer trails -- the Bozeman, the Oregon, the Mormon -- and canoeing rivers like the Missouri in the shadow of early explorers, such as Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, and the Platte, following the routes of fur trappers and mountain men. I have slept on battlefields (searching for ghosts ??) where the U.S. Army fought the indigenous tribes of the Great Plains. I participated in a month-long archaeological survey of a battlefield site in Wyoming.
I actually have a brief letter written by Custer .... if I can find it. It is on my "find list" as I scrounge among boxes and boxes of "stuff" trying to get my possessions in order.
It occurred to me the other day how many places I have been where, in a sense, I have been following the tracks of Custer. Beyond Fort Lincoln in North Dakota, I have been to his hometown in Michigan; I have been to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point; I have been to three sites in South Dakota; five sites in Kansas; two sites in Oklahoma; and, of course, to the Little Bighorn in Montana. I am using the term "site" loosely because, as I said, I have walked or ridden along many routes between locations where the Seventh was stationed or fought decades before my presence, and I am not counting these as actual "sites."

Not surprisingly, I also enjoy shooting rifles and handguns contemporary to the 19th Century.
Whenever I look around and think I am going a bit too far with some of my Custer studies -- I do consider myself to be a serious student, not a groupie -- I think about people I have encountered while following the shadow of the Seventh: People dressed as cowboys, people dressed in 19th Century cavalry uniforms, people dressed as mountain men, people dressed as pioneers plugging along in weekend wagon train outings. Then, I think of Civil War re-enactors "back East." Then, I think of Viking re-enactors in Scandinavia and the contemporary "dress-up" lords, ladies and knights of England and Europe.
Then, I realize that while certain elements of the past possibly fascinate me more they should, at least I am not as goofy as a lot of other people seem to be in this shapeless, shiftless, often silly North American society -- not to mention Scandinavia, England and Europe. To paraphrase the Virginian's (Gary Cooper's) admonition to Trampas (Walter Huston) in the original "talkie" film version of Owen Wister's "The Virginian:"

"Smile, when you say that, pard."


Smareis said...

Olá Fram,
Muito boa à fotografia, pela época esta bem nítida.
Você deve ter sido um grande soldado e gostava muito do seu trabalho. Por isso gosta tanto de rifles e revólveres tem muito haver com tua história, teu passado.
Essas trilhas pioneiras devem ter sido fascinantes mesmo.
A guerra é muito triste, sem contar com o sofrimento que os soldados passam pra defender seu País. A família é a que mais sofrem. Muitos soldados dão suas vidas e nem tem o reconhecimento devido. Eles são muitos corajosos, merece ser lembrado todos os dias.
O vídeo contém muitas imagens curiosas. Excelente registro.
Gostei muito da sua postagem. Você constrói sempre seus textos com muita inteligência e sabedoria.

Fram eu ando um pouco ausente, desculpa- me pela ausência por aqui. Eu vou atualizar meu blog na próxima semana, ou seja, depois do dia 20. Gostei de ver que foi lá no blog, em busca de sol, me tirou alguns sorrisos. Obrigada!

Uma ótima semana!
Até breve Fram!
Sorrisos enviados.

Fram Actual said...

The clarity and the detail of the photography from this era is truly amazing, Smareis. The process was complicated, but the significant size of the "plate negatives" made it possible to create fantastic photographs, especially when working with panoramic landscapes. I have an old (not Civil War old) Speed Graphic which uses four- by five-inch negatives that I "play" with from time to time, and the quality of the photographs it produces is fantastic: Partly the excellence of the lens, partly the size of the negatives.

The history of the settlement of the United States has many fascinating facets. One minute you can be learning about absolute bravery among early settlers and the next minute you can be learning about absolute cruelty in the warfare between the indigenous Native Americans and the mostly-European new arrivals. While most among the George Custer "officer clan" were first-rate, professional soldiers who lived and died the way they wanted and expected, many of the ordinary, enlisted troopers in the Seventh Cavalry were recent immigrants and there only because the army was the "best job" they could find.

I have a "nice" library of books related to the Plains Indian Wars, and a sizeable portion of them center on the Custer element. Several of the books are quite detailed about what it was like to be a frontier soldier. Having a bit of military experience myself makes the picture more complete; some things never change for and among soldiers, no matter if you were one a millennium ago or a few years ago.

There is something about history that enraptures me, and in so many ways it seems to me I can reach out and be in the midst of moments now gone -- see and feel the people who were alive and real only a few breaths into the past.

I did look at five or six YouTube videos regarding the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. I had not found any I really liked before I ran out of time and decided to use the one I did. The photographs were too repetitious, I thought, but served the purpose of providing a sense of what it is like at the battlefield now.

I am glad you are back on the blogs, Smareis, glad you visited me today, glad you wrote a comment for me and glad you will be publishing a new post yourself in the near future. Thank you, especially, for the smiles.

A Cuban In London said...

Fascinating post. Indeed you are a student, a scholar, I would say, not a groupie at all. You are privileged to have made that pilgrimage, even if part of it was figuratively. Beautiful post. Thanks.

Greetings from London.

Fram Actual said...

Student, yes; scholar, no.

To go pedantic on you, CiL, I think a "scholar" must advance beliefs and arguments among groups or in institutional settings. That is what a true and actual "historian" does. I am too much of a "lone ranger" and use too much of a "shotgun approach" to validate my points, which I only attempt to do among friends who have similar interests .... and, once in a while, mention my thoughts in a post, as I did here. To put it another way, I do not care how fast anyone else can run a mile; I only care about how fast I can do it and want to continuously improve my own time until I am no longer capable of improving it.

Thank you, CiL. I am glad to see you here and pleased you left a comment. Posts like this one have a tendency to frighten people away, I think.

Something special ....