PILGRIMAGE TO CUSTER
by Jackie Jura, 2023
(my commentary in blue)
(you can listen using text-to-speech on your device)
11.CUSTER AT HOME AT FORT LINCOLN
...cont'd from 10.CUSTER & SITTING BULL NOT EQUALS
After pulling out of Fort Yates we left the scenic route along the Missouri river and drove up the highway so as to make the best time we could.
Upon passing through the gate at the entrance to Fort Abraham Lincoln we were given a map showing the layout of the State Park.
We followed directions to the On-A-Slant village and toured inside the Visitor Center which told the history of the Mandan Indians and how Lewis & Clark wintered here in 1804. In a future chapter I'll descrribe our visit. We spent so much time at On-A-Slant that by the time we got to Custer's House we were lucky to make it for the last tour of the day.
"...In 1982 the vision was to rebuild the Commanding Officer's Quarters at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park which was the home of General George Armstrong Custer. The Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation helped make that vision a reality. On May 17, 1989, 113 years after Custer lead his men to the Battle of Little Big Horn, the Custer House, as it's called today, opened its doors. Since then visitors from all corners of the world have visited the Custer House, learning about the history of the old fort, and its legendary tenant..."
In her book Boots & Saddles Libbie described Fort Lincoln which had been built while Custer was away on the Yellowstone Expedition protecting railroad surveyors, from June thru September 1873. After the 7th returned victorious to Dakota and got settled into their new base Custer fetched Libbie from their hometown in Michigan, near Detroit. It was in November 1873.
"...Our brother, Colonel Tom, met us and drove us to our new home. In the dim light I could see the great post of Fort Lincoln, where only a few months before we had left a barren plain. Our quarters were lighted, and, as we approached, the regimental band played "Home, Sweet Home", followed by the general's favorite, "Garryowen". The general had completely settled the house before he left for the East, but he had kept this fact secret, as a surprise. Our friends had lighted it all and built fires in the fireplaces. The garrison had gathered to welcome us, and Mary had a grand supper ready. How we chattered and gloried over the regiment's having a home at last. It seemed too good to believe that the 7th Cavalry had a post of its own, with room for the half of the regiment assigned to duty there.
"...Fort Lincoln was built with quarters for 6 companies. The barracks for the soldiers were on the side of the parade ground nearest the river, while 7 detached houses for officers faced the river opposite. On the left of the parade ground was the long granary and the little military prison, called the "guardhouse". Opposite, completing the square, were the quartermaster and commissary storehouses for supplies and the adjutant's office. Outside the garrison proper, near the river, were the stables for six hundred horses. Still, farther beyond were the quarters for the laundresses, easily traced by the swinging clotheslines in front, and dubbed for this reason "Suds Row". Some distance on from there were the log huts of the Indian scouts and their families, while on the same side also was the level plain used for parades and drill. On the left of the post was the Sutler's store, with a billiard room attached. Soon after the general arrived he permitted a citizen to put up a barber shop, and afterward another built a little cabin of cottonwood with canvas roof, for a photographer's establishment.... The post was located in a valley, while just back of us stretched a long chain of bluffs. On the summit of a hill, nearly a mile to the left, was a small infantry garrison, which had been established some time, and now belonged to our post..."
When we got to the house two cavalry soldier impersonators were there to guide us through the rooms and share anecdotes and quiz visitors on their knowledge -- which I passed with flying colours. For example, when they asked what Custer's favorite snack was I said "onions" which he would peel and eat whole -- biting into them like an apple. Another Custer quirk is that he carried a tooth brush with him and brushed after every meal. And Custer didn't drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, swear or gamble -- to please his wife Libbie -- but also to model good discipline to the men as these addictions were rampant in the army.
When Custer designed the house, after the first one burned down, he planned it for entertainment where officers and family would get together often for dinners, conversation, enact plays in full costume, and gather around the piano to sing songs popular in their day -- and dance. Libbie said "The general loved music and had so correct an ear that he often sang or whistled the airs of an opera after hearing them only once". Custer also had a fledgling repertoire of songs he could play on the piano. Whenever anyone went on leave to the States they brought back sheet-music the same way we bring back record albums and other ready-made music to listen to. They had to make their own. Music was a huge part of Custer's life and he took the Regimental Band with him on every campaign, except the last. They rode right behind him and played "Garry Owen" every time they charged into battle.
watch Garry Owen: 7th Cavalry's Marching Song listen
After walking through the parlor, dining room and kitchen on the ground floor we took the back stairs up to the second floor.
Upstairs were bedrooms for servants and for friends Libbie would invite for extended visits to Fort Lincoln to help entertain (and sometimes marry) the bored young officers who otherwise had no female companionship. There was a big room for billiards and cards.
Going downstairs again we took the door off the hallway into Custer's den and library and walked through into the master bedroom with ensuite including a bidet. A feature Custer made sure of, in designing the house, was that he'd get enough closet space for his clothes. In a letter to Libbie in September 1873, on the way to Fort Lincoln from the Yellowstone campaign, Custer wrote:
"...I must end this letter. We will have all winter to talk over particulars in our bran spankin' new home... Tell Emma Reed she must make as much advance in her studies as possible, also her music, as she is to spend next winter with us... If you want two girls with you why not bring Mollie T? Our social life will depend on the life within the garrison -- and how much this is enhanced by girls attractive and intelligent of fine character. It is a shame such should be kept in the dark in nice, pleasant, but dull old Monroe... The reports brought by Major Dickey, Sutler at Lincoln, and others, present our new quarters in the most favorable light. Major D says no quarters being built in the Department compare with those being prepared for the 6 troops -- and the Commanding Officer's house is described as "elegant"... General Dandy, Quartermaster, is so obliging, making every change we need. There was no wardrobe in our room; I have induced him to put in two large ones, otherwise I knew I should find the hooks at my disposal dwindle until I found my garments hanging over the back of a broken chair..."
In Boots & Saddles Libbie had chapters entitled General Custer's Library and General Custer's Literary Work..
"...Custer's Study at Fort Lincoln: Custer was a great lover of literature spending many of the confining hours of winter pouring over the classics. Though his critics claimed Mrs Custer wrote his War Memoirs, she disclaims any credit whatever. Custer did insist that she remain in the same room while he wrote them...Custer's Books: His library consisted of classics, biographies of generals, histories, and some fiction. Custer's Guns: His love of guns was in their usefulness. Like most army officers he purchased and used guns other than those issued by the government, though of a calibre firing government ammunition."
"... The order came early in the season to rebuild our burned quarters, and the suggestion was made that the general should plan the interior. He was wholly taken up with the arrangement of the rooms, in order that they might be suitable for the entertainment of the garrison... It was a pleasure to watch the progress of the building, and when the quartermaster gave the order for a bay window, to please me, I was reallly grateful... On one side of the hall were the general's library, our room and dressing room. The parlor was opposite, and was 32-feet in length. It opened with sliding doors into the dining room, and still beyond was the kitchen. Upstairs there was a long room for the billiard table, and we had sleeping rooms and servant's rooms besides. To our delight, we could find a place for everybody...
"...My husband was enchanted to have a room entirely for his own use... He filled it with trophies of the chase. Over the mantel a buffalo's head plunged seemingly, out of the wall... The head of the first grisly that he had shot, with its open jaws and great fang-like teeth, looked fiercely down on the pretty, meek-faced jack rabbits on the mantel... Several antelope head were also on the walls. One had a mark in the throat where the general had shot him at a distance of 600 yards. The head of a beautiful black-tailed deer was another souvenir of a hunt the general had made with Bloody Knife, the favorite Indian scout... A sandhill crane, which is very hard to bring down, stood on a pedestal by itself. A mountain eagle, a yellow fox, and a tiny fox with a brush -- called out there a swift -- were disposed of in different corners. Over his desk, claiming a perch by itself on a pair of deer antlers, was a great white owl. On the floor before the fireplace, where he carried his love of building fires so far as to put on the logs himself, was spread the immense skin of a grisly bear. On a wide lounge at one side of the room my husband used to throw himself down on the cover of a Mexican blanket, often with a dog for his pillow. The camp chairs had the skins of beavers and American lions thrown over them. A stand for arms in one corner held a collection of pistols, hunting knives, Winchester and Springfield rifles, shotguns and carbines, and even an old flintlock musket as a variety. From antlers above hung sabers, spurs, riding whips, gloves and caps, field glasses, the map case, and the great compass used on marches. One of the sabers was remarkably large, and when it was given to the general during the war it was accompanied by the remark that there was doubtless no other arm in the service that could wield it. (My husband was next to the strongest man while at West Point, and his life after that had only increased his power)... Large photographs of the men my husband loved kept him company on the walls; they were of General McClellan, General Sheridan, and Mr Lawrence Barrett. Over his desk was a picture of his wife in bridal dress... We often lounged about my husband's room at dusk without a lamp. The firelight reflected the large glittering eyes of the animals' heads... We loved the place dearly. The great difficulty was that the general would bury himself too much, in the delight of having a castle as securely barred as if the entrance were by a portcullis. When he had worked too long and steadily I opened the doors...."
"...When my husband began to write for publication, it opened to him a world of interest and afterward proved an unfailing source of occupation in the long Dakota winters. I think he had no idea, when it was first suggested to him, that he could write.... When we were in New York, several years before, he told me how perfectly surprised he was to have one of the magazine editors seek him out and ask him to contribute articles every month... and offered him a hundred dollars for each contribution... At our first post after the war, the idle tediousness of the life was in such contrast to the whirl and dash of the years just passed that the days seemed insupportable to my hunsband... I could see how he fretted and chafed under such an existence... A charming officer of the old school [visiting from the East] urged me to try and induce him to explore new territory and write descriptive articles for publication. When the actual offer came afterword, it seemed to me heaven-sent. I used every persuasive argument in my power to induce him to accept. I thought only of filling up the idle hours. I believed that he had the gait of a ready writer, for though naturally reticent, he could talk remarkably well when started... Afterward he was commended for writing as he talked, and making his descriptions of plains life "pen pictures"... His publisher remarked to him that his writing showed the result of great care and painstaking. The truth was, he dashed off page after page without copying or correcting... I sat beside him while he wrote, and somtimes thought him too intent on his work to notice my going away. He would follow shortly and declare that he would not write another line unless I returned. This was an effectual threat, for he was constantly behind, and even out there heard the cry for "copy" which the printer's devil is always represetned as making. I never had anything to do with his writing, except to be the prod which drove him to begin. He used to tell me that on some near date he had promised an article and would ask me solemnly to declare to him that I would give him no peace until he had prepared the material. In vain I replied that to accept the position of "nag" and "torment" was far from desirable. He exacted the promise.... My husband tried for years to incite me to write and besought me to make an attempt as I sat by him while he worked... In the eventful life I was leading, and when the most interesting portions of our life were passing, each day represented such a struggle on my part to endure the fatiques and hardships that I had no energy left to write a line when the evening came... When he was in the mood for writing, we used laughingly to refer to it to each other as "genius burning". At such times we printed on a card, "this is my busy day", and hung it on the door. It was my part to go out and propitiate those who objected to the general's shutting himself up to work..."
~ end quoting Boots & Saddles by Libbie Custer ~
When the official tour of the house was over, and all the visitors had left, including Bob who'd gone to the commissary, I took the opportunity to quiz the soldiers about their duty at Fort Lincoln and their knowledge of Custer and the Battle of Little Big Horn. I detected some stereotypical misconceptions in their understanding of Custer and asked if they'd read his book MY LIFE ON THE PLAINS. When they replied they hadn't I suggested that in their daily drives from Bismarck, across the river and down to Custer's House, they could listen to the book being read aloud on Librivox.
In my opinion, MY LIFE ON THE PLAINS -- Custer's history of the Indian war on the Plains -- should be mandatory reading in American History courses. Custer got huge praise for his writing ability in literary circles and from fellow soldiers and officers -- like General William Sherman -- whose own war-memoirs couldn't touch Custer's for sheer enjoyment and public appeal. Custer's personality -- his wit, charm, humor, sarcasm, descriptive oratory, his ability to draw pen pictures, is, as has been oft-times quoted "unexampled in the annals of literature". Custer was the most popular cadet at West Point -- and the best horseman -- and, in reality, the most popular general in the Civil War. Custer's altruistic philosophy shines through in his writing and his truth-telling is proven, not only in his words, but in his actions. It was admirable of Custer to devote so much energy into his writing -- he knew he was doing it for posterity and we, to whom it was bequeathed, should be eternally grateful. The powers-that-be -- who make imbecilic movies like LITTLE BIG MAN ad nauseam -- are attempting to destroy Custer's heroism to future generations, knowing that most people form their opinions from watching TV, or these days, streaming 24/7 on their "telescreens". See Orwell themes, 3.Surveillance, 16.Ministry of Truth, 17.Falsification of Past, 23.The Proles, 25.Prolefeed
We went outside and chatted while walking around the house to see it from all angles.
In Boots & Saddles Libbie described all the work it took to run the house -- how she'd spent months making curtains for all the windows and how hard it was to keep the house warm in the winter -- it took one man working non stop to keep all the fireplaces and stoves fueled. Wood and water had to be hauled from the river which, in winter, was frozen five-feet deep. Custer planted cottonwood seedlings in front of the house and hauled buckets of water himself to keep them alive -- and it paid off. One day he called Libbie to the window to see a tiny bird perched on a tiny branch under the shade of a tiny leaf. Custer planted a vegetable garden out back behind the house and fenced it in to protect from the dogs and wildlife -- but just as it was coming to fruition swarms of grasshoppers devoured it all.
While we were sitting on the porch discussing Custer, and as I was about to leave, there was a flash of lightning and a huge clap of thunder and then the rain came down in torrents. It was just how Lbbie described it happening during their 500-mile march along the Missouri to get here 143 years ago.
The wind was blowng so fiercely that the soldier impersonator, true to his duty to protect his nation's flag, braved the storm to hoist down the Stars & Stripes from atop the pole (the original pole from Custer's day) to protect it from being tattered. I watched him respectively fold the flag snug against his body.
As suddenly as the storm blew in it blew out and I made my way to the barracks directly opposite Custer's House, across the sodden parade ground.
A porch stretches entirely across the front of the barracks -- its bright floor clean and shiny after the inundation of rain. Inside, each trooper has a bunk, a trunk and shelving with pegs for clothes and equipment. There's a sergeant's room tucked into a corner near the door.
The barracks are joined to the mess hall through a passageway in the back. Behind the barracks and mess hall, across a road and field toward the river, is the stable which I walked up the ramp to enter.
Dozens of stalls, some with horses but most empty, lined both sides each with windows for light and air circulation. There were storyboards explaining facts about the horses and their equipment and the duties and responsibilities of the cavalrymen in caring for them:
"...It started early. The first stable call of the day was blown at 15 minutes after reveille. Each trooper's first duty was to feed his horse a small meal, 2 or 3 pounds of oats, corn or barley. Then the horse was led out to a picket line and given water while feed boxes and stalls were cleaned out. Fresh hay was put in the rack. The horse would be re-tied to his stall to munch hay for the morning. A second stable call came at noon. A trooper watered his horse and fed it 4 pounds of oats or corn. Unless the weather was very bad, the horse would spend the afternoon picketed outside. Third and last stable call was just after retreat sounded. The horse got water again and another substantial meal of grain. Total daily rations were 10 to 12 pounds of hay. Horses were groomed twice a day, whether in the field or in stable. Appearance concerned, but a healthy horse, free of mange and lice, meant troopers rode on campaign instead of walked..."
"...Horse of a Different Color: Identifying Companies at a Distance: At the onset of the Civil War, United States Cavalry companies were identified by the color of their horses. It was considered a useful way for regiment commanders to keep track of the action during combat. In the 7th Cavalry, the various troops were assigned horses of these colors..."
Custer's own horses, his prized thoroughbreds, Vic and Dandy, who he bought while stationed in Kentucky, had stalls in the stable alongside the horses of his officers and men.
"...On the left is Custer's favorite hunting mount, "Dandy", held by his orderly Private John Burkman. On the right is "Vic", the horse Custer rode in his last battle. Vic was not killed but was acquired by one of the victorious Sioux. Some of the General's hunting dogs may be seen..."
Speaking about Custer's writing, and how under the gun he always was for various magazines demanding "copy", he wrote a regular column -- under the pseudonym "Nomad" -- for a sportsman's journal and had been since 1867. In his last contribution -- which reads like a modern-day blog to his followers -- Custer described a life-and-death situation that happened in the stable involving his horse Vic. Custer even mentions that he's writing the column in his library at Fort Lincoln under a rack of antlers he's extremely proud of.
"...Hanging against the wall, and spreading over my head as I write, are the beautifully branched antlers (23 prongs) of a lordly buck driven to a standstill in less than an hour by the 2 dogs I have mentioned, Driver and Fertuson... So much for dogs. Now an item on horses... I desire to place on record the performance of a thoroughbred saddle-horse that I brought from Kentucky, mention of which I made in your columns some months ago. He is a son of Uncle Vic, a grandson of old Lexington. I was absent from home for a few weeks, during which time some repairs were made in the stable occupied by horses. In the stable is a well, 32-feet deep, the water usually being about 4-feet deep. It became necessary in making the repairs referred to to temporarily remove the well curb, and owing to some neglect or forgetfulness on the part of those whose duty it was to attend to it, the curb was not replaced at night. It so happened that on that night -- of course -- my horse Vic got loose in the stable, and in roaming about in the darkness fell down the well, tail first. He was missed at daylight the following morning, and as the door was open it was supposed he was running at large. Search was made for him, but it was several hours before it was discovered that he was at the bottom of the well. A large force of men was at once assembled, ropes and pulleys prepared, and a man was lowered into the well for the purpose of attaching the ropes to what was supposed was the worthless or broken remains of a once-valuable horse. Ropes were placed under his body in rear of his fore legs, while another was attached to the head to keep the latter in proper place. After considerable time and labor, the horse was drawn to the surface and placed on terra firma once more. He evinced his joy and gratitude by a distinct whinney. Upon examining him, to discover his broken bones or other injuries, he was found to be in comparatively as sound condition as before his visit to the bottom of the well, the hair being rubbed away in but two places on a strip as large as a little finger on the eye, and a slightly larger place on one of his hips. Considering the distance and direction of the course, and the conditions of his performance, I believe Vic's exploit is unequaled..."
In Boots & Saddles Libbie describes Custer's affinity for his horses and dogs and how lovingly he cared for them and put their needs first. Custer loved animals and had dozens of wild pets he'd partially tamed -- including a tiny mouse who used to sit on his shoulder while he wrote. Custer also loved children, and it was Libbie's greatest heartbreak, besides the death of her husband, that she had never borne a child and given Custer a son. Here's how she describes Custer's horsemanship:
"...He was the most agile, active man I ever knew, and so very strong and in such perfect physical condition that he rarely knew even an hour's indisposition. Horse and man seemed one when the general vaulted into the saddle. His body was so lightly poised and so full of swinging, undulating motion, it almost seemed that the wind moved him as it flew over the plain. Yet every nerve was alert and like finely tempered steel, for the muscles and sinews that seemed so pliable were equal to the curbing of the most fiery animal. I do not think that he sat his horse with more grace than the other officers, for they rode superbly, but it was accounted by others almost an impossibility to dislodge the general from the saddle, no matter how vicious the horse might prove. He threw his feet out of the stirrups the moment the aninmal began to show his inclination for war, and with his knees dug into the sides of the plunging brute, he fought and always conquered. With his own horses he needed neither spur nor whip. They were such friends of his, and his voice seemed so attuned to their natures, they knew as well by its inflections as by the slight pressure of the bridle on their necks what he wanted. By the merest inclination on the general's part, they either sped on the wings of the wind or adapted their spirited steps to the slow movement of the march. It was a delight to see them together, they were so in unison, and when he talked to them, as though they had been human beings, their intelligent eyes seemed to reply..."
Custer and Buffalo Bill Cody famously hosted the Grand Duke Alexis Romanov of Russia on a buffalo hunt on the Plains in 1872, after which the Duke insisted Custer accompany him on the remainder of his tour of America. They maintained their friendship until Custer's death in 1876.
To make the experience as historically authentic as possible, Custer and Buffalo Bill arranged for over one hundred Indians to participate in the buffalo hunt for Duke Alexis. In the photo above Custer is holding a buffalo tongue. The highly accomplished naval officer, Duke Alexis, was the 4th son of Tsar Alexander II -- the Liberator -- who emancipated the serfs in 1861 which inspired Lincoln -- the Emancipator -- to emancipate the slaves in 1863. It was Tsar Alexander II who sold Alaska to the States in 1867. After surviving several attempts on his life during his reign, Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881. Then in 1917 Tsar Alexander II's grandson, Tsar Nicholas II was assassinated by the same forces -- the Orwellian 35.Brotherhood -- who'd assassinated Lincoln in 1865 and would assassinate Kennedy in 1963. See my article LINCOLN-KENNEDY & CZAR COINCIDENCES
A 7th Cavalry trooper who was part of the hunting party entertaining Tsar Alexander II's son had this to say about Custer's horsemanship:
"...General Custer was one of the most noted horsemen in the army. I have never seen a finer. He rode with the cavalry seat, but as easily and as gracefully as a born cowboy. He immediately demanded my horse, and, mounting him, proceeded to show off his horsemanship before the Grand Duke. Throwing the reins on his neck, he guided the almost unbroken horse in a circle by the pressure of his knees, and drawing both his revolvers fired with either hand at a gallop with as much accuracy as though he were standing on the ground. The Grand Duke, who had seen the Cossacks of the Ukraine, declared it was the finest exhibition of horsemanship he had ever seen and applauded every shot. Custer was then in the prime of life, a gallant figure with his flowing hair and his almost foppish military dress. Fresh from the great fight on the Washita, with no premonition of the Rosebud darkening his life, he was the ideal cavalryman and the idol of the western army..." [Chalkley Beeson in Custer Lives]
The sun shining through the back door of the stable enticed me to exit that way and it was a short walk across the field down to the river. It was another spiritual Custer connection to be standing at the banks of the Missouri here -- similar to how I felt when standing on the banks of the Little Big Horn a few days ago. But this time I had no intention of stepping into the water -- let alone wading into the middle as I'd done at Little Big Horn. This was a mean, dangerous river and Libbie had written about her terror of it many times -- from the first time she'd arrived and it was partially frozen over, to the havoc of Spring breakup when massive ice chunks broke loose gouging out the banks and flooding where land and trees used to be. She hated even crossing it in the summer (to sometimes go to Bismarck or St Paul for shopping) because then the river was full of sandbars and the ferry boatman would lose power and they'd go shooting down with the current -- she fearing they wouldn't stop until reaching Yankton.
I was standing on the west bank and aimed the camera panoramically from far left to far right -- from north to south where we'd come from earlier today at Sitting Bull's Standing Rock reservation downriver. Somewhere along the river near here, up or down, would be the steamboat dock where the Far West steamer would pick up and drop off passengers and supplies. Libbie, in the last pages of Boots & Saddles describes Our Life's Last Chapter.
"...Our women's hearts fell when the fiat went forth that there was to be a summer campaign, with actual fighting with Indians. Sitting Bull refused to make a treaty with the government and would not come in to live on a reservation. Besides his constant attacks on the white settlers, driving back even the most adventurous, he was incessantly invading and stealing from the land assigned to the peaceable Crows. They appealed for help to the government that had promised to shield them...
"...The preparations for the expedition were completed... The troops had been sent out of barracks into a camp that was established a short distance down the valley... The morning for the start came only too soon. My husband was to take Sister Margaret and me out for the first day's march, so I rode beside him out of camp [which took them through the garrison on their way into the hills]. The column that followed seemed unending. The grass was not then suitable for grazing, and as the route of travel was through a barren country, immense quantities of forage had to be transported. The wagons themselves seemd to stretch out interminably. There were pack mules, the ponies already laden, and cavalry, artillery, and infantry followed, the cavalry being in advance of all. The number of men, citizens, employees, Indian scouts and soldiers were about 1,200. There were nearly 1,700 animals in all... At every bend in the road, as the column wound its way round and round the low hills, my husband glanced back to admire his men and could not refrain from constantly calling my attention to their grand appearance... The steamers with supplies would be obliged to leave our post and follow the Missouri up to the mouth of the Yellowstone, and from thence on to the point on that river where the regiment was to make its first halt to renew the rations and forage.... My husband had made every plan to have me join him later on, when they should have reached the Yellowstone...
"...With my husband's departure my last happy days in garrison were ended, as a premonition of disaster that I had never known before weighed me down. I could not shake off the baleful influence of depressing thoughts... We heard constantly at the Fort of the disaffection of the young Indians of the reservation, and of their joining the hostiles. We knew, for we had seen for ourselves, how admirably they were equipped. We even saw on a steamer touching at our landing its freight of Springfield rifles piled up on the decks en route for the Indians up the river. There was unquestionable proof that they came into the trading posts far above us and bought them, while our own brave 7th Cavalry troopers were sent out with only the short-range carbines that grew foul after the second firing...
"...While we waited in untold suspense for some hopeful news, the garrison was suddenly thrown into a state of excitement by important dispatches that were sent from division headquarters in the East... Indian scouts were fitted out at the Fort with the greatest dispatch and given instructions to make the utmost speed they could in reaching the expedition on the Yellowstone. After their departure, when there was no longer any need for secrecy, we were told that the expedition [Crook's] which had started from the Department of the Platte, and encountered the hostile Indians on the headwaters of the Rosebud, had been compelled to retreat. All those victorious Indians had gone to join Sitting Bull, and it was to warn our regiment that this news was sent to our post, which was the extreme telegraphic communication in the Northwest... The news of the failure of the campaign in the other department was a death knell to our hopes. We felt that we had nothing to expect but that our troops would be overwhelmed with numbers, for it seemed to us an impossibility, as it really proved to be, that our Indian scouts should cross that vast extent of country in time to make the warning of use...
"...Meanwhile our own post was constantly surrounded by hostiles, and the outer pickets were continually subjected to attacks. It was no unusual sound to hear the long roll calling out infantry before dawn to defend the garrison. We saw the faces of the officers blanch, brave as they were, when the savages grew so bold as to make a daytime sortie upon our out guards. A picture of one day of our life in those disconsolate times is fixed indelibly in my memory. On Sunday afternoon, June 25, our little group of saddened women, borne down with one common weight of anxiety, sought solace in gathering together in our house. We tried to find some slight surcease from trouble in the old hymns; some of them dated back to our childhood's days... All were absorbed in the same thoughts, and their eyes were filled with faraway visions and longings. Indescribable yearning for the absent, and untold terror for their safety, engrossed each heart... At that very hour the fears that our tortured minds had portrayed in imagination were realities, and the souls of those we thought upon were ascending to meet their Maker...
~ end quoting Boots & Saddles by Libbie Custer ~
From the river I walked across the field toward the commissary the same way I'd come -- passing by the stable, mess hall, barracks and snapped a pic of Custer's House and hills looking lush after the rain. The flag was back atop the flagpole so the soldier must have hoisted it up after the rain stopped.
I got to the commissary just as it was closing and Bob was there regaling the staff with tales of our Custer trip -- and warning them they'd probably all end up on my website. In the gift shop I bought a copper mug engraved with the 7th Cavalry's crossed sabers and a forage cap, like the cavalrymen were wearing, for our grandson. As we were leaving, and realizing I'd probably not noticed it, a lady pointed to a beautiful painting of Custer hanging high up on the wall. I think she said it had been created by a local artist and was for sale. I agreed with her that it was one of the best likenesses ever made and I snapped a pic.
Today, looking at the photo of the painting of Custer, I see it personifying how Libbie described her husband during their days at Fort Abraham Lincoln:
"...The general was a figure that would have fixed attention anywhere. He had marked individuality of appearance, and a certain unstudied carelessness in the wearing of his costume that gave a picturesque effect not the least out of place on the frontier. He wore troop boots reaching to his knees, buckskin breeches fringed on the sides, a dark navy blue shirt with a broad collar, and a red necktie whose ends floated over his shoulder exactly as they did when he and his entire division of cavalry had worn them during the war. On the broad felt hat, that was almost a sombrero, was fastened a slight mark of his rank. He was at this time 35-years-of-age, weighed 175-pounds, and was nearly 6-feet in height. His eyes were clear blue, and deeply set; his hair, short, wavy, and golden in tint. His mustache was long and tawny in color; his complexion was florid, except where his forehead was shaded by his hat, for the sun always burned his skin ruthlessly..."
Walking back to the car in the parking lot we could see it dazzling in the sun from its recent power-wash in the thunderstorm and, having left the sunroof open, the dashboard and seats got a drenching too. I took this as a wink from Custer who loved pulling pranks on friends and family.
When I got back home, as I always do after a pilgrimage or homage, I made a display of mementos on the blessing table.
...to be cont'd at 12.LEWIS-CLARK-CUSTER-SITBULL TRAIL
1.JOURNEY TO CUSTER'S LITTLE BIG HORN
2.CUSTER ALT-HISTORY BIG HORN VICTORY
3.LAST WORD ON CUSTER FROM FRONT
4.CUSTER MASSACRE AT GATES OF HELL
5.HOMAGE TO CUSTER AT LAST STAND
6.CUSTER ON BOZEMAN & DEADWOOD
7.CUSTER GOLD BLACK HILLS & RUSHMORE
8.STATUES OF PRESIDENTS & CUSTER
9.CUSTER'S GETTYSBURG ON THE PLAINS
10.CUSTER & SITTING BULL NOT EQUALS
11.CUSTER AT HOME AT FORT LINCOLN
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