Musings from the Manhut

Where the ebb and flow of life creates a cascade of words down the paper's face

Tag: my life on the plains

Custer: Lobbyists

Under the Constitution of the United States there are but two houses of Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives, and most people residing within the jurisdiction of its laws suppose this to be the extent of the legislative body; but those acquainted with the internal working of that important branch of the government, there is still a third house of Congress, better known as the lobby. True, its existence is neither provided for nor recognized by law; yet it exists nonetheless, and so powerful, although somewhat hidden, is its influence upon the other branches of Congress, that almost any measure it is interested in becomes a law. It is somewhat remarkable that those measures which are plainly intended to promote public interests are seldom agitated or advocated in the third house, while those measures of doubtful proprietary or honesty usually secure the almost undivided support of the lobby.

Custer: Indians cannot rise to civilisation

The question may also arise as to what influence the wild nomadic tribes of the West are most likely to yield and become peaceably inclined toward their white neighbors, willing to forego their accustomed raids and attacks upon the frontier settlements, and content to no longer oppose the advance of civilization. Whether this desirable condition  of affairs can be permanently and best secured by the display and exercise of  a strong but just  military power, or by the extension of the olive-branch on one hand and government annuities on the other or by a happy combination of both, has long been one of the difficult problems whose solution has baffled the judgment of our legislators from the formation of the government to the present time. My firm conviction, based upon an intimate and thorough analysis of the habits, traits of character, and natural instinct of the Indian, and strengthened and supported by the almost unanimous opinion of all persons who have made the Indian problem a study, and have studied it, not from a distance, but in immediate contact with all the facts bearing thereupon, is that the Indian cannot be elevated to that great level where he can be induced to adopt any policy or mode of life varying from those to which he has ever been accustomed by any method of teaching, argument, reasoning, or coaxing which is not preceded and followed closely in reserve by a superior physical force. In other words, the Indian is capable of recognizing no controlling influence but that of stern arbitrary power. To assume that he can be guided by appeals to his ideas of moral right and wrong, independent of threatening or final compulsion, is to place him far above his more civilized brothers of the white race, who, in the most advanced stage of refinement and morality, still find it necessary to employ force, sometimes resort to war, to exact justice from a neighboring nation. And yet there are those who argue that the Indian with all his lack of moral privileges, is so superior to the white race as to be capable of being controlled in his savage traits and customs, and induced to lead a proper life, simply by being politely requested to do so. ~pp101-102

Custer: An Indian Battle Charge

Seeing that the little garrison was stunned by the heavy fire of the dis- mounted Indians, and rightly judging that now, if ever, was the proper time to charge them, Roman Nose and his band of mounted warriors, with a wild, ringing war-whoop, echoed by the women and children on the hills, started forward. On they came, presenting even to the brave men awaiting the charge a most superb sight. Brandishing their guns, echoing back the cries of encouragement of their women and children on the surrounding hills, and confident of victory, they rode bravely and recklessly to the assault. Soon they were within the range of the rifles of their friends, and of course the dismonnted Indians had to slacken their fire for fear of hitting their own warriors, this was the opportunity for the scouts, and they were not slow to seize it. “Now,” shouted Forsyth. “Now,” echoed Beecher, McCall, and Orover ; and the scouts, springing to their knees, and casting their eyes coolly along the barrels of their rifles, opened on the advancing savages as deadly a fire as the same number of men ever yet sent forth from an equal number of rifles. Unchecked, undaunted, on dashed the warriors ; steadily rang the clear, sharp reports of the rifles of the frontiersmen. Roman Nose, the chief, is seen to fall dead from his horse, then Medicine Man is killed, and for an instant the column of braves, now within ten feet of the scouts, hesitates — falters. A ringing cheer from the accounts, who perceive the effect of their well-directed fire, and the Indians begin to break and scatter in every direction, unwilling to rush to a hand-to-hand struggle with the men who, although outnumbered, yet knew how to make such effective use of their rifles. A few more shots from the frontiersmen and the Indians are forced back beyond range, and their first attack ends in defeat. Forsyth turns to Grover anxiously and inquires, “Can they do better than that, Grover?” “I have been on the Plains, General, since a boy, and never saw such a charge as that before. I think they have done their level best,” was the reply. ” All right,” responds ” Sandy” ; ” then we are good For them.”

Custer: Reason for Indian War

As pretended but not disinterested friends of the Indians frequently acquit the latter of comitting unprovoked attacks on helpless settlers and others, who have never in the slightest degree injured them, and often deny even that the Indians have been guilty of any hostile acts which justify the adoption of military measures to insure the measure of protection and safety of our frontier settlements, the following tabular statement is here given, This statement is taken from official records on file at the headquarters Military Division of the Missouri, and, as it states, gives only those murders and other depredations which were officially reported, and the white people mentioned as killed are exclusive of those slain in warfare. I am particular in giving time, place,etc., of each occurrance, so that those who hitherto may have believed the Indian to be a creature who could do no wrong may have ample opportunity to judge of the correctness of my statements. Many other murders by the Indian during this period no doubt occured, but, occurring as they did over a wide and sparsely steeled tract of country, were never reported to the military authorities.

Letter from General Sherman to General Grant

St. Louis, Dec. 28, 1866

GENERAL: Just in time to attend the funeral of my Adjutant-General, Sawyer. I have given general instructions to General Cooks about the Sioux. I do not yet understand how the massacre of Colonel Fetterman’s party could have been so complete. We must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux, even to their extermination, men, women, and children. Nothing less will reach the root of the case.

(Signed) W.T. Sherman, Lieutenant General

Deserters from Custer’s Autobigraphy

Let us leave him and his detachment for a brief interval, and return to events which were more immediately connected with my command, and which bear a somewhat tragic as well as personal interest.

In a previous chapter reference has been made to the state of dissatisfaction which had made its appearance among the enlisted men. This state of feeling had been principally superinduced by inferior and insufficient rations, a fault for which no one connected with the troops in the field was responsible, but which was chargeable to persons far removed from the theater of our movements, persons connected with the supply departments of the army. Added to this internal source of disquiet, we were then on the main line of overland travel to some of our most valuable and lately discovered mining regions. The opportunity to obtain marvellous wages as miners and the prospect of amassing sudden wealth proved a temptation sufficiently strong to make many of the men forget their sworn obligations to their government and their duties as soldiers. Forgetting for the moment that the command to which they belonged was actually engaged in war and was in a country infested with armed bodies of the enemy, and that the legal penalty of desertion under such circumstances was death, many of the men formed a combination to desert their colors and escape to the mines.

The first intimation received by any person in authority of the existence of this plot was on the morning fixed for our departure from the Platte. Orders had been issued the previous evening for the command to march at daylight. Upwards of forty men were reported as having deserted during the night. There was no time to send parties in pursuit, or the capture and return of a portion of them might have been effected.

The command marched southward at day light. At noon, having marched fifteen miles, we halted to rest and graze the horses for one hour. The men believed that the halt was made for the remainder of the day, and here a plan was perfected among the disaffected by which upwards of one third of the effective strength of the command was to seize their horses and arms during the night and escape to the mountains. Had the conspirators succeeded in putting this plan into execution it would have been difficult to say how serious the consequences might be, or whether enough true men would remain to render the march to Fort Wallace practicable. Fortunately it was decided to continue the march some fifteen miles farther before night. The necessary orders were given and everything was being repacked for the march when attention was called to thirteen soldiers who were then to be seen rapidly leaving camp in the direction from which we had marched. Seven of these were mounted and were moving off at a rapid gallop; the remaining six were dismounted, not having been so fortunate as their fellows in procuring horses. The entire party were still within sound of the bugle, but no orders by bugle note or otherwise served to check or diminish their flight. The boldness of this attempt at desertion took every one by surprise. Such an occurrence as enlisted men deserting in broad daylight and under the immediate eyes of their officers had never been heard of. With the exception of the horses of the guard and a few belonging to the officers, all others were still grazing and unsaddled. The officer of the guard was directed to mount his command promptly, and if possible over take the deserters. At the same time those of the officers whose horses were in readiness were also directed to join in the pursuit and leave no effort untried to prevent the escape of a single malcontent. In giving each party sent in pursuit instructions, there was no limit fixed to the measures which they were authorized to adopt in executing their orders. This, unfortunately, was an emergency which involved the safety of the entire command, and required treatment of the most summary character.

It was found impossible to overtake that portion of the party which was mounted, as it was afterwards learned that they had selected seven of the fleetest horses in the command. Those on foot, when discovering themselves pursued, increased their speed, but a chase of a couple of miles brought the pursuers within hailing distance.

Major Elliot, the senior officer participating in the pursuit, called out to the deserters to halt and surrender. This command was several times repeated, but without effect. Finally, seeing the hopelessness of further flight, the deserters came to bay, and to Major Elliot’s renewed demand to throw down their arms and surrender, the ring-leader drew up his carbine to fire upon his pursuers. This was the signal for the latter to open fire, which they did successfully, bringing down three of the deserters, although, two of them were worse frightened than hurt.

Rejoining the command with their six captive deserters, the pursuing party reported their inability to overtake those who had deserted on horseback. The march was resumed and continued until near nightfall, by which time we had placed thirty miles between us and our last camp on the Platte. While on the march during the day a trusty sergeant, one who had served as a soldier long and faithfully, imparted the first information which could be relied upon as to the plot which had been formed by the malcontents to desert in a body. The following night had been selected as the time for making the attempt. The best horses and arms in the command were to be seized and taken away. I believed that the summary action adopted during the day would intimidate any who might still be contemplating desertion, and was confident that another day’s march would place us so far in a hostile and dangerous country that the risk of encountering war parties of Indians would of itself serve to deter any but large numbers from at tempting to make their way back to the settlements. To bridge the following night in safety was the next problem. While there was undoubtedly a large proportion of the men who could be fully relied upon to remain true to their obligations and to render any support to their officers which might be demanded, yet the great difficulty at this time, owing to the sudden development of the plot, was to determine who could be trusted.

This difficulty was solved by placing every officer in the command on guard during the entire night. The men were assembled as usual for roll-call at tattoo, and then notified that every man must be in his tent at the signal “taps,” which would be sounded half an hour later; that their company officers, fully armed, would walk the company streets during the entire night, and any man appearing outside the limits of his tent between the hours of taps and reveille would do so at the risk of being fired upon after being once hailed.

The night passed without disturbance, and daylight found us in the saddle and pursuing our line of march toward Fort Wallace. It is proper to here record the fact that from that date onward desertion from that command during the continuance of the expedition was never attempted. It may become necessary in order to perfect the record, borrowing a term from the War Department, to refer in a subsequent chapter to certain personal and official events which resulted partially from the foregoing occurrences.

A bivouac by the Platte River from Custer’s autobio

Being the first to awake, I rose to a sitting posture and took a hasty survey of our situation. Within a few feet of us flowed the Platte River. Our group, horses and men, presented an interesting subject for a painter. To my surprise I discovered that a heavy shower of rain had fallenn during the night, but so deep had been our slumber that even the rain had failed to disturb us. Each one of the party had spread his saddle blanket on the ground to serve as his couch, while for covering we had called into requisition the india-rubber poncho or rubber blanket which invariably forms an important part of the plainsman’s outfit. The rain, without awakening any of the party, had aroused them sufficiently to cause each one to pull his rubber blanket over his face, and, thus protected, he continued his repose. The appearance presented by this somber-looking group of sleepers strongly reminded me of scenes during the war when, after a battle, the bodies of the slain had been collected for burial.

Indian burial described by Custer

Our second day’s march brought us to the Saline River, where we encamped for the night. From our camp ground we could see on a knoll some two miles distant a platform or scaffold erected, which resembled somewhat one of our war signal stations. Curious to discover its purpose, I determined to visit it.

Taking with me Comstock and a few soldiers, I soon reached the point, and discovered that the object of my curiosity and surprise was an Indian grave. The body, instead of being consigned to mother earth, was placed on top of the platform. The latter was constructed of saplings, and was about twenty feet in height. From Comstock I learned that with some of the tribes this is the usual mode of disposing of the body after death. The prevailing belief of the Indian is that when done with this world the spirit of the deceased is transferred to the happy hunting-ground, where he is permitted to engage in the same pleasures and pursuits which he preferred while on earth. To this end it is deemed essential that after death the departed must be supplied with the same equipment and ornaments considered necessary while in the flesh. In accordance with this belief a complete Indian outfit, depending in extent upon the rank and importance of the deceased, is prepared, and consigned with the body to the final resting place.

The body found on this occasion must have been that of a son of some important chief; it was not full grown, but accompanied with all the arms and adornments usually owned by a warrior. There was the bow and quiver full of steel-pointed arrows, the tomahawk and scalping-knife, and a red clay pipe with a small bag full of tobacco. In order that the departed spirit should not be wholly dependent upon friends after his arrival at the happy hunting-ground, he had been supplied with provisions, consisting of small parcels containing coffee, sugar, and bread. Weapons of modern structure had also been furnished him, a revolver and rifle with powder and ball ammunition for each, and a saddle, bridle, and lariat for his pony. Added to these was a supply of wearing apparel, embracing every article known in an Indian’s toilet, not excepting the various colored paints to be used in decorating himself for war. A handsome buckskin scalping-pocket, profusely ornamented with beads, completed the outfit. But for fear that white women’s scalps might not be readily obtainable, and desiring no doubt to be received at once as a warrior who in his own country at least was not without renown, a white woman’s scalp was also considered as a necessary accompaniment, a letter of introduction to the dusky warriors and chieftains who had gone before. As the Indian of the Plains is himself only when on horseback, provision must be made for mounting him properly in the Indian heaven. To accomplish this, the favorite war pony is led beneath the platform on which the body of the warrior is placed at rest and there strangled to death.

Indians afterlife from Custer’s autobio

Those of the savages who were shot from their saddles were scarcely permitted to fall to the ground before a score or more of their comrades dashed to their rescue and bore their bodies beyond the possible reach of our men. This is in accordance with the Indian custom in battle. They will risk the lives of a dozen of their best warriors to prevent the body of any one of their number from falling into the white man’s possession. The reason for this is the belief, which generally prevails among all the tribes, that if a warrior loses his scalp he forfeits his hope of ever reaching the happy hunting-ground.

Preparing for battle from Custer

When the entireband had defiled down the inclined slope, Comstock and the officers were able to estimate roughly the full strength of the party. They were astonished to perceive that between six and seven hundred warriors were bearing down upon them, and in a few minutes would undoubtedly commence the attack. Against such odds, and upon ground so favorable for the Indian mode of warfare, it seemed unreasonable to hope for a favorable result. Yet the entire escort, officers and men, entered upon their defense with the determination to sell their lives as dearly as possible.

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