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The American West : Custer Essay

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The name of "Custer" has become a byword. Today, when one is involved in seemingly hopeless circumstances reference to "Custer's Last Stand" might be made. On the surface, and even after some digging, the case could be made that Custer was the victim of his own mistakes. This case will not be made here but only acknowledged to be a possible conclusion. The case made here is one which notes that those under Custer's command on June 25, 1876 failed him, and in failing him certainly doomed him.

The purpose of this essay will not be to slander the Indian nations with whom Custer fought that day. The Sioux and other tribes were in the right that day. Treaties had been made with these Indians granting them the Dakota Territory and the region of the Black Hills forever. Treaties the White Man drew up and signed gave them this land. In 1874 Gold was discovered in the region of the Black Hills, on Indian land. With the discovery of Gold treaties were forgotten. The thought of the time was a promise need not be kept with the Indians so the Indians must be removed from the land treatied to them. The Indian nations with whom Custer fought in 1876 were fighting for their lives, their families, and their land. Who among us can fault them for doing what we hold as noble and right and good. Custer and the United States Government were not in the right on June 25, 1876. Indeed, the whole Indian policy is a dark page in any history.

This essay does not presume to be scholarly, nor encompassing of all the facts and events of that day or time. This essay is an opinion of a less than amateur fan of the American West between the years of 1800-1899. This is my opinion based on limited readings. Some balance will be attempted in the presentation, despite the favorable standing that Custer holds with this writer.

It will be noted if one reads any sources on Custer that he was loved or hated. The powers that be in 1876 were no exception to this. General Sheridan admired Custer. President Grant, Benteen, and Reno did not. President Grant did not like Custer because Custer testified, in a court, to the corruption within Grant's administration. Benteen and Reno did not like Custer for personal reasons, not least of which was Custer's bravado, fast rise to rank, and his incredible luck. When Custer wrote of his experiences on the plains he entitled it, "My Life on the Plains". Benteen, it has been said, ridiculed this work by calling it "My Lie on the Plains". The Indian campaign of 1876 is a complicated matter. The presentation of the events here will be kept as simple as possible. As the Seventh Calvary approached what was to be the site of the Last Stand they were already somewhat separated. Custer with Reno were ahead, Benteen and his men were behind. At a space of about 2 1/2 miles from where Reno was to make a fight Custer and Reno split. Indians had been sighted and were seen to be running away. Custer was under the assumption that they were escaping. Haste was made to engage them before escape could become a reality. This was in fact not a true estimation of the facts, the larger force of the Indians was not escaping at all.

At the point that Reno and Custer separated three things happened: 1. Fresh discoveries of Indians were made by Custer's scouts. 2. Custer ordered Reno to charge ahead. 3. Custer and Reno separated, Custer to look for a place from which to attack in Support of Reno.

Indians had spotted Custer and Reno and circled back to warn the village of attack. Reno was to attack from the south in the event the tribes attempted a retreat in that direction. It must be understood that Custer was under the impression that the Indians were running away. He could not allow this. Endeavors had to be made to contain and defeat the Indian tribes. As Reno attacked it became apparent that the Indians were not running away, but rather meeting the attack. Reno sent messengers to notify Custer.

Custer was now in need of Benteen and the supply train containing ammunition. Custer receives word from Reno of his attack and turns right quickly to find a location from which to support Reno. The absence of Benteen is forgotten for the moment due to pressing developments of a battle with Indians. In the face of a need for Reno to be supported Custer acts, Reno and Benteen would either be unable or unwilling to return this favor.

With these developments Custer sends word via written note to Benteen that a big village is spotted and to hurry on with the supply packs and his contingent of men to support the initiative. In the face of direct orders from his commanding officer Benteen does not significantly increase his speed beyond a mere walk, rather he lags. A second note is sent back and received by Benteen from Custer telling him to hurry on. Again Benteen does little to fulfill these orders. This in the face of orders from a superior officer, and in the field of battle.

After some amount of time Benteen does trot forward to the place where Reno and Custer split. Benteen follows neither Custer nor Reno but continues ahead. In so doing he witnesses Reno's ill fated retreat to Reno Hill. Benteen trots an additional mile or so and joins the retreated Reno on Reno Hill. Benteen does this with a note in his pocket with direct orders from his commander to hurry on.

It must be noted that it is Custer's assumption that Reno is attacking the Indians from one side, Custer from the other and that Benteen is quickly spurring on to support. Sadly, the only accurate assumption here is that Custer was attacking from one direction.

The Pack Train was yet behind Benteen. Upon arriving at the place where Custer and Reno split the pack train follows on to Reno Hill to join Reno and Benteen. Prior to this, at a distance of two miles, the Pack train stops for 10-15 minutes to allow stragglers to catch up. Reno then sends word back for the Pack train, ammunition is needed. Two mules with a box of ammunition each are sent ahead to Reno.

Reno had charged the village, but never entered the village. Instead he formed a skirmish line. This was a dismounted line which cut his fire power considerably; each fourth



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