My missing execution: Custer’s rout

Friday, 4 July 2003

Some historians recently re-analyzed the battle of the Little Bighorn, usually known as Custer’s Last Stand. They decided to go about it from a forensic angle with a focus on ballistic analysis. This makes the most sense of any possible approach of course because the main evidence, even when it happened in 1872, is bullets and shells.

It’s long been painted as a brave and hard-fought battle. Only lost because of the overwhelming numbers of Sioux involved.

Back up: it’s the 1870s. The Civil War is just over. The Government is all but bankrupt. Lincoln’s dead, replaced by an impeachable puppet and a genocidal incompetent in turn. The California gold rush is not such a rush anymore. Manifest destiny as a term is already 30 years old. The children who grew up with it know it as truth. Debate is dead and buried. Imperialism without seas blocking is somehow more palatable, righteous.

The US government of the day made treaty after treaty with the Natives. They had to be continually remade because white America spent all its money killing each other over the economics of slavery and was growing westward where more gold kept turning up in the craptastic lands the Indians were relegated to starving in. No one batted an eyelash at giving the Black Hills to the Indians because they were so desolate and apparently worthless.

In 1874, one of those treaties was broken again by a survey party entering the Black Hills under George A. Custer. This violation into the Sioux lands would not have amounted to anything if the party hadn’t discovered gold lying around like spilled popcorn. But they did.

Now it was just a race to circumvent the treaty in question completely. It didn’t take long.

Ugly, brutal, illegal, immoral. Everything about it was wrong but the American people and their duly appointed representatives wanted it. It was patriotic, for the Fatherland.

In the Dakota hillside the ballistics show, quite clearly, that the battle was short, decisive, and one-sided. The Sioux were completely in charge from the jump. They out-generalled the General easily. They slaughtered the soldiers like dogs while said jaundiced canids ran about like decapitated barnery.

The shells of individual soldiers show they abandoned any discipline early in the battle and gathered together in a frantic ball on a hilltop, like so many terrified mackerel hiding their heads in each other’s asses, hoping nothing, just fighting to be the last to die. They were easily destroyed. Those who saw the end coming early ran from the hill and were caught in the nearby ravine and literally butchered.

The Sioux believe that enmity survives into the next life. To cripple their antagonists in the next world they would do a great deal of postmortem rearrangement to fallen soldiers. Decapitation, severed limbs, disembowelment, you know, Justice.

Custer had a “wife” among the Cheyenne and much contact with all the tribes. The legend about Custer goes that he had personally promised the tribes not to attack. It is probably apocryphal but they say when Custer fell at Little Bighorn his body was the one that was not butchered. The women however punctured his eardrums with a bone sewing awl. They hoped that this might help him to hear better in the next world so he would remember his promises.

When I heard how it really happened, that it wasn’t just a win for the Sioux and Cheyenne but a humbling, emasculating, fair-and-square military slaughter of US soldiers, I was ecstatic.

If I’d expressed this opinion at the time of the events, I might have been put to death or at very least fined 5 years pay and put in prison for a deuce, the standard fair for sedition of the day.

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