CUSTER'S LAST FIGHT
HOW THE HERO FELL TEN YEARS AGO
(Newspaper article in Custer Collection. No bibliographical information)
The 25th of June 1886, it is ten years since the day when brave Gen. Custer and his band of soldiers were massacred on the Little Big Horn River in Montana. The wild Indian region of ten years ago is a civilized country now. Flocks and herds graze peacefully where brave Custer and his men marched to their death that day. The only bit of real wilderness in all that country is the National Yellowstone park, set apart by government as a "public park of pleasure ground for the benefit of the people".
George A. Custer was an Ohio man, born in an obscure country village, New Rumley, in Harrison County, near the Pennsylvania border in 1839. His ancestry was Pennsylvania German, as far back as the revolution. In point of fact he was descended from one of the Hessian officers who fought on the wrong side in the American Revolution. There was little of the phlegmatic German temperament in the boy George, however. He was as restless and nervous as a squirrel. He was educated at West Point. A good story is told of him in his senior year, 1861. He was officer of the guard one day, and was put under arrest for not making two cadets cease fighting. He wanted to see which would whip, and was letting the fellows fight it out, when suddenly Gen. Hazen, then a lieutenant, came on the scene. Custer was put under arrest. His class was allowed to go at once to the seat of war, where officers were so much needed, but Custer was not with them. On the contrary, he pined in the guard house at West Point. He was regularly court-martialed on the specification that he, the said Custer, did fail to suppress a riot or disturbance near the guard tent, and did fail to separate, etc., but on the contrary, did cry out in a loud tone of voice: "Stand back boys, let's have a fair fight," or words to that effect.
While awaiting sentence a telegram came from Washington ordering his release and commanding him to report at Washington for duty. From than on he entered heart and soul into the war. He won fame as a cavalry leader, and one promotion after another was accorded him till he who had entered the war as a lieutenant came out a brevet brigadier general.
The war over, he was ordered for service to the far west and became an Indian fighter. The country rang with his praises. His lamented death made an impression only second to that caused by the murder of a president. Yet so soon are event the greatest and the best forgotten that few even remember now when and where bold Custer was killed. To recall the story to their memory these lines are written.
Of all the red foes our soldiers ten years ago had to meet, Sitting Bull, the Sioux was the wiliest. He considers himself a good Roman Catholic Christian, but one who sees his portrait cannot help fancying that his pious beads and medals and crucifix are worn quite as much for ornamentation as for devotion. He has a splendidly strong, through cruel, relentless face. It takes many years to make a good Indian out of such a red man as Sitting Bull. He had a huge head, with hair whose color was brown, very unusual for an Indian. He could neither read nor write, but strange to say, he kept a journal, which a scout found and brought into the United States army camp. It contained a history of his life, drawn in grotesque Indian pictures. Most of them represented S.B. killing somebody, white or red.
Sitting Bull destroyed Custer and his command on the Little Big Horn River, June 25, 1876. He then fled across the border to British America and annoyed the United States government people six years longer. It was not until 1882 that he finally surrendered. Even then he has always claimed that he himself did not surrender. It was his son Crowfoot, the lively Indian youth who appears in the picture, that at last snatched his father's gun and handed it over to Maj. Brotherton. The boy has some of his father's own grit. His clear cut strong face shows him to a chip of the old block. Sitting Bull was rather pleased at his boy's daring, and let the surrender stand. Unlike the Apache Geronimo, Sitting Bull kept his word, and never made the white people anymore trouble after giving up. The long braided hair upon each side is a badge of the Sioux.
Sitting Bull has a pretty little daughter.The little maiden, except for the cruel and merciless strings of wampum in her ears, would be as bright and attractive to look at as any of her small white sisters who learn music and go to Sunday school.
Custer's force was divided into three columns on that fatal day, one commanded by Maj. Reno, another by Col. Benteen, the third by Custer himself. The plan was for these three columns to take different routes converging toward the Indian village on the Little Big Horn. The rest of the story may be told in one sentence. Reno and Benteen failed to come to time. Custer and his men reached the village, fought an overwhelming force of Indians till every man died in his tracks. For a mile or more their bodies were found strung along the banks of the Little Big Horn just where they fell. The particulars of this last fight are as thrilling as the story of Thermopylae. It ought to be put into school books for American boys to read and draw inspiration from.
The Indian scout Curly, who tells the story, was the only one with Custer who escaped from the massacre. He had been with the leader several years, and was trusted and faithful. He was a Crow. The fight began at 2 o.clock and lasted till sunset. The white men who fought it knew long ere it closed that it was desperate. As soon as Curly saw this he went to Gen. Custer and begged him to let him lead him to a place of safety of which he knew. There was one way of escape whereby a single man, the general, could be saved. Curly pressed the proposition earnestly on his general. Custer's head fell to his breast a moment, as if in deep thought. Then he looked up calmly, and waved the scout away. That was the last time Curly ever looked on the face of his general alive.
In that moment the dashing, heroic cavalry leader chose between life and death. He fought like a tiger himself before giving up his life.
The Indians closed in around him at too close quarters for him to use gun or pistol. Then he snatched his saber. The Indians say that he killed three braves with his saber before he was finally overcome. Then a chief, named Rain-in-the-Face, who had a mortal grudge at the white leader, shot and killed him. Such bravery as he had shown his wild enemies reverenced as more than mortal. His was the only body they left unmutilated. This proved that they looked on it with superstitious awe. The Indians say there were more of their braves killed than of white men.
Curly, the Crow scout, escaped alone by the way he had indicated to Custer. He washed his Crow paint off and let his hair down like a Sioux, and thus undetected hovered around till the awful fight was over. Then, as much dead as alive with grief and horror, he followed on down the river till he reached the steamboat landing. It seems that all the while the five hours, fight was going on, Reno and Benteen were not more than three or four miles away. Reno heard the firing, and knew that his chief was engaged with the enemy.
Reno had been even attacked by a portion of the hostiles flying toward the Custer fight. They came riding like the wind, crouching over the necks of their fleet little ponies, flogging away with their short whips, firing random bullets in the air and all the time yelling out their .Hi! Yip . yip .yip .yip . hiyah!. The sight seems to have been rather a demoralizing one to Reno and his men.
A monument was erected on the scene of the massacre. The horrible relic hunters are already fast chipping it away. Three Custers, a sister's husband and a beloved, bright haired schoolboy nephew, perished of the hapless family that day. Col. Tom Custer and young Boston Custer were the general's brothers. These were all found in a group close together. The monument contains the names of those who fell, the flower of the United States Seventh Cavalry regiment. It is one of the most thrilling stories ever told in any language.
(Newspaper article in Custer Collection. No bibliographical information)
Back to Custer in the News