What Diseases Were A Threat To The United States Military In 1877?

The modern era has graced us with some of the most miraculous medical advancements for which we could hope. So much so that the most dangerous enemy in any engagement is, well, the actual enemy on the battlefield. It wasn’t always like this. In the 1870s, for example, one of the most dangerous enemies was disease. In fact, twice as many soldiers were killed by disease as by enemy combatants. Wow! 

Here are a few of the most dangerous diseases battlefield surgeons had to contend with:

Victory Disease. This might not be familiar to you because it’s not an actual disease. But it kills just like one. When a powerful force begins to believe itself invulnerable, victory disease takes root. Such is the case for General George Armstrong Custer, who led his men to slaughter because of his belief that they could not be defeated.

Malaria. This is still a major killer around the world even though we have the vaccine in hand. Those who come down with the infectious disease will likely succumb to a combination of fever, fatigue, vomiting, and splitting headaches. End-stage symptoms include a yellow complexion, seizure, coma, and potentially death. Mosquitoes transport the disease and it can recur after several months if left untreated.

Yellow Fever. Another virus transmitted through those dastardly mosquitoes. After nearly a week, those infected will start to develop fever, aches and pains, and chills. More serious end-stage symptoms include organ failure, shock, hemorrhage, and death. 

Gangrene. This occurs due to other conditions including diabetes, smoking, trauma, alcoholism, and frostbite. On the battlefield, trauma is the number one predictor. Gangrene is the death of tissue, which is why symptoms include changing skin color. One might experience numbness, intense pain, broken skin, chills, etc. May present with sepsis.  

Dysentery. This is common on the battlefield due to the lack of quality water. Dysentery is an intestinal infection that leads to diarrhea and dehydration. Many who suffer from dysentery will die without medical treatment.

Tuberculosis. This disease most often attacks the lungs and is highly infectious because it is spread through particles in the air. Caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis, it results in weight loss, coughing, loss of appetite, fever, night sweats, and intense fatigue.

Smallpox. Caused by viruses, this disease was globally eradicated by 1980. About a third of those who contracted the disease would eventually die. It is noteworthy because of the many fluid-filled bumps or dimples that covered the body. Those who survived would likely incur heavy scarring. Other symptoms include fever and vomiting. Some survivors also went blind.

Were Gatling Guns Ever Used Against The Native Americans?

Anyone who has ever watched The Last Samurai from start to finish will know how unimaginably cool a gatling gun can be when used against a larger force (or a smaller one). But if you haven’t seen the movie, we’ll ruin the ending for you: Tom Cruise’s idiot character decides to stand with a small group of samurai warriors in defense of the “old way.” Those defending the old way have swords and armor, and those trying to wipe it out have muskets and uniforms. And gatling guns.

Against all odds, the last remaining samurai warriors break through the enemy lines to charge toward the commanders on horseback, only to be completely mowed down and slaughtered when the new wave employs gatling guns toward the rear.

Considering the timeline of the movie, it made us ask a single simple question: were gatling guns ever used against Native Americans and to what effect? To put it into perspective, gatling guns were first patented in 1862. The Battle of the Little Bighorn took place in 1876. That’s plenty of time to implement even more genocidal tendencies than our armies had implemented before.

So did we?

The most important thing is that we had the option. More specifically — Custer had the option just before he went to his grave. He proposed that the guns would reduce mobility too much to make his force effective in battle. Whoops! Other military commanders agreed that gatling guns simply weren’t worth dragging into a mobile fight. They were heavy and unwieldy, and Native Americans often retreated to rough or mountainous terrain — which meant gatling guns could not follow.

But they were used during some battles. For example, they were effective in taking down the Cheyenne in Oklahoma during conflicts in 1875. They were also used in the Red River War in Texas and the Nez Perce War, both of which occurred in the mid-to-late 1870s. Other uses occurred during the Sioux Wars and the Bannock War.

The guns seemed to be used to limited effect, but little information is available to support any claims.

More likely, it seems that the gatling guns probably prevented the Native Americans from launching any effective countermeasures. That’s because almost all US Army garrisons had support from the guns. Even if the Native Americans outnumbered American soldiers 10 to 1, the guns could probably provide enough fire support from a fortified location to defend against any attack. The offensive capabilities of the guns where they were most likely to be used were probably limited, however.

What Was The Worst Native American Massacre Of All Time?

The vast majority of all Native American massacres resulted in anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred casualties (even if we include those who were responsible for the massacre to begin with). But those seem insignificant to the most brutal slaughters in Native American history. In fact, the two worst massacres were nightmares even if we look at all of history. So what were they?

The Massacre of Cholula

Descriptions of the bloodbath that occurred at Cholula are based on little evidence, and historians are torn about what actually occurred there. It seems that one of the Native American leaders was trying to halt the advance of Cortes, who had brought the full brunt of his force to bear down on them. Although the Spanish did not encounter resistance upon entering the city, they heard rumors that they were to be murdered in the night. 

They decided to kill the local nobles as a reminder of Spanish supremacy.

But of course they did not stop there. They captured the enemy leaders and then torched the city. During the sack, they murdered thousands. Reports were as low as 3,000 or as high as 30,000. Certainly this was one of the most egregious slaughters of Native Americans of all time — but it doesn’t even hold a candle to the first on the list.

The Massacre of Tenochtitlan

Surprise, surprise: Cortes was responsible for this one as well. He and his forces had pushed the Aztecs into a corner by August 13, 1521. They surrendered. Cortes had lost a bit of gold during his conquests in South America, so he did what any god-fearing man would do to get it back: he burned the feet of his enemies using oil as a catalyst until they gave up the location. 

During the entirety of the conquest for Tenochtitlan, between 100,000 and 240,000 people were killed. These included fighting men, but an enormous number of the dead were women and children. Reports suggested that tens of thousands of Aztecs were floating in the city’s canals after it fell to Cortes.

It’s difficult not to characterize these atrocities as genocide.

Cortes went from town to town, slaughtering those who resided in each. Few were spared. Even after those who resided in the city surrendered, the Spanish and their allies continued to press the attack, killing everyone. The Aztec civilization as a whole was pillaged and looted. Women were raped en masse. Children were stabbed in front of their families. Although there were some survivors, they had nowhere to go and they were hunted thereafter.

What Was Native American Civilization Like Before Custer?

Most of us have a fairly skewed idea of what Native Americans were really like before settlers destroyed their culture both intentionally and unintentionally. Diseases from the west quite literally decimated Native American societies, which were big and booming, enjoying a level of size and prosperity that most of us probably can’t even imagine they were capable of building in the first place.

Oh, but they did built it.

Before settlers from the west arrived, and long before Custer’s Last Stand, Native American civilization was much different than we ever learned in grade school. Point in fact: have you ever heard of Cahokia, El Pilar, or Tikal? We thought not.

Cahokia Mounds in St. Clair County, Illinois, is considered the site of one of the biggest North American Native American settlements that ever existed. Before its rise to prominence, Cahokia had anywhere from 1,400 to 2,800 residents. But around 1100 AD, the population skyrocketed to anywhere from 10,200 to 15,300 people. But like all modern-day cities, there was a main “metropolitan” area surrounded by “suburbs” and farms with a lot more people.

Many archaeologists believe that there could have been around 40,000 people living there when the city was at its best. It became such an economic center that thousands more would have poured in and out each day. Eventually Cahokia’s population declined and was abandoned within 150 years. 

But Cahokia was dwarfed by the massive Maya city at El Pilar, located along the modern-day Belize-Guatemala border. Historians estimate that there may have been more than 180,000 residents in El Pilar when the city was at its peak around 1000 AD. We’re still learning about what it offered those who thrived there.

The ruins at El Pilar were discovered in 1983 by Dr. Anabel Ford, who said, “We need to be honest about the Maya and make sure people witness something with a level of veracity. I believe you can both show people something and have it be real. Besides, we have plenty of exposed temples already.”

And then there’s Tikal, another ancient Maya city located in the Guatemalan rainforests, where 100,000 people may have lived. Now, Tikal is a reminder of the superiority of Maya superiority: Tikal had an enormous amount of influence over other cities in almost every way. They interacted politically, but they could also assert control through their strong economy and powerful military machine.

Tikal fell into decline by the 4th century CE, giving newer civilizations a chance to prosper as well — which, of course, now we know they did.

Was Major General George Armstrong Custer A Devout Pet Lover?

When we discuss Major General George Armstrong Custer in the context of American history, it’s almost impossible to do so without mentioning the Battle of the Little Bighorn (hint hint). But the man was more than one battle. He lived his life gaining the attention of both his superior officers and those who served underneath him. More than that, he gained the attention of dozens of dogs — all of which he loved.

Documentation is scarce before Custer’s time in the Civil War, but we know a little of what came next. His first dog after the war was Byron, an English Greyhound. When he and his wife, Libby, were living in Hempstead, Texas (where he was stationed at the time), the dog came into his life. 

Not long thereafter, Custer’s friends gifted him one or two hunting dogs — Scottish Staghounds (or Deerhounds). He fell in love.

During his time in Hempstead, he could have been called a collector of the animals. By the time he and his wife picked up and moved to Austin, Texas, they had acquired a whopping 23 dogs at least. Back then they weren’t spayed or neutered, of course, and so when new dogs were born, they quickly became a part of the family.

One story describes Ginnie, a setter who gave birth while they were in Austin. A few of the puppies were struggling. Custer apparently nursed them to health, walking with them until they were as strong and as fit as the others.

Custer’s favorites were the young, strong dogs he used for hunting antelope or buffalo.

According to notes from before the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Custer tried to send his dogs back home with Libby. This was unusual as Custer usually kept a number with him even when traveling or on missions. Some historians interpreted this as an acknowledgment that the mission was both important and dangerous. But several of the dogs went along anyway.

We may never know what became of the dogs who joined him for his last adventure, but we do know that Custer had asked a soldier under his command to keep the dogs as he went into battle.

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Was General George Armstrong Custer Guilty Of Sex Crimes?

The life of General George Armstrong Custer and his inevitably violent demise at the Battle of the Little Bighorn remain fascinating subjects even today, in part because historians continue to debate over the many myths and realities faced by those who fought in the battle over a century ago. Depending on whose version of history you read, Custer may have actually raped a Native American girl and fathered a child by her. Is there any truth to this rumor?

Part of the myth comes from Custer’s own words. His work on My Life on the Plains described a Cheyenne prisoner who was taken captive after the Battle of the Washita in November 1868.

“Little Rock’s daughter was an exceedingly comely squaw, possessing a bright, cheery face, a countenance beaming with intelligence, and a disposition more inclined to be merry than one usually finds among the Indians,” he wrote. 

“She was probably rather under than over 20 years of age. Added to bright, laughing eyes, a set of pearly teeth, and a rich complexion, her well-shaped head was crowned with a luxuriant growth of the most beautiful silken tresses, rivaling in color the blackness of the raven and extending, when allowed to fall loosely over her shoulders, to below her waist.”

His description only continues from there. Does Custer sound like he’s smitten? Maybe he does, but this is hardly enough to implicate Custer in a sex crime, especially when we know he wasn’t the most reliable of narrators. Perhaps he only wanted his readers to understand the potential beauties to be found in Native American society, or perhaps he only wanted them to believe he was capable of seeing that beauty. 

If he did engage in sexual relations with the girl, can we really know for a fact that they were forced? Certainly not. Under the circumstances it may have been an extramarital, but consensual, affair. Most contemporary historians seem to agree that Custer likely had no relationship with the girl — an assumption based partly on the strong currents of white supremacy during the time period.

Those who do subscribe to the notion that he fathered a “yellow-haired” interracial child with the young Native American girl believe Custer precipitously abandoned the pair as soon as his wife came calling.

Truly, we’ll never really know exactly what Custer’s thoughts were, or what his motivations for writing what he did. Sex crimes in the 19th century were surely at least as common as they are today, but it’s difficult to ascertain the extent of the culture from the resources we have available. Are you the victim of sex crimes in Houston? The Ceja Law Firm can help.

What Is The Sioux Nation?

The Sioux Nation was a group of Native American tribes that lived on the Great Plains. Within the Sioux Nation, there were three divisions: Eastern Dakota, Western Dakota and the Lakota. Within each of these divisions were different languages but all of there was considered a dialect of Siouan language.

Although the Sioux are known as fierce warriors, it wasn’t until European settlers brought over horses that the nation could really thrive. With horses available, hunting and travel were much easier and the nation began to thrive as food and shelter became more readily available.

In 1868, the US Government promised the Lakota Indians a portion of the land in South Dakota. However, gold was discovered in the land that they promised Lakota Indians and the US decided they wanted the land back. The Lakota refused which is what led to the Battle of Little Bighorn. The Sioux Nation won this battle and killed 210 American Soldiers including General Custer.

Another major “battle” against the United States and The Sioux Nation was the Wounded Knee Massacre.  The area of land that the Native Americans were living suffered due to overhunting of bison by both the Native American and the white settlers. Unhappy, a group of Native Americans approached Colonel James Forsyth. Forsyth had 500 soldiers. It was estimated that 300 Native Americans including women and children were killed.



The Slaughter Of The Custer Family

Sometimes history can be partial to the truth, in part because it focuses on what certain historians find most important and what people are most interested to know. That’s probably why we focus so much on George Armstrong Custer and his alleged ineptitude during the final days before the Battle of the Little Bighorn, instead of what members of his family likely thought most important: for them, the tragedy was no less than a personal holocaust.

History often forgets that George wasn’t the only Custer to die that day.

Not long after the catastrophic defeat, George’s parents Emanuel and Maria received word of his death. But that wasn’t all. You see, George’s little brother Tom Custer was also present at the battle, and also died that day. He was five years younger than George and had attained the rank of captain. Unknown to most, he was the most highly decorated soldier during the American Civil War. To the U.S. Army, he was a gifted servant with a lot of potential. He has his older brother to thank for taking it all away.

It gets even worse.

Another younger brother, Boston Custer, was among those slaughtered that day. He was known as “Boss” to those in the 7th Cavalry, and supervised the horses.

Emanuel and Maria were also told of their 18-year-old grandson, Henry Armstrong Reed. He is thought to be the youngest soldier serving the 7th Cavalry at the time of his death. He was the son of Lydia Custer and David Reed.

To make matters even more personally devastating, their son-in-law James Calhoun had joined the 7th as well. At the time of his death, he had been married to Margaret Custer for only four years, and is responsible for providing historians with one of the most accurate and personal accountings of the 1874 Black Hills Expedition we have.

That so many of the Custer family members perished that day seems unreasonable, but historians point out that they were family-oriented people. They held family gatherings whenever the opportunity presented itself, even if they had to be organized at the military fort.

When they received news of the deaths, Emanuel was 70 and Maria was 69. They surely heard of how the soldiers who died at the Battle of the Little Bighorn were mutilated after the defeat.

The Mutilation Of Custer And His Troops

We often discuss the tactically inept decisions made by Custer before the Battle of the Little Bighorn without scrutinizing the uglier details of the battle itself. It’s not that much of a surprise. We want to know what went wrong or what would have happened if things had gone differently that day. What do we care if an arrow shaft was forced up Custer’s penis after the battle was over? Oh, wait, we do.

Certainly, it was common for Native Americans to mutilate the bodies of their dead enemies, but probably not for the reasons you think. Most of us are probably led to believe that the tribes were made up of fearsome warriors, sadistic butchers who were far enough removed from the comforts of civilization that they could do such a thing as shove an arrow up a man’s…well, you get the picture. But that’s not the way it was.

Sure, the Native Americans were fearsome warriors. Many of the longest-lasting, most oft-remembered cultures and civilizations on earth were made up of the same. We can’t speak of the Roman Empire without exploring the military prowess of its legions–or the butchery that they routinely committed.

The Native Americans didn’t butcher their fallen foes for want of blood and glory. They did it because they too believed in an afterlife, and they believed that mutilating their enemies in this world would prevent them from becoming a threat in the next. They were violent with us because we were violent with them.

Mutilation took many forms. Everyone knows about scalping, but it often went beyond that. It didn’t always occur after death, either. Some tribes–such as the Comanche–wanted to make a point. Matilda Lockhart described her rape and torture in the months she was held captive before a deal was made for her release. These are the stories that persevere, even though the Comanche were quite different in their interactions with white settlers than most other tribes, and even helped exterminate some of those tribes.

It’s up for debate whether or not the Native Americans responsible for mutilating Custer would have even recognized the man or known who he was, but we focus on that detail when we talk about it at all. Everyone was treated similarly; not just Custer. Then again, all we have to go on are the uncorroborated stories and reports introduced decades later.

None of the stories are ever so simple when entertained without context.

Hollywood’s Depiction of The Battle of Little Bighorn

There have been over 30 movies and several television films that document the events of Custer’s Last Stand in 1876 during The Battle of Little Bighorn during The Great Sioux War. George Armstrong Custer was a cavalry commander tasked with removing a group of Native Americans from The Black Hills in South Dakota. Unfortunately, Custer was greeted by thousands of Indians. Rather than retreating, he fought on leading his troop of 210 men to death.

The first Hollywood depiction was a silent film in 1912 entitled Custer’s Last Fight, directed and starring Francis Ford as Custer. In 1936, the first “talkie” was produced about Custer’s Last Stand. The film starred Frank McGlynn Jr and was produced by Poverty Row Studio. The movie was well received despite having many historical inaccuracies. The same year, famed director Cecil B. DeMille also directed The Plainsman, a film that fictionalized famous people from the west including General Custer. Custer was played by John Miljan.

In 1940, Santa Fe Trail a movie that has nothing to do with The Battle of Little Bighorn was released. The film had a subplot revolving around Custer attempting to woo Kit Carson Holliday who is not based on a real person. The reason why this movie is significant is that Custer was played by former (but not yet) President Ronald Reagan. This movie is constantly confused with the 1941 movie They Died With Their Boots On in which Errol Flynn starred as Custer. This is because both movies had the same leading woman. However, this movie is actually about General Custer’s life from the military academy to the civil war to his last stand. But it is still considered a highly fictionalized version according to a criminal attorney Odessa.

In the 1950s, the story began to portray Native Americans in a more sympathetic light with films such as the 1954 film Sitting Bull and the 1958 Disney film Tonka. In Sitting Bull, the story follows a soldier who is outraged by the treatment of Indians. In Tonka, a native American (played by white actor Sal Mineo) trains a horse that ends up being used by the US Calvary against his own people. Custer was played by Douglas Kennedy and Britt Lomond respectively.

The mythic quality of Custer has made him a character that appeals to every generation as we will never know exactly what happened at Little Bighorn. He’s been featured in art, featured in music and the subject of many novels and video games. Whether he is an Indian sympathizer or Indian murderer will forever be debated.