June 25, 1876, is the day Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer perished along with some 210 men of Companies C, E, F, I, and L on the hills above the Little Big Horn River. Another 50 to 60 men died with Major Reno and Captain Benteen on Reno Hill, about four miles away. That battle has generated more debate, books, movies, and emotions than any other in U.S. history--perhaps world history, as well. Exactly what happened, and when, and for how long has fed speculations from armchair generals young and old, pro and con, and at all points of the compass. Was Custer an heroic figure who perished trying to enforce a policy set forward by greedy, unscrupulous politicians? If so, he wouldn't be the first. Or was he a glory-seeker trying to recapture some of the fame he'd enjoyed as a Civil War hero? Everyone has his own opinion and it's not my desire to either change or reinforce what you think. I do want to pay my respects to thoe who fought and died that day, on both sides. And so I do. "Garryowen in Glory!" "Hoka hey!"
There a couple of myths about that day I'd like to clear up. First off, it wasn't a massacre. The soldiers died in battle. Second, the 7th Cavalry wasn't destroyed. Of the 1250 officers and men authorized to fill the ranks of the 7th, about 260 died. The regiment was brought up to strength and has lasted in one form or another until this day. Custer did not kill himself. Nor was he killed by Rain-In-The-Face and have his heart cut out (RITF probably mutilated Tom Custer, George's brother). Sitting Bull did not participate in the fight. No white man survived the battle who fought with Custer's five troops. A recent article in WILD WEST says there was one, but it's buncombe.
Speaking of those who fought and died, my Uncle Gene passed away yesterday after a long bout of Parkinson's Disease. He was a WWII vet and worked for Uncle Sam for many years. This marks the end of an era in many ways. While my mother and her sisters are still alive, all the men from that generation (my father and uncles) are gone. A daunting prospect, to be sure, and the realization that one day I'll be one of the oldest family members bums me out a bit.