*Note: This was intended to be the first in a series of historical lectures entitled Good Thing, Bad Thing. However, upon further investigation, I've begun to harbor deep suspicions over just what kind of internet publication I've gotten involved with. Frankly, you people disgust me.
Now, I know all you youngsters “marvel” at your super-hero movies, or "warp" to the theater for the latest space-trek, but let me tell you about a time when there were these things called MEN in the world. And they didn’t need fancy laser beams or tight pajamas to do their amazing deeds. They just pulled themselves up by their bootstraps every blessed day and built a goddamn nation.
Let me tell you about George Armstrong Custer.
In the first place, as far as I'm concerned, a boy with Armstrong anywhere in his name is basically immunized against impotence, imbecility, or what we used to call “indifference to women”. I damn near pleaded with my wife to name our son Winston Armstrong Porterhouse O’Flannery, but in the end, Gladys chose Gus instead. I’m sure you can all “gus” how well that went.
Born in 1839, by the time he was fully grown, George Armstrong Custer stood 5 foot 11 inches and weighed all of 150 pounds, with 50% of his body weight being stored in his penis. These are historical facts. He graduated from West Point in 1861 at the very bottom of his class, not because he struggled academically, but because of something called demerits.
Demerits are an institutional mechanism used to balance out the cosmic unfairness of some men being born with solid brass downstairs (if you know what I mean). On balance, it is a good system. Self-control is the measure of manliness, but there are some men far too manly to be contained, men like George Armstrong Custer. He amassed a total of 726 demerits during his time at West Point, for “instigating devilish plots” and “disruptive ideas” among other infelicities.
Fortunately for the newly minted Lieutenant Custer, the Civil War broke out almost on the same day he received his commission. Coincidence? I think not. He was assigned to the 2nd U.S. Cav and got straight to work. He first saw action during the Peninsula Campaign of 1862 - certainly a feat of military logistics, but ultimately a costly fiasco for Billy Yank - the main problem being a lack of brass, on the part of the brass.
Here’s a story: One day, the commander, Gen'l George McClellan – who had almost no demerits (just so you know) – was trying to work out how deep a river was. He and his staff decided to use all sorts of mathematics and assorted balderdash, when young Custer suddenly charges his horse straight into the river, turns around, and says with a grin, “General, this is how deep it is, sir!”
And that was just a Tuesday morning for George Armstrong Custer. By 1863, he had been promoted all the way to Brigadier General, skipping several ranks in the process. The son-of-a-bitch was all of 23 years old. Thenceforward, Custer and his “Wolverines” – otherwise known as the Michigan Cavalry Brigade – took the stripe to old Johnny Reb, distinguishing themselves in battle after battle, from Gettysburg to Appomattox and the end of the war.
Postbellum, Custer remained in the Army, and was stationed along the Western frontier under the command of another illustrious cavalryman, Gen'l Philip Sheridan. Old "Fightin' Phil" was even shorter than Custer (at 5 foot 4 inches) and probably had an even larger satchel, if the portrait below is anything to go by.
But his frostiest moment came while serving as head of the Dept. of the Missouri. When asked if there were any good Natives, Sheridan replied, “The only good Indian I ever saw is a dead Indian." Make of this what you will. At any rate, it brings us neatly along to the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
Now, some of my former colleagues – until my completely unjustifiable termination, thank you very much, Chappiqaw County School District – had many lively debates on this topic. Some will tell you that U.S. policy towards the Indian Nations was one of “genocide” and broken “promises”. Well, let me explain why that’s pure unadulterated balderdash.
The Great Plains of 1870 would've seemed like an alien planet to all you modern youngsters. In fact, I'd pay good money to watch most of you die from incompetence once your precious "apples" and "googles" couldn't do your thinking for you. But what's that? In the distance? Why, it's a band of soft cuddly Native Americans! Let me tell them how badly they've been mistreated and surely they'll help! As long as I explain that I'm an "ally", everything will be fine.
Think again. You're on their land, buster brown. Do you have anything to trade? No. Can you be useful in any way? No. Can you defend yourself? Definitely no. True, they might've taken you hostage, but if you whined and moaned half as much you do in class, I'd wager they'd kill you simply for convenience's sake - and you know, I wouldn't blame them one bit.
Life on the Great Plains was reserved for real MEN. And the Plains Nations, whose names have since passed into legend - the Apache, the Arapaho, the Blackfoot, the Crow, the Comanche - certainly contained real MEN. Since time immemorial, these mighty peoples strove for dominion over this harsh unforgiving wilderness: a land wild, untamed, magnificent, and terrifying. And it was in (what would become) the Dakotas and Montana where resided perhaps the most recognizable of them all. The Sioux.
Let me tell you about the Sioux.
The Lakota (to be precise) were the fiercest and best organized confederation of the Sioux people. And right around this time, they were starting to get - how do you youngsters say? - pretty fucking furious over the white man settling on their land and poaching their bison. However, things were about to get worse. In 1874, George Armstrong Custer arrived in the Black Hills.
And he discovered gold. Then he blabbed about it to the pressmen (you call them "journos" today) who swarmed his camp like locusts. Up to that time, Gen'l Sheridan and the Federal Gov’t were trying to keep the white man out of the Black Hills, which were sacred to the Lakota. But once the gold rush began, they simply couldn’t halt the flood. To the surprise of nobody, skirmishes broke out between Lakota war-bands and well-armed settlers. A crisis erupted overnight.
President Grant (5 foot 8 inches, and another stallion) attempted to make peace. He sent commissioners to the Lakota, explaining they'd be compensated for their land and didn't even have to move. All they had to do was let the prospectors and miners do their work. If they refused the offer, then they'd be forcibly evicted and moved to reservations further west. The Lakota considered the proposal among themselves and sent one of their most respected chiefs back to Washington to give their reply.
His name was Red Cloud. Not Josh, or Hunter, or Taylor, like my useless grandsons. Goddamn Red Cloud. And do you know what Red Cloud said when he met the President of the United States face-to-face? He told him to go fuck himself. These are historical facts.
But there was another chief among the Lakota - one you would know if you weren't always trying to "swipe right" on your next "Tin-dirt" girlfriend. I'm speaking, of course, about the eminent Sitting Bull. Among other things, Sitting Bull was renowned for predicting the future. In 1876, at the yearly Lakota Sun Dance, Sitting Bull had a vision of the white man falling upon them “like grasshoppers” and he proposed an alliance between various tribes to stand athwart.
To command this alliance, Sitting Bull instructed his war chief – his goddamn war chief – to take command. And this war chief, bravest of the braves, fiercest among the Lakota, was quite possibly the only man on the continent dragging around a heavier pair than George Armstrong Custer himself.
Let me tell you about Crazy Horse.
Just about all we really can say for sure was that once he walked the face of the earth. Everything else is legend. There are no photographs of him because cameras (probably) exploded when brought too close. Women spontaneously orgasmed in his presence, or became mysteriously pregnant when he sneezed, though it is likely Crazy Horse himself never performed the sexual act - historians theorize he could never find a hole big enough.
Not that this mattered to Crazy Horse. He didn’t need sex. Sex was something lesser men craved in order to prove something to themselves. Not Crazy Horse. He had nothing to prove to any man. His sole desire was to hunt and fight across the eternal plains of his forefathers. To ride forever among the stars.
Thus, the stage was set. The heroes had been summoned. The drama was about to begin.
In that fateful June of '76, Gen'l Custer, trusting his instincts, as he had so many occasions before, split up his U.S. 7th Cav troopers, which severely weakened his own forces. He also sent ahead his beloved Crow scouts to find the Lakota. Of these scouts, his favorite was called Bloody Knife - although I'm sure he didn't get that name from a kitchen accident! - and he reported that the Lakota were camped in an immense village near the Little Bighorn river. Custer's orders were to evict the Lakota villages, and by gum, he was going to start with the largest of them. What balls.
But it was also what Crazy Horse anticipated. As Custer and his 200 men pressed forward, Crazy Horse personally led his 2,000 warriors in a rapid charge and envelopment. In a handful of minutes, Custer was surrounded. So, Custer did what any real MAN would do in that situation. He led his troopers to a small hilltop, formed a hedgehog defense, and fought to the last bullet from the last gun from the last man.
Some historians say Custer’s Last Stand was over in all of five minutes. Other (better) historians say that it lasted for several hours and was an epic display of manful conduct. It is difficult to determine whether George Armstrong Custer and Crazy Horse ever met on the battlefield and dueled one-on-one, but I'm going to say it's essentially impossible that they didn't. However it happened, in the end Custer fell,and Crazy Horse stood victorious, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn was over.
Yet one question remains... Good Thing, Bad Thing?
Mostly bad thing. When the pressmen back East caught wind of the massacre, the whitefolk got their blood up. An entire U.S. Cavalry Corps returned the following year. Crazy Horse was captured and bayoneted by cowards. Sitting Bull was captured and briefly became a celebrity as part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, but was also killed some years later.
Yet, to this very day, the descendants of the Lakota Sioux do not recognize their land as ever being “sold” and periodically refuse MILLIONS of dollars offered to them by the Federal Gov’t. I would expect nothing less from Crazy Horse's people.
The Battle of the Little Bighorn, along with the Alamo, will go down as the greatest last stands in American history, a clash of cultures - no doubt - but most of all, a clash between two of the biggest swinging dicks this nation has ever produced, or is likely to produce again. Fate made them enemies for a time, but we may be forgiven for thinking they are up there in heaven together, frowning at all you youngsters who have so hopelessly lost your way.
God bless you, George Armstrong Custer. Far may you roam, Chief Crazy Horse.
That's all for this week, kids.
Do your reading,